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12.06.2012

NUMBER 14





Cinemanila. Dec 5 to 11. Market Market Cinemas. 

Michael Haneke. Ari Kaurismaki. Carlos Reygadas. Hong Sang Soo. Namapol Thamrongrattanarit. Nonsee Nimibutr. Sherad Sanchez. Raya Martin. Richard Somes. Teng Mangansakan. Arnel Mardoquio. Gym Lumbera. Whammy Alcazaren. Lav Diaz. Mario O'Hara. Marilou Diaz Abaya. Celso Ad Castillo. Manuel Conde.  2012 Jeonju Digital Project. Sergio Leone. 

 Film geek euphoria. No mistresses, hipsters or videogames.

12.05.2012

CINEMA ONE: THE LOWDOWN PART III

Mamay Umeng 
Directed and Written by Dwein Tarhata Baltazar 

Ang Paglalakbay Ng Bituin Sa Gabing Madilim
Directed and Written by Arnel Mardoquio

Palitan 
Directed by Ato Bautista 
Written by Ato Bautista and Shugo Pracio












Mamay Umeng: Mamay Umeng is in his 80s and has nothing left to live for except dying, only he's in the pink of health and death has been everything but cooperative. The risk you run with a film about tedium, a film that's ultimately about the lack of anything happening, the slow action of life going on and on and on, needs no elaboration, but in drawing out the minutiae of the old man's waiting, often with dollops of funny, and not to mention a couple of tiny and poignant semiotic gestures, it proves sound the premise behind slow cinema that stillness is conducive for stumbling on epiphanies. 

Ang Paglalakbay Ng Bituin Sa Gabing Madilim: It boils the intricacies of the Bangsamoro conflict down into the plight of a lesbian rebel couple and the suddenly orphaned nephew of one of them, still reeling from the murder of his parents and whose backpack is bursting with ransom money, as they make a break for friendlier territory and evade the soldiers bearing down on them.  Not so much minimalist as it is almost graceful in its restraint, it slows the chase film down into a road movie and achieves, in the subtle shifting of tones  from urgency to languor, a dreamlike reverie that poeticizes their own futile yearnings to free themselves from the strictures of both their revolution and their religion.

Palitan: Sure, it gets its softcore jollies down pat, but just like its spiritual forebear, Scorpio Nights, this is really about the simmering desperation that comes from sustained ennui and claustrophobia, re-imagining the cramped milieu as an ever tighter space with even flimsier walls, both literal and metaphoric, through which slithers the devil at the heart of matters, embodied gamely and diabolically by Mon Confiado, with all the threat and malice of a coiled snake.

CINEMA ONE: THE LOWDOWN PART II

Aberya 
Directed by Christian Libanan 
Written bY Ara Chawdhury and Christian Libanan

Mariposa Sa Hawla Ng Gabi
Directed by Richard Somes
Written by Richard Somes, Boo Dabu and Jimmy Flores

Mater Dolorosa
Directed by Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr.
Written by Jerry Gracio








Aberya: Difficult as it is to dismiss how jacked up with promise this is and how its reach has balls, only one of the four separate lives that inevitably intertwine here has juice: a drug dealer experimenting with ways to travel through time using narcotic cocktails. The rest, which include a boxer and a whore and a wannabe socialite, lose me a little and most of this loses to my issues with the post-postmodern aesthetic Linaban favors, dangerously verging on either MTV sensory overload or hipster self-awareness,  both of which, to his immense credit, he rejects falling back on full-bore.  

Mariposa Sa Hawla Ng Gabi : It's saying a lot to say this hits a ceiling with regards to how visually sumptuous it is, as every Richard Somes film looks good enough almost to eat.  His alternate universe re-imagining of Manila as a gaudy noir carnival of color and grime, through which a feisty young country woman tries to get to the bottom of her sister's brutal murder not to mention the mysterious body modifications visited on her corpse, smacks of equal parts Fellini and Sion Sono, and does gain the relentless, fucked-up weirdness that implies.

Mater Dolorosa:  Granted, it trawls over little that's new, but then again, every big-boned post-Godfather gangster saga, from Election to We Own The Night, doesn't necessarily trawl over anything new either, all being essentially iterations of the politics of family. Shakespearean is the go-to qualifier, which is meant to imply that they're knotty and messy and operatic. Only here, everything is subdued to the point of nonchalance, even its colors are muted to a shade of gray you assume is the moral tenor of its characters, achieving a sense of the equilibrium you also assume is how you give yourself over to this sort of life.


12.04.2012

CINEMA ONE 2012: THE LOWDOWN PART I

Anak Araw
Directed and Written by Gym Lumbera

EDSA XXX
Directed and Written by Khavn de la Cruz

Pascalina
Directed and Written by Pam Miras









Anak Araw: Despite its undertow of melancholia, and its fragmented structure, it's not difficult to parse the ethnographic schisms at play here, the yearning for the bucolic and the pull of the urban, schisms that obviously preoccupy Gym. Like Taglish, language is a metaphorical stand-in and its duplicities, not to mention the entropies visited on it, illuminate his own duplicities and entropies.  But where Taglish is the darker, more sombre film, Anak Araw is almost intolerably light-hearted and shot through with whimsy and tenderness. The way the song that plays near the end gives the piece its necessary emotional uplift and at the same time elucidates the conceptual point of everything is quite the feat.

EDSA XXX : It's a film freighted with many things, not least of which is Alexis Tioseco's portentous wish to see it come to fruition, and the irony that the perpetually independent and self-sufficient Khavn's dream project turns out to be his first under a corporate aegis, his first that he doesn't own rights to, acquires a special underlayer of subtext. Khavn's reaction to the emptiness the revolutions we celebrate have come to represent is to laugh at its absurdities and lay in a delightful array of music under it, veering from girl group doo-wop to quasi-flamenco to smoldering swamp-blues. A work-in-progress that is sustained in its current form by the propulsion from the joyous racket it makes and is shaping up to be his most hopeful work yet.

Pascalina: Here are the things you don't notice when seen through the bland prism of the everyday: how your self-absorbed sisters are grotesque harpies,  how distant and arrogant your boyfriend is, how the only person who has the courage to say she loves you is dying and probably a monster. But the opaque sheen that comes from shooting on a Digital Harinezumi not only gives everything  a timbre of often intoxicating ambivalence but stirs the melodrama our eponymous stumblebum is embroiled into a hellish lather, until the soup gets so oppressive, it makes her eventual descent into the secret monstrosity languishing under her well-meaning social deficiency feel more like a transcendence, into a shadow life that's perversely more promising.


12.02.2012

BLOOD AND BUTTERFLY





Richard Somes' Mariposa Sa Hawla Ng Gabi.

December 3 7:30 PM. Shang Cineplex.

December 5 9:15 PM. December 8 2:30 PM. Robinsons Galleria Moveworld.

11.30.2012

ABSURD REPUBLIC




Khavn's EDSA XXX. Work-In-Progress, Out-Of-Competition.

Special Screenings: December 1 7:30 PM.  Edsa Shangri-La 

December 2 12 PM. December 4 3 PM. December 5, 7 PM.  Robinsons Galleria Movieworld.

THIS MORTAL COIL


Dwein Baltazar's Mamay Umeng. Gala: November 30 7:30 PM. Shang Cineplex.

December 2 12:30 PM. Shang Cineplex.

December 1 12:30 PM. December 3 4:30 PM. December 9 2:30 PM. Robinsons Galleria Movieworld.

GIRL AFRAID


Pam Miras' Pascalina. Gala: December 1 7 PM. Robinsons Galleria Movieworld.

December 4 9:30 PM. December 7 5 PM. Robinsons Galleria Movieworld.

December 3 3 PM. Shangri-la Cineplex.

CHALKBOY



Gym Lumbera's Anak Araw.  Gala: December 2 9 PM.  Shang Cineplex.

December 3 12:30 PM. Dec. 4 7:30 PM Dec.6 5:00 PM. Robinsons Galleria Movieworld.



11.27.2012

DISAPPEAR WITHIN DISTANCE







This isn't goodbye. Just that the monumental tussle with words I've been building up to as far back as the middle of the year has at last begun. I'm writing, you see. Not just one specific thing but many. Which is my rather disingenuous excuse for not writing. Not writing here, at least. Not that I've been writing much here of late, I know. Do I owe anyone an apology for that? Sorry, then. And know that I mean that.  But in my defense, where life used to be what arrested the steady updating of this blog, this time it's been waylaid by more writing. I'm talking partially about pieces of mine that have shown up the past few months in places like Vault and Esquire and the Philippine Star and the Singapore Cinematheque Quarterly, among others, that I've chosen, for some reason or the other and entirely mine, not to cross-publish here. But I'm mostly talking about work that will not be showing up here either and will not be showing up for quite some time but will inevitably show up, in the forms the cosmos has meant for them to take and with the requisite measure of chest-beating and town-crying that befits someone like me who tends to physically wince at the prospect of self-promotion. I'd leave it at that as I'm also terribly averse to making pronouncements before the time is right, and it won't be, not for a bit. Everything in its right place.

All this, of course, is meant to disclaim and perhaps reassure that the silences you have been, and will continue to be, subjected to are not by-products of sloth. New writing will crop up here from time to time, I suspect. And I remain committed to my traditional yearend evaluations. This piece of internet turf is more junkie habit than thankless duty for me, I can't stay away from it too long. Also, more films continue to get made.

Not to get too melodramatic nor too precious nor too self-absorbed even, but the year has been a particularly challenging one for me, with regards to work, and by work I don't mean livelihood, and I don't recall any stock-taking that ensued in the wake of any pitfall to be this severe and decisive, nor this pro-active and crucial either, and I suppose that deserves some gratitude on my part. Much as it can dangerously be a persuasive deterrent, frustration has always been a reliable and enthusiastic impetus.  I'd like to fashionably proclaim this a hiatus but that would imply that I'm taking some form of holiday from writing, which I've reiterated enough times in the course of these three overlong paragraphs I'm not. Quite the opposite in fact. So call it what it is. I know most of you are used to the vacuum at this point. All I'm saying is not to get too used to it. And thank you for getting this far into my self-indulgent leave-taking. And to please be around for the eventual return.  I promise it will be all manner of winful and epic.

8.09.2012

THE NEEDLE AND THE DAMAGE DONE

Oslo 31 August
Directed  by Joachim Trier
Written by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogl
From the novel by Pierre Dreu La Rochelle














"Happy people are morons."You can make a shirt out of those four words, market it like a stance as it makes quite the combustible soundbite. And yet the first time you hear them in Joachim Trier's Oslo 31 August, they're almost tossed-off, arbitrary. It's something Thomas (Hans Olav Brenner), a professor of literature, apparently once said, maybe in the flame and flippancy of his youth, way before he lucked into his own surfeit of domestic bliss, the mundane comforts of settling into your own skeins, if you will.

Talking later to his friend Anders (Anders Danielson Lie), a heroin junkie out of rehab who might or might not be hastening his oblivion before day's end, he breaks all that down to little more than an index of banalities and complaints on how it has quelled his hunger to write and dowsed their enthusiasm to go out and how they spend their nights mostly playing Battlefield instead, a PS3 first-person shooter that shows up later in the house of Anders' dealer.

Everybody around Anders except for him seems not only to have settled into themselves, but also shrug it off casually, as if it were nothing.  And either Thomas is diffusing his own situation to assuage Anders or he's actually manifesting symptoms of a deeper malaise: a need to trivialize contentment as if it were a weakness, or as if in fear of loosing its potential treacheries, or worse, its potential boredom. Anders does outwardly shun the possibility that  a similar variety of happiness may deliver the release that eludes him. But his daylong, and later nightlong, meander through the town he grew up in is really a way of trawling for its glimmers, for its salve.

The first time we see him, he's filling his pockets with stones and jumping into a lake, hoping to drown himself but failing. That it doesn't feel like a first attempt is a relief. And there's nothing tactile and immediate forcing his hand. But something James Ellroy said about geography being destiny nags at me, and how the rejection Anders is coming to terms with is more than the sabotage his past inflicts on any chance he has at a career, more than his sister worrying about him but from a distance and certainly more than the ex-girlfriend he probably loves more than anything but is now halfway around the world and not returning his calls.

Cleaving less to the nouvelle vogue playfulness of his Reprise and more to a weightless Bressonian austerity, whatever attendant spiritual felicities that come with the appropriation is in the way Trier and cinematographer Jakob Ihre drape the eponymous city in a magic kingdom burnish, making everything seem to glow from within with a fairy tale consistency: that beguiling bike ride through the night near the end feels like an incantation almost.

But, alas, the limits of enchantment. Anders seems blind to its rhapsodies. Instead he wallows in his memories of the place, eavesdrops on the conversations of strangers, finding an evanescent comfort and joy in the disembodied, the erased, the disappeared.  "I have nothing." he says at some point, and he's not merely being melodramatic. It's a rejection of place that he grapples with, the strangeness that has come over familiar terrain. That whole last resort cure-all mystique of the suicidal impulse frankly never had much traction with me as a fuck-you to the world that doesn't give a shit anyway. And we never really know what happens to Anders after that ambivalent last shot, do we?  But it does make a faint, chilling sense.  There is an intolerable unease of recognition each time those tics of confusion play across his face, each time that smile has trouble forming and even more trouble staying in place. A recognition that here is a man with no footing left to lose, a man whose only hope may be the tender mercy of at last letting himself drop.

8.05.2012

WE ARE BEAUTIFUL WE ARE DOOMED

The Animals
Directed by Gino Santos
Written by Gino Santos and Jeff Stelton

Ang Nawawala (What Isn't There)
Directed by Marie Jamora 
Written by Marie Jamora and Ramon De Veyra


 



















At home he's a tourist. Gibson (Dominic Roco), that is. After seeing his twin brother Jamie fall to his death, he has spoken to no one, except, that is, for Jamie (Felix Roco), who's all grown up and smokes as much pot as he does but is probably a ghost and most likely a hallucination, and is what the title of Ang Nawawala may be referring to. What isn't there, right. He's the void in Gibson's life. He's the void, too, in the lives of his left-behind parents. His father (Buboy Garovillo, underused) has taken to sleeping in his room. And his mother (Dawn Zulueta, radiant) regards everything with an icy remove, particularly Gibson, who is the wrong son who died the way Timothy Hutton was in Ordinary People, only he mitigates his pathos not by slashing his wrists, but immersing himself, much like everyone his age tends to do as a default, in the comfort zones of his bohemia.

The film takes after him, swaddling itself in often intoxicating  artifice:  from the gregarious color schemes and hyper-stylized dress codes to the endless parade of scenester gigs and haunts to the first world problems we wish most of us would have and the reliance on such fashionable youth film tropes as MPDGs. All this reinforces its candied, faintly self-reflexive milieu, its characters defined by their totems, their longings charted in their denials. This is how we shield ourselves from having to deal with the real world sometimes. And  it's as if the film were itself daunted, like Gibson, to confront the anxieties at its core without protective covering. But no matter how festive and bright and exuberant its young noise gets, the sense that it will eventually lose to the ennui it's trying to stave off, to the emptiness it's trying to fill, tinges everything with a gauzy melancholia.  This push-pull between how empowering those totems we exalt in our youth are and how transient that power can be is, of course, the shared tension of all youth films and the most crucial thing Ang Nawawala shares with The Animals.

The class divide is as rampant in this country as the poverty our cinema is fond of making porn from. But it rarely gets tackled full-bore that it counts as one-up for these two films that they do, and with such an assured verve at that. The farthest Ang Nawawala goes in approaching the schism, though, is a montage of people on the streets celebrating New Year's Eve seen from the back seat of a car on its way to a posh party. It's gaze is detached, curious at best.  The Animals is more brazen about it, more arrogant, more without remorse. And it comes to a troubling boil when it hangs the most corrosive burst of aggression on an economically-challenged outsider, which might be better read as a cop-out than a measure of its worldview, even if it makes contextual sense if the latter is what it is.

The Animals is not about wistful hipsters, after all, but rather their diametric opposite, a strain of upper-crust youth with no pop cultural co-dependencies for shaping their selves.What music they have is faceless to the point of anonymous, their fashion extravagant but off the rack. The future bores them, the present is just time that needs killing, debauchery and violence are just things to do. Their cocksure hedonism feeds off their privilege and knowing how high it makes their place in the pecking order and how this is some license to get away with almost anything.

It references Skins about as much as Ang Nawawala references Wes Anderson, sure, and when it soft-pedals in the end, it does blunt its nihilistic thrust.  But there's an authenticity to its depravity, to its bleakness, to how brutal it is for leaving the character with the most to lose from its gruesome turn of events hanging in bliss at the end, that sticks and lingers, despite its lapses. Which is not to say that the bleary optimism of Ang Nawawala is false. It believes wholeheartedly in its own hopefulness. But is also aware of how it can only go so far. You can tell from how the conversations Gibson has with Jamie are the moments that ring truest. Some wounds run deep and take forever to heal. And sometimes the only voices you can trust are the ones in your head.

7.18.2012

DOLPHY: QUEEN OF COMEDY















“You should stop making personal films and make the ultimate Dolphy movie instead.” This was a professor of mine talking to some young filmmakers, with a measure of both snark and con I’d imagine but also meaning it, much as this was back when the idea of the ultimate Dolphy movie tended to ring partially like a joke. It did stick to my craw, give it that, and long enough for the notion to gain enough weight and sink in. The ultimate Dolphy movie, then. What would it be like? And has it been made? My pondering of these two matters may have been casual but oddly continual.

Or perhaps not that odd. Rifling through Dolphy’s vast and varied filmography, for me, is like sifting through layers of nostalgia, condensing hundreds of childhood afternoons into a body of work.. They were, invariably, agents of my private cinephilic ferment. Sure, most of the films were saddled with one-trick directors and by-the-numbers scripts. But all of these Dolphy would rise above and invigorate and sometimes transform into something else. The monotone of stereotype is something all comic leads from Jerry Lewis to Adam Sandler lapse into and I remember being told that plans were once afoot for a think tank tasked to develop projects for Dolphy that would pry him loose from this. Age eventually brings a sense that his earlier material bristled with genuine anarchy and subversion and that the later ones conformed to convention and formula. But no matter how pedestrian the material got, Dolphy’s ungraspable comic wiles would set most of it on fire. This is what the possibly mythical think tank may have wanted to harness and re-direct.

The queer act Dolphy minted with Jack and Jill is one of his two most enduring archetypes. And it almost forfeits its undeniable comic charge for the way it allegedly misrepresented the homosexual community, which it actually didn’t. It bowed to the mores of its time, unfortunately the mores of our time still, every time it finished up reforming a character into heterosexuality, sure. But, arguable lack of subtlety aside, which is an issue of tone and attack rather than condescencion, Dolphy’s gay characters feel hewn from the street and crosses no lines. Vice Ganda tends to come off more like caricature, like exploitation. Still, this is what his work in Gil Portes’ Markova: Comfort Gay, which Dolphy himself produced, and Lino Brocka’s Ang Tatay Kong Nanay, sought to nuance and broaden and perhaps even overthrow.

The problems with Markova have more to do with the overly earnest script but centering it is the fragile humanism of Dolphy’s performance, invaluably reinforced by Joel Lamangan as his best friend, who may essentially be playing himself, but somehow one-ups the creepy soldier he played in Lav Diaz’s Hesus Rebolusyonaryo. A spar and volley with someone of equal measure, be it Panchito, be it Nida Blanca, has always been the diesel of Dolphy’s comedy. And every scene he and Lamangan are in here feeds blood into the pulse of the film. Even better is the drag queen forced into fatherhood that he plays in the Brocka film, where Dolphy merges his flamboyant queer with his other iconic comic persona, the proud to a fault Everyman, and turns it into a tour de force. He remains gay at the end of both films, too.

Much as these two remain colossal, tenable go-tos for Dolphy’s reserves as a character actor, framing them as paradigms for the ultimate Dolphy movie, or at least the ultimate Dolphy queer movie, is to make the idea seem like a rehabilitation, when it shouldn’t be. Markova and Ang Tatay Kong Nanay are departures. And the ultimate Dolphy movie needs to be situated within his métier. And of all his queer films, Luciano Carlos’ Facifica Falayfay, in which his eponymous character is forced to become a pretend-girl by his mother’s desire to have a daughter, is crucial if only because it was the point where he leveled his comedy of pratfall and retort up into something beyond mere Chaplinesque riffing, gaining also a sense of a young master at last governing his wild gifts. The ultimate Dolphy queer movie? Why not? His going straight near the end does make contextual sense, but let’s just pretend he and leading lady Pilar Pilapil ended up as BFFs instead of lovers. Then we’re good to go.

  *Originally published in Phil.Star Supreme.

FAST CHEAP OUT OF CONTROL

















Primo Salvo In Vibracolor
Dina Gadia
Silverlens

William Burroughs will be name-checked at some point, figured might as well front-load it, and in the manner of laying down the law at that. There are other referents, of course, but Burroughs is the source of the Nile, so to speak. His influence over many things has been so over-emphasized as to reek almost of cliché and certainly of laziness to invoke, but it’s impossible to avoid. What’s relevant here is his central process, the cut-up technique, which involved the inserting of other people’s text into his own and a shape-shifting of form as an aftermath, a literary method that smacked of ritual, of casting the runes. No wonder he nursed this adamant belief that it was a conduit to sorcery and who’s to say it isn’t. More pragmatically, it was the primordial voltage for mash-up culture, and you can sense its trace elements in everything from plunder-phonics to fan fiction to hip-hop. But his name comes up, too, out of how he had this obvious kinship with pulp, with science-fiction and horror primarily, with superheroes and erotica, with its flamboyance and hysteria.

The relevance of Burroughs goes beyond how the title of Dina Gadia’s new show, Primo Salvo In Vibracolor, has all the shock and tang of a Burroughs title, which of course it isn’t. Pulp is also the base matter of her collages and paintings and installations, and her fundamental process the mash-up, willfully mismatched juxtapositions of art and copy. The art here being dated, banal images from old encyclopedias and lifestyle magazines and vintage advertising, which are in and of themselves, signifiers of conflicting modes: utopia and repression, obsolescence and nostalgia, death and memory. The copy being garish and bombastic pulp titles, some taken verbatim and some themselves mashed up, serving as commentary, as counterpoint, as annotation, as re-contextualization, as punch line.

And that last qualifier is far from a dis, given how the sense of humor in the work is prevalent to the point of being insidious, another thing it shares with Burroughs, moreso when it leans towards a queasy strangeness, which it does most of the time: the panther growling over the dinner table spoils in Fangs Into You , the caveman lugging hollow blocks in Everything In Modernation, the spiritualists trying to exorcise the blancmange in The Spoiler and those creepy hairy things in the two works called The Hair! The Hairrrr! In some cases, though, the humor achieves the give-and-take immediacy of a stand-up routine. There’s the matinee idol lothario peeking out of the garish pink bed as the Tagalog word for “hell” floats ominously in Let the Love Flow. And the dolled-up socialite, dressed in minty cobras with the word “karanasan” (“experience”) emblazoned underneath in Display of Hard-Earned Callousness. Or the three manicured men having a laugh in nothing but their undies, immaculately bereft of wrinkles, under the insinuating logo of the defunct Manhunter comic. And in A Cultural Weekend Exploitation Away, the word “holiday” hovers gleefully over a cartoon model peddling a cannibal rite like a game show girl. There are nuances to mine here, sure. The “ho hum” sign in We All End with Lines of Ending Cliché I is a riposte to the ubiquity and dominance of the Hollywood sign, which it emulates in size. And the two young girls in We All End with Lines of Ending Cliché II are shackled by the anchor they hug for comfort and safety. Ultimately, its collective dialectical urge has to do with bashing the stereotype, taking it apart and putting it together again. But like any good routine, elaborating further would neuter the buzz, like having to explain the joke.

Fast and cheap and out of control: there’s a catch-all that nails the quintessential ethos of pulp. You could nail the quintessence of Gadia’s work here with it, too. The thing it slightly misses, on both occasions, is the vibrancy. There is a tawdriness on the surface, sure, but that tawdriness is as much an aesthetic directive as it is a function of osmosis, and it is a tawdriness that is not without its charms. Just as Burroughs recognized a visceral potency in the pulp he revered and appropriated, so does Gadia, and she seems fueled here by her desire to revel in the relative rawness and ugliness of her chosen subjects, aiming as she is for that boiling point in pulp where process becomes product and where “bad” bubbles over into “good”. In many ways, she’s trying to replicate her own pleasures with it and in many ways, she has. Prima Salvo In Vibracolor deserves the Burroughsian allusion. And as mutated and recombinant as its pulp is, it has all its prime qualities: fast, cheap and out of control, right. As deep-seated as its resonances run, its delights are immediate and it’s funny as all hell.

*Primo Salvo In Vibracolor ran from May 24- June 23, 2012 at Silverlens.

7.14.2012

AIN'T NO LOVE IN THE HEART OF THE CITY

MNL 143
Directed by Emerson Reyes 
written by Emerson Reyes and Ade Perilla





*Note: an FX, for those who aren't aware, is one of the staples of  public transportation in Manila and is, essentially. a mash up of a cab and a very small midibus.




The bigger fish fried, with regards to Emerson Reyes' MNL 143,  a loose-jointed portmanteau pivoting around an FX* driver's fruitless search for his longlost love,  has to do with how its brief but tremulous history has brought to harsh light what has become the quintessential discourse of Philippine cinema in the noughties: when is an independent film truly independent? Cinemalaya has long basked in a glory that has re-purposed what was really a confluence of media muscle and high-impact branding, that name being a particular stroke of genius for coinage and connotation,  into its highly arguable equity as the layman end-all be-all of independent cinema. At least up until it disqualified Emerson and his film over, of all things, casting issues. At least, for a brief time, back then.

At the gregarious height of the very public furor, even before a single frame was shot, MNL 143 had become provisionally known as the film that outed Cinemalaya for misrepresenting itself as a grant-giving body, and the sovereign one at that, when its dynamic and philosophy was closer to  a boutique studio, beholden as it was to the show business caprices of its selection committee and the purse strings of its benefactor.  Predictably enough, now that the festival is fast approaching,  status quos have been restored and not a rustle heard about the scandal.  MNL 143 will always be a cautionary both of what happened and what may be happening still, but on its shoulders now unfairly rests a tremendous amount of polemic that it shouldn't bear, at least not anymore, as it unwittingly hangs its failure or success on the wrong things. And the irony is that, for something so freighted, it's an almost diametrically modest work: plotless, lackadaisical, blithe.

MNL 143 sidelines its diffident Romeo, and his ordeal,  for the parade of strangers who flit in and out of his cab, casting the same laconic, slightly curious but mostly transient eye on them, as those of us who've ridden cabs like these day after day have. The effect is like watching someone else channel-surf. And if nothing sticks perhaps that's out of how nothing is really meant to. This temporal, claustrophobic, often uneventful, and familiar pocket universe of our lives as commuters is the universe of the film, and one suffused with the random, from the banal to the amusing to the touching but never the truly consequential. Even when things actually start to happen, and despite the satisfying surge of endorphin near the end,  they happen with a peculiar lack of fanfare, as if to say that the love of your life is just another fare who gets on your cab and gets out at her stop, another unfinished story, another interrupted arc, another brief life with no closure. It's also Emerson's canny way of throwing us off the film's scent.

But there is a scene halfway through, where the lovelorn cabbie (Allan Paule), who is the film’s center of gravity or rather its disarming lack of it, turns on the radio and breaks down to a lovesick ballad. Granted, it’s a reined-in breakdown, overwhelmed yet understated, but even as it smacks, at first, of something plucked out of a glossed-up studio rom-com, it slowly and inexorably becomes discomfiting as it lingers longer than it should and even longer than that, until the ickiness spills over from mushy verging on mawkish to something approaching poignancy. It is the first and only time in the film he confronts how much of a cross his longing has become, how much it bristles with deep-seated regret, but it's enough to reveal its hand. The unmistakable emotional timbre of MNL 143 really draws from the kitschy jukebox pop you hear when it opens, thusly distilled as country music by way of 50s balladry by way of unguarded sentimentality by way of shameless corn, which is how we also dismiss our feelings when we wear our hearts on our sleeve, perhaps for fear of giving ourselves over to the harm that comes from doing so.

We are a people who not only succumb to mawk when no one's looking but whose reflex action after we've cried our hearts out is to shrug. And the nonchalance that makes MNL 143 so breezy, so amiable, is really this casual, perhaps even endemic, optimism we conduct our lives with, the passive belief that everything will turn out OK and even if it doesn’t, well, that’s OK, too.  It’s a sentiment that dovetails neatly into the real-life backstory of  the film, which almost never got made but eventually was, under duress and with less than a quarter of the original budget, and becoming, too, in the process, a de facto figurehead against the artistic repression we had foolishly thought we were rid of. The making of MNL 143 may be a lofty achievement but the film itself is a triumph of under-reach.

6.14.2012

CTHULHU RISING

Prometheus
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Jon Spaiths and Damon Lindelof













The bone to pick with this one seems to be how much it has to do with the iconic franchise Ridley Scott midwifed with Dan O'Bannon and H.R.Giger, and whether it warrants the disappointment that comes from something as momentous as his belated return to science fiction being dedicated to merely reheating old glories best left alone, amidst rumors that shinier Joe Haldeman and Aldous Huxley adaptations curdle in his brimful development vat.

It's prudent to remember that the pedigree inflating expectations here, outside all that heightened enthusiasm from internet nerds,  rests entirely on two films, one of which, Blade Runner, was a tremendous flop first before it burst into flame, and the other, Alien, is a B movie,  more The Thing From Another World than Solyaris. What both films had was a distinct sensibility that could be boiled down to having an acute sense of its own incoherence and a willingness to give the chaos free rein if it would take the piece to other places. And Scott really was an imagist nonpareil. It wasn't so much story that interested him, rather the stuff that swirled around it, the tangential moods, the structural detail, the peripheral esoterica, the outlandish architecture, the industrial design. He also had,with these two films at least, a healthy disregard for the three-act structure. Cranks will dismiss these as plot holes and sketchy characterization and sloppy filmmaking, and they would have some point. Both films are arguably messy. But they were messy in the grandest of ways. And they were also wet and alive. Hollywood has since bent Ridley Scott to fit its conservative strictures and every single thing he's done after, give or take one or two, has been bland and safe and joyless.  The anticipation, then, is understandable. The anxiety moreso.

Prometheus, then. Remake? Reboot? Prequel? Sequel?  You know what? It's immaterial.  This is, in temperament and in thrust, Alien Remixed.  There is a corporation bankrolling a scientific expedition with a ragtag bunch of space travelers. There is a feisty Ripley surrogate in Noomi Rapace, who gets her own action sequence dressed in nothing but her undies. There is an Ash surrogate in Michael Fassbender's creepily sterile android, who gets his own decapitation sequence. There is an ornate and lived-in spaceship.  There is a chamber of cylindrical vessels with dire things inside them lined up in a familiar configuration. There are peculiar creatures with a slimy, biological fullness. There is some nail-biting tentacle (sort of) porn.  There are also the usual horror movie stupids. Not to mention characters that seem cut out of cardboard.  And some horribly intrusive music. But there is a quest at the heart of matters that's a little more esoteric than mining: a multi-trilionaire with ulterior motives humors a starry-eyed archaeologist who believes the origin of all human life can be found on a barren planet.  Secret histories, then, fountains of youth, faces of god. Its' frankly hokey theological superstructure rubs Erich Von Daniken up against the New Testament, and everything has to happen in the five days between Christmas and New Year, too, belaboring what doesn't necessarily need to be belabored. Big questions are asked and only the tiniest answers are given, if at all. But then again, this is the bait and switch of all belief systems. And the biggest question it poses, the one about whether we are all made of stars, isn't that big in any context and isn't something we'd really want answered literally, in a film, or in life.

Stephen King was the first to point out how Alien was really a Lovecraftian parable in disguise:  men coming to the gods and being eaten by them. Prometheus is like a sleeker, pulpier spec-up, At the Mountains of Madness, if you will, with Cthulhu thrown in to up the ante. And it really is more about the dissonance of faith,  how big they are and how small we are, how creation must eventually destroy creator or get destroyed themselves. Scott, his visual acumen restored at last and firing on all cylinders after decades in the mainstream trenches have homogenized it, devotes one visually staggering set piece after the other to the discrepancies of scale between colossal gods and puny humans, his breathtaking master shots optimizing the form Prometheus works best as: chaotic, oversized pulp.

5.31.2012

CANDY-COATED STEAMPUNK

Hugo
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by John Logan
Based on the Book by Brian Selznick








George Melies was a master showman, equal parts magician and fabulist, man-child and sentimental git, the cushy candyman as opposed to the young punks the Lumieres were, much like a close friend of Scorsese's. And if you're going to embody any rose-tinted love for cinema, it's hard to go awry with the proto-Spielberg, Melies being as fanatic a believer in cinema as a dream portal. Which is merely one of its many iterations, verging on the corny and susceptible to narcissism, but with sufficient mass-market traction. It only gets troublesome if you temper it with the object of Melies' pathos.

The first world war visited the real Melies with bankruptcy.  All it visits on this fictionalized and over-romanticized Melies is a cutting short of his winning streak at the box office. But that's enough of a tipping point for him to shutter up his studio, burn all his props and retreat into the oblivion of a train station toyshop to mope forever. Pardon the snark but  . . .what an epic diva!  And what a chore to rally behind as an embodiment of why we make films or why we love them. If Hugo is a love letter to filmmaking, it's to a specific mode of filmmaking perhaps, one whose impetus and bedrock is profit and entitlement. More than the proto-Spielberg, Melies here is like the proto-A Lister, his doldrums relieved in the end by the returning blare of the spotlight and the swaddle of public adoration, not to mention serious ROI. And if you buy into the hubris that this candy-coated steampunk behemoth magically clicked into place all because Scorsese's daughter wanted him to make a film for her, then it doubles as its own meta shadow, an ostentatious monolith to how overprivileged Hollywood directors have become.

JJ Abrams' Super 8,  in which precocious children gambol and grouse making amateur films and fight extraterrestrials while they're at it, is a love letter to filmmaking, too, and if its glittery promise is squandered by the glee with which it gives in to Hollywood's pathological need to reduce everything to spectacle, there is at least an eloquence to its first ten minutes that underpins all this preteen magic realism with emotional turmoil,  achieving a purer catharsis also because it envisions filmmaking as more liminal joy than lucrative career, more a means to process the world than a retreat from it. The eponymous orphan of Hugo is not without his own existential mulch to sift through, his own bewilderment of loss, and when Scorsese traces his arc, with its missing fathers and surrogate sons, its machine dreams and weird science,  its secret mean streets made of clockwork, the vague antipathies between auteur and source dissipate. Not that it reaches the wondrous heights you'd hoped, it lacks the full-bore quirk and sense of abandon for that, lacks the earnestness really, but it does gain sustainable emotional gristle, and becomes something else, something that hews it closer to the film Super 8 was essentially remaking, Joe Dante's modest and goofy Bradbury riff Explorers. That is, a love letter still, or half a love letter at least, but this time to the mad, impetuous spirit of invention.

5.26.2012

A MURDEROUS DESIRE FOR LOVE






In the dream, I was watching the Smiths sing a song I hadn't heard before and will never hear again but was beautiful nonetheless, and crying the sort of tears you cry at revival meetings, that suspension between ruinous and lifted that I merely imagine it to be given that I've never been to a revival meeting, nor  to a Smiths gig. It was an odd dream out of how, one, I dreamt it in the 90s after the Smiths had parted ways to become a constantly metamorphosing back catalogue, and two, I've never had much of a hard-on for gigs, an indifference I pin on the 90s as well, as the thought of the bands that mattered to me coming to Manila back then was beyond the ken of logic as to be impossible, forcing the pragmatic in me to take measures by throttling down any residual enthusiasm I might have originally nursed. The Smiths were my Beatles almost. They certainly were my Byrds, at least. And, hackneyed as it seems given the subject of the piece, they were the only band I literally dreamed of watching.

We all trace it back to Morrissey and Marr, of course, and whatever it was they had between them, that rarefied push and pull that transpires between frontman and guitarist, only with them it was more exacting, with no room for graying the area, for overlap. Morrissey took care of the morose wit and the erudite melodrama and Marr the ebullient melodicism and that way he had with his Rickenbacker that few could touch. It was the most fundamental division of labor between a frontman and guitarist, mirroring the stringent classicism of their repertoire: here was a band that never had a dance phase, a hip hop phase, an electronic phase, any kind of phase. A curious dynamic, sure, but one with a particular elegance. Once their alliance was severed, though, iffiness set in.  Marr tended to disappear inside every band he was eventual member of, becoming more rampart than color, never as exuberant nor as vivid.  But Morrissey was going out on sonic limbs, stumbling at first from the lack of a melodic crutch to prop him up, but eventually finding his sea legs. That's why I only have Electronic albums but have everything Morrissey put out since leaving the Smiths. And why May 13 was a date I would physically punish myself for missing.

But my tenacity was almost thwarted by the usual galore of deterrents: there was the excruciating lack of funds, the false rumors of tickets selling out, the eleventh hour scheduling of a shoot on the day of the gig and lastly, the lack of company to go with.  I had friends in the crowd, sure, but I didn't want to move from my place to go looking for them.  I would, later on, move around that is, looking for vantage points for each number. But before that, I just diligently nursed my overpriced vodka, waiting for the endorphin of anticipation to spike. It did but it didn't last. The sirens blared. And the band stepped out.

No measure of sobriety could dampen the euphoric surge of the opening song. How Soon Is Now? was both almost a given and out of left field at the same time. The effect of hearing its' colossal, ominous tremble pushed to 11 like that was physiological. Louder than bombs, right. My body couldn't make up its mind if it would pee in my pants or bawl in ecstasy. I did neither, thank god, but my knees were shaking as I screamed myself hoarse:"I am human and I need to be loved."  Alma Matters was the next song, quite possibly my second or third favorite Morrissey song, and the only one on that short list he sang that night, and was like my own bullish tantrum slash tenet:  " . . it's my life to ruin my way. . ."  Our angsts diverged many ways and it's not like his music put up a mirror to my own index of failures, my own ineptitude at happiness, but the songs always felt like fistbumps of solidarity, and almost comforting in how overblown and funny they most of the time got."This is not pop music. This  is opera!" he would proclaim later.

There's no way to parse a gig on paper that will make it meaningful to anyone else outside of enthusiastic reportage, it's bound to be different for everybody, and there was an immeidate spate of disappointments among people I knew, conspiracy theories even, of sets cut short, and of over-privileged brat hecklers in the front row. Admittedly, I came in there hopeful for a revue: The Best of Morrissey and the Smiths. I didn't get that, of course. But I was singing along to every song anyway, and he was working the table so fiercely, hearing First of the Gang To Die amplified by power chords or  Shoplifters of the World Unite raised to its anthemic rafters or Meat Is Murder with inappropriately, and therefore appropriately,  distressing images of animal torture, made me not mind the absence of The More You Ignore Me or Interesting Drug or I Want The One I Can't Have or Frankly Mr.Shankly. But I was still waiting for the last button to be pushed that would tip this over into the eternal. I started tearing up halfway through the first verse of the penultimate song: "Oh mother, I feel the soil falling over my head . . . " I Know It's Over was magnificent but tears were not enough, it turns out.

But  then Morrissey reclaimed There Is A Light That Never Goes Out  from Zooey Deschanel, and honed his encore, and the gig with it, to near-perfection. There are days I envy his resolute belief in the hopelessness of matters, and long for the force of will to surrender myself to the lassitude it brings.  But I am cursed with an innate optimism and an immense capacity for waiting. And mine has always been a blind, dumb hope in that light that never goes out never going out. In being reminded how desperately, how literally, I take that title, how I clasp its implications to my chest, and how I probably will until the day I die, I felt the night tip over into the eternal at last. I felt a  prickle of rapture appropriately tinged with sorrow.  I felt, in fact, both ruinous and lifted.

5.22.2012

THE CITY IS HERE FOR YOU TO USE

Mondomanila
Directed  by Khavn De La Cruz
Written by Khavn De La Cruz and Norman Wilwayco
Based on the Novel by Norman Wilwayco









It had me with the thalidomide anti-drug hip-hop number and there was no doubling back after that. Nearly every Khavn (not a) film draws a non-negotiable line in the sand, either you’re in or you’re out and half-assed gets you nowhere. And this is the one with the outsize myth. The one that gestated anxiously for five years, which, for someone like Khavn, counts as a lifetime, given how the unifying mean of his diverse, divisive ouevre is its velocity and volume and how they tend to exhaust both the word and paradigm of prolific. Mondomanila is the one, really, that almost got away.

Blame the vagaries of fate, as these things happen. But who knows if fate was pulling a few strings in its favor, given how the sense that Khavn's deceptively brash and reckless filmography was building up precisely to this point becomes tougher and tougher to ignore, not so much in the way that it feels like everything he’s done before while also feeling nothing like it, but more in its sense of culmination, in its vibrant throwing down of favorite tropes: the sociopolitical rebuke, the blackly-comic ultraviolence, the freaks on parade, the unabashed sentimentality,  the deviant sex, that would be the dwarf orgy and goose porn, the bubbly pop sing-a-longs, particularly its climactic production number. Even the magisterial last bow of Palito feels serendipitous if not orchestrated.

This is not the first time Khavn has staked out Everyslum, of course, except that in severely condensing the dense sprawl of its source code, Norman Wilwayco’s prize-winning cult novel, everything gets heightened even more than Squatterpunk, heightened into polemic, into poetry, into opera, into shock-pop, coming on like some exploded depression musical slash dysfunctional family comedy, obnoxious and color-mad and surreal. And the more it reaches its own boiling points of surrealism, the more it one-ups the earnest social realism of the poverty porn you can mistake it for at first blush, uncannily nailing, too, the genuine throb of its milieu, which has nothing to do with the exoticized despair that has become a haggard trope but this lust for life anyone who’s been to Anyslum can parse off the bat, and will recognize through the cartoon sheen. It's a joyful defiance almost, or a defiant joy if you will, the sort that comes from living a life with nothing to lose.

5.21.2012

DIASPORA IS SUCH A LONELY WORD

Lawas Kan Pinabli (Forever Loved)
Directed and Written by Christopher Gozum







That melancholia of displacement running like a hum of current through Lawas Kan Pinabli (Forever Loved) poeticizes the OFW experience partially as a maddeningly obtuse but gorgeously dreamlike reverie of transience and separation anxiety and the longing that comes from it: a man, nameless and fictional, searches aimlessly, possibly fruitlessly, for his missing OFW wife in a foreign country tellingly fraught with secret perils, the very same foreign country, it turns out, that Christopher Gozum has been working in all these years as an OFW.

Rising above one’s station is the aspirational default of the Filipino have-not, and working abroad their go-to golden ticket, the Middle East their Canaan. And the way we ritually valorize OFWs as unsung, working class heroes is not just out of how they significantly boost the economy like a periodic sugar rush but also, and mostly, for the backstory of tremendous sacrifice they go through to get where they are. Rags-to-riches is the true opiate of the masses and everybody loves a melodrama of struggle that pays off in dividends.

The bruising subversion here is in the way it dispiritingly, and shockingly, lays bare how steep the cost of that sacrifice can get, and how they often are each other’s worst enemies. It's not all blight, no. The sequence with the transplanted rockhound is, if nothing else, soothing.  And there is a bracing loveliness to everything. But, give or take one or two, the real-life OFWs in the numbing, revealing interviews that intersperse the cul-de-sac detective story, and meld ghostly narrative with brooding documentary until the joins dissolve into each other, are, in varying degrees, victims: of workplace mishap, of mistaken identity, of abandonment, of treachery, of the malfunctions in our cultural psyche. This is not the public face of the OFW-as-hero, with his head held high all robust with hope and friends with the future, but rather its evil twin, slinking in the shadows, looking away if you gaze at it too closely. Diaspora is such a lonely word and Lawas Kan Pinabli is at turns a begrudging valentine to that loneliness. Diaspora is also a necessary evil, or at least an evil we have made necessary. And the ruination of these OFWs, as well as their desperation in the face of it, is the horribly disfigured face it refuses to show the world.

4.16.2012

AMERICAN HORROR STORY


There is a glint in Victor Pearson’s eye, a boyish one but also a devilish one, as all glints tend to be at some point, mischievous, smarmy. It’s why filmmaking cohorts Monster Jimenez and Mario Cornejo invoke the same catch-all caveat about the subject of their documentary Kano: An American And His Harem. “You have to meet him.”, they tell me on separate occasions. I sense a slither of faint awe under the revulsion and I get it. Pearson is the expatriate American who maintained his own private harem of wives, and who languishes now in a country jail under the weight of 80 counts of alleged rape, all of which he vehemently denies. If it doesn’t exactly plumb the same depths of malevolence as, say, Charles Manson, what he does exude is a similarly dangerous ambivalence: charismatic and diabolical in equal measure. And it leaks into the movie, irradiating it almost. The part where he sings Love Potion #9 smacks of both the quaint and the sinister, and not merely out of how creepy the subtext of the song gets, no. One second he’s your boisterous uncle with one too many drinks in him hogging the family videoke, the next he’s Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet. He is, in many ways, the quintessential pervert. He is also the perfect documentary subject.

Monster, who directed, and Mario, who produced, amassed a nosebleed of interview footage to sift through: interviews with the plaintiffs, with the parents of the plaintiffs who insist the plaintiffs were lying, with the women who stayed loyal to this day, with Pearson’s estranged sister, rumors of deviant activities that threw political figures into the mix, which videotapes that have since gone missing allegedly bear out, of tiny conspiracies between the cracks. In the time it took for the film to reveal its shape, as documentaries are wont to do with this one taking five years, a tremendous amount of sides to the story emerged. Monster and Mario simply felt it would be unfair not to show all. Trouble is, Pearson seems to demand nothing smaller than a burst of indignation, his right to a fair shake long since waived. You go soft on someone as notorious and you’re at best an apologist , at worst a conspirator. Two women have gone so far as letting Monster know they wanted to throttle her after watching the film, for allegedly casting Pearson in a sympathetic light. It does no such thing, of course.

Kano is more than just watchable, though. It can be, and often is, terribly and compulsively entertaining, and it’s not from making light of matters but from how funny some of the people in it can be, it’s that levity with which we confront everything, endemic to us, peculiar to others. But at no point does the film slavishly demonize Pearson, at no point does it need to either. That’s the bone to pick for many. Only its gut-punch, both as film and as argument, really gets its brunt from resisting the urge to editorialize, leveling everything past the point of being about one man’s guilt to being more about an entire nation’s cultural psyche. How deep our resident subservience to the white man runs. How every moral choice tends to boil down to money changing hands. How money is our enabler, our prosthetic, our elixir, our atonement. And more than that, how the beloved infidel may well be our prevailing icon of machismo. Pearson doesn’t faze us too much, perhaps, because he is, in many ways, nothing new. He is every domestic action star who ever played a real-life philandering family man slash cop hero and spread the gospel of the other woman as a badge of manliness. And that he’s a war hero, too, makes the embodiment even more perverse. Those two women have every right to their shock and vitriol, of course, and to its ferocity. It’s worth noting, though, that they’re both foreigners. Obviously they’ve never seen a Bong Revilla film.

*Originally Published at Lagarista.

3.29.2012

CENTURY OF BIRTHING




I'm presenting Lav Diaz's Century of Birthing this Saturday at Cinema Is Incomplete. Come if you're inclined. Click on the poster for details.

3.16.2012

TICKLED PINK


I have a confession to make, and in making it, I could well be painting a target on my forehead: I don’t believe I’ve seen a single Gay Film. Oh, I’ve seen Aureus Solito’s Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros. I’ve seen Raya Martin’s Next Attraction. But I’m not exactly sure they’re what I meant. I’m not sure if I meant Charliebebs Gohetia’s The Thank You Girls either. Or Brillante Mendoza’s Masahista. Or, indeed, Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together and Andy Warhol’s Blowjob. Or New Queer Cinema - - -that was a genuine movement of 90s American independent cinema, as aesthetically diverse as the French New Wave, sure, having counted Derek Jarman and Gregg Araki and Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant among its proprietors, but unified by an explicit sociopolitical schema: to tackle the permutations of queer culture explicitly, intimately, from the inside looking out.

The Gay Film I mean is its own odd, unique phenomenon. It is, in many ways, a permutation of Queer Cinema philosophies and aesthetics, but in the thick of the whole domestic independent cinema boom, the Gay Film detonated into a boom of its own, sprouting like haywire mushrooms and with such a maddening profusion that it was a task to be oblivious to them. And, perhaps as fallout from the push and pull of supply and demand, or perhaps from the incontrovertible fact that these things did moderately brisk business , or perhaps through sheer ubiquity, or perhaps because laymen tend to be shortsighted and tremendously lazy about fact-checking things they don’t give a shit about, or perhaps all of the above, the Gay Film has become the de facto definition of what an indie film is, or rather what indie film is full stop.

It isn’t, of course, but what exactly is an indie film? The coinage isn’t ours,mind. It’s mostly American, and you know they have this hard-on for coinage. Indie films, back then, meant films made outside the rigid studio system, meaning films made with far less money and no kowtow to formula at all, meaning films with more aesthetic wiggle room, meaning films with more experimental nerve, meaning that other superfluous coinage: art films. But as is its wont, the mainstream co-opted and housebroke the indie film into its own bland make and model, mutating them into little more than slightly edgy mainstream films. Where Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise used to be the working definition of what an indie film is, these days, that would be Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ Little Miss Sunshine, or worse, Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer.

Given how much we share with Hollywood, particularly the rigid studio system, our indie boom, facilitated and democratized by cheapjack technology, underwent the same thing. But rather than studio indies, which do abound but not as much anymore, the default make and model of indie film is a lot more robust and enduring than it seems. Cris Pablo, easily the most prolific director of Gay Films thinks “Indie is associated with gay films perhaps because the gay audience has the stronger voice in the independent scene.” He also notes that with the rapid emergence and growing profile of independent films such as those by Brillante Mendoza and Lav Diaz that are making the international festival rounds and getting the media mileage, the associations are starting to blur and divide. “Still, it’s the gay films that are making the mark.” Pablo remarks. Having never seen anything longer than a random trailer, I have no idea if it has an aesthetic stance and I shall go by wild rumor and conspiracy theory and hearsay and reputation here. The Gay Film I’m talking about, the Gay Film as we know it, the Gay Film that people equate with indie films, is unified by the same sociopolitical schema as Queer Cinema ,sure, but more than that by tawdry production values, samey soapy plots, horrible acting, excessive and explicit and unnecessary sex scenes. Allegedly. That,and a palpable exploitative fervor.

This exploitative fervor has to do with the alleged roping in of young, often talentless, nubile male hopefuls psycho for the blare of the spotlight or the mere promise of bathing in it for a living, whose only credentials are their physiques and willingness to show it off. All it takes sometimes is a minute of trailer to tell that the vacuum of talent is not so alleged. Everything else,though, is conjecture, although sometimes you can tell that from the trailers,too. Pablo makes his films with all the rigidity and stricture of a business deal, leaving very little room for its participants to be exploited unwittingly. “There will be members of the team who go overboard and there are actors who do things you don't ask them to. I always advise them to be very careful and to never do anything they do not want to do.” But he doesn’t discount the possibility that exploitation does occur.

Which is to say that all of this, in and of itself, is nothing far-fetched nor new nor shocking. The unholy communion between cinema and exploitation is a longstanding one. Before there was such a thing as independent cinema, anything made outside the studio system , anything made with no money and all the freedom to do whatever the hell it pleased, gravitated to sex and violence but mostly sex. And if looked at one way, the current vogue of Gay Films has very little to distinguish it from the Japanese Pink films of the 60s, or really, the local bold movie explosion of the 70s and 80s, and if you push it a little, has little to distinguish it either from Kerry Fox giving Mark Rylance a real oncam blowjob in Patrice Cheareau’s Intimacy or the unsimulated sex that make up two-thirds of Michael Winterbottom’s Nine Songs, unless you factor in aesthetics and philosophy and taste and ratchet the noise to a whole new platform of discourse.

I liken it more myself to the Blaxploitation films of the 70s, which refracted the African-American experience through a sieve of transposed genre films. It’s the more promising, and really, more apt parallel, in terms ,at the very least, of its bullish, insulated sense of community. And it is a community under siege. Targets of ire and revulsion and mostly of internet twats with no lives and no balls who like to lob insults online anonymously. The fans have been stalwart in their defense. A friend of mine who watched Pablo’s Duda remembers how fervent the audience was in their love for the film. Like the Blaxploitation films, the Gay Films are similarly transposed (only by gender) pop films. But more than that, they are a society unto themselves upheld by a die-hard and often fiercely protective constituency. More than you can say for the rest of the fractured, factionalized indie community.


But do Gay Films really, truly deserve the vitriol? And if so, why? For misrepresenting independent cinema? For exploiting their actors? For being little more than softcore porn in disguise? For having an overly sensitive fan base? For being annoying? These are all valid complaints. And yeah, I do find some of those trailers annoying. But many many films and filmmakers and film producers have been guilty of all of these at some point then and now. Not having seen a single Gay Film, of course, means I have no place defending it nor condemning it. But, in the end, if all the piss and vinegar is out of how these films are just flat-out horrible, isn’t it all just a little . . . meh? “TV exploits. Radio exploits. Print exploits. So does film. So does independent cinema. So why point a finger?” Pablo says and he has a point. Do we really need to isolate an entire subgenre with a genuine cult to feed, just to take potshots at bad cinema that’s successful? Don’t we already have Michael Bay films for that? And Star Cinema?

*Originally published in Monday.

2.14.2012

IT'LL END IN TEARS: A VALENTINE MIXTAPE









Love is many things in pop music. Like oxygen. Thicker than water. All around. Will tear us apart. A tender trap. A battlefield. A mystery. A dog from hell. A bitch. A mix tape. A drug. But it was Roy Orbison who nailed it better than everyone else: love hurts. Regardless of permutation but maybe not so much hip-hop or death metal or hardcore punk, romantic misery is pop music’s main product line. For every love song flush with ardor and giddy with devotion , there are at least ten stewing in the many-flavored soup of what happens when all that flitty tatty gooey goes achy-breaky, that whole nosebleed of contrarian emotions from pining to pissed-off.

Anti-love songs are really love songs turned on its head and painted black by heartbreak, the anguished dispatches of the walking wounded. It’s the oldest, sturdiest, commonest form of pop song. Despite having long outed myself as a hopeless romantic, I’ve had no use for love songs for the last five years, except as wishful thinking and misdirection, and there’s one time of the year that it becomes a bit of a chore to indulge. Just to offset the high glucose content of the air, I cram my playlist instead with anti-love songs, holding back on the country and the blues and the pre-rehab Whitney (RIP) because they tend to get a little too intense. The back catalog is still vast without these, making the picking of just a few a bit insane - - -but then that’s sort of like love, eh? When he boiled down the one he loves but left behind to a simple prop for occupying his time, Michael Stipe might have not only midwifed a kiss-off with more venom in its spit than Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe or Marshall Crenshaw’s I’m Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee) but quite possibly the ultimate anti-love song into the world as well, with a mean streak made even meaner by the way it verges on nonchalance. I’m not sure if any of these comes close but I picked them partly for the way each zeroes in on a specific mode of hurt feeling and partly for being the ones I reach for to commemorate the holiday. Here, then, nine of my bloodiest valentines. Have a good one, lovefools. I am one of you but for today I am not.

1. 2541 Grant Hart: Grant’s songs always had more pull for me than Bob Mould’s when they were in Husker Du, but his finest three minutes plus may well be this minor hit from his first post-Husker solo, a breakup song spewing less bile than that Husker song of his I flirted with putting in here first ( I Don’t Want To Know If You’re Lonely) but stuck instead with the poignancy 2541 nails in tracking a couple’s moving in and moving out of an apartment and of each other’s lives. “ . . . it was the first place we ever had to ourselves, I didn’t know it would be the last . . .” Geographic displacement as post-romantic fallout.

2. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart Wilco : Not a song about a loveless relationship but a loveless reconciliation when all the energy funneled to carrying a torch for a lost love burns itself out in the anticlimax of a reuniting that turns out to be not much and not necessarily what the lovelorn wanted in the first place. It hurts more out of the way Jeff Tweedy sings it like the aquarium drunkard he claims to be in the first verse, as if drinking himself blind every night is the only thing that keeps him hanging on.

3. I Know It’s Over, The Smiths : Nobody does morose with such cunning snark - - -“if you’re so funny, why are you on your own tonight?” - - - and with such asphyxiating resignation - - -“ as I climb into an empty bed, oh well enough said” - - - as Morrissey does in this, his ex-band’s most gorgeous, most devastating ballad in which a long-held love turns out to be a long-held lie. The opening line “Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head” would seem a bit melodramatic if that wasn’t exactly how she made you feel when she walked out the door.

4. I'm Sorry Baby You Can't Stand In My Light Anymore Bob Mould: A kiss-off that somehow manages to both wear its own sense of defeat proudly like a badge and wield the other party’s sense of loss like a weapon. Bob Mould back in form. Not that he was ever out of it.

5. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference Todd Rundgren: The wistful loveliness of the melody in the verses and the way Todd coos them as if pitching himself to an ex can be a little disarming: “ . . . maybe you remember the last time you called me to say we were through, how it took a million tears just to prove they all were for you . . .” But just as her reluctance starts to melt ,Todd throws his sucker punch: “ . . . but those days are through . . .” Love TKO, baby. Living well is not the best revenge, indifference is.

6. Knowing Me Knowing You Abba: Hands down the Abba song closest to my heart.“ . . . no more carefree laughter, silence ever after . . .” Harrowing, as breakup songs go, for being so determined in its hopelessness it all but snuffs out what tiny ray of hope the harmonies reach for.

7. Neither One of Us Gladys Knight & the Pips: The haunting, languid keyboard figure that opens this sets the aura of lived-in, worn-out emotional fatigue. But it’s the twist in the last line Gladys sings that tells you her infinite sadness isn’t being trapped in a loveless relationship but one where love is not enough and is tearing them apart.

8. Skinny Love Bon Iver: “In the morning I’ll be with you, but it will be a different kind. I’ll be holding all the tickets, and you’ll be owning all the fines." He sounds more like the new Lindsey Buckingham here but if only for the quivery prettiness of his voice and the bruised heart he wears on his sleeve, Justin Vernon really is the new James Taylor, isn't he?

9. When We Two Parted Afghan Whigs: The unhappiness that goes unspoken, the dying from the inside, the lovers like brothers on a hotel bed. “ . . . parted” Greg Dulli sings. But by the end of the song, they’re still together in the claustrophobia of something potentially worse than a loveless relationship : a bloodless one. “ . . . if I inflict the pain then baby only I can comfort you . . .” Corrosive, colossal.

1.24.2012

ARMAGEDDON HOPEFULS: MY 2011 IN MUSIC

"The culture with which I surround myself is a reflection of my personality and the circumstances of my life, which is in part how it should be." " (Nick Hornby)

In the end, it all came down to pleasure for me. Not that there's no melancholic surfeit here, there was the need to mope and to rant, mostly over the loose ends every year leaves you with, the ghosts I can't give up, the wolves at my door, all that. But the release you get from the songs you mope and rant to should count as pleasure,too. This list is unapologetically biographical as the connections I make with pop music cuts closer and closer every year, and I can only hope it's also bullish and solipsistic and contrarian, inadequate as cultural dowsing rod, charting rather the turmoils and ecstasies of my year and the reprieves inbetween. The far more burning urge was to dance, or rather, to reconnect with what made me fall in love with music in the first place and the small wonders that love can do for me: the hook-happy endorphin surge. I figure if the world really is coming to an end this year, then none of whatever troubles us now matters, except perhaps what little burst of pleasure we can muster in the face of it, partying, even if it's only in our heads, while hurtling to our doom on a headful of butterflies

Let's do this, then. Albums first, the records I listened to as wholes, then songs. As per usual.

1. Wild Beasts, SMOTHER
2. King Creosote and Jon Hopkins, DIAMOND MINE
3. The Indelicates, DAVID KORESH SUPERSTAR
4. Perc, WICKER AND STEEL
5. Rob Crow, HE THINKS HE'S PEOPLE
6. Mogwai, HARDCORE WILL NEVER DIE BUT YOU WILL
7. Fleet Foxes, HELPLESSNESS BLUES
8. Korallreven, AN ALBUM BY KORALLREVEN
9. TV On the Radio, NINE TYPES OF LIGHT
10.Taken by Cars, DUALIST

40. Panda Bear, Last Night At The Jetty: Tomboy was not so much sonic upgrade as it was sonic upsize, less a taking in of new colors but more a robust re-iterating of old ones, but while it doesn't get as obtuse as Young Prayer, it doesn't get as touching either, only this doo-wop colossus, with Noah Lennox grasping at a failing memory in full-on harmonic grandeur, does stand out, by a transcendent Brian Wilson mile.

39. Woodkid, Iron: Turns out I listened to this more times than anything off the new Beirut, which is surprising given how much of a Zach Condon fanboy I am but is no way meant to imply it was his failure or that Yoann Lemoine, who is all of Woodkid, is a rip-off artiste, just that I was distracted, and that this shares that similarly archaic old world aura.

38. Childish Gambino, My Shine:
" . . . why nobody wanna admit they like me just a little bit?" I'm not sure if the ramshackle nature of Donald Glover's rap is an aesthetic so much as a diffidence that works in his favor, here in particular where he vents his frustration at not being taken seriously with the sort of heightened bravado you find in the heat of the moment but tends to dissipate after you've flustered yourself saying your piece, which in this case, is a spot of bother I'm intimate with myself. " . . . when these motherfuckers gonna understand I'm serious?. . ." I feel you, man. I so feel you.

37. Toro Y Moi, Still Sound: Death Cab for Chromeo, something like that, and apologies to Chaz if that comes off reductive as his funk-lite inversion is fancier than the mashup implies, tempering the opaque introspection of his words by turning up the warmth of his sound for sound's sake ethos that's obviously residue from a love for Stereolab, making it perfect for a song about the comforts that come from the shapes sound makes.

36. Frank Ocean, Swim Good: Love breaks down, as it tends to do, and either Frank's committing suicide or merely using it as a metaphor for how much he's had it and is moving on. The title's an exhortation, of course, to himself, to anyone in the same rut. It also describes the sensuous way the song moves.

35. Avril Lavigne, What The Hell: For the rinky dink organ and the hollaback propulsion and Avril going all punky naughty frisky sexy on us and dispensing truths while she's at it. ". . .love hurts whether it's right or wrong . . ." Damn right.

34. Owen, The Armoire: The center not holding, when the place you call home grows clammy with un-belonging, is a hurt that’s hard-up for solace, and in using junk furniture to articulate the displacement that comes from it, Mike Kinsella doesn’t really offer any, but he does one-up his own tiny gift for quotidian minutiae, one-ups even Dallas Green, whose new one as City and Colour lacked the catch it used to the first few listens in. Not that I've given up on it, or on Justin Vernon, but I'll have to get back to you on those two. Mike's got this covered anyway.

33. An Horse, Know This, We've Noticed: Their Sleater-Kinney auras disperse a little here, but not my much, and not that it needs to. I’m thinking it has a shot at being my Our Deal for this year even if it lopes rather than smolders, if only for how emotive the rah-rah in its chorus gets and for how it invokes Dusty as much, even if it's only in spirit.

32. Adele, Turning Tables: It really was the year the world threw its arms around Adele, wasn't it? Oh, she's earned it, been earning it since 19 , and ubiquity aside, the pissed-off exuberance of Rolling in the Deep can withstand the neutering a thousand talent show contestants can visit on a song and is something whose swampy voodoo curdles with age. But this was the one that got to me, and gets to me still, the song not even Glee could butcher, the song that could possibly top Chasing Pavements as her career-high. " . . .close enough to start a war, all that I have is on the floor . . . " All that minor key roil, all that simmering indignation.

31. Wild Flag, Romance : In which Carrie Brownstein and Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss form a supergroup and rekindle their collective punk-pop perk and feist by attaching hooks on them big enough to haul cargo on, which in the 90s, at the height of their powers, or at least of their hipster relevance, would come off like some fluke post-grunge crossover, but in 2011 felt no less than truly alternative.

30. Fucked Up with Madeline Follin, Queen of Hearts: Pried loose from the massive punk rock opera it’s embedded in, you do get a sense of autonomy that gathers its own brunt without sucking at the teat of the big picture, which is to say you could make a single out of it, which is precisely what they did. Riffs with traction catchily pile-drive to its own blaze of pop rapture, and being the part in the story where boy first meets girl, the shaft of light near the end when Madeline from Cults opens her mouth makes both narrative and aesthetic sense.

29. Chad VanGaalen, Peace On The Rise: Feelgood hit of the summer turned lo-fi lullaby for the rest of the year, as disheartening as it is comforting, as broken as it is pretty.

28. Lykke Li, I Follow Rivers: She may not have the same husk and wallop but this girl group mutation had as much, if not more, gumbo and raunch as Adele's stompers, and as I'm not really in any mood to pit one against another, I'll take both, thank you, but give this a few nudges up the list, as I prefer Adele when she torches it down, and because that tinpot drum figure that snakes throughout is as exciting a use of percussion as the digital castanets on Robyn's Dancing On My Own.

27. Shabazz Palaces, Are You . . .Can You . .Were You? (Felt): " . . .my mind hides behind the music . . .” And that music is the sort that begets coinage along the lines of avant-chiaroscuro and dub-noir and prog-hop, the beats stretching and spacing out as if into a stoned soul fugue. If this is indeed MC Palaceer Lazaro a.k.a. Digable Planets’ Ishmael Butler’s manifesto, the music’s just the thing for hiding behind : nocturnal, obscure, sexy.

26. Drake with Rihanna, Take Care: Fuller of sound, and somewhat more assured, over time, the new Drake record might reveal itself as the closest he's gotten to a masterpiece, but given the limits of my immersion, and also given the catchiness of its hook, it's the title track that I lived with for quite a bit, more than Marvin's Room, more than Crew Love , if only because the he said-she said volley between Drake and Rihanna gets so delicious, I hardly notice when Gil Scott Heron butts in on the conversation and by the time I do, they're at it again. " . . .if you let me, here's what I'll do, I'll take care of you . . .", sings Rihanna, words she filched from Bobby Bland, of course, but is an endearment as eternal as it is cliched that also happens to be my last word on certain matters myself.

25. Niva, Ghost In My Head: That tasty R & B chorus repeating " . . .I think about it all the time . . . " as if it were a mantra of something Niva both dreads and relishes, should feel incongruous but isn't, infusing the spry little synth(dream)pop bubble instead with a buoyant prettiness that sends me for no reason and is on here for even less.

24. M83, Midnight City: That riff, that ebullient synthesizer clarion call like OMD sans the intolerable sappiness,the riff of the year full stop, cracking the song open and grabbing you by the loins then bolting and letting you chase it across the verses, half leitmotif half fugitive, until you back it into a corner near the end, throbbing in the backdrop teasing you to come closer, just before it detonates and takes you, willfully, gleefully, in its ecstatic blast radius.

23. Metronomy, Everything Goes My Way: " . . .when I took you back, I thought you'd up and run away, but you're still here, you're still here . . ." Halfway through, Anna Prior comes down from her disbelief as if to countenance her giddiness with a dash of reality-checking doubt by telling us how bad a boyfriend her ex was, but it's really only to give him room to sing a few lines to corroborate her optimism, before she goes back up into its ether. As irony-free a reunion of exes as Peaches and Herb, but at least twice as bubbly with delight at the thought.

22. Summer Camp, Better Off Without You: " . . .I'm better off without you . . ." so Elizabeth Sankey sings, and you know she's trying to convince herself as much as us, but the euphoric swell with which she sings it wins you over so, you take her word for it and hope she does, too.

21. Arctic Monkeys, The Hell-Spangled Shalala: Could be the tunnel vision that comes from being a fan, which is sometimes the point and the fun of being one, but Humbug and Suck It And See were not as regressive as the world claims, more like spurts of forward motion, really, albeit one bigger than the other. The pining on Love Is A Laserquest does get epic and has dibs on poignancy but this bouncy, impressionistic love song manages to slake my throwback fix without drowning me in my nostalgia, reminding me what made me love them and why it's a good thing they didn't stay that way, not to mention that it has the line that is not only my second favorite lyric of the year but what my year essentially boiled down to: " . . .I took the batteries out of my mysticism and put them in my thinking cap . . ."

20. Meyer Hawthorne, A Long Time : Rigorously old school as his artifice comes off, the touchstone here is really Hall & Oates, and that fertile period when they were mashing every mutant subgenre within arms' reach into the Philly soul that was their base matter. This earnest paean to Detroit may not be as protean nor as arch, but it has a keyboard riff so sexy it would've been sufficient to clinch this one for me, in case Meyer didn't have either the chops nor the largesse to write a song to go with it, which of course he does.

19. Mastodon, Curl of the Burl: There's the sci-fic erotica of Stargasm, sure, wearing on its sleeve as much as it can the prog they seem to be eschewing for now. Or perhaps the devastating elegiac prettiness of The Sparrow. But for each new vein they tap on the new record, I kept coming back more and more to the meat and potatoes, which in this case, is the Skynyrd/Sabbath crunch of the single, which opens with what could well be the couplet of the year: " . . .I killed a man 'cause he killed my goat, I put my hands around his throat . . ."

18. Those Dancing Days, Help Me Close My Eyes: " . . .I breathe with a hand on my mouth, I refuse to get poisoned and I swallow my shout . . ." A song that's not only about trepidation but also sounds the way it feels, its verses nervily pulling back, as if gathering the courage to build to a chorus that's not quite as sure of itself as it wants to be but has enough rouse in it to feel as if it is.

17. Jennifer Hudson, No One Gonna Love You: " . . . don't dare send me straight to voice mail, babe,I'm just gonna text you, hope it ain't no issue . . . " And she's telling you she's not going, boy. But don't be so quick to walk away. " . . .I've been through some things, please don't hold that against me . . . " She has and you shouldn't. Insensitivity aside, though, that throb of meta does help nuance what gets by on how underdressed her approach to R & B has always been, not letting any production garnish cross the path of her voice, which, like her love, is all she's got and often all you need.

16. Slow Club, Horses Jumping: Rebecca and Charles have always traded in everyday despair but passed, at all times, through a sieve of hope only here it gets so jubilant as to be almost defiant. "Good love is hard to regret, when you know it was real . . ." goes a line here, before it comes to the emotional boil near the end that's nothing shy of inspiring: "I wanna live where each hand you're dealt is enough so you never feel like you want to bluff, and every road that you drive gives you the crashes that keep you alive . . ." Hands down my favorite lyric of the year. You can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes, maybe you can.

15. The Streets with Claire Maguire, Lock The Locks: Mike Skinner's last bow. Wistful yet unrepentant, wry yet poignant, the last track on his last record is a last goodbye to the pop life, evoking the weariness he claims is his urge for leaving , buoyed by the certainty of his departure and the smoky way Claire makes that torchy chorus stick.

14. Destroyer, Chinatown: I suspect Dan Bejar's above mocking his own devices and that his tongue was as far away from his cheek as it can get when he sang this, veering as it does into a China Crisis by way of Walter Becker soft-rock haze right down to the cryptic lyrics and a sax solo that may be more Spyro Gyra than Bill Evans but goes on anyway to defy its predisposition for elbowing a song dangerously past anyone's thresholds of cheese, giving it updraft instead. Sibel Thrasher's harmonies are an unironic, unsurprising boon, too.

13. Radiohead, Separator: " . . .every woman blows her cover, in the eye of the beholder . . ." The last track on what turned out to be the second Radiohead album after Hail To The Thief that would inexplicably recede from both my attention span and eventually my memory mere weeks after first listen, but for this love song as hallucination, crooned oddly, mysteriously, gorgeously.

12. Memory Tapes, Wait In The Dark: " . . .this is how it ends we just stand each other up . . ." Dayve Hawk, like anyone with a pop gene as skittish as his, understands the protocols of pop heartbreak , how the lyrics confess pain and the music signifies relief, it's the most elegant of structures, the most empathic of co-dependencies. He also says insomniacs are like ghosts, two conditions I found myself in and find myself still, and this is a love song sung through the eyes of one or the other, about the separation anxieties of being so close and yet so far, set to his most effervescent singsong yet.

11. Fando and Lis, Nang Gabing Umiyak Ng Dagat: Full disclosure: I directed the video for this and my name does pop up on the album sleeve as "associate producer",which really only means I heard the tracks before anybody else did, but yeah, I'm biased, but then I also am with the 39 other songs here, and nepotism aside, this song and I do have a fair amount of history. I've always heard it stripped to the bone but adorned now with Khavn's piano curlicues and the way Ledh's voice aches and comforts and wounds, it becomes a song of unfathomable regrets for me to drown my own in.

10. Asobi Seksu, Perfectly Crystal: " . . .we've become what we've never wanted . . ." Almost a pastiche but not really, the way the latter-day Cocteau Twins swirl melds with the tasty My Bloody Valentine guitars that come in at the right moments and never overstays its welcome, and over which Yuki wails dreamily about the clarity that sometimes comes from disillusionment.

9. Flaming Lips and Neon Indian, You Don't Respond: Pardon the hipster obscurantism, as this was buried inside a one-off collab EP, one of many Wayne Coyne seems terribly fond of doing. I confess to never having been taken with their experimental nerve as I am by their pop fluency and a little pissed they could never quite manage the graft on these detours, as that would be wondrous, or at least sounds like it could be. This isn't quite that but it does come really, really close. Much as it's a cul-de-sac of a song, going around in circles, its glitchy anticlimax is weirdly catchy.

8. 2NE1, Lonely: It was only a matter of time before they slowed the party-hearty down, and not to say that this lithe, and rather grand, ballad doesn't have the goods, in and of itself, but it really is their unique alchemy that gives it a boost, and proves itself capable of turning anything Dara and Minzy and Bom and CL touch into gold.

7. Mates of State, Unless I'm Led: If you assume that every time husband and wife Kori and Jordan sing about a relationship, they're referring to the one they've been stalwart in maintaining all these years, then the minor key anxieties here are a glimpse of what they constantly find themselves up against and what they find the grace to overcome.

6. Low, Especially Me: Low has this utilitarian dependability that makes being a devotee less contingent on blind faith, and makes the occasional game change go down like magic. Having been a fan for so long, I never doubted their capacity for beauty and the way they draw forth balm from it. But this ghostly? This majestic? And this attuned to the truth? " . . . 'cause if we knew where we belong, there'd be no doubt where we're from, but as it stands, we don't have a clue, especially me and probably you . . .”

5. Rihanna, We Found Love :" . . .we found our love in a hopeless place . . ." Don't we all? The eight words that everybody will be singing and that rather ingeniously nails the way woe and desperation and euphoria push and pull at and sometimes bleed into each other inside not only nearly ever love song but nearly every relationship. Go by the words alone and it does seem doomed to futility, only Rihanna sings it with a strident sense of purpose to flip the script, which Calvin Harris' rapturous disco synths not only encourage but celebrate.

4. The Antlers, Putting The Dog To Sleep: ". . .my trust in you is a dog with a broken leg, tendons too torn to beg, for you to let me back in . . ." Peter Silbeman proves himself a few stations above the one-hit miserablist I always took him for, as every verse of longing, every cry for love teetering on meltdown, every plea for mercy met unheard on this tearjerky waltz, reveals a blade tucked in its folds, taking little nicks, drawing blood, hurting so bad, which is to say, so good.

3. Jay-Z and Kanye West with Frank Ocean, No Church In The Wild: Frank Ocean breaks the math down for you: " . . .human beings in a mob. What's a mob to a king? What's a king to a god? What's a god to a non-believer, who don't believe in anything? . . . " And Kanye and Jay-Z's spiritual crisis has to do with religious excess and existential voids and the obscene grandiosity of their own multimillionaire lifestyles, appropriately charged with apocalyptic urgency by that sinister Phil Manzanera blues riff.

2. Yuck, Get Away: Dinosaur Jr. for voltage plus Sebadoh for sustain plus Teenage Fanclub for immediacy, meaning its energies will dim over time but will re-up over time, too, and when it does, nothing can quite touch its catchy din for ecstasy, as is the case with it now.

1. Cold Cave, Confetti: Reining in the anthemic bombast that gave the new album crank, but hanging on to the Wayne Hussey affectations that serve him well, Wesley Eisold reverts back to the New Order he rode in on, milking a doomy sultriness from his overwrought melodrama, which, in all matters new wave and goth, is not a redundancy of excesses but a principle of faith.