When the movies were still projected from film reels

I’m old enough to recall the time when couriers still zipped between moviehouses, reels of film on their shoulders.

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Since 2008’s The Dark Knight, I’ve been anticipating every Christopher Nolan film with the excitement of a teenage girl waiting for the next One Direction album. Such is my confidence in the quality of Nolan’s films that I splurged on an IMAX ticket to see his latest film, Dunkirk, without reading a review or hearing anyone’s recommendation beforehand. (Dunkirk is a film that the aforementioned teenage girl would have also looked forward to, because One Direction’s Harry Styles is in its cast.)

I had forgotten how impressive, how immense, these IMAX screens were. I plopped down on my seat and, wild-eyed, gaped at just how immersive the projected image was. The screen was alarming in its vastness, in how it covered so much of my field of vision. Dunkirk began with a scene of soldiers running from gunfire; when the camera started shaking, I worried that my eyeballs also had to jerk around so much just to follow the action on-screen. Thankfully, the rest of movie had its camerawork done in steady hands. By the end of it, I was satisfied, thinking my cash was well-spent.

Wooden sculptures of a sitting figure (a Cordilleran bulol) and a movie camera, from an exhibit by Kidlat Tahimik.
A depiction of the Cordilleran bulol as a filmmaker: detail from a Kidlat Tahimik exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, during Cinemalaya 2014. (Photo by the author.)

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‘Sa Aking Mga Kamay’ (1996): the dual faces of crime and passion

The ‘Cattleya Killer’ thriller is intriguing for Aga Muhlach’s atypical casting, and satisfying for its intelligent writing.

In my recollection of the 1990s, a decade I had the questionable fortune of experiencing as a young kid, Filipino movies were generally of two types. They were either silly comedies that invariably included song-and-dance numbers at the beach, or drama-action flicks that were almost always about crime. The Philippines in the 90s was a society obsessed with crime; it had a dual fascination and dread for the drama and tragedy of heinous violence. Kidnappings and massacres (and frequent brown-outs) filled the news, and filmmakers responded by repackaging these horrifying stories for the silver screen. (Before the decade ended, audience-voters apparently also responded by electing a swashbuckling former movie star into the presidency.)

Sa Aking Mga Kamay (literally: In My Hands), a 1996 Star Cinema picture, fits perfectly into this latter category of my simplistic classification of 1990s Filipino cinema. But what sets it apart—its unique selling proposition—is its featuring of Aga Muhlach “not doing a pretty boy thing,” as a friend put it. Now, Aga Muhlach was quite the household name back then, the actor having enjoyed the status relished these days by, say, Dingdong Dantes. (Although I make such delicate comparisons only approximately, lest some pundits get mad at me). Muhlach was the premier leading man of the time, pairing off with such ladies as Dayanara Torres and Lea Salonga, and therefore to see him play a psychopathic serial killer is a true novelty.

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‘Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit’ (1991): evocative beauty and provocative intensity

Old-fashioned both in visuals and in story, this 1991 ‘Goma-Dawn’ film can nevertheless startle even modern audiences.

Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit is a 1991 adaptation of the classic English novel, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. That novel, while without doubt an excellent work of fiction on its own, almost begs the question: does it owe some of its success, part of its much-celebrated status, to the tragedy of being its author’s first and last novel? (Brontë passed away only a year after her novel was published, and so never came to appreciate her novel’s full success.)

This is not to criticize the novel’s value in any way, because no amount of sympathy for the author’s misfortunes can save a novel if the work itself lacks substance. This is merely to suggest that Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit, in drawing from Victorian literature, also acquires much of its charm in this association with its source material. Like the idea that the appeal of Wuthering Heights, as a creative work, is enhanced by the circumstances of its creation, there is neither criticism nor praise in declaring that its Filipino film adaptation borrows heavily from the beauty of earlier works—there is only acknowledgment, that any work of art cannot escape being part of something larger than itself, of a world beyond the boundaries of the art form.

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Review: Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang? (1998, restored 2017)

Art, insecurities, and youthful passion drive the classic rom-com starring the famed 1990s love team.

An enthusiastic crowd converged at a cinema complex in Quezon City, on a Tuesday night in early January. The occasion: the premiere of the restored film, Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang?, which features the ’90s love team of Jolina Magdangal and Marvin Agustin. The people in attendance, many of them barely containing their excitement, proved that the pair can still rally a good crowd of supporters.

The actors may have been glamorous in their presence, but the true star of the night was the film itself, a classic Star Cinema romantic comedy. After the screening, a few guests started comparing the movie to entries from the recently-concluded Metro Manila Film Festival. A fellow guest, with a mixture of disgust and an aficionado’s righteousness, cried, “Don’t compare!” Because it is absurd to label an old film as formulaic, when it hails from a time when such storytelling conventions were still being established.

And that is true. Let us take a closer look at what exactly makes this rom-com a classic.

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Review: Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi (1983, restored 2016) by Danny Zialcita

The newly-restored classic proves that we have been fascinated with romance-dramas about infidelity for so long now.

Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi (literally, the moon is mad for the night is too long) is one of the latest products of ABS-CBN’s rather important project of restoring old Filipino films. The 1983 movie by Danny Zialcita was digitally scanned, restored and remastered, and the result is a quality picture, now prepared to entertain a contemporary audience.

The fact of restoration provokes us to think of the film in two ways: on its own, as an isolated film product; or with regards to its age, as it is now effectively a historical record.

Entertaining, if questionable

Note: this section shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

The most salient feature of Nagalit Ang Buwan is its overflowing plot. It is not necessarily a surplus of plot, because the length of the story and the degree of convolution is justified in the end. But the story, in its totality, is nevertheless too lengthy, perhaps demanding a little more than the average moviegoer’s endurance.

Fortunately, the movie is funny. A representative from the ABS-CBN restoration team remarked before the screening that this film will certainly be enjoyed by those who love memes. Indeed, Nagalit Ang Buwan is packed with so much wit and biting dialogue, that if social media had only existed in the 1980s, numerous lines from it would have doubtless gone viral.

Continue reading “Review: Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi (1983, restored 2016) by Danny Zialcita”