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I write better when I smoke. Don’t ask me to reduce it to a science.

The 2.5 million peso gloat

PLONING MADE IT!

So exclaimed the intrepid ‘lee‘ who also responded to my panning of Ploning thusly:

You’re pseudo-intellectualism could almost pass up as a genuine intelligent criticism. However, I doubt your credibility as you have not done your research. Get you facts straight.

Now, me, I don’t always gloat, especially when it comes to issues concerning the humanities. De gustibus and all that. But considering the vehemence of the reaction to my critique of Ploning – and most especially the gloating that attended Ploning’s submission for Academy consideration – I just couldn’t let this slide without comment. From Mindanao Times, I learned that 

 

THE P2.5 million government fund just went to drain as the aspiration of Judy Ann Santos was cut short even before it could step in Hollywood.

Ploning, the country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film in the Oscars, failed to make the cut.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences excluded Ploning in the nine films eligible for the semi-final race. A total of 65 films from different countries were in the list.

Santos, also the co-producer of Ploning, had lobbied arduously for her film’s Oscar bid. The actress and her friends held fundraising events—like Damit Para Kay Ploning, Plato Para Kay Ploning, and Laro Para Kay Ploning—to help the film’s cause. 

Ploning also got P2.5 million from Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP). Its filmmakers also hired a highly-recommended public relations company, Murray Weissman and Associates, to increase the film’s chances.

Included in the nine top choices are Waltz With Bashir (Israel), Revanche (Austria), The Necessities of Life (Canada), The Class (France), The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany), Departures (Japan), Tear This Heart Out (Mexico), Everlasting Moments (Sweden), and 3 Monkeys (Turkey).

This short list will be narrowed down to five nominees by specially selected committees, both in Los Angeles and New York, who will spend this weekend screening three films per day.

The nominations for the 81st annual Academy Awards will be announced on Jan. 22.

So I guess that makes this the 2.5 million peso gloat.

Didja hear that, lee? Toldja to hold off on the champagne, dint I? 

“Course, now I can’t wait to hear from lee and the rest of the Ploning faithful, first, how I am such a nasty nasty hater for rejoicing at the failure of a Filipino movie; and second, the reasons why Ploning didn’t make the grade.

In the first category, I plead innocent. I am not rejoicing at Ploning falling on its face. I am embarrassed by it. 

If Ploning were really a good movie, failing to get nominated would not mean anything other than that there were other, better, movies. No shame in that. But Ploning wasn’t a good movie. It was a beautiful love letter to Cuyon, certainly, but just like a love letter, it gushed too much and ended up saying too little.

What made Ploning’s failure shameful was that it’s bid reflected our entire movie industry’s inability to spot a non-winner. What makes it worse is that it wasn’t just the movie industry that made this terrible call – the government had to get in on the act too!

The Film Development Council of the Philippines – which presumably made the recommendation to the Prez to give 2.5 million pesos to the movie’s Oscar bid – is a government entity, created by Republic Act 9167 which is supposed to, among other things: 

To develop and implement an incentive and reward system for the producers based on merit to encourage the production of quality films.

Based on merit! What merit did they see in Ploning? Granted that the movie was visually arresting, but aren’t bodies like the FDCP supposed to be able to go beyond such superficial criteria and determine whether a movie is truly meritorious? Failing as it did, in the most basic task of a movie – that of telling a story – what basis did the FDCP have for saying that Ploning was worth it?

(Oh and, do remind me to write more about the FDCP. I’m not quite ready to let them off the hook yet)

As to the second – yes. I cannot wait for the faithful‘s justification for Ploning’s failure. 

Going by some of the reactions to my old Ploning post, I’d say that one of the reasons that we can expect is that America is godless; or that maybe because the Academy is mostly Jewish, they had no appreciation for the Jesus in Ploning.

the reason why i defended it so adamantly is the fact that it is significant to Christianity in general. i guess you didn’t understand it for the same reason that the Jews’ hearts were hardened for Jesus.

Mel Gibson would prolly be agree. But considering that he’s a drunken anti-semitic sot, I wouldn’t be too proud of that.

Oh and, yes, I simply cannot wait for the rejoinder from dear old Arch who claims to be a film Major from the University of the Philippines. Now what would be the right-lensed way to appreciate this situation, I wonder. 

*sigh* Making fun of sycophants is like shooting fish in a barrel. It starts out tremendously enjoyable but gets old pretty quickly. ANd in the end, what are you left with? Fish you can’t eat, and barrel you can’t use anymore.

Just like Ploning, really. All that drum-beating and back-patting, all that expense – for what? A stark reminder that what Filipino “experts” consider wonderful just isn’t good enough to compete with the rest of the world.

I’ll leave it to everyone else to salve the bruised egos of Judy Ann Santos and the rest of Panoramanila. 

ploning-fail

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Baler

800px-ultimosfilipinasThe soldiers of the siege of Baler, upon their return to Barcelona

Baler wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t good either. 

The core of the movie was a very simple story – a love affair between Jericho Rosales’ half-blood Spanish soldier and Anne Curtis’ native miss (whose father – Philip Salvador – happened to be a particularly bitter freedom-fighter). This romance was set against the last days of Spanish power in the Philippines when the garrison at Baler – including ROsales’ character – was forced to hole-up in the local church for almost a year, surrounded by the well-armed local militia. Under these trying circumstances, the two leads keep the faith as best they can, against all odds.

And that was pretty much it.

Despite its pretensions at being a period historical romance, the entire movie came off almost as blandly as though it were journalistic, rather than dramatic. 

The crux of the movie should have been the aching of the two lovers; more specifically, Curtis’ defiance of her father and Rosales’ ultimate decision to defy his Commander – and by extension his own dreams of eventually seeing his father – in order to finally be with his love. 

Unfortunately, Instead of exploring the complex dynamics of such a situation, the movie seemed pre-occupied with explaining why the siege lasted so long. It was more like a history lesson poorly told more than the devastating love story it could have been.

Those clumsy fake news reels didn’t help either. 

 

Individual performances

Individual performances by the supporting cast were invariably disappointing, with the exception of Rio Locsin who turned in a very subtle performance that, at times, was fairly moving. But her character was really more of a place holder than anything else, leading to her being criminally absent for most of the movie.

Leo Martinez faltered early on when it seemed like he had trouble wiping that perpetual smirk off his face and seemed in constant danger of slipping into the Batangueno accent he has prolly trademarked by now.

Joel Torre – like Christopher de Leon – reminds me of Charlton Heston. The same stature (well, relatively anyway), held in the same esteem by colleagues, and possessed of a very limited range of facial expressions. Thankfully, he had such a small part that he fell pretty much below the radar most of the time.

The pretty boys – Baron Geisler, Bernard Palanca, and that bald Eigenmann – were all … earnest in their portrayals, but their command of the language that was supposed to be their mother tongue simply got in the way of their credibility.

Jao Mapa on the other hand was an annoying scene stealer in one of the pivotal moments of the movie. He reminded me of a bit player in a high-school production – striving to have his own interactions with other actors in the background while momentous events unfold in the foreground. 

Nikki Bacolod stood out for being pretty, but for little else; and Anne Curtis’ character’s brother looked so anemic it was hard to generate any sympathy for the wimp.


The main characters

The main characters didn’t fare much better. Philip Salvador may have lost alot of his stillness but it’s pretty safe to say he hasn’t lost his primal scream chops. Did he deserve best supporting actor? Considering the field he was playing against, it was an easy call to make. Despite the superficiality of his portrayal, he still showed more depth than most of the other contenders.

Rosales seemed completely clueless about why the locals should hate him. This would have been acceptable if the movie had taken pains to explore in greater depth why he was serving the Spaniards, but it never did. Instead, it had Rosales mouthing pap about how the colonial overlords only wanted order. 

Watching Curtis’ award-winning performance was like watching Dyosa without the fantastical transformations. I like her and I have seen her serve up some serious emotion. But in this movie, she felt like an ingenue in search of the comforting smallness of the boob-tube.


The use of history

The use of history in a movie can be easily classified into two broad categories: as the story itself, or as a conceptual framework for the real story. 

Baler unwisely tried to use history in both ways and ended up doing justice to neither point of view. 

Obviously, Baler ought to have emphasised the use of history as a background against which the love story unfolds. If this had been the case, then historical notes should have been treated like asides but always in relation to the main story. As it turned out, however, Baler got hung up on historical details that did not advance the story beyond providing ever more justification for the length of the siege.

Take that scene, for instance, where Salvador and his cronies are gossiping about the Quezons. What did that contribute to the story? Nothing. They never followed up on it, and all that talk about Manuel being a freedom fighter didn’t impact at all on later events.

And then there was that pseudo intellectual discussion involving Martinez about the cost of freedom. That didn’t do diddly squat either.

Not that the movie got all the historical details right, apparently. While not exactly revisionist, Baler certainly glossed over a few details like how the siege was apparently NOT due to some shrewd psywar tactic hatched by the local militia but the militia’s inability to get the job done.


Also very distracting

Also very distracting were the scenes where the local militia gloated over the soldier’s gift of Jerez brandy and cuban cigars. Those local captains and lieutenants looked for all the world like modern day politicians divvying up the spoils. For a moment there, I imagined that must’ve been the picture Jun Lozada was trying to paint when he testified at the Senate. 

And what was up with those disintegrating uniforms? They were holed up in church, not some deserted island. The soldiers uniforms couldn’t have possibly ended up so tattered after just a year in-doors! Filthy, prolly. But with no indication of any laundry being done, those uniforms shouldn’t have shown the wear and tear they eventually did. 

 

At the end

At the end, despite failing to deliver on the promise of a love story, the movie did succeed in one respect: It didn’t feel like a two-hour long movie. You left it feeling that you’d actually suffered through all 330 plus days of the siege.

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Manila Mediocre Film Festival

Tonight, watching the awarding ceremonies for the 2008 MMFF, I couldn’t help but cringe when the nominees for a special Gat-something award – supposedly for showcasing Philippine culture and values – was read out and included movies like One Night Only and Desperadas. My mom shushed me and told me that all movies were in the running since they were in the Festival after all.

And then the nominees for best actress were read and the list included Marian Rivera and Diana Zubiri? OMFG. When Anne Curtis hyperventilated clutching her trophy, I couldn’t help but think two things: first, I wondered how victory could NOT taste like ashes in her mouth; and second, that there was a time, not too long ago, when the Manila Film Festival wasn’t held because there were no movies deemed good enough. 

I have nothing against comedy movies winning major acting or production awards – even best movie awards; and I have nothing against young actors winning recognition for their work as well. But for crying out loud, have we been reduced to giving out awards to the best among the mediocre? Is this the genius way we’ve stumbled upon to promote the film industry?

 

mediocrity

God help us all.

Filed under: movies, society, vacuity, , , , , , ,

twilight

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Finally saw twilight. Never read the books, so I went into the movie with only the trailers, the hype, and the criticisms as background.

It wasn’t as bad as I expected. The first hour dragged by as director Catherine Hardwicke took pains to establish Bella’s character as a whip-smart, tough-as-nails, but vulnerable young girl and Edward’s bona fides as a good-guy vampire with sparkly skin.

It was, however, fairly easy to accept that you were looking in on a high-school romance. Which was strange because for a vampire more than a hundred years old, Edward acted exactly like the 17-year old he claimed to be. Consider how Kirsten Dunst’s little girl vampire grew up into a sexpot without growing old – or even taller. Edward, on the other hand, seemed stuck just short of the age of consent. 

Bella’s fascination for the brooding Edward was played out well enough, with Stewart clearly being simpatico with her intended demographic – the teeny-boppers – without damaging the noir feel of the movie. Lines like “Your moodswings are giving me whiplash,” were reason enough to forgive the endless inanities spilling out of the Asian boy’s pie-hole.

The last three-quarters of the movie moved like a speeding bullet compared to the set-up. Shortly after having to accept the familiar ordinariness of vampire of homelife – “what did you expect? Moats?” – the movie-watcher is confronted with the existence and depradations of a vampire who has whole-heartedly accepted his place at the top of the food chain. And so the chase is on sending Bella and Edward on a curiously time-telescoped run for safety.

Throughout  tho,’ it’s hard to ignore the battered wife syndrome chic that this movie is peddling. I mean, Bella is determined to stay with a guy who constantly has to stop himself from sucking her dead. How screwed up is that? Sure, teenage romances become sweeter when there’s that element of unthinking self-sacrifice, which is precisely why this movie’s appeal is destined to be severely limited to the teen crowd and to those grown-ups who still think like love-struck juveniles. Most mature grown-ups would cringe at the nascent stockholm syndrome being presented here.

On vampires.

underworld3pic1

The vampirology in this movie – and presumably the book – is decidedly light-weight. But then again, I’m coming from Bram Stoker and Anne Rice and White Wolf. One particularly grating thing here is the obvious move towards adding to the vampires v. werewolves trend. I’m not particularly happy with that, being of the school of thought that believes – and this requires  some serious suspension of disbelief – first, that werewolves are solitary creatures and cannot live in packs lest they wipe out the prey; and second, that vampires are more likely to avoid conflict with werewolves lest they betray their existence to the world. 

Having quibbled that quibble, the Underworld franchise, in its coming prequel, presents a nice rationalization for that ‘war.’


Filed under: movies, pop-culture, stories, vacuity, , , ,

Mamma Mia!

On long drives, my mom would pop in an old old old ABBA cassette and we kids would all hum along, and then sing along, and then eventually peter off into sleepy silence. Still the music would play on and on. The older kids would start to complain at some point, but my mom always said that when we had our own cars, we could play our own music. At which point, we would all swear that we would never play ABBA.

Well, if now I’m playing ABBA. Hahaha. And I blame it all on Meryl.

I approached the movie with some trepidation, but with more excitement. I mean, I remembered listening to ABBA! Sure, I also remembered getting fed up with it, but that was from the repetition. I liked the songs, especially Chiquitita which one Latino courtesy uncle used to call me.

Plus, I remember almost getting to see the musical; not seeing it had something to do with a leather whip, a daschund, and a three orange m&m’s – but that’s a long story.

Anyway, I finally got to see the movie last night and I was blown. a. way. And wouldn’t you know it, I totally related to Sophie.

Y’see, the movie’s about a young girl (Sophie) who is madly in love with a wanderer (Sky) who, because he loves her too, has decided to give up his wandering ways, not knowing that she’s a wanderer too, except that she’s being held back by a sense of guilt at leaving her mother who raised her alone. In what may have been an unconscious effort to complete her mother’s life – and in so doing complete her own – Sophie sends out invitations to her wedding to the three men most likely to be her father. For their own reasons, they drop everything and come. Once there – ‘there’ being a lovely Greek island – the three come to terms with their pasts and discover the beginnings of their futures.

It was the guilt part that got me.

There have been many times when I’ve felt the desire to just up and go – follow my bliss as it were. But always guilt. Heh. Sometimes it feels like I have enough guilt to start my own religion. And most of that guilt, centered around my mom. I don’t know why. I guess, like Donna (Sophie’s mom), there’s something desperate about her energy and dynamism; almost like she’s a whirlwind as a defense mechanism. And like Donna, you can see it in her eyes sometimes.

My mom has never asked me to stay – in fact, she often tells me to to go and, if i absolutely have to, only to come back with my shield or on it (no, Frank Miller did NOT invent that line for 300). But still, the thought of leaving her seems to me quite ungrateful. I mean, the simple act of moving into my own apartment was a gut wrenching moment, even though neither of us quite consented to show it. And I’m pretty sure she still resents me moving out. But that’s a mother’s job – to tell her daughter that it’s ok to fly out of the nest, but to wish with all her heart that her daughter doesn’t.

The daughter’s burden, on the other hand, is to stay until she knows with full certainty that she truly wants to be somewhere else – not to get away from her mother, but to be with the one who holds her bliss. I haven’t gotten to that yet, but when i do, I hope it’s with the same clarity that Sophie had when she realized that it was time to go.

Even more than the charming portrayals –

Dominic Cooper (Sky) was, as always, hotter’n hot pockets. Loved him in the History Boys, loved him here double! I regret though that he had such a small role. Couldn’t be helped, I guess. But the main thing is he was able to come across real well even with so few lines; and even if he was a bit of a douche at one point. And when you can make a girl go weak at the knees while being a tool, you know you’re doing something right!

And as far as older men go, Stellen Skarsgard is a god! even with tattooed knees! Pierce Brosnan, as Glenville pointed out, was hilarious while trying to emote on S.O.S. It was tough trying to ignore the pained expression on his face, but the whole scene was so nicely worked that no lasting damage was done, except to his hotness. Colin Firth was also cute – but sadly still stuck in the stuck up proper gentleman stereotype he’s been in since Bridget Jones’ Diary.

The Dynamos – Christine Baransky and Julie Walters – were hammy goodness all throughout; perfect foils to Meryl Streep’s neurotic Donna. And pretty creditable singers too.Baransky, in particular, sizzled as the mature sexpot who may have well be archetypal for Sex in the City’s Samantha.

– and even more than the MUSIC

it was Sophie’s story that made sure this movie left an indelible mark on me.

Filed under: movies, Quick Posts, , , , , ,

Caregiver

Don’t be mislead by the title. This movie isn’t about caregivers, no matter what the press releases say. It’s about ONE caregiver (with all the rest being there simply to fill-out the rest of the tableux) and her journey towards emancipation.

The thematic and conceptual backdrop of the movie was so charged with the usual hot-button issues that it was fairly easy for the movie to slide into trite melodrama. But it didn’t. By not romanticizing caregiving, the movie avoided becoming a smarmy saccharine sonnet (awesome alliteration!!!) to caregivers. Which is refreshing, seeing as how we’ve already had one love-fest this year.

And by not taking itself too seriously and trying to feel like a gritty realistic docu-wannabe, the movie also avoided fist-pumping social commentary. After all, Sarah (the caregiver of the title) wasn’t forced to leave the country because of poverty or social inequity back home, but because of good ole’fashioned wifely devotion.

Instead, the movie chronicled Sarah’s awakening to the realization that, when she got married, she didn’t stop being a person. More than anything else, this re-emergence of self formed the centerpiece for the movie. And that’s why it speaks to audiences quite effectively.

Everyone, at some point, feels the pressure of having to be something to everyone. Mother, sister, lover. And sometimes, it can be tough to break out of that mold. Sarah found the courage to do it, and – in a very nice bit of symmetry – her strength came from the one thing that used to keep her in that mold.

Sharon Cuneta, I have to admit, became Sarah. In fact, nearly everyone in the movie seemed so comfortable in their characters’ skins that the story was able to flow smoothly; even the usually shallow Rica Peralejo imbued her character – a more experienced caregiver giving Sarah moral support – with respectable realism.

The movie was shot very well too, with dramatic angles and flourishes that I’ve never seen in Filipino movies. There was a minimum of speechifying-while-looking-off-into-the-distance, for instance, and a lot of competence in pulling off the close-ups that allowed the characters’ eyes to fill in the things the dialogue – superbly natural and unstilted – left unsaid.

Watch out for the scene where Sarah sweetly asks her husband for permission to spend a week in the country with her ward. You can tell that she’s afraid that he might say no, but was actually angling for him to say no as a kind of reassurance that there was still some connection between the two of them. When all he says is “you have to be paid more,” the pained and disappointed expression on Sarah’s face said more than any dialogue could.

Just a bit of a quibble, though. The movie was a little under done in its treatment of some themes and relationships. The situation between Sarah and her son was resolved far too easily, in my opinion, although that may have been due to the need to stay within the movie’s running time. The scene with Sarah getting semi-lost in the woods was also, to my mind, rife with possibility. To be fair however, it worked well enough in relation to the scene that followed. And the reference to Tess of the d’Urbervilles was, unfortunately, a throw-away.

All in all, tho’ Caregiver was a good movie – and one can hope that other Filipino movie makers take a close look at it before trying to make any more movies that ‘redefine’ *plo-cough-ning* Filipino cinema.

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Ploning Shmoning

Ploning sucked. Sure the marketing reflected a bit of JJ Abrams and Judd Apatow-ish sensibility in its extensive use of blogs and other wannabe viral marketing techniques (like making various versions of the Ploning logo available, making readers choose between Ploning and a leather-clad dominatrix – wtf right?; and comparing Ploning to the Mary with the Cherry), and the movie had its own website (something I’ve never really seen for local cinema) and yes, we’ve all heard about how the producers really poured production value into this thing by shooting it on 35mm film (big whoop). But despite all that – and even despite the tortured explanations of how Ploning supposedly encapsulated the various concepts of the different kinds of love – the bottom line is that, like most pretentious works, Ploning was long on atmosphere and short on plot.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: movies, pop-culture,

A question

Today, I met some friends from Cebu and they were all up in arms about something the actress Judy Ann Santos is supposed to have said in some movie. Something like, ‘teach the kid to speak tagalog, para talagang pinoy.’ Apparently, so the umbrage goes, if a person speaks any language other than tagalog, she isn’t a ‘true’ filipino. Arrant nonsense, obviously.

But then it got me to thinking: that might not have been the most politically correct thing to say, but it did ring authentic. It was something I could imagine a tagalog would say, especially in the privacy of her own home.

Let’s face it. We all have our non-p.c. moments. I’ve laughed at Visayan accents from time to time, just as my Visayan friends have rolled on the floor laughing at my attempts to mangle their language. So why criticize the actress for mouthing lines that her character would have said?

They tell me it’s because a movie is a pulpit. Things the characters do (if good) acquire the patina of acceptability and will inevitably influence some movie goers to act or feel or think the same way – such as consider a Visayan not a real Filipino.

But, I counter, that objectionable scene seems to have been a ‘record’ of a private conversation. It being a private conversation, cultural biases must be considered fair game.  Even if the bias is politically incorrect, it is authentic and as such should be reflected.

Unacceptable, they say, because of the power of the movie as a pulpit … and so on and on in a circle our arguments go. At the end of the night, we had distilled the argument to what we felt was it’s purest form: should art imitate life? Or should art deodorize life?

I think it should imitate life, warts and all. Art, particularly cinema, that is a faithful reflection of how life is forces us to accept that offensive beliefs and biases – such as bigotry – continue to exist. And when we know that these things exist, we can act to correct them or at least instruct our children not to emulate them. Cinema that does not faithfully reflect life is either escapist or just plain propaganda (like that Maharlika movie of the Marcoses).

As a matter of fact, I believe that movies where characters are unequivocally good (and therefore free of biases) or unequivocally bad tend to dichotomize the universe. As far as impressionable minds are concerned, this even increases the tendency towards bigotry.

Of course, by 11:30 pm, I was too tired to argue the point with my friends, and they were all getting hot under the collar anyway. So, I let it slide. Still, I do think the matter needs serious consideration. Cinema as a mirror of life? Or as an idealized version?

Filed under: movies, musings, , ,

Time

I had a dream that I traveled back in time and ended up killing my great-great-great-great-grandmother (quite by accident, thank you very much). In that distant time, the person great-great-great-great-grandfather fell in love with me and, apparently according to the custom of that time, boinked me without my consent. At that point, kicking and screaming, I woke up.

How could that scenario have played out?

One: I could have stayed in that distant time and eventually become my own great-great-great-great-grandmother.

Two: I could have returned to the present, a second after I had left, preggers (whoa! empty oven one second, a bun in the oven the next!!!).

Three: I could have killed myself in that distant time, thereby erasing my future great-great-great-great-grandchildren.

Weird.

But then, how could I have survived to be raped in the first place?

One: A Novikov situation, where the I was always my great-great-great-great-grandmother and the woman I killed – who I thought was my great-great-great-great-grandmother – wasn’t.

Two:  If the woman I killed was truly my great-great-great-great-grandmother, then her death spawned an entire alternate universe where I step into her shoes and have a great-great-great-great-granddaughter who isn’t me.

Three: Killing my great-great-great-great-grandmother didn’t affect the future at all.

~

on a totally unrelated note: CLOVERFIELD!

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~

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