cinema, current events, Film Review

DVD Pick: V for Vendetta

As I browsed through the ‘Net, I found my old blog (parts of it) archived. I’m re-blogging it here. In this era of Big Business-Big Government alliance, it is always a good idea to watch V for Vendetta to remind ourselves the importance of individual and collective liberties. I have to add that Natalie Portman’s portrayal was great. And so was Hugo Weaving’s vocal performance. Freedom Forever!

v maskWhile the film is about ten years old, the character V’s Guy Fawkes mask is now a world-wide symbol of protest. It is also a symbol of the international network of computer-savvy activists.

I’m glad I found these old blogposts. This post plus the documentary critique SEEING TREASON: Justifying a State of Emergency in a documentary plus Good Night and Good Luck: Reminder to Defend Freedom of the Press remind us the precarious state of Freedom during the Macapagal-Arroyo regime.

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TUESDAY, MARCH 21, 2006

V for Vendetta:

The Movie to watch in Big Sister’s Philippines

The Wachowski brothers did it again! The Matrix (the original) was such a great philosophical metaphor of a film. This time, it is a straightforward attack on the idiots who support and follow Georgie Porgie and his War on Terror.

Well, it is still a metaphor but anyone can immediately see the parallel between the High Chancellor (played by the very good actor John Hurt) and George W. Bush, and the events in the film are close to reality.

The Americans have already given up some of their freedoms in support of Bush’s War on Terror. It is not inconceivable that the US will go the way of England as depicted in the film.

In fact, in the Philippines, some of the things shown in the film are already happening. As the soldiers involved in the Oakwood mutiny have asserted, the bombing in Davao was done by the soldiers themselves with no less than the Armed Forces Chief of Staff or Defense Secretary (Angelo Reyes) being involved.

And of course, the modus operandi of arresting people then labeling them as terrorists and later killing them extra-judicially is too plain to see by critical thinking people.

In the Inquirer Editorial of today, Editorial : When evil is good, the writer compares Orwell’s 1984 with Philippines of today. The editorial concludes:

In our present stage of political instability and turmoil, when there is undeclared martial law and a creeping movement toward authoritarianism, it would be well for the people to keep the lessons of “1984” in mind and strongly resist the totalitarian actions and rules of the administration. If we remain too long in a state of apathy and inaction, we may wake up too late, when we have already lost our freedom.

The Orwellian film V for Vendetta is more proximate and more accessible to today’s audience than Orwell’s novel.

Little Miss Gloria, her little “Mike to the Defense” Defensor and her Justice Secretary would do well to watch this film.

In the Philippines, such a movie could not be made. The producers / director would be charged with sedition by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her Jusdtice Secretary and be attacked in the media by her defender, Secretary Defensor.

This film is recommended to all freedom-loving people, especially the Muslims, who now carry the stigma of terrorism the world over due to Bush propaganda.

I must say, hats off to the Wachowskis for their courage in making a film that goes against the Terror-mongers like Bush and Blair.

documentary, Film Review, History, Media Studies

SEEING TREASON: Justifying a State of Emergency in a documentary

In February 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in her pursuit of a “Strong Republic”, proclaimed a State of Emergency through Presidential Proclamation 1017 to give her government Martial Law powers. Malacanang produced a documentary titled Paglaban sa Kataksilan: 1017 (1017: To Fight Treason). The Philippine Journalism Reports’ (PJR’s) editor asked me to write a review of the government’s documentary.

I blogged this article before but for some reasons, my blog vanished from the cyberspace. Fortunately, the article is still in cyberspace — at the site of the Center for Media and Responsibility, the publisher of PJR.

This piece is important for me because it is historically significant. It was done at a time when the government was serious in its attempts to quell any democratic opposition to its policies. It is a good piece to show Media Studies students what a documentary is and is not. It is also a way of reminding people that the seemingly meek and sick ex-president languishing in a government hospital as a prisoner was actually an iron-willed President (“Strong-person”) of her “Strong Republic” who practically declared Martial Law.

PP1017 REVIEW PJRJournalism Review

REVIEW:  Palace Documentary justifies PP1017
POSTED BY || 30 APRIL 2006

REVIEW: Palace Documentary justifies PP 1017
SEEING TREASON

By Datu Jamal Ashley Abbas

The movie Good Night and Good Luck (2005) showcased what many consider as television journalism’s finest moments when American broadcast journalist Edward Murrow and his team took head-on the Terror known as McCarthyism or the Red Scare that gripped America in the early 1950s. On March 9, 1954, Murrow aired in his TV program See It Now, a documentary showing clips of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s speeches. Murrow and his team used McCarthy’s own words against the senator.

The timing of the movie is very opportune for Filipinos in the grip of the 1017 aftermath. While Americans have sur-rendered some of their freedoms in the name of President Bush’s war on terror through the Patriot Act, the proclamation of a State of Emergency (PP 1017) in the Philippines has shown everyone that the freedoms that Filipinos regained in EDSA 1986 could easily be lost again.

To justify Proclamation 1017, Malacañang produced a video documentary titled, Paglaban sa Kataksilan: 1017.  The producers and crew of this documentary did not use Murrow’s techniques. Instead, they followed the tactics of Senator McCarthy.

McCarthy fanned the anti-communist hysteria and led the witch-hunt that destroyed the lives of many freedom-loving Americans. Whoever got the ire of McCarthy was immediately labeled a Communist. In the 1017 documentary, everyone against the Arroyo government is a leftist-rightist extremist.

The video opens to martial music with the camera tilting from the sky to a long shot of Malacañang.  President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo then explains in the vernacular the rationale behind 1017.

Apparently, the director wan-ted to show that the President is a person of authority. Her words and demeanor give the impres-sion of a “strong president”.

The narrator then declares that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) ordered the groups fronting for them to launch massive protest rallies on Feb. 24, the 20th anniversary of EDSA 1. Images of ordinary Filipinos rallying at the EDSA Shrine were shown.

To support this assertion, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Generoso Senga states that previous to that date, there were lightning rallies by supporters of former President Joseph Estrada and the late presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr.

Strange bedfellows
The voice-over then states that Rep. Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna declared a union of forces with Erap supporters, the Hyatt 10, and former President Cory Aquino.

Ocampo’s plan, according to the documentary, was to march with 20,000 people on Feb. 22 to convene at the People Power Monument on Feb. 23 and to march to Mendiola on the 24th.

Do the video-makers believe that the people would cower in fear because the leftist congressman had joined forces with supporters of former Presidents Aquino and Estrada and the so-called Hyatt 10? Are Aquino and Estrada rightists? If they are rightists, what does that make of the generals?

What about the Hyatt 10, a strange mix of government functionaries and politicians? Are they of the Left or of the Right?

Viewers would certainly be led to ask if it is against the law to march in the streets to celebrate the 20th anniversary of EDSA.

Marching in protest during the anniversary of EDSA 1 is well within the rights of citizens as enshrined in the Constitution. What then is so ominous about it?

The armed opposition
The video then segues to the armed opposition. The narrator explains that the NPA attacks against the military had inten-sified. Footage shows soldiers waging war against an unseen enemy.

The narrator then boasts that the NPA terrorists failed and that many of their members have in fact surrendered.

This micro segment begs the question, “So what’s the problem?” If the NPAs were defeated, then bravo for the AFP! So why is there need for 1017?

General Senga says that meanwhile, military components are moving against the govern-ment. Their alleged activities include recruitment of junior officers as well as spreading black propaganda to sow disunity in the AFP.

A newspaper headline announcing the escape of four Magdalo officers flashes on-screen. The narrator says that NPA spokesman Ka Roger Rosal has announced his offer to give sanctuary to the Magdalo officers.

Lt. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon then explains that there was a Memorandum of Agreement between the CPP and the Magdalo or the Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan.

As further proof of the supposed alliance between disgruntled military officers and the CPP, the narrator states that on Feb. 21, Lt. Lawrence San Juan, one of the escapees, was recaptured together with two NPA members. One of them was lawyer Cristopher Belmonte who, according to the video, had been arrested in 1997 together with the Alex Boncayao Brigade leader Nilo de la Cruz.

Raising a Hackle
Viewers are bound to ask: If Belmonte, a supposed top leader of the CPP-NPA, had already been arrested before, then why was he out of jail? Was he freed? Or did he escape? Or is the military simply doing what McCarthy used to do—labeling perceived enemies as “communist”?

The only item in the video that could lead viewers to suspect an alliance between disgruntled military officers and leftists is the presence of lawyers Argee Guevarra and JV Bautista, both of Sanlakas, a leftist group. Senga pointed out that both were constantly beside Col. Querubin during the Fort Bonifacio stand-off.

Of course, the two lawyers could just be offering their legal services or they simply wanted to be on TV.

The video then went on to say that a document among Lt. San Juan’s papers indicated a supposed attempt to overthrow the government through Oplan Hackle.

But the viewers never get to see that document.

Oplan Hackle is allegedly a complex plan to overthrow the government by attacking various government institutions and media facilities. It comes complete with sub-plans carrying cinematic titles like “The Main Event,” “Sister Act 1” and “Sister Act 2.”

According to the documentary, the NPAs have failed in their attacks against the military and many have surrendered. Why then would disgruntled military officers with top-notch skills and high-tech weapons forge ties with an emaciated group whose ideology opposes theirs? It just doesn’t make sense.

What a documentary is
Throughout its history, the term documentary has always referred to facts, clues, proofs, or giving evidence about something. It refers to reality or something that is real. The 1017 documentary is really more like a Power Point presentation than a film documentary. Yet with its varied and numerous assertions, not a single document—whether written or filmed—was shown.

For example, the ringleaders of the military would-be rebels were supposed to be Gen. Danilo Lim and Col. Querubin. According to the video documentary, Gen. Lim was the “over-all ground commander of the mili-tary component” of the alleged coup attempt and was arrested before the scheduled rallies.

Col. Querubin even had a very public tantrum when he protested the removal of his superior, Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda.  But the five-hour or so “stand-off” at Fort Bonifacio certainly did not give the impression that Querubin was a man under arrest.

According to the video, PP 1017 was issued to prevent a coup d’etat. Using PP 1017 as the “enabling law,” police dispersed rallies, arrested citizens, and threatened the media. Yet the alleged leading coup plotters Lim and Querubin were not arrested and formally charged imme-diately. Gen. Esperon recom-mended that Gen. Lim be brought before a court martial almost one month after the issuance of PP 1017.

Again, it doesn’t make sense.

Curiously, while PP 1017 states: “Whereas, the claims of these elements have been recklessly magnified by certain segments of the national media”, the 1017 documentary is quite silent on the role of the mass media in the alleged coup attempt.

Yet one of the first things that the government did after Proclamation 1017 was to harass the media and instruct them to follow government guidelines.

Kataksilan: Fact or fiction?

Stanford University’s Henry Breitrose, in his essay “There Is Nothing More Practical Than a Good Film Theory,” argues that “one of the functions of the documentary is to truthfully represent how things are in the world by ensuring that statements correspond to facts.” He further notes that “the normative assumption is that the film maker tells the truth, and bias or untruth is open to determination by colleagues and critics in the public forum.”

Critical thinking viewers can easily determine the bias and untruth of Malacañang’s video documentary. Murrow’s docu-mentary used McCarthy’s own words against the senator. The 1017 documentary might end up indicting the very people it is supposed to serve.

Datu Jamal Ashley Abbas is a Media and Film Studies scholar, a documentarian and author of an award-winning article for journalism.  He writes a monthly column, “Quantum Cinema,” for Mr. & Ms magazine.

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Film, Film Review, Media Studies Notes

Mendoza’s Kinatay: Cannes 2009′s Best Film Direction winner

I knew that sooner or later, a Filipino indie film would win awards in international film festivals. As I kept on telling friends, it is very easy to satisfy European festival judges. Just give them a good dose of poverty, a dash of culture and some nudity. And if you really want to win, add some scenes denigrating Filipino customs, politics, bureaucracy or society.

When Brillante Mendoza won as Best Director for Kinatay (Butchered) in 2009 in Cannes, I was glad and curious. Does it mean that Filipino film-making has finally come of age, or did Mendoza simply followed the winning formula? I hoped that it was the former. I’ve also heard that he is quite well-connected in Cannes.

I saw Mendoza’s Serbis and Tirador. I liked Serbis although I think it could have been made better.

For a year or so, I’ve been trying to find a DVD copy of Kinatay. I find it strange that nobody seems to be selling it here. I couldn’t even find it in the Internet. Until now. Finally, I downloaded a copy from the Internet!

FILM AS ART OR AS SOCIAL PRACTICE

When I was at graduate film school, I had a long-running discussion with the dean on whether Film should be viewed as Art or as Social Practice. In that college, the “politically correct” view was the Film-As-Social-Practice school of thought. I, on the other hand, stuck with the Film-As-Art principle.

When the Director of the premier state-run Film School in China visited the university, I grabbed the opportunity in the open forum to ask the Director  on his thoughts about the Film-As-Art / Film-As-Social=Practice debate. His answer was very straightforward. He said that if you want social practice, go read a newspaper! I felt so happy because I felt vindicated.

Finally, the Dean asked me to name artistic Filipino films. I mentioned a couple of Lamberto Avellana films. She said that those were done a long time ago. She wanted me to name recent ones. I named a couple made in the 1980s. She wanted a more recent one – in the late 90s or early 2000s. When I couldn’t, she asked, “So where does that leave us?” She explained that since we couldn’t talk of Filipino films as Art then we better talk of them as Social Practice, otherwise, there was nothing to talk about.

And so, I started “reading” Filipino films as social practice. It made good academic articles. But something did not feel right. When I read my articles, they were all about the political economy of the films, the social, psychological, philosophical and political aspects surrounding the films. But the articles did not indicate whether the films are good or not, in the sense of being artistically beautiful. Anyone who would read them would presume that the films were “good”.

So later on, I made it a point to include in the last third of the article my critique on the film as an artistic product. I would then mention the flaws in the narrative, the plots, the acting, the cinematography, etc. I just couldn’t let the reader believe that the film was nice to watch when it actually was not.

It is quite unfortunate that many film school graduates, who later on become filmmakers or critics or festival judges, do not have an appreciation of what makes a good artistic film.

I subscribe to Matthew Arnold’s dictum that the aim of art criticism is “to know the best that is known and thought in the world, and by in its turn making this known, to create a current of true and fresh ideas”. Matthew Arnold’s definition of culture, with the Arts as the main cultural products, as “the best that has been said and thought in the world” is nowadays pooh-poohed by Marxists and so-called progressives. I may belong to a dying breed of artists and critics who heartily approve of Arnold’s statements.

Some art collectors spend millions of dollars to acquire works of art presumably because they are “the best that has been said and thought in the world”.

THE WORST FILM EVER

The film critic and screenwriter Roger Ebert, whom Forbes magazine called “the most powerful pundit in America” described Kinatay as the worst film ever screened at the Cannes Festival. Ebert wrote in his Chicago Sun-Times column:

Here is a film that forces me to apologize to Vincent Gallo for calling “The Brown Bunny” the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival.

After extensive recutting, the Gallo film was redeemed. I don’t think editing is going to do the trick for “Kinatay.”

I suppose Mendoza is a fan of Gallo. Both movies are in a sense, “road movies”. The controversial scene in the Brown Bunny has its counterpart in Mendoza’s Serbis. The fellatio scene in the Brown Bunny was controversial because the woman is an established Hollywood actress while in the Mendoza film, the woman was a nobody. The fellatio woman in Mendoza’s film was not even supposed to be a woman. But as far as I could tell, it was a Filipina woman, not a transvestite. At any rate, it was reported that people walked out of the theater showing both movies.

But I must say, Serbis is a much better film than Kinatay.

KINATAY

As usual with Mendoza’s films, the setting is the slum area. This, of course, can only score big points from the European viewers. Then comes the long scenes with characters walking along the slum neighborhood and the streets of Manila. Learning his lesson from Serbis where European viewers became squeamish because of too much dirt, Mendoza downplayed the dirty part. But he still showed the uncollected tons of garbage bags near the main characters’ house.

The Western viewers are suckers for these scenes. It makes them feel vicariously how it is to live in such squalid places. For some academics or critics, this is their “research” into the social practice in these foreign parts.

The main couple (Peping and   Cecille) act as the tourist guides for the foreign viewers. They walk along the alleys of their slum neighborhood and drops off their child with a neighbor. With more walking, the viewers-cum-tourists-cum-researchers get to take a glimpse at everyday life in a Manila ghetto. The couple then take a tricycle ride before taking a jeepney ride to go to the municipal hall.

Wow, the foreign viewers just had a triple whammy — walking along the alleys of the ghetto, then taking a tricycle ride and then a jeepney ride. Most of these foreigners probably have not even seen a tricycle or a jeepney in their lives. The viewers-cum-tourists get to see more of Manila from the vantage point of someone in a tricycle and a jeepney. It must be exciting for them just as I am excited seeing people ride elephants or camels or landspeeder (like Luke Skywalker) for everyday purpose.

In the jeepney, the woman suddenly broke into tears. It could be because of the song where the female singer tells the lover to leave the other woman because they (the singer and the lover) would be better off together. Peping chided the girl for being dramatic. (The subtitles say that Peping said “Are you gonna cry on our wedding day?”  What he actually said was: “Ito naman panay nagdrama dahil ika____ (unintelligible) tayo,e.” (First, the Tagalog is ungrammatical. Second, he pronounced drama with the accent on the second syllable. The word ikakasal (to get married) was unintelligible because he was laughing from the second syllable. A Tagalog-speaking viewer could just surmise that Peping meant that his mate was being (melo)dramatic as usual (panay means always))

My friend and I didn’t know why she cried because Peping’s line was misspoken. Later, Peping said “Pipikutin mo na lang nga ako, e”. The English subtitle indicated: “It is you who forced me here, you know.” From the English, one would not know where or how or what is she forcing him to do. But in Tagalog, he was saying that she is forcing him to marry her. “Pikot” means a “shotgun wedding”. It’s such a chauvinistic thing to say. But then, this is a misogynistic film.

MORE TOURISTIC SCENES

The jeepney passed by a scene where a man was on a high billboard threatening to jump and commit suicide. There is a crowd watching him, including policemen and his mother imploring him to come down.

I have seen movie and TV scenes of individuals on top of buildings and ledges threatening to jump down – but they are all in Hollywood movies like in Accidental Hero. I don’t recall seeing such a scene in Filipino movies, especially with a major character threatening to jump down a high place.

I believe there are no such scenes in Filipino movies because that rarely happens in real life. I have spent decades walking and cruising along the streets of Metro Manila and I have never seen such a sight.

Why waste precious movie time on such a scene that is not pertinent to the story? The answer is:  Because the film has a very thin story line and so much of the movie time is spent guiding the “viewer-tourists” on a tour of “la vie quotidienne” (everyday life) in Manila.

In order to have more scenes for the “tourist” foreign viewers, the relatives of the couple went to the city hall separately, even though they most probably live in the same house or are neighbors. And so the relatives (an old lady and two kids) take the viewers on a tour of the city hall and its vicinity — passing by a flag ceremony and a mass wedding, among others.

THE JUDGE

The characters then came to the judge’s sala, a pitiful cramped room. The judge was played by Lou Veloso in his usual “over-acting” style. He asks the couple idiotic questions like “Are you pregnant?” He then gives a lecture on the importance of education. Yet, even though the bride said she was just 19 years old, he did not ask for a certificate of parental approval nor inquired about the presence of her parents (there appeared to be none). According the Philippine law, women below the age of 21 need parental approval.

What is even more amazing is that in the ceremony proper, he mentions “sa ating Kristiyanong comunidad” (in our Christian community”). Judicial weddings are not supposed to be Christian weddings. In fact, the Constitution mandates the separation of the Church and the State! How could non-Christians be married by a judge if the judge marries them in the name of the Christian community?

THE MOST UNHERALDED WEDDING

Maybe in Mendoza’s social circle, people go to their own weddings as if they are just going to see a movie. The couple wore everyday clothes. In fact, the groom was just wearing his college uniform. The couple took jeepney or tricycle rides instead of a taxi cab or a friend’s car. (Oh, they did ride aboard a friend’s car after the wedding). The parents of both sides appeared to be absent but there was a grandmother around. After the wedding, they went to eat at a restaurant. After lunch, they went their separate ways.

The movie continues. The groom proceeds to his school and attends classes. Oh, what an exemplary student. He attends school even on his wedding day!

And what a fine teacher he has. The teacher offers P100 to the student who could answer his question!

After school, the groom goes to his job collecting money from bookies. Funny thing is, these bookies are all ambulant vendors in a single street. Maybe he is collecting “protection money” from these vendors?  The film is not clear on this, as in many matters.

ANOTHER ROAD TOUR

The film takes the viewers on a night tour of Manila, this time along the main highway, EDSA.

Peping rides in the van with his boss, a police captain, and colleagues.  Along the way, the boss picks up a prostitute from a strip joint. The strip joint scene gave Mendoza a chance to titillate his tourist-viewers by showing a couple of ugly topless dancers.

The prostitute’s name is Madonna. What a cliche!

Without giving any reason, the boss’s right hand man, another police officer, starts punching the hooker and duck tapes her mouth. He continues hitting her until she is unconscious.

But Brillante did not show the actress being hit. It was all sound effects with the camera focusing mainly on Peping. It’s cheaper and easier for the actors that way.

And of course, Mendoza had to show that Filipinos pee on the road. So the van stops somewhere and everybody pee on the roadside.

SOUND EFFECTS

To tell the audience that something really bad is going to happen, a horror-movie musical score accompanies Peping and the road trip.

For an added suspense, a police crew cab arrives on the scene and follows the van for a long time. Even though the highway was wide, the police vehicle refuses to overtake the van. This is supposed to make the viewers think that the police will stop the van.

RAPE SCENE

To cap the film, there was the rape scenes. They were described by some writers as un-erotic (It is politically incorrect to have an erotic rape scene — that’s only for perverts and not for cineastes.) But the woman was not even tied up. In a couple of scenes, she was sitting with her back on the head board wearing only a fully opened blouse and a fully naked man, with his back on the camera, forcing himself on her mouth.

Foreign critics praising the film insist that the rape scenes are unerotic because the woman is not even pretty. Perhaps the notion that Ma. Isabel Lopez, the actress who portrayed the prostitute, was ugly came from what the police characters in the film kept on repeating — that she was old and past her prime. They kept on ridiculing her supposedly aging body. But even the main character, Peping, remarked that “she’s still beautiful, still sexy.” She certainly is prettier than the couple of younger topless dancers in the nightclub scene.

Ms. Lopez was the Bb. Pilipinas (Miss Philippines)-Universe 1982 and was a box office queen and top sex symbol in the 1980s. It is unfortunate that she went through bad times and is now forced to accept such demeaning roles.

Mendoza wanted to get Rossana Roces for that role. Rossana, though also past her prime, is younger and more beautiful (esp. in Western standards) than Ms. Lopez. Ms. Roces is white-skinned. Ms. Roces had the good sense to turn down the role.

THE GORE

The climax of the movie is the butchering of Madonna; thus, the title Kinatay, which means butchered.

But with all the butchering going on, there wasn’t much blood shown. There was no blood on the walls nor even on the head board. There wasn’t much blood on the men either.

The twist in the end reminded me of the short stories I used to write in high school. I was imitating Hitchcock. I always wanted endings that would  surprise, even shock, the readers. Kinatay is such a film – very sophomoric; nay,  juvenile.

CANNES 2009′S THIRD BEST FILM?

Mendoza won the Prix de la mise en scène or the Best Direction Award. It is the 3rd most prestigious award of the festival.

Technically, the film did not win an award. The director did. Maybe the jury wanted to reward him for making such a low-budget film (I’m sure it is the cheapest-made film in the festival) and dared to enter it in Cannes for competition?

I don’t know what were in the minds of Isabelle Huppert and company. I’ve seen Antichrist, Inglorious Basterds, Un prophete and Taking Woodstock. They were all immensely better than Kinatay. Un Prophete won the Grand Prix. I haven’t seen the Palm D’or winner Das weiße Band by Michael Haneke

Even the film Dogtooth, which was in the Un Certain Regard section, is a much better film than Kinatay.

Kinatay followed the formula to the hilt — showing urban poverty but in a subtle way (the walking tour guide), nudity (topless dancers and the “rape” scenes), Filipino everyday culture (the wedding, the mass wedding, the flag ceremony, the peeing on the road, the Christian icons — “Jesus is the Way” billboard, the Sacred Heart poster — etc.), and denigrating Philippine bureaucracy and society (the corruption of the police through protection money from illegal gambling, drugs and prostitution, and the culture of impunity -mindless killing).

In Mendoza’s Manila, police captains not only give protection to illegal gambling, prostitution and drug trafficking, they also kill and rape simply for the sake of killing and raping and with no fear of being caught.

IMDB

At the IMDB site, Kinatay is listed as “The Execution of P”. I don’t know where that title came from. Ma. Isabel Lopez’s character is named Madonna. If P stands for Prostitute, then the title is grammatically wrong. It should be “The Execution of a P”.  But then, what kind of title is that? Maybe  we can expect Mendoza’s next film to be “The Killing of P”, this time the P would stand for a Policeman.

According to IMDB, Kinatay’s storyline is:

A young man tries to make some money so he can marry his girlfriend. He takes a job for $2,000 and then soon realizes that this job involves killing a woman.

Whoever wrote the sentences above completely misunderstood the film. First, the young man got married in the morning while the “job” happened in the evening of the same day. Second, the young man did not even ask for the job. He was just asked to come along.

Third, where in the world did he get the amount of $2,000?! Towards the end of the film, the police captain gave him some bills amounting to not more than P5,000 or US$ 100. It was not payment for a job because there was no job for him. He merely tagged along. The money is more like a “tip” or gratuity or as the French would say, “pourboire”. In Tagalog, it is called “balato”.  A Filipino gives balato to friends, relatives or lackeys when they get an unexpected windfall, say from winning in the casino or payment for a service rendered. Presumably, the captain received money from somebody who wanted Madonna killed. He phoned somebody to tell him that the deed was done.

Obviously, the person who wrote the storyline in IMDB did not understand the movie. I won’t be surprised if the Cannes 2009 jury also misunderstood the movie.

GLAD BUT NOT HAPPY

As a Filipino, I am very glad that Mendoza won the Best Director Award. But as a film buff, a Film Studies scholar and a film critic, I am very sad that his film is so mediocre.

Cannes 2009′s Jury President Isabelle Huppert and Brillante Mendoza are planning to make a film together in the Philippines next year. Mendoza would be the perfect tourist guide for her. I suppose she was intrigued by the Manila slums and the  EDSA roadside.

Column article

God and Superman

superman qc-

The opening scene of Superman Returns (2006) shows cosmic images of a collapsing star which then gives birth to a new world. The voice-over, with a grandiose John Williams score, says: “You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes as your life will be seen through mine. The Son becomes the Father; the Father, the Son.”

Then the villain of the story is introduced. In her deathbed, an old wrinkled lady signs away all her riches to a devil of a man, who was presumably her lover although much younger than her. In contrast, the hero is shown in a loving relationship with his aging mother – a veritable Madonna and Son.

Gods and devils

A few scenes later, the villain called Lex is told by his sidekick / lover that he is not a god. Lex replies, “Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don’t share their power with mankind.” Lex maintains that like Prometheus, he “just wants to bring fire to the people.” The Promethean fire is analogous to the Apple of the Tree of

Knowledge of Good and Evil.

When not flying in a little red cape, Kal-El the hero lives incognito among the people. He is known for being meek and mild mannered.

Meanwhile, the devilish Lex stole the “fire from the gods” or more precisely, crystals from Kal-El’s fortress. Lex uses the crystals to create havoc in the city. And so the hero flies again to save lives.

The Son as the Savior

After a hard day’s work, the hero flies and ponders upon the words of his Father: “Even though you were raised as a human being, you are not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the Light to show the Way. I have sent them You, My only Son.”

Kal-El (which in Hebrew could mean “Voice of God”) is then shown gliding in slow motion. He hovers above the Earth and listens to the cries of humanity. Later, he is shown saving people from all sorts of danger all over the world, including Manila.

Several scenes later, he is with the woman he loves. Together they ascend high over the Earth. He tells her, “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a Savior, but everyday I hear people cry for one.”

The Passion of the Son

The diabolical Lex creates even greater havoc with his stolen crystals. Kal-El confronts him. But Kal-El is overpowered, kicked and beaten by Lex and his goons. And then, his flesh was pierced, not by a spear but by a sharp piece of green stone. He falls into the abyss but somehow is saved by the woman he loves.

Death and Resurrection

Kal-El goes back to the Villain and defeats him. But greatly weakened, he plunges down to Earth with arms outstretched like Jesus Christ on the Cross. Solemn hymnal music plays as he falls to his death.

A day or so later, a nurse found Kal-El’s hospital death-bed empty.

In the final scene, he appears to the woman he loves. She asks, “Will we see you ….around?” He answers, “I’m always around.” Then he ascends to the heavens above.

And that is the story of Kal-El, more popularly known as Superman as re-told by Bryan Singer in Superman Returns (2006).

Jewish creators

The obvious Christian framework of Singer’s Superman proves that the comic book character has come a long way since it was created by Canadian artist Joe Shuster and American writer Jerry Siegel in 1932. Both were Jews.

Shuster and Siegel created the most popular superhero and icon of pop culture. But the duo hardly made any money out of it. They sold the rights to DC Comics for the sum of one hundred thirty dollars ($ 130 – ) in 1939.

Because of the financial success of Superman the Movie (1978), Warner Brothers gave the aging artists a pension of $ 35,000 a year and medical care benefits plus the recognition they deserved. All media products of Superman must be credited as “Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.”

Superman 1978

For those old enough to have watched Superman The Movie (1978), watching Superman Returns would give them déjà vu experience. Singer obviously wanted to have continuity with Richard Donner’s 1978 film. The opening credits style was maintained as well as John William’s magnificent score. The late great Marlon Brando was revived, thanks to the magic of computer graphics. And even more astonishing, Christopher Reeve was back on screen through actor Brandon Routh. Even the sinister plot of Lex Luthor remains the same – to create history’s greatest Real Estate swindle.

Many people consider Superman the Movie (and its sequel) as the best superhero film(s) ever made. Perhaps that is why Singer, director of X-Men 1 and 2, pays homage to Donner’s film in this year’s version. Unfortunately, Singer’s version falls quite behind the original.

Star Presence

In the 1970s, the producers were afraid that people would not come in droves to watch a comic book hero. To pull the audience to the theaters, the producers of the original Superman movie paid big money to get then superstars Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman (OSCAR winners for the Godfather and the French Connection respectively). For supporting roles, they got Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Trevor Howard, Margot Kidder, Jack O’Halloran, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter and Susannah York. And to play Superman, they discovered a young man named Christopher Reeve.

After the-Godfather, Brando did not care for movies anymore. He just accepted the million dollar fees. But Hackman was still in his prime and made a quite loveable Lex Luthor. Valerie Perrine was at her peak and was oozing with sex appeal as Eve, Luthor’s sidekick and mistress. Ned Beatty was funny. Glenn Ford and Jackie Cooper were there for nostalgia.

Margot Kidder gave Lois Lane a tough cookie, rough but funny character. It jibed very well with Reeve’s meek, mild-mannered Clark Kent and strong Superman. But Kate Bosworth’s acting was quite stiff and even lifeless.

Kevin Spacey is a very good actor. But unlike in the 1978 movie where the funny antics of Luthor and company blended well with the entire story, the 2006 version should have no place for such campy style. Singer’s Superman is simply too serious. What is needed is an equally serious adversary.

James Marsden was lackluster as Lois’s live-in partner and Superman’s romantic rival.

Eva Marie Saint provided the nostalgia. One critic wrote that he went to see the film just to see Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando together in one film – their first since On the Waterfront.

As for Btandon Routh, he was not playing Superman / Clark Kent. He was playing Christopher Reeve playing Superman / Clark Kent.

Special FX

The best parts of the movie were the special effects. The airplane sequence can be compared to the best airplane disaster movies. The boat sequence can give the Titanic a run for its money. The various escapades of Superman were digitally perfect.

Superhero Fun

Comic book heroes should be fun. Comic pertains to comedy or something fun or funny. The Batman TV series was fun but the movie series became a psychological treatise. The X-Men series became a metaphor for racism. The Superman comics, TV series and movies were fun. Not anymore.

The Second Coming of Superman has turned him into a ponderous, almost humorless creature. After all, it is not easy to be the world’s Savior.

THE SEQUEL

If the sequel of Superman Returns maintains its framework, one could expect the following story-line for the next Superman movie:

Superman is gone. He has ascended to the heavens. Lois Lane tells her colleagues at the Daily Planet (and later, the world) that she saw Superman after he rose from his coma and that Superman said, “I will always be around.”

 Lest the people forget him, the Daily Planet led by Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and the Whites write epistles, articles and “the Good News” about Superman. Soon, religions are formed with Superman / Kal-El as the Deity-Son and Jor-El as the Deity – Father. Martha Kent is revered as the saintly earthly Mother.

 The Passion (Suffering) of Superman under the hands of Lex Luthor and his gang are re-enacted yearly to commemorate Kal-El’s pathos. The week-long celebration ends with the celebration of His Resurrection and Ascension to Outer Space.

 Orders of Knight Protectors are formed to hide the real identity of Lois Lane’s son and his descendants.

 Generations later, a writer publishes a best-selling book called Michelangelo’s Code which claims that Kal-El and Lois Lane had a son and that a secret society is hiding the identity of Kal-El’s descendants.

 There is a hunt for Kal-El’s descendants and all hell breaks loose as everyone fights everyone. The cries of Kal-El’s descendants are somehow heard by him across the Universe and he comes back to Earth for his Second Coming.

That would be an interesting storyline for the next Superman movie. It would be much better than what one critic suggests. He says that Singer should go back directing the next X-Men movie with Superman re-building the Golden Gate Bridge destroyed by Magneto.

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Published in Mr. & Ms. Magazine, Supermonthly of the Body, Mind & Spirit Sept 2006

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Column article

Goodnight and Goodluck – Media and Freedom

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.”

– Edward Roscoe Murrow

goodnight qc

Martial Law is long gone but we must never forget it. The McCarthy witch-hunt is a thing of the past, but as the movie Good Night and Good Luck (2005) showed, the world should constantly be reminded of it to prevent the same from happening again.

The timing of the movie is near-perfect. Americans have surrendered some of their freedoms in the name of President Bush’s War on Terror through the Patriot Act. In the Philippines, the proclamation of a State of Emergency (PP 1017) has shown to all and sundry that the freedoms the Filipinos regained in EDSA 1986 could easily be lost again.

Good Night and Good Luck is a beautifully crafted film that stuck to the basics of great filmmaking – a good, tight story, great mise-en-scène, marvelous performances by the actors and coherent direction. No frills, no state of the art computer graphics, no multi-million dollar superstars. But the genius of the director – George Clooney –lies in his use of TV film footage of Senator Joseph McCarthy in lieu of a live actor. And because the film is in Black and White (it was actually shot in color but converted to grey scale), the old McCarthy footage fell right in place.

Veteran actor David Strathairn played Edward Murrow with stoic intensity reminiscent e5cc2-gnglof Gary Cooper. George Clooney’s nonchalant under-acting complemented Strathairn’s stark portrayal of the man who helped rid America of the junior senator from Wisconsin, who fanned the anti-communist hysteria and led the witch-hunt that destroyed the lives of many intelligent, freedom-loving Americans.

The film is not about the life of the popular and pioneering broadcast journalist Edward Murrow but rather on broadcast journalism itself. In the speech that bookends the film, Murrow emphasized that television, used strictly for entertainment rather than education, is nothing more than wires and lights in a box. The movie showed how free and responsible journalism can fight the enemies of Freedom just as Murrow and company fought the Terror known as McCarthyism or the Red Scare that gripped America in the early 1950s.

Although the film did not mention it, Senator McCarthy did not do it all alone. The road had been paved for him by Truman, Nixon, etc. He also had help from the country’s foremost anti-Communist, J. Edgar Hoover, who was America’s lifetime FBI director. Ironically, one of McCarthy’s allies was Jack Anderson, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and is now considered as one of the fathers of modern investigative journalism. McCarthy certainly was not alone. He was simply the eager spokesman / henchman.

Media’s functions

Mass media perform four functions: to entertain, to inform, to influence and to earn money. Most films nowadays limit themselves to the first and the last. But the nominees in this year’s OSCARs seem to indicate that the Hollywood artists themselves prefer films that inform and influence.

Good Night and Good Luck is almost a documentary. It is based on true events and verifiable facts. It is a great film on Journalism, especially Broadcast Journalism as well as on the Bill of Rights, its supporters and opponents.

The magic of cinema can influence more people than say, a novel. In this case, it will do the world a great service if this film can influence people, especially in places where the people need to be reminded of the precious concept called Freedom, particularly freedom from fear. Writer/Actor/Director George Clooney expressed the hope that the film might give some kids “some understanding of what and how dangerous a democracy can be if fear is used as a weapon.”

Media’s Role in Democracies

In a representative democracy, the government is supposed to be “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The leaders are elected by the people. If the leaders do their job well, they get re-elected and if not, they lose. The only way for the people to know if the leaders are doing their job well or not is through the mass media.

Mass media’s role, therefore, is very crucial in representative democracies. Thus, the US Constitution’s First Amendment prohibits any laws “abridging the freedom of the press.” The Philippine Constitution of 1986 has a similar provision. Article III of the Constitution presents the Bill of Rights, namely:

Section 1. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

Section 3. (1) The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise, as prescribed by law…

Section 4. No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

The framers of the Constitution made sure that the English construction is very simple so there would be no mis-interpretations. Yet it seems that the country’s government and/or police force do not understand these simple words.

The freedom to peaceably assemble is practically gone now through the implementation of the “no permit no rally” rule. The right to assemble and the right to express one’s grievances are basic in any democratic society.

The government, since PP1017, continues to warn media to follow government guidelines or else risk takeover. The office of one newspaper was raided and was about to be taken over if not for the resistance put up by its feisty publisher and the howls of protests from media people.

The acclaimed Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) was threatened with arrests because of its web log (blog). The Philippine government now wants to extend its claws even into Cyberspace.

The freedom from unlawful (warrant-less) searches and arrests is now gone. The arrests without warrant of Prof. Randy David, a respected media personality and activist Congresswoman Rissa Hontiveros-Baraquel – on nationwide TV – are unconstitutional.

Prof. David and his companions were arrested for marching in the streets on their way to a rally that would commemorate the 20th anniversary of the EDSA “revolution”. Rep. Hontiveros-Baraquel was arrested for the same offense but this time, for commemorating International Women’s Day.

Anybody can be arrested for rebellion because, as the government officials say, rebellion is a continuing crime and therefore needs no warrant. Five party-list representatives holed themselves up in the halls of Congress for fear of being arrested by the police.

Situations of Fear

In the 1950s, McCarthy instilled fear among Americans by claiming he had a list that contained the names of American communists.

In the Philippines in March 2006, presidential troubleshooter Michael Defensor announced that there is a list of all people who will be charged with rebellion or sedition or inciting to sedition. And just as it was in America of the 50s, everybody is suspect. Anybody can be “invited” by the police for investigation.

Murrow argued that the line between investigation and persecution is a fine one and McCarthy crossed that line. Murrow and his fellow journalists decided to fight, whatever the consequences, the “situations of fear” that confronted America then.

In today’s Philippines, the media has repeatedly warned about the “chilling effect” of the government’s actions. Perhaps the film Good Night and Good Luck can inform and influence the Filipinos of all persuasions so they can pause and ponder at what they are doing to the country.

Plato envisioned the ideal Republic to be ruled by philosopher-kings. But in a political arena filled with demagogues, military and police generals, actors, basketball players and newscasters, the Philippine Republic would be hard put to find a philosopher – king/queen.

However, a Scandinavian proverb says: ”In each of us there is a king. Speak to him and he will come forth.” Murrow and his colleagues sought out the kings/queens in themselves and helped bring back the ideals of the American Republic as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson et al.

New Age writer Marilyn Ferguson in The Aquarian Conspiracy notes: “Politics of spirit, mind, body, society…The new political awareness has little to do with parties or ideologies. Its constituents don’t come in blocs. Power that is never surrendered by the individual cannot be brokered…Power to the People. One by one by one.”

EDSA 1986 taught us People Power. One plus one plus one can add up to millions.

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Published in Mr. & Ms. Magazine: Supermonthly of the Mind, Body and Spirit  May 2006

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