Friday, April 29, 2011

Gummo (Harmony Korine)

Werner Herzog: "This is the entertainment of the future."

The nothingness of nothing, the meaninglessness of conformism, and the ennui of existence. Sounds like the last thing for a film to be made about, right? But then there is "Gummo", a film that tackled these with such surreal handling and awkward storytelling (that mirrors the film's essentially subversive yet minimalist approach) that, although polarizing, it has nonetheless shared such an abstract yet endlessly intriguing piece of mind extracted out of some trashed and dilapidated obscurity.

The film, although revolving around different misadventures of the tornado-stricken town's (Xenia, Ohio) juvenile inhabitants and is also seemingly at ease with its own lack of direction, its focus rests deeply upon friends/partners in crime Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and Tummler (Nick Sutton) and their several miscellaneous exploits and small transgressions. But then, although they were the ones that were chiefly followed by the camera all throughout, its ADD is still very much evident, so why is that?

'That's what it needs', Director Harmony Korine may and could have said regarding Gummo's visual and narrative style. No, not just because of glorified 'pretense': that's too vague and generalizing a word. More than anyhing else, perhaps because it complements its characters' urban journey through whatnots and into wherevers perfectly. It dared to observe this psychologically chaotic state brought forth by a natural disaster (though I think the film is not about its traumatizing effects) with a certain amoral viewpoint.

Now, I'm almost halfway done with my review yet I still haven't written anything about what the film is really all about aside from all those pseudo-nihilistic themes mentioned in the very first sentence. But here we go, a piece of my mind.


I look upon "Gummo" not as a film dealing with the devastating after-effects of a catastrophic tragedy but as a sharply satiric, yet thematically contrasting piece of work about the endpoint of human entropy. Throughout the film, we see all these people punching each other (genuinely), wrecking inanimate tables and chairs, and even spouting racial slurs. As we adjust into the film's confused perspective, we realize that it's their way of life, and sensitization is never one of their goals.

At first look, it's really hard to notice anything even remotely profound about the whole film, but digging deeply enough, I even found the 'feline torture fixation' prevalent in the teenagers' (especially Solomon and Tummler) set of daily activities as a surprising symbolism.

The cats are the representations of an 'orderly' life. There's one scene where Tummler is about to shoot a black cat dead, only to be talked out of it by Solomon, telling him that it's a 'house cat'. The cat then ran inside the house. Later, it was immediately revealed that its owners are three sisters that, although eccentric, live a considerably simple, relatively manicured life.

Considering that many of the juvenile characters are into killing cats, it's quite given that, based on their absurd preferences, their lives are therefore rendered directionless by their penchant for destroying these 'guardians of homes' (an Ancient Roman symbol for felines).

Then after some time, the sisters lost the black cat. They printed out fliers to distribute to people in the hopes of finding the animal. But the next thing they knew, they are being sexually harassed (unsuccessfully) by an old man in a car. Yes, the deed was prevented, but it was a shape of things to come.

The next thing we see, the two of the three sisters are already half-submerged in a pool and making out with the Bunny Boy (played by Jacob Sewell, another significant character whose place in the film is really very unclear), all while a potentially heavy rain (and a menage a trois) waits on the wings. After that, there's Solomon and Tummler staring at the said 'missing' animal with cocked cap guns. They then shot the 'black' cat dead. And in the film's most haunting moment, the Bunny Boy then shows the deceased animal directly into the camera as if proclaiming another conquest. It turns out, this so-called conquest was the three naive sisters, which are finally convinced to join in the free-for-all ride towards nihilism.

Aside from that, I also like how "Gummo" was able to convey, in utter simplicity, the sheer innocence of the mentally disabled, especially the scene of the 'challenged' woman near the end talking about how she loves to take care of her dolls and toys because she wants them "straightened out".

Because of her lack of idea of the psychological milieu around her, she is therefore very much living an 'orderly' life, fully suggested by how she sings the ever-organized 'ABC' song near the beginning. And even after all of the random acts committed by the apocalyptic characters who all want to waste away in their private wasteland of Xenia, the woman still found the time to sing "Jesus Loves Me" while she's calmly lying in her bed for a peaceful sleep.

"Gummo": started up rough, ragged, and tasteless, but ended as a simple embrace of the old adage "Ignorance is bliss". As her song lingers in the end credits, a heavy metal music suddenly interrupts it; we're back in reality.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Moon (Duncan Jones)

'I've done something like this before.'

A Second Viewing.

Clones and artificial intelligences on films, although must not even be extracting discoveries of human nature aside from their clockwork selves in the first place, are, time and time again, tested by the burden of emotional conflicts and the endless quest to belong. Be it the great "Blade Runner" or Spielberg's more contemporary "A.I". We have seen them strive from the pains of misunderstanding and perceptions of technological stigma seen from sociologically-grounded eyes. Here in "Moon", with Sam Rockwell delivering a one-man virtuoso performance, the further extremities are reached; they are even deprived of mainstream reality.

I think it's quite impossible to review and analyze this film without divulging some plot revelations or two, so here we go, spoiler warning. Sam Bell (Rockwell) is an astronaut near the end of his 3-year contract and is about to come home and away from the lunar solitude of the moon. After some startling discoveries, he found out that he, although how confident, is not what he may seem to be. When he saw his fellow clone, at first, he is in denial. He initially asserts that it's nothing but a delusion. They found out that the real Sam Bell has returned to earth for many years. Instead, they have been developed from the original's DNA for the Lunar Industries company to save expenses from man power. Their innocence is the companies' assets, their awareness of it all is a grave liability.

Then the two Sam Bell clones saw more 'Sam Bells' underneath a secret room waiting to be awakened, as if frozen goods in a morgue. After their identity conflicts and superficial fights, the two Sam Bells called it quits. They're after all, riding the same boats and braving the same chained limitations of complete anonymity.

With the help of Clint Mansell's subtly rousing score, ethereal and all, and Duncan Jones' reflective direction regarding his honest commentary about the staggering effects of unreachable memories and make-believe psychological realities , "Moon" appeared to be the most eloquent and even poetic of all sci-fi films for a considerably long time to ironically depict the strength and warmth of human nature in the most artificial of physical bodies and the most remote of places.

'We're people', the second Sam Bell (at least in the narrative's exposition) told GERTY, his loyal A.I. assistant (voiced by Kevin Spacey) that is the complete polar opposite of "2001's" "HAL". The words, however simple, reminded them of what they are. Although true human emotions aren't given to them by birthright but merely implanted, they have proved with their evocative bond that they have certainly earned it.

Duncan Jones brought us a film that shows how 'clones' invest tears on memories. Then subsequently, how memories inspire pathos. Although "Moon" is a fairly simple story about what it takes to be human, it's also about the true blue power of emotions and cherished pasts.

It is from these that the unknowing clones squeezed out their existential goals and validated their humanity. But ultimately, it is also from those that the film itself has empowered the beauty of human nature with great transcendence. A 'nature' that leaped limitless boundaries and into the far side of the moon; a place where it has evolved into its truest form.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bona (Lino Brocka)

Her 'boiling' point.

3 times. I have already seen "Bona" 3 times yet its emotional wallop never falters. Beyond its narrative simplicity mainly set in a destitute slums lies the emerging complexity from a character which may seem symbolic rather than true molds from reality at first sight, but whose conflicts, choices and behavioral preferences leads her to the truest form of inescapable existential mishaps that prove to be in touch with the reality of mindless idolatry.

The film opens with the haze of confusion during the 'Feast of the Black Nazarene'. Countless people grabbing the traditional rope, wiping their towels on the black statue and others watching curiously as they converge for an unhindered faith in hopes of blessings. Brocka shot this 'cinema verite' sequence with a great intent to expose the rawness and spontaneity of Filipino culture yet it's also his powerful initial statement to the pseudo-romantic fable that is about to unfold: The worship for something fantastically adamant and emotionally inanimate to even feel it.

The waves of the mob wants the mercy and guidance from the Black Nazarene, Bona wants love from movie bit player Gardo. Religion and romance. Not your typical, close-necked comparison, but I can see where director Lino Brocka is coming from. He wants to show the blinding extent of devotion both from an immense display of it (the feast), its miniature counterpart (Bona's enclosed self-depreciation in the name of 'love'), and even more so, its occasional futility.

Nora Aunor is Bona in one of her most mystifying and logically puzzling characters to date. The narrative never even showed us how she has developed her bizarre infatuation with movie extra Gardo (Phillip Salvador in a role that, as what my review of "Jaguar" states, showcases his acting talent of differentiating transitionally contrasting qualities of a character) and instead started somewhere in the middle. We see Bona do meager things any die-hard fans would do for their idol. She gives him food and drinks and even shelters him with her umbrella during a rain. Her actions were understandable yet the man it was all done to is questionable at best.

We may ask ourselves, what did Bona saw in this man? Is it his stature as a showbiz figure? No, he's merely an extra. Is it his looks? Maybe, but she sees him many times groping with many women. Why bother? That's the ultimate question that came into my mind. It may seem a mundane inquiry, but it is from this that comes the profundity of Brocka's stirring commentary about who Bona may really be: An epitome of a confused woman helplessly testing her ability to dare declare her misguided independence and try her luck and flirt with her idea of loyal love.

Gardo, on the other hand, takes advantage of her innocence and treats her almost as a maid and as his mother's second coming. And finally, after living with each other for a considerable time, Gardo executed his sexual advances, to which Bona welcomed in confusion. The morning after, as she mends the chores, she also consciously hopes to squeeze out love from whatever happened the night before.

This is the sequence where Nora's mark was indelibly left with the power only SHE can muster. After the night of their bodily contact, as Bona prepares Gardo's breakfast, Nora expressed her character's longing, aspirations and expectations for a potential development of a romance through her ever-impressive eyes. As Gardo eats, Bona waits. She's hoping for him to return a bright gaze for her countless pleading glances, but ultimately, there was none. The night was forgotten, after all.

Brocka handled it (story written by Cenen Ramones) without highlighting the glances but instead diluting it through Phillip Salvador's trivial dialogue. Brocka manipulated the screen by letting not just Bona to taste the bitterness of romantic defeat, but also us. We may never know of Bona's motivations to live with such an uncaring man in exchange of her family, but her recurring dream of being entrapped by flames and a moment in the wedding scene (of Bona's friend and former suitor, Nilo, played by Nanding Josef) may have given an answer.

While drinking a beer, as the other people shout "Sayaw, Bona! Sayaw!" ("Dance, Bona! Dance!"), she obliged. As she is dancing in half-drunk ecstasy, a bonfire blazes in her background. All her perceptions of happiness may have rooted out from her innocence, but ultimately, her joy is to be always near the 'fire'. Brocka in one of his finest, and so was Nora.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

True Romance (Tony Scott)

Into Hollywood with an agenda of their own.

Although directed by Tony Scott, "True Romance" is, from all sides, taken over by Quentin Tarantino's (who have written the screenplay along with Roger Avary) trademark brushstrokes of unrelenting references to B-movies, stylishly vulgar dialogues and killer MacGuffins. The film is also a perfect ensemble exercise of character acting, featuring such greats as Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman and a whole lot of others.

Clarence and Alabama, whose relationship was described almost sarcastically in the film's very title, were perfectly played with the needed air of 'go for luck', 'not a care in the world', 'against all odds' romance by both Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette. Now, when I look back at the very beginning, I think that the complications ironically came from the very manifestation of love between the two itself. When I heard Alabama deliver the line 'It was so romantic' after (SPOILER) Clarence killed Drexl her pimp, they surely are in for some romantic distortions, and so are we.

It all began when Clarence, all alone in a triple billing theater watching Sonny Chiba's (used later by Tarantino as Hattori Hanzo in "Kill Bill") movies, was suddenly covered with popcorn (yes, it was THAT cheesy) via Alabama's clumsy slip. After a small talk, they went for a pie, read some comic books and, as expected, into the anticipated heat of the night.

However, it was then revealed that everything, from the initial encounter (explaining the popcorn trick) up to their sexual climax, were planned and that Alabama was hired by Clarence's boss for his birthday. But then, Alabama was guilty. They hugged each other. After the artificial fling, still, love it really was indeed.

From those basic blueprints, one can see how these initial sequences can also properly fit within the premise of a tiring mid '90s comedy romance film (an everyman falling for a prostitute with a heart). But with brash Tarantino with the pen and action stylist Tony Scott at the helm, expect this romantic idealism be unraveled, be taken down piece by piece, then be put back together. We got here a turbulent love story.

With the help of the cocaine MacGuffin and some satiric intent, "True Romance" also fearlessly entered a part of Hollywood's immoral side, the retaliative urgency of the mob and the egotism in the police division not just to serve as morally imperfect backdrops for Clarence and Alabama's romance but also to give an inexorable portrait of human desperation and the intertwining of situational fates.

And even though I think that the film's climax was a bit rushed and too 'explosive' that it almost seems out of place in great contrast to its carefully progressive, well-written narrative establishment, nevertheless, the film has delivered enough goods to be considerably well-remembered as a high-notched blazing craziness that fully belongs to both the crime and romance genre.

Oh, and you want a definition of pure cinematic gold? Take note of the Sicilian scene. Hopper and Walken on a verbal dance of fear-inducement and sarcasms. Astounding. Just astounding. And after writing this, I've stumbled upon a "True Romance" film review describing the particular scene with the same, exact word (astounding) as I've used. Oh, the beauty of appreciative coincidence.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott)

Awaiting a grotesque.

Not much of a stranger to woman empowerment due to his strong heroine in the form of Ellen Ripley in "Alien", Ridley Scott got this optimistic feminine absolute out of the infinite confines of outer space and brought it closer to home and into a more realistically compelling social milieu in "Thelma & Louise", an essential piece of feminist cinema that has paved way for other similar films to be accepted as mainstream expressions of the thematic core that is the emotional unraveling of women.

The film initially unfolds with the titular characters' slightly daring attempt to elude the exhausting and tightening grip of the male-dominated order of life, so they planned to get away for a temporary vacation for some R&R. In a brief moment, as Thelma prepares, she saw a gun inside her drawer (as I have found out, this narrative technique is called a "Chekhov's Gun"). Without any attention to details, she quickly puts it into her bag. Director Ridley Scott shot this brief scene without any foreboding of sorts. He downplayed the whole moment with some (as I recall) considerably, soothingly adventurous background music, making us join the whole emotional road trip from the start like nothing out of the usual is expected and things won't even go into the slightest hint of ominousness.

Suddenly, Thelma was sexually harassed in the parking of a bar and Louise then shot the attacker. They fled the scene (Do not worry, those are nothing but basic narrative expositions seen in almost all of the film's plot description; it's not a 'you've taken away a part of me'-type spoiler) and from that point on, it's not much of a reality-grounded story than it is an arresting commentary about the current state of women in the social hierarchy and a de-objectifying adventure of two carefree, defiant souls who try to unconsciously teach some male grotesques an overdue lesson or two.

It starred Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon as Thelma and Louise, respectively. From the film's halfway and beyond, their performances display somewhat a sense of fluid rebellion and uninhibited aggression. As they run for their lives and from captivity, they also slowly come to terms with their fate as their plan into Mexico fades. And no, it's not a kind of reckless desperation commonly displayed by hardened outlaws, but more of a series of acts performed so their presence can be felt, albeit the barren landscapes, as they flap their wings to fly against the winds of conformity (I've already used that 'winds' thing on my "Easy Rider" review, but that does not necessarily suggest that "Thelma & Lousie" is strictly an emergent counterculture fare) and into a cathartic landscape of emotional freedom. The film is also surrounded by strong supporting performances by Harvey Keitel, a surprisingly tender Michael Madsen, a young Brad Pitt and consistently dependable character actors Stephen Tobolowsky ("Memento's" Sammy Jankis) and Christopher McDonald.

Wherever I may really look at it, "Thelma & Louise" shouts of Cheris Kramarae's Muted Group Theory with all of its radical upper-handedness and shared thoughts and ideas about feminism. But I also think of the film as a tragic yet sweet observation about repression, scarred pasts and hope regardless of its backdrop that is seemingly an ode to expressive crimes.

But through all the two main characters' critical violations of both the established social norms and grips of the law, Thelma Dickinson and Louise Sawyer stayed true to themselves and their companionship. They might have gotten too far at some point in their journey (but can be particularly blamed to their awkward decisions and other people's utter provocations), but they embraced the fact that their uncommon Thunderbird journey to hesitate the chains of social stereotypes and get away from their criminal liabilities wasn't an instinctive transgression but a compulsive expression. After all, they just wanted to fly.

As I watch "Thelma and Louise", I expected an encapsulating crime tragedy like that of the same dually-titled "Bonnie and Clyde". I never thought that it will be such an exhilarating, contemplative, even inspiring piece of road trip cinema.


Friday, April 22, 2011

'Merika (Gil Portes)

Contemplating a decision.

Combining suspicious love with the sentiments and longing of America-dwelling Filipinos whose minds and hearts continually goes through conflicts of decisions, some slight politics that highlights helpless idealism and the brewing turmoil of 80's Philippines, you get "'Merika". It stars Nora Aunor and Bembol Roco, which gave effectively contrasting performances regarding the different sides of state of minds of Filipinos on foreign lands.

We see Bembol's character Mon embrace and patronize the commercial and financial advantages of living in 'Tate' with some sort of distorted pragmatism, even going as far as calling the Philippines as an 'impractical hell'. This is where Bembol Roco really shined through the whole film. He displayed this closeted arrogance and colonial mindset with suppressed aggressiveness. He announces his extreme admiration with the American way of life with depleted shouts and air of mystery, fancying wines yet with glaring eyes that suggests something ominously deficient in his wholeness: He does not have any legal papers.

I cannot say that he is the direct antagonist of the film; his Mon is a very complicated character trapped in a situation that he is willing to get out of but has seemingly accepted a long time ago. He goes on a cycle of foreign existence, treading luxuries of expensive wines and credited cars. Yet, I still think he wants love more than anything else; it's just that he's too consumed by the minute details of the ideal, commercial western lifestyle that he considers the rest of his narrow world nothing more than minuscule.

Even before Mr. Bembol Roco triggered his persona as a stereotypical villain, psychotically speaking, of Philippine cinema, I think this is his most ambiguously villainous performance in the sense of how his character considerably preys on everything advantageous, yet through his eyes, there's a hint of a primordial defeat. In a sense, he has embraced not just the entirety of the American way, but also his embittered helplessness. Finding Mila (Nora Aunor's character), he located a two-way victory: Easy romance and his papers. His two ways versus her existential crossroad.

Nora Aunor's Mila is a striving nurse that gets more than enough income but less than enough sense of belonging. Again, like most of her characters on screen, Mila is torn between the budding idea of love (that teeters between quiet desperation and sexual victory) and a clamor for the true one (the Philippines. Yes, sentimental it maybe, but it's how it is) she has left behind. Mila is, in some ways, the 'Dorothy' to America's 'Oz'. She discovered the ease of income, the company of some friends, and the pure wonder of commercialism at its peak, like how Dorothy befriended some colorful eccentrics and established herself as a figure for the further adventures of the yellow brick road.

It may seem unsound to compare a timeless fantasy tale to a film dealing with the confusion of one's foreign integration, but it's the first analogy that came into my mind. And though 'Oz' came out much more colorful than the sepia-toned Kansas, Dorothy couldn't have said it better: "There's no place like home."

"'Merika", penned by Doy Del Mundo Jr. and Gil Quito and directed by Gil Portes, does not necessarily discourage those trying their lucks to align themselves with the promises of 'Tate'. It has shown different perspectives, and though Mila, the chief protagonist, ultimately came into a critical decision, the film strengthened its stance that it was her choice and hers alone; the film instead divulge the idea of easement and hope and the grounded summation that individualism and a concrete goal are the ones that are truly vital against alienating anxieties more than anything else. With that thematic direction, I think "'Merika" highly succeeded.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jaguar (Lino Brocka)

'Jaguar' tamed, tired and disillusioned.

Among Lino Brocka's works, I think "Jaguar" is, above all, the perfect companion piece to "Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag". They both feature protagonists clinging on some undeniable hopes of tasting some of the sweeter sides of life, yet too puny to fend off social denigrations they face in the very process of attaining it. We emphatically looked upon Julio Madiaga's dimming dreams of love and aspiration in the night lights of Manila and wondered how we can even cope up to the follies of his naivety. Now, here in "Jaguar", a film that is not a necessarily weaker approach to the similar theme of an individual's social alienation and subsequent transformation, those themes were then combined with the similar elements of a city's absolute, misleading promises with the idea of opportunity and ambition.

Phillip Salvador is perfect as Poldo, a security guard hired as bodyguard by his boss (played by Menggie Cobarrubias, one of the great local character actors whose name you probably would not know, but whose face you probably have seen in a gazillion Filipino movies. Google him, if you may) after being impressed with his fisticuff abilities. Unconsciously influenced by his own gullibility towards a temporary bliss of nightclubs, liquors and women, he went on with the flow. Little did he know that it will transform into a flood that will consume what is left of his simple sailboat unexpectedly adhered into a yacht of sin.

I do not want to delve into Phillip Salvador's scenery-chewing habit nowadays, but before, he was a damn great actor. And reflected by this film and "Bona", he is the most convincing of all Filipino actors to portray, then contrast, the transitional qualities of a house authoritarian (his character Poldo's erratic behavior in their house) and an idiotically-treated guard (just like how his complicated character in "Bona" changes effortlessly from being a dominant household slacker into a faceless action movie extra). Aside from the naivete which he depicted perfectly, there's one key sequence in the film which screenwriters Pete Lacaba and Ricky Lee have written with precise behaviors and wordings, and handled by Lino Brocka with an impeccable attention in mood-heightening.

It's a scene where Poldo's boss and his other rich friends visit their house located in the filthy slums for the fiesta. We see Poldo talking and acting frantically, ordering for the foods to be prepared, even shouting to his mother to move faster. Then he looks to his high brow visitors with an apologetic look and a controlled smile. Brocka emphasized Salvador's character to appear very diligent, not as a host, but as a lowly 'waiter'. Brocka caught his character's splitting persona (that of a house authoritarian and a servant) and enclosed it in the said sequence. To put these in such a brief moment in the film is truly masterful in the sense of how it was handled without such a simple scene looking over-treated.

Of course, "Jaguar" is primarily made for us viewers to care for Poldo the guard, but on the other hand, the film also reverses its focusing lens to glare at the obviousness of his numerous moral shortcomings. Do we sympathize with his predicament despite his initial patronization of the decadent glamors of the rich? Do we still care for him even though he has unconditionally bowed down to these people's ways? Those which led to his moral bondage? These questions were continually raised throughout the film, but again, like almost all great films, "Jaguar" never settled for any closed answers or absolute closures.

Poldo leaves his house straight-laced and seemingly looking for nothing but a steady pace of income. He crosses a plank slightly elevated from the filth of the dark waters of the sewers. Halfway, the plank falls down. Apathetically, he jumped the remaining distance into dry soil, without looking back, and into his work. If that's not foreboding, then I do not know. But only if he knew...


Monday, April 18, 2011

Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Mario O'Hara)


Not so long ago, I finally came into a certain understanding that Filipino films will always be inclined into 'melodrama': The sappy music, intense displays of physical animation to accompany the drama, and of course, tears. It's a nauseating phenomenon in the Philippine movie industry when absolutely done the wrong way. But thank god there are films such as "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" to serve as timeless testaments to the magic that 'melodrama' can create and manifest within one's senses and emotions, from simple to complex, when done perfectly.

The film started with Hitler's rhyming, mouth-foaming speech regarding the strength of his socialist party. Being set in the times of the Second World War, the film unveils like how a history text book would for a student. But after this run-of-the-mill introduction, its story unfolds like how a poet affects to even the farthest of souls.

In plain sight, the film may look like your typical 'love caught by the tides of war' and a period vehicle for its star and producer, Nora Aunor. Granted, the love story arc is already established prior to the complications of the narrative, but I am deeply surprised and pleasured how complex the film really was.

At various points, "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" can be viewed as a metaphor for the ravages and ruins that the Philippines (The idea of the motherland may allude to Nora Aunor's (subtly powerful, as always) character Rosario and her initial abuse in the hands of Masugi, played by Christopher De Leon) have experienced during the Japanese Occupation and, on the opposite end, the potentially unconscious development of the Philippines' slow embrace towards the Japanese ways (how Rosario learned to love Masugi after she has been raped).

And pushing it further, Bembol Roco's character Crispin is the physical manifestation of the concept of a true 'Filipino' who, despite of the predicament that his real love (Rosario) has gone through, remained completely absent and consumed by fighting an abstract notion towards an illusory, national deliverance. The film may also relate to a slightly satiric approach to some Filipinos' extreme devotion to the perpetually clean-cut view of America and their intervention.

Mario O'Hara, a primed director and a memorable actor by his own right due to his performance in Brocka's "Tinimbang ka ngunit kulang", created this film with a certain honesty and a hint for something new. He dared not to mold a war film with old clays of sentiments and melancholy. He instead established a fresh foundation to the film, making the complexity of love and the ambiguity of Catholicism its true center and added up the hypnotically repugnant, yet may have been quite accurate, emotional weather of the time.

"Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" never settled for a one-sided rally behind patriotism's usual sweet myth-making; director Mario O'Hara treated the Filipino people (that includes the Guerrillas) not as hopeful revolutionaries that can almost dwell on the pages of a legend, but as a confused crowd dipped into a mudflow of fever and hysteria: looking for even the slightest mistakes, violently ditching even the slightest idea of a socially unsanctioned love, and pointing fingers to even the slightest of flaws.

Nora's Rosario, on the other hand, served as their martyr; their miniature 'Joan of Arc' to make up for the futility of their distorted search for something meaningful. A senseless pervasion of mobocracy masquerading as a push for Philippines' well-being and disguised as a search for national identity.

The film covered so much, yet it came out as a simple tragedy of love. Deep analysis or surface viewing, either way, "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" is still a tremendous work of Philippine cinema. Where is film preservation when it's needed most? This film begs for a better print. Too bad it's too late.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Hereafter (Clint Eastwood)

The exhaustion of vision.

The film that seemingly came at a right time considering the stage of Clint Eastwood's career and age already sealed with greatness, composure and productivity. There's not much left to explore for him, so why not the mystery of the afterlife and, at times, tricky to pull off atmosphere of the supernatural? "Hereafter", with its uncommon use of a finely recreated natural disaster and unrelated though interconnected stories, is more of a well-thought curiosity piece whose focus goes everywhere, filmmaking wise, rather than a pure narrative that speaks of some tightly-drawn drama.

It stars Matt Damon in a very vulnerable performance as George, a genuine psychic that considers his insights into the netherworld a curse rather than a gift. Like a "Miss Lonelyhearts", he has given up to what he does best, keeps his profile low, yet the quantity of those who seek for help is at an all-time high. Above his personal and psychological struggles, at the opposite side of existence, he unconsciously serves as the personification of the kid, Marcus' (played by Frankie and George McLaren) primary goal: To find a medium for him to talk to his deceased twin brother.

You know those motifs prevalent throughout ensemble, non-linear films that connects each characters and sub-stories? The briefcase in "Pulp Fiction", the dog in "Amores Perros" or the frog rain in "Magnolia"? In "Hereafter's" case, it is Damon's character and his uncompromising visions; as we witness the emotional plight of the grieving kid and the startling, subconscious discovery of the French journalist, it all forms into a wide round of events that ultimately encircles George and his subsequent interactions with the two.

It's a given that in the film's 2 hour running time, these characters' destiny will soon converge just like other typical films of its kind. How it will come out convincingly and without any contrivances or narrative convolution rests on the handling of the material. And while it's not anything new in terms of cinematic experience, Clint Eastwood has, even in a very meager way, still delivered.

"Hereafter" surely does not belong in the league of Eastwood's very best works; but damn, his directorial range is just astounding. He pulled off something akin to Inarritu's works, filled it with the evocative anticipation of what lies beyond the limits of life and mortal existence, and armed it with consistency.

Judging that Clint Eastwood is not fond of leaving personal trademarks in his films, "Hereafter", although having its own flaws, still came out strengthened by an unhindered emotional urgency and subtly encompassing vision; indeed distinguishable marks of his own. Only the questionable ending disappoints, and the closure for the poor Bryce Dallas Howard character not given enough importance.

Her connection with Damon's character, in my opinion, is much more believable. But thinking that "Hereafter" is a fantasy, I guess the ethereal is preferably highlighted rather than the definite. Dramatic escapism, it ultimately seems.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Enter the Void (Gaspar Noe)

Existence in Tokyo in full, living (literally) color.

Gaspar Noe, an underground master auteur, continues his visceral exploration of raw human drama with "Enter the Void", an epic surrealist film with touches of the supernatural interspersed with unsettling colors and images going askew into a territory where despair is a way of life. Going as ambiguous as possible with the theme of 'incest' prevalent throughout the film, Noe combines the 'in-your-face' emotional gut wrench of "Irreversible" and the aforementioned theme in the psychologically disturbing "I Stand Alone".

With both approaches from these two previous films utilized, we have, in our hands, an assault to the senses that is also a dire though sweet cinematic discourse about sibling love paired with a bit of mental conflict.

The film was labeled as a 'Psychedelic Melodrama', which is of course an absolutely perfect description. But "Enter the Void" is also a perfect example of an experimental film made by a filmmaker with an imagination going through constant permutations. Its story concerns that of a deceased drug dealer named Oscar (played by new-comer Nathaniel Brown) and his transcendent observation of his sister's (played by Paz de la Huerta) life through transitions of fires and lights in the calmly transgressive night life in Tokyo.

Gaspar Noe already used reverse chronology, 'shock' filmmaking and continuous shots in his previous works. This time, he initially used first person point of view, then suddenly transforming into shots behind the protagonist's back. Not only does it provide a closer look into the film's degrading drama of sex and drugs, nor is it just a senselessly voyeuristic perception of the more sexually-charged sequences. It's also an emotional narrative device of how those people around the protagonist look to be too close to touch yet too far away to feel.

It's Oscar's sentiment; a feeling that could have been bastardized by over-exposition. But the film has captured it in a fairly simplistic manner by this unorthodox cinematic style that is also a product of an affluent dedication to the craft. Amidst the complex imagery and hovering eagle's viewpoint that explores the moody qualms of Tokyo, Japan, "Enter the Void" is also about an individual's alienation about those around him resulted by a stigmatic past and the endlessly agonizing consequences of unguided existence.

Films like these, although it may find a more positive general response from time to time, will always fall into two categorizations: Either be perceived as a pornographic exploitation wrapped in vibrant pretense or be particularly viewed as an essential piece of cinema. Either way, "Enter the Void" inspires divisiveness, which is what 'true' cinema is all about.

Modifying Truffaut, a film must either be about the joy or agony of making it. This film dealt with love and pain and strife and life. It grabs the middle ground and never lets go.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker)

The pilot in the left: the 'inflated' egotist.

One of the establishing foundations of the cinematic comedy wave that is the spoof and 'random' humor sub-type. Known serious actors at the time such as Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen (I think almost everybody knows how the tone of his career had gone on since then) figuratively donned eccentric personae and armed themselves with dry humor and straight faces to populate the screen, with unfamiliar (at least for me) yet effective actors Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty in the lead.

At various points, "Airplane!" seems to be too quick on its wit that the comic touches become too abundant in a single frame that there's no way a viewer can quite catch them all on an initial viewing. But ironically, it's also its main positive trait, making the humor relentless in its presentation and brief yet precise in its delivery that although it can be very exhausting to comically involve oneself in such an overflow of humor spitting from all sides, this also makes "Airplane!" very palatable and engrossing for subsequent viewings.

"Airplane!" is an entertaining ode to the utterly stupefying repetitiveness of mutual cinema; from the cliches of over-seriousness, the tiring utilization of flashbacks to the tonal sentiments of musical scores pertaining to love encounters (that 50's-type orchestra music nauseatingly repeated throughout every time the two leads come face to face with each other). "Airplane!" may not be the first of its kind, but it has furthered and enforced its contextual confidence to fully manifest itself in mainstream filmmaking.

Its influence was all too sudden and immensely appealing that it has inspired a path for mutated abominations like "Epic Movie" and "Meet the Spartans". Yes, it has extremely spread all over the film realm that it has given Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer enough guts to waste ample time, budget and film with their hackish works. After all, I guess "Airplane!" have something indirectly worth blaming for.

Though the film is overly indulged in fantastical, surrealistic comedy, giving realistic plausibility a blurring barrier, it has given a notable statement that may have really spoken the absolute truth: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar does not work hard on defense. A speck of sobering verite.

Why? He got easily defeated by Bruce Lee in "Game of Death", isn't it? Oh, you thought in Basketball? Well, that's arguable.


Friday, April 8, 2011

I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell)

Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin: Existential Detectives

Absurdist film filled with deep existential concepts relentlessly displayed through comic articulacy. I've read many dissenting reviews regarding the film even before I have seen it so I'm quite weary that this will be one of those pseudo-intellectual, nonsensical pretense disguised as a comedy film. But even though the alienating opening sequence (I have no idea what Jason Schwartzman's character is blabbering about) is a cautious foreboding that this won't be a usual film, I do believe that with enough patience, "I Heart Huckabees" can easily be appreciated and absorbed even by the most unenthusiastic of viewers.

It stars distinguished actors such as Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, and Naomi Watts (with 'The Birds'' Tippi Hedren in a minor role), and the plot concerns depression, divisive philosophies about the universe and identity and it never stops there. This film is fueled with enough intellectual discourse to inspire debates and disgust. Even the idea of producing a brief philosophy book out of it would not be an overstatement.

Director David O. Russell, known for his eccentric temperament, seems to have found his ideal film: a film where characters populate sequences armed with enough angst, questions and disoriented energy that fully complement the nature of the situations.

Concerning machismo, 'Three Kings' may be Russell's definitive creation, but considering the sheer downpour of endless thoughts that may have bugged his psyche firsthand, this is possibly 'it'. The visual accompaniment for his supposedly erratic behavior on-sets. The exalted characters. The endlessly restless cerebral and 'physical' activities. Yes, this can be 'him'.

Amidst its tireless interior that contains stupendous amount of grounds deep inquiries that can easily be answered with practicality ('isn't coincidence just, well, a coincidence all on itself?'), "I Heart Huckabees" unfolded its true, simplistic nature via a question repeatedly uttered throughout and even included at the very end of the credits: "How am I not myself?"

Same existential question can be raised in 'Values Education' classes and within that context, it might be the film's ultimate intent: To align our inner thoughts to who we really are. I'm quite sure that I've already mentioned that line in my "Three Kings" review. Redundancy perhaps, but It can be a sign of a thematic trend.

"I Heart Huckabees" wasn't an energy-sucking 'infernal' machine as what Roger Ebert stated in his review of this film. It truly is a well-made commentary (as if it resembles one) about every person's hidden acumen that can solve inner dilemmas not through the exploration of an abyss infested with far-fetched ideas but through the fondness to expose the true, cathartic nature of ourselves.

We have already seen many films dealing with human comedy and the folly of decisions. "I Heart Huckabees", on the other hand, is the comedy of philosophy and the folly of its perceived precision.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Daniel Alfredson)

The girl who did a lot of things.

After the cliffhanger that is the "The Girl Who Played with Fire", the 'Millennium' trilogy finally came into a fitting end with barrels blazing and head held up high. There has always been an unhealthy practice for many filmmakers that handle trilogies to set every concluding films into high gear and hasten up into every plot closures, usually starting and, at the same time, culminating into some kind of a prolonged climax. We saw that happen to "The Matrix" franchise, to the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" film, and even "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (with that deus ex machina courtesy of the ghost army). Maybe they must have mistranslated the idea of a third film as 'an all-out racing fare into a quick conclusion'.

"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest", with its grounded patience and steady yet tense pace, greatly differentiated itself from every narrative-connected film trilogies. The film, again masterfully handled by director Daniel Alfredson, carried the complex remnants of the tale's progressing anomaly with ease and a sense of utmost professionalism in terms of storytelling.

After the first two films' great build-up, the filmmakers maintained its attention to viewers' intellectual capacity and never went on for some cheap tricks and easy thrills; the film waited and anticipated. They could have easily cut some of Lisbeth Salander's (Noomi Rapace) stagnant sequences in the hospital, but they knew more. The film even focused itself at the slower moments, the conversations and the vocal developments of the story's impending end.

This approach proved to be very effective that when a brief physical action sequence finally comes to play, it was immensely satisfying and a tad bit more thrilling. Why? Because it was intensely justified. It did not put any characters into random degrees of action scenes just for the sake of it. The film fully developed before it gave its initial gunshots. It made us learn to be patient and open-minded, we were rewarded with great satisfaction.

Now, maybe the real reason for the film's well-executed display is the source material itself (by Stieg Larsson) but still, kudos to the makers who have brought this final chapter into cinematic fruition. Lisbeth and journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) were not the only ones who received some pats on their backs for a job well done and a conflict well-resolved, we, the viewers, also did too: for a hefty fourth wall involvement in such an exhilarating, balanced, and thematically provocative saga that is also a damn fine triumvirate of thriller. The girl with the dragon tattoo. Played with fire. Kicked the hornet's nest. Rocked the film world.

And also gave Niedermann a heavily deserved comeuppance.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tetro (Francis Ford Coppola)

Tetro 'looking at the lights'.

Mr. Coppola. Once created cinematic juggernauts that is "The Godfather" series. Explored unrelenting paranoia in "The Conversation". Endured nightmares, tensions and existential questions in the Philippines, and splattered goth and color into Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Yes, it's just like looking back into Francis Ford Coppola's 'more than impressive' resume, but I just can't help but do that as I watch "Tetro", a film bringing Coppola's vision into the smaller confines of the art house scene, the uninhibited territory of Spanish linguistics and arguably into a more complex landscape of filmmaking where far-reaching scope is seldom a concern.

It stars Vincent Gallo, an actor who I think is just about as enigmatic and eccentric as the eponymous role he portrays, but may not be as restrained ("Brown Bunny?"). The film, like the opening sequence of "The Godfather", initially encapsulates the titular character with the same air of mystery and presence as that of Vito Corleone's cinematic introduction. We first see and feel Tetro not as an immediate character but merely as an idea. A lingering emotional attachment to its other important character, Bennie (well played by Alden Ehrenreich). A product of a past without a 'face'.

Though it may not be as noticed, I think director Coppola handled that brief scene perfectly, making us think that Bennie's visit to this 'brother' may not be an adequate idea as he thinks it is (highlighted by Tetro's harsh locking of his door). And though strengthened by a letter sent by his brother, Bennie's visit is still an unsure quest towards the unknown, into a brother who has also tread the same; a brooding but hopeful reverberation of a bond seemingly forgotten by time.

While I'm watching the film, one of the many things that I can think about is that it's quite reminiscent of Federico Fellini with its 'La Strada-like' utilization of carnivalesque characters littered around its central emotional arc. I'm not saying that Coppola, with all his aspirations to create a film he preferred to be remembered more in the European film scene, indirectly channeled and imitated Fellini. May be it's just the fact that in creating a deeply 'personal' film (he mentioned that it is), one can't help but grab the enduring roots of perennial cinematic artists like the aforementioned one above, a director also known for extracting emotions from his personal recesses for his more passionate projects to enhance the idea that the film was conceived, shot, and edited with the eyes on the camera's lens and hands pressed somewhere in the heart.

"Tetro" isn't just about the cliched concept of 'brotherly love', it's also about naivety at its most brutal misplacement and emptiness completely out of sync with what could have really been. And to say that Tetro's self-exile from his family is nothing but a bitter exaggeration is an insight out of context. I personally think that it was justifiable.

'Control' may also have something to do with it. With Tetro not having any with his life because of his father's egocentric authority, he looks for some place where he can. Then along came Bennie, his brother with the same sentiments but armed with much more urgency to answer questions of his own.

One chose to separate himself from his family, another is on a quest to know it more, and with the masterful and experienced craftsmanship of Francis Ford Coppola, the film has been rather successful in its polarizing portrayal of the two-sided truths and consequences of 'familial alienation' and an uncommon insight into an alternative reality of patriarchal flaws .

A self-produced film that is also an endlessly intriguing narrative exercise enhanced by unorthodox filmmaking. Coppola, with the creation of this independent gem shown in relative obscurity, really heeded the film's most significant line: "Don't look into the light". In his case, the blindingly bright lights of mainstream, that is.


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