Kidlat Tahimik’s ‘Balikbayan #1’: a quintessential Filipino indie film

Balikbayan #1 has nothing remarkable for the average Filipino moviegoer, provided he actually gets the unlikely opportunity to watch it. The film would probably come across as a bad movie even, given the Hollywood-satiated audience’s expectations of a ‘movie’: thrilling, spectacular, and highly entertaining.

A miniature galleon art piece on exhibit at the Asian premiere of Balikbayan #1
A miniature galleon art piece on exhibit at the Asian premiere of Balikbayan #1

This is a sad assessment that unfortunately rings true for many of the Filipino films simply called indie. Ironic, given that Kidlat Tahimik is widely recognized as the father of Philippine independent cinema. And here we could nod in agreement before moving on to the next spectacle if it weren’t for a crucial difference: Balikbayan #1 is actually mildly entertaining for its would-be Filipino audience, and this audience wouldn’t even have to know film art to be able to grasp it.

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A review of ‘Interstellar’ (2014)

Interstellar (2014) movie poster

I haven’t had the privilege of seeing a comet in the sky. It’s not a terrible misfortune, as comets that are bright enough to be seen by casual observation, the Great ones, are rare phenomenon. Yet I’d very much like to see these celestial objects because they embody astronomical wonder. Their fierce streak and brilliant tails have brought awe and terror to people throughout history: they have been seen as omens of the death of kings, or the conquest of countries.

But astronomers, beginning in the Middle Ages, looked up at these objects and decided to study them, patiently tracking them through the years and performing calculations on their appearances. They speculated, and made observations to support their theories. They explained the legendary appearances as natural fact. Centuries later, and we now have scientific organizations sending their instruments right to the hearts of such heavenly objects.

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Three films from Cinemalayà 2013

I started watching films from the Cinemalayà festival in earnest in 2010, catching around three films from each annual outing. I won’t deny that part of the motivation to attend the screenings is a not-so-subconscious desire to be identified as cultured—which, as a survey of blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates would indicate, is very much a desirable identity. I confess to enjoying every big-budget, mainstream production that comes out of Hollywood, so you can probably explain my Cinemalayà-watching as a simple curiosity to see a different kind of movie. But, in all honesty, there’s a part where I believe that these films are superior to most commercial movies; in that way, these so-called indie films matter.

The main lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines during Cinemalayà 2013, with chandeliers and the word ‘cinemalayà’ in colored lights
The main lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines during Cinemalayà 2013

Instead of attempting an ambitious and amateurish essay on why the term/categorization ‘indie film’ is problematic, I would just share my opinions on the three movies I saw at Cinemalayà this year.

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Cloudy with a Chance of Korean Invaders

I learned about the 1984 movie Red Dawn while playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The first chapter of the game’s second act starts with the player’s character riding a Humvee, crashing through American suburbs as Russian paratroopers drop from the sky: surprise, surprise, it’s a full-blown Russian invasion of American soil. The chapter is titled “Wolverines!”, which as I learned later is a reference to Red Dawn, the first portrayal of the Communist-invaders-in-suburban-America scenario.

I haven’t watched the original movie, but just last year, a remake with the same title was released, this time with North Koreans as villains. Since I enjoyed playing as a soldier fighting through the middle-class neighborhoods of Virginia, I was naturally interested in seeing Red Dawn, and I grabbed the chance as soon as the movie was released in this country.

Red Dawn (2012) movie poster
Red Dawn, featuring Thor

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Myths in the movies

There is an abundance of movies loosely based on mythologies coming out these days. Take note on the phrase “loosely based.” I don’t understand why critics and other commentators take issue with these pictures taking their liberty of playing around with their source material, especially when the source material itself is not really immutable. Off the top of my head, I can’t say this for sure regarding Norse myths, but the Greeks had very diverse, and contradicting, stories to tell about their deities anyway.

Besides, I think being “alive” is the most valuable aspect of mythology, and it’s what sets it apart from normal, publishing-house fiction. Myths are fascinating not only because they’re really engaging stories, but because they’re tales that address our deepest questions about the world around us. How did we come to be? How did the sky, mountains and seas come to exist? Why does the sun rise from the east and set in the west? Mythologies reflect the hopes and dreams of the societies that created them. They’re social products in the fullest sense; they’re genuine records of culture.

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