Sunday, May 24, 2015

Film Log 5.24.2015

Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Director: Alain Guiraudie
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Poisoned love. A film that could have been penned by Patricia Highsmith. Guiraudie's use of unassimilated sex and nonchalant attitude towards it points to the loneliness that all these gay men feel. The use of a singular location, the lake, illustrates just how removed these men are from the world. Are they hiding?running away? I don't think so, or at least maybe not all of them are. All these men are so mysterious. Michel, is he a self-loathing homosexual or does he murder only when he grows tired of his lovers? So many questions. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Film Log 5.23.2015

Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

Director: John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Number of viewings: 1

Comments:Inspiring documentary about recently unknown artist Vivian Maier. The film is just as much about Maier as it is the filmmakers journey to uncover the story of the artist. The picture revels in the myth of the artist as an outsider. Maier's pictures are beautiful though. A female Robert Frank? I think so, too. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Film Log 5.22.2015

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden (2013)

Director: Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Fascinating but overlong. Too much brooding over a mystery that the filmmakers and their talking heads seem to have the answer to; even if it is just mere speculation. The use of voice actors to read the various character's diary entries was a unique touch. It felt like I was watching a radio drama, but in a good way. Need to rewatch again.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Film Log 5.21.2015

Tim's Vermeer (2013)
Director: Teller
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: The film unpretentiously disproves the myth that art and technology are separate siblings. Tim Jenison meticulously recreates not only Vermeer's The Music Lesson, but also the world that Vermeer inhabited. Is there any other superlative art documentaries out there that take the time to delve into history, art, science, and technique? I hope so. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ilo Ilo (2013)


It may not be politically correct to say this, but the Philippines greatest export to the world may be human chattel. Although there are plenty of highly educated Filipinos who immigrate to foreign countries and build very successful careers for themselves, sadly the consensus around the world about the Philippines and its people are that they are an impoverished country whose populace migrate to other far more economically abundant places to work as unskilled labor. Be it the US, Europe, Australia, or Asia no matter how many Filipinos you may find working in hospitals, schools, or running their own businesses there will be just as many or even more Filipinos working as maids, nannies, janitors, farmhands, etc. etc. And because of this it has become easy for many to treat these people as less than human. In places like Hong Kong, stories abound about Filipinos being treated worse than the family dog by their employers, and in proudly democratic countries like the US, Filipino maids are often forced to be on-call 24/7 to their host family in the hopes that maybe one day in the distant future they can get the most coveted thing of all, an immigration visa.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

DIRECTOR'S SERIES - Rian Johnson

It’s often said by respected and not-so respected writers that Generation-Y is the worst generation to come into maturity. Our never-ending need to document our lives on social platforms like Facebook, our apathy for anything that is not within our purview, and apparently the worst sin of all, the fact that we are devoid of originality and must mine the past for our much maligned hipster sub-culture. Add to that people from our parent’s generation describing Millenials in the workplace as “demanding too much and not pulling their own weight” all contribute to Generation-Y being labeled by many in the press as the Me-generation. Our only contribution to culture, if one were to pay attention to the critics, is a brand of irony leaden work that is painfully self aware, chock full of navel gazing protagonists, and endlessly referencing something far older and more obscure than the derivative final product that corporations market to us.
In the case of Rian Johnson’s film output one could superficially say that the man is merely copying and pasting familiar genre tropes onto carefully art-directed backgrounds. His debut Brick (2005) explored the harshness of high school life through the prism of film noir while his sophomore feature The Brothers Bloom (2008) utilized the much loved conman/hustler archetype to tell an idiosyncratic love story and sibling bromance. And his most current feature to date Looper (2012) melds elements of sci-fi dystopian literature with the cliché “protect the homestead” trope found in a lot of Crime dramas and Westerns.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Rigodon (2012)

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Erik Matti is a very popular mainstream filmmaker in his home country of the Philippines. The man has worked in the movie industry since the mid-1990s as a writer, director, actor, and even producer. He has embraced the tenets of commercial filmmaking and though his belief that craftsmanship and storytelling trump highfalutin ideas and delivering well-worn humanist messages these beliefs have divided the director with many Filipino cinephiles and indie filmmakers who are struggling on a day-to-day basis to complete their own films. Whether or not one espouses Matti’s viewpoint about cinema and art it’s hard to ignore the man or his work. He has slowly gained quite a lot of attention these last few years and many people, foreign and domestic, have shown support for the man’s work.
Although I have not seen a majority of Matti’s oeuvre, I must say that the attention that his films have garnered is a positive move forward for the national cinema of the Philippines. The country’s film industry has had to endure a lot of over the decades and the shadow of Hollywood has always loomed large over the entire country. What few films that emerged for viewing to foreign audiences were often noirish melodramas usually directed by men like Lino Brocka or Brillante Mendoza that showcased the squalor and moral corruption prevalent in the Philippines. Now even though a majority of the population does live well below what many in the First World would consider the poverty line a cinema that only shows the bleak and dire is a dishonest cinema. The country, its people, and its art scene are multifaceted and sometimes splintered into various sub-groups due to the various dialects spoken in the country. In fact, due to its long history as a colony, be it Spain, Japan, the US, the Philippines is an amalgam of Old World and New World influences.
As for its cinema, with the invention of DV cameras there has been a renaissance within the indie film scene there. Fueled by pioneer masters like Kidlat Tahimik, Raymond Red, and Lav Diaz young filmmakers in the Philippines are going out onto the streets, imbued with a DIY aesthetic, and starting to craft their own personal films. Sadly though, for every art-house success like Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (2011) there are mountains upon mountains of high concept but low budget arthouse pictures, poorly scripted but interesting genre fare, and head scratching contemplative films. And as highly lauded as these films are they do not make a dent in the local box office. Now of course, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Filipino that would label Erik Matti as an arthouse director but whether you love or hate him he makes profitable well-made pictures. And as South Korea has proved a solid commercial industry is the bedrock of a strong national cinema.
Rigodon is an erotic melodrama that tells the story of three flawed and emotionally damaged characters. There is Riki (John James Uy) a manipulative narcissist whose sense of self-entitlement is rivaled only by his insatiable sexual appetite. Established at the start as a Z-grade celebrity, Riki though is not a one-dimensional despicable character, he may lie and cheat but he is not driven to be bad because he is a bad character. Instead as the film unfolds we see the desperation and hunger, akin to Tony Curtis’s Sydney Falco character in Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Playing Riki’s put upon wife is Regine (Max Eigenmann), a housewife who must have had dreams of her own before meeting Riki but now is relegated to baking cupcakes for Riki’s mistresses. And finally there is Sarah (Yam Concepcion), the mistress figure in the movie and honestly the most sympathy of the three. She is young, beautiful, and worst of all desperate to give her love to whatever man is willing to take it.
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A lot of what raises the film above the level of titillation is the amount of screen time that Matti devotes to showing the inner lives of these characters, not just through expository dialogue but through quiet moments when they are just going about their day-to-day business. Though we only see one of Riki’s affairs the movie has scenes that give us clues that this man is a habitual adulterer and has plenty of secrets he’s been keeping. One of which involves a debt to a creepy spinster who commands a gang of muscle that do her bidding while she grooms her paraplegic father. As for Regine, her isolation and dependency on Riki’s erratic paychecks has forced her to consciously ignore all the signs that Riki is a total scumbag. Their marriage is broken but the thought of leaving him has never crossed her mind. In a telling scene where Regine attempts to talk to her family in Cebu, the strained expression on her face while attempting to make small talk says it all, there is no place for her other than the home she has built with Riki. She is shackled to him, emotionally and financially.
Similarly, Sarah also suffers from an overbearing male figure, but instead of it being a husband or lover it is her father, a man who cares for her but shows it by constantly questioning her judgment. Going from boyfriend to boyfriend she attempts to build something of a relationship with men but in the eyes of Sarah’s father no one is good enough for her. When she finally does break free from him she runs into the arms of Riki, hoping that this man is a far better protector and lover, but her emotional dependence on Riki eventually makes her unattractive to the man.
Aside form the love triangle Rigodon can be seen as a statement about the noive riche in the Philippines. Riki may not be a big star but he lives an upper class lifestyle. His clothes, his car, the food his family eats, and even the way he speaks is completely foreign to most Filipinos. In the Philippine language he would be described as a mestizo, a term used to describe a person who has White European ancestry. Trying to keep up with the Joneses Riki’s home life resembles an American middle class existence. He is a native foreigner, too white for Filipinos, and he is even made fun of due to the way he speaks Tagalog in an “American” accent. Regine, on the other hand, is the typical Filipina wife and mother. She keeps the house in order, takes care of her child and husband, and pretty much has no life outside of her home. She lives in a golden cage unlike Sarah whose innocence damns her at the end.
Whereas in previous years Filipinos had to leave the country to earn a decent wage and feed their family Matti’s film shows us that globalization has made the “American Dream” possible no matter what shore you land on. Rigodon is an erotic film that doesn’t just sexualize bodies writhing in ecstasy, but salaciously shows us the power that money has in masking lies as truth and sex as love.
(Originally published on January 20, 2014 at VCinema Show Podcast and Blog.)