QCinema 2017 reviews: ‘Balangiga’, ‘Kulay Lila Ang Gabi…’, ‘Dormitoryo’

Stories of different horizons told in the same intimate fashion.

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Balangiga: Howling Wilderness

1901, Balangiga. Eight-year-old Kulas (Justine Samson) flees town with his grandfather (Pio del Rio) and their carabao to escape General Smith’s Kill & Burn order. He finds a toddler (Warren Tuaño) amid a sea of corpses and together, the two boys struggle to survive the American occupation.

If history is a drama, then adults are the actors; the children are mere spectators, and too often its victims. In Balangiga: Howling Wilderness, the children seize center stage in a horrific episode of Philippine history. As foreign invaders raze towns across the province, two young boys, along with an elderly man and their tired carabao, plod through the countryside. They narrowly escape the bloodshed, but gunfire is always booming across the landscape, and the scent and smoke of burning villages hang in the air. The action of war—or rather, the massacre—is unseen, but its destructive trail lies everywhere: the path is littered with bloody corpses, scampering refugees, and lost lunatics.

Kulas, of course, sees these artifacts of destruction. He acknowledges them with his eyes, gazes at them but does not speak of them. His task is to survive his circumstances, not to contemplate them. At this he is largely successful: he and his company’s closest encounter with the ghost of violence is their brush with an American soldier (played by Daniel Palisa), in a sequence that, somewhat amusingly, gives life to the phrase “little brown brother.”

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A sense of time

Are we helpless in the eternal slippery march of time from present to past?

If one is feeling philosophical, one might be inclined to ponder the most basic features of our reality: space and time, the dimensions, for instance. One might then discover that these fundamental things, or objects or constructs, could be blamed for the struggles of people—the human condition, as they say.

Let us look at space. Distance is the backbone of so much human drama. It is the element present in conflicts of various genres: in romance, lovers yearn for closeness; in adventures, man attempts to overcome nature by reaching for the stars; in war, kings and generals win battles through the brilliant use of territories.

But between space and time, it is clearly the latter that is the subject of greater mystery, and deeper struggles.

While in space we are free to move forward, backward, higher, lower, and so on, under time we are in a tyranny. The future is always out of reach, the present is fleeting, and moments are always slipping into the past. Given unlimited time we could conquer any imaginable amount of space; but even with the seemingly boundless space that we have on earth and beyond, time remains invincible, unsurmountable.

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Elon Musk and humanity

Recently I’ve been reading about Elon Musk, a man most easily introduced (and admired) by the qualities he shares with the fictional celebrity Iron Man/Tony Stark: he’s a billionaire, he’s a technological genius, and he has a vision of saving humanity. The first two aspects place him securely in the same league as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs; but the magnitude of his dreams sets him apart, raises him into the realm of larger-than-life.

The story alone of how he made his wealth is enough material for a fascinating biography. At age twelve, in the eighties, he programmed his own computer game and sold it to a magazine for a profit. After earning degrees in economics and physics and being admitted to Stanford University, he pursued entrepreneurship and rode the dot-com wave. The second company he founded eventually became PayPal.

PayPal was bought by eBay in 2002, and this is the point of his life I’d like to frame as the turning point. Bill Gates started and ended his career with computers and software, taking up philanthropy only in his retirement. Steve Jobs arguably went further, inventing new product categories and transforming consumer tech industries before his premature death. And Elon Musk could have continued doing similar work—after eBay bought PayPal, he could have started searching for the next Internet-enabled commercial breakthrough, the next useful, popular, satisfying product. But he had grander plans. Instead of simply creating what will benefit us here and now, he looked forward to the future, and founded SpaceX.

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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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Sketches #2: Solitude

Exploration

For now, you are a satellite.

You place your hand on the white skin of the ship. You admire its rough, jagged texture, a surprisingly delightful quality, although you can only infer the surface’s character from the way the sharp sunlight casts shadows upon it. You take care not to put too much pressure against the vessel, because you don’t need your advanced grasp of physics to know that doing so will push you back more than you will push the vessel away, and you will have to spend precious micro-rocket fuel to secure your proximity to the ship.

You look above you (or should that be below?) and see what others before you have lovingly described as a blue marble. You admire the clouds, white and frayed, soft and seemingly still in a layer underneath the blue fringes of the planet’s atmosphere.

From where you are, the sun is an intimidating presence. It is a violently brilliant orb, and yet, in the emptiness of all that surrounds it, you can sense the clash between its intensity and the fragility of worlds. You look at the stars, and even them, their beautiful multitude, they cause you distress, because their lights will forever be only a dream beyond your reach.

You hear nothing but your own breathing, and the occasional beeping of the systems that keep your suit a habitable space. You listen carefully to this solitary sound. This, the voice of your body, is the only thing sparing you from the silence of space.

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