Sunday, January 19, 2014

Road to the Oscars - Gravity

With the 86th Academy Awards around the corner, let's take a look at some of the contenders for this year's ceremony, with the best in mainstream (and not so mainstream) film.

Hollywood doesn't get a lot of space stories grounded in reality or near reality. This year's film, Gravity, is a rare gem - a story set in space without a lot of science fiction elements. Sandra Bullock is Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on a routine space shuttle mission. At first, everything seems normal until an unforseen disaster turns the next hour and a half of her life into a desperate fight for survival.

In Gravity, space itself becomes a sort of sinister character. Despite its majesty, it is rightly depicted as a cold and dangerous place. Small pieces of debris act as armor piercing bullets. The lack of Oxygen makes every breath important (Sandra Bullock has to cut down on that hyperventilation IMO). Yet despite the incredible odds stacked against her, this is a story of how people respond to these odds and confront them either with indignation or resignation.

The special effects of this film are amazing. You wonder if they really did film scenes up in space where there is zero gravity (it was actually done by special rigs). While scientifically the film takes its liberties, it's all for the sake of the overall entertainment value - and there are some aspects of the film, like the depiction of fire in space, that are pretty much spot on. The camerawork is excellent and disorienting,. fully immersing us into the setting. It spins and tumbles and stays in place, close to our main characters but steadily in orbit.

Gravity is one of the best movies of the year, and one of the best directed too. If you have a chance, give it a watch.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

2014 Movie Wishes

It's a whole new year for cinema all around. 2013 was a good year for Philippine movies. A LOT of really good films were released this year, and the overall ratio of good to bad films was not really that bad. This years inclusion of three Filipino-oriented stories as entries for the Academy Awards' Best Foreign Film award tells us of the richness of our country and culture when it comes to storytelling.

For Filipino Cinema:
  • I wish for more movies with more creative freedom, and not with stories shackled by budget/producers/whatever. And I'm not talking only about independent cinema here.
  • I wish for mainstream films that do not pander or treat its audience like idiots; a film that respects its audience and challenges them
  • I wish for audiences to keep their heads out of their asses and realize that they deserve so much more than 2 hour advertisements and the cinematic equivalent of shit.
  • I wish for movie makers and audiences to realize that "films for kids" do not mean two hours of inane plotless stupidity. Children have imaginations, let films use them. My best moviegoing experiences as a kid let me use my imagination, why do I have to be served junk like this?
  • I wish for no politics in the process of filmmaking. It's art, no one should be allowed to interfere.
  • I wish for a true dialogue between filmmakers, critics and audiences on Filipino Cinema, and not one where one side acts all high and mighty ("you don't get what the film is about!"), incomprehensible ("Here's a guy sucking on an orange. It's a film.") or esoteric ("The primary protagonist ensconces his verite-sufferance from the ingenue. Such travesty of thought can only be expressed by the sycophant. Merde! (That's French by the way)")  compared to others.
  • I wish people would extend film festival screening dates, because I keep on missing them. :
For Films in General:
  • No more fucking blockbusters that exist for the sake of existing, or crappy superhero films that none of us care about.
  • That said however, I'd want more fun movies on screen (not necessarily movies that had a lot of explosions and stuff in them.)
  • More from-the-ground-up, good concept films.
  • Less executive meddling.
  • Character development that isn't forced, contrived, or somehow involves rape.
  • More kudos from audiences to the documentaries, because some docus are really worth it.
See you bastards at the movies.

MMFF: Girl Boy Bakla Tomboy

Time to review some mainstream fare.

Vice Ganda has been making waves in the Philippines recently as a certified audience grabber. This film, where he plays all the titular guy, girl, gay and tomboy siblings, is admittedly not bad at all.

It's held down by a bit of weirdly timed melodrama and the film could have finished a bit earlier, but I don't mind it ending where they should. The product placements are few and far between and not as intrusive as other fims out there, and the jokes vary from corny to genuinely funny. What I found marvelous was the way all four Vice Gandas are seamlessly combined in one shot, most impressively in one sequence where they play a little game of Trip to Jerusalem. The combination of editing, CGI and doubles really works, and you really will believe that there are four people there despite all of them being portrayed by the same actor.

Maricel Soriano remains an actress of immense talent, effortlessly transitioning from one emotion to another. Joey Marquez is a bit underused but still works well in the setting. The kids who play the adoptive siblings are adorable for the most part. As for that kid who had blackface? Well, let's just say we can't market this movie in a few places.

As for Vice himself, his portrayals are not bad, with the straight laced cool guy, the airheaded girl, the shy tomboy and the gay, who is probably the most normal out of the four.

I've held some sort of belief that mainstream MMFF movies are crap. With this film, I see it's not always the case, and there is still hope.