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Showing posts from 2012

PIETA (Kim Ki-duk, 2012)

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At first glance, Kim Ki-duk's 18th feature PIETA makes itself known as something not easy to watch. A loan shark, Lee Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) cripples debtors who are unable to pay money in order to collect from their insurance policy. Cold and brutal, Kang-do goes about his business without penchant for mercy or reason. 
Kang-do's balance is shaken upon the arrival of a mysterious woman (Cho Min-soo) claiming to be his mother who abandoned him at a young age. At first, Kang-do resents the woman and the fact that he may have a shot at redemption with the presence of a blood relative. However, things turn really interesting as Kang-do is disarmed by the woman's persistent demeanor, imposing upon his routine until Kang-do is unwittingly emotionally attached. Suddenly, Kang-do decides to dissuade from his path of unrighteousness. 
Told in a relaxed but disquieting pace, filmmaker Kim Ki-duk peppers his story with a vicious treatment with the way he depicted the uneasy relatio…

THY WOMB (Brillante Mendoza, 2012)

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A classmate of mine once joined a beauty pageant back in high school, and she was handed this question: "What is the essence of being a woman?"
The question was the mother of all cliches, but I remembered the essence of her answer by heart. She said, "the essence of being a woman is being able to give birth to a child, hold that child in your arms, and raise him." She won that pageant. 
Brillante Mendoza's latest cinematic offering revolves around that same idea. The title itself, THY WOMB clearly and categorically pinpoints motherhood, or rather the capability of a female human being to conceive and give birth to another human being. Along the journey, Mendoza also deconstructs the role of a woman, a mother, a wife, and a member of a particular community, where tradition is of utmost importance. In the lead role, superstar Nora Aunor is gripping as Shaleha, a Muslim woman living in Tawi Tawi with her husband, Bangas-An (Bembol Roco). What seems like a quiet a…

THE BOURNE LEGACY (Tony Gilroy, 2012)

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Matt Damon made Jason Bourne so iconic that it is impossible, or rather a mortal sin to replace him with another actor. Imagine what the suits at Universal exclaimed when Damon said he won't do Bourne 4 unless Paul Greengrass is at the helm once more. 
But the franchise had to be saved, and what Tony Gilroy did with THE BOURNE LEGACY is quite an achievement, although not completely at par with the first three films. He managed to introduce a main character who's running away from the same CIA operatives that are Pontius Pilating their way into our consciousness, and one might say that Jeremy Renner's character Aaron Cross mimics the same struggles Bourne had to endure to fight for his life. They were both test subjects by the government that are easily expendable the moment the program goes haywire. As the new protagonist in the same Bourne universe, Renner is muscular, gritty and able, yet he possesses that certain gentleness evident even in intense situations. It wouldn…

CATNIP (Kevin Dayrit, 2012)

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There is a big difference between obscure and cluttered. CATNIP, I think is too concerned with trying to impress with visuals, and verbal metaphors and what-have-you that the story is lost in translation. Some parts are funny, others sentimental, and maybe even shocking, but as a whole the film fails neither to impress nor to express. There's too much going on and too loose a narrative for a film that runs just a few minutes past the one-hour mark. The experience is like a Gaspar Noe feature sans the shock value.
Introvert Liv (Lauren Young) who has a history of family abuse finds comfort in seemingly perfect Cieca (Maxene Magalona). Told via a series of flashbacks, segment gaps, and way too much figures of speech for one sitting, the story jumps from documentary to comedy to drama to psychological thriller. If for any comfort, Ramon Bautista's cameo is so outrageous you will remember it for eternity. 
Perhaps there's a target audience for this, what particular group of p…

SHAME (Steve McQueen, 2011)

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A pivotal scene halfway through the film where Michael Fassbender, wearing only a towel screams at Carey Mulligan unlocked the mystery and the central conflict for me. Both actors are so enchanting onscreen you almost forget what the story is about. Then come the strong words.
Most of what transpires in SHAME, director Steve McQueen's (not the famous actor) second film, reuniting him with actor Michael Fassbender are wordless moments, mostly introspection and silent images, and it's a plus for me because less talk onscreen gets me. Do it extensively and I will sleep on it, but do it just enough, especially for a sexually-themed story and you have my attention, in the spirit of the great films by Bertolucci (critics compare SHAME to LAST TANGO IN PARIS). 
So what do you do if you're a sex addict who can't get enough sex, and one day your routine gets disrupted so much so you can't get it up anymore? That is what Brandon (Fassbender) has to live with, with the sudde…

GIVE UP TOMORROW (Michael Collins, Marty Syjuco, 2011)

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Perhaps the most disturbing film of the year, GIVE UP TOMORROW centers around Francisco "Paco" Larranaga, who was 19 at the time he was arrested for the charges of kidnapping, rape, and murder of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong in 1997. He and six other boys who were members of prominent families were rounded up, and the media was quick to put a verdict. 
I was ten years old when this occurred, and up until now I am not familiar with the incident (what rock was I hiding all these years?). As it turns out, the Chiong sisters' disappearance  (and murder?) and the circus trial of the seven accused, including Larranaga may in fact be the ultimate test of the Philippine justice system. Told through file videos, relying heavily on facts of the case, and supplemented by interviews with Paco's family and friends, as well as journalists who stood watch, and lawyers from opposing sides- filmmakers Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco documents a decade's worth of trial …

SKYFALL (Sam Mendes, 2012)

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For Daniel Craig's third outing as the British super spy that needs no further introduction, and in celebration of 50 years of 007, the producers opted to go retro, as in go for the minimalist treatment in terms of story, set pieces, action sequences, themesong (Adele's delivery of "Skyfall" is so melancholic) and yes, gadgets. The story also goes back to Bond's beginnings, in order to confront a monster inevitably created by their cruel and unforgiving line of work.
Overtly paying homage to the classic Bond films through the use of familiar elements, SKYFALL manages to be not only a return to form but also a character study and moral reevaluation. The villain (played by Javier Bardem) is a victim of circumstance, out to seek revenge on the one person who single-handedly destroyed his life- "M" (Judi Dench). Bond (Daniel Craig) would not let this happen, and even if M's bad judgment call almost led him to certain death (Bond's near-fatal encoun…

HARUO (Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr., 2011)

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During the Q and A for the special screening at UP Diliman hosted by the Young Critics' Circle (YCC) Filmdesk, one member of the audience praised HARUO for portraying Manila in a beautiful light. Beautiful, as in the emphasis is not on the squalor. The setting is in Quiapo, Manila, and I don't mean the place became Paris all of a sudden, but rather the place exists only as a backdrop- to set the context. HARUO does not aim to comment on urban nightmare.
Maybe filmmaker Adolfo Alix Jr's homage to Japanese Yakuza cinema, what's undeniable in HARUO is the strong charisma of its main actor Jacky Woo, playing the quintessential cinematic good Samaritan. He is an expat renting a room in Quiapo, selling noodles off a pushcart. He is kindhearted, humble, and somewhat utterly depressed. Flashes of his history intercuts every now and then, in fragmented details.
The closest he has to a friend or a confidante is a prostitute (played by Rosanna Roces) working in a night club, whe…

THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (Mabrouk El Mechri, 2012)

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You might best remember Henry Cavill from that other movie involving gold-plated gods and Mickey Rourke, and as the new Superman. Here, Cavill plays a man racing against time to save his family from unknown abductors. What do the abductors want in return? No, not money. They're not that rich, and this isn't RANSOM or MAN ON FIRE.
What they do want is a briefcase containing sensitive intel. A rogue government agent has it, and poor old Henry is the pawn in this chess game. 
Okay, I can take the spy stuff subplot, or Siguorney Weaver kicking ass and taking names, but what doesn't follow in THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY, is how Cavill's character, who isn't a cop, a soldier, or Jason Bourne, is able to leap several stories down, and still be able to keep on going. Yes there's some difficulty in walking, but the guy should have at least been in a wheelchair. Not shooting people. Not running like a madman.
It is a popcorn flick, and although flawed, there are moments to en…

THE RAVEN (James McTeigue, 2012)

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In the spirit of fact marrying fiction on celluloid, such as Hitler getting slaughtered inside a cinema during the gala premiere of his propaganda film, or Abraham Lincoln being a vampire hunter, a most welcome addition to the pack is popular author of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe chasing after his tail- that is to say stopping a madman mimicking the murders depicted in his literary works. 
Whereas Tarantino's INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS ventured into the absurd, and Timur Bekmambetov's ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER was more of an alternate reality, THE RAVEN- with John Cusack donning the shoes of the popular mysterious writer, takes a more serious approach to welding fact and fiction together, as if the plot of THE RAVEN is what really transpired in Poe's life. 
The familiar elements are there- Poe's unexplained death, his repeated address of the name "Reynolds", and his rivalry with a fellow critic named Griswald, of which I may say that the film takes a generou…

BATTLESHIP (Peter Berg, 2012)

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BATTLESHIP is absolute popcorn flick from the surface right down to the core, never mind logic or story depth. Those familiar with Peter Berg's work knows he likes to keep the pace tight, and the action intense (THE RUNDOWN, THE KINGDOM, HANCOCK). In BATTLESHIP, the characters are thinly-drawn, Taylor Kitsch's Alex Hopper most especially. We never see how he turned from reckless teen to a team leader. But what BATTLESHIP lacks in character development it does make up for spectacle. Pure guilty pleasure level of spectacle.
Somewhere in BATTLESHIP are Michael Bay moments (you know when there's a dramatic scene that injects heroism, leadership, and courage into one serving, to the tune of some dramatic background music), yet BATTLESHIP manages to be way better than the last two TRANSFORMERS films combined. The problem with Michael Bay and his TRANSFORMERS films is that he doesn't know when to stop, and when he does, he does so in an ill fashion that the film just ends in…

MEN IN BLACK 3 (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2012)

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The onscreen presence of Josh Brolin is one of MEN IN BLACK 3's strongest reason for being. His inspired performance and throwback to Tommy Lee Jones as a younger Agent K keeps the pace entertaining, the story riveting. 
Throw in a compelling back story to J's character and a race against time against a cunning foe worthy of our attention and we have a MEN IN BLACK movie that's even better than the original. Sonnenfeld and company have redeemed what horrid memory it was that goes by the name of MIB2. 
By disregarding the second film's plot entirely and creating a new story all over, MIB3 becomes a rush of an experience. Not only do we want J to succeed in his mission to save K from being killed by Boris the Animal, but we want to be along for the ride. The plot twist in the end proves most exciting. Meanwhile Michael Stuhlbarg (A SERIOUS MAN) delivers giggly fun as a fast-talking alien named Griffin, who can see the future, yielding hilarious and often heartwarming re…

KATY PERRY: PART OF ME (Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz, 2012)

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KATY PERRY: PART OF ME works better if you're a Katy Perry fan, or at least appreciates her brand of music. The concert film/biopic is presented by the same duo who produced Justin Bieber's NEVER SAY NEVER, and the reason I didn't see that one is that simply I was not a fan of Bieber's work (yet I may have been also infected by "Baby" at one point in time), though with PART OF ME, it is hard not to love the bubbly musician whose songs are undeniably infectious.
PART OF ME centers on Perry's CALIFORNIA DREAMS Tour in 2011, her biggest tour yet that has her traveling from city to city, delivering two-hour shows a night- and we see her struggling against the physical rigors of the concert tour and finding personal time with her then-husband Russell Brand in between shows. An avid fan would have been singing along with the songs, and while the musical numbers are energetic, what is missing in the movie is the social expectations about Katy Perry the celebrit…

CINEMALAYA 2012: KALAYAAN (Adolfo Borinaga Alix, Jr., 2012)

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Cinemalaya on its eighth year proves one of the strongest lineups since its inception. Almost all films are watchable, and KALAYAAN, from filmmaker Adolfo Alix Jr. is among those that must not be missed.
The effect of KALAYAAN lingers long after the movie, and while the realization of what you have just seen may not occur to you instantly, a repeated viewing may indeed help. I sure didn't fully get what Alix was trying to tell us upon initial viewing. I saw it again four days later, and I was completely mesmerized. I understood most of his symbols and subliminal themes (or have I?) and upon a casual conversation with a member of his production team, I was surprised to learn the simplicity of the film's message, and here I was over analyzing everything. I could not help it. Everything has its meaning. A turtle, or a mermaid, or the Philippine flag were not put there in the frame just for kicks. Besides, Alix himself said that it's up to us, the audience whatever experience…

THE EXPENDABLES 2 (Simon West, 2012)

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The difference between cliche action films and THE EXPENDABLES is that Stallone knows what he wants and he does that. Formulaic it may be, but both EXPENDABLES movies (and I heard there's a third one being planned already!) are guiltless visual pleasures. They are cliched, over-the-top, and predictable intentionally.
Cut out your pinkie if you did not see the film to primarily witness Stallone and Van Damme go at it, more or less. Yes, it was the film's most awaited moment. Poor Van Damme, his age is showing by the look of his face, but the guy can still do a mean roundhouse kick (or is that a stuntman? probably not.). 
In terms of story, the first film would win uncontested. You have a corrupt dictator, a shady ex-CIA turned mercenary, Gary Daniels (who is replaced by Scott Adkins in Part 2 for a different character, but with the same characteristic and purpose), and the ever-compelling Mickey Rourke. Plus, a damsel in distress,  a truckload of memorable one-liners, Jet Li b…

CINEMALAYA 2012: POSAS (Lawrence Fajardo, 2012)

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Lawrence Fajardo can become a well-established action director. His debut feature film, AMOK proved he can handle intense action scenes without compromising logic. With POSAS, although the chase scene during the first half can be the only kinetic visual element per se, Fajardo makes do with the remainder of  the film with his gut-wrenching and tightly-edited storytelling- thanks also to Zig Dulay's satirical script. 
Yes, POSAS falls short of AMOK in terms of intensity (the final shootout scene, the proverbial "amok" in AMOK alone catapults the film into classic status) and the comparison cannot be helped, since both are urban tales of squalor, crime, and punishment. But what saves POSAS from being an unwanted sibling to AMOK is the familiarity of the story, especially to those who are no stranger to cops using criminals for profit. 
The title alone is an ingenuity. The irony is crystal clear. Petty thief Jestoni Biag (a chilling peformance by Nico Antonio) loses his fr…

CINEMALAYA 2012: REQUIEME (Loy Arcenas, 2012)

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A lot of films in recent memory have ventured on the eccentricity and uniqueness of Filipino culture in terms of death and dying- of particular mention are Soxie Topacio's DED NA SI LOLO (Grandpa is Dead) and Gil Portes' TWO FUNERALS. Loy Arcenas' REQUIEME! dives into the same pool, but here death is used as an instrument for catharsis, rather than as its central theme.
The film opens with a news item about an OFW who met an accident while on duty. The OFW's wife patiently waits and grieves for her husband's remains. Meanwhile, a renowned and controversial fashion designer infamous for his flamboyant lifestyle is international headlines when he is murdered by an unknown assailant.
Dressmaker Joanna (Anthony Falcon) mourns the passing of his idol, fashion designer Vidal Valler, more popularly known as "V.V." Meanwhile in the provinces, the barangay of Sta. Maria is shocked when V.V.'s murderer turns out to be a Filipino, named Adolf Payapa, and he is …

CINEMALAYA 2012: DIABLO (Mes De Guzman, 2012)

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A miner, believed to be possessed with the devil is brought to a faith healer. Cut to an elderly woman living alone in an old creepy house, doing her usual daily routine- praying, cooking, eating, listening to the radio. 
With that, filmmaker Mes De Guzman opens his film DIABLO, which breaks our concepts of good and evil, and serves a helping of the horror genre with a twist. In the classic sense of the word, DIABLO may not be categorized as "horror" per se, yet what really is horror? The admirable thing with Mes De Guzman is that he discards cheap thrills in favor of a more fluid storytelling, slowly building up tension, while we are unaware that we have become one with the characters' plight.
At its center is Nanang Lusing (an award-worthy performance by Ama Quiambao), whom we follow on her routine day after day. She has five sons, all of whom doesn't live with her. One doesn't want to see her or speak to her, the details of which are unknown at first. The oth…

MNL 143 (Emerson Reyes, 2012)

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There is an overwhelming romantic air in Emerson Reyes's highly controversial film MNL 143, and no it's not just the satisfying third act where we wait and we wait for Joy Viado to appear the entire movie and there she goes and it was beautiful. All throughout the film, you can feel Reyes's love for the urban landscape on which he's a part of, an undeniable ode to the hustle and bustle of everyday Metro Manila setting. Hence the title. 
There's your protagonist Ramil, charmingly played by Allan Paule. He's an FX driver who's about to work abroad, and on this last day of him as a driver we share in his experiences- the passengers he encounters, the heartbreaks he feels, and the eventual surprise of his life.


An array of unforgettable characters add color to the story, the FX passengers range from an irritating elderly woman, to a coño colegiala, to filmmaking students and even loud gays whose comments you'd want to post as status update on facebook. Re…

CINEMALAYA 2012: KAMERA OBSKURA (Raymond Red, 2012)

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The dangers of over-analysis applies to films like Raymond Red's newest baby- KAMERA OBSKURA, a throwback to the silent cinema era and a wake up call for the Philippines NOT having a proper facility and most importantly, thrust for film archiving. But on the surface, KAMERA OBSKURA is visually enchanting, intriguing, and yes, subversive. Political overtones are all over.
At its core is a man cleverly named Juan (Pen Medina), imprisoned for two decades in a dark cell, and only sees the outside world through a small hole where light is reflected on the wall (as is the principle for the camera obscura). One day he breaks free of his imprisonment and wanders off into the city. He enters a shop and finds a magical camera that vanquishes corrupt/undesirable people. The shop owner tells him he has to fulfill his destiny, and eventually Juan finds his own hand literally stuck into the camera. So there he goes wandering off again with a camera stuck in his hand.
He goes inside a tall stru…

100 (Chris Martinez, 2008)

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Joyce has cancer. She only has about three months to live. She has reached this stage in her life where she has accepted the truth that she's not getting better. 
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, she decides to arrange everything in her life- patch things up with people she had issues with, clean up her apartment, go to places she's never been and do things she haven't done before. 
An ironic and often humorous take on death and dying, Chris Martinez's debut film "100" takes us on an enjoyable life journey from the POV of a dying person, and this makes the experience all the more bittersweet because the main character knows she has a deadline, and she has decided that she needs to make the most out of her remaining time.
Played with no nonsense and with intensity by Mylene Dizon, Joyce becomes a character we can easily relate to. We witness her exodus from a workaholic career woman who's probably made a mess out of almost all her personal and professio…