Category: Movies

Metro Manila Film Festival 2016 blunders

There are a number of events that have undermined what is otherwise a new Metro Manila Film Festival.

First, the decision of MMFF ExeCom to pull Oro out of cinemas and strip the film off it’s Fernando Poe Jr. Memorial Award because of it’s “controversial” scene of dog killing is unthinkable in modern cinema. These narrow-minded actions hurt the industry and impedes artistic genius, creativity, and representations of truths.


Apparently the Committee’s investigation and decision came after Senator Grace Poe’s reaction that Oro may have violated the country’s animal welfare law. But, who is the production company now that will actually slaughter animals, or people for that matter in order to demonstrate a point or a message? I believe many Filipinos have seen Winter’s Bone in which Jennifer Law’s character, Ree Dolly, guts a squirrel. Did the production team actually went hunting for the animal to have it killed by the actress? Would the actress actually skin an animal? Does an actor actually rape another actor in order to tell the story? Do actors actually get stoned when acting out drug sessions? As what Oro producers maintain, they’re neither dumb nor crazy.

This Padre Damaoisic judgment of film is exactly what happens when politics that can’t solve it’s own problems overextends itself into the creative industry. Bad or dirty is perceived where there’s none. This is also why, in the region, South Korea and India have overtaken this country in the production of world class film and TV drama.

I don’t believe the Senator’s late father, the well-loved actor FPJ for whom the Memorial Award is named, himself toting and firing guns like the devil not because he loves killing but it’s for his Wild West-type characters, would’ve approved Poe’s statement. The Senator, if she’s at all mindful of possibly unjust publicity for Oro could’ve looked quietly into the veracity of her claim first. But, again, hers is a moot claim. When did acting during filming become real?

One of the first surprises in the new year is the President’s appointment of singer-turned-blogger Mocha Uson (who has received much flak for having campaigned for the President) to the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). If only to inject out-of-the-box thinking into the Board which is also known for it’s medieval views of film, then, good!

Second, limited provincial screenings. I couldn’t believe that Baguio City, a university town, has not screened. Did MMFF think there’s only the SM cinema house? On the other hand, SM the only big-capacity cinema in town where you can watch in comfort and peace and not be distracted at whether or not the air you’re breathing in is chemical-laden, or cockroaches and rats are playing about your feet did not screen perhaps because of an anticipated low turnout. But, to be fair, government or the film festival’s committee cannot just compel businesses to host these events without offering mutually beneficial terms that are agreed upon in advance. SM after all is not put up as a charitable or cultural organization. In any case, the poor management of Festival events in the provinces mirrors the woeful state of arts outside of the Metro even in cities such as Baguio which claims it is home to artists and the Cordillera culture.

Third, timing. Holding of the Festival during the Christmas and New Year holidays is counterproductive. At this time, people are hosting and attending parties, brooding over gifts, preparing food, and getting frazzled from all that activity. Going to the cinema especially for festival type films is far from their minds unless there’s compelling reason to do so. And, truthfully, merely telling people to “go out and support Philippine cinema” is not enough a motivation.

In Baguio City, if the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio (HRAB) perhaps in behalf of the City could organize attendance of artists ala red carpet style and promotional interactions with the public eg. sit-down autograph signing, and bring in sponsors to do flowing champagne on New Year’s eve screenings – because why not? – then people have reason to step out of their houses. F-e-s-t-i-v-a-l, you know?

Organization of MMFF in past years has defined how film festival is understood that is in the literal sense- festival as in many. Numerous films and nothing else although why expect more when it’s the Metro Manila film festival?

Fourth, when did festival type films align with blockbusters? So then media need to stop putting out reports of “box office updates of highest grossing films” during the MMFFs. Festival type films are intended to showcase the art and methods of storytelling and to sensitize viewers to that art form. Think of Salvador Dali’s art. Imagine the conversations to be had about one. If Filipino film goers could cultivate that sensitivity, it could then be said we are advancing in culture. We don’t have to go to Paris or New York to talk or learn about advanced filmmaking. We create those right here.

Change in mindsets about film festivals particulary the MMFF is needed. That change has to first happen in government relative to it’s role as regulator and promoter, the film industry’s institutions as protector and facilitator, and media as shaper of viewer’s minds and tastes. But we have to do it quickly. It’s already the 21st century.

Kdrama initiation

I’ve been exploring the new Viu app- it’s truly all Korean stuff. Kdrama, a dizzying array of it, as well as Klifestyle features. Nothing in the drama section was familiar to me. When you say Korean, I say Samsung because my gadgets are which is more a conscious effort on my part to buy from within the region. Kcosmetics I know as well, of course. Who’s the gal into make-up that doesn’t? And, oh, ESL, because they’re here mostly for that. And, don’t forget, Kfood- bibimbap, kimchi which are staples on my table. Come to think of it, I’m pretty K loaded!

My familiarity of Korean doesn’t extend to the country’s entertainment and creative industry though. But, wait. I did know F4 if that’s at all related. From when the band toured here and Filipinos went totally insane (I believe that’s about when the KPop wave also came to stay for good here). Me, I went gaga over Wonder Girls’ upbeat Nobody. I remember that I worked from our office library (nobody went in there to actually read) just so I could shut the door and wallow in the song in the background. One afternoon, the Director found me there. I thought he looked a bit jangled but also bemused. His image of me didn’t quite match with that me. And, yes, Gangnam Style by the artist Psy- for a while there, it rivalled the national anthem as the most played music during school programs here. Beyond these, I draw a blank.

In Viu, I tapped on a show at random just to see how it plays in the app. And, surprise, sutprise, I didn’t want to stop until after the final episode! Ha!

My Girl has a straightforward story line ie. it didn’t try to get more and more people and histories in in an attempt to make it sophisticated, which I like. The reason I can’t sustain my attention for TV drama is because unlike movies in which I’m able to know the beginning and end in one sitting, TV plots branch out into intricate sub-plots that could stretch into six years! I admire the imagination put into that but I simply don’t want to be entertained by the same thing that long. So anyway. Sixteen episodes of this refreshing fast-paced series went by like a breeze. I found out afterwards that the show was shown years ago- 2005. That long! I also had no inkling who the actors are only that they were right for their roles. I looked them up on the Net afterwards. I was impressed. Even blacks in the US are diggin’ into K artists! Also, the leading man who looked like a young Keanu had actually come to visit after his huge following here “petitioned” a media company to sponsor! I watched his appearance on Wowwowee- the reactions! I totally understand it though. I felt the same in my time when Menudo first toured Manila. The screaming and everything. Embarassing in retrospect but such is life. For fans. What I don’t get is paparazzi, attention to the point of making another person feel violated and fearful.

I’m sure there were plenty of reviews about the drama, and though much belated here’s mine in the form of what I’ve taken away from watching it:

  1. My girl may appear to refer to just Yoo Rin in relation to Gong Chan, but in totality, it’s also about the other girls around them- Syeo-hyun to Gong Chan, Gong Chan’s grandfather toward his granddaughter(s), Yoo Rin to Jung-woo, Gong Chan’s maiden aunt to Mr. Jang, Gong Chan’s assistant to Yoo Rin’s friend’s brother. While the story focuses on Yoo Rin’s and Gong Chan’s love story, several other love stories are happening close by. And if airports, snow, and view from the top are symbolic of the ties that bind Yoo Rin and Gong Chan, the others have their own too. These provide interesting depth and variety.

  2. True friends are worth more than any gold. Yoo Rin’s two friends stuck by her no matter what. It’s to them that she could be honest. Their friendship is her lifeline to a normal world. After them, Jung-woo is the first stranger who sees her despite her lies. Gong Chan who was not a friend at first had to go through a kind of purging in orde to see her and ironically become her most important friend.

  3. We grow to love those who we make memories with. And, it goes without saying that we cannot do this in absentia. Two years of memories were what Gong Chan and his girlfriend lost during the time she was away. And, before both are able to make up for lost time another equally irresistible being has already physically moved in and occupied a significant portion of that gap. It’s hard to fight that kind of advantage, as what Syeo-hyun learns in the end and accepts: I thought I lost to a girl named Yoo Rin but I actually lost to love. Same with Jung-woo who failing in a final bid to get to Yoo Rin admits, why can’t I see what’s in front of me? Heartbreaking both realizations, yes, but I guess that’s what it means by all’s fair in love– sometimes it’s really about who gets there at the right time first.

  4. Fifty Shades’ what is it with elevators? apparently wasn’t the first. But, joking aside, the drama’s many elevator scenes drove home the point that elevators are film-worthy sites on their own.

  5. Last but not least, the soundtracks. I love them! KPop has some similarity with Cambodia’s which I was introduced to by a shop owner in Phnom Penh from whom I bought my first mp3 player. They loaded it with their music, free of charge “because you’re Filipino”. Ah, that’s music to our ears!

The most awkward and amusing scene for me is when the girl, stealing oranges from Gong Chan’s orchard, is caught redhanded by the man himself, and before that, received payment from the same man after he drove right on and squashed some of the oranges that fell on the road. She had been selling the fruits as well as the jams she prepared from them. Homeless, she had been living in his vacation house she had broken into. She knew of the house from when Gong Chan hired her to interpret for his business partners who he took to his Jeju Island estate. There, she discovered that he has an orchard filled with ripe oranges that nobody seemed to care about. Imagine meeting your future spouse under bizarre circumstances! But there you go!

Lessons through the Looking Glass

This sequel to Alice in Wonderland has been met with unflattering reviews, the common ones being it’s lack of narrative and emotional depth. Essentially, more form i.e. the CGI effects than substance. My kids and I loved it regardless.

Some of the themes I picked up from the story:

  1. The challenges of being a woman in a man’s world circa 1850s. A wealthy man uses his power to undermine a capable woman. This based on personal vindication i.e. after having been rejected by the woman. Mia’s character is quick to recognize this as she accuses her former suitor, “this isn’t about China…”;
  2. Childhood traumas e.g. parental rejection and sibling betrayal play a critical role in shaping the characters’ future selves. As adults, the desire and yearning for a resolution unconsciously color decisions and actions. In the case of the Red Queen the resolution she had been waiting for was simply an apology from her younger sister the White Queen. When the White Queen finally did and the Red Queen accepted it, the moment is a revelation of the truth: to forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you;
  3. Pride and it’s terrible and far-reaching consequences. The characters – Red Queen, Mad Hatter – have a falling out with their families and since then have thought the worse of them. They discovered much later this is misplaced. But not without first becoming a bit of monsters to others;
  4. Loyalty and sacrifice in friendship. How a true friend will go all the way for a friend in need.

Toward the close of the movie, Mia’s character, parting with Mad Hatter who she says she might never see again, reaffirms that “every day is a gift, every hour, every minute, every second.” Indeed.

Weekend movies: The Danish Girl

Gerda, played by Alicia Vikander (who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for this movie), is finishing a painting of an opera singer and asks her husband, Einar, played by Eddie Redmayne, to stand in for the sitter, Anna, played by Amber Heard. Einar puts on the dress and stockings and shoes, in the process Gerda unwittingly unleashes Einar’s transformation:

Einar could concentrate only on the silk dressing his skin, as if it were a bandage. Yes, that was how it felt the first time: the silk was so fine and airy that it felt like a gauze – a balm-soaked gauze lying delicately on healing skin. Even the embarrassment of standing before his wife began to no longer matter, for she was busy painting with a foreign intensity in her face. Einar was beginning to enter a shadowy world of dreams where Anna’s dress could belong to anyone, even to him.

This is the point in the story when Einar begins his transformation into the woman, Lili Elbe.

But how far, in the name of love, would Gerda go in her marriage with Einar/Lili? While Einar’s sex change may be the obvious focus, the film, tender and emphatic in it’s rendition, is essentially about exploring with the couple what is it that makes a marriage a marriage.

The movie is an adaptation of the rather tragic story of real life Danish artist couple Gerda and Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe in the 1920s. Accordingly, Einar/Lili was among the first to go under the knife in order to complete his physical transformation into a woman.

Weekend movies: When Marnie Was There

Possibly the last from Studio Ghibli, the movie, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, mirrors the Studio’s own– of coming to terms with one’s past at the same time of moving forward.

We find a young girl, Anna, the story’s central character, having an attack of asthma after she’s bullied in school. We can see why she’s singled out. She’s “different”– quiet, solitary, a sad air about her, and always on her sketchpad. At the clinic, the doctor informs Anna’s foster mother that asthma could be triggered by stressful events. Worried about their daughter’s increasing passivity – she’s not as talkative as before – her foster parents send her to the province to spend the summer with relatives, hoping that the fresh air and change of environment will cure whatever’s ailing her.

There, we behold a familiar landscape– Hayao Miyazaki‘s trademark design of nature: windswept yet harmonious, and poignant in it’s beauty. Just looking at the scenery makes me want to cry, from a place of loss my reference being my own City.

On an errand for her Aunt, Anna came to a deserted manor she immediately felt drawn to. She discovers strange things inside the place. Best of all, she got to be friends with Marnie, the spunky young girl of the manor. Marnie isn’t what she appears to be. But Anna is oblivious to that because for the first time in her life she has made a friend who like her is also desperate for one.

Fantasy and reality seamlessly fuse so that one wonders if Marnie is merely a projection borne of Anna’s desire for connection. Nonetheless, their friendship brings Anna out of her shell. But just as Anna is beginning to enjoy being friends with another, Marnie fails her in a moment of need.

Anna gets sick to the point that she undergoes a catharsis. She remembered how she came to be an orphan and how she eventually ended up with her foster parents. And in a moment of shocking revelation, she remembered who Marnie really was.

But she has not forgotten Marnie’s betrayal. As soon as she was able to, Anna went down to the manor and called Marnie out on it. Marnie finally appears, tells Anna why she left her, and asked for Anna’s forgiveness. Anna tells Marnie, of course she forgives her because she loves her.

This, and having reconciled with circumstances surrounding her real parents’ demise and her connection to the real Marnie, enabled Anna to also forgive and accept her foster parents. At the close of the movie, we see a new Anna, happy, and bonding with her adopted mother. We are assured she’ll be able to make friends when she goes back to school.

I watched the movie with my kids. My eldest daughter and I cried. My youngest looked at each of us– why are the two of you crying?  Because…of Marnie, replied the older.

Weekend movies: Crimson Peak

I’ve never watched a horror movie in my entire life. My imagination is such that what’s already horrific or gory on screen becomes a hundred times more in my mind. I won’t be able to sleep for days, agitated over what smells like a cadaver in bed with me.  Or, to look at myself in the mirror without expecting an appearance of a half-bitten face staring back at me. So no horror films for me.

Exception: Crimson Peak.

The film I learned is not a ghost story per se, but of the gothic romance genre. Think: Wuthering Heights. That, and for me I readily associate the genre to Victoria Holt whose books I diligently collected in college.

With work I’m not readily familiar with, I browse up on interviews first and if I like what I hear I go ahead and watch the film. In an interview that Google Talks hosted, director Guillermo del Toro (of Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim fame) mentioned that much of the unhappiness in the supporting characters, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), and his sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) is a result of bad parenting and that if children up to 10 or 12 years old are parented well there’d be less problems in the world.

Familiar words. That is the rationale behind early childhood care and development (ECCD). But what exactly did del Toro refer to as unhappiness in the characters? Who are these characters? And why Crimson Peak? The only way I’d know is to watch the film.

I did and I’m blown away.

The story is set circa 1901 in winter, a perpetual winter it seems. We come to Allerdale Hall it’s grandiose and foreboding dark frame contrasting sharply with the pristine vast whiteness that is Crimson Peak. I don’t know why but when the estate is first shown ‘gulag‘ was the first thing that popped out of my head. When I was a child, I watched a couple of films which featured the gulag in Siberia and what stayed in my memory is the landscape– white bleakness everywhere and nothing warm anywhere. The camp, the only protrusion in the landscape, is not fortified because administrators are confident that the harsh elements of the place will do it’s job: deter prisoners from making an escape. Allerdale Hall in the wilderness of Cumberland, England evokes the same response: the residents are deterred from leaving it.

Crimson Peak

What adds to the oddity of the place is clay, which percolates out of everywhere. It’s color, crimson red, jumps out at you because on the snowy white grounds it’s like spilled blood. A lot of blood.

Thomas Sharpe makes it his duty to continue mining the clay as is his inheritance but with a more efficient machine. An engineer, he spends his days inventing this ideal machine.

The residents leave the Hall only when they go in search for “prospects” in the world’s cities.  In Buffalo, New York, the siblings find a wealthy builder in the person of Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). This wealthy builder has an only child, a daughter, Edith (Mia Wasikowska), a budding writer who is unmarried at the time. Women single her out for remaining unattached but Edith doesn’t let herself be bullied.

Mrs. McMichael (mother to Edith’s suitor): She’s our very own Jane Austen. She died an old maid, didn’t she?

Edith: Actually, I’d rather be Mary Shelly. She died a widow.

Soon after, Edith meets Sir Thomas. To the audience and Edith’s father he appears waxen and a bit off, more like Edward Cullen’s sinister-looking non-vegan cousin. But Edith doesn’t see that. She is smitten. Failing to get Mr. Cushing’s financial backing on his invention, Sir Thomas nevertheless had Edith’s heart. And after the sudden and tragic death of her father, she happily married the English baronet.

The newly-weds leave Edith’s New York for Crimson Peak where their shaky romance is threatened by the horrible secrets of the Hall revealed in stages to Edith with some help from apparitions she’s able to see (I skimmed through the parts where ghosts appear) and at first terrified by. And in keeping with the spirit of goth romance the two female characters, Edith and Lucille, set themselves up in an unspoken bid for the man’s attention and care hence a place in the house, their clash representative of the war between right and wrong, good and evil. This arc is kept up between the two until the ending.

Meanwhile, in Buffalo, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), Edith’s long-time suitor, with help from the Cushing family’s solicitor, had pieced together the puzzle of the Sharpe siblings’ sudden appearance in their circle, Mr. Cushing’s sudden death afterward, and Edith’s sudden marriage. Armed with the incriminating proof, he rushes to Crimson Peak hoping he’s not too late.

Rotten Tomatoes classified the film as ‘horror’ and if you watch it expecting just ghosts, violence, and screaming which is the commercialized form of ‘horror’ by the way you’ll be disappointed because really the story’s much more than this commercialized definition. Edith tells her editor that her mention of ghosts in her story is a “metaphor of the past”, a past, we discover, that’s filled with all manner of horrors i.e. abuse and neglect, incest, murder. We discover that the real horror is not those creepy apparitions but that of the human being’s capacity for the most terrible of actions and the most twisted of emotions; to become monsters.

It is a many-layered story and essentially explores within the religious and social context of that period personal baggages resulting from damaged childhoods as distinctively experienced by either gender alongside complexities of human emotions particularly love and dis/connectedness– why do I do what I do? how did I become who I am? what is suffering and must I suffer? what connects me to another human being? to my natural and physical environment? why do I meet who I do? why do I love as I do? what divides love from monstrosity? what do I fear? why do I fear what I fear? what is right? what is wrong? when is right wrong? when is wrong right? is there such a duality? are there ghosts? life after death? karmic justice? redemption?

To be able to weave all these without watering down on cinematic entertainment and creative representation speaks of genuine and rare talent. The only sad part is that the film, it’s director, and cast did not get a more enthusiastic response it deserves from the public and awards bodies.

The Night Manager: Angela Burr

In the book, enforcement agency head Burr is a man, Leonard. In the TV series, Burr is Angela played by Olivia Colman.

The woman lives for one thing: to bring down arms dealer Roper. Such focus and intensity is driven home on screen by a heavily pregnant Burr. Angela’s faced with betrayal and lack of support from the bullies at the establishment and the resulting stress and weariness are seen on her face and weary bodily movements. Each time I watched her stressing out, I feared her waters would break. But thank goodness it doesn’t. That’s when audiences realize that beneath the seeming fragility is someone made of stronger stuff.

Although she is part of this sort of boys club and world of espionage by working for the government, she hasn’t got many friends in this world because she is resolutely honest – and that has really annoyed some of her slightly dodgier comrades.

She has been…desperately trying to get funds to do what she thinks is right. I love that she never seems to compromise and won’t be bullied. 

She finds in Jonathan Pine, the hotel night manager, commonality in values and promptly recruits him. In the book, Burr, having headhunted Pine, goes the extra mile to take good care of his recruit. So does Angela, like one mother toward her child. Even when everybody she trusts feared Pine had crossed to the other side or playing for both, she went with her gut and continued to believe in him. This arc is what makes this book of Le Carre’s unique. In his other books and other books on espionage, operations go awry because recruits are discredited and dropped off mid-ops by their recruiters. But, Burr

…she’s put him in this dangerous situation and she’ll do anything to make sure he’s OK.

angela burr the night manager

Overall, I liked that a woman took on the role of Burr. And that the miniseries producers were OK with a powerful woman being pregnant. It sends out the message that women, pregnant or not, in highly-demanding and challenging work such as in intelligence bring to it the same level of dedication, skill, and knowledge as do her male counterparts PLUS the add-ons that only women could provide.

*Source: The Night Manager’ interview: Olivia Colman on playing Angela Burr, Cultbox