A Really Good Movie with a Rather Boring Title: a review of Pride.

Seriously, a title like “Pride” isn’t the most engaging thing one can call a movie. It isn’t enough to hint at how heartwarming and inspiring the story of a group of gay activists who decided to help a small mining town.

It’s 1985 in the UK. Immediately after a Pride March that surprisingly had fewer police presence, a group of gay activists realized where the police were putting their attention in: a recently started protest of British miners. These activists decided to raise money to help protesting miners as show of solidarity. Just like the miners, gay people have experienced oppression from the government. The idea was not met with enthusiasm at first, but after several attempts, the activists were able to get in touch with a small Welsh mining village where many residents joined the protests.

The touching thing about Pride is how it effectively showed how the struggles of one underprivileged group is not that different compared to another. The people of the village had mixed reactions to a group of gay people approaching them for help; back then, gay people very rarely identify themselves in rural areas because doing so result in heavy discrimination.

Not unexpectedly, most villagers had strong opposition, at first. But because of persistence and some initial straight allies, the relationship between the gay activists and the village, and eventually the miners, warmed up.

Pride (2014) movie poster

Pride essentially was a dramatization of one of the early victories of LGBTQ activism in the UK. It happened when two seemingly separate groups realized their common struggle and committed to support each other. The climax of the movie was a very heartwarming show of that commitment: I got some goosebumps when I saw it.

But within this larger plot of worker and gay rights, Pride also wove little stories of each character. Just as important as the ideals that these people fought for are the humanity and individuality of each person: their individual struggles.

The popular narrative within gay activism these days is that of love and the equal dignity of LGBTQ love. Pride distances itself from this narrative; several characters are shown with romantic partners but no conflict was introduced because of those relationships. The movie instead highlighted fellowship, brotherhood and sisterhood, camaraderie, and chosen families. That gay people are also part of the common human experience.

Reimagined History: A review of Heneral Luna.

At the beginning of Heneral Luna was a reminder that the movie is a work of fiction based on historical events. That certain truths about history are better understood by mixing fact and imagination. It was a curious disclaimer that made me a little uncomfortable. Was Heneral Luna more interested in recreating history, or was it commenting on what we’ve been told as history?

Heneral Luna dwelt on the life of General Antonio Luna, particularly during the beginning of the Philippine-American war, immediately after Spain sold the Philippines to the United States. Early on, the movie did not hesitate on its depiction of American imperialism. But even more than the Americans, the movie has very little good to say of many of the Filipino leaders from that era, such as the Caviteños.

Especially the Caviteños.

A quick scan on the biography of Antonio Luna can help one determine the liberties the movie took in presenting his life. The movie carefully avoided cramming the entirety of his biography beyond the war against the Americans. The general’s backstory was presented through a magnificent flashback that looked as if it was a long one-take shot.

The flashback was probably the best part of the movie; to be fair, it wasn’t at all lacking of good parts. Another standout sequence was an extended argument between General Luna and General Mascardo: the clever editing allowed a seamless flow of dialogue despite the two being in different locations and communicating via telegram and messengers.

The movie did not avoid depicting the general’s many flaws: his famous temper, his arrogance, his lack of skill in political maneuvering.

If there was something to complain about the movie, it was, ironically, the battle scenes. For a movie set during a war, the scenes in the trenches were quite underwhelming. The movie was a careful balance of drama and comedy, and the combination worked well, for the most part. But it felt like there was too much comedy during those battle scenes, taking away the gravity of war.

It didn’t help how General Luna would appear bullet-proof during these scenes, standing openly without protection while everyone else is huddled and hiding themselves from bullets. And yet the general was not hit, despite several of his men getting fired; one very gorily so. Even in history books, Luna was one of the most badass of the Philippine heroes. But his movie version cranked it up further.

Another intriguing detail the movie added but was content in leaving it as a joke were the inclusion of women soldiers. Outside the sequence where those brave women appeared, the rest of the Philippine military were decidely all-male. It was quite frustrating how that opportunity to depict the bravery of Filipinas was diminished to a mere gag.

Heneral Luna movie

These minor complaints aside, Heneral Luna is still worth watching, especially now when complacency and armchair activism are fashionable among Filipinos. The movie argues that what lost the war was people’s inability to see beyond their self-interests. It’s a lesson that is just as relevant now as it did a century ago.

“Heneral Luna” was written by E.A. Rocha, Henry Hunt Francia, and Jerrold Tarog. Starring John Arcilla, Mon Confiado, Arron Villaflor, Joem Bascon, Archie Alemania, Epi Quizon, and Nonie Buencamino. Directed by Jerrold Tarog.

Putukan at poetic shit: A review of Lorna.

There was this wonderful trick in the first sequence of Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Lorna: It essentially summarized the story we were about it watch, but one will only realize it once the movie finishes. It also introduced the recurring metaphor for love used in the film. Bullets fired from guns were the modern-day Love arrows, and they left a bloody mess where they struck.

Lorna (2014) poster

Lorna was the story of one woman’s quest for love and the many men in her life: the ex-husband who left her, a foreign boyfriend, a returning old flame, and a charmer who pops up every so often. She was occasionally accompanied by two long-time friends, her son from her ex-husband, and a very randy housecat. The film had an impressive cast of actors, with Shamaine Buencamino as a very effective lead actress. Maria Isabel Lopez and Raquel Villavicencio were her two best friends; Ms. Lopez totally deserved her Best Supporting Actress win for playing the hilarious Elvie. Felix Roco was adorable as Lorna’s emocore son. Juan Rodrigo was refreshing as the guy with embarrassingly corny pick-up lines. Angel Aquino had a short, but scene-stealing appearance. And, of course, there was Lav Diaz.

Tangina, I love Lav Diaz.

Sigrid Bernardo is one of the probably few feminist filmmakers working right now, and Lorna had strong feminist themes. The beauty of it is how one won’t notice it at first; the feminism does not get in the way of entertainment. Lorna, just like her previous work, looked into the many facets of women’s lives, making them fully fleshed-out characters with histories and motivation. The roles women took for themselves were discussed, and the ideas of motherhood and womanhood examined through witty banter (typical of Sigrid’s screenplays) that combines heavy musings with humor. One of the few directors to consistently do so, Sigrid candidly presented women’s sexuality as a natural part of their being, not merely as a subject for jokes or titillation.

Sigrid is also a queer filmmaker. Unlike her previous film, however, Lorna was not about a gay character. There is a very minor queer subplot, although it might be one of the weaker aspects of the story. It felt underwritten and was explained as how a person might “change” which seems to send a message that sexual attraction is a choice. One of my main criticisms for the film were the inclusion of these intriguing plot points (another one was the backstory of Raquel Villavicencio’s character) which were not addressed in depth, making them feel like missed opportunities.

Another thing I can’t quite swallow is believing that Shamaine Buencamino (who is 49 years old) et al are a bunch of sixty-year old folks. This was perhaps lampshaded in the movie when Angel Aquino admitted within the story that she is supposedly fifty (fifty!) years old, but was told that she does not look fifty at all.

The movie had a delicious ending sequence where the character of Lorna, steaming while reading a romance novel in her favorite restaurant table, was surrounded by several couples making out. One of those couples were a pair of men (“Ano ba yan, puro mga bading,” exclaimed a man sitting behind us), the first to be shown. The whole sequence was played for comedy, but the inclusion of a gay couple in that shot was a subtle but strong statement on how love does not care for a person’s age nor gender.

Of monsters and men: A review of Godzilla.

Call it monster porn.

Like porn, there were plenty of slow, lingering scenes where you wonder where everything was headed. And several stacked prologues which slowly built the Godzilla universe, while wasting the screen time of Ken Watanabe.

The main fault of this Godzilla movie for me is how it’s filled with so many human characters which weren’t fully fleshed out, I couldn’t really sympathize with them.

Or maybe that was the movie’s statement. In the grand scheme of things, we are just annoying distractions in between giant fighting monsters.

But the movie was a visual treat: Tracking shots that emphasized how tiny we humans are. A motif of children’s faces seeing the impeding disaster. Wide angled shots of the path of destruction. Many of these scenes lacked sound, giving a detached and sometimes despairing air to what could be seen.

There was very little sexual fanservice. No shirtless men, despite the cute human protagonist who was not Ken Watanabe. Why did the movie allow Ken Watanabe to be a total wimp? That’s just wrong.

GODZILLA

Then, there were the monsters. The antagonists were reminiscent of one of the Angels in Evangelion: angular with two many legs. Godzilla itself was less dinosaur and more like its classic Japanese design. Where the movie lacked in human fanservice, it made up for it with monster fanservice, including giant monsters making out.

Like I said, monster porn.

The monster fight took a long time to happen, but when it did, this fanboy was squeeing with delight in the theater. And there was a moment when I nearly clapped.

Some people might complain about the movie narrative trying to cram too many plots and simply abandoning them while not contributing to any kind of resolution. And I agree. But I watched “Godzilla” for Godzilla. I was not disappointed.

Stories of Being Me: Short film screenings in celebration of IDAHO.

From an emailed invitation from the UNDP:

To mark the global celebration of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) brings you:

Stories of Being Me
A Short Film Showing

May 16, 2014
5.30 PM – 7.00 PM
University of the Philippines Film Institute Film Center

The event is open to general public audience. Admission is free.

‘Stories of Being Me’ is a campaign led by B-Change Foundation in supporting the well-being of young people from sexual and gender minorities. The objective of the film showing is to raise awareness about the personal lives of LGBT people across Asia Pacific. It is putting a personal face to LGBT people challenges and successes.

‘Stories of Being Me’ is part of the ‘Being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) in Asia’, regional initiative. This is in partnership with the University of the Philippines Center for Women’s Studies (UP – CWS) for the hosting of the film showing.