Month: January 2016

Lolita (1962, Stanley Kubrick)

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LolitaNubile Lolita, who looked ‘experienced’ despite the mask of her young age, flirtatious and sensual, and who would later prove to be materialistic, was introduced to us with a highlight of a chorus of bright beach California sounds to heighten our awareness of her, to intensify our desire to know her more after seeing her in her near-nakedness. She didn’t look like someone who just started to discover things like nests and hives. She projected a mien ready and confident of her powers to tease.

That was also how she struck Mr. Humbert. He was a professor looking for a place to rent. We identified with him. With him, we slowly developed a form of madness because of her seemingly innocent provocations. He chose to stay in her house because of her. Meanwhile, Lolita lived with her widow-mother who was as sexually needy as Lolita seemed to be but more conspicuous with her ‘advances’ with her future tenant, theatrical and comic in her display of affection, a little crazy and immoral like most of the mature characters in this movie who, basing on their innuendos, would have found ‘swinging’ as a natural way to beat boredom on a weekend.

Fate (and the old man’s patience) made Mr. Humbert and Lolita have an affair: Old man and young girl, father and daughter, Tarzan and Baby Jane, pedophile and ‘victim.’ An immoral one even by today’s standards, especially if you’re living in a generally Catholic nation. Shocking despite the clever ways the sexual relationship was hinted at. Read P.D. James’s Innocent Blood for a small but similarly ribald and shocking intimation.

It’s like a one male’s story, Mr. Humbert’s, his obsession with this girl. But on the fringes was another amazingly crazy male character whose importance would be revealed towards the end, after the long wait, after what looked like the movie’s prologue. Peter Sellers’s Mr. Quilty is an amazing creation. Was it patterned after Martin Scorsese? Genius, lisping, motormouth, rambling, with looping dialogues. The difference with the Raging Bull director was that this character had a unique charm of its own, and with a multiple personality disorder perhaps to have made those clever acting switches. It’s a dream role for an actor, a character conscious that he was taking on different guises.

He was introduced to us inside his mansion, with all those glitz and grandeur in helter-skelter, and it made us remember that great movie by Orson Welles. Mr. Quilty could be miserable after that devilish girl left him. He must have thought he could overcome his desire for her. But now he’s alone it was natural for him to really be insane. The first few moments Mr. Humbert enter Mr. Quilty’s place, at the top right side of the frame we found a chair covered with white linen at the high end of the staircase. It ached to add a bit of terror, a phantom. That must have been one of Lolita’s favorite spots when she’s in the mood to play her hollow games.

9/10

 

The Breakup Playlist (2015, Dan Villegas): Where’s the Romance in Romance Drama

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the breakup playlist

The premise of reuniting ex-lovers in a band for a concert when their professional and personal issues had not yet been resolved seemed to be an illogical starting point. Add to that the side-story of some teenager-lovers who had broken up and wanted  to hire a disbanded group for their own show. We had a presentiment that this wouldn’t work.

It’s forgivable, initially. When we didn’t know the whole story yet. But in hindsight, we had to ask if Trixie and Gino (Sarah Geronimo and Piolo Pascual) had kept their personal and professional issues away from their band, because in their first business meeting, the other band members, and their manager, looked and sounded surprised with Trixie’s negative answers to the details of the offer of a reunion-concert. It would be proven  that all were aware of the lover’s split subsequently. How could a band separate without knowing the reasons for such a decision? It just  felt at that point that the other members were clueless. And wasn’t it proper that a manager must first settle the conflicts of his talents before even thinking of getting work from a producer?

Of course, we were still in “Track 1.” The story was told  in chapters, with song headings, and not in the natural sequence. What we had seen earlier was the story’s ‘present’. We would learn later how the lovers met—in a music camp. We would know how the band recruited Trixie—via Gino’s pleas and persuasion, against Trixie’s parent’s wishes. Gino would court Trixie. Or did he? It seemed like it just flowed. They became lovers. Effortless. Like one day they woke up in love with each other. Then we learned what caused the breakup: Gino’s professional insecurities, Trixie’s accusations of Gino’s disloyalty to her.

What’s disengaging about this movie was that the romance was not believable.  And it could also be considered as inadequacy of the actors. Yes. Sarah was at her most low-key here compared to her previous starrers, with no big mahogany-colored wigs, and no big yellow dangling earrings. Yes. Piolo tried his best to be convincing as a ‘rock’ star. His moves holding his guitar onstage felt like that of a repressed glam rocker. Give him a wig, a Kiss make-up. Make him flit his tongue like a lizard and make him exaggerate his movements and he would turn into Tom Cruise’s Stacee Jaxx. They’re okay individually. But as a team, they failed to connect, to feel, and to look like lovers. When they exchanged I love you’s, sadly, nothing in those words felt inspired and electrified. There was no sexual tension between them. When Sarah embraced Piolo, she was like cuddling her guy-bestfriend. When they kissed, it’s with a certain tinge of familial respect. Theirs was more of a professional partnership, singing nice melodies together, contrasting voices and keys. It ended there. When they sang The Eraserheads classic ‘With a Smile’ inside the car while Sarah was crying, it never realized the promise of a poignant, magical moment.

The  movie was not without strengths though. Plus points for the effort of the cinematographer and writer.The movie looked fresh compared to its predecessors from the same genre. The colors were not really pale. Strong contrast of green and red was present, but it didn’t call attention to itself. It’s probably because of the lights used, the frames not as bright and heavily saturated compared to other Star Cinema products.  In the local setting, the infusion of songwriting in romcom was new and commendable.

Minus points for the movie despite its praiseworthy non-linear narrative structure and for partly tackling the dynamics of being in a band. Minus points for some loopholes in the plot and characterization. Why would the band talk of having a concert when some of its members were still hurting from an unresolved past. With the use of episodes, we question those blind spots, those undisclosed years in the story. What was Gino doing in the three years that he was separated from Trixie? Why would Trixie accept Gino’s sorry and eventually believe he still loved her when he didn’t even pursue her or search for her in that long time gap? That should have been explained. A few lines of dialogue would have done it. Why did Trixie’s position soften after merely listening to Gino’s uninspired, heavily derivative ‘sorry-song’? Was she that crazy? A sucker for mushiness to fall out of love and fall in love again just like that?

I think these flaws undermined our trust and made us search for the warmth between the two each time we heard them say the word ‘pares’. The lack of romantic chemistry between them made us think that this could be what others had found highly unique about this film, a movie too close to what is real that the major truth we got was that the fiction didn’t work. And that hurts.

Rating: 6/10

Kapag Iginuhit ang Hatol ng Puso (1993, Celso Ad Castillo): Fault Of The Kid And The Stars

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The thought of having a paid man impregnate a rich executive is promising and is unusual in Philippine society in the 90’s, even up to this day. That premise figures in a film helmed by one our best directors and sets high expectations for it. People anticipate something revolutionary in the movie. We expect it to be good.

It is top-billed by Dina Bonnevie as Vina, a rich, beautiful lady boss who gets dumped for another woman by her fiance, Raoul (Rustom Padilla). He was a no-show on their wedding day. That embarrassment for Vina would trigger a series of events in her life. She meets Lally (Monique Wilson), a club singer, in a hospital after her failed suicide attempt. She is shown distrustful of men after that incident, still being pestered by her former beau and his wife (Bing Loyzaga) when she has already nearly died slashing her wrists because of what they’ve done. Eventually, not getting younger anymore, she follows the recommendation of a friend to have her own child out of wedlock, with an unknown paid male (Gary Estrada) set up by his girlfriend Lally to aid in its realization. She falls in love with the man, marries him. Their exes plot revenge and finally torment Vina by stealing her child.

The hilarious shifts and turns in the story and the poor characterization distract the viewers. There’s a series of high points happening every ten minutes that has perturbed us too much, to list: Raoul’s nonappearance on his wedding with Vina, Vina finding out that her boyfriend marries another woman, Vina’s botched suicide, Raul shown giving his lame excuse why he didn’t show up on the wedding, professing to Vina he loves her still. He sends flowers, accidentally meets her in a posh restaurant, and follows her in her getaway rest house, with Raoul’s wife trailing him. What would ensue is the death of Raoul’s wife in a car accident, and we’re not yet even one-fourth through with the movie.  These events would also require a series of confrontations, with screaming, some cat-fights, and preview samples of how The then Rustom Padilla throw tantrums.

Director Celso Ad Castillo rehashes old tricks in using a Liza Minelli video footage mixed with other images. He has stitched with it a series of extreme close-ups of lips, eyes, wineglass, and cigarette, giving the impression that it’s about to tell something but ends up as mere stylistic device. Obviously the cheerful-ghastly Cabaret song-routine versions, one by Minelli in the footage and one by Monique Wilson in a bar, are counterpoints to the depressed pre-suicidal scene. In spite of that that edit doesn’t feel significant. It fails to create whatever novel or compelling effect the collage should have achieved. It’s a weak effort, a pretentious insertion. Despite some frames here reminiscent of his good old days’ work, two, actually, from Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara, the visual genius of the Kid that we’re accustomed with is absent. He attempts to make up for that loss by doing a few seconds of cameo in a TV footage, an unflattering literal stamp of authorship, a cheap display of narcissism.

Dina Bonnevie channels Vilma Santos in her execution of dramatic highlights here: in screaming, in throwing things in a fit of despair, in her body movements. There’s even a scene where she has dressed up like the star for all seasons, arriving at her office with that hair-bob reminiscent of the jazz age, wearing a “yin and yang” office dress, whatever that means. Not good. Even Monique, fresh from her Miss Saigon acclaim, portrays unconvincingly an uncivilized nightclub singer. You know she’s trying too hard to act and give justice to her role. When she speaks she over-exercises her mouth with animated lip movements: a lower or upper lip oddly curves to the right or left. It’s as if her mouth has a life of its own! Is constant chewing like a goat a fresh take in adding idiosyncrasy to the role of a lowly woman?

This has one of the worst ensemble acting in a movie by a respectable director, with a bonus from the hunk Gary Estrada doing a ‘walling scene’ when Monique leaves him–that acting style where the actor slides down his back or hands on a wall while he cries. It also boasts of a sing-and-dance number of Miss Wilson singing with off notes Tina Turner’s Private Dancer. Good thing she redeems herself at the end with that rare grace and miracle, with the theme song Kung Sa Akin Lang which she lends her vocals to. The song dilutes the bad memory of the nightmarish sequences that precedes it, the refrain with an interesting descending melodic pattern, interesting primarily due to the tonic-submediant combo notes. The ‘accents’ of Monique’s frail vibrato sound like begging us to be sensitive to her seeming late self-awareness of regret for her maiden movie appearance, this local misstep after a high profile acting school stint in London. I visualize her face now pleading to us audience to be nice and not to proclaim to the world and to posterity the movie’s bitter dumbing effects and unforgettable unforgivable aftertastes. I’ve been traumatized enough and will not accede to her imaginary request.

The result is this.

Rating: 4/10