Some Films I’ve Seen

Manchester by the Sea

It took me a while to see ‘Manchester by the Sea’ because Oscar-nominated films are so heavy and require you to sit down and pay attention, which is just a huge imposition. I predicted they were all going to be serious films with insanely long running times, and I wasn’t wrong.

I feel like these movies are not necessarily the best of the year nor are the acting performances, but I sit through them and get what I can. I did get a few things from ‘Manchester by the Sea’ and ‘Loving,’ which I thought was slow and very, very restrained, subtle, and super somber.

I liked ‘Manchester by the Sea’ because Jessica Zafra liked it. There, I’ve said it! I’ve become incapable of forming my own opinion because who cares about fresh opinion when everyone else has one. Actually, I liked it because it made me think about death, its imminence and the tremendous hassle it brings to absolutely everyone, especially the living.

There’s a lot of deaths in this movie, some unexpected, some inevitable. The ones who stay alive deal with their losses in unusual but not entirely original ways. Lee (Casey Affleck) wanted to end his own life when his daughters died in a fire he had accidentally caused, while his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) deals with the death of his father by being as disrespectful as he possibly can towards everyone else who’s grieving. He deceives the parents of his two girlfriends whose panties he is forever trying to conquer, and he acts like his dad’s death is a non-event (I like that the movie gets that losing a mother is, in fact, much worse). His uncle Lee, who he calls an asshole to his face, doesn’t flinch much when receiving his blows. These, I thought, are natural ways in which some people deal with death. People don’t always go into hysterics; they allow their insides to freeze so that what’s seen outside is grief but also a lot of other things, but still very much grief.

 

Loving

I declared it ‘very boring’ when I watched and, again, I’m not wrong. It’s just not a fun film to watch, and I only watched it because I wanted to see all Oscar best actress nominees before they were announced. I found it dreadfully boring that I had to take a 12-hour break to finish it.

The following morning, when I continued watching the remaining 30 minutes, I realized that its highly restrained nature, understated performances, and straightforward storytelling are the real shockers. It’s a race movie with absolutely no big dramatic moments. Instead of people talking over each other all the time or having tearful confrontations in the street, Richard Loving and his wife Mildred, some of the simplest folks to have ever been victimized by silly persons in the state of Virginia who, in the olden times, made interracial marriage a crime punishable by imprisonment and severe misery, mourn and fight very quietly. The people who help the Loving couple are not painted as saints who have big moments, but simple folks who do good and bad just because. In this film, no one gets to have a big moment, especially not the leads played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, who play their parts with brilliant and infuriating restraint. It’s 2 hours of sadness and around 5 minutes of triumph and joy.

I need to talk about ‘Elle’

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Michele LeBlanc sweeps the floor of her pristine living room after being raped by a masked intruder. She doesn’t spend more than a few minutes thinking about the horror she just experienced. She cleans up as if nothing could be more urgent on the day of her rape than putting a few pieces of broken porcelain on the trash. She has things to do and video games to produce and launch. The emoting and the strategizing can wait.

‘Elle’ keeps you riveted from beginning, when it opens with screams of a woman being raped. After the initial shock of seeing this middle-aged woman ravaged in her own home, naturally, you’d want to know the who, the what and the why. But the film chooses to show who Michele is as a “regular”, video game company-owning bad bitch. She is a divorcee with one son (who’s gorgeous but dim), and she has complicated relationships with men.

She also has a disturbing past involving a psychopathic father and an immortalized photo of her young self that suggests she may have been an unwitting participant in her father’s slaughter of an entire neighborhood. This complicates the hunt for her violator because her history might have played a role. It could be someone from any of the families of her father’s victims. It could be Kurt, the outwardly hostile game designer in her own company, or the innocent-looking, baby-fats having Kevin who openly admires her kind of feist. You couldn’t even be faulted for thinking it might be her son because in her world, the men are as sick as they come. There really is no telling.

Michele is the kind of person who is a joy to talk about, so here I am knocking myself out. And the film agrees. Instead of lingering on her pain (is she even pained?!), the film peels off the layers of her icy exterior. When she pauses to think about her rape, it’s not an occasion to break down in tears; it’s to fantasize about smashing the face of her rapist. Then she goes on with her life.

When she tells her best friend, Anna, whose husband she’s fucking, that her specialty is handling psychos, you believe her. So you know that even without having read any spoilers, she’s going to have her face-smash moment. She wants revenge, but she doesn’t let thoughts of it consume her. But, she shops for a hammer and a pepper spray because she’s practical and cautious.

Michele is obviously twisted not just because of her past, or the things she does, but also because of the things she does with the people she surrounds herself with. When she finds out the identity of the scum who leaves cum stains on her bed, she matter-of-factly tells him she’s going to report him to the police… while riding in his car coming from a party in which she’s invited him to, days or weeks after finding out his identity, and after they’ve had another round of violent, rape-fantasy romp in the rapist’s basement, which she may or may not have consented.

Her best friend, Anna, tells her about Richard’s underwear that definitely smells of cheating. Anna is shamed to the bone for her discovery. “Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to stop us from doing anything at all,” is Michele’s chilly response, and it’s wrong kind of right. She tells her this not to comfort her but as an FYI, because, apparently, Anna forgot the ways of the world, and Elle is just that kind of best friend that keeps you informed.

Upon realizing the problematic relationship she begins to have with her rapist, Michele appears to welcome it even more. It legitimizes the suspicion that she may possibly be a sociopath. But I can’t be sure! It’s the kind of acting that refuses to give anything away. And that’s possibly because Isabelle Huppert wasn’t ‘trying to find answers’ for the character; she ‘didn’t have the questions, even,’ and it made for an engrossing performance. You can’t take your eyes from her, not even when she’s being raped – it’s not because you’re a perv but, perhaps, because a glint in her eye could give something away and you’re afraid you’re going to miss it. Director Paul Verhoeven and Huppert just ‘let it burn all the way through.’ And the result is fire.

Us and Them

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When ‘Brokeback Mountain’ came out in 2005, I loved it so much that I bought the soundtrack even though I never really liked country music. I thought that if I could at least play the score at home, I would be reminded of what such a beautiful movie made me think and feel when I first saw it. If it had been a love story between a man and a woman, I would not have bought the album but it’s doubtful I would have liked it less. But then, it would have simply been a film about two adulterers cheating on their spouses, and therefore would not have been as tragic and as touching.

Incidentally, tragedy is what makes ‘Brokeback’ an unforgettable, moving movie-going experience. This may be such a dramatic way of describing it but if you’ve actually seen it in a theater, you’d know that it definitely is an experience in as much as a movie with two men kissing induces hysterics, hoots and howls in the audience is an experience.

‘Brokeback Mountain’ is depressing but it’s the kind of gutting you want to relive. I want to do the same for ‘Carol’ which, although not half as tragic as ‘Brokeback’, is just as devastating.

The film, adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, takes place in the 50s when it was tough for lesbians to be openly affectionate with someone they love (I don’t know this for sure but it seems like it). Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara) meet in the toy section of a department store where the latter works as staff. Amid the frenzy of the Christmas season, when eager-to-please mothers and overworked retail store attendants can’t help but cross paths, the two lock eyes and sparks instantly fly. They are lipstick lesbians in a conservative decade, so much of their dates have to be done in a manner befitting two criminals conspiring to unleash unspeakable crimes on their unsuspecting victims – Carol’s  semi-estranged husband and daughter, and Therese’ live-in boyfriend. There will be struggles ahead.

The pacing and acting are languid and understated. You wait for Carol and Therese to get it on but all you get, at least in the first hour, are furtive glances and cautious touching of hands. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara do not have big acting moments, except for one in which Carol snaps and cuts through the lawyers’ argument, and snatches her husband’s attention away from everyone to tell him to fuck all the lesbian accusatory shit as all she wants is visitation rights. The most touching scenes, though, are when Carol and Therese hold back on their emotions, so that when they find themselves alone in a motel, they hug and kiss as if someone might pop up and handcuff them, and hold them forever as captives in straight world prison.

Much like ‘Brokeback’, ‘Carol’ has gay characters fighting for their right to love. To say that someone is ‘fighting’ for the right to love is to risk sounding like song lyrics from a 90s boyband (specifically a 98 Degrees song). But Carol has actual battles: for the custody of her daughter and for the defense of her mental state, seeing as her lesbian ways were viewed as symptomatic of ill health.

It sounds a bit too much to say that Carol and Therese are ‘fighting’ for their right to love, but that is what is going on in films with and about gay people not being allowed freely to make out publicly, not even if they do it classily. Having bought but never read The Price of Salt, I feared it would end the way most of these types of films end: with someone getting raped, murdered or banished in a mental hospital. None of these potential endings are inconceivable; it’s a Patricia Highsmith novel after all. Fortunately, neither Therese nor Carol commits suicide.

I’ve always felt that lesbians have entirely different experiences in matters of forbidden romance. Even though I’ve known some lesbians, I never really felt like us and them have a shared struggle for the probably idiotic reason that girl-on-girl displays of affection raise way less eyebrows than boy-on-boy ones. But, to paraphrase a Lisbon sister, clearly I’ve never been a lesbian person. It might also have to do with the fact that I’ve never heard or read as many coming-out anecdotes from lesbian friends and acquaintances as I have from gays. Movies have been informing me about lesbians and ‘Carol’ has just told me that I’m wrong, and that in fact we have the same struggles and difficulties. What a beautiful reminder this is.

 

Magic Mike XXL is the Right Kind of Male Stripper Movie

How many times have you wondered how interesting a stripper’s life must be? If you’re the kind of person whose answer to that is ‘745,876 times’, know that “Magic Mike XXL” is not going to make you stop wondering. In the first place, there’s no reason why you should. The reasons for your fascination might be unceasing for a variety of reasons, but if you find that all these essential questions about the Male Stripper life is beginning to get cumbersome, you can just sit back and wait for male asses to pop.

The men of Magic Mike lead fantastical lives of road tripping, women-pleasing, and cash-bathing. Mike, Richie, Tito, Ken, and Ernest are fine examples of male strippers who earn their wages and value what they do. We all know those kinds of male strippers make tons of money but in this movie, they swim in dollar bills.

In the sequel to one of the best male stripper movies of all time, there is an attempt to provide insight to the guys’ personalities: Mike is committed to his business but is not really finding joy in it that he takes Ginuwine’s Pony playing on the radio as a sign that he should join the boys on their trip to the very real Stripper Convention. Richie who is allegedly hung like a horse, is having a real male struggle: he hasn’t had sex in months, a confession that he validates by reminding everyone of his dick’s enormity. The rest of the guys have mildly interesting things happening to them as well and they talk about those things in what feels like eternity, as if to tease you and me. These are some very chill male strippers with some very chill problems. The movie is too classy to make mountains out of these strippers’ molehills. Make no mistake: the road to stripper-con is filled slight inconveniences. On one of their pit-stops, they hang out with wine-drunk cougars and make them feel worshiped, and while a scene like this could have played out like a cheap segue into a who-called-the-hot-plumbers strip extravaganza, the guys’ wine session with the cougs (led by a short and captivating turn by Andie McDowell) turns out tender, fun and sweet.

Maybe I’ve been seeing the wrong male stripper movies, even though the last one I remember seeing was “Magic Mike” part 1. These were the exact same thoughts I’ve had when I first saw Magic Mike. Strippers who aren’t dirt poor, who are not deprived of skills other than dancing in colourful briefs, thongs and things, could make a living other than dancing for thirsty and curious women, but not necessarily out of choicelessness. This is a movie that respects the people’s right to see a stripper movie who are not all solely motivated by the obvious rewards of cash. The cash is indispensable but above all, stripping is fun and beneficial to everyone. Maybe, the strippers from my own native land lead the same interesting lives, and I was just too caught up in my own life to bother with the lives of people whose profession I do not share (but appreciate).

If there’s one essential element to the stripping profession and lifestyle that “Magic Mike” movies capture, specifically XXL, it is that the job of a stripper is to hold people’s attention hostage; they are fascinating onstage the way they ought to be and Mike and the guys’ boy band banter is no less entertaining.

After succeeding viewings in DVD, my thoughts have not really changed about the women-baiting, cash-bathing world of Magic Mike. If it wasn’t for my own life effectively taking over my healthy interest in stripper films, I probably wouldn’t have stopped searching for the truth. As it happens, I haven’t seen many stripper movies since Channing Tatum first bared his ass onstage with the equally unmoveable yet moving asses of his on-screen buddies Joe Manganiello (whose I Want It That Way sequence in this sequel is too great), Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez in the first Magic Mike; precisely the reason why to this day, I am left unenlightened. And that is okay.

“Magic Mike XXL” is exactly how movies about male strippers should be: fun, glorious and with the right amount of baby-making 90s R&B jams blaring in the soundtrack. It’s hard to think of the last time a movie about strippers let strippers be strippers. There is simply no answer to be found as to what constitutes the stripper life, unless you go and see the riveting and confused stripper documentary “La Bare” in which real life male strippers talk about their lives. Where a movie like “Magic Mike” sort of builds mystery (or at least maintains it) for male strippers, that must-watch documentary destroys it. As the saying goes: Your life, your choice of male stripper film.

Feelings Felt After Reading Book, Watching Movies about Bad, Sad Marriages

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Gone Girl

What does it say about me that I care so much for Amy more than anyone in this film/book, that even while she was gutting Desi in the house he furnished to her exacting standards, I didn’t care, because I was just impressed about Amy’s mad skills (which I won’t deny is probably the wrong feeling to feel)? She sets her mind to do outrageous things (for vaguely sympathetic, slightly understandable motives) and does them with efficiency. Do I identify with strong female figures because I identify easily with females and I can’t help it or because I really just happen to really irrationally like SFFs? It could be that in relationships I tend to be the Amy which should explain the fondness, but actually, I do not have the mad skills or the intellect to fabricate life experiences in my diaries. I have a heart and I would rather write the truth all the time, always and forever. Ultimately, I can’t ever really know why characters such as Amy fascinate me, but all I know and feel is that Amy is an icon of feminine strength and strength in general. Slightly troubling, I guess, is that it didn’t immediately occur to me that what she orchestrated is psychotic. It’s not right to cheer for characters who perform heinous things to themselves and to their husbands, but when evil geniuses pull off feats that the average cheated-on, wronged wife can’t do, it’s just so hard not to be amazed.

 

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Blue Valentine

I knew from watching movies and from living this life that some marriages, no matter how cute and organic they started, could not be spared the inevitable decline. But I wasn’t prepared for Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean’s (Ryan Gosling) breakdown in this infuriating/fascinating marriage dissolution drama. It was not a good idea to watch this just after reading Gone Girl. Gone Girl and Blue Valentine are not the best things to consume when matrimony is your favorite sacrament.

Blue Valentine shows a husband who does exactly what husbands with low self-esteem and low ambition do – they storm off to the wife’s workplace and create a great, grand scene. Witnessing Cindy and Dean’s big fight scene evokes a feeling similar to when you’re 12 years old and you have just witnessed a rape or mutilation or whatever grotesque scene in a movie for the very first time. The movie also shows the kind of faces women in bad marriages make when they’re trying to please their actually still bangable husband. Michelle Williams may not have won the Oscar but maybe, just maybe, she deserves the Nobel Prize for Disgusted Wife Portrayal.

 

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Rabbit Hole

Becka’s (Nicole Kidman) neighbour invites her to dinner and she declines (for no good reason other than she doesn’t want to). She eavesdrops at her sister’s phone conversation and expresses her disapproval of her aura every chance she gets. She causes a scene at said sister’s bowling alley birthday party which she attends begrudgingly, and she avoids small talk with seemingly well-meaning people. She is an unhappy, childless wife living in a nice house with a fit husband (Aaron Eckhart) and it’s becoming very clear that this movie is about how the relationship of this couple is going to disintegrate further, the more they try to cope with their dead child.

Her husband, Howie (Aaron Eckhart), grimaces and pouts a lot because she’s acting kinda shady – she deflects his advances (‘I’m not ready yet!’, ‘What do you want from me?!’, ‘Al Green is not an invitation?!’, etc.), gets rid of their son’s things, rolls her eyes at the testimonies of the Grieving Parents Anonymous sharing session, etc. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before he confronts her in an electrically charged dinner scene (ECDS) and tells her he wants a divorce.

Howie wises up and attends the support group alone because Becka’s eyes would fall off their sockets if she hears another Jesus freak couple refer to their lost child as an angel in heaven. Luckily for him, Sandra Oh, also a grieving parent, shows up in a parking lot to smoke weed. She also has had enough of baby corpses being referred to as angels and she’s miserable because her husband left her. Together, Sandra and Howie find solace in smokes and so the inevitable ‘I want a divorce’ proclamation gets real. Except it doesn’t because Howie loves Becka very much.

I wait for the ECDS to happen, but the movie held my hand and told me everything’s going to be alright with these two. They are probably going to make it through this rough time/life, maybe make another baby as soon as Becka thaws out. She ought to because she has read a comic book created by the boy who bulldozed her son, and the comic is about parallel universes for a family where the boy protagonist witnesses his family in alternate universes something.

Rabbit Hole is almost the saving grace in this Marriage is Ugly trifecta, but GG and BV already scarred me although hopefully not forever. I’m not sure I believe that Becka and Howie could restore their normal life because Blue Valentine already convinced me that when a couple can’t go back to their special romantic space, they really can’t anymore. But then again, Becka and Howie are rich. And if Gone Girl has taught me anything, it is that money can buy happiness, specifically, happiness derived from revenge, and if money can buy that kind of luxury, what can’t it buy? Almost nothing. Books and movies deign to teach me a lot of things.

Our Life, the Movie

In Bwakaw, Eddie Garcia plays us, in our 70s.
In Bwakaw, Eddie Garcia plays us, in our 70s.

Rene (Eddie Garcia) is a very old man looking forward to his death. He’s so grumpy and super eager to die that he boxed up all his nice possessions and bought a casket for himself in anticipation of the big event. He has many unattractive qualities but the worst is his failure to see his life’s beauties. Rene fails to see how lucky he is because there is not a shortage of interesting men in his small town. It is a town populated by Rez Cortez, Allan Paule, and Gardo Versoza. If your town priest looks like Gardo Versoza, will you never think of immersing yourself in a holy, Catholic life? If you live in a town that has tricycle drivers looking like the chunky-lovely Rez Cortez will you not want to go out and explore? If your co-worker is Allan Paule, will you not love going to your office every day? It’s very wise he decides to start living.

That Rene’s life was so closeted he once slummed with Alicia (Armida Siguion-Reyna), the token beard, is not even the saddest thing about him. It is heartbreaking to imagine this man’s admirable restraint at having lived a booking-free life, the kind unimaginable to his less discreet friends, Zaldy (Soxy Topacio) and Tracy (Joey Paras), overlords of the town’s parlor empire. Not that there isn’t more to life than the securing of a booking but there’s very little in Rene to suggest that he even held hands with another man other than his father or Father Gardo.  At 70, there’s very little happening in Rene’s small, quiet life, and it was a common observation of the movie that the pace is too slow. But at 70, how fast should life be?

Rene is you and me, in a small town, living a highly closeted life. He is a demonstration of what will eventually become of us should we choose certain major life decisions over other, more satisfying ones, over who or what we really want. At 70, you don’t get to easily retrace your steps and decide, ’Hmm I think I’ll pledge devotion to Madonna instead of Mariah.’ By the time you’re senior, and judging from Rene’s surly demeanor, there’s only so much you can do to go rampaging into the night under the sad delusion that your milkshake can still bring all the boys to your yard. But it is never ever too late; never too late to tint your hair, never too late to redecorate.

Bwakaw has some very morbid, black jokes about dying and various types of heart conditions, but it’s one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen and I don’t even like dogs very much. Maybe it’s that I like death movies, and I have a soft spot for people who shop for their own coffin.

I talk a lot of smack about Star Cinema when in fact I don’t see that many Star Cinema movies. For instance, I thought that if Bwakaw were a Star Cinema product, it would be called ‘Grow Old With You’ with matching soundtrack. If Bwakaw were Star Cinema, Sol (Rez Cortez) and Rene will be boyfriend-boyfriend in the end. Or they’ll just hug it out as a sign of their being at peace with their complicated relationship. It’s become a hobby, imagining the self under Star Cinema’s payroll doing creativity duties, doing the movie-going Filipinos a great artistic service.

But Jun Lana knows better and so do we. Only a gay guy would understand the soul-crushing frustration of gays’ desire to snatch a straight guy. It takes even a special kind of intellect and sensitivity to figure out just how more frustrating it is to steal the heart of a straight, married tricycle driver. You people in the big studios just don’t know. Or maybe you do but choose not to tell is as it is. So, thank you, Jun Lana, for telling our story, for making one of the least gimmicky, most affecting movies about our lives.

Ang Nawawalang Conflict

Ang Nawawala is a cute little film that shits too much cuteness you have to take your eyes off the screen every once in a while or else snack on atsara to ward off the umay. It is too sweet, too cool, too devoted to creating quirky moments, Janis Ian will vomit. It shouldn’t be too hard to appreciate films that look and feel different but this quirkfest just piles on the hipness, the viewing experience feels like an hour and a half of watching someone high-five itself non-stop for its awesomeness.

As proof of its hipness (I hate this word already), it proffers the following elements:

The names – Enid, Deacon, Wes, Promise, Simone. The lack of characters called Symphony, Epiphany, Cacophony and MagnaCarte is just baffling.

Records. These kids couldn’t possibly be the types who fawn over CDs and MP3s.

Saguijo.

The Collective.

The mom who likes records and photography.

The video-taking of seemingly meaningless things.

The posting in Tumblr of meaningless things.

The Royal Tenenbaums references.

The Instagramy cinematography. I’m sorry if this particular accusation seems entirely wrong. Instagram might actually be too mainstream for this work of underground art.

Enid’s incessant Zooey Deschaneling (or Zooey Glassing).

We’re supposed to care that Gibson chose a life of pretend-muteness because the loss of his twin Jamie is just too much to bear. It’s an acceptable burden but not enough to warrant the incessant whoring for sympathy and oh my god does this film try ever so hard to make us care. Its problem is that maybe it just isn’t aware that Gibson’s quiet (but still grating) brattiness is not the evidence of longing but of a sly, sneaky attempt to direct all attention to himself. Somewhere, an actual deafmute is raising hist fist, taking offense.

His case is unaided by the Saguijo-going, Pale Pilsen-swilling, Cubao-X-posing rock-art chick, Enid, whose effortless unlikeability serves as the cherry on top of the qualities just said. If Gibson’s ghost twin is really cool, he would have said to his living twin, ‘Really, Gibson? You will break the deafmute charade for this sorry excuse of a Summer/Zooey Deschanel impersonation?’ But he does not.

Even with an affecting enough performance from the twins, Dominic and Felix Rocco, everyone in Ang Nawawala is too alien. That Marc Abaya was the best part of it might simply be a happy accident. The film reaches for empathy, teenage love sweetness, and familial bond and shit, as Enid or the annoying Simone (my bet for the worst Mercedes Cabral role of the last two or so years) might say, and attempts to get our vote for this obviously still hurting family, but how can it possibly do so when constantly, it parades just how well-off they are, just how pretty, how actually really okay they are. As Sia’s album would say, Some People Have Real Problems.

Ang Nawawala deserves at least to be high-fived for being a different kind of family drama/teenage love story, although I’m not sure if it can be called either; maybe really long music video is most apt? But what it ends up being is an interestingly soundtracked fantasy that begs you to believe in its fantastical world of artsy place hang-outery, Pale Pilsen-guzzling chicks and pretend-mutes and their tiny but prettily shot concerns.