Saturday, September 27, 2014


Perci Intalan's Dementia is a curious creature. It's part psychological thriller, part horror film... at first. But during the last few or so minutes it transforms into something that makes the viewer re-think what they have just watched.

Nora Aunor is Mara Fabre, a former caretaker who is suffering from dementia. To take care of her, her cousin (Bing Loyzaga) and her family decides to bring her to her old home in Batanes to slow the process of the illness. However, strange things begin to happen to Mara, things that are connected with events and people from Mara's past. Soon, these strange things begin to affect everyone else as well.

Looking at the film superficially, Nora Aunor doesn't seem to be given much to do with her role, with her staring into space for most of the film, haunted by some distant memory or other. But that is far from the reality of the situation - Mara's character is the very center of this film. During the film itself, we only get a few tidbits about the person Mara used to be. The one person who can tell us about this is hidden behind multiple layers of lost memories... and probably something more sinister. The last few minutes, which give us a look into the Mara that was, makes us rethink the whole movie.

That narrative decision is a bit problematic as we have so little time to process this new information (short of rewatching the film, which if this decision is done deliberately admittedly is a genius move.) At a deeper level, Dementia asks us to look at Mara's character with this paradigm shift in mind. At the same time, it makes her final decision even harder to understand.

The movie is submerged in an atmosphere of isolation and dread, helped immensely by excellent production design and cinematography.. Unlike recent horror productions which rely on CGI and effects, Dementia is most effective in the scenes where the horrifying element is merely implied by visual or audio cues. The vast lush landscapes of Batanes add to the atmosphere of isolation, which in this movie is absolutely everything.

Although the film centers storywise with Mara, her niece Rachel (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) fills out most of the speaking roles. And these scenes are some of the film's weakest - there is a quasi-romantic subplot with one of the locals, a number of conversations with American friends that amount to setting up one scene, and a possession angle that I didn't really see as necessary. I'd rather have seen more Nora, and learn more about her character.

Dementia is an okay film that I recommend seeing more than once, just to see the nuances in Nora Aunor's acting after the revelation at the end. As a horror film it is pretty run of the mill, but as a psychological film it is quite effective.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends

It's been a month long wait but the second part of the sequel to the live action Rurouni Kenshin movie has finally arrived. And, surprisingly, the movie steps back from its epic first part and delves into something more personal.

We start off where we left off at the the end of Kyoto Inferno, where, by chance, Kenshin meets his master Hiko Seijuro, played by actor-singer Masaharu Fukuyama. Kenshin then begins training to gain his sword style's ultimate technique -  and spends a sizeable part of the movie contemplating and discovering himself in the process.

In contrast to the massive buildup of Kyoto Inferno, where a ton of characters and situations are established, The Legend Ends is far more introspective, looking into the development of Kenshin as a person as he begins to distinguish himself from his assassin roots. It is his former nature as an assassin that ties him to his nemesis, Makoto Shishio, and it is in abandoning that nature where, the film tells us, Kenshin will be able to defeat him.

Unfortunately, in the process, the film has to truncate much of the other developing storylines even more. Aoshi's subplot is trimmed to almost the bare essentials. Kaoru and her relationship with Kenshin is understandably not fully fleshed out. And the backstories of the Juppongatana, Shishio's Ten Swords, are not fleshed out as well (a shame, given that their backstories make their villain characters more human, and add a level of complexity to the story.) But it's all for the sake of storytelling, and it's Kenshin's story that is the most important, in retrospect. That's the problem that a movie adaptation has when it tries to adapt a large amount of source material - things don't always pan out. This focus towards Kenshin's story slows down the movie a bit; I suspect that if the two movies were shown together, this would be the part where we all take a breather. I compare it to the duology of the Dark Knight, which has lots of large character moments and a large scale, and The Dark Knight Rises, which is more of a personal story about our hero overcoming his faults and rising above them.

The action scenes are once again top notch. Kenshin now has to battle a large succession of foes, ending with Shishio himself. The battles are complex and dynamic, never boring us or oversaturating the running time with fighting scenes.

The movie deviates a lot from the anime/manga, but still keeps a lot of key scenes and character moments. There are also a few plot holes that are not fully addressed (whatever happened to Houji?) as the movie ends.

It's not the most faithful adaptation in terms of content, but in terms of the themes it presents, The Legend Ends is a nice way to end the Kenshin live action trilogy. If only they would make the last arc of the manga, which brings all of Kenshin and his journey towards salvation full circle. My fingers are crossed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

RED Quickie: The Traffickers

The Traffickers (literally, 'the Conspirators') is a nice little thriller about people doing very, very bad things. The interesting (or irritating, depending on your point of view) thing about the film is, you try to figure out what these evil things mean. Im Chang-jung plays a man who has turned his back on a lucrative but morally bankrupt organ smuggling business. He is lured back to doing one last job because, as it turns out, his new lady love is the client.
What at first seems like a race against time as the smugglers get their organs turns into a ridiculously complicated mess that leaves you switching your sympathies multiple times in the last half of the film. The twist that sets it all up reaches a level where your suspension of disbelief is strained to the limit. Mix it in with some gruesome violence and we have a film that is not for everybody. Whether it is rewarding or not depends on how you take the twists and turns this film will take you. Your mileage may vary.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Capsule Reviews: da return of the comeback

A bit late, but here are some quick reviews to tide us all over.

After Porn Ends is a fun documentary about what performers in the industry go through during and after their stint as porn actors and actresses. Each story is unique: there's the usual teenage rebellion, forays into modeling before taking the plunge, and some people who just honest to goodness auditioned for the part. It's a fascinating look into the early porn industry although there's not a lot of coverage of the internet age. I find it's not too preachy so as to be irritating and it does not condemn those who decide to stay. But then again, the film posits that we'll never get to truly know these people, so there's a bit of a conundrum here.

Sepet is a marvelous film that I intend to review fully later on when I have watched more of Yasmin Ahmad's small oeuvre. It lingers in small personal moments, and that is where the movie shines. The acting is a bit awkward at the start, but things really pick up at around the second half. I've been waiting almost ten years to watch this; it was worth the wait.

If you are not convinced after watching Jodorowsky's Dune that his take on the Frank Herbert novel is the greatest sci fi movie never made, then I don't know what is wrong with you. Jodorowsky describes his film with such enthusiasm that it's hard not to get sucked in. I wonder what goes on in that man's head. It's probably like taking drugs without the drugs, which incidentally happens to be one of his aims in making movies like El Topo and The Holy Mountain.

Made as an anniversary project for the Horipro talent agency, Incite Mill is a clever little flick featuring a mix of Horipro's up and coming stars and their top talent. The film gets a bit too predictable towards the end, and the larger scope of the world beyond the incite mill and themes of voyeurism and insensitivity to violence in today's society are sadly not explored. It's still enjoyable, if only to see Tatsuya Fujiwara and company act all cray-cray.

In contrast, the Korean film A Million deals with a similar premise as Incite Mill, but the characters are so devoid of neurons that you wonder why they didn't all die in the first five minutes. There's a twist at the end that feels incredibly tacked on and is ultimately unsatisfying. It unfortunately left a bad taste in my mouth. The chick with glasses is pretty cute though.