Taken by Cars’ ‘Plagues’: like diamonds from ashes

An understanding of the indie electro-rock outfit’s mellow third record, tracing through themes from ‘Dualist’.

The music of Taken by Cars has always been distant in its emotions, esoteric in its approach. The track that launched them into relative fame, ‘A Weeknight Memoir’, featured new wave inflections and Sarah Marco’s trademark androgynous vocals—an introduction that captured for them a loyal following, but probably alienated many casual listeners who would prefer instantly-delectable pop.

While the themes of their songs are certainly universal, the words are often enigmatic. ‘Quarter to Three’, a magnificent, driven piece from their 2011 sophomore album Dualist, contains these elegant albeit puzzling lines:

And if our machinations prove to be the blame
Let the freedom give me back and call your name
Obey your elders

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Sleepless (2015): a pleasant non-romance about urban insomnia

Sleepless only pretends to be a romantic film; in truth, it is a story about brokenness and healing, set against the charm of the city at night.

The call center industry, well-known for employing its workers in graveyard shifts, and which is ironically called one of the nation’s sunrise industries, lends Philippine cities a unique claim to the title of the city that never sleeps. While contenders for the nickname in other continents are havens of endless leisure and nightlife and luxury, Manila (or Cebu or Bacolod) are inhabited by night dwellers who forgo sleep not out of choice, but out of necessity.

Many of them, that is, but not all. Sleepless, an entry to the 2015 QCinema (Quezon City) Film Festival, is ambivalent about the call center industry. It is tempting for a film with such a premise to be an echo chamber of critical sociopolitical sentiments: that this outsourcing industry disadvantages our nation in a neo-imperialist world order, that it enslaves its workers under alienating working conditions, et cetera, et cetera. But for Sleepless, the graveyard shift, the darkness of ungodly hours, is just a backdrop to its story, the circumstances that its characters happen to inhabit.

Note: this essay is an in-depth commentary on the film, and includes spoilers by necessity. It is meant for those who have seen the film.

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

The cult of vampire films get a horrifyingly beautiful addition with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

The centerpiece of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the titular character, a “lonesome vampire” (from the film’s official descriptions) who stalks a sparse Iranian town called Bad City.

This particular vampire is neither the stiff, bloodshot-eyed Dracula type, nor the pale yet sparklingly beautiful undead of Twilight: for one, she wears a chador, an encompassing piece of clothing traditionally worn by Muslim women, although she wears it loosely, as if it was a cape, and underneath she sports modern Western garments.

This Girl also prefers to prowl the streets at night on a skateboard. In her basement dwelling, a comfortably hip room full of art, she listens to Lionel Richie and house electronic music.

Actress Sheila Vand as a chador-wearing vampire on the streets at night.
Sheila Vand as “The Girl” in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. (Image from vice.com)

“Weird,” was one of my friends’ summary comments on the film, as we came out of the film’s screening in the recently-concluded 2015 Quezon City International Film Festival. I partly agree to this descriptor, though some synonyms describe the film better: eerie, bizarre, unsettling.

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Funhouse

funhouseAlong a highway flowing from downtown, still within the shadows of the city but just out of reach of sober business, there is an obscure cradle of a spot. By day it is a sleepy, dark and dusty place, hardly notable, but resilient. Pass by at night, however, and you will witness its glowing signs hinting at the happening within.

Come inside. Welcome to my favorite place, a funhouse. Meet the crowd of intoxicated animals, poisoned, perhaps dying. Hold the bottles in their hands and listen to them shouting at each others’ ears. You can always share a light, too. The vices seem essential.

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