Sunday, August 28, 2011

Annie Hall (Woody Allen)

Annie and Alvy, Diane and Woody; it's either way.

A second viewing.

Looking at the gallery of the previous Oscar winners for best picture, "Annie Hall" is definitely one of the most unorthodox and unglazed of all the films that have won the coveted prize. No majestic scope, no larger-than-life characters and no unreachable emotional core, but only an accessibly psychoanalytical and pop-intellectual presence of Woody Allen and his one-liners. Oh, and there's also the impeccable Diane Keaton as the titular character (whose real name is, well you've guessed it: Diane 'Annie' Hall) whose unassumingly fluctuating romance with Allen's character Alvy Singer founds the film's distinct postmodernist approach to the uber-complicated thing we all call 'love'.

Opening scenes meter what we can expect from a particular film's wholeness, be it an initial action scene or a non-linear middle scene pushed right into the beginning. We are introduced into "Annie Hall" with a monologue by Woody Allen, to which I'm not sure if he's uttering his entry comic speech as him being Alvy Singer, the other way around or a random combination of both. Either way, it's a subtle delivery that may not give the immediate feel of the film but definitely serves unto us the fragile wholeness of our neurotic main character. Why is he even talking to us in the first place? Is he really that lonely in his own reality of 'death' and isolated 'mental masturbation' that he wills himself to break the fourth wall?

Unlike other 'love' stories that preceded "Annie Hall" which starts with impossible chance encounters and ends with reconciliations, this film started somewhere where Alvy and Annie's romantic complications are at an all-time high but their emotional excitement for each other at an all-time low. Then like an unsure blend of fantasy and reality, the film then traces the pieces of how this 'nervous romance' came to be, or at least something like that. But with the tone of the film, which I believe can go on for days and days (the movie itself) even without an audience (this Woody Allen fellow really talks a lot), it's apt to say that the film really couldn't care less.

The ability to enact both a pessimistic existential viewpoint (according to Alvy, the 'horrible' and the 'miserable' are the only dividends of life) and an indifferent humor throughout yet hints on an underlying warmth beneath its 'foreskin'. This is one of the unique aspects of the film which certainly gave it the prestigious Oscar award. Right now, the said award is nothing but history, and although I think that "Annie Hall" hasn't aged that well, its portrayal of the distorted nuances of 'love' and 'contemporary existence' never did.

Written and directed by Woody Allen himself, I know that it's not quite right, chronologically and qualitatively speaking, that I was introduced into Allen's works (not counting "Vicky Cristina Barcelona") via "Annie Hall", a film that is widely considered to be the artistic zenith of his film career.

Now on the other hand, although I loved every moment of how Woody Allen and Diane Keaton's effortless chemistry pervades the screen through and through, their dialogue exchanges that seem like trivial conversations between two not-so-special souls and their consummate embraces and kisses amidst a backdrop of a surprisingly subdued New York City (photography by Gordon Willis), I really can't see myself as Alvy Singer.

Reckon how other 'love story' heroes mirror us one way or another? This is Woody Allen's difference. He can look as plain, thin and 'balding' as he is, but at least, his Alvy Singer is never completely us. A character that is molded more out of clumsy ubiquity (based on his sometimes alienating but seemingly all-knowing one-bit opinions and whatnot) than crazy human simplicity.

Granted, "Annie Hall" is a complex film of romantic proportions, but its heart lies within two key jokes uttered by Alvy himself: the humorous 'elderly women' analogy and the 'chicken brother' joke. Unnoticed as it may seem, these jokes weren't just meant to give a start and end transition for the whole film but a perceptive change for Alvy Singer himself. And like the autobiographical stage play that he has created near the end of the film, after all his musings about the futility of life and the importance of death, he simply wants his romance warm and eternalized, just like everyone else.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Walk the Line (James Mangold)

'The Man in Black'.

"Walk the Line" is, without a doubt, one of those typical biopics that follow the 'redemption' dramatic formula as its narrative pattern. But armed with top-notch performances by Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, the film achieved to be more than just another 'biopic' film. Of course it is strictly about Cash's initial rise, self-destructive fall and rise again as a musical icon, but it's also a subtly observant film that focuses about these two people's unorthodox human connection and the greatness of a slow-moving love.

Notice how in many films that tread the 'redemption' process as what I've mentioned above, the people to which the biopic is specifically center-weighted for typically goes through rushed marriages and easy romances with their better halves(see "People vs. Larry Flynt" and the classic "Raging Bull"), only bringing about problems on the way. "Walk the Line" (and Cash's romantic life) expresses utmost differentiation.

Sure, Johnny Cash's marriage with Vivian (played by Ginnifer Goodwin) was tackled in a fairly quick exposition, but with the film mainly about Cash's fascinating emotional exploits with June more than it is about his emotional and domestic problems with his initial wife, "Walk the Line", with a refreshingly patient direction by James Mangold, treated this Cash-Carter bond as a slow-burning fire. Fire that is occasionally being blown off by the wind, but still strives on with its flame.

Trickier as it may look to pull that extra-marital vibe off, the idea of being 'tricky' does not start there. It starts within the internalization of the actors themselves. James Mangold once mentioned in the "Becoming Cash/Becoming Carter" featurette that he is not concerned about whether or not Joaquin Phoenix would properly impersonate and emulate Cash's distinct gestures and facial expressions. What's important to him is the 'interpretation'. He is indeed more than correct.

I have seen images of the real Johnny Cash and trust me, aside from the slicked back hair, the facial structure of Cash and Phoenix are far from even being remotely similar. But guess what? Phoenix, for how much time he stayed on-screen, embodied the destructively alienating, non-conformist nature of the 'Man in Black', complete with powerful facial translations of a constantly self-debilitating internal conflict.

Phoenix, with a uniquely quiet intensity that is only his own, is such an inspired casting choice. Mangold could have gone for leading actors better-suited for the marquees but he chose not to. Besides, as what I've seen in his visual and dramatic treatment for "Walk the Line", the film is never made to be the usual Hollywood biographical offering. Aside from the common elements such as the non-linear opening scene, the childhood flashback and the aforementioned 'redemption' format, it's very different in context.

Sure, Cash came back, sober and all, to the music that he himself has nurtured and many people have since came to love with a better sense of inner peace. For some 'biopic'-fleshed main characters, coming back into a once abandoned limelight means going through a process of physical and mental self-improvement. A 'process' so honey-glazed that it seems too tiring and one-dimensional.

Cash, on the other hand, came back, black-clad, a slicked back hair and a voice colder than the night than it ever was before, to record live inside a maximum security prison while ridiculing its warden and critiquing its yellowish drinking water in the process. Talk about stern anti-authoritarian stance and a pair of steel cojones.

"Behind every great man is a great woman". That quote perfectly fits within "Walk the Line's" 'great love conquers all' theme, but I think it's better to rephrase that as "Beside every great man is a great woman". Johnny and June duet, don't they?


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (Marlon Rivera)

On the way to Mr. Smithberger.

It might initially appear that this latest Cinemalaya triumph is particularly a well-tread filmic practice of traditional Philippine neorealism. But as it unravels in a fashion only a knowingly self-conscious deconstructive film can do, what it appeared to be was a creative blend of fantastical quasi-realism and full-fledged, jargon-filled nuances between the independent film scene and the commercial movie industry highlighted and fueled by Eugene Domingo’s eagerly commanding “Being John Malkovich-like” parody of herself.

But do not be misled, although Ms. Domingo and her much-hyped (thanks to well-played news columns by gossip writers) ‘plunge’ into the titular brown hole is the highlight of the film from a moviegoer’s viewpoint, “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” is essentially more about the film’s two visionary and free-spirited characters’ episodic adventures and whatnot. One a director (played by Kean Cipirano) and the other, a producer (JM De Guzman) who both display a certain raw energy typically steaming out from fresh grads, they are both struggling, amidst a cover of coffee-drinking comforts and ‘higher than anything else’ aspirations (they really much prefer Oscars than Cannes) to take a daringly unconventional independent film into fruition.

“Ang Babae sa Septic Tank”, directed by Marlon Rivera and written by Chris Martinez who clearly shows both his humorous outlook and comic disdain towards cinematic nuisances (such as product placements and the industry’s nauseating ‘diva’ culture), is not necessarily about the technicalities, logistics or the pressuring deadlines of making movies. Hell, there’s barely a scene involving movie crews, cameras and stuff. Unlike, say, Truffaut’s “Day for Night” which is purely about the ups and downs of such, this film is more about the endlessly playful landscapes of the mind going colorfully amok in the middle of a mind-boggling series of script conceptualizations and cerebral storyboarding. If countless ‘movies-within-movies’ dissect the fascinating days of principal photography, “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” is inclined towards the fragility of pre-production.

The posters, the cast, the performances, even the overall treatment of the film within the film (which is entitled “Walang-wala”). These were taken into the open. Through a surprisingly muted character played by Cai Cortez, “Walang-wala” shifts through the different parallel realities of ‘what if’ movie scenarios via her daydreams and nap musings. For a film of immense creativity that caters its refreshingly postmodernist feel with exuberance and humor for a wider audience, using a non-speaking role as a medium to transcend the lucidly brittle “Walang-wala” film ideas is inexcusably lazy. But considering that the film is overwhelmed by endless modern Filipino vernaculars coming from Kean Cipriano and JM de Guzman’s mouths sugar-coated as loudly superfluous tirades and ‘two-cent’ dialogues and the parody Eugene Domingo sounding, acting and demanding like the real-life Kris Aquino, it’s a balancing tonic to see someone whose mouth is completely shut.

Normal to many independent films, “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” is also filled with inspired performances from its cast, specifically Eugene Domingo as her alternative reality self, whose scene of her accepting the script from the two maverick filmmakers may have been mirroring her genuine real-life reaction in accepting this film. A true breath of fresh air for her considering the formulaic haze of mainstream movies that she has previously starred in. But the best performance in the film, which I never have foreseen even from the farthest of distance (maybe me being unaware of him helped) is the bit role of Arthur Poongbato, a satiric character that pokes fun of award-conscious indie directors, played effortlessly by Tad Tadioan.

But then again, “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” is never a full-blown satire either nor a distinct celebration of the independent film spirit. Though the film can be a small-dosed mix of both, it’s mainly a subtly unnerving little film that highlights the forgotten urban plight of the impoverished that merely serve as harrowing textures of countless filmmakers’ attempt for superficial cinematic social commentaries.

"Majestic". One of them mouthed in ecstasy as they see the layered kingdom of make-shift carton houses and rusty tin-roofed shanties visually asking to be filmed. But what the film turned out to be, ultimately, is a tragicomic exposition of the characters’ internal realization that not everything adheres with their own cinematic vision and artistic conviction. As the film heads into a gob-smacking head-on collision course with reality, there’s this brooding clarity.

And as we see Eugene Domingo visually transform into the titular woman that could have easily been the scene that can elicit the silliest of laughter in the whole film, there’s this great sense that it is more profoundly symbolic than it is immediately graphic. It stared at cinematic apathy strong-eyed while inside a pungent hole of sobering truth.

The film ended with audience’s heartily fading laughter and tender smiles. For that sole reason, the integration of “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” as a comedy vehicle into mainstream cinemas fully succeeded. But I hope the film left an impression that is much more than that.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)

Andy Serkis as Caesar.

Just when Hollywood is being continuously filled up with useless prequels and countless spin-offs, here's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" looking at us with eyes all straight and determined. Filled with awe-inspiring sequences that reminds me of the first time I saw the gigantic wonders of Spielberg's "Jurassic Park", it's a 'make or break' film that may easily solidify and further cement the fact that the 'Planet of the Apes' franchise is long dead and gone. But guess what? With what this film has achieved with its intelligent narrative and surprisingly compassionate emotional exposition, it re-integrates itself into the gallery of other science fiction greats and dare declare its reverberated pulse.

At least from what I've watched in the original Franklin J. Schaffner film, the first "Planet of the Apes" film relies on the lonesome breath of its human characters (particularly Charlton Heston's character) because with apes around you and nothing more, where else would you? It is the sense of emotional neutrality that separates this film from the said 1968 film that has also able to give this prequel a hair-raising feel of both suspense and warmth.

But before anything else, the film, directed by Rupert Wyatt with an ability to back his already compelling narrative with balanced kinetics and drama, of course assumes that you already knew that Earth and the titular planet, at least in its make-believe reality, is the same (thanks to one of the greatest cinematic twists in movie history). In fact, that's basically what this film is all about: the establishment of how apes has taken over the world and why. But what makes this film stand out, though, is its switch of perspectives without touching the chords of its already finely-toned dramatic impartiality.

We may feel sympathy towards the apes from time to time, but this film incurs its strength more by means of empathy, which cannot be achieved into great effect if not because of Andy Serkis' remarkable motion-capture performance as the aptly named primate Caesar (after the great Roman Emperor). We thought that his role as Gollum was the towering and unprecedented milestone in his career, but this film offers great contest that some may think twice. His Caesar holds its own with its distinct sense of tenderness and logical brute force.

It's a fair belief that CGI characters, no matter how feverishly dramatic they can be, still will never equal that of a real actor's mark. Serkis' Caesar is different, and so was the other primates. There's something uniquely powerful in their ability to exercise the meager traits of simple humanity that they seem to quietly re-invigorate the nuances of being human. And balanced by a strong lead role by James Franco as Will Rodman, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is an utterly convincing tale of compassion and connection amid an immense evolutionary barrier.

Supporting roles include Freida Pinto, whose performance quietly shouts of 'generic leading lady', John Lithgow, who gave a brief but resonant one as Will Rodman's father, and Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. Oh, sorry, as Dodge Langdon. Talk about stereotype casting. He's been through these 'bullying' and all for 8 movies. Come on, move on, mate.

The film, although advertised more for its visual effects, is still more about the tension of the build-up rather than it is about the climactic siege of the Golden Gate Bridge. True, the final action setpiece left me and all the other viewers in utter awe, but the scene when Caesar defiantly shouts "No!" for the first time as his tongue finally reaches the capacity of human language, has inspired the audience around me to utter a resounding "Whoa!"

If such middle scenes can simulate such reaction, you know the film's doing something right. And how more can it be right? By immediate standards, this is how you do a prequel. With a miniature Statue of Liberty and the Icarus spacecraft on the side. Fully aware of its source film and gratefully so.


1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Ivan6655321's Schneider 1001 movies widget