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Sex tape

JOSELITO ALTAREJOS’ Jino to Mari (Gino and Marie, 2019), about a pair of sex workers hired to do a Japanese porn film, is (to put it mildly) fairly explicit — about as explicit as a Filipino independent film probably gets nowadays without actually being porn.

Rebel yell

AVAILABLE ON filmmaker Mike de Leon’s Citizen Jake Vimeo site: Lamberto Avellana’s postwar drama Huk sa Bagong Pamumuhay (Huk in a New Life, 1953), about a wartime guerrilla who, out of desperation, joins communist forces seeking to overthrow the Filipino government. Produced by De Leon’s grandmother Doña Narcisa de Leon, it was unabashedly anticommunist pro-American propaganda, the third such effort by Doña Sisang’s LVN Studios. The print on this website — a not-especially-clear recording from a DVD — emphasizes the slant: some of the dialogue is in English, and much of the Filipino dialogue is overdubbed with English narration, reportedly by Avellana himself, carefully explaining the motivation of characters and significance of each scene: “If I had known then what Maxie (Joseph de Cordova) really represented, things might have been different.”

Breaking bad

STEVE MCQUEEN’s Widows is a sketch of urban corruption, a low-key indictment of racism and (a touch louder) misogyny, a rich character study. It’s also a hell of a crime pic.

Family business

HIROKAZU KORE-EDA’s latest film Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku, 2018) begins with as unremarkable an opening as possible: a father and his son enter a grocery, split up to walk down separate aisles. Only father and son keep throwing each other sidelong glances and hand signals; only son does a little finger twiddle that we’ll see from time to time; only when a clerk working nearby glances at son, the father walks up to block the clerk’s view while the son drops several packets of instant ramen into his backpack. Graceful bit of choreography, made casual by long practice, understated yet captivating in its intricacy.

Bifocal

It isn’t as if the life of Vincent Van Gogh hasn’t been adapted for the big screen before. Lust for Life was Vincente Minnelli’s lustily melodramatic take (based on Irving Stone’s novel), with Kirk Douglas holding little back as he strained to suggest Vincent’s intensity; Robert Altman’s Vincent and Theo focused on the relationship between the Van Gogh brothers and their destructively parallel course; Maurice Pialat’s Van Gogh — easily the most unsentimental of the group — presents a harsh, uningratiating view of a harsh, uningratiating artist, avoiding the traditional highlights (including that ear thing) and focusing on more quotidian activities — Pialat doesn’t even make much effort to show the paintings, or approximate Vincent’s unmistakable style onscreen.

Swamped

FIRST the title: Kangkungan — literally, swamp (or water) spinach patch. A highly nutritious green that flourishes in canals and fishponds all over the Philippines, often sautéed with fermented shrimp paste and minced garlic. What’s the significance?

The apple of her eye

YORGOS LANTHIMOS’ latest film The Favourite may be his oddest yet if you stop and consider his work so far, from breakthrough feature Dogtooth (about a family teaching a skewed view of the world to its walled-in children) to the recent The Killing of a Sacred Deer (about a curse hovering over a physician’s family), where metaphorical fantasy and (better yet) the much odder machinations of human nature give his films a memorably loopy spin.

Gone girl

I CAN’T think of a more ambiguous, more elliptical, more unsettling film last year — or, for that matter, the past several years — than Lee Chang Dong’s latest, Burning. Like its eponymous action, the film transforms itself several times over, from a chance encounter to a budding affair to an intricately constructed and frankly mystifying triangle to something else entirely (among other things, a missing person search and a stalking) — each stage combusting material, releasing volatiles, sending soot and ash and smoke tumbling upwards to form suggestive shapes.

Odd couple

A FARRELLY movie up for the Oscars?

Reprise

HERE’S A pretty pickle: how do you follow after the work of arguably one of the greatest animated studios in recent decades? With the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki and the shuttering of Studio Ghibli (actually old news: he has come out of retirement and the studio has since unshuttered) many of the people who worked there established their own outfit, Studio Ponoc, and this film — Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Meari to Majo no Hana), helmed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There, Secret World of Arrietty) is their debut offering.

Angerman

PANOS COSMATOS’ Mandy is a trip through a tabletop landscape dotted with scenic views and sudden detours, with long sessions of intravenous pleasure, with jolts of hilarity and horror.

The hate list

FROM WHERE I’m standing it’s been a fearful year, an angry year, a hateful year; a rollercoaster ride, a terror-filled plunge, a horror show.

The immortal story

ORSON WELLES died in October 1985; his latest film, The Other Side of the Wind, was released in November 2018.

And the rest is…

THE FILM BEGINS with the sound of cicadas rhythmically whirring over a black background. The sound cuts out, the film title (simple white letters) flashes on-screen. Cut to a vision of hell: a guard shrouded in steam stands beside a wood shelf containing severed heads. We are at the volcanic springs of Unzen, near Nagasaki, where friars are strung up on crosses and longhandled ladles with holes sprinkle boiling hot water on them, delicately poaching their skin. (Today of course the springs are a popular vacation resort).

Domesticated helper

ALFONSO CUARON’s Roma is, yes, one of the most beautiful-looking films of the year, a blend of artfully lit footage digitally stitched together to appear a seamless whole.

Klandestine

SO GET this -- Ron Stallworth becomes the first black police officer in a large largely white town (the “Jackie Robinson of the Colorado Springs police force” as his superior puts it). He is consigned to the records room, requests a transfer to undercover; sees a recruitment ad for the KKK, dials the number, gets an unexpected voice at the other end, improvises a racist rant, is invited to join the group.

Two women

LAST October my mother died.

A good man with a gun

SAY THE name “Jacques Tourneur” and the first word come to mind for most folks is “horror” (the second is possibly “cat”). Tourneur had been directing since 1931, mainly shorts, finally made a splash early ’40s working for producer Val Lewton in Cat People (low budget, eerily beautiful) and I Walked With a Zombie (despite the pulpy title, my favorite adaptation of Jane Eyre). Say “Tourneur” and the word “westerns” rarely pops up -- but some of his westerns do in fact represent his finest work.

Springtime for Hitler

ERNST LUBITSCH’s To Be or Not to Be opened to mixed reviews and so-so box office. A picture that poked fun at Nazism and Adolf Hitler? At a time when fascism threatened to swallow the world (Pearl Harbor happened a few months before)?

Joan unornamented

THE first film to come to mind watching this stony ground of a picture is Carl Th. Dreyer’s silent film, a wondrous series of gigantic closeups shuffled through at speed, arguably one of the most revered and the best-known version of the story.

Mommy direst

PART of what makes Halloween (2018) remarkable: the return of John Carpenter (helped with music); the return of Nick Castle (he provided the heavy breathing and at one point plays masked killer Michael Myers); the return of Jamie Lee Curtis (reprising the role that made her famous, Laurie Strode) but what for me really sets this sequel apart from the 10 other sequels reboots remakes and so on is a new name: David Gordon Green.

Houston, we have a problem

YOU NEED TO KEEP reminding yourself: Damien Chazelle’s adaptation of James Hansen’s biographical book First Man is not The Right Stuff and astronaut Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) is no test pilot in the mold of Chuck Yeager, nor was it -- or he -- meant to be. Question: does it manage to stand on its own four radically redesigned fins?

Star wars

By Noel Vera Movie Review A Star is Born Directed by Bradley Cooper THERE ARE as of this writing five, count em, five, different versions of the story,...

Monster, Inc.

By Noel Vera Video Review My Neighbor Totoro Directed by Hayao Miyazaki (CAUTION: plot and narrative twists — which aren’t all that much and anyway aren’t the heart...

Memory play

MICHAEL Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime (2017) adapts Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer-nominated play to the big screen in a small way, and it’s marvelous. Eighty-five year old Marjorie (Lois Smith, who played the role in two previous stage productions) suffers the initial symptoms of Alzheimer’s; to help her deal with the memory loss, her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins) have installed a “Prime” — a hologram-projected Artificial Intelligence (AI) — representing Marjorie’s husband Walter (Jon Hamm) when he was a relatively young 40.

Crazy rich a**hole

IF WE’RE TALKING lighthearted romantic fare involving pretty prosperous Asians, I don’t see why we need to go all the way to Hollywood when Hong Kong has been doing perfectly fine for years.

Bullet in the head

BACK in the mid-1990s I found myself hooked on a particularly intense habit: Johnnie To movies. I’d seen A Hero Never Dies and The Barefoot Kid (his one period martial-arts film) and had been digging through various DVDs ever since, hoping to find more.

Last holdout

PAUL SCHRADER’s latest feature First Reformed — his 23rd directing job — is a tiny feature shot around Brooklyn and Queens in only 20 days, on a budget of roughly three and a half million dollars. It’s also arguably his best work to date, or if not his best then somewhere up there.

Mother’s ghosts

MARIO O’HARA passed on in 2012. His niece Janice O’Hara chose one of his scripts (rewritten extensively by her father Jerry O’Hara) to be her debut feature (Sundalong Kanin [Rice Soldiers, 2014]), arguably one of the best of 2014. Janice died two years later, leaving us that one film, compelling us to ask: is there some kind of curse on this family that blesses them with filmmaking and storytelling talent, but relatively fragile lives?

You will never really cohere

LYNNE RAMSAY’s films as narrative features are, to put it mildly, problematic: they rarely unfold in the approved straightforward manner; are elliptical to the point of obscure; are dark violent disturbing.

Gods and monsters

By Noel Vera DVD Princess Mononoke Directed by Hayao Miyazaki Rerelease (Warning: article does not summarize the film’s story — there are websites for that — and goes into...

Silk purse

HAVE TO admit this straight out: I know nothing about fashion or clothes. I’d repeat that in Andrew Sach’s approximation of a Basque accent but for the record and to get it out of the way when it comes to couture and textile and clothing design I know nothing. Nada.

Unhinged

THE BEST part of Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane is easily the first half — when unwary businesswoman Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy from The Crown) is suddenly committed to a mental ward for suicidal ideation.

Caged

JOHN FOWLES’ debut novel The Collector has been adapted several times for theater, stage, and big screen, most notably by William Wyler, later by Mike de Leon for a 1986 feature — Bilanggo sa Dilim (Prisoner in the Dark), shot on video.

A space prodigy

THE FIRST TIME I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey it was in a basement, in a projected 35 mm print. I was maybe 10 or 12 years old, had heard about the film, and was eager to watch.

Home is where the harm is

THE TRUE HORROR in Ari Aster’s Hereditary doesn’t come so much from demoniac forces as they do from human frailty and the cruel chaotic confusion of life.

Citizen me

MIKE DE LEON’s first film in — has it been 18 years? — has to be an event; the latest from one of our finest filmmakers, in the same league as Lino Brocka, Mario O’Hara, Ishmael Bernal, Celso Ad. Castillo. If it’s arguably the weakest feature he’s done to date (hopefully not his last) it still stands head and shoulders above most anything out there today, Filipino or Hollywood.

Citizen me

By Noel Vera Movie Review Citizen Jake Directed by Mike de Leon Mike de Leon’s first film in — has it been 18 years? — has to be...

Four by three

PLAYING CATCHUP: In the ever-changing landscape of World Cinema, what happened to Hong Kong’s “heroic bloodshed” movement -- those action filmmakers who featured slow motion, balletic action sequences, guns pointed at each others’ faces?

Rock the Devil

NOT LONG AFTER Brillante Mendoza’s Amo (which takes its cue from Respeto’s rap-driven score) we have Lav Diaz’s take on the Duterte regime. Panahon ng Halimaw (Season of the Devil, 2018) is no small-scale response: 234 minutes long, some six minutes short of four hours. And it’s a musical.

Tocino

By Noel Vera Video Review Porco Rosso Directed by Hayao Miyazaki DVD HAYAO MIYAZAKI’S Porco Rosso started out as a manga for a modeling magazine, was turned into a...

Best superhero movie of the year

By Noel Vera Video Review Psychokinesis (Yeom-Iyeok) Directed by Yeon Sang-ho Netflix I KNOW, I know, I know, I know — if you’re sick of the genre as I...

Who’s the boss?

By Noel Vera Video Review Amo Directed by Brillante Mendoza Netflix WHEN streaming giant Netflix announced that it would be showing pro-Duterte filmmaker Brillante Mendoza mini-series shot and set...

Origins

By Noel Vera DVD Review Professor Marston and the Wonder Women Directed by Angela Robinson PATTY JENKINS’s Wonder Woman makes no reference at all to the subject — partly...