Monday, May 21, 2018

Turning 26

Victoria Peak, December 2017.

When I turned 25 a year ago, it was a different world then. I was coming home to Iloilo after two weeks in Dumaguete as a fellow to the 56th Silliman University National Writers Workshop. For lack of a less cliché sentiment, those were two of the best weeks of the year. I'd submitted my application on a whim, after thinking I wouldn't even make the deadline, already somehow resigned that I'd never be part of the workshop's history. 

I spent a good part of that birthday transiting in the marketplace that was Mactan Airport. There were no direct flights from Dumaguete to Iloilo, and I was determined to be home before evening, so I'd booked the early morning flight to Cebu and boarded the plane hungover from the previous night's farewell festivities. I didn't mind the blur of it all; the mental haze somehow made the day all the more deviant and, thus, exciting. In a week, I'd be in Bicol with two of my best friends from high school; in two more, I'd be in Japan, for the first time, with my mother and brother.

When I turned 26 yesterday, I'd had three hospitalizations within a span of five months--first, for H. pylori gastritis three days before Christmas last year; then for an appendectomy last month, and a readmission after that operation for partial gut obstruction.

I'd spent a good seven months back in Iloilo, eased into a routine so far off from the toxic, patient-filled life of residency training I'd envisioned.  

I'd seen 52 movies since New Year's, aside from a number of TV series, plus a pirated copy of the filmed version of London's National Theater's "Angels in America." I'd read more non-medical books than I could recall reading within a similar length of time (among those books, David Mitchell's "Black Swan Green," Wilfredo Pascual's "Kilometer Zero," Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta's "Burning Houses").

I'd seen what will probably be the most atrocious production of Jonathan Larson's "Rent" I will ever see in this lifetime, and also a so-so touring production of "The Lion King," the source movie being one of the defining movies of my youth.

I'd gone on a supposedly secret, 24-hour trip to Hong Kong very few people knew about. 

And my father had been gone for just a little over seven months. It's this last bit, I suppose, that's fueling this emotional logorrhea. It's hard to believe it's been that long, but you can do nothing else but believe it, y'know.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Screen Log 13: The Death of Stalin; Mother!; Breathe; Hostiles; Fresh Off the Boat Season 4

"Hostiles."

What a delight--what a refreshing delight--Armando Iannucci's THE DEATH OF STALIN was! Cold, British deadpan satire perfectly executed. I was hooked from start to finish. The decision to give this historical fiction contemporary finishes, especially the language and accents, was excellent. And that cast! And that script! Three slots in the Golden Globes for Musical/Comedy went to "The Disaster Artist," "The Greatest Showman" and "I, Tonya," when very clearly, here was the year's funniest film. One of the nastiest, but also the funniest. I will certainly be watching this again in the near future.

As for Darren Aronofsky's MOTHER!, I was amazed only by Jennifer Lawrence's consistency--by her capacity to keep the same, baffled-slash-shocked-slash-appalled expression for all of two hours. Aronofsky can go fool another crowd with this piece of Biblical blather, but not me. I was watching the entire thing unfold, wishing it could reach the end faster.

Andy Serkis' directorial debut, the disability drama BREATHE, stars one of the best actors of his generation and currently working, Andrew Garfield, whose Prior Walter in "Angels in America" is a stunning, fabulous creation. Here, Garfield is confined to a bed, then to a wheelchair, with a tube glued to his neck, for 90% of the film. Claire Foy does her best to set Elizabeth's shell aside (but she just can't, or is it just me? So effective and indelible is she in "The Crown.") The rest of the cast and the rest of this story are rather forgettable. Sometimes affecting, occasionally tearjerking, mostly forgettable.

Scott Cooper's HOSTILES is beautifully shot: vistas of the Great Plains in just about every weather and every light. And Rosamund Pike in tears in just about every imaginable situation. I'm being hyperbolic, of course. This is an emotional Western. An emotional Western! Christian Bale takes the lead, speaking so softly, even Apple earphones have a hard time catching his words occasionally. But the effort to depart from genre convention, though. You can almost hear Cooper's brain tick and tock throughout his film. The fight scenes, especially, all feel so contrived and cheaply choreographed. And the story itself hardly surprises; you can practically predict every twist and turn of the plot. And for this level of predictability, the film's length is not justified.

I still maintain that the third season of FRESH OFF THE BOAT was its best. The fourth one was still good, though there were a couple of episodes that weren't up to par, I thought. The third season was simply slam dunk after slam dunk. Still, Constance Wu remained the series' biggest asset, followed by Lucille Soong. And if ABC had the right mind, they'd renew this show for two more seasons at least.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

PDI Feature: Joaquin Valdes on 'Miss Saigon'

I haven't written something like this since I was running the campus paper in high school, so this was muscle (brain?) memory doing all the work. The online version of the article here.

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Joaquin Valdes: From secret depression to 'Miss Saigon'-UK

Repertory Philippines' "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" (2017), where Valdes played the beefcake bimbo Spike. With Mica Pineda.

"I had already said goodbye to 'Miss Saigon,'" says Joaquin Valdes, who officially joined the musical's United Kingdom-Ireland touring production two weeks ago in Manchester. He is part of the male ensemble, as well as 2nd cover (or understudy) for the role of Thuy, currently played by fellow Filipino artist Gerald Santos.

In 2012, when the "Miss Saigon" team came to the Philippines to cast the now-closed West End revival (which coincided with the musical's 25th anniversary), Valdes was one of those who did not audition. "I had a stable job in advertising, and my fiancée was in the middle of law school," he says.

A few years later, he arrived at a quandary. With a Film degree from the University of the Philippines-Diliman, he had entered the world of advertising for its stability. Now, despite the good pay, he no longer found the work fulfilling.

"I had built a name for myself as a director, but making glossy TV ads was just disconnecting me from my art," he says. "I was secretly depressed."

When auditions for the aforementioned "Saigon" tour came in 2016, Valdes was already looking for a way out--"an excuse to leave," he says. He tried his luck, but didn't make the cut.

It was a lot of "struggling and wrestling with myself," but the rejection also kindled a kind of 11 o'clock number for Valdes. "I realized that my depression was rooted in my desire to return to my first love, and that I didn't need to wait for a 'Miss Saigon' to do what I wanted to do."

Right mind-set

That first love, of course, is the theater, whose limelight Valdes has known since he was in grade school, when he was cast in Repertory Philippines' 1995 production of "Evita."

And so early last year, Valdes quit his job in advertising and started applying for theater-related Master's degree programs abroad. In fact, when the chance came for a self-taped audition for the "Saigon" tour extension, he had already been offered a slot in a university in Britain.

He landed the part in "Saigon" mere days after sending in his tape. "I guess the universe knows when you're ready. I first auditioned wanting to leave an industry I was miserable in. But that wasn't the right mind-set," he says.

Now his contract binds him to the production for one year, taking him and his wife to cities such as Bristol (where the show opens next week), Plymouth, and Zurich, Switzerland.

"The decision to leave the Philippines was a hard one," he says. It was going to happen whether or not I got accepted into 'Saigon.' I want to build a career in a craft I love and know."

For someone whose resumé flaunts acclaimed turns in local productions of Tony Award winners such as "Spring Awakening," "Red" and "Matilda, The Musical," Valdes confesses his career as an actor in the country has been anything but stable.

Industry limitations

"There are limitations in our industry," he says, "and it's hardly an industry because there's hardly an audience. We have a growing number of theater companies and an endless cistern of talent, but where is the audience that will sustain the work? Even big casino theaters can't always fill their seats. And we're hardly represented in the public sector. We don't even have labor laws to protect theater businesses and actors."

As Lea Salonga, Joanna Ampil and Rachelle Ann Go have shown, a stint in "Saigon" can lead to a myriad of possibilities. Still, Valdes chooses to take everything one day at a time.

"My focus now is to do good work," he says, "sing and act and stay on top of my game. Earn my keep."

"Hopefully when I come back," Valdes adds, "I'll be a much better performer and a more empathizing person. But I'll likely do what I've always done--hustle. Only difference will be I'd have more world experience to hustle harder."

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Screen Log 12: Downsizing; God's Own Country; Phantom Thread; Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool; Roman J. Israel, Esq.

"Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool."

After watching DOWNSIZING, I felt embarrassed for its director Alexander Payne. It's painful to watch someone stumble, especially if it's someone whose work you've long admired--"Sideways," "About Schmidt," "The Descendants," even "Nebraska." If I didn't know any better, I'd say Payne should just go back to his American road trips, into Californian wine country, Hawaiian plantations, the Midwest. This latest effort had a great concept that went nowhere, while also birthing a multitude of storylines that ended in a narrative muddle. The saving grace here was really Hong Chau, who truly deserved that Best Supporting Actress slot far more than the likes of Octavia Spencer (no offense to Minnie the poop-pie maker).

The balls of this Francis Lee to make a gay farmland movie! But really, "Brokeback Mountain" should be the first thing that comes to mind when talking about the much-acclaimed GOD'S OWN COUNTRY. I didn't fall head over heels for this one. I'm still waiting for that gay movie that will top (Haha!) Andrew Haigh's "Weekend" from 2011--still one of the best LGBTQ films of the 21st century for me. Lee's movie is no slouch, but it's nothing novel either. Well, the extended bits with the sheep, maybe.

Then we have Paul Thomas Anderson's PHANTOM THREAD, which The New Yorker called "propaganda for toxic masculinity." I was amused by that article, by how the author completely missed the point. This movie dripped its venom as if it were pouring tea, fancy British style. That script was hilarious--the cattiness, the shade, the sarcasm--it ought to have been the frontrunner for Original Screenplay, really. And Jonny Greenwood's music was simply remarkable in the way it eased the viewer right into the world of this film, then almost two hours later, subverting expectations. Here I was, thinking I was just watching Daniel Day-Lewis (great) and Lesley Manville (greater) try to out-polite-sardonic each other, and then we get to the mushrooms! Mushrooms and gowns! Who would have thought they'd make such a poisonous pair?

You know what I realized after watching FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL? Frances McDormand's performance in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" should have been in sixth place, because her spot ought to have gone to Annette Bening, so brilliant and luminous and affecting in this movie about Gloria Grahame's final days. How many times has the Academy ignored Bening? BAFTA had the sense to nominate her, but that was at the expense of Meryl Streep. The film itself doesn't quite measure up to Bening's talent; it's another case of go see the movie to see the star performance anchoring it. There's a part near the end that shows the same scene from two perspectives, and that's where I felt the film weaken tremendously, turn flimsy and redundant. (They should have just stuck with Bening's perspective, by the way.) So now the question is, when will she win her Oscar, hmm? When is the Academy going to wake up and realize she's one of the most overdue?

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. is just sad. I feel sad for Dan Gilroy, the director, whose "Nightcrawler" I so adored. I feel sad for Denzel Washington, in a performance so mannered it's as if he were trying to pry himself loose from the entire project. I mean, they give him that awful hair for half of the film! Mostly I feel sad for all the actors who had to deliver all those unconvincing lines. And also all the actors who were robbed of an Oscar, Golden Globe and SAG slot by Denzel, in a performance that's nowhere near his best. Denzel, the great actor, so laboriously acting, as A.A. Dowd of A.V. Club called it. What an awful, stilted movie this is. The beginning (with all that typed narration) is shitty. The middle is shitty. And the end is shitty. What an insult to the craft of fiction and film.

Monday, May 7, 2018

PDI Feature: 2018 UST National Writers' Workshop

In today's Inquirer--the online link here--I write a surface-level piece on this year's UST National Writers' Workshop, where I was a fellow for poetry in English. 

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At the UST Writers' Workshop, a literary vision of the future


This year's University of Santo Tomas (UST) National Writers' Workshop, organized by the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies (CCWLS), had 15 fellows, the most number of participants since its revival seven years ago. We had a screenwriter (Nigel Santos); two playwrights (Gil Nambatac and Manuel Tinio); four essayists (Kristine Estioko, Ria Valdez, Bayani Gabriel and Riddick Recoter); four fictionists (Yan Baltazar, Pat Onte, Keanu Reyes and Karl "Kid" Orit); and four poets (Edmark Tan, Hans Malgapu, Soc delos Reyes and this writer).

The increase in number coincided with a calendar shift. From its usual midyear perch, the weeklong workshop, held at Ridgewood Residences in Baguio City, was moved to March. This, we were told, was a precaution against the weather: Last year, the rains of late July left the entire workshop contingent unexpectedly stranded in the mountain city for an extra day.

This date change, however, concurred with a rather hectic period of the academic calendar, which meant some members of the teaching panel--"powerful women," as they were lovingly labeled--couldn't make it for the entire week, if at all. "Just in case you're wondering why we have an almost-all-male panel," Ned Parfan, poet and workshop coordinator, clarified during the orientation.

Dawn Laurente Marfil was the only female member of the original panel, which included Parfan, Ralph Semino Galán, Augusto Antonio "Tots" Aguila, Paul Castillo, Joselito "Joey" delos Reyes, Nestor Cuartero, Chuckberry Pascual, Inquirer Lifestyle Arts and Books editor Lito Zulueta, and John Jack Wigley, who was also workshop director.

Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, CCWLS director, had to miss the workshop for personal reasons. The only time we fellows met her was when she came aboard the bus in UST to tell us she was, sadly, staying behind. "If my smile looks a bit pained, it's because I couldn't join the group this year," she later wrote on Facebook, referring to the obligatory predeparture photos we took in front of the university's iconic Main Building.

Sweet surprise

The sweet surprise turned out to be Filipino-American writer R. Zamora Linmark, who was only hitching a ride to Baguio, but there and then offered his services to be part of the panel.

So it was that we trooped up north with sweaters, turtlenecks and fleece jackets in tow, the temperature dipping to as low as 14°C in early morning.

Cocooned in the hotel's sixth-floor conference room, we averaged seven literary pieces a day--and that was honestly no walk in the park. But we were also well-nourished, the meals and coffee breaks peppered generously throughout our schedule, and the balconies affording vistas of the neighboring Mansion House and the city's ubiquitous pine trees if ever one sought a chilly breather.

The tearing apart and subsequent reconstruction of our works was nothing if not expected. Linmark's critiques, for instance, proved to be some of the most memorable, especially his emphasis on editing--on killing our proverbial darlings. "What sounds nice doesn't always make sense," he said, more than once, with an eye particularly directed at the poetry fellows.

Gémino Abad, who was a guest panelist, unfailingly stressed his three-word mantra on writing: "saysay," or meaningfulness; "diwa," the literary work's moral dimension; and "datîng," pertaining to the effect and power a work has on the reader. After all, "the subject of all writing is the human experience," he said. "What is most real is what is most imagined."

'Touchy' Jerry Gracio

Meanwhile, acclaimed screenwriter and poet Jerry Gracio, our other guest panelist, said that for a literary work to be considered effective, "Dapat nahihipo niya ako (It has to touch me)."

Gracio also lauded the fact that most of the pieces were parts of bigger projects, from lyric sequences to traditional poetry or short story collections. "Dapat ang end-product na iniisip natin ay isang libro, o kaya nama'y isang pelikula, ganoon (The end-product we should already be thinking of is a book or a film)."

On the way back to Manila, one couldn't help mulling over Gracio's words: the books and plays and movies to be read and viewed in the years to come, all by writers cloistered in a bus descending the winding mountain road. An apt challenge, if ever there was one, and a promising vision of the future.

Friday, May 4, 2018

'The Death of Cleopatra'

My first published ekphrastic poem! Also, first published work in Asia outside the Philippines. This poem is really just me making peace with the fact that I couldn't go to Singapore and see the painting in the flesh. Hyperlink to my poem in this issue of Quarterly Literary Review Singapore.

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The Death of Cleopatra
Juan Luna (c. 1881)

"Luna depicted the Egyptian queen's suicide at the moment of its discovery: dressed in royal regalia, Cleopatra had just expired, along with a maid who just collapsed on the floor and another, on the verge of falling down. Barely seen at the foot of a pillar is the tail of a snake slithering away..."
--Philippine Daily Inquirer


She dreams in tongues. Words I haven't for the rich billow
of green and garnet robes splayed around her. Drunk
on the serpent's fond kiss, she feigns blindness,

pretends to be mute and deaf--inanimate, really. But I'm familiar
with the scrutiny of strangers, the kind she will never admit
she yearns for. Eyes tracing the tender curve of her breasts,

the waxen sheen of her arm, the concealed navel.
Long after the pyramids have crumbled and the great peninsula
spliced by a sliver of water, we will still think of her lovely

face, birthing maps in placid slumber: marble obelisks
carved from her cheeks, and the flesh of her lips
swapped for dunes stretching across Cairo's peripheries.

Speak up, darling, loud and clear. Is that a smile she's failing
to bury? Just the slightest hint of satisfaction, warm as venom
in her veins, the future grown soft in the folds of her palms.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Screen Log 11: Split; A Quiet Place; Blade Runner 2049; Baby Driver; Logan

"Blade Runner 2049."

Finally got around to watching M. Night Shyamalan's SPLIT. James McAvoy's drop-dead terrific in it, but man, Betty Buckley was one shit psychiatrist. I mean, going to the patient's house in the dead of night? Harboring secrets you know would do way more harm than good? Had she survived, she should have been stripped of her license. Quack!

Also, finally saw A QUIET PLACE, directed by John Krasinski and starring him and his wife Emily "Some-hideous-skirt-convention-you-have-to-go-to" Blunt. I saw this on the first "Avengers: Infinity War" weekend, and the cinema still drew a sizable crowd, who squirmed and shrieked and screamed at the right places. I loved this movie, despite its faults. I loved the photography, the sound, Emily Blunt, the world-building. I could point out the flaws in the story, how many of the things that took place were contrivances. But I won't. Because I really enjoyed this film. And isn't that all that matters sometimes? But I would still feed Millicent Simmonds' character to the beasts, no question about it, spoiled brat.

I still don't get the appeal of BLADE RUNNER 2049. Yes, it's magnificently, astoundingly shot by Roger Deakins. But I really, really agree with Ty Burr of The Boston Globe when he said that somewhere in this nearly three-hour saga is a terrific 100-minute movie. Too long, Denis, just too long. I don't hate this movie; I think it is proficiently, even imaginatively done. But jumping-up-and-down love, you won't get from me.

Such love you also won't get from me for another technical masterpiece of 2017, Edgar Wright's BABY DRIVER. It's really the editing (done in real time, in case you haven't heard) and the music and the sound that are the real stars of this otherwise thinly rendered story. Am I a snob now? The movie just kept losing me whenever Ansel Elgort got out of a car, because then there's really nothing there except actors such as Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx and John Hamm hamming it up. The placelessness of it all, I get; the story's supposed to come across as a fever dream, and it does, but it's one dream I can live without. Especially that wobbly, melodramatic-even-by-this-movie's-standards climax.

How. Did. I. Not. Watch. LOGAN. Earlier? And I call myself a fan of the "X-Men" films? (I don't read comics, so. I mean, I remember laying my hands on those comics as a kid, but those days were eons ago.) This new Wolverine movie though. It is very, very good. I do not want to sound like a nutjob of a fan. So I will say that it is very, very good. One more time. For the first time, I actually cared about Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. (I'm a Storm kind of guy, y'know.) But see, children, the wonders you can achieve if you only put a premium on storytelling? On characterization? James Mangold, you are a godsend. Absent James Ivory and his lyrical adaptation of "Call Me by Your Name," and this superhero movie would have been my choice for the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Monday, April 30, 2018

'Nine' & 'Wolves'

Completely went over my head to share this here: Our chapbook, released last January. In a week's time, we will officially no longer be "The Silliman fellows." God, what a wonderful two weeks those were. I truly have nothing but happy memories of my time there. Here's the link to our batch's chapbook, via the Silliman University website:
http://su.edu.ph/academics/national-writers-workshop/.

About the title: During one of the sessions, J. Neil Garcia, ever the verbose diva (am saying this of course with much love), said, "This is so germane!" And 'round the room, you could feel eyes widen with amusement and almost hear laughs being stifled. There's your story.

And another thing: Yes, I was a fellow for fiction, so it was really great for me to have these two poems below critiqued by Krip Yuson during one of the one-on-one mentoring sessions. My comeback to poetry, as it were.

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Nine


Nine meant bedtime,
but we were stuck to the screen,
as the second plane struck
steel and metal skeleton, and glass
and paper and misplaced lipstick
rained on cabs and clueless tourists.
The same clips in every channel:
paused, rewound, zoomed,
father chiming in, mother silent
beside me on the couch, her stitching
idle on the parquet. No flipping over
to cartoons, or racy music videos
my cousins shared in secret,
or animals photographed from safari trucks.

The next day bore the smell
of new memory, a shift in language and gait,
the image imprinted on every front page:
a pair of smoking towers, a burst of flame,
the shadow of a man suspended midair.
Father could be the man:
afternoon coffee, a beard, no religion,
a heart attack in nine years.
Or me: too young and feebleminded
to understand coffee or religion,
but smart enough to know
I'd break his heart in nine years,
bedtime with a nameless lover,
broke, unphotographed.

The next evening I slept soundly,
while my parents took their places
on the couch, reporters blaring
from the idle screen. The next evening,
they told me to join them;
the next evening, there was only the sound
of my growing hunger for photographs
thrust between size-nine text.

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Wolves

"Here is the Ossorio that fascinated me most... his vanity ego, his 'Catolico Cerrado' guilt over his sexual preference, his desire to break free of his past and prevailing artistic convention... In his memoir of the Victorias period, Ossorio makes mention of young male assistants who helped him paint the ['Angry Christ'] mural."
--Floy Quintos on painter Alfonso Ossorio.


He believes there are wolves
in the woods of Victorias, howling
dissonant melodies late at night.
I tell him, there are no wolves
this side of the world, only lovers
flinching at the slightest creak of the door,
hands ready to pretend they are tired
from washing dishes all day.
Gazing at the outline of his lips,
the slight dip down his delicate nose,
I tell him, go back to sleep, go back
to dreams. His hands are cold
against mine, skin rubbing against skin,
musk mixing in the dark. I tell him,
tomorrow you will finish those hands
tired from days of shaping mountains,
sky, pasture, the perfect arc of man's rib.
Tomorrow, a kiss so quiet, a twirl
of dancing tongues, a song
of words long forgotten.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Screen Log 10: Never Not Love You; The Disaster Artist; The Post; The Florida Project; Molly's Game

"The Florida Project."

I loved the new Jadine movie NEVER NOT LOVE YOU. Wasn't initially convinced the ending was the best fit, but more and more grew to see it as an excellent editorial, narrative, stylistic choice. The lighting, the mood setting, the establishment of atmosphere in this movie was marvelous. And the bent towards silence I really loved, how this film made mumblecore very Filipino. Antoinette Jadaone's focus on intimacy really shone through, which reminded me: Finally a Jadaone movie that deserves a spot alongside "That Thing Called Tadhana," especially after her string of not-so-great work including "You're My Boss" and "Love Me to the Stars and Back" (yeah, shoot me on that second one).

How indelible is James Franco in THE DISASTER ARTIST? I started watching the movie, but felt sleepy at around the 50-minute mark, so decided to take a nap. And then I continued the movie in my dream, Franco's performance all accurate in it. His performance, in fact, makes the movie, which I'm still not convinced deserved all those spots it snagged in those best-of-the-year lists.

Now that I've seen THE POST, I can finally say I've seen all of this year's Oscars Best Actress nominees, and that Meryl Streep would have been a totally deserving winner for this sublime, understated performance. Look at her, turning defeat and insecurity into power, word by word, gesture by gesture. Surprisingly there was no Steven Spielberg-ian--a.k.a. very, very sentimental--ending, but many sequences throughout this film caught me unawares and had me in tears. Reminded me why once upon a time I dreamed of becoming an ace journalist. Many sequences, however, also felt too directed: the block-y movement, the too-neat editing, the scoring, Carrie Coon's moment with the telephone, even Sarah Paulson's speech.

Richard Brody said THE FLORIDA PROJECT is as artificial as the magical kingdom it contrasts with its realist story. Anthony Lane praised the movie, on the other hand. Me, I thought the kid was too much--I mean, she's good, the actress, but the kid character, goodness, if that kid crossed my path, I'd attack her. The mothers, though, were really what pulled me into the story. Poverty in America isn't at all like poverty in the Philippines. Over there you get to live in motels, eat waffles and ice cream, have a tub to bathe in--and still be poor. Not quite sure about the ending, though. On the one hand, I thought it maintained that child's-perspective story by giving it a child's-perspective quasi-resolution. On the other hand, just felt like a cop out.

I've always rooted for Jessica Chastain ever since I "discovered" her back in the summer of 2012, not long after her grand breakthrough moment with "The Tree of Life," "The Help" and "Take Shelter." I still believe she was robbed of the Oscar for "Zero Dark Thirty" (good riddance, J-Law), and that she should have had a third nomination for "A Most Violent Year." But MOLLY'S GAME is just "Miss Sloane" part deux, and we all know what a hot mess that was. "Molly's Game" is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, and I don't know if that explains why the movie is so loud, so verbose, so in-your-face talkative. Many times I wanted the voice-over to just shut down because it's violating the "show, don't tell" rule. Thank goodness Chastain didn't squeak past Meryl at the Oscars, because then I would have surprised myself crying foul over the injustice of it all. Chastain needs better, fresher roles now. (God, can't believe I just typed that.) And the nerve of this movie to drag Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" into the fore.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Screen Log 9: The Shape of Water; Loveless; Wonder Wheel; RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars Season 3

"Wonder Wheel."

Was THE SHAPE OF WATER the so-called "best" among this year's Best Picture nominees? No. But was it a deserving winner? Yes. I've read some complaints online about the movie's loopholes and illogical turns, and all I can say is, what loopholes and lack of logic this is an effin' fairy tale it's not supposed to make perfect sense! Looking at it as a fairy tale--which was obviously Guillermo del Toro's intent from the start--greatly increases one's appreciation for this film. Lovely, lovely storytelling from start to end. I'm not sold on Octavia Spencer barging into the Supporting Actress race; this was just Octavia being nominated a third time for another feisty, winning but typical Octavia performance, and the slot should have gone to Holly Hunter or Tiffany Haddish, or both (taking Mary J. Blige out of the roster as well). But my my my that Sally Hawkins is truly a wonder isn't she. And Richard Jenkins. And the production design. And the cinematography. And the Desplat score. And, well, I'm just gushing now.

LOVELESS, the Russian nominee in this year's Oscars and the Jury Prize winner in Cannes last year, challenged me to be a better viewer. It's essentially two movies conjoined at the 50-minute mark. The first half's about the bleak, heartless wasteland brought about by a yet-to-be-finalized divorce. The second half's a search-and-rescue (though there's no rescue in the end) thriller, when the prospective divorcees' only son goes missing. I loved the second half; the first half almost drove me to sleep. I could not for the life of me enter the world of the movie, and really, when the search party entered the story, it felt like an entirely separate movie already. Get this: It's a competent movie, with the camera work pulling off a lot of neat tricks (my favorite being the one where the camera just focused on the rearview mirror inside the car while the world--and the story--continued outside that focus, all the while the actor in the scene acting only through said mirror). I appreciate--no, I'm grateful, really, for the chance to have seen this movie. But I will not be watching it again.

Years from now, people will talk about the exact moment Woody Allen's career turned into total shit, and there will be varying answers. Me, I will say that the highlight of this decline was 2017, with WONDER WHEEL, a loud and shallow film populated by Allen stand-ins talking like scripts on autopilot. This was just bad, bad writing, as if Allen were telling the world, "I'm deaf and don't give a shit what you all think, I'm right, I will defend myself to the grave!" I could never presume to know what made Kate Winslet say yes to this role (though in fairness to her, she wrings the life out of it), and as for Justin Timberlake, well, kid, this was your choice--painful, yes, but yours to make. The saving graces are the production design and the cinematography--both illuminating, really, against all the ongoing verbal incoherence.

I just have a few words for the recently concluded third season of RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE ALL STARS. First, when the series started, I was like, whoa, why these contestants? And then how quickly they all converted me with what they brought to that stage. This was basically Ben dela Creme's crown, so her shadow will always be attached to Trixie's win, no offense to Trixie fans out there. Kennedy Davenport deserved Ben's elimination spot, and Bebe was just a high-class feral bitch through and through, I almost wanted her to win. Almost, because I wanted Shangela to win. Yes, that Shangela. Shangela of Tulle-gate of Season 3. Shangela of the gift box. Shangela who kept referencing "Game of Thrones" throughout the season and then finally got Game of Thrones-ed herself during the finale.