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12.29.2011

THE LAST HORROR SHOW

Shake Rattle & Roll 13
Directed by Richard Somes, Jerrold Tarog and Chris Martinez
Written by Richard Somes and Aloy Adlawan, Maribel Ilag and Jerrold Tarog and Roselle Monteverde-Teo, Jerry Gracio








Part of the fun, and the frustration, in watching a studio tent-pole taken over, in the loosest sense, by someone outside its rank and file of yes men hacks is second-guessing where the auteur ends and the studio head begins. That’s three times the fun, and the frustration, when it comes to what is being roundly exalted as the last of the Shake Rattle And Roll milking cows, 13.

Restraint is not exactly a prominent facet of Chris Martinez’ aesthetic. And it gets tough to tease him from the grim J-Horror slow burn (or slow damp, if you will) of his episode, Rain Rain Go Away.  It gets tougher when his muse Eugene Domingo reins in all her funny, too. But this may be the most cohesive of all three, and the one with the least signs of interference. Using the collateral damage of Ondoy as narrative grist, there's a dreadful resonance to everything that unintentionally gains a meta eeriness from having this come out in the fresh wake of a similar catastrophe. This languid gloom with which we get to the reveal makes up for how we can see where it's going almost from the get-go.

Richard Somes is really the one with the most vivid auteurist imprint, if only because it’s more immediate and visual. His Tamawo is anorexic, falters in the telling, and takes its time to finish, but there’s an energy unique to him at work here, a feral, pulpy vigor. Returned to the familiar terrain of his aswang inversion Yanggaw, with some of its supple expressionistic sexiness, as well as that mixture of the brutish and the maudlin that leavens his sense of drama and takes getting used to, you can tell it’s the knotty dynamics of the fractured family that he’d rather tap into, but settles for a siege film in which Maricar Reyes is a young mother whose ramshackle house in the jungle is surrounded by monsters. She also happens to be blind. And it’s a trope that Richard gets to exploit brilliantly once, in a scene that is hands down the highlight of the whole film.

Creepier still, and possibly more terrifying than water ghosts and albino monsters, in real life as it is here, is the ferocity of riled-up estrogen. This is what Jerrold Tarog buttresses Parola with. It does bear some of the strain from all the shape-shifting the script was likely made to undergo, apparent not least from how the eponymous haunted lighthouse has become incidental to the point of extraneous, buckling here and there from its multiple tiers of subtext lacking enough running time to layer cohesively. But it gets palpably malevolent when it reverts to its high school setting, and Kathryn Bernardo and Louise De Los Reyes get to play out their protracted supernatural catfight, with all that heightened and pent-up spite and malice and venom that leak out when best friends turn archenemies. Voodoo plus hormones, yeah. That’s not only a log line for a tween horror movie, that’s also the quintessence of what it’s like to be a girl.


*Originally published in Lagarista as The Last Horror Show

12.12.2011

MYSTERIOUS OBJECTS AT NOON

Big Boy
Directed and Written by Shireen Seno





Shireen Seno isn’t joking, or being flippant, when she says Big Boy is about the tonic wonders of cod liver oil, as it sort of is. And she herself can vouch for its efficacies, having been made to drink it every day while growing up. She is now the tallest of her brothers and sisters. She is also the youngest. Her father underwent a similar regime and a similar surge of growth and is, in fact, the eponymous character. And if it comes on all gauzy and fugitive, the way memories do, it’s out of how that’s what it ostensibly is. An entire hope chest of them, really, strung together as if like pearls, or family heirlooms if you will, in this case Shireen’s, and more particularly, her father’s.

Memories of his life as a boy living with his parents and siblings in the sticks of postwar Mindoro, where every sun-baked day seemed to vibrate with the potential for benign incursions of the magical to occur, and time and again did. Memories, too, of the blissed-out inertia that occurs between transitions. Of the anxieties in finding your place as your country recuperates from its own brush with chaos and navigates its own displacement. And, more than anything else, of growing comfortable inside your own body even as it grows faster than you thought it would, leaving the rest of you behind as it does. Her father had always found his way into her work before but only here is his presence this specific, this situated. Rather than wander into one of his daughter’s stories, she’s wandered this time into his.

And she’d been, in fact, foraging in there for years. These are a mere handful of the fragments she’d been curating of her family’s oral history. But in nearly every one of them, childhood being eerily consensual, is a flicker of recognition, deepening resonances, brokering empathies. Big Boy does have a wobbly rope of plot if you get queasy from the lack of a graspable shape but it’s from the irrational un-structure that all its cathartic voltage emits. It’s not so much about memories as it is about the way memories behave and the way they look and feel and also the way they sometimes blur into their own autonomous dream soup. And much as the period detail has a severity of precision that often belies its minimalism, it gains from it, ironically enough, not a sense of historical accuracy, but an atemporal disconnect, as if we were watching home movies from some parallel world past, undercutting the homespun intimacies of the Super8 footage, not with a surge of nostalgia, as you might expect from the way it evokes at first blush the lulling voyeurism of Jonas Mekas but rather with a low hum of otherness, at turns spooky and beatific, which evokes not so much Mekas anymore but, well, Shireen’s own similarly haunted short work, all furtive rhythms with the consistency of ghosts.



Originally published at Lagarista 

11.25.2011

TIME'S A GOON AND SOMETIMES IT WINS

Niño
Directed by Loy Arcenas
Written by Rody Vera






Shutting yourself off from the world swings both ways, and one man's idyll can be another's cabin fever. These are the defenses built and the lines drawn, when the future turns bleak as the present starts corroding the past. The question that bears down on the Lopez-Aranda family is how much of their corroded past should they give up and what bleak future will they get for it? There's a lot at stake with the question because the past in question has to do with the massive, crumbling house they live in and whether they can keep doing so. And the past tends to get pushier if it's one as fulsome as theirs. The gravely ill paterfamilias, in his own advanced stages of molt, used to be a congressman. And his sister, often lost in a cloud of her own making, was a rock star among opera singers.

She's the whirlpool around whom everything and everyone revolves and bounces off : her brother who owns the house she now runs as if she did, the reckless son who's a has-been even before he becomes an also-ran but who remains her favorite, the grandson in whom she sees a glimmer of hope not least when he puts on a Sto. Niño cape and crown as if it were a superhero costume and refuses to take it off, the ignored daughter who only wants a little more of her mother's love than she's getting, the niece returned from abroad determined to move on and sell the house that hovers like a ghostly weight. Fides Cuyugan-Asensio is indomitable as the lapsed diva and her temperament becomes the film’s: skittish, fractious, wistful, elegant, and just the tiniest bit cuckoo.

Cut from the same genteel cloth as Ang Lee at the height of his infatuation with no-round-limit cross-generational family wrestling matches, but reined in to frustrate the demands of melodrama, Niño hones in on something more delicate, something averse to bluster and way naughtier and funnier. It hardly vacates the premises, but it never lets the air stultify or thicken into must, but rather finds a phantom power in the way the forward motion of youth and the luxuriant torpor of old age stare each other down to the same uneasy truce that is the emotional stalemate of the film, whose  tangle of estrangements reaches an impasse that you can see coming and resolves nothing, but gets unexpectedly magical anyway.


11.10.2011

TROPICAL MALADIES

Aswang
Directed by Jerrold Tarog
Written by Aloy Adlawan and Jerrold Tarog






If you go by the way he juiced up last year’s edition of the haggard Shake Rattle & Roll franchise with Punerarya, and also by the pop vibrancy of his independent non-genre work, Jerrold Tarog seems to have enough pedigree for remixing the beloved Peque Gallaga-Lore Reyes chestnut. And Aswang is ostensibly a monster movie, but it’s one that seems more interested in things other than its monsters: in the way revenge can transform you into the object of your violence, for one, in the imperatives of a species determined to arrest its extinction, in a small town living perpetually under threat, and above all, in the dissonances between the urban and the rural, the modern and the ancient, the natural and the supernatural, and the point when the lines between them blur.

It pivots on a teenage boy and his baby sister witnessing the cold-blooded massacre of their household. And having your parents murdered violently before your eyes turns out to be the shared tragedy of its principal characters, and also the tragedy that cracks everything open for a potentially bloodier, more mean-spirited sequel. But it’s a subtext that goes neither viral or nova, simmering rather under the skin of the piece, a trauma that never gets enough room to fester and seethe, nor gets to go anywhere really, as everyone is too busy running for their lives, if not from hired assassins, then inevitably from monsters, who shapeshift into crows, burrow under the ground like moles, sprout nasty fangs, eat live flesh. Aswang is also from Regal, after all. And it wants its monster movie to be interested in its monsters.

It doesn’t take a genius anymore, these days, or much intel for that matter, to second-guess the processes that transpire when a studio makes a film, much more one meant to be a tentpole. And Aswang is beset by the sort of push-pull that occurs when you wring a filmmaker used to being left to his own devices, or a filmmaker who simply has his own devices period, through the knotty caprices of our studio matriarchies, as auteurist sensibility and studio directive constantly arm-wrestle for dominance. And it can be its own bit of fun trying to figure out which is which.

That dream slash love sequence does smack of pure Regal. And the stable newbies as well as the not-so-newbies are perhaps why the affectless, effortless performances that have enlivened every single one of Jerrold’s films before this is alarmingly nowhere to be found and nearly breaks the back of the piece in its absence. The bristling attack by the river does spasm with Jerrold’s skittish vigor. And much as I can’t figure out why they bother when they can fly anyway, the burrowing under the ground to catch prey is a splendid effect that accounts for at least one breathtaking money shot. But it’s not so much the jittery brio of Confessional that Aswang taps into, but rather the meditative languor of the underrated Mangatyanan. And there’s a gravity to Aswang that slows it down some, possibly slower than it should be, but thickens the mood, too, until it gains, particularly in the sequences at the abandoned ranch where the monsters hole up, this weird, pungent density.



*Originally Published in Lagarista as Tropical Maladies.

10.16.2011

NOT QUITE DEAD






The Spinanes’ Manos was not the first record I bought blind. This was a little over ten years ago, as the contrails of the 90s were fading into the next shiny millennium, back when you almost always bought music blind. Back when you almost always bought music, really, sometimes going on nothing more than a glut of praise gleaned from magazines serving as both field guide and failsafe. I bought a lot of records this way, on a wing and a prayer and a Five Star rating from Q. But Manos was the second record I bought blind because of the cover. The first was Nirvana’s Nevermind, and that’s since been rightly exalted into album cover canon. Manos hasn’t. I don’t think it will be but I think it should. Funnily, it’s a line from a Lush song that comes to mind every time I look at it: “ . . .shake baby shake you know I can fit you in my arms . . .” Rebecca Gates’ troubled eyes hiding under a shock of hair, her left hand holding on to his right, her right about to do the same with his left, half given in to their imminent calm, so grateful for them being there she can’t help but kiss the hand she’s holding even before she’s fully tumbled into his arms, arms she knows she would fit into, get lost in. It was love at first sight for me. And as much as I was betrayed by some of the records I bought blind, Manos was thankfully not one of those. Still, even if their songs blew, I’d at least have the cover tiding me over. I’ve since picked it as the album cover I love above all else.

And I have nearly all else. Most of them are stacks of DVD-Rs storing JPEGs of album covers, or sleeve art, as parlance would have it: everything from Peter Saville’s violently minimalist New Order covers to the sinister cartoons of Jim Flora and the benign hallucinations of Hipgnosis to the complete works of Blue Note’s Reid Miles and 4AD’s Vaughan Oliver and, of course, Sir Peter Blake’s monolithic Sgt.Pepper, a multitude of sensibilities, marvels of design all. I even have folders devoted entirely to the worst of the lot and have gleefully dumped that awful one for MGMT’s Congratulations in one of them. Yes, I’m a sleeve art buff. A sleeve art nerd, if you will. A sleeve art packrat, at the very least. But it really is closer to curatorship than collecting as it isn’t consumed merely with the act of collecting. At some point, you can even call it a co-dependency. And it comes more out of being a design fan than being a music fan, although it helps, but one need not dovetail into another, as I’ve fallen in love with the sleeve art for music I don’t necessarily care for as much, like any number of Roger Dean’s covers for Yes, whose gatefolds open into these exquisite alien vistas. But I also own a lot of the sleeve art I love. And this is where the pleasures become even more arcane, as it not only plays into a sensation that’s endemic to even the most cursory record collectors but upgrades it: the tactile high of the album as object.

It’s an even more rarefied thrill now that downloading has all but colonized the way we listen to music. And this whole new zeitgeist of having everything at your disposal tends to make having everything meaningless, taking away so much from what used to be fundamental to the experience of music: the pining for, the foraging, the sleuthing, the deprivation before the elation. There already is, right now, an entire generation of music geeks who have never torn the plastic off a new CD, yet own everybody’s discographies in their hard drives. Frankly, it’s a little unsettling. Sleeve art icons Saville and Blake have gone on record as saying that not only is their trade dying faster than we think because of this, but that the album as physical artifact is dying with it. Except that I see a lot of bands becoming more and more elaborate with their sleeve art. I see more and more bands issuing albums on vinyl even. It’s as if there’s this defiant thrust to restore the cachet of the album as physical artifact back into the mix. Not quite dead, then, sirs.

Oh, I do listen to hordes of albums without the benefit of owning any of them physically. But I still buy CDs as often as I can. If there really is some collective endeavor to rescue the physical album, and with it sleeve art, from obsolescence and eventually extinction, I’m putting a little skin in the game, so to speak. I know that makes me come on like some recalcitrant throwback, a shambling anachronism even, but if you’ve ever peeled the banana off Andy Warhol’s cover for Velvet Undergdound & Nico or used the spectral decoder that came with Bright Eyes’ Cassadaga to see its invisible cover or customized your own cover for Beck’s The Information with its special set of stickers or merely had the optical illusion on Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion play tricks on your eyes, you know precisely what my stake is. There’s a purist stance about sleeve art , moreso sleeve art with aspirations to flamboyance, that has to do with how its extraneous, distracting, bells and whistles. That’s true. But isn’t that also the point?

*Originally published in UNO.

10.10.2011

THE SALVAGE DETECTIVES





Rumor has it that there’s a lost Martin Scorsese film out there, a crime film shot on the cheap from before Mean Streets, that exists in the form of a grimy bootleg VHS. Lost films are the yeti footprints of film geeks, our ghost stories, our fuzzy UFO photographs, our obscure objects of desire. And there certainly is a touch of the arcane to the notion of an under the radar film few have seen, tenuously held together by the duct tape of failing memory, its potentially vital cultural data hostage to the processes of decay. Exotica like this is the vitamin of geeks. But Scorsese hasn’t gone on record to confirm or deny the film nor has anyone bothered picking up its trail. It’s not as if the world is in desperate need of any more Scorsese films, anyway. We have too much as it is, if you ask me. And it’s not as if we’re talking about Citizen Kane either.

But what if we were? Or something of similar exaltation? The few people who’ve seen Gerry De Leon’s lost film Daigdig Ng Mga Api have unanimously proclaimed its magnificence. It had me with that title, sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it lives up to it and turns out be our Citizen Kane after all. Except we might never know. Just as we might never know, too, if Manuel Conde’s Juan Tamad films deserve the legend they’re freighted with. Or if Ishmael Bernal’s Scotch on the Rocks To Forget, Black Coffee To Remember is anywhere near as tantalizing as its title. No prints have survived. No copies exist. Not even on tape. The number of films we’ve apparently lost out of neglect and indifference is a gut punch that can make even the most stalwart of resolves buckle at the knees. And folded into the context of our film history, the stakes are raised and our lost films become more than mere esoterica, gaining instead a sheen of minor tragedy. And, if anyone from SOFIA could have their way, a throb of emergency, too.

Founded by the late Hammy Sotto and a handful of like-minded colleagues in 1993, SOFIA is the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film, a non-profit task force of volunteers whose station is to salvage whatever lost films of ours they can. It’s not yet too late but time is running out. Entire strains of history are literally and inexorably turning to vinegar. There are piles of films past the point of rescue, and there are piles more getting there even as you read this. SOFIA is not exactly bereft of trophies, counting among their triumphs the rediscovery and restoration of films like Giliw Ko, Noli Me Tangere, Tunay Na Ina, Sanda Wong, Kundiman Ng Lahi, and White Slavery. But this, their members will be the first to tell you, barely scratch the surface. And the work that needs to be done is regularly curtailed as SOFIA are continually beset by troubles that swing from the usual lack of funding to the crippling vacuum of a National Film Archive that should exist but doesn’t. Help has begun to pour in from all sides. Foreign organizations have lent a hand in restoring some films. Even film producers and branches of government are weighing in. But it’s a precarious situation, all told. Still, never say never is their default mantra. Daigdig Ng Mga Api is SOFIA’s Holy Grail. But so were Gerry de Leon's The Moises Padilla Story and Lino Brocka’s Wanted Perfect Mother, both thought forever lost in any format. And if these films can resurface, as they have, suddenly anything is possible.

A few months back, after years of basking curiously in its myth, I at last saw Mario O’Hara’s previously lost noir Bagong Hari for the first time, as part of SOFIA’s Overlooked Films Underrated Filmmakers series of screenings. Cobbled from grungy U-Matic elements, its condition was far from pristine but this was probably the best the film has looked in years. More to the point, though, it surged with energy, felt thrillingly alive - - -dense, ballsy, vigorous. Direk Mario was there and so were the film’s stars Dan Alvaro, Robert Arevalo, Perla Bautista. This was the first of the screenings I attended, and regret missing Jun Raquiza’s Krimen and Danny Zialcita’s Masquerade, regret missing nearly every screening, really. This was how it was each time, I’ve been told. An unsung film retrieved from the fringes, a relatively fervid audience, its director and stars rekindling glory days and meeting new generations of admirers. It’s terribly encouraging. And it makes sense that a generous amount of SOFIA’s energies are now being poured into them.

We are largely a culture who has routinely trivialized, neglected, ignored and vilified our own cinema, elevating our revulsion to a class schism even, while kissing the ground foreign cinema treads. This flippant, often disgruntled, apathy has been more or less crucial to the state our cinema is in now. But, in its own modest way, these screenings embody the almost violent tidal shift in attitude and enthusiasm. And it’s tough not to feel even the tiniest glimmer of hope. The mash-up archaeologist slash detectives slash mercenaries of SOFIA will not shirk from their first mission , sure. The lost films need to be found and restored. But these screenings are, in and themselves, restorations, too, of the very things that bought SOFIA , and those of us who champion their efforts, here in the first place: cinema and the jubilant obsession, keening passion and relentless love we have for it.

Originally published at Lagarista.
Picture courtesy of SOFIA.

7.29.2011

THE DEVILS YOU KNOW

San Lazaro
Directed and Written by Wincy Aquino Ong







Wincy Ong’s first film feels like one all right, but not in the sense that it comes together crudely as if under the nervy thumb of some self-entitled film school amateur groping sloppily for a clue and passing it off as style. He’s put in the hours, Wincy, directing a tonnage of music videos and a television show before this. And all that toil shows in the restraint and temperament, in the shape and sheen, of the film.

No, it’s more in the way it seems to be organized around the twin notions of this being something he’d been waiting and wanting to do for so long and that the next one may not be as easy to come by, and the way he leaves nothing out, throwing in what feels like the entire filmography he's already shot and dubbed out in his head, as if they’ve been pent-up and gestating all these years and maybe they have, as if he might never get the chance and who knows if he will. But by cleverly parsing them out as flashbacks, flashbacks that frankly have far more vigor and crackle and weirdness than the one-note present-day through-line it all hangs on and feeds, he calms down the tendency of everything to violently shift tones. It does still buckle a little here and there, but mostly it fills out the characters and the piece, giving both density and cartilage.

San Lazaro is a no-brainer: a horror slash road movie slash buddy comedy. Pitched somewhere between Chito Rono and Edgar Wright, albeit with little of the former’s visual acumen but thankfully even less of the latter’s slavish and annoying geekiness. And prone as these things are to the self-referential hubris of such geeky impulses, it’s first grace note is in how all of that is reined in to zero, how it takes the time to build its own universe, contains everything there, and not nod to some pop-cultural in-joke for comfort every time things get iffy - - -even Ely Buendia’s too-brief cameo is sharply hewn, doesn’t feel extraneous nor like a wink, probably could fork off into a subplot with more legs than the plot on top.

It’s a spindly one, such as it is, that plot on top, with Wincy himself multitasking as a flighty slacker roped in to help old high school classmate Ramon Bautista drive his possibly demonically possessed brother to the eponymous small town of the title. Ramon and Wincy do play their odd coupling, the wacky lout and stoic foil respectively, with all the chemistry and dynamics, the thrust and parry if you will, of the stalwart comedy duos, from the Dolphy and Panchitos to the Maverick and Ariels, if not as given over to the funny as you’d want, the volume never cranking up above room tone, the repartee never getting as spry nor as gregarious. If nothing else, though, this measure of sobriety does make the twist it all boils down to more lancing, gives it brunt. But there's an even more piercing but far subtler twist in the epilogue that might shark under your radar if you so much as blink. San Lazaro is not much but not bad, a genre mashup with much pop torque and a load of fun, but that last line has a creepy poignancy that gets under my skin a bit more.


*Originally published in Philippine Free Press

7.24.2011

ZOMBADINGS 1: PATAYIN SA SHOKOT SI REMINGTON

Zombadings 1: Patayin Sa Shokot Si Remington
Directed by Jade Castro
Written by Raymond Lee, Jade Castro and Michiko Yama
moto








Zombie screwball should cover it if you feel the need to wrap a code around Zombadings 1: Patayin Sa Shokot Si Remington, the way it runs on the same odd tracks as both the lowbrow tomfoolery of Chiquito movies and the affectionate B movie crudities of Sam Raimi and all the self-aware postmodernism such a mashup implies makes it so spot-on it's as if that was the actual log-line Jade organized his film around, except it only really turns zombie on us in its final third and is more a werewolf film up until then, in which our eponymous homophobe falls under a hex that gradually turns him gay even as a serial killer is picking off everyone in town who is.

Homosexuality as a curse can be misconstrued as demeaning and actually has, as the off-point and far-fetched outrage flung this way bears out. But the germ that feeds it is that old and old-fashioned Frank Capra trope - - - the comeuppance and enlightenment that comes from walking in the shoes of what you abhor, and more than anything, it's really subverting the very stereotypes it only seems to condone, much as it's hard to tell sometimes from the breathless velocity of the gags and the caricatural swish and swagger of gay argot and affectation it relies on to make it fly. The character actor stalwarts, from Janice De Belen to John Regala with his game face on to the mighty but under-used Odette Khan, buttress the superstructure to prop up what they can of the third act sag that besets it. And for the shapeshifting by degrees at the heart of matters, Martin Escudero is like some one-man army of goofy, a bravura act of pitch. But it's Eugene Domingo who detonates every scene she's in with surreal delight. And Roderick Paulate is stunt-casting that's both preordained and genius. The queer act he's made his metier should've by rights gone stale after all this time but somehow it's even gained nuance and range. It's a shtick, sure, but it's a shtick that never ever gets old.

7.19.2011

GOD IS A BULLET

Amok
Directed by Lawrence Fajardo
Written by John Bedia



"What,like a bullet, can undeceive?" (Herman Melville)

Amok is well-oiled tumult, a chaos mechanism of wrong place-wrong time dynamics fed through a portmanteau that has everybody looking to Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu as point of reference, if only for how both hew to similar tropes of threading a line through disconnected lives suddenly thrown in the glare of blood and harm. But where Inarritu gets overwrought in preaching a grand design, not to mention a troubling hard-on for closure, Amok is more haphazard, has little to say that hasn't been said before, but so much to say it with, neither overreaching nor belaboring. If nothing else, it's a technical feat, of logistics and guerilla tactics and cutting. It's rigorous, precise.

The bustling intersection where it all comes down is both milieu and metaphor, and the one thing shared by the motley ensemble of has-beens and also-rans it corrals: they all just happen to be in the area. The cocky cop on the walkway waiting to rendezvous with an asset (Efren Reyes Jr., funny), the faded stuntman living alone with his rancid nostalgia and a rent girl sleeping in his bed (Mark Gil, funnier), the put-upon brother driving his cranky sister around and stuck in traffic (Archi Adamos), the ex-cop with a baby on the way and a chip on his shoulder (Dido De La Paz, a walking tour de force). If it wobbles here and there, it's mostly from spasms of bad acting and the patois ringing false. But in never lingering on one character longer than it should, it blurs the chinks into forgiveness. Brief snatches are all we get to see of these brief lives, not so much arcs as they never get to complete any. It's the point of everything here: how our stories don't so much end but are cut short halfway through the telling and often in a random blast of doom. There's a weariness to its nihilism that's more wounding for being so resigned. The world is a clusterfuck. And God is a bullet.

2.21.2011

THROW ME THE STATUE: OSCARS 2011

It's close to a religious thrall, the way I used to be, and the way many of us still are, beholden to the Oscars. To this day, a nomination still tends to bear the weight of benediction, doing wonders for, say, Debra Granik's Winter's Bone in that it's lured people who wouldn't normally bother with bleak, doomy backwoods indies about poor people who hunt squirrels and cook meth with no movie stars in them to at least think of giving it a whirl the way they would the trendy new Pixar. That wears off after awards night, of course. Unless it wins, which it won't, and not because it isn't any good.

My own private ardor had sunk to what I rather charitably coined as "nonchalant curiosity" by the time I covered the awards in a piece back in 2009. It's since deteriorated to indifference. I wish I could say I willfully evaded last year's ceremonies like I had some cause to flag-wave, but I just plumb forgot about it. I came around to watching and liking and in some cases loving The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds and Up and A Serious Man, sure, but that's more from my love for their resident auteurs. And to this day, I still haven't seen Avatar. Or Up In The Air. Or The Blind Side. Or Precious Based On The Novel "Push" by Sapphire - - - and how about that title, eh? I don't sense any gap in my cinema IQ from not having seen them. And I don't feel any serious hurry to do so. I suspect I will, at some point - - -well maybe not The Blind Side. But that's if my procrastination doesn't wilt my resolve. Or if other films don't distract me.

Despite remaining immune to the wholesale clairvoyance and frothing in the mouth and wetting of panties this time of year tends to fan to a flame, I did get around to seeing nearly all of the 2011 nominees and not for research. It helps that people I actually like - - -Aronofsky, Fincher, the Coens - - -figured in the running with work I would've come to regardless if they were up for trophies or not, probably more so if they weren't. Except for The Social Network and, to a lesser degree, the derivative and overrated but rather wily and fun Inception, which are missing because I've spoken about them at length here and here, respectively, and have run out of anything worthwhile to add about either of them, the other nominees that are not here are merely ones I could not seek out in time, but if I muster the stamina, will do so and will probably, probably, dash off a second piece.

Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin




Aronofsky does take a lascivious glee in the spectacular disintegration of a beautiful woman here, but it's not so much Repulsion in a tutu as it is a Dario Argento giallo in the way a conspiratorial malice slithers in its deep-focus shadows and the way the soap is blown up past operatic thresholds to the brink of hysteria and often spilling over into the ridiculous, as if going haywire on a meth of its own making. Natalie Portman is splendidly over-the-top as a one-woman vortex of paranoid niggle and whiny damage, her coming undone aided and abetted by her flippant rival ballerina (Mila Kunis) and her fucked-up self-immolating idol (Winona Ryder) and her demented stage mother (Barbara Hershey) and her demonically horny director (Vincent Cassell). She's also besieged by hallucinations, that, if anything, point to the phantasmagoric cocktease in Aronofsky. When the otherness intrudes, and it intrudes often but only once as exquisitely as I'd like, they don't so much pierce as merely sheath things in a gauze of displacement that lack the seeping disquiet of consequence, like overripe dream sequences, which is how the whole thing tends to sort of feel the further in you get, toeing the line of perversity that Polanski, or indeed Argento, would have gleefully, dangerously criss-crossed several times over, and making Aronofsky that sort of a cocktease,too - - -except perhaps for the sequence where Natalie pleasures herself which does end up getting rudely interrupted but also ends up creepier and funnier than if he'd merely let her finish. Which is not to say that the punches he pulls betray his aesthetic, he's always been a bit of a cocktease, Darren, and his cinema of obsession was always hornier for the milieus all that obsessive turmoil heightens and infects, and if it finds a kindred garishness in Ken Russell, Black Swan is still very much of a piece with everything else he's done. All that corrosive, corroded opulence? You could say it's positively Aronofskyesque. * * *


The King's Speech
Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by David Seidler







The reluctant king-in-waiting with a profound stammer may not be a cliche in and of itself, but the misfit speech therapist who not only helps him overcome his handicap but discover himself in the process is, and their tag-teaming turns our conflicted royalty into just another noble soul with a social impediment and the bonding that transpires between them into a lockstep of guru-grasshopper cliche and rehash. Little here goes against the grain and everything is wrung through a historical confection in which everyone is smoothened into such impossibly likable shapes that even Hitler comes off as just some cranky old nut. But it's so dogged in its enthusiasm to please it's practically altruistic, making it a task to dismiss, or at least dismiss with too much snark. The moderately snide Karate Kid comparisons someone somewhere made are as far as I'll go myself, even if they're a bit inaccurate given how Karate Kid is the slightly better film, if only out of how we never saw Miyagi's reveal coming the way we could sort of see Lionel Logue's, not that he has much of a reveal up his sleeve anyway. What does somewhat relieve its lack of capacity to surprise and will to misbehave is Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce and the way the vibrant gusto of their faith in the material enlivens if not emboldens it. Amiable and harmless,then, and by that measure, poised to win the main trophy of the night by a landslide. * *

True Grit
Directed and Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Based on the Novel by Charles Portis




Not that Henry Hathaway had anything as subversive in mind as a genre inversion but in zeroing in as he did on John Wayne setting his icon on fire as the cantankerous Rooster Cogburn, his True Grit unwittingly tapped into a minor vein of meta, tweaking its quaint hokiness into the mildly compulsive sensation of watching John Wayne play John Wayne not playing John Wayne, something like that. If True Grit were John Wayne's last film, it would have been as if he was sending off his myth, and in many ways that's what it was, the first increment of a drawn-out last bow. Bereft as it is of Coen mannerisms, nothing quite as cannily self-reflexive prevails in their remake, which installs Jeff Bridges into Rooster Cogburn's britches and draws as much from the psychological charge of Anthony Mann as it does the otherworldly minimalism of Monte Hellman. But the way they stick close to the contours of the Charles Portis novel is deceptively reverential, given how its universe centers around the Halie Stainfield character, possessed of a tenacity beyond her teenage years borne neither from a sense of duty nor a squandered bravado nor even from paternal love and righteous indignation and the desire to see a murdered parent avenged but rather from an almost matriarchal and ostensibly female determinism, making it an inversion off the bat. The cowboy picture, after all, is the perpetual chick flick antithesis, it's a man's man's man's man's world, and the male presences here, be it Bridges' imploded crank or Matt Damon's robust professional, are quite galvanic. But for all its sinew and crag and gravity and macho bluster and ominous bursts of carnage, and for all the imposing and rigorous maleness of its title, True Grit is mostly languor and grace, shot through as it is with the spiritual fervor and melancholic temperament of its lone female. She does catch up with her father's killer, we know that. And frontier justice, in the doling out, is all anticlimax and muffled catharsis, because from a young girl's POV, there is no code to live up to here, no machismo to reinforce, just a woman's work done. But at a steeper price, it turns out, than anyone bargained for. Where the first True Grit was a cock-eyed ballad to heroism and redemption, this one is, ultimately, an autumnal hymn to regret, one whose poisons sharpen when we get to the eerie, sombre epilogue. No country for old men, all that. Over that heartbreaking final image, stoic and resolute and embodying the title as to almost be its eponym, she intones the even more heartbreaking final line: "Time just gets away from us." That it does. More than it ever did and moreso for some than for others.* * * *

2.08.2011

TISOY VS. THE PUNKS: ON MTV, PHILIPPINE CINEMA AND YOU CAN DANCE IF YOU WANT TO









Google “music video” and you can trace its origins as a practice as far back as the late 1800s. Oh, it was performance footage for the most part, but isolated pockets were going out on limbs, laying in the ramparts. Jean Luc Godard had an indirect hand in matters, about as much as the direct hand Richard Lester had with his Help!. That entire syntax he came up with in A Bout De Souffle, the shakycam and the jump cutting and the whiplash rhythms, it was all prescient without knowing it, virtually the cloth from which music videos would be cut. You go to it and you go to films like Bob Rafelson’s Head and Nicholas Roeg’s Performance and to little oddments like Dylan’s iconic Subterranean Homesick Blues and the Who’s Happy Jack and the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever and to the lab experiments Todd Rundgren and Devo were conducting. You go to these not just for the DNA signatures, though. You go to these for having the bright idea that you can make little movies from songs without having to pick through Hollywood musicals for surplus or training a camera on some guy and having him sing to it.

They were all taking from other, myriad strains of cinema instead, or even other, myriad strains of culture in general, and in many ways, were pushing the form even before they had a name for it, and really, even before they were even aware there was a form to push. Pushing it closer to short film, to experimental narrative, to conceptual piece, closer to the music video as we know it today, notwithstanding all the excesses it accrued. Boiled down, all those primordial music videos name-checked back there, among others, were borne out of the need of independent filmmakers (D.A. Pennebaker, Peter Goldman) to do something and bored rock stars to feed blood back into their pulses, tiny little spurts of experimentation to while away the time waiting for the zeitgeist that would detonate all of what they were doing to calcify, blissfully unaware of the footprints they were making.

The task at hand here is to find, if any, similar overlaps between Philippine pop cinema and Philippine music videos, the bearing of one on the evolution of the other. But I’m not sure if I can say some parallel evolution took place. Ever since the local music industry appropriated the form, there has been a steady increase in production values and with the outbreak of the digital revolution, a proliferation of music video careerists, the music video becoming a refuge for Filipino film school graduates with nothing to film and, down the line, for anyone with a digital camera. Oh, there was already an active independent experimental cinema in the country lining the fringes back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when MTV first broke, our own Pennebakers and Goldmans if you will, in Raymond Red (Manila Skies) and Joey Agbayani (Lola) and later in Aureus Solito (The Blossoming of Maximo Olivero), but by the time they became the emergent bands’ go-to men, the music video had more or less become the global music marketing parlance it is, meaning the template was set, the laws laid down, leaving no room for a learning curve.

Not that any was needed, the short film being the métier of nearly every independent filmmaker recruited to make a music video—and something like Aureus’ longform video for the Eraserheads’ Ang Huling El Bimbo (aka The Last El Bimbo) almost instinctively went against the grain anyway. For the most part, there were catalogues of tropes to nick, styles to mimic, concepts to retro-fit, rules to break and unbreak. A learning curve would only amount to a lot of fuss you didn’t need, moreso when the form practically came with an instruction manual. All you had to do was crack it open and dig in. Other than the most rudimentary transfer of energies, there really was little significant overlap between cinema and music video. Go to Maryo J.De Los Reyes’ iconic but crummy Bagets (1984), though, and the argument turns a slightly different shade. Its gaudy colors, its editing rhythms and its incessant fondness for montage was a template in and of itself for the local youth comedies of the ’80s, that misbegotten horde, whose most beloved trope was the tendency to suddenly break into elaborate song and dance at the oddest moments and not in the culturally endemic manner of Bollywood, would count among its vile ranks such epics of trash as Hotshots and Campus Beatand the almighty The Punks among many, many, far more misbegotten others. Bagets and the rest of its sort seemed suspiciously and terribly influenced by MTV.

Not to dismiss leakages and osmosis, not to mention how slavish appropriation of whatever’s working for the West has always been domestic mainstream studio-made cinema’s particular brand of kung fu, but there’s a sudden breaking into elaborate song and dance too, in Ishmael Bernal’s (Himala) postmodern-before-there-even-was-such-a-thing-as-postmodern Tisoy!(1977). But it comes in at an even odder time, just after the title credits, so it’s not as if you’re ready and it’s not as if he throws a rope before plunging us into it but there you go—street sweepers in full-on Busby Berkeley mode! It’s nowhere near as well-oiled as the Busby Berkeley invocation would suggest, sure, there’s another proto-MTV sequence involving a traffic jam that’s more wittingly and precisely realized, but it’s a ballsy move even for someone who has built a career on ballsy moves. It throws you on enough of a loop so you start expecting that nothing here will settle into a groove you can see coming. And it doesn’t.

Nobody talks much about Tisoy!. Not when they talk about Bernal, not when they talk about the heights of ’70s comedy, not when they talk about ahead-of-its-time. Which is a bit of a shame. Rather, and rightly so, everybody talks about Mike De Leon’s Kakaba-Kaba Ka Ba? (1980), which starred Christopher De Leon and Jay Ilagan too, and came three years later and has the same subversive energy and has one or two dance numbers as well but feels a lot less anarchic and a lot less funny and a lot less fun put up against this.My aunt remembers Tisoy from college, back in the late ’60s, in all its iterations: the Nonoy Marcelo comic strip, the play that came out of it, the eventual TV show, the Lauro Pacheco movie with Jimmy Morato and Pilar Pilapil, all that. Tisoy was their youth cult, their generational totem, their Scott Pilgrim. Their Bagets, if you will. But even she hadn’t heard of this. And even if she did, it’s possible she wouldn’t recognize it. Nonoy Marcelo wrote the script for this one, sure, and roped in his comedy titan cousin Bert Marcelo, who has been the constant through all the versions. But the Bernal Tisoy!was not so much a remake as a turning on its head. It’s a relic of its time—it’s near-topical in jokes, mostly pivoting on local cinema at that time, only working after some digging into, for one—but I saw it just a few weeks ago, some 33 years too late, and it’s temperament is weirdly fresh, weirdly now.

I bring it up and Kakaba-Kaba Ka Ba?, too, because they both predate MTV but both too are uncannily possessed of a grasp for its rhythms and energies and language, as if they were as prescient without knowing it as Godard was. And who knows if maybe they are. That something as arch and irreverent and out-there as Tisoy! would have bearing on something as safe as milk and dull as bathwater as Bagets and the rest of its sort may be a little too much to suggest but the membranes that connect them make sense. It’s something far older than MTV here. And might have its roots in something embedded in our cultural psyche and in the psyche too of Philippine popular cinema of the ’50s and ’60s and even the ’70s, in the vaudeville aesthetic it sucked at the teat of, in the belief of entertainment as being everything to everyone, in that urge to put on a show… right now.There is something oddly, sweetly, wondrously intrusive every time someone dances in a movie that isn’t a musical and it’s done right or even if it isn’t but feels like it was or even if it plain isn’t. A breaking of the fourth wall almost, a spinning off into another planet, even the ones that enmesh themselves in the action through a sieve of logic, like the Madison bit from Godard’s Band of Outsiders or when John Leguizamo and Mira Sorvino dance to Marvin Gaye in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam; but more so when it doesn’t, like the exhilarating coda to the Takeshi Kitano Zatoichi and that lovely bit near the end of Quark Henares’ Keka that feels kindred with the dancing in Tisoy! and Kakaba-Kaba Ka Ba?. They’re all digs, sure. But you can parse a hum of affection coursing through it. Not obviously and, really, I’m mostly just guessing. And possibly projecting my own peculiar affection on it, itself most likely colored by an idiot love for crap and a tinge of nostalgia for it. Oh, it’s silly and naïve but it’s this naïve silliness, this utter disregard for everything, that counts for its untrammeled enthusiasm, for the purity of its unwitting anarchy, and for my screwy fondness for it.




Originally published at Cinelogue.

*Image taken from Video 48.

2.06.2011

A BRIEF HISTORY OF FORGETTING: MY 2010 IN MUSIC

" . . .(with) downloads . . . you can listen infinitely without knowing often what you're listening to." (Brian Eno, from an interview in Pitchfork)

At it again.

More music is being made and put out there now than there's been at any other point in history and unlike any other point in history,too, you can have them all, if you have the stamina and the appetite and the will and the life to burn. That,and a broadband server. I have a little bit of each and I listened to a ridiculous amount of music in 2010 mostly because it was out there and I could. But Brian Eno was right. I've forgotten what half of it sounds like. This, then, technically, is the half I remember, give or take. Or at least what made it through the filters in one piece and stuck.

There are two lists here. The first is for albums and comes with no annotation as I'm lazy like that. I apologize for the lack of domestic product. This year, I plan to get out more often and remedy that. I didn't have the heart to separate the two Sufjan Stevens records, as they weren't meant to be anyway. And I'm counting all three of Robyn's Body Talk EPs as more of a whole than the comp album she released from bits and pieces of them. Barring the obvious pick , for me and for yearend lists (Kanye West,Cee-lo Green), the rest of my listening turned out to be wildly catholic, even more than 1999, taking in, as it does, the gleeful return of stalwart old favorites Superchunk and Gil Scott Heron and a thoroughly forlorn Tracey Thorn, my new fetish for three strains of pop (dream, K and J), as well as the robust jazz-funk of The Budos Band, the DIY psych of Coma Cinema , the orchestral manoeuvres of Owen Pallett, the jubilant pop of 2NE1 and the weirdly comforting goth balladry of Zola Jesus.

The second list is for songs, not really singles, as I'm terribly misinformed about these things, having lost the old vigor to swim the media bath for coordinates. I used to hoard copies of SPIN and Q and Mojo to use as maps for the hunting and gathering of pop that consumed half my life and money. These days, with zero danger and less at stake, I forage blind. And I don't really care. Turns out, though, that most of these were singles, which is odd and neat.

One of the rules I set for myself is that nobody from one list can cross over into the other. It's a rule I was tempted to break several times - - -with Robyn and 2NE1 and Kanye and Cee-Lo from the albums list and LCD and Teenage Fanclub and The-Dream from the songs list. The other rule is that no one gets two slots on either list.

I wrote a decade-ender list of albums and songs that both peaked at 40 and ran the risk of leaving out a lot, which happened. I wanted to keep this at the same number but I got as far as 20 for the albums and up to 46 for the songs and ran the same risk, with Allo Darlin' and Nicki Minaj as casualties. I ranked both lists, too, as ranking is my new toy. And like most toys, it's both a bit of fun and possibly immaterial. Love was my only gauge and love's impervious to hierarchy. I also didn't go as far as including albums and songs released before 2010 that I heard for the first time and played a lot last year as that was not the point- - -sorry,then, City And Colour and Skeleton and the Girl-Faced Boys and Clazziquai Project and Empire of the Sun and Jesus Walk With Me.

Besides,if I had, we'd be here all night. And this is late enough as it is.



1. Zola Jesus, STRIDULUM II
2. Cee-Lo Green, THE LADYKILLER
3. Rangers, SUBURBAN TOURS
4. Kanye West, MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY
5. Robyn, BODY TALK I-III
6. Superchunk, MAJESTY SHREDDING
7. 2NE1, TO ANYONE
8. Crystal Castles, CRYSTAL CASTLES 2010
9. Chew Lips, UNICORN
10. Evenings, NORTH DORM
11. LoneLady, NERVE UP
12. Sufjan Stevens, ALL DELIGHTED PEOPLE / THE AGE OF ADZ
13. High Places, HIGH PLACES VS. MANKIND
14. Budos Band, THE BUDOS BAND III
15. Owen Pallett, HEARTLAND
16. Rose Elinor Dougall, WITHOUT WHY
17. Coma Cinema, STONED ALONE
18. Young Heretics, WE ARE THE LOST LOVED ONES
19. Gil Scott Heron, I'M NEW HERE
20. Tracey Thorn, LOVE AND ITS OPPOSITE








47. David Sylvian, Playground Martyrs
It was always Sylvian's vocals, from Brilliant Trees on, that made me his bitch, more than his sober artpop, really, but it didn't take long for me to get around to loving that,too. He's the closest thing I have to a Sinatra, to a devotion hinged almost entirely on mechanism. This is a torch song disrobed until there's close to nothing left, attaining a spectral quality, in both the consistency of the songform it co-opts, and in the threads of melody flitting through it that his voice divines then exposes.

46. Christina Aguilera with Ladytron, Little Dreamer
Bionic worked despite not being as all that as I'd hoped, but on paper, the pairing up of Christina with Ladytron for two bonus tracks smacked of a car crash slightly less grotesque than the car crash the pairing up of Christina with Cher turned out to be but a car crash still, and yet the parts match both times without a seam out of place, more so on this sci-fic lullaby whose prosaic sappiness, sung as if to a child but could well be to a lover estranged by either geography or maybe death, gains a warm, eerie glow.

45. The Pipettes, Stop the Music
The new Pipettes did somewhat jump the shark, their kitsch-disco tropes getting the better of them, but for this fabulous scorcher, which gets by on little more than that slinky Latin beat and the spring it restores to their step.

44. R.Kelly, Number One Hit
It sounds like it could be one but it will never be, of course, which is both its pathos and its power.

43. Techy Romantics, Photos Fade
" . . .stepping off the platform of you and I/ I'm leaving it all behind . . . " When that stacatto guitar riff comes in on the second verse it makes the romantic suicide invoked by that first line seem like the sweetest of freedoms even as Camyl herself isn't quite so sure but goes along with it anyway.

42. Efterklang, Harmonics
They traded off , on Magic Chairs, that sense of playfulness and sprawl they're expert at for a coherence and immediacy they don't have the sea legs for yet, but a delightful teeter-totter is struck here, nibbling away, as it does, on its own self-imposed boundaries.

41. Kylie Minogue, Get Outta My Way
The disco inside you is your friend. Take its hand. Give in.

40.The Silver Seas, What's The Drawback?
" . . .she's stopping traffic and moving through time/she's like a 45 record in the back of my mind . . . " If there's an argument more persuasive than this for the strip-mining of ELO as a sonic influence with as much mileage as Gang of Four, I haven't heard it yet. Except, perhaps, if you count the new Manic Street Preachers, which I do.




















39.Free Energy, Hope Child
That torch they carry for Thin Lizzy would be corny if it didn't actually give their songs balls and those balls crunch. Crunchy balls,yeah.

38. Foxes In Fiction and Galleries, Borders
Bedroom recordings became something of a substitute habit for me last year, taken in as much by process and principle as I was by product. Warren Hildebrand was a constant go-to man for most of it and this collaboration stuck with me the most, a song about distances that induces the yearning that comes from it more than anything did, except for the actual distance itself.

37. Lucky Soul, White Russian Doll
That cartilage of Motown by way of Johnny Marr that bolsters its indiepop stomp is what makes being subsumed by a lover, as if you were a matryoshka doll, feel almost triumphant.

36. The School, I Want You Back
As fired-up as that other song with the same name is in feeding its romantic anxieties through a primary-colored ebullience - - -with a dash of mariachi horns for gravy. Insanely catchy, terribly uncomplicated, nothing you haven't heard a hundred times before but wouldn't mind hearing again, which is sort of the point of pop music but very seldom is these days.

35. Katy Perry, Teenage Dream
" . . . I've finally found you, my missing puzzle piece, I'm complete . . ." Oh Katy, I bet you say that to all the boys.





















34. Twin Sister, Phenomenons
New wave revivalism that feeds off aura more than nostalgia and artifice. There was a lot of those last year and there was a lot of those I liked - - -Wild Nothing, Radio Dept., Twin Shadow - - -but this tasty pastry and the equally tasty EP it came from one-ups nearly all of them.

33. Gobble Gobble, Lawn Knives
" . . . crackle crackle flake/ let no one know . . . " Wild, inspired nothingness that exudes, in equal measure, a nutso bob and weave and a frantic joy the sort of which was nowhere else to be found last year. My radar is thusly trained.

32.Standard Fare, Love Doesn't Just Stop
No it doesn't.

31. Warpaint, Undertow
Possessed of a similarly hazy smolder as Hope Sandoval and Miki Berenyi, these lovelies earn my enthusiasm to disappear into it with this lovelorn ballad that feels like its title, perking up near the end as if breaking surface, but mostly ebbs and flows in a sensuous whirlpool of faintly sinister bliss.

30. Women, Eyesore
Of a piece with the album in that it still sounds uncomfortable in its own skin which is part of what makes it tick, but this time all that coarsened, fitful grayness is in service of a brighter shaft of melody that is, if not optimistic, then hopeful. Also, that guitar riff at the start drips all kinds of juice.

29. The-Dream, Florida University
Not that we'll ever be given the satisfaction of consensus, but in the real world, girls can be assholes, too, and here's The-Dream spewing on one of those, his ex. " . . .I was the realest thing you've ever known/ I can't wait to say I told you so . . . "Scorned boy venom that's more cocky than furious, but near the end, after the chorus that explains the title (" . . . this is short for Florida University . . .F U . . .F U . . .FU. . . FU . . . "), it throws in a mocking fake Bieber sample that makes the song not only cut like glass but draw a little blood, too.


28. Uffie, F1rst Love
I was going to write something here about how all pop music boils down to a matter of context and use as example the way this attaches a kitschy 80s sample - - -F.R.David, no less - - -onto a not-much ditty and makes a tiny gem out of the graft . . . but if I'm going to be very honest, I'm stone in love with this for no particular reason. Uffie is the captain of my heart, at least for the 4 minutes 57 seconds it's playing.

27. The National, Sorrow
Lays it on a little thick, sure. " . . .sorrow found me when I was young/ sorrow waited, sorrow won. . ." Like a clenched fist, this is all pent-up seethe building up to a detonation that never comes because that would mean some form of release and I'm not sure that's what Matt wants. " . . .'cause I don't want to get over you . . . " I feel you,man.

26. Los Campesinos!, Straight In At 101
Not getting enough sex - - -a universal lament, almost - - - makes Gareth antsy and skittish and he throws a fit and takes the song with him which is good for us if not necessarily for him.

25. Teenage Fanclub, Sometimes I Don't Need To Believe In Anything
The last sentence of what I wrote about #36 applies here. Somebody should tell Norman Blake and Gerard Love that doing the same thing twice has long been outlawed by the tastemakers of pop because they keep doing exactly that and do it wondrously both times. I like how the bit that goes ". . .taking a ride on a subway train/ to feel more alive when you get back out again . . . " makes me feel like the lyric says and that's even before we get to the guitar din in the chorus that I might've seen coming but when it does is the wind beneath my wings.

24. Utada Hikaru, Goodbye Happiness
A happy pill of potentially perpetual efficacy. And yes, the irony of that isn't lost on me.

23. Sleigh Bells, Treats:
I do have all of 2011 to burrow into the album as I got around to it a little late and didn't pay it much mind at first, save for this monolith of guitar bombast that's every bit as 80s as Jean Claude Van Damme, every bit as buff and full of itself,too. A blow-up doll for my infatuation with powerchords. Even better than the real thing.

22. Memoryhouse, Lately (Deuxieme)
The feeling I get of being submerged and the line about breathing through machines and also the one about asking to be shut off makes it seem this is about the benign forcing into corners and making peace that happens in the nearness of death, and maybe it is, but I've learned not to take things as they seem, as this could be about other,less fatal forms of dying. It's so beautiful regardless, it makes succumbing to one or the other almost something to look forward to.

21. Jenny And Johnny, Big Wave
The recession confuses Jenny Lewis and you can tell from the anxious albeit effervescent tremble that the confusion frightens her a little, too.

20. SAWA, Swimming Dancing
Wakarimasen*but when teengirl fantasy Kawauchi Sawa throws herself into this vortex of trance and swims(dances) against the current, the sensation was/is a euphoric few could touch.

*"I don't understand"

19. Arcade Fire, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Merely catchy where they used to be opulent and weird along with the catchy, I never quite got The Suburbs,or it never got to me the way Funeral did and still does, or I didn't give it enough time and probably should. But the unsentimental nostalgia of this magnificent chamber disco oddment, in which Regina Chassagne sings herself to rapture, took hold. Time will reveal that it really is their masterpiece. Or you could take my word for it now.


18. Girls Generation, Run Devil Run
The partial ruin of Oh! was that it was tasteful here and there when it should've been tasty from end to end, but what ultimately rescues it are the skyscraper beats the girls strap on here and all the alpha-female sass they pump it up with as they stride across the land like a nine-headed pop monster crushing nearly everybody under their heels. Also, a massive attack of cute.

17. Vigo, Where Are You My River?
Not so much a kundiman deconstruction as that implies a taking apart and a putting back into place to get to the bottom of things and this is a band that's too familiar with the form and its tales of love gone missing to need to do that. More a kundiman reconstruction, then, a summoning of the necessary auras and demons to make you feel as at home with all that treachery and bleeding.

16. No Age, Glitter
Pummels you still, if you're worried about a softening of blows, but it is the swooniest they've gotten and you can make out what Dean Spunt is singing but not so much that you don't have to still lean in, as leaning in against the chaos of its surfaces to pick up signals is what makes their punk special.





















15. LCD Soundsystem, All I Want
This Is Happening was not a record wanting for peaks but it's to the exhausted glitter of this krautpop love song with its payload of feedback at the end that I come back to again and again and again. " . . .all I want is your pity/ all I want are your bitter tears . . . " Not so much a Berlin-era Bowie rip as it is a gene-splicing.

14. Krakow Loves Adana, Cold and Closed
" . . . floating speech/ except the words we need/ and with some time there might return the fire/ but love was always a fragile kind of truth/ life was always a fragile time for you. . . " More than its intolerable wounded loveliness, this is up here out of the number of times I played it and play it still. Like with hangovers, sometimes the medicine for melancholy is more melancholy.

13. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti , Round and Round
Taking soap and water to the scuzz that Ariel Pink used to lather his records with is an aesthetic cop-out only to those who saw lo-fi as a moral stance rather than a trope you can discard as soon as the shtick wears itself out, which it will if the bells and whistles of your pop are the songs anyway. Multi-sensation studio-centric popcraft up there with Todd Rundgren if his prog gene had been even more squirrely, and every bit as epic as that suggests.

12. Deerhunter, Helicopter
Even before reading the Dennis Cooper short short story it was based on, there already was a niggling sense that, for all its weepy beauty, Bradford Cox is singing about the sort of loss you don't come back from. And when he gets to the line " . . . now they're through with me . . ." the blood temperature tends to drop.

11. Paul Weller, Aim High
In a way, a returning to the whole modern retro duality that gave his rather fertile and unjustly reviled Style Council period vitamins, reinvigorating Weller even more than he already is. This is a glimpse of what could have been if he'd seen it through to its endgame. Biases aside, and going by the keening soulful swirl here, it would've been grand.

10. Janelle Monae, Cold War
" . . . I was made to believe there's something wrong with me . . . " Janelle's a tornado, death-defying and beholden to a thousand fancies, most of which she indulges in the record she was roundly exalted for, making this exhortation to self-belief a will to power on a winning streak. With digable Kelindo guitar solo as extra jackpot.

9. Best Coast, Our Deal
Bethany wants to break the deal and be more than friends but she can't so a stray cuddle after sex is the most she can hope for. That sleeve of guitar fuzz Girlfriend wore its subservient heart on had a charge running through it, sure, but it merely nips at the heels of this gigantic ballad and the way it wrings from Ms. Cosentino's disappointment the sort of sweet, sweeping melodramatic ache that would make even Dusty Springfield weep

8. Drake with Alicia Keys, Fireworks
" . . .you never see it coming you just get to see it go . . . "That's Drake in the corner, that's Drake in the spotlight, losing his religion. Not much of a rapper, not much of a singer either,and his 2Pac metaphor's a little weak but somehow that makes the melancholies of affluence and celebrity that beset him more poignant than it probably should be.

7. Crystal Castles with Robert Smith, Not In Love
The futuristically-named Ethan Kath and Alice Glass do crop up on that other list, sure, but this shouldn't really count as breaking a rule, or at least can be cut some slack on a technicality, being, after all, a re-imagining so thorough it comes into its own. And roping in Robert Smith really was last year's pentium chip of stunt-casting.

6. Alicia Keys, Unthinkable (I'm Ready)
“ . . .you give me a feeling that I never felt before/
 and I deserve it, I know I deserve it
/ it's becoming something that's impossible to ignore/ it’s what we make it . . .” Alicia looking down a drop we've all been on the edge of before, so you understand why she's feeling a little vertigo and a little open to harm and a little peril in her bones and also why the song throbs with such suspense. Plush, caution.

5. Peryodiko, Agawan Base
The way it pulls its anthemic punch at the last minute in that soaring chorus that makes you feel as if everything's forgiven, is like a catch in the throat that reminds you it isn't.













4. Beach Fossils, Face It
That utopian lope, not quite summery, not quite the feeling of sand between your toes, but like a gust of wind in your face telling you that you'll get there at some point. And just when you thought the pretty guitars couldn't get any prettier, they do and do they.

3. Rihanna with Drake, What's My Name?
More than Beyonce's “. . .to the left . . . “ , it was the way Rihanna turned her eye-rolling smirk of a ". . .puh,leeze . . . " into an assassination on the majestic Take A Bow that was the cocky height of pop kiss-offs. She's no stranger to empowerment, and she’s grown into it so that she doesn’t even need to flex as hard. " . . oh na na /what's my name? . . . " Oh, she wants the boy bad but he's only having her on her own terms. Don't misconstrue ". . . you're so amazing you took the time to figure me out/
thats why you take me, way past the point of turning me on/ you 'bout to break me, I swear you got me losing my mind . . . " as a giving in. It isn't a surrender, it's a taunt.

2. Minus the Bear, Excuses
" . . . running out of excuses/ when we know what the truth is/ I’m into you/ when you hear this song/ you’ll say you knew all along/ you’re into me too . . . " I still can't make up my mind if this was/is my mantra of denial or my fight song. But half a year after I first heard it, I'm still taken with the way it simmers sexily so.

1. Local Natives, Wide Eyes
". . .they told me how they fear it/now they're putting it on their tongues . . ." The Body of Christ theories hold , if only for this line, but it's not dropping acid they're really singing about but the confounding spectacle of the Buddha Boy , at least on the bit that goes ". . .no food and water for the better part of ten months/ quietly he sat between the folds of a free trunk . . ." As much about the disarming tenacity of the faithful as it is about the bewilderment it arouses in those of us who can't muster up the courage. That's wondrous in and of itself but the supple, kinetic sonics catch up fine.

1.11.2011

PAST LIVES AND THE BEAUTIES SUMMONED : MY 2010 AT THE MOVIES

"My function is to make whoever sees my films aware of his need to love and to give his love, and aware the beauty is summoning him." - Andrei Tarkovsky

In a way, a catalogue of downfalls, having missed out on most of the Cinema One Originals and Cinemalaya and the "indie" section of the MMFF and some of Cinemanila and the stray Star Cinema fluke or two, and on the polar opposite, having seen nearly everything Hollywood saw fit to dump on us save for Skyline but I doubt if that counts as a sin of omission. Not that this caveat is anything new. As this is more of an indulgence than a civic duty and isn't really a job, it's perpetually been at the mercy of things like sloth and not having the time and the making of money and the getting of a life.

Mondomanila, it must be said, comes on like some Makavejevian depression musical only Khavn can hallucinate. I champion it heartily even as I hold back from placing it on my list out of my involvement in it and the implied nepotism that comes with picking something you were a part of. Also, I liked at least three other foreign films enough- - -Unstoppable, The Ghostwriter and The Social Network - - - to honorably mention them. The rest of 2010's domestic and foreign cinephile fad gadgets remain unseen to me, until 2011 at least, when these things tend to remedy itself.

Geography has a bearing on my imperfect system, such as it is. 70% of the list must have been publicly screened in Manila during the year, regardless of screening venue or nature of run or if it even had a run, as long as it was in country and in public. The other 30% will be given over to 2010 films that weren’t screened nor released domestically regardless of format, with enough room for that stray 2009 film my radar picked up a little too late. The only criterion I uphold is love and that got me as far as 20 this year, making it a 14:6 ratio. This year, I also tried ranking. It’s a superfluous business, all told, but not without its moments. Still, I might consider going back to alphabetical next year. This is in descending order, but if you're the type who's prone to obsessing on rank, know that I urge you to watch all these with equal fervor, if only because you really owe it to yourself to bite into something more nutritious from time to time before you go back to making do with Jon Favreau tentpoles and Katherine Heigl rom-coms.







The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia, Russian Film Festival) : A bit of a cheat but we can cut Andrei some slack here, can't we? This was, after all, a film event, if not the film event of the year. Certainly was for me if only for how, after being inundated with 3D and HD and IMAX, none of it was still half as glorious as watching Tarkovsky - - - specifically this Tarkovsky - - - in 35mm.






Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand): All the serene arcana we've come to expect of Joe is here, of course, verdant and charged in the ways they usually are and also in ways that they usually aren't. An epistle but not so much to death but to the grace you find in dying right.







Ang Damgo Ni Eleuteria (Remton Suazola, Philippines,Cinema One Originals/Cinemanila): The single take technique counts as insanity, and as a plus given how insanity gets factored in less and less in films these days, but it doesn't show off so much as gives the piece buoyancy and in doing so attaches a sensation to the nonchalance with which we shrug off in real life the social malaise - - or any social malaise for that matter - - - at its heart. Plus, it's funny as all hell.









Agrarian Utopia (Sawan Banna) (Urupong Raksasad, Thailand): Of course, the title's meant to be ironic. These peasant families will toil the land until they're no longer able but will never attain the heavenly home in the fields the film's Thai title literally translates into. Like some Third World Days of Heaven and every bit as ravishingly envisioned.







Ang Ninanais : Refrains Happen Like Revolutions In A Song (John Torres,Philippines, Tioseco-Bohinc Film Series, Netpac/Cinemanila): After twisting a tongue he neither speaks nor understands until it's nothing but pure sound , John Torres proceeds to feed his elusive, sometimes poignant, often lovely, terribly mysterious object through its badly broken codes.









Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, France, French Film Festival): In which the divvying up of a family inheritance turns into a consensual dissolution of mundane history and every single member an accesory to their own obsolescence. If anything, an epitaph to the impermanence of things and the eternal hold they have on us.









Sketches of Kaitan City (Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, Japan, Cinemanila): Starved of levity as these bleak tales of ordinary sadness are, there's something in its wintry air that keeps everything gauzy and afloat, a metaphysical helium perhaps, that at points almost passes for hope. Almost.







Kano: An American and His Harem (Monster Jimenez, Philippines, Cinemanila): There is that implied metaphor on how we as a country have always been beholden to the smarmy wiles of America but this is almost an anatomy lesson in the machismo that is often flown like a flag of male virtue here. The fiendishly charismatic Victor Pearson may have struck a lot of people as virtually diabolical, and enraged a few enough to want to do the filmmakers bodily harm, but in some circles, he could well be some kind of hero.











Cameroon Love Letter (For Solo Piano) (Khavn de la Cruz, Philippines/Africa, Tioseco-Bohinc Film Series): Every word like a dagger drawing blood, every complaint freighted with loss, every memory leaking toxins, every line of worst fit, all tangled up in blue and threaded by that mournful, gorgeous piano fugue. Funny how you can't tell a breakup letter from a suicide note sometimes.









Vox Populi (Dennis Marasigan, Philippines, Cinemalaya): The naysayers weren't being merely pissy when they said this looked ugly and tacky, it is ugly and tacky, but then that's a function of the milieu and also the whole point. Ugly and tacky as our cities can get, they're even uglier and tackier during elections. But in nailing the Philippine condition on little more than its surfeit of comic energy it pays the price for not exoticizing anything by disappearing into an obscurity it doesn't deserve.








Summer Wars (Mamoru Hosoda, Japan): Turns out Jens Lekman got it wrong
- - -the end of the world is not bigger than love. Anime video game endorphin for sating my inner geek the way Scott Pilgrim can't quite do anymore.











Madeo (Mother) (Bong Joon-Ho, Korea, Cinemanila): This is, essentially, Bong returned to the territories he covered in The Host
- - -the tensile strength of family members looking out for their own and the loosing of monsters on a placid community - - - only this time the family member and the monster is one and the same.











Police Adjective! (Corneliu
Porumboiu, Romania): A police procedural that delights more in the tedium of procedure and where every conversation - - - be it about the lyrics of an inane pop song or the moral fallout from arresting a teenager for breaking a law that will most likely not be one soon - - - blows up into a discourse with equal degrees of gravity and consequence.










A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, France, Cinemanila): It's a bit like The Wire transposed to the French penal system, that is, if you go by how the overlapping ethnicities bear heavy on the power struggles of the underworld and also if you go by the ferocious dispersal of energy in charting the apotheosis of a crime lord from the ground up.







Detective Dee And The Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Tsui Hark, Hong Kong): Just when you think all the chaos and opulence couldn't get any more berserk and contaminated, there's Andy Lau doing martial arts battle with magic deer. Oh boy. Sure is nice to have you back, Mr.Hark. Please don't go off and make things like Missing anymore. Or anything with Jean Claude Van Damme in it.



Love In A Puff (Pang Ho-Cheung, Hong Kong):
Boy meets girl during their smoking breaks - - -
now there's a rom-com high concept with universal catch-all that it seems only Asians can pull off, as it's the lack of hurry and the lack of the need to rub everything in and the insistence on actuality as a style that make this warm and lithe and
swoony. The
Rohmer vein a lot of people claim it taps isn't just for
the way Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue talk in circles but also, and more so, for
the sensual causality of their brief encounters.








Senior Year (Jerrold Tarog, Philippines, MMFF): The effect is less of rekindling that rarefied and possibly false sense of magic we inflate our high school memories with but more like observing the social dynamics of a species seemingly removed from us yet somehow not. Were we ever this impetuous in our youth, this oblivious? Jerrold is actually saying we still are.





Monsters (Gareth Edwards, USA, Domestic Release): Either the lack of resources forced its hand or there really is an aesthetic at work here that warrants looking out for as Gareth Edwards may turn out to be that rare thing in Hollywood, an ex-FX man familiar and possibly even infatuated with the virtues of restraint. More than the dreamy and shapeless and awkward languor of his lo-fi sci-fic love story, it's really the world
that
he builds from parts of ours and parts of something else, and of which he only shows us the parts made of rustle and shadow, that makes this such an immersive trip.



Piranha 3D (Alexander Aja, USA, Domestic Release): The dismembered penis scene towers above all but then again I haven't seen Jackass 3D yet. Alexander Aja pees in Hollywood's punch.
Lap it up, fanboys.
Anarchic, almost.















Art & Copy (Doug Pray, USA, Special Screening): The making of scam ads is like masturbating in front of a mirror pretending that noodle in your hand is bigger than it really is, only more deluded because you also pretend you're a genius when you're really just another sad wanker. No sad wankers here.