Thursday, April 23, 2009

Independencia At Cannes

Raya Martin's Independencia picked for Cannes' Un Certain Regard together with Pen-Ek's Nymph, Bong Joon- Hoo's Mother and a new one by Cristian Mungiu.

And it has a trailer.

Beautiful stuff. And that song is a chill up the spine.

Vengeance At Cannes

Johnnie To's Cannes-bound with his new Vengeance. In competition, at that.

And there's a second trailer.

Wet your shorts.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Departures おくりびと

Okuribito (Departures)

Directed by Yojiro Takita

Starring Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue

We talk to our dead during a wake. We converse with them as if the dearly departed could reply back. Oftentimes, we answer for them.

Oftentimes, we like to pretend that the dead are only asleep and it's crucial that they look that way.

The Japanese encoffinment ritual that is the heart of Departures is the most affectionate gesture I have ever seen on screen. It is graceful yet precise; concealing the difficult task of cleaning and disrobing the dead with a hypnotic, almost celebratory dance, knees firmly tucked under, arms rising and falling and fingers fluttering. Fussing like a mother; rigid like a father. Playful like a child. The bereaved family watches closely and become part of the corpse's transformation, from a cold, empty shell to a familiar face that they've woken up to or watched fall asleep in the years that have passed.

As a child, I used to watch my mother suit up for work and I've only remembered recently how I have memorized her morning routine: the perfume behind the ears before anything else, the skirt that she carefully smooths out, the watch, her only jewelry, that she gingerly clicks into place. Watching the encoffinment ceremony feels like watching someone go through his daily ritual one last time.

In refined, thoughtful strokes, Departures paints different scenarios of last goodbyes with such unpredictability in the details that it feels painfully real. The ceremonies do tend to end in tears (quiet, howling) but it's the subtle change in atmosphere---the slightest tics of recognition and submission to fate on the faces of husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters and lovers, and the wistful look of committing to memory the contours and the imperfection that once loved them back---that director Yojiro Takita carefully captures with polite elegance.

Much like us unfamiliar with the Japanese cermony, Daigo is the outsider, the watchful eye that is slowly drawn into a career of encoffinment. Played brilliantly by Masahari Motoki, who first thought of filming Departures ten years ago after reading the memoir of an enconffinment master, Daigo is an awkward mess of insecurity and unfulfilled dreams. Recognizing his own limitation in playing the cello, he and his wife Mika (the luminous Ryoko Hirosue) move back to Yamagata to look for a new job. He stumbles upon an ad on "Assisting Departures" and thinking that it was a travel agency opening, applies for it.

His introduction to corpses is a gag but as he is drawn deeper into the refined precision of the ritual, almost similar to the fret play on the cello, Daigo unravels into his own person and confronts memories he has been running away from all his life.

I'm forgiving the movie for its singular, obviously-staged montage (Who plays cello in a rice field? Even the kurosagi seem to be bothered by it.) because as a joyfully heartbreaking whole, Departures is one of those rare movies that transforms into a shared experience. The movie poses through images difficult questions about life and death, contemplates the answers, and leaves it to us mull over. It's loose structure gives the string of encounters breathing space, making room for Daigo's own personal battles, his struggle to remember his estranged father's face, the quiet brevity it requires. And what I love most, for all its thematic weight, is the movie's light footed humor, most of the time rolling with the funny down its melancholic twists. Unpretentious, the humble film that could, Departures wistfully offers us the gift of how to say goodbye.

(And yes, it is better than any of the 5 nominees for Best Picture in this year's Oscar race.)


Thursday, April 16, 2009

20th Century Boys Chapter 3

If you haven't read the manga, this will mean nothing to you. If you've read it up until the part where the first movie ended, the second to the last shot will either be a massive spoiler or will make you wet your panties. I almost did when I was reading the manga. And I almost did when I saw this.

Yes, sometimes I get embarassingly excitable.

Just go clicky clicky, alright?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Voices, Tilted Screens and Extended Scenes of Loneliness: Filipinos in High Definition

Voices, Tilted Screens and Extended Scenes of Loneliness: Filipinos in High Definition
Directed and Written by John Torres (Todo Todo Teros, Years When I Was A Child Outside)

Voices is a failure. A love letter to, in the shape of. A film about making a film that never gets made, about the plan coming undone, the dream revoked. John Torres digs the annihilating of form but digs the annihilated form even more. The pseudo-espionage of his Todo Todo Teros had the layered mien of collage, effervescing as it did on the sampler's gambit of making cohere the often opponent fragments he curates- - - scraps of poetry, found footage and that haunting recurring shot of a wife watching the filmed proof of her husband's infidelity- - - with the connective tissue of a new form. It's spypunk, a miasmic voodoo of surveillance paranoia and emotional terrorism - - - love in the time of Al Qaeda.

Neither as dense nor as frantic, most of Voices are talking heads, all exiles for being adrift someplace they never expected to be at this point in their lives and almost confessing to the camera with a candor both icky and poignant- - - the homesick revolutionary lamenting his receding hair and singing guerilla songs , the son disgruntled at finding out he has a half-brother, the OFW remembering the voice tapes she used to send her boyfriends back home, the girl playacting a pretend love story who breaks down between takes to go emo about her own romantic troubles. Strung together one after the other and marooned from an overriding design, each vignette making a go at that unmakable movie but eventually folding in on itself and giving up, you're meant to parse the fragmentary quality this time. Voices is teasing frissons from the disconnect. In flux is it's mien.

Everything begins at a house pelted by rainfall, much smaller than what the people living in it thought they would move into, in a bedroom piled high with the junk they can't throw away,where a kid plays videogames between the oaken limbs of his sleeping grandparents, lost,as they are, in a vacuum of calm. You know this house - - - you've been to one, you know someone who lives in one, you probably live in one. And you know the feeling. Failure is a universal language. And everyone's a disappointment artist, adrift. The lullabylike rain fades as soon as we leave the house but its sombre, aching, serene and tender soothe pitterpatters on in my head, like some phantom serenade to that exile in all of us. * * * * *


Directed by Rico Maria Ilarde (Sa Ilalim Ng Cogon, Aquarium)
Starring Zanjoe Marudo (You Got Me!), Dimples Romana
(Huling Pasada)

What the creatures that gnash and tumble through Rico Ilarde's features do is take irony into the woods and slits its throat. They’re tactile presences, these mud women and genetic fuckups and fish demons. They're context. They’re not meant to multitask as semiotic bullshit and be anything other than what they are upfront. In a more snide universe, calling them pulpy schlock amounts to a dis but in a universe that knows better they are pulpy schlock but they’re also what gives the work its frisson, its dissonance. B movies, say the scornful lazy. Fair enough. Unlike the kind Uwe Boll or Brett Ratner or Michael Bay shit through their noses, though, and more like what Monte Hellman or Francis Coppolla used to make for Roger Corman, this is genre, hundred proof, but with a bit more on its mind, more room to maneuver without wandering off into the kind of disdainful postmodern appropriation that is so chickenshit and dull. The interstitial complexities of his work are possessed by nothing short of true love for the genre, for its tropes. And the beauty of Sa Ilalim Ng Cogon, despite having me more - - -and having more, really - - - in the poignant taboo of its love story than the black science gone fuckup it converged with - - -and once converged became something else- - -was that, ultimately,it was a tricked-up Dr.Moreau riff and wore it proudly.

Altar is Rico's first haunted house, and a far grimmer, far grimier affair than the lush, pungent gumbo of Cogon, but still within his esthetic. There's repeating yourself and there's making the same movie over and over, like an exorcism rite, a honing and a purging both. The difference is the difference between formula and theme, between hack and auteur. Push Rico for the latter- - - because he is. And the movie he keeps making over and over is about the Everyman who flees the world that owes him by crossing over the weird precipice of another. Here, it's a prizefighter with no fight left in him, fallen from grace, sick with remorse, shrunk to drudge, soul in tatters. Too bad having read the virtually unchanged treatment a year back has dampened all the creepy goings-on for me. It's the boxer's pathos I chew on for resonance - - -the soul of Rico's movies has always been in the things he lets simmer under the genre tropes. And it's a chill up my spine when he tells the girl he loves his fate's not so much out of trespasses he's atoning for, more the butt of a mean joke the universe played. Flies to wanton gods. In a universe painted this black,any ghost that attic holds almost counts as relief. * * *


Directed and Written by Raya Martin (Now Showing, Next Attraction)

Projector issues
- - -that's likely. But there is the way the image in that opening long walk home seems to corrode before your eyes, the way the noise picks out shapes of things that aren't even there, the way it feels less like postwork - - -that is, premeditated but artificial- - -and more the risk you put yourself through shooting on analog then blowing it up to see what happens- - -that is, premeditated but organic. And the way what does happen counts as foreshadowing. For how it similarly obsesses on the active degrading of our collective memory, on history as something mutable and suspect, but not with the same elegaic prettiness as Indio Nacional tapping into silent cinema's textures of otherness to find eerie new con/subtexts - - - 1896's hard-won independence as a kind of cultural neutering, for one- - - in our beloved revolutionary saga.

That one opens, too, with a man walking, not home but down a cave. A returning to the womb, perhaps, also a descent into mystery. The mystery of our birth as a nation reflexively full-circling to our dying as a cultural entity and retold as ghost stories at bedtime so it gets feverish and hysteric with swaths of unease and swaths of whimsy and swaths of surreal imagery - - -the blessed virgin dogging a katipunero down a field , the sun rising from between a man's legs then giving him a wink, a plaster saint flirting with two women in church - - - where Autohystoria gets feverish and hysteric but only with unease and in more than mere swaths, it's nervy with it.

The death it gets under the skin of, after all, isn’t as abstract, as metaphoric, as philosophical. And is,in fact, bloody and viscous. Is, in fact, a murder- - -Andres and brother Procopio Bonifacio’s execution at the hands of Emilio Aguinaldo’s cohorts and the conspiracy to whitewash it, retold with microscopic agony and brutal immediacy as presentday salvage in real-time. Noble aims superseded by gleeful artifice means the pleasures of Indio are purer as mere cinephilic fetishism, nothing wrong with that. More nihilistic, more wounded, Autohystoria triumphs as surface, too, only with more seepage and tackle. Its subtext - - - that political homicide is in our blood - - - runs hardwired with marrow chill and black voltage, but its visceral jolt is the volatile that stays with you.
* * * * *

Paalam Aking Bulalakaw (Goodbye My Shooting

Paalam Aking Bulalakaw (Goodbye My Shooting Star)
Directed and Written by Khavn De La Cruz (Squatterpunk, Hindi Kita Kilala)
Starring Meryll Soriano

Who knows what came to pass between K and Ana before today? K is, of course, director Khavn himself sort of, the man with the movie camera whom we never see, and Ana is Meryll Soriano, his obscure object of desire whom we can't take our eyes off. They talk and it's not as if it gets so obtuse as to resist parsing. Just weightless and hesitant and stumblebum . There are no codes in the conversation to decipher. What we talk about when we talk about love are the things that go unsaid anyway. The inarticulate speech of the heart. So maybe we should just take Khavn's word for it that K loves Ana and that's as far as it got. Which then makes this. . . what? Chance? Or design? Date? Or destiny? Unrequited? Reunited?

The Linklater parallels you invoke only to cut a long story short and to peg what can be a bitch to peg, what is better off seeing for yourself- - - Before Sunrise at 30 f.p.s. on a shoestring. The parallelism does take, somewhat- - - the walking around, the talking around, the going everywhere, the going nowhere. But there's no arc in this first person love story, no fate playing matchmaker, no intrusions from the universe. Only the brutal symmetry - - - the solipsistic economy and delicate equilibrium and minimalist stasis- - - of its POV.

It's the longest goodbye in the universe when your shooting star burns out, shooting star here's used loosely, figuratively. It rings more poetically in the vernacular - - -bulalakaw. You call them that because they burn so bright, because you wistfully look to the sky for their trajectories to cross your radar again even after their orbits have passed most likely forever, because you wish on them. But you knew that and maybe you knew that out of having had this extraterrestrial hurt too, out of having the unforgettable face of that lapsed darling afterimaging in your head long after her radio silence, her invisibility, her supernova before your eyes. And all of this is in K's head. Like the lovesongs falling on deaf ears, like the poetry in the details, like the words that fail, like the wishfully-thinking extraterrestrial hurt it hooks me with.* * * *

Saturday, April 11, 2009


New Johnnie To. Written by Wai Kai Fai. Starring Johnny Hallyday.

If you need any more words to pique your curiosity, let me extend my condolences for living all this time on a planet of no joy.

This had me at "New Johnnie To".

Clicky clicky. Preview is available.

The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela

Limited run of Olaf Johannesson's The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela starts April 11 at Robinson's Galleria. Click to embiggen. Then go see.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Meat Grinder

Meat Grinder
Directed by Tiwa Moeithaisong
Starring Mai Charoenpura (Suriyothai), Rattanaballang Tohsawat (Bangkok Love Story)

A movie about slicing and dicing is sliced and diced by the Thai censors, how's that for parallelism?

Whether Tiwa Moeithaisong intended it to be or not, Meat Grinder has become a crash test dummy for the new Thailand motion picture ratings and can't be helped but seen as an allegory to the viewing experience: As the landlord and his thugs slurp down Bus' noodles and devour the bits and pieces of human meatballs, I am also served a severely and clumsily hacked movie, which refrained me from digesting the narrative as a coherent whole. (I was also out of my comfort zone, watching a movie for the first time in Bangkok in the plush Siam Paragon multiplex on a chair that stubbornly pulled back at what should be a relaxing angle but only made me feel like I was about to fall backwards every time my cringe reflexes were, err, cringing away.)

Meat Grinder is about a lot of things---violence begets violence, the tumultous Thai communist uprisings which I hoped the movie pursued more to add more dimension to the period's climate, violence as escape (and lucrative business) for the women in this movie---but these all feel incidental to the main attraction, the deliciously graphic hunting and gathering of human meat and the calculated food preparation.

Mai Charoenpura as Bus goes about her killing spree with stoic determination that it becomes more chilling. And cool. She even out-classes Uma Thurman's The Bride (Kill Bill) when Bus kitchen kung-fus her three abusers with knives and cleavers or whatever she could grab in her dank kitchen, whacking heads like they were yielding watermelons, driving hooks through screaming mouths, slicing arms casually as if she were about to serve Christmas ham. Admittedly, even for someone like me who has a taste for gore fests, I had to look away when she drove a nail down in all ten fingertips of one of her victims. Shot up close, the rusty nail pierced and cracked the quivering fingernail painfully slow, which is reminiscent of Choi Min-Sik's dentistry work with a hammer in Park Chan Wook's Old Boy and the gradual torture in Takashi Miike's Ôdishon.

Unfortunately, Meat Grinder's narrative is as choppy as its violence. The Thai censors is partially to blame but Moeithaisong is also at fault, resorting occasionally to execution over substance. There are just too many styles employed---from scratchy old-film wash-out colors to black and white to quick cut-to-cuts---resulting to a disjointed storytelling and a tone that is impossible to define, which is my biggest issue with the movie.

Outside the political context of censorship, Meat Grinder, as a movie, is without depth. There are signs that the director struggled to inject it with meaning but the cycle of violence as an emotional center or theme is a beaten-up, predictable purpose. Soylent Green existed in an apocalyptic what-if context; The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Titus made cannibalism the ultimate penance. In Meat Grinder, we never feel the weight of commiting the act. Was Bus supposed to be excused because she was mad? Was Bus' lover not even mortified or even the slightest bit morally shaken after seeing the slaughterhouse?

In this respect, Meat Grinder is torture porn. Frustratingly so because it could have been so much more. There's not much to chew on really.


Further Reading:


Directed by Topel Lee
Starring Robin Padilla, Rhian Ramos, Sunshine Dizon

You can feel the cold creeping in and squeezing your windpipes. You are Louella (Sunshine Dizon) getting soaked in the rain, shoes sticky with mud, as you watch your father's skeleton stumble out of its coffin clumsily dropped by cemetery caretakers. You are Baguio, sprawling, eternally cold and gray like a blanket hiding a corpse.

Director Topel Lee and cinematographer J. A. Tadena transform the usually cheery Baguio into a brooding, opaque hell where houses seem to shiver in the cold. Bathed in muted palettes of browns and steel, the fluorescent light seems alien, a fragile glow that the dark is hungry to devour, while the ghosts, ang mga sundo, lurk in the mist-like shadows.

The noun "sundo" has no direct English translation: it is a person---a close relative, a sweetheart---who picks you up from school or work with the specific purpose of making sure you get home safely, ie. My sundo (boyfriend or parent) has arrived. As a verb, sundo means to pick someone up (from school or work). In the movie, Romano (Robin Padilla) sees dead people, but these are ghosts with a mission, to be the sundo, the guide of the dying from this life to the after life. In effect, every appearance of a ghost is an omen of death.

Romano and childhood friend Louella drive down to the city with his sister, the blind Isabel (Rhian Ramos), to find a cure for her ailment, along with a few companions. Romano dreams about an accident that kills them all but wakes up in time to prevent it from happening. He suddenly hears a baby crying and as he steps out of the vehicle, he realizes that they are surrounded by ghosts. They were meant to die and now their sundo have arrived.

Sundo is a movie severely split in two. The first half is moody, atmospheric, and genuinely dead cold; its claustrophobic static can be felt at the back of the neck. The second half, which begins right after the should-have-been accident, is commercial Hollywood that is too reminscent of Final Destination.

What a damn shame.

There could be higher forces at work here and Lee does his best to keep the brooding tone, but the gimicky accidents (being blinded by flying embers from your favorite isaw stand) are laughably scripted and clumsily executed with not enough B-movie gusto that they turn out flat. And boring.

There's a twist in the movie's last few minutes that almost saves the movie from predictability but it is carried out in exactly the same way that Ouija (Topel's previous horror genre effort) ended, with someone being pulled into the darkness.

Is it just me or was that last echoing scream a cry of frustration?


Best in Time (Kwaam Jam San..Dtae Rak Chan Yaao)

Best in Time (Kwaam Jam San..Dtae Rak Chan Yaao)
Directed by
Youngyooth Thongkonthun (Iron Ladies)
Arak Amornsupasiri (Body sob 19), Yarinda Bunnag

Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it. ~Michel de Montaigne

Memory is a whimsical beast. It surfaces without warning, submerges without a sound as if it never made ripples. Memories being unique to a person, we can assume that we own them, that we can subject them to bend to our will, chronologically sorted and easily pulled out as needed.

Keng (Arak Amornsupasiri) is a snobbish, awkward veterinarian who never got over his first love, Fai (Yarinda Bunnag), who married and later got divorced to his best friend. Keng pretends that he doesn't remember her when she stumbles into his clinic carrying an injured dog.

Kind and eternally compassionate Fai can't forget her ex-husband and secretly wishes that they would get back together soon. But she also remembers Keng, the once shy, admonishing high school kid who had recorded a love mix for her, and is now showing her the kind of affection and attention that her ex-husband couldn't give.

Sompit and Jamrat met at a computer club for the elderly. Eventhough her family doesn't agree with her blossoming relationship with Jamrat, Sampit flees to Chumporn to be with the man she loves; she insists on staying with Jamrat even if her family is relocating to the U.S. But Jamrat, due to an illness, is slowly losing his memory. He will soon forget every memory he holds dear. Pretty soon, he wouldn't even recognize Sampit.

Best in Time is a thoughtful, lighthearted examination of memory and its ironies. Director Amornsupasiri is in no rush to tell a story and there is a languid, relaxed flow to the mistakes and realizations that the characters make along the way. Beyond a logical progression from point A to point B, Best in Time is fattened with moments that make each character more endearing----Fai rushing off to a bookstore to buy her ex-husband's missing DragonBallZ vol. 18 manga but ends up getting the entire set because the books weren't sold individually; Keng pretending to be asleep and secretly smiling when droplets of water from Fai's newly washed hair trickle down his cheeks---moments not exactly integral to moving the story forward but in themselves are memories waiting to be kept.

The movie also keeps it real as much as possible and veers from romantic-comedy predictability right from the outset. Fai and Keng make an odd couple; they never really become comfortable with each other's company with Fai still attempting, maybe even faking, to move on from her divorce. And I like it that the movie leaves it at that, with one still unable to forget and the other quite willing to never forget and continue waiting.

If there is a weakness to the movie, it is the contrived metaphors (the tree, the goldfish) that weigh down Sampit and Jamrat's story, the almost too obvious emotional anchors that cue the melodrama (of which I am not immune to because I admittedly had to pretend to clean my glasses when I was really quickly wiping off tears).

The existence of forgetting has never been proved: We only know that some things don't come to mind when we want them. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

I liked Best in Time more than I should. Memory is triggered randomly and the DragonBallZ manga bit hit too close to home. Out of nowhere, with one hand freezing from holding a soda and the other half-buried in a popcorn bucket, there it was, this thing I thought I had forgotten.

If there's one thing that the movie is successful at it is making us remember that the past is as fluid as the future and that all we can do when it does rear its head---nostlagic, regretful, or whimsical---is sit back and enjoy the view.


Official website:

The Unseeable เปนชู้กับผี

Pen Choo Kub Pee (The Unseeable)

Directed by Wisit Sasanatieng

Starring Suporntip Chuangrangsri, Tassawan Seneewongse, Siraphan Wattanajinda

"All seeable things are alike; each unseeable thing is unseeable in its own way." - Leo Tolstoy

Old-fashioned fear is organic in the hands of flashy Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng. Organic like reflex memory, the groaning shadows and fleeting shapes of things that go bump in the dark that make your heart skip a beat. Organic like cautionary tales, cob-webbed ghouls and pale, clawed hands that pull you into the darkness when you've been disobedient. Organic like love, the heart of darkness that pushes us to do foolish things that later come back. Oh, and do they come back.

The Unseeable is thick with ghosts, so thick it's impossible not to beathe in the dusty, musty smells of locked closets and abandoned rooms heavy with beauty. And of course, secrets. The attention to detail poured over to recreate the romantic 1930s is obssesive compulsive accurate. The looming high roofs, the ornate doors and tapestry, the grandly spacious rooms that echo the glory of Hollywood, a nostalgic lushness that at first seduces a young pregnant woman, Nualjin (Siraphun Wattanajinda), who is in search of temporary lodging while she looks for her missing husband. Madame Somchit, played with Gothic glee by Tassawan Seneewongse, is the grim caretaker who sternly forbids any trips to the main house where the mysterious widow, Runjuan (Supornthip Choungrangsee) lives.

The labyrinthine gardens and hallways beckon Nualjin out of her room and into the maddeningly crowded night. With only a low-burning oil lamp throwing, stretching, and distorting shadows, the unseeable surfaces.

There is macabre magic at work in Wisit Sasanatieng's frames. The ghosts are barely visible; glimpses above Nualjin's shoulder, a pale hand reaching out for moldy offerings from the mouth of a jar or a thorny shrub, a half naked man sitting on the roof, crawling down the walls---blink and you miss it. But if you do see it---them---the shivers go down the spine like mad.

Scripted by Kongkiat Khomsiri who also wrote Art of the Devil II, The Unseeable reveals itself like a mystery-thriller with bits and pieces of flashback that get less and less scary as it reaches the end, a twist that is not much of a surprise but still deftly, err, executed. What the script lacks in sophistication Sasanatieng makes up for with dazzlingly claustrophobic camera pans and a precise eye for capturing the slightest ghostly gesture, which has made the unseeable desperation and montrosity of a past that haunts deliriously cinematic.

Old-fashioned fear is organic, the haunted houses of our youth that we occassionaly visit in our nightmares. Organic like the quickening of the pulse when the street lights go out and we are walking alone in the dark. Organic like a lamp burning out. Organic like not turning off the lights after watching The Unseeable.


  • Stumbled upon Leo Tolstoy quote here, SEED Magazine article on Dark matter.
  • More photos and a review here, Coffee Coffee and More Coffee.