Month: November 2015

Miss Bulalacao (2015, Ara Chawdhury)

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bulalacao

The movie ‘Miss Bulalacao’ ended with Dodong(Miss Bulalacao) receiving a gift. The boy deserved it after having borrowed Julie Tearjerky’s face at one point, after carrying for probably a third of the movie a baby in his tummy. Standing up from my chair as the end credits rolled, I felt not much, although I munched a ‘quarter pounder’ a few minutes earlier while watching. The movie felt like light entertainment, like eating veggies. You get to smile, probably chuckle (although I didn’t). You would probably feel shy to be boisterous, even when you’re inside a 200-seater theater and you’re about 20 in the balcony, each of you separated like islands.

There were no big moments in the movie, although I should’ve laughed hard at the scene that parodied Bernal’s Himala. It didn’t make me feel sympathetic to any character. No one was physically hurt, I didn’t see any ‘operation’. Even when I found the main character’s stepdad go to sleep and stay with another woman, also despite seeing Chai Fonacier (Miss Bulalacao’s stepmom) ‘suffer’, I didn’t feel strongly for or against anyone. Was I just tired and a bit sleepy not to feel involved and sentimental? I could probably blame the ‘mobile’ subtitles.

Or for the more crucial part for me, it must be the opening sequence that affected my appreciation of the rest of the film.

It started with an annoying Muzak playing, with colored bulbs lighting but not adding interest to the frame, to the appropriately drably decorated stage of a gay beauty contest. When the host in drag, who looked every inch the typical extra in old defunct TV gag shows asked the exciting question: What is the essence of a woman?, it took our main character  minutes before he could answer. The camera then turned away from the three candidates and surveyed the disinterested sleepy crowd, prolonging the real audience’s agony, only for us to be served an answer that was long been used and overplayed to surprise us. Of course no movie wants to open to irritate, but that’s initially generally how I felt.

It’s good that I stayed on. The rest of the movie was not bad at all. In fact its strength was its tight script and story. You could sense that there was much thought and care given in linking and interrelating those different elements and details to make the movie solid, to make it mildly funny, nice, and decent. For that, the movie deserved my respect. But as stated earlier, I couldn’t remember being engaged in it, It felt too easy, didn’t taste ‘cheesy’ in a good ‘hamburger-topping’ kind of way.

So I left the Coke cup and food wrapper inside and left the cinema house. I didn’t have any difficulty in convincing myself that I was ready then to watch another film. I hoped the next one wins my heart

 

Rating: 7/10

 

Dayang Asu (2015, Bor Ocampo)

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dayang asu

Now I realize that in clapping with joy when Dayang Asu ended, some people in the audience must have thought I was twisted, insensitive, or perverted, especially with the recent news of massacre in Paris.

But a movie is an art form and we react to it impulsively and genuinely. I usually don’t really get everything it wants to say in one sitting, but if it’s good it stirs something in me. Dayang Asu made me remember an event that caused a nation’s outrage, and it’s the film’s triumph.  It led me ‘there’, without a straight narrative line, without much exposition. You will just find yourself drawn into it by its puzzles. You will find yourself entering a smutty, dirty world, and it doesn’t really mean eventually, towards the end as payoff, you will be aroused to masturbate.

As respite from ugly sights, you will see details that prettify frames, some accents in the mayor’s house, and the gothic design of the panel of a small concert stage reminiscent of INC churches to name some samples.  It’s artful without being too showy of its artfulness. You’ll hear smart details in the dialogue, those joke-exchanges between the goons, those elliptical conversations in the first act, those melding of spoken words of love for family coming from our two anti-heroes with gestures of caring that complicate our feelings towards them when they finally grow fully their monster furs and fangs. There will be details of transition, details that are poetic, like motifs, like small parallel visual threads. Some of it were pretty obvious. Some of it you would know once you have developed a sense for such because they happen and pass too quickly, not Lav Diaz time.  This sensing I talk about is like a deliberate shutting off to focus on an object, in this case, a film’s strands and parts: visual, aural, socio-political.  Or like in carefully listening to a song, we need to close our eyes to hear the faint string arrangements or bass lines.

The editing is superb, especially in that search for the missing ‘gift.’ There my heartbeats stop for a few seconds. I thought I had a split-second heart attack.

Why am I expressing so much love for the movie as if I were bribed to give a rave? It’s very rare for me to feel satisfied, to know something like this has come out, amid attempts of other directors on themes involving corruption, power and revenge, and for which they resorted heavily on prolonged displays of sex and violence. Here in this movie, yes, they’re present. But the creator’s decisions to choose a certain degree of restraint is precious. The movie didn’t really go graphic ‘all the way’ and it was the best move, making things more gripping and powerful with clues, hints, and ‘interrupted action.’

After watching this excellent movie, it also did increase my rage against all that seeming helplessness shown. After watching it, the more for me not forget to rage against moral degeneration. Some people make pigs of themselves so they could be powerful and wealthy small-time, so they could afford to wear and flaunt their Adidas shoes. Some people are weak in character, they could not refuse the lure of power (In the movie, I’ve ascribed the soft orange light on the hut’s walls flashed by the van’s headlights as a symbolic come-on). And then we have violence, which hides at some corners, waiting for the next bang. We just had our shocking dose of it this week. You hear it as part of casual talks in certain far-flung towns.

Would you then judge me negatively because I applaud and give this movie a standing ovation, when its themes are despicable, when you yourself have your daily ration of TV Patrol? How much of the world’s news and stories of violence have rubbed off on you and why haven’t you become a monster yet? Why haven’t you turned into a criminal?

Rating: 10/10

Bata, Bata…Paano Ka Ginawa? (1998, Chito Rono)

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Bata Bata

It’s a rare treat to see Vilma Santos finally fit into a role almost perfectly. It’s okay for her this time to display that physicality in acting. Here her shouting are justified, they never feel excessive–the kids are shouting too! Here, having to portray a mother of two kids with different fathers seems to be too easy for her, like her slipping into a teacher’s or a saleslady’s uniform, and then swapping it with nightclothes, without any embarrassing delay or hesitation, even if probably she’s to change in the park and even if only a tall bush will cover her. She is fearless, liberated, and vulnerable at the same time. She can talk about names of private parts without shame. She speaks of human rights and feminism, it’s not a stretch to say that she is the confident, believable and glamorized representation of Ms. Bautista’s modern Filipina, a joyful, irreverent, and sensitive woman motor mouth who doesn’t need to carry placards to advance her cause, a vibrant character, sexual. Even in that scene where the kids bring her a cake to celebrate Women’s day and by inference it is confirmation of their choice to stay with her and not with their fathers, the candlelight warms Vilma’s white skin, a profile of her alabaster legs in full view, the light heightens her appeal. And then you see her face, with her cheeks wet with tears. Any man would want to embrace her in that instant, to protect her with his muscular chest and arms, and cuddle her at that moment of frailty. Also in that scene with Raymond Bagatsing, an officemate, when she says that she wants to ‘do’ it, she says it so casually I believe her. The longing feels like she has abstained too much, as if she never had it for a long time–like yesterday. In my self-proclaimed conservatism, I find it strange that I don’t find anything repugnant or wrong with her in asking him that!

Taklub (2015, Brilliante Mendoza)

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Nora Aunor

I posted something like ‘it’s a re-enactment of the sorrowful mysteries’ as status on FB before I watched Taklub. When I was already seated in the cinema, it seemed like my prediction was close to accurate. The movie opens with dizzying shots of the devastated area while the names of production people and actors appear and dissappear on the screen. The real action opens though with a tragedy, a burning house, with about five people inside crying for help. And it is not the last of deaths that we will see in this re-telling of stories of survivors of typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban, even after a year when we know thousands had already perished in the place.
The morning we see Bebeth (Nora Aunor) go to the market. She buys fish and other food to serve in her eatery. She’s a busy woman, concerned about a lot of things—there is so much to be done in an area littered with rubbles and with the news of tragedy and fear of more tragedy in the air. She walks, rides the jeepney, adopts an askal, meets some of the other characters. She gets to talk with Erwin (Aaron Rivera) whose parents were killed by the storm. She goes to Renato (Lou Veloso) in the hospital, and shares with him her collected money from her co-Taclobanons. She also at one point lets Larry’s (Julio Diaz) family enter her house in the threat of a tsunami.
It’s a movie filled with images: a close-up of a burnt mother and child, an unearthing and then burying of a cross with an armless Christ, a family still opting to build and live in a no-build zone and then finding their galvanized iron roof sheets stolen by a co-victim of the typhoon.
It’s a drama of well-controlled rhythms (excellent editing), with achievements in acting, production design and sound.
Unlike some of Brilliante Mendoza movies, there isn’t so much waiting here. It’s as if he and the editor just show an image, and then move on to the next. Unlike in Thy Womb, where the patience of waiting of the main character is to be rewarded by an excellent ambiguous mix of triumph and tragedy, here, except for one instance where we see Renato light a kerosene lamp in a boat, all else moves at a generous pace, making it probably one of the ‘easiest’ Mendoza films to sit through in terms of duration. But I think it is also in its close adherence to the script’s structure to not really focus on a singular drama, but instead move on to the next scene, character, or storyline, that the film avoids to over-sentimentalize.

I’ve run out of adjectives to give to the legendary actress Nora Aunor’s performance. She is such a wonder to stare at. This time she proves again that she doesn’t need kilometric dramatic lines or need dramatic highlights to catch attention and stand out in a frame or scene. When she visits Renato in the hospital, he just lost family members in the fire and will lose one more in a hospital bed, Nora supports instead of stealing the moment from Veloso (but nearly steals it). When the camera focuses on the actress’s face, after seeing and hearing Renato question God for his fate, we see her face and those pair of eyes in terror and surprise, as if her Bebeth’s character has not been desensitized by her own losses and by the tragedy she had witnessed earlier. Those potent eyes glassed, her cry silenced by that transparent thing, Aunor’s image is frozen for a brief time, recalling and rivaling some of her best scenes in The Flor Contemplacion story, and that dramatic high point in the Majayjay bridge scene in Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos. And then while we hear Renato’s cries, Nora leaves the hallway. The movements of her shoulders and arms, wiping away her tears that the camera hides from us–no one could doubt its truth. The other actors try come up with their own truths and match Nora’s effortless intensity. In their distinct ways, they create their moments.
Mendoza cuts himself above the new and old directors in his framing of images. What could’ve been ordinary, in re-watch we could plumb sub-layers of meanings. And sometimes, even if we ask what’s a scene’s or a frame’s purpose is, we sense that there is an artist behind the camera, looking for new angles, carefully selecting the locations, conscious of his compositions. That sight of a burnt mother and child is unforgettable. That worm’s eye-view shot of a road with foot-deep still rainwater leading towards that one vanishing point is precious. You see him assert his being an auteur, in recasting and making us remember some of his old compositions and thematic elements: the meat and blood in the supermarket, the moon that is framed by the purlins of the sheet-less part of Erwin’s house roof, the arrival of a stray puppy, and many more. Mendoza’s work and details deserve close inspection.

There is one deftly calculated use of song here, which evokes social and pop culture significance at close reading. Inside the jeepney is Nora Aunor, then from a live radio show, a live band’s performance spills out of the jeepney’s radio. They play “Am I that easy to forget” and we see Nora hear it. In the movie’s context, which has mostly shown an environment emphasizing the government’s inadequacies in helping the survivors, the song takes on a different meaning. We also know that the singer-actress has a recorded version of the song. A close-up of Nora’s face while that song plays, our senses are jarred. We feel an intensification of loss. She, who’s long been a symbol of the poor and the oppressed, with that scene, makes me ask myself: Isn’t the obvious a clear rebuttal to the pronouncements of our current government that they are doing their best to make the Taclobanons’ lives better? I also wonder and ask, Isn’t Nora also thinking and wishing that she could have sung that song again? I feel sad, having just discovered how good a singer she was. I feel sad that her singing voice has not been restored. If she were the one singing that song, her version would have been in these depressing times the better one for catharsis.

Fargo (1996, Coen Brothers)

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fargo
There is this sinister look of the Paul Bunyan statue that is standing in Brainerd in the movie Fargo. It has the same look and feel of some of the statues that are paraded in our town during the Lenten Season. It must be the lighting. It must be the ax that the statue carries. It’s a signpost, together with the long stretches of snow and desolate roads that increase that feeling of creepiness, the minimal details which increase the suspicion that something bloody and violent might happen. Later that will be confirmed. We will be offered violent scenes in this black comedy depiction of premeditated crime.
William H. Macy plays a car salesman who is in debt (and later will be in ‘deep shit’). To come up with big money, he hatches this plan to have thugs kidnap his wife, and to have his father-in-law pay the ransom. His solution to his problem is complicated by the fact that the criminals whom he hired to execute the plan are stupid, careless, and clumsy.
Frances Mcdormand plays the cop assigned to the case. She is pregnant. Even when all evidence she has gathered effortlessly lead to the criminals, she is shown not in a hurry to solve it. Her simple life continues. She talks with her husband in bed about his dreams, watches TV, binges in a canteen, meets an old friend-admirer with a name Mike Yanagita. She speaks with a specific accent and intonation and displays a mix of coldness and charm that somehow reminds me of a serious and funny Jane Fonda.

And she’s not the only one successful in registering idiosyncrasies that make the characters more real. Macy and the other cast are praiseworthy as well. No doubt it’s a potent combination of good acting, screenplay and direction that makes this movie a winner. It’s also good that each scene is evenly spaced in relation to the others. We feel that there isn’t much thinking to be done and that all we need to do is relax and let the story unfold. After watching we will sense though the care and genius in the conceptualization and execution to make this movie an effortless viewing experience.

I recall a nice mix of Hitchcock and Kubrick in the kidnapping scene, when the bathroom door is axed by the criminals and when the wife hides beneath the shower curtain. That shot of the shower curtain hooks sends me in a split-second bliss remembering Psycho. That body part protruding and being lodged in the wood chipper, the color of plants beside the machine. The abductee, hand-tied and blindfolded, made to walk in snow to let her find her way to escape if she could. That stare of that goon on Macy’s wife– the man who looks like a chubby and dangerous Ryan Gosling–while the other criminal, whose antagonist pedigree must have descended straight from the Home Alone movie, taps hard the TV to work, and when the TV screen opens, we see an image of insects mating. Yeah, yeah, this movie validates that there is more evil lurking deep in a silent man. Here also, the violent scenes are like flower stalks planted in between moments of comic and in places covered with ice. They will be in full bloom before the movie ends.

Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano)

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kikujiro

A man and a boy embark on a search for the mother of the boy, and return and part ways changed by their experiences together. Funny, sad, and could be partly autobiographical for the director especially with what could be a clue–with that last question before the movie ends. It could be a taxing viewing experience, having to stare at repeated scenes of coming and going, of roads, of shots of the kid alone or with his older companion. Some hints of childhood trauma here and there, with an initially seeming manipulatively sentimental background music which grows bearable and nostalgic with time. The fact that some comic scenes, toned-down compared to those employed at Japanese gag shows and comedy, could resonate into something meaningful and reflective, is proof that a movie filled with private language, mysteries, and oddities, no matter how simplistically-made it looks like, could also be powerfully moving as this.