THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (Milos Forman, 1996)

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“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you’ve heard a lot here today, and I’m not gonna try to go back over it all again for you. But you have to go back in that room and make some decisions. And there is one thing I want to make very clear to you before you do. I am not trying to convince you that you should like what Larry Flynt does.

I don’t like what Larry Flynt does. But what I do like is that I live in a country where you and I can make that decision for ourselves. I like that I live in a country where I can pick up Hustler and read it if I want to or throw it in the garbage can if that’s where I think it belongs. Or better yet, I can exercise my opinion and not buy it.

I like that I have that right. I care about it. And you should care about it too. You really should. Because we live in a free country. We say that a lot, but I think sometimes we forget really what that means, so listen to it again.

We live in a free country. And that is a powerful idea. That’s a magnificent way to live. But there’s a price for that freedom, which is that sometimes we have to tolerate things that we don’t necessarily like.

So go back in that room, where you are free to think whatever you want to think about Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine. But ask yourselves if you want to make that decision for the rest of us. Because the freedom that everyone in this room enjoys is in a very real way in your hands. If we start throwing up walls against what some of us think is obscene we may very well wake up one morning and realize walls have been thrown up in all kinds of places that we never expected. And we can’t see anything or do anything.

And that’s not freedom. That is not freedom. So be careful. Thank you.”

(Also, Woody Harrelson gave the performance of his life in this film.)

Rating: ★★★★★

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THE GREAT HACK (Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim, 2019)

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So the internet gods are listening in on my private conversations with friends? That the microphones and cameras on my laptop and smartphone are picking up details that create my data profile for social media sites to accurately predict my behaviour and interests? It wasn’t merely a coincidence that after I mentioned a planned trip to Tokyo next year, my Facebook feed immediately got bombarded by sponsored Klook ads offering discounted tour packages? Oh, please!! We all signed up for this. We can’t make our lives public on the worldwide web and then fear that strangers know way too much about us, right? It’s time to admit that we’re basically living in a supersized Black Mirror episode.

Although this documentary didn’t contain a lot of new information (especially if one had been following all the discussions related to Brexit, the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook-gate), I was still fascinated by the thought that these so-called villains preyed on the “persuadables” and successfully swayed them to their desired results. Will that stop me from taking the next “Which Sex and the City character are you” quiz? My Miranda side is screaming “DON’T!!”, but I’m sure my gullible Charlotte side wins in the end.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

MIDSOMMAR (Ari Aster, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Midsommar:

1. Let me preface this by stating that I would never recommend this film to just about anyone. My high rating wasn’t really a reflection of its overall quality. Rather, it spoke more about the perverse pleasure that I had watching old people’s faces smashed to smithereens or the silly thought that a horny teenage girl used her pubic hair trimmings as a vital ingredient to a love elixir (or better put, organic gayuma that would put all those Quiapo-made ones to shame).

Pretty sure a good number of you might find this misadvertised (?) horror movie reaaaaally slow and excruciatingly boring (even worse, lacking a decent payoff). I should know, I felt the exact same grief with Ari Aster’s feature length debut film Hereditary and its snail-paced two hours (plus knockoff Paranormal Activity 3 ending). You had been properly warned.

2. I mentioned before that Get Out gave me that creepy Shake, Rattle & Roll II: Aswang vibe where Daniel Kaluuya’s character Chris resembled the offering of the month Portia, played by local horror princess Manilyn Reynes. Well this one took it to a whole new level by increasing the number of Portias and cranking up the overall weirdness (and this coming from someone who had seen both versions of Wicker Man).

I had never been this scared of villagers wearing all-white outfits (imagine the boxes of Tide that they consumed!!) and faint, chanting sounds that would never be part of my ASMR nightly playlist. Because of this movie, Sweden definitely dropped to the bottom of my travel checklist, just a little above Slovakia (no thanks to you Hostel!!).

3. There were several moments here that required suspension of disbelief because nobody in their right minds would see a body freefall from a cliff and not run as far away as possible from that crime scene (no, not even if one would win a Pulitzer for Anthropology by writing about that cultish ritual). And who wouldn’t question the type of meat pies that were being served to them, especially one that had a golden pube? (This reminded me again of another Manilyn classic, the Zombies episode of Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang where they got served a special soup filled with hair, nails, and ultimately “MATAAAAAA!!”).

Why didn’t these people ever feel the need to… wait for it, get out?!

4. Still, the most disturbing bits for me were the ones where Dani Gurl (Florence Pugh) suffered from panic attacks caused by the trauma of her bipolar sister killing their entire family (the sight of the sister with that exhaust tube taped around her mouth was the stuff of nightmares).

One of my favorite scenes was this smooth transition of Dani exiting the living room and ending up hyperventilating in the plane’s lavatory (my other favorite was that disorienting upside down shot of the car traversing the country road, reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead).

Pugh’s a terrific actress and effortlessly made me feel the pain that she was going through. Seriously, I needed some high-grade Ativan as well to calm me down after her breakdowns. 

(Although I did find it weird that Dani experienced a lot of grisly stuff yet only threw up when she witnessed her “cheating” boyfriend. Iba talaga ang effect ng pag-ibig.)

5. Happy to see The Good Place’s Chidi (William Jackson Harper) playing a variation of his geeky TV persona on the big screen. Wait, he wasn’t too smart in this one pala considering where his character (and leg) ended up.

6. When the one of the elders used the tambyolo to pick out the village’s other 90-year offering, was it a direct reference to Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery?

7. Moral of the story: Always treat your partner right or you might end up drugged inside a hollowed-out bear while burning in a cult’s yellow temple. You had been warned, Gerald Anderson.

Rating: ★★★★☆

FAMILY HISTORY (Michael V., 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Family History:

1. In one of the funniest Bubble Gang moments to date, the brilliant Michael V. came up with a parody video of Lady Gaga’s super hit Bad Romance (called Bathroom Dance). Dressed up in a knockoff iconic white leotard, he twisted and turned around a huge bathroom set while singing (or more appropriately, moaning) about the things he ate (“Okoy, candy, ice cream, laing, siopao, beer, gravy”) that caused his diarrhea-like symptoms.

My favorite bit was when he converted the French lines in the original song to fit his condition and ended up with the hilarious “Jeux tot lang yun, pero parang hindi. Jeux tot lang ba? Ay nakakadiri!”. Genius, right?

2. I was somewhat anticipating that same brand of humor in this movie (where he performed triple duty of acting, writing and directing; move over, Bradley Cooper!!), but what I didn’t expect was for each scene to have a punchline. Seriously, why did everything need to be funny?

When the oncologist (Dingdong Dantes, credited for a cameo role naturally) was discussing the grave illness of May (Dawn Zulueta), her husband Alex (Michael V.) kept making jokes about her situation and it wasn’t even his character’s form of coping mechanism. It was just Michael V. the comedian trying to prove that he was a worthy successor to the late Dolphy. I had a tough time brushing off that queasy feeling of hearing the audience laugh when the doctor confirmed that May had a malignant tumor (read: cancer).

Sure, I was a fan of Jonathan Levine’s cancer dramedy 50/50, but that film knew how to properly balance things out in order to elicit the right emotions. It wasn’t just a series of gags that continued to mine laughs at the expense of a dying, bald woman undergoing chemotherapy.

3. It was for this same reason that I didn’t feel much during all of those dramatic highlights. One of the few scenes that I liked here involved Alex singing an original song to a bedridden May and eventually asking for her forgiveness. It was the kind of scenario that would make me weep and curl up in a fetal position, except that I felt completely detached from these characters. Or maybe because this happened towards the end and I was just expecting the requisite punchline to ruin the moment.

4. I had never seen this many “fade to black” since my college Powerpoint presentation of the “Most Beautiful People in Showbusiness”. While other filmmakers limited the use of this basic editing style to signify the end of an act (or the film itself), this one just had too much fun with it. Why? Because. (Fade to black.)

5. Since Alex’s boss (Nonie Buencamino) was a closeted homosexual, he wore a lot of baby pinks and purples. Bakit hindi na lang siya nilagyan ng rainbow tattoo sa forehead?

6. Other burning questions:

• Did we really need that same exterior shot to establish the hospital scenes? Ano ‘to, teleserye? And why were there so many static scenes? Bawal gumalaw ang camera?

• Although it was established that Alex was a 2D animator that shunned new technology, how could he not know about file formats (“HIV ata”)? Was he also too old-school to not use a television and that was why he never learned of Michael Jackson’s death?

(I appreciated the choice of having animated sequences given the nature of his work, though. Sana lang hindi ganun ka-off ang pagka-insert sa mga eksena.)

• Was Miguel Tanfelix trying to relive the 90’s boyband look with that perennial side brush?

• If Kakai Bautista’s character was such a good influence to May, why was she too eager to support her married friend’s love affair? (And was there ever a scene here where her acting wasn’t immediately set to level 999?)

• It’s 2019 and we still got a scene where Alex sexually harassed another woman and it was played for laughs? (Eww.)

• How could Alex reminisce scenes that he never really saw or experienced?

• Most importantly, who in their right mind would use the rough (green) side of a Scotch-Brite to wash glasses? Imagine those scratches! Horrors!! (Ay, commercial pala siya for Joy in the middle of the movie.)

7. Medyo cute yung juxtaposition na like father, like son in terms of quoting lyrics. At least they both had good taste for knowing the Eraserheads’ Maling Akala and Parokya ni Edgar’s Buloy.

8. You know how Star Cinema kept  punishing its strong female leads with a philandering husband and a broken family? That being a successful, career-driven woman was a curse on one’s marriage? GMA Films had a reverse take with Alex being too busy to attend to his wife’s needs that led to her extra-marital affair with John Estrada and his enormous package (no really, it was referenced and highlighted in the movie). May even justified the act by saying that it was needed to fix her family. Huwat?? (Even weirder, it wasn’t a big deal to John and his wife. Deadma lang.)

9. “Minsan mas okay maging mabait kesa maging tama.” I wonder if Auggie Pullman was shooketh.

10. Amidst all the gags, it was fun to see Michael V. living his fantasy of being fawned over by lovely women and putting the DILF status of Ian Veneracion to shame. Jeux tot mo haha!!

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

BREAKING THE WAVES (Lars von Trier, 1996)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

I’d always remember this film as the one that my college Theology professor detested so much that she spoiled the entire story in one of our classes and discouraged us from ever seeing it, lest our souls burn in the pits of hell.

Being the obedient, saintly, Catholic school-raised kid that I was, of course I ignored her warning and immediately looked for a copy from my favorite mIRC channel (the cinema-related one, not the other kind). I was enthralled for two and a half hours and absorbed every “immoral” theme it had to offer. My spirit felt completely free by the time the bells started chiming in the end.

I guess I still turned out okay. (Not so sure about my soul, though.) Sadly, I never had the chance to tell my dear old teacher how much I loved it and that she “had no right to consign Bess to hell”.

Emily Watson was just phenomenal here. The rest of the cast (especially Stellan Skarsgard and the late Katrin Cartlidge) were terrific as well.

If you were able to watch the National Anthem episode of Black Mirror, you might have heard of the Dogme 95 style as part of the hostage taker’s demands in terms of filming that pig scene (“no background music, only natural light for authenticity”). That directorial choice worked really well in this one. Made me wonder if it was time to revive the Mother Lily Pito-Pito cinematic movement.

Rating: ★★★★★

AZIZ ANSARI: RIGHT NOW (Spike Jonze, 2019)

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“Look, we’re all shitty people, okay? And we have our blind spots. And we become aware, and we slowly get better. We’re all on a journey. And if you’re one of these people sitting there, like, ‘I’m not shitty. I’m aware of all the marginalized groups and everything’, you’re extra shitty, okay?”

As if Master of None wasn’t proof enough that Aziz Ansari’s a comedy genius. This stand-up special served as a razor-sharp commentary on our current social climate and a deeply personal look at a “reborn” comic.

Also, The Office will never be the same again.

Rating: ★★★★☆

THE LION KING (Jon Favreau, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

Some notes:

• Excellent (proper term: hyperrealistic) visual effects reminiscent of The Jungle Book. I watched this in 3D/4DX and I was always close to pissing my pants whenever there were close-ups of Scar and the hyenas. It felt like I was in a safari tour where our bus had no protective grills. Loved the wildebeests stampede, though. (Parents, you might want to reconsider bringing your really young kids.)

• Although I didn’t have problems with all the talking, the lack of emotions was more evident during the singing parts. The expected magic of the musical numbers got zapped out of them due to the limitations. The “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” sequence mostly involved a lot of running. “Be Prepared” sounded like a series of chants. The only bit that worked was “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” that served as a theme during a montage and didn’t really involve much of Simba and Nala overtly singing. (Would this remake have worked better without the song numbers? Hmmm…)

• Loved Donald Glover’s voice as Simba, but I was even more impressed with Billy Eichner as Timon. I eagerly waited for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and it didn’t disappoint. Seth Rogen was also a great choice as Pumbaa. Plus, James Earl Jones is James Earl Jones.

• A bit disappointed that Timon didn’t don a hula skirt, but they more than made up for it with that hilarious “Be Our Guest” bit and the #NoToBodyShaming scene.

• I really liked how it addressed (sometimes mocked) some of the minor misses (?) in the original: when Scar didn’t knock down Zazu when he was supposed to tell the tribe about the stampede, that Pumbaa and Timon didn’t age at all during the “Hakuna Matata” montage (where we finally heard the word farted!!), etc.

• Shenzi as the leader of the hyena pack? Nala getting more scenes proving that she’s a worthy future Queen? And that glorious showdown between them? Now that was an awesome display of girl power that didn’t even need a lame original song (yes, looking at you Jasmine 2019).

• Missed Ed. I loved Ed in the original.

• Did we really need a lot of those extended sequences? The rat that Scar was supposed to have for lunch had an incredibly long screen time. And that entire fur flying sequence (although a good display of the circle of life) felt like forever (and reminded me of Forrest Gump’s feather).

• I completely lost it when Simba and Nala’s baby was raised during the end and somebody screamed, “Blue Ivy!!”. Now that’s the power of Beyonce’s spirit.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

MY LETTERS TO HAPPY (Pertee Briñas, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

‪Maganda yung intent ng film to portray characters with serious mental health concerns pero medyo na-romanticize ang problem to the point of being cutesy love-is-the-cure ala Last Night. I wanted to see sana the darker side of bipolar disorder and depression and how they affected adult relationships, but the movie barely scratched the surface.‬

‪Sayang kasi the two leads (Glaiza de Castro and TJ Trinidad) were competent enough to take the issue further and tackle it with more depth.‬

‪I also wasn’t a fan of that shaky cam style (chosen to reflect the characters’ troubled lives and psyches?). Ang sakit sa ulo huhu.‬

‪The sublime Shamaine Buencamino showed up in one powerful scene, summed up the entire experience, and delivered the feels that I was looking for. When she mentioned how much her condition was affecting her mother and that she knew she had to get better, I really felt that.

Medyo bad taste lang ang ending for me. A troubled girl’s mental health issues was used for a man’s self-discovery? Tapos wala na follow through kay Happy? Yikes!!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

PIHU (Vinod Kapri, 2018)

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Based on a true story which made it all the more disturbing.

Parents with toddlers can view this as a cautionary tale (time to start childproofing your home) or just skip it on Netflix to prevent any anxiety attack and unnecessary paranoia.

This thriller probably would have been more effective as a short film, but it still traumatized me for life.

Rating: ★★★☆☆