Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Monday, February 04, 2008


Sorry McViewers, I’ve been quite busy the whole week. So when Saturday I had unexpected free time (I was scheduled to work over the weekend), I took the chance to go on a movie marathon. I ended up watching three movies—two in the cinemas, one on DVD—in one day.

WARNING: Spoiler alert!

* * * * *

I trooped to Robinson’s Galleria to watch Indiesine’s latest offering, Jun Lana’s Roxxxanne, starring Jay Aquitana Janvier Daly and Sheree. Jay is the blooming homosexual teen with hidden desires for his friend Janvier. Sheree plays the new tenant in the compound where Jay lives who eventually becomes a victim of a sex scandal video.

The movie is about how these .mp4s and .movs (passed around thru cellphones) ruin the lives of the three leads. A clip of Janvier semi-naked and asleep ruins the deep friendship between him and Jay. A clip of a woman being forced to show her breasts is attributed to Sheree, ruining her reputation (and more) amongst her neighbors.

I particularly found the ending disturbing and moving, when the director shows in full the sex scandal video of the girl showing her breasts. You strain your eyes and ask: Is that really her or just someone who looks like her? Even the viewer’s assumptions are challenged.

The movie would have had more impact had it been produced and released several years ago, at the height of all these sex video/tape/viral scandals supposedly involving celebrities. But now the issue is dead, with the public more blasé and skeptical of such video grabs. And this puts the movie in an awkward place. Had Lana made the movie’s script more timeless instead of timely then the impact would have been greater.

Janvier needs more work. He does his best, but the strain in his efforts show. Jay fares better; his acting is more natural and unforced in most of his scenes.

* * * * *

Then I went to watch another movie wherein cameras (or in this case, a camera) also play a big role. Cloverfield, a movie by the creators of TV’s Alias and Lost, recently opened huge in the U.S., grossing much higher than expected. The buzz and hype for this movie was done mostly through word-of-mouth, generated at first by a shocker of a teaser shown before the movie Transformers and then passed on via YouTube. Plus JJ Abrams and company placed clues in a website designed to intrigue; soon dozens of theories were bouncing all over the blogsphere. This snowballed into something of a buzz-phenomena that peaked the week before it opened.

Great marketing strategy, but is it a good movie? I have to admit, it’s quite engaging once the ground starts trembling. The problem is that the characters—while nice to look at—aren’t the kind whom the viewers will invest in. At the start they were too numerous; when they’re whittled down to four, they’re still not too interesting enough. And so the “I love you’s” in the end don’t feel earned.

But the whole exercise is really for the YouTube generation, they with the familiarity of the jiggle-heavy hand-held camera and the grainy videos. Sure, this is Hollywood so the jiggle and realism is reduced for the sake of comprehension (How could the guy keep shooting the whole time? Don’t the batteries run out? And give me the brand of that video camera—the night footage is excellent!).

Reviewers have commented that Cloverfield’s docu-style evokes the urgency and immediacy of video footage—both amateur and news—taken during 911 (don’t invite anyone over 50 or those suffering motion sickness to watch this movie). But while Cloverfield is an exciting exercise in cinematic kinesis, in the end it really is just the 2008 version of a 1999 movie wherein strong word-of-mouth buzz, an Internet-savvy marketing, and fake “raw footage” about a witch got people’s imagination and attention. In 1999 it was a horror movie; this year it’s a monster movie. Yes ladies and gentlemen, Cloverfield is really The Blair Monster Project.

* * * * *

I watched Sa Aking Pagkakagising Mula Sa Kamulatan, the digital movie directed by Ato Bautista starring Carlo Aquino. It’s a multi-story, multi-character movie that jumps almost effortlessly from one vignette to the next. At first it unfolds like the usual “people-in-the-slums” story, but as the movie progresses it actually blooms into this tapestry of tales on how nobody is who they seem to be, that behind the obvious surface are back stories that change the way people and events are seen.

Rey (Carlo Aquino) gets brutally mauled by tambay-sa-kanto boys Pogi (Ketchup Eusebio), Jopet (Cholo Barretto), Kahoy (Empoy Marquez) and Taba (Hector Macaso). At first this seems to be a cut-and-dried scene of wanton brutality. But as the movie tackles the stories behind each individual, the singular event takes on a deeper, sadder implication. It’s a bloody consequence of a series of unfortunate events. And what happens next is but the brutal ending to a brutal beginning.

The acting is first-rate. The cinematography is excellent, although I find the use of the fish-eye lens bothersome because it reminds me that we are watching a movie. The movie quietly but steadily builds up to a climax, amply aided by sparse music that, thank god, avoided the singular-keyboard sound of most indie projects.

The movie isn’t near perfect, but it does nicely cap a day of movie marathon-ing.


BoobooStrider said...

i agree with your take on Roxxxanne. Ngayon ko lang actually naisip na medyo laos na nga yung concept kasi di na masyado pinapansin yung sex videos ngayon. but i still think Jun Lana did an excellent job directing it. engaging sha and yes janvier was a bit disappointing.

and jay aquitana was surprisingly good!

re: cloverfield, i loved it. pero true, nahilo ako! ang dami ko pa naman binili pagkain habang nanunuod

bulitas said...

wow! it's good that you get to see indie films in the country. well, too bad for me, i could only get as much indie either from the filipino dvd stores or from torrent sites in the internet (which rarely shares indie stuffs).

nice reviews, by the way! apir!