Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My Ex and Whys

My Ex and Whys, Star Cinema's latest LizQuen vehicle, tells the story of Cali and Gio. Way back when, the two were a couple. But circumstances tore the two apart and they separated. This time, however, the two are paired up thanks to unlikely circumstances and Gio attempts to reconnect with Cali once more. Cali, however, isn't having any of it.

The film, as its central theme, tackles ideas of infidelity, trust and forgiveness. It posits the question, are men, by their very nature, incapable of a monogamous relationship? While it does play with the subject, the film's adherence to formula and generally poor writing negatively impact the final product, stripping it of any nuance.

Instead of making Gio a multifaceted character, whose remorse and actions are important to the story, the script blatantly declares that he should be forgiven, regardless of what Cali thinks about it. Enrique Gil is even backlit in many scenes, giving him an angelic, saintly look. He is surrounded by stereotypes of machismo that do nothing to help his situation. To be fair, I grew up in a similar household, where getting lots of girls was, if at least jokingly, a badge of honor.

While the film could have made Cali's eventual forgiveness of Gio nuanced, letting her naturally arrive at the decision whether to forgive Gio or not, the script removes her agency from the whole thing, loading the movie with tons of characters berating her repeatedly for not forgiving Gio already and being selfish and cold just because she doesn't want to. In more than one way it sounds sexist and insulting to Cali's character. And when Cali does reveal additional details behind her refusal to make up with Gio, which contextualizes her own situation, the film seems to sweep it all under the rug and forget about it. In addition, her childish insistence to prove Gio hasn't changed completely throws the story off kilter, nudging it into bad Wattpad adaptation territory. 

I think this unfortunate situation is because of the film's tendency to play it safe and underestimate its audience, preferring to sledgehammer in details rather than ease the audience into it. It prefers to limit itself within its formula, even ending with the most cliche of cliches, a desperate chase through traffic. It's not a particularly bad combination, and to be fair the film will still entertain even casual fans. But as a whole the film is generally unremarkable, and ultimately interchangeable with most of the other films in LizQuen's filmography.

And that's kind of a shame, since the film's other aspects have some really interesting ideas. Near the beginning we are treated to a couple of gorgeous shots; the scene inside the box is particularly inspired, and the film's use of split screens to reflect the characters' thoughts and internal conflict is ambitious. The film splices in and juxtaposes characters inside scenes and the editors make some creative, albeit at times weird scene transitions. Both Soberano and Gil are charming and capable in their roles.

But I've yet to see a film worthy of LizQuen's talents. What they need is something that exists outside formula, something that pushes their acting talents to the limit, while still emphasizing them as a couple. The search continues.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Beauty of Arrival is in Watching it a Second Time

Note: this essay contains spoilers. Come back when you've watched the film.

After viewing Denis Villeneuve's Arrival for the first time, I was floored. Based on a short story by Ted Chiang, titled Story of Your Life, Arrival is an achievement in science fiction. It manages to exhibit the qualities of the best examples of the genre; as it bridges the wonder and scope of an extraterrestrial first contact and a deeply human and personal story. Even if the scenarios grow even more otherworldly and magical, at its core it reveals something about ourselves. It's also a film about communication and language, and ultimately, the power of film as a language in itself.

Its structure is different from the usual science fiction invasion storyline where aliens, usually malevolent, attack the earth en masse ala Independence Day. The titular Arrival, where aliens called Heptapods visit Earth, is a mystery that builds up slowly, yet surely towards a conclusion... or at least, that's how I thought of it at first. There was something about the film that always bothered me during my first time watching - the first sequence of Amy Adams and her young daughter, Hannah, who dies during adolescence. At first, the scene was baffling, seemingly out of place. Like many have noted, its a scene that ends up playing with your expectations, evidence of the film trying to communicate ideas with your head, shaping your reality. It's a genius move from Villeneuve, and its something I haven't seen a lot (if at all) in Hollywood in recent years.

We eventually learn that the Heptapods' conception of time is circular, with no beginning or end; a deterministic concept following Fermat's Principle of Least Time. And here's where the magic of the movie begins. I watched the film again recently and that exact same sequence at the beginning was playing. But this time, armed with the knowledge of how the film ends, the scene made me as emotional as the similar sequence near the end of the film. 

Positioned back to back, two viewings of Arrival make it loop around on itself, the Amy Adams-Hannah sequences acting as links from one viewing of the film to another. It's reflected not only in the structure of the plot, but in looping camera movements, music, design choices, aesthetic characteristics. For example, seldom do we see a linear tracking shot; the camera often curves gently, or is placed at one focus. We realize, just like explorers realizing the world is round, the shape of the film, becoming circular in our minds. And with the knowledge of the future events of the film, during the second (and subsequent) viewings of the film, we, the viewers, are made to think exactly the same way as the Heptapods do.

In the world of Arrival, the one thing that can cause this shift in thinking is language; the film follows the concepts of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, where language shapes our conception of reality and the world. Language affects our interactions with others and our capacity to feel empathy with other people, even beings vastly different from ourselves.

And in my interpretation of Arrival, film itself is a language, perhaps even the language. Film is the 'weapon,' shaping our conception of the world. And in two viewings of the movie, Denis Villeneuve just showed us how powerful it can be.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Angelito and I'm Drunk I Love You

Carson (Maja Salvador) is a twentysomething college student. She's at a crossroads in her life, as she is set to finally graduate after seven years of extended study. Her best friend, Dio (Paulo Avelino) invites her over to La Union for a music festival for one last hurrah. But Carson is hiding something from Dio, a secret she's held for seven years. Will she be able to tell him how she feels?

While watching I'm Drunk, I Love You, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to an anime series that I personally love: Honey and Clover. Both deal with a group of college kids ready to set off for the real world, while dealing with their own set of relationship problems. Both feature music as a way of expressing dramatic moments. And, of course, both are ridiculously bittersweet.

I'm Drunk, I Love You isn't just a story about hugot and moving on from love, it's also a story about moving on from a life of youthful abandon to the scary and uncertain future of adulthood. The way the film melds the two together is quite remarkable. It sets the tone with creative framing, production design and a number of love songs by a bunch of indie bands and artists.

Paulo Avelino and Maja Salvador make the movie work, but special mention has to be given to Maja Salvador in this case. She's fantastic. She adds levity when necessary and gravity to each emotional moment; she glances at the target of her affection with longing, her gaze at times tinged with desperation.

Of course, the love aspect of the story is also solid. Anyone who has been in Carson's situation before (like yours truly, though it was three years in my case) can relate to her plight, to every heart crushing moment. A certain breakfast scene is heartbreaking to me, while humorous to the audience at large, because of my experience. Loving someone like that for such a long time isn't easy. These aspects of the story make the film enjoyable at multiple levels, and that's something I really appreciated.

The ending scene of the movie is, literally, 'lights out' - as the notion of Carson and Dio's respective graduations is a graduation from their youth as well. Youth itself is closing shop within these characters' lives. But amidst all that uncertainty is a bit of hope, too, as I get the sense from the end that deep down people stay the same, even though their lives have profoundly changed.

Long story short, this film is one of my favorite local films this year so far. 

this screenshot is from ABS-CBN
Accompanying I'm Drunk, I Love You is Jerrold Tarog's Angelito, a teaser of sorts for Goyo, the sequel to Tarog's 2015 film Heneral Luna. Set shortly after the end of Heneral Luna, it follows the Bernal brothers (Art Acuña and Alex Medina) as they escape from pro-Aguinaldo forces.

The message of the film is quite blunt. There's not a lot of subtext in the dialogue. In a way, the short film may have been aimed at people who had the wrong impressions from Heneral Luna, given that we eventually voted someone that we thought was in Luna's mold into office. It's also a warning against the dangers of co-opting a message or idea, any idea, to serve some partisan political purpose.

The inclusion of the film with I'm Drunk, I Love You is an interesting experiment, with mixed results. It's a tactic that's been tried before, most notably when 20th Century Fox included the trailer for Star Wars Episode I before Meet Joe Black, leading to people paying full price for a ticket, watching the trailer, then leaving. Unless someone takes a survey, we may never know if the strategy was successful in this case. I did notice some people confused by the inclusion of Angelito before the movie, checking their tickets to see if they went into the right moviehouse or not. Further awareness of the film's inclusion may be a good idea.

Anyway, the short itself was enough to build up my hype for the next film in the... uh... HEKASI/Civics Expanded Universe, due 2018.

errata: the trailer for Episode I was appended to Meet Joe Black and not Dreamcatcher. That error has been corrected.