Da 5 Bloods
On the Record
I May Destroy You
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Shakespeare's dialogues may not be that accessible in these days, but Roman Polanski's rendition of his play about ambition wrapped within madness and paranoia is quite simply a great piece of cinema to behold. It's great to hear the deep, flowery Shakesperean words, but what makes this film much more than a screen adaptation of one of his works is how Polanski has made it: Full of imagery bordering insanity and nightmare, performances teetering between stagy rhetorics and tragedy personified, the pure green fields of Wales as the stage for the depressing sight of the lonesome Cawdor castle, and the painful, furious emotions seemingly incorporated by Polanski himself(wife Sharon Tate being murdered just years prior to the filming of this picture). Now, back to being "accessible", if I'm going to recommend a Shakespeare adaptation that can tell the story easily without the laborious chore of comprehending the playwright's complex language, then I'm going to say "Throne of Blood" by Akira Kurosawa, albeit it being set in feudal Japan. But if one wants to see the pure power of the play, heightened by a master filmmaker's great vision of Macbeth's slide into ruthless lunacy, then "thou shalt not look further". I do not know whether that came out sounding like one of the ten commandments, but there you go.
By mastering a certain visual style that seems to have little to no regard on proper framing and composition and also distilling his films through perennially impoverished eyes, Brillante Mendoza has navigated through the local and international film scene alike (while nabbing some prestigious awards in the process) as some kind of master of derelict cinema. From the sex and filth of modern Filipino urbanites to the incidental violence that occurs in the far south, he has debunked the so-called mystique of social change by presenting unto us films that deal with seemingly insoluble societal problems. And by depriving his films of any melodramatic garbs (except maybe "Kaleldo"), he gives us new albeit pungent insights into the strains of modern Filipino existence. But here in "Foster Child", penned by regular collaborator Armando Lao, his concern is not much geared towards something broad and socially pervasive as in his later films but specifically on the beauty of 'foster care' and how it functions as a seemingly odd vocation.
Its story, quite simple enough, is about a mother of two named Thelma (the underrated Cherry Pie Picache in a most emotionally involving performance) and her government-sanctioned job as a foster parent. Taking care of a supposed Filipino-American kid named 'John-John', the film explores her everyday life as a surrogate mother to this poor, parentless little sap. Even her close acquaintances, namely a gay man and her very own employer (Eugene Domingo) are, in a way, parents in the most unnatural of circumstances. The first, being a homosexual, takes care of his lover's daughter from a previous marriage, while Thelma's employer, presumably a 24/7 kind of worker, is determined to be the best mother and wife that she can be despite a most passive husband.
Although it's not overtly suggested, "Foster Child", a most emotionally sound film, hints at the fact that the lives of foster parents are, in many ways, enclosed in a painful cycle of loving and letting go. I know it by fact because our family has once taken care of a parentless baby for about 2 months, and the pain of finally giving the baby to its legal adopters is just quite hard to bear. Now, think of repeating this emotional rollercoaster again and again. This, for me, is at the heart of what "Foster Child" is trying to empathize with, and Brillante Mendoza succeeds in immersing us into this bittersweet world with little to no emotional artificialities. Best scene? The part where the camera lingers on a premature baby inside an incubator, and how it slowly tilts up to reveal Thelma's priceless body language and facial expression; she knows that only the likes of her can give meaning to this little boy's life, and as hard as it is to bear, hers is a motherly love that's on retail.
The film, typical of Mendoza, has no concrete script. Instead, the film is comprised of scenes that are merely brought to life by clever improvisations and reactionary acting. Even the plot, as free-flowing as it is, seems to work purely by intuition. The cinematography, as shaky and as non-intrusively observant as it is, just goes to show how Brillante Mendoza has mastered the art of cul-de-sac filmmaking: that is, the style of shakily shooting films through narrow passes, concrete dead ends and shanty-jammed mazes. And by combining it with improvisational acting, "Foster Child" was able to achieve a purer and infinitely more spontaneous form of filmmaking not seen since the heydays of Brocka and Bernal.
"Foster Child", aside from its individual merits as a film, is also a sign of things to come for Brillante the auteur. It's a film that's so painfully unseen by most people that many quickly dismiss Mendoza's body of work, often immediately after seeing his darker films like "Serbis" and "Kinatay" and nothing else, as socially exploitative hogwash. On the contrary, I think Brillante Mendoza may perhaps even be the most emotionally articulate director working today without even trying hard to do so, and it is in his more tender films like "Foster Child" where it truly and glowingly shows.
Infamously known for taking an awful lot of time between projects, Terrence Malick has uncharacteristically weaved a quick follow-up (a little more than a year) to his critical hit "The Tree of Life" in the form of "To the Wonder", a solemn rumination on how love affects the lives of those who search for it. Faster than a bullet train, many have immediately predicted the film's unanimous critical triumph. But sadly, what happened was quite the opposite, as "To the Wonder" finally proved that Terrence Malick, one of the more beloved art film directors today, can also truly divide.
Met with mixed amounts of laughter, applause and boos during its Venice Film Festival premiere, saying that "To the Wonder" is polarizing is quite an understatement. Perhaps some have grown tired of Malick's loose-structured style, while some may have seen through the grave pretense of his themes. As for me, "To the Wonder" proved to be quite a transcendent experience.
To state the fact, it's not, in any way, a 'movie' in the most intrinsic sense of the word. Dominantly, "To the Wonder" is more of a feature-length mood piece. And like a sweeter Alain Resnais, Terrence Malick, through the use of deeply pleading narrations and breathtaking yet fragmented imagery, explores love at its most trying and at its most pure. From a Parisian woman's (Olga Kurylenko) search for the meaning of her romance with an American man, played by Ben Affleck with a sort of detached silence, to a Spanish priest's (Javier Bardem) quest to make one with his spirituality, the film approaches the many forms of love with articulate questions and wandering thoughts that it has delivered through the profound nuances of the French and Spanish language.
By doing so, the film takes on a more personal level. As the film continues on with its various reflections, the film becomes less and less about love in general and more and more like a silently thankful prayer. And just like "The Tree of Life", "To the Wonder" is a highly personal project for Terrence Malick, as he himself, from what I've read, is basically the Ben Affleck character in the film. So in many respects, "To the Wonder's" creation is basically a form of unhindered personal expression. For an artist like him, expressing whatever he feels through written words is certainly not enough.
Like a well-wrought diary entry, "To the Wonder" is Malick's remedy to his various emotional ellipses. And although the film is as ambiguous and baffling as the next artsy fartsy film, its emotional content, as far as I'm concerned, is as coherent as it can be. The film may be branded as an utter piece of pretentious art, but what it cannot be accused of is deluding the audience's emotions. Like a beautiful romantic symphony, "To the Wonder" is a film that you just can't help but stop and hum along with.
Terrence Malick, unlike any directors of any kind out there, treats cinema as his personal poetry book, and I couldn't be more thankful about it. Ultimately, 'thankful' is the key word here. Lyrical, elegiac and also quite life-affirming even despite its perceived ambiguity, "To the Wonder" is a film that speaks more truth about love than some 30 romantic films combined. "To the love that loves us, thank you."
"Ted", with its cute stuffed toy lead, looks just like one of those films that can easily be mistaken as a highly disposable children's movie. After all, the film stars a middle-aged man and a fluffy Teddy bear. On paper, "Ted" seems to have 'family' and 'General Patronage' written all over it. It's a film that kind of looks like a thing that's reason enough for families to celebrate, for a movie date during the weekends will surely be set. But wait, did I forget that Seth MacFarlane is the director? Yes, cue in the obligatory 'vinyl scratch' sound. Damn that "Family Guy" guy.
With an initially misleading opening narration reminiscent of all those Christmas movies, "Ted" opens up telling us about the story of a lonely boy who literally wished upon a star for his teddy bear to come to life and be his best friend forever. For the first 30 minutes, the film is surprisingly wholesome and, I can't believe I'm writing this about a Seth MacFarlane film, innocently magical. From talking snowmen to a kid suddenly inheriting an entire chocolate factory, many magical, film-bound stories have led us to believe that people, especially those with the purest of hearts, can indeed live happily ever after. "Ted", in its essence, is a postmodern reflection on all those children's movies but with all the realistic repercussions intact. What if Charlie Bucket was asked to appear on Larry King live and be forced to explain how his employment of Oompa-Loompas is, by no means, illegal? What if Matilda's parents were suddenly asked to appear on the Jerry Springer show? "Ted", in all its irreverence, tries to explore the notion of whether or not the "...And they lived happily ever after" part in children's stories has a follow-up sentence or two.
Turns out, John's teddy bear became quite a television sensation. Appearing in countless talk shows and whatnot, he gradually became kind of like the post-fame Macaulay Culkin (already a fact) and Justin Bieber (just wait): cocky, pot-headed and hopeless. And now, even John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), the kind-hearted young boy who just wanted to have a friend, is now also a Ganja-smoking slacker. Talk about 'happily ever after'.
Ripe with crude humor and littered with jokes that range from the offensively sexual and racial to the downright scatological, "Ted" is surely not the film to bring a conservative girl to on a first date. But on the other hand, it sure is the perfect film to watch baked. But aside from that, coming from a viewer who has seen the film sober and all, "Ted" is, sadly, quite forgettable and, at times, even boring. Though it boasts of competent lead performances by Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and MacFarlane himself (he voiced the titular character), the film quite suffers from its predictable, run-of-the-mill plot and some one-bit gags that seem to have been directly recycled from "Family Guy". Giovanni Ribisi though, on the other hand, was quite gratifying to watch in a very far-out role.
But despite that, the chemistry between the titular CGI bear and Mark Wahlberg is hard to deny. Though Wahlberg, post-"Boogie Nights", is more commonly known as a 'go-to' movie tough guy, he exudes a kind of careless boyishness in this film that complements the film's reckless comedic tone. While Seth MacFarlane, voicing the titular character, is perfect foil to the film's every pseudo-attempt at showing order. In a way, he's like a conflation of a non-murderous version of Chucky and a fuzzier Borat. Yeah, that's basically Ted.
With an abundance of intensely subversive jokes and parodying cameos, "Ted" succeeds as a sort of comedy movie of the week. But aside from that, what with its uninspired plot and repetitive humor, the film lacks that certain punch to propel it to something higher. I've seen funnier fragments of "Family Guy".