If Boon Joon-ho’s films were people, then Snowpiercer (2013) can suck this one dry. Memories of Muder (2003) is the shit.
Now, back to a friendlier, more substantial writing about film on the next post…
It was the year in which I have outed myself as a frustrated rap-loving asian kid (firstly and mostly because my roommate will never let a day pass by without listening and singing along to her perpetually-cussing idols; and secondly, lastly maybe, because I have found a friend in a very white asian rapper kid, whose debut mixtape Intentions & Inventions is charming as it is badass, for lack of a better word), the year in which I let myself loose in Today x Future when a Lorde track was included in a DJ’s playlist, and the year in which almost all the music I was listening to was music I subtly grooved to during train rides, danced to when I was left alone inside my room, and shouted along to in the concert grounds of my shower.
It was the year of committed listening sessions, an activity first prescribed by my Film Theory professor, which I thought was very much appropriate and needed–and would, say, Laura Marling‘s Once I Was An Eagle be as impressive if not for its packaging as a storybook album? It was the year I listened to so much Best Coast that I ended up constantly stalking Bethany Consentino’s social media accounts. It’s where I came across this particular Sky Ferreira line (“You put my faith back in boys“), in Consentino’s sporadic Twitter account, which led me to my most loved album for 2013.
It was the year where I listened to a lot of female voices and perspectives (what’s new? haha), a year where I saw the comeback of past acts I’ve come to love growing up (New Paramore! New Fall Out Boy! New Arctic Monkeys!), the year I stopped attending gigs (excepting those times I went out to see the cutesy foursome Ourselves the Elves). It was the year of Miley Cyrus alright; and then, at one swift turn by the nearing end of 2013, suddenly becoming the year of Beyoncé and “the visual album”. It was the year I dropped Katy Perry and Lady Gaga from my iTunes, and the year My Bloody Valentine mightily surprised everyone with their brilliant sophomore effort.
Also, it’s the first year I could easily come up with a list like this, so it must be a special year for my music-listening self. So anyway, here they are, the stuff I listened to in 2013 worth mentioning:
ALBUMS I VERY MUCH LOVED:
Night Time, My Time
It’ll Be Alright
Ourselves the Elves
Trouble Will Find Me
Autre Ne Veut
My Bloody Valentine
The Bones of What You Believe
ALBUMS I ALSO LIKED:
TRACKS I VERY MUCH LOVED:
1. “Ribs” Lorde
The drink you spilled all over me / Lover’s Spit left on repeat
2. “Instant Crush (Feat. Julian Casablancas)” Daft Punk
I got this picture of us kids in my head / And all I hear is the last thing that you said
3. “Pink Rabbits” The National
You didn’t see me I was falling apart / I was the television version of a person with a broken heart
4. “I Don’t Know How” Best Coast
I’ve been in trouble / I’ve been let down / But please tell me now / You’re sticking around
5. “XO” Beyonce
In the darkest night hour / I’ll search through the crowd / Your face is all that I see / I’ll give you everything / Baby love me lights out
6. “New Slaves” Kanye West
You see there’s leaders and there’s followers / But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower
7. “I Wanna Be Yours” Arctic Monkeys
Secrets I have held in my heart / Are harder to hide than I thought / Maybe I just wanna be yours
8. “Latch (Feat. Sam Smith)” Disclosure
Now I got you in my space / I won’t let go of you
9. “Hold On, We’re Going Home (Feat. Majid Jordan)” Drake
I’ve got my eyes on you / You’re everything that I see / I want your hot love and emotion endlessly
10. “You Don’t Love Me, It’s Okay” Juan Miguel Severo
You don’t love me / Sometimes it’s not okay / But I love you, I love you / So I love you anyway
11. “Mirrors” Justin Timberlake
The vacancy that sat in my heart / Is a space that now you hold
12. “Adore You” Miley Cyrus
Wondering where you’ve been all my life / I just started living
13. “Closer” Tegan and Sara
It’s not just all physical / I’m the type who won’t get oh so critical / So let’s make things physical / I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical
14. “Open Eye Signal” Jon Hopkins
15. “Chloroform” Phoenix
I don’t like it if you miss me / Why would I long for you?
TRACKS I ALSO LIKED:
1. Pitik-Bulag, dir. by Chad de Guzman
There is a resonance of pure terror from the calculated tactic of Chad de Guzman’s storytelling in Pitik-Bulag, simple as it is complex in its one-long-take succinctness. It is able to let its dire set-up unbreathe until its last fuse lets its smoky steam spark up fire on that final image of a smile–at once both a relief and a source of genuine fear.
Everything else works noticingly. The correlated choreography of both camera and performance, all too natural for it to never feel a slight budge, or an accidental slip perhaps, from the overall gnawing tension the film exudes. It owes much to the performances of Ross Pesigan, who elicits the momentous sidestep of innocence, suddenly lost in him, in that single nuance of a gesture; and Jun Quintana, most especially, for not having just worn a mask to excellently portray the lecturing brother, but altogether sheds skin and blood to stitch a new face to his own, and how the transformation is apparent. (4/5)
2. Oras ng Paglisan, dir. by Ian Bondoc
How to translate into image the dirty mechanics of separation? You’d somehow remember Asgar Farhadi’s A Separation, a loud-mouthed film it begins, and yet goes on only to possess quite a restraint that manages to subdue emotions, trickle them down until they dissipate suddenly into your own, as if being hit by a piece of stone unaware. Ian Bondoc’s Oras ng Paglisan is entirely another story, but adheres to the same intentions–what result, what consequence, after this separation?
Thus, it begins: annulment papers approached by the camera with a closeness as to speculate, but not enough to fully comprehend. And it goes on: pure speculation, never enough comprehension. The subtle camerawork distancing itself to let the geography of this otherworldly terrain speak for itself–as if this journey towards separation demands the spiritual excess inhabited in the most silent of gestures exchanged and received. The breathing space of each character–between husband & wife, and between parent & son–allows us to penetrate further, but again only at a level of subjectivity rather than the exacting preciseness of ‘what is’.
What is, then? Where Farhadi’s A Separation begins does Ian Bondoc’s Oras ng Paglisan ends–at once, the seeming final confrontation, but in real terms, only what begins the difficult trek towards the peak of the permanent severance of ties. (4/5)
3. Sanguine, dir. by Koji Arboleda
When to decide that the formula of plot becomes immaterial, and the power which the image holds, its grand substitute? In Koji Arboleda’s dark fairytales, such as his current one aptly entitled Sanguine (perhaps to mean bloody rather than hopeful, optimistic), the female form once again takes the shape of sadness and becomes it, and only it. The image that opens the film is that of a forest queen, perhaps its immaculate spirit caretaker, a fairy in disguise, in use of a human cloak. And her, in frustrated anguish, committing the act of murder.
Such powerful imagery that begins it, then follows through every scene unfailingly, until it turns full circle, comes around explaining the reason behind such savagery from the beautiful tropical enchantress. The overuse of cut-to-blacks becomes a device–here are flashes of moments after moments, as if a series of still photographs are suddenly enchanted the power to be in motion. The forest here is a dreary landscape, even a tad bit reminiscent of Bela Tarr’s dark universes.
The strength here is the power of the image. As we follow the twists and turns of a young traveller who finds his way to his imminent end, there exists the perfect rhythm of image and black, image and black, as if enclosed in them the impending doom that leads nowhere but to flashes of pitch black nothingness. (4/5)
4. Project Weekling, dir. by JM Jamisola
JM Jamisola’s Project Weekling tells about a weakling’s weakling heart, and how suddenly the weakling has some sort of a eureka moment, that in a week he tries to become a weakling no more by wooing the girl of his dreams. The girl whose pictures are scattered like a humongous scrapbook page on his bedside wall. The girl who is offered an altar inside his closet, complete with lighted red candles. That girl, we all have that girl–or better yet, that person.
Project Weekling is amazing because in its ordinariness and how it seems like an already supposed to be overridden cliche that it captures the essence of what it decides to tell, with of course the perfect wit and heart for its achy, hearty narrative. And in that final sequence, with that touch of pure silence and all ordinary (and yet, suddenly all too extraordinary) imagery of what it means to be delighted by the simplest of gestures–that you suddenly get it. That JM Jamisola gets it, and gets it pretty well. (3.5/5)
5. Dalaga Na Si Audrey, dir. by Baschia Mariano
Here is another narrative which pries on the youth who discovers love (maybe even for the first time), and rediscovers its idea only to misunderstand her whole notion of it in the end. A straightforward charm Baschia Mariano’s Dalaga Na Si Audrey has, with a fairly memorable lead character to boot.
The title implies–or rather, announces–that Audrey has blossomed into a full grown woman, and how? That it deals with the necessities of heartbreak that we get a clue as to how Audrey comes of age. Full of it is Audrey facing the consequences of her silly misconceptions, and thus, the need for that realization. Working on the conventions of romantic comedies, the film exudes the confidence of a work that is fully realized from every bit of dialogue down to the precise detail of a guitar strum note. Which helps it pull itself up and differentiate it a bit from the usual romantic flick–funnily enough, it owns moments that are disjoints of whatever formula is known to exist. In a way. (3/5)
6. Umami, dir. by Robert Sarmiento
Hyperlink cinema is tied up, most usually, to existentialist cinema; in Robi Sarmiento’s Umami, the tied-up lives are a bunch of messes, but both an ironic and hilarious bunch they could happen to be. The three main characters the film delves into can all be familiar caricatures: 1) the probinsiyano in Manila; 2) the transexual byukon queen; 3) the poor kid snatcher. But what is admirable in Umami is its attempt to inject depth on these character moulds, and turn them into real people with real lives and real problems.
Real people with real lives and real problems they become, and how their unknowing interactions create such a mystical insight on our interconnectedness as human beings. The mighty do fall, and sometimes, the mighty all fall together. In this case, they all sit down and have a break at life with a delicious bowl of kanto mami. (3/5)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Mumblecore expert. Unlike my friend, who regularly writes about them in her film blog, Audrey Rouget. Before Drinking Buddies there was only one Joe Swanberg feature I’ve seen–Hannah Takes the Stairs, made six years back, in 2007 when the boom of digital cinema was yet to be fully experienced and maximized by independent filmmakers. While Hannah banks on the undeniable talent of Greta Gerwig to forward interest after painstakingly messy scene after another, Drinking Buddies looks like a better rehearsal piece for Swanberg’s gimmicky scene-by-scene improv stint. Quite disastrously so.
For in Hannah, the jerky handycam cinematography is better interplay with the dry casualness of the characters’ everyday humdrum. In Drinking Buddies, where quite an effort in its photography is infused, does this instance become problematic. That it looks nothing like its early film-predecessors, but exactly like how any other American indie romcom would, that it poses a problem for Swanberg’s long-time technique. None of his vision, I’m greatly assuming, translates well to the final product.
In many ways, Drinking Buddies is, after all, still a prettier (for lack of a better term) yet still familiar picture, playing by the same mechanized elements of Swanberg’s previous works. How it is about the intricacies of relationships and an eventual probability of decoupling caused by inexplainable dissatisfactions. From what?–is the proper question, when everything shown is pure surface and facade. Inside the premises of a beer-making factory do these narratives begin to potentially intersect–rightfully so, when two couples begin to swap partners in an infinitely lackadaisical trip to the woods. And so.
Drinking Buddies is, palpably enough, a trite reimagination of the Mumblecore convention–specifically the Swanberg formula, where our slightly manic, sometimes-pixie dreamgirl whooshes off her current romance for another possible one. In this one, Olivia Wilde, as the self-destructive casual drunk, the caricature of tease. And the men that envelop around her tiring aura–especially Anna Kendrick’s boyfriend, revelling in the intoxication of unexciting sin. (2/5)
May Dinadala, dir. by Gian Abrahan
For it is in the comfort of one’s own culture that narratives as confident and multi-dimensional as this — Gian Abrahan’s May Dinadala — that they are created and tested, as in iron to its brandished heat, to perfection. And that to attain closeness towards perfection is said to be a task left for the wise and masterful, yet here is Gian Abrahan, whose knowledge of the craft and the possession of a discipline in film is much to be excepted by the aforementioned prejudiced, ageist notion.
That May Dinadala is about weight, above all, do I strictly put at the heart of this writing the subjective and connotative resonances of the word. Weight as ‘presence of mass’ — a wife whose womb is her own weight, a husband whose intangible guilt is his own, and of an elemental, whose forbidden love is its own. And there are so much to be said: how, in instances where the black-faced creature holds a supposed absence does the husband, powerfully portrayed by Gary Lim, acknowledge its presence–something that inhabits space and possesses mass. Again, weight, on the pressure of parenthood, of a child whose unknowing presence is most known to its parents — to the husband, weight as burden; to the wife, weight as mere nature of carrying.
And so, to tie up everything is where the mastery is elicited — from the interplay of Philippine folklore and the universality of infidelity and marriage woes, to the way the visuals extend to, say, a subtle exchange between man and man-creature, the evidences of queer existence, and, at last, the termination of vows by birthing the possibility of flight. (5/5)
Grand Gestures, dir. by Kim Alcoreza
Here is a film that owns up, and owes much, to its own grand heart. Here, at its center, is a genuine storyteller able to handle the demands of a strictly sensitive backdrop — of a midget who manages a hair salon, whose kumpadres are men dressed in playful, tight skirts and whose apple of the eye is a perky icon-obsessed lass with a charming, upbeat character.
When the film nears its closing and, not to mention, lovely conclusion, there is a certain familiarity in the way this story is told. Kim Alcoreza’s Grand Gestures is a tale of a painstakingly honest visual ode to the queer and the odd, championed by the film’s notion of much warranted acceptance. That it is okay to be this and that, and that, after all, how cheesy it may be to mention, that love conquers all. (4/5)
Asan Si Lolo Me?, dir. by Sari Estrada
There is a goat, instead of an elephant, in the room in the household of this grieving family, who all just lost their beloved Lolo Me. For this narrative to operate on its own terms, the device is ‘to disguise’ and let reality wear an absurd mask, and to let the audience suspend their disbelief because this is real, and it’s actually happening.
Another deceit is to prolong the actual deceit. We follow the narrative and acknowledge all its truths as universal truths — how else can we exact an explanation as complex as death to the ears of a child still innocent from the world’s harsher truths but through the guise of parables? Thus, the heart of Sari Estrada’s Asan Si Lolo Me?, resides in its childlike sensibilities, that we experience a family’s grief by vicariously seeing all this happen through a child’s eye. The camera lectures us a lesson on the maturation of the old, and the ironic wisdom of the young’s mind.
Towards the end, the presented alteration of reality distances the audience in a swift turn of things. Its curtain call, an affirmation that this is, after all, just cinema. But not just – but good cinema at that. (4/5)
Maliw, dir. by Rob Jara
Rob Jara’s Maliw extends the length of its narrative – while for some, unnecessarily so – to an exacting quietude, requiring the patience of its audience to elicit its eventual merits. It is, however, justified by its chosen subject matter — victims of the Martial Law era — that its pace is slowed down to a point, and at once, magnifies the nuances of the lives it carefully dissects. (3.5/5)
Hey Joe, dir. by Jacques Palami
This triptych piece by Jacques Palami offers its own perspective on the Joe’s that reside alongside us in our own streets and cities, with a visual and storytelling flair that is reminiscent of American indie comedies. Three unrelated narratives intercut together, they work as not a singular story but as general ideas personified by the three main leads. The Joe that gets disadvantaged by scheming Pinoys, the Joe who intimidates the people around him, and the Joe who is being acquainted by the upside of this city in this country. (3/5)
Maybe it does happen — a lone cinema in its quietude of unseen shambles, is where ghosts reside. Maybe it is resting place, or maybe it is the idea of rest personified in the absence of a human audience inside a rundown theater. The film being screened is the legendary King Hu’s Dragon Inn, but anyway, who is watching?
“Do you know this theater is haunted?” says a fellow male cruiser to another. “This theater is haunted,” he reiterates, as if to punctuate emphasis. “Ghosts.”
And maybe this is why, why people refuse the experience of the cinema inside its territory, because of the ghosts that linger in every empty seat. Maybe it is why, why people have stopped seeing movies the way movies should be seen.
Here, Tsai Ming-Liang captures the breathing space of absence — the long takes framed in uncomfortable angles so as to allow observation in the fine, quiet stillness of motion. Here is the parable of a lethargic cinematic culture — the audience is tired, the movies demand no reaction. In its unbearable sentimentality we ease our way towards the inevitable closing of — what? an entire generation of movies never to be seen? — what could be any cinema theater, in any anonymous city, in any part of this country, or probably anywhere in the whole expanse of this world.
If there is nothing to be told, let it be seen. Here, we see the machination of curtain call. The crippled lady attendant is watching the projectionist. The projectionist is a question, a mystery — who is he watching? The male cruisers are watching other male cruisers. Who is watching the film inside this moviehouse? Only ghosts. Only these ghosts.