Sunday, September 28, 2014

Movie No. 73 (2014): MULA SA KUNG ANO ANG NOON

Mula Sa Kung Ano Ang Noon (From What Is Before) (2014)
Director: Lav Diaz
Cast: Perry Dizon, Hazel Orencio, Roeder Camanag, Angelina Kanapi
In Filipino, with English subtitles

In a span of two or three years before the declaration of Martial Law, the people of a remote village in the Philippines experience and witness 'unnatural circumstances' that will threaten to shake their preserved traditions and sense of community. Such events include, among others, cattle hacked to death by an unknown 'butcher', an old man found dead with a 'bite' mark on his neck, the wailing in the forest, and an intruder who sells blankets and mosquito nets. All the characters that populate the village are all so interesting that it'll be easy to care about them. Each character has a story that, when explored, is worthy of a separate and equally interesting movie. But putting them all together in this movie by way of the director's almost unique style (i.e., long takes, long shots, and immersing the viewer in every scene) is a resounding achievement. The stunningly beautiful cinematography and the non-use of musical score will keep the viewer glued to the screen, not minding the five and a half hours of the movie's running time.

I am now an official Lav Diaz fan.

I saw this movie at the full-packed Center Stage Theater, Mall of Asia on September 21, 2104.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 21, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014


Norte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan (2013)
Director: Lav Diaz
Cast: Sid Lucero, Angeli Bayani, Archie Alemania, Hazel Orencio, Soliman Cruz
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Thanks to suspension of classes and office work last Saturday, I finally saw the film at Glorietta 4. The film clocked 250 minutes, the longest movie I'd seen so far (that time). Gone With The Wind, which I saw on VHS almost two decades ago, clocked only 238 minutes. These movies, despite their discouraging running time, didn't disappoint. 

The movie's theme, being universal, is not original: A man commits a double murder. Another man gets the blame and is imprisoned for life. The prisoner's family suffer the ordeal. The real murderer feels guilty and pays for his crime in his own terms.But a lot of issues are discussed along the way, some subtly, some blatantly.

But, that's not a bad thing. I mean there are bunch of movies out there sharing the same theme. It's on how the story (behind that theme) is told that matters most. Lav Diaz' inventive method of story telling on screen is engaging. Every minute of the movie's long running time is integral to the movie's greatness. The long shots and long takes, the minimalist dialogues in most scenes, and the great performance of every single cast are simply stunning and breathtaking. I may be wrong, but I think the long takes are meant to acclimatize the audience to virtually place them right in the milieu. The script is written well so that it's easy to care about the characters.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 20, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Movie No. 71 (2014): OTHELLO

The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952)
Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Orson Welles

I was not familiar with this Shakespearean tragedy. The only things that I could associate with it were the characters called Desdemona, Iago, and, of course, Othello. Then I had to read write-ups about Orson Welles' movie adaptation of the play and learned about how it was made indie-style (i.e., with a tight budget). So I didn't expect much from the movie despite its director (Welles) being considered of the greatest directors of all time.

So, after seeing the movie, I could say it didn't look like an indie film. I guess its the directors mastery of the art that had made him obscure the lack of resources by using techniques that would later distinguish Welles from other directors. The black-and-white photography, emphasizing on more dark shades, could only enhance the tale's theme, which was mainly betrayal and the macabre. Welles cast himself as Othello. He did very well.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 19, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Movie No. 70 (2014): A WORLD APART

A World Apart (1988)
Director: Chris Menges
Cast: Barbara Hershey, Jodhi May, Tim Roth, Jeroen Krabbe

Told on the point of view of a teenaged girl, this movie is about one white family's involvement in anti-Apartheid movements in 1960s South Africa. This girl's father and mother are so involved in these movements that she and her younger siblings are usually set aside. The mother gets arrested, the first white woman to be arrested for her anti-Apartheid writings. She gets arrested again just a few minutes after being freed from the first 90-day incarceration, which leads to her attempting suicide. Feeling even more sidelined, the daughter confronts her mother.

While this movie is obviously political, having the social conflicts in South Africa as the theme, this is also well about the drama in a family on the verge of disintegration. This is one movie-watching experience that you wish you'd have again in the future.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: September 15, 2014


Serafin Geronimo: Ang Kriminal Ng Baryo Concepcion (1998)
Director: Lav Diaz
Cast: Raymond Bagatsing, Angel Aquino, Tonton Gutierrez, Ana Capri, Lorli Villanueva

Loosely based on Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, this movie is about Serafin Geronimo, timid man who confesses before a female journalist about his involvement in (a still) unsolved crime that happened three years before. He just wants to tell the story to someone he trusts before turning himself to the police. The female journalist, reluctant at first, is sucked into the criminal's confession, which spans a few days. The confession becomes the basis of the movie's narrative, told in fractured flashbacks. Raymond Bagatsing (as Serafin Geronimo) earned a well-deserved Best Actor Award from Manunuri Ng Pelikulang Pilipino (URIAN). The movie, obviously done with a meager budget, does not look well-polished technically. People who have seen the director's later (lengthy) movies point out that the style he used in such movies were already evident in Serafin Geronimo. This makes me interested to watch these films that have made Lav Diaz a critical favorite in international film festivals.

Despite the gore and violence and poor technical aspects, the movie still managed to be an important film that came out of a batch  of movies made out of limited budget and for a limited time. It's  good thing that the script was good in the first place.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: September 15, 2015

Movie No. 68 (2014): BROADCAST NEWS

Broadcast News (1987)
Director: James L. Brooks
Cast: Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Albert Brooks, Joan Cusack

A news producer who cries every morning over her perceived empty life, an excellent news reporter who doesn't have charisma, and a newscaster who doesn't understand the events he's covering are the dysfunctional trio in this superbly written comedy, which is a closer look at the television news and at the lives of people involved in producing, gathering, writing, and delivering news.

The great performances of these actors, and the of the support cast (special mention: Joan Cusack), ware very important components of this movie's box-office success and critical acclaim.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 14, 2104

Monday, September 8, 2014

Movie No. 67 (2014): THE NOTEBOOK

The Notebook (a.k.a. A Nagy Fuzet) (2013)
Director: Janos Szasz
Cast: Laszlo Gyemant, Andras Gyemant, Piroska Molnar
In Hungarian, with English Subtitles

An "important" scene from the Janos Szasz's "The Notebook"
Set during World War II, the tells the horrors of war as seen on the eyes of 13-year-old twins. Believing that twins will attract attention during war, a couple decides to dispatch their sons in a farm in the countryside, near the Hungarian border, under the care of their bitter and cruel (maternal) grandmother. The grandmother's farm is "at the edge," with no neighbors, and is a stone's throw away from a concentration camp. There, the formerly pampered twins, have to learn the realities of life during war. Witnessing a series of horrible events, the twins decide to become completely unfeeling to prepare themselves for future hardships (i.e., not to feel pain, hunger, and any form of emotion). The so-called "rites of passage" (like inflicting bodily harm on each other, burning all the memories of their mother, etc.) to desensitize their bodies and emotions are sometimes difficult to watch. All these and such nightmarish episodes the twins witness are recorded in detail in a notebook their father gave them.

The characters in the movie don't have names. The twins, in the credits, are simply referred to as "the One" and "the Other." Their grandmother, called Grandmother or "the Witch," address them as sons of bitches. Other characters are simply called Mother, Father, Harelip, Captain, Reverend, etc. This makes the watching experience feels like listening to a story narrated by someone who is remotely connected to the characters, like telling someone else's story. All scenes are beautifully photographed. The script, as interpreted on screen, seems like one that's written by the Grimm brothers. And that ending is a shocker. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 7, 2014