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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mundane History (2009, Anocha Suwichakornpong)

A quiet and visceral look into the relationship of two men in a house devoid of soul and nurture, Mundane History shows just that: lives trapped in routine, bounded by secret aspirations told through dreams and soliloquy. Most of the action depends on the so-called desires of these two men. Ake, a boy paralyzed from the waist down, dreamt of becoming a director. Pun, the sleep-talking nurse tasked to look after Ake, wanted to become a writer, but ultimately settled in his current profession.

If not for my fault of steering clear of any material that talks about director Anocha Suwichakornpong’s movie prior to watching—with labels “art house” and “experimental” plastered all over, enough to make me think twice—I might have avoided it.  But running at a modest 80 minutes, the film is neither boring nor overwhelming. Its deliberate slow-paced nature steers the humdrum lives of Ake and Pun through a non-linear manner of storytelling similar to Jerrold Tarog’s Sana Dati. Scenes involve jumping from one part of the characters’ relationship to another, but unlike Tarog’s, Mundane’s use of the style emphasizes just how monotonous Ake and Pun’s lives are. If not for the colors of the shirt they wear during specific parts, one might even view the film’s events as chronological.

But non-supporters of slow-paced movies (including myself) need not shy away from this. What Mundane lacks in tangible narration, it makes up for a powerful, intuitive atmosphere, especially when the audience is given access to the internal struggles of these characters. Thanks to the modest budget available during the shoot, the movie did not utilize well-known actors. A blessing, or else the movie would have felt more forcefully fabricated. Arkaney Cherkam provides a credible yet unassuming Pun, serving as representation of man’s rejection of solitude. Such is evident in a scene where he confesses to his wife how the people in the house are “soulless.” On the other hand, the brave Phakpoom Surapongsanuruk gets points for pushing the Thai ratings board with a controversial scene highlighting Ake’s desperation against the paralysis.

Ake and Pun, although physically different from each other, are merely two specks in a vast universe. It’s only fitting to conclude with a scene that rivals one from Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, and it’s easy to admit I personally prefer Mundane’s—the meaning is more accessible and the presentation, less ostentatious. The scene that comes after that, a baby emerging from its mother’s womb via cesarean section, closes the deal. It is during these majestic movie moments where we experience a filmmaker’s commitment to his or her craft, and Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Mundane History succeeds in showing life as it is, that the line between the unique and the ordinary has always been blurred. It is only our job to continue blurring the line, so Akes and Puns would continue getting along even in the most mundane circumstances.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

13 Sins (Stamm, 2014)

I was pleasantly surprised. Just when we thought all US remakes of Asian horror movies turn out to be nothing but crapfests, here comes 13 Sins, director Daniel Stamm's remake of the brilliantly absurd Thai movie 13 Beloved.

I couldn't believe this comes from the guy who directed The Last Exorcism.

The premise still involves a financially unlucky man getting phone calls from a stranger, who asks him to do insane and oftentimes illegal tasks, with each successful task worth a certain amount of cash. 

Despite a few changes in the challenges presented to the lead character, Stamm's version still tries to remain faithful to the twisted humor of the original. The presentation of the consequences of playing this deadly game, however, are improved in so many ways. The ending, which the Thai version failed at, is now better, more realistic, thanks to the revamped storyline of the main character Elliot, skillfully portrayed by Mark Webber. 

What's more, the film successfully presented the "game" as something that is not just a threat to Elliot but also to society. This act of bringing the "game" closer to home and family is what I enjoyed so much while watching.

It may not be the best remake out there, but it's still a good watch if what you're after is a twisted horror movie. Where else can you watch someone forced to bring the a man's corpse outside, in broad daylight, for a cup of coffee?

Here's the trailer:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Divergent (2014, Neil Burger)

I enjoyed Divergent. I wasn't expecting to at first. At the beginning I rejected the idea of a society relying on stereotypes, but I remembered Hogwarts (boom!), so I had no choice but to sit back and just watch. Funny how many famous YA books seem to rely on conformity (the four houses, the thirteen districts). Halfway through, though, the movie takes a sharp turn and begins to tell us, 'fuck stereotypes, be yourself.'

Sorry for comparing, but Shailene Woodley exhibits a better cryface than Jennifer Lawrence's. She's pretty capable as Tris. I mean, just watch her on The Descendants. She also has great chemistry with Theo James, who plays the obligatory love interest, Four. I applaud how Four is complex, well-written. It clearly shows that author Veronica Roth took care of the character from Day One of the writing process.

Complaints? Of course I have some. We always do. Those random twenty-first century pop music playing in the background during certain scenes break the dystopian future mood. It felt like watching a grim trailer of a Japanese movie interrupted by a bubbly J-pop song (why do they do that?). To put it simply, I wasn't into the whole anachronism thing. Not in a movie like this one.

I haven't read the books yet, and I don't plan to. I'll stick to reading the last Hunger Games book before the final two movies come out, while I'll just let the Divergent trilogy surprise me in the cinemas. I'm excited for the next movies, because this seems like a trilogy that isn't scared to shock the audience. Based on the dark path the second half of the film took, not to mention the body count, things are looking more dreary in the next ones.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Whattaweekend: Wicked and LOVE: This is Not Yet a Musical

I've learned my lesson. Never see a much-anticipated musical on a Saturday, then watch an equally unforgettable production the next day; otherwise, Monday would come and you'd still have difficulty recovering from the best weekend ever.

That's exactly what happened on the 22nd and 23rd of February, when I watched Wicked and Sipat Lawin Ensemble's LOVE: This is Not Yet a Musical, respectively.

To put it simply, I was the fidgety Wicked fantard from start to finish. Even though I've already watched countless Youtube vids of various productions of this musical, nothing beats seeing it live. For some reason I felt scared that this would happen during our show, but when Elphaba, singing "Defying Gravity," formally declared her rebellion by rising from the stage, I could feel my hands shaking with glee.

Of course, it's all fun and games until my friend failed to get selfies with Jemma Rix and Suzie Mathers outside CCP. Sorry, pal. Next time na lang.

The next day, I traveled from Las PiƱas to Quezon City, which is already another planet for me.
Airport Lights from LOVE: This is Not Yet a Musical. Video here.
Sipat Lawin Ensemble's LOVE: This is Not Yet a Musical is different. It's no Wicked, where you just watch the show unfold in front of you. In LOVE, the audience is part of the show. The spectators started out as one crowd before getting separated into four groups. I got separated from my friends, and I had no choice but to experience most of the show with people I've never met. From there on, we were subjected to four love-related themes, Init, Lamig, Tanaw and Alaala, all involved Sipat Lawin reciting lines submitted by more than 300 contributors. 

Note that this production, according to its Facebook page, is a "Guinness-bound play with the most number of playwrights." How cool is that? Anything can happen in this interactive play. I've never hugged so many strangers in one night. You can be forced to dance with an actress while she cries as she remembers a lost love. You can be pushed to bed by that young lady and have her jerk you off til you come (done using props, of course). Intriguingly, that random girl in your group who never speaks may admit to everyone that she once slit her wrists due to heartbreak.

No wonder we were given these bracelets to wear during the show.
Soon, the four groups reunited on the rooftop of Erehwon Center for the Arts. And after accomplishing emotionally purging tasks of making tableau, burning paper hearts, hitting tin cans, throwing flour at each other, dancing without a care in the world, looking back on lost love, looking forward to new ones, and more, the event culminated with heartwarming exchanges of gestures among us. People roamed around, giving hugs, taps on the back, even kisses. I could only give high fives.

Now I may have just explained the basic, tangible mechanics behind the show, but there is something much deeper behind what can be perceived by the five senses. This is a show one has to experience in order to fully understand.

Perhaps it was only normal for the show to end that way, on the highest part of the building. It was during these gratifying group activities that prove that love may exist in different forms (as exhibited by how we were separated into groups), but it is still universal. Love is for everyone. It is given, received. May it be between husband and wife, between two friends, or between two strangers. And yes, nagpakalalim ako, but that is what LOVE: This is Not Yet a Musical would teach you. Here's hoping Sipat Lawin would re-stage it as soon as possible. Trust me; this is emotional therapy at its finest.
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