Friday, October 22, 2010

The Social Network (2010, David Fincher)

One of my favorite comic strip characters is Charlie Brown. He's a good guy but has problems getting noticed by the girl of his dreams. He makes those beautiful hand-written cards that remain unsent. Maybe, he isn't sure if the girl is available or if they have anything in common. Absence of a ring on her finger does not automatically mean that she is single and unattached. Girls also don't go around with a sign that says 'I like chocolates' or 'I'm a passionate cinephile.' Charlie badly needs someone or something to help him with his problem.

Maybe, that someone is Mark Zuckerberg. Maybe, that something is Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook came into existence in spring of 2004. It was too late for Charlie Brown, who ceased to live, along with his Peanuts mates, in February 2000. However, I'm sure that there are thousands, make that millions of 'Charlie Browns' out there using the Facebook to befriend someone or to score a date.

The first scene of the brilliant, wildly entertaining film sees Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) having a date. He talks so fast that I had a hard time catching up with what he is saying. What his pretty date heard though is enough to make her head for the exit. The young man can't get over the failed date. With booze in hand, he ranted against her in his blog. Soon, he realizes what a jerk he had been and tries to woo the girl all over again. The rest of the film takes a look at the project he creates in order to catch the attention of the girl, Erica (Rooney Mara). What he created is really an attention grabber.

Current statistics reveal that the once-small Harvard-based information sharing project has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. Facebook now has 500 million active users. These people spend over 700 billion minutes per month on the website. Wow! That is a staggering amount of time.

Most of the Facebook use time is allotted to lurking, as suggested by a report released by computer security firm Palo Alto Networks. A minimal amount is spent updating comments and playing games. People are more concerned with what their friends are doing, their plans, their current moods, and of course, their relationship status.

The must-see foreign film presents a fascinating ringside account of how the interplay of technical wizardry and knowledge of human needs led to the creation of Facebook. It reminds me of another attention-grabbing, twisted online project which exploited the basic need to love/belong and be loved. In 2000, a Pinoy programming student named Onel de Guzman inserted a computer virus in an email with the subject line ‘I Love You.’ The note contains an attachment that, when opened, re-sends the message to everyone in the recipient’s Microsoft Outlook address book. It also leads to the loss of every JPEG and certain other files on the recipient’s hard disk. The Love Bug wrecked havoc on millions of computers around the world in a single day.

Who can resist the urge to click on an ‘I Love You’ attachment or ‘Accept Friend Request’ button? Maybe the girl who ditched Mark Zuckerberg. The ending shows the young man lurking and patiently waiting for that important Facebook notification.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Shake Rattle & Roll X (2008, Mike Tuviera / Topel Lee)

Filmmakers Mike Tuviera and Topel Lee tried their best to scare viewers in the first two chapters, which are set in places people are likely to regard as safe and secure. Emergency is an aswang story set in a busy hospital. A major theme from the short feature is environmental degradation, which also crops up in the Tuviera-megged Nieves. The aswangs are forced to come out after incursions by people into their forest haven. They fight back after the death of their leader's child.

I love the black smoke effects by Larger Than Life. The ceiling-and-wall climbing aswangs need a little bit of tinkering and polishing, though.

Class Picture segment stars Gerald Anderson, Kim Chiu, and Erich Gonzales. It deals with a group of students attempting to stop a curse wrought by a nun who taught at 19th century San Selino College. The short feature is good enough for a few shrieks.

The handful of scares gives way to laughter. Yes, you read it right. Laughs came courtesy of the charming third segment featuring Marian Rivera as a kooky slayer named Nieves. Think of a 21st-century Gabriela Silang. Provide her with a Batman-worthy belt set and a native bag full of amulets, potions and knick-knacks (bluetooth headset!). Then, garb her in a sexy ultra-modern terno. What you get is the first engkantolarya, a lovely and courageous slayer of jealous engkantos, mischievous creatures, and terrifying monsters.

Nieves is a female albularyo raised to the next level. Not only can she cure mysterious illnesses, she kills off the root of the maladies with the ease of Buffy. Add the frank, acerbic wit of a stand-up comic, the pop culture sensibility of a jolog, and the mesmerizing beauty of a lovestruck angel, and you've got yourself one of the best movie characters in a long, long while.

Nieves was supposed to have a spin-off film last year but it didn't push through. It would have been a well-deserved break from the Shake, Rattle & Roll (SRR) formula of pure thrills and chills.

The horror series is a perennial blockbuster during the holiday season. But, most of the stories are basically pedestrian, recycled ones. Regal Films is wily enough to throw in the star power in order to camouflage the weaker segments. The tenth edition of the series is one of the better editions yet. Nieves is up there with the SRR gems such as Ishmael Bernal's Pridyider. For those wondering, Rivera has a starring role in an entry to the 2010 Metro Manila Film Festival. I hope she does magic once more to her new character, Super Inday.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Patayin Mo Sa Sindak Si Barbara (1974, Celso Ad Castillo)

The smart and pretty accurate title says it all! This classic is really a terrifying chiller of a movie.

Nurse Barbara Enriquez (Susan Roces) comes back to the Philippines to attend the wake and interment of her stepsister, Ruth Martinez (Rosanna Ortiz). She extends her stay in order to help her niece Karen cope with the loss of her mother. Meanwhile, strange things begin tormenting the members of the household.

Director Castillo utilized mirror and glass reflections to enhance the visual appeal of the film. He also came up with distorted shots and eerie camera angles to heighten the terror index.

I can’t forget the cemetery scene involving Ruth and Barbara. I remember Rosanna Ortiz from her films with Dolphy. I never imagine that she can be this effective in portraying a vengeful woman. The piercing glances of Ruth are diabolic. The scorned woman is really bent on killing people who have hurt her. From that point on, the suspense goes on full throttle until the end of the movie.

One of my favorite scary moments sees Fritz Martinez (Dante Rivero) approaching Barbara at the fountain. You can feel Barbara is uncomfortable talking to Fritz. The audience is left wondering if they indeed had an affair. There is unbearable icy tension because Ruth may chance upon them. When the doll appeared, I nearly jumped from my seat. The excellent music score played a big part in setting the mood.

The only false note in the film is Barbara's attempt to calm down Karen by reciting the Apostle's Creed. Susan Roces' delivery bordered on campiness. That was the only thing that marred Roces' otherwise fine performance.

I hope Cinema One includes this horror classic in its annual film festival/competition. It deserves to be seen in a darkened movie theater. Try to imagine ogling the eyes of the vengeful Ruth on the big screen! Whew! That ought to be a spine-tingling moviehouse experience.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sheika (2010, Arnel Mardoquio)

The film Sheika, a captivating and haunting valentine to the beautiful but violence-wracked island of Mindanao, is my favorite at the Cinemalaya 2010 festival. The powerful images (eg. an 'imprisoned' Gary reading Shie's journal) and life-affirming stories crawl their way into your head and stay embedded there along with your cherished memories.

Fe GingGing Hyde comes up with a devastating performance as Shie, a Tausug widow who lost her mind after the deaths of her sons. I cannot forget the part wherein she attempts to shield her son from an assassin’s coup-de-grace. Her unexpected action at the bridge is the best I’ve seen yet of maternal love and sacrifice in local cinema. Until the very end, she fiercely protects her children from the snares of the devil. Diyablo. That is the word she used to describe the goons. It bespeaks of the deep hatred she had for these fiends.

Combining the sensuality of Charito Solis, the fierceness of Nora Aunor, and the subdued acting of Lolita Rodriguez, Hyde is so awesome that I can’t think of any actress that may do justice to the role of Shie. I was wondering who the festival officials had in mind for the main character. It was said that a pair of Cinemalaya officials voiced out their preference for a mainstream actress.

Filmmaker Arnel Mardoquio did the right thing in withdrawing his film from the New Breed competition. He refused to heed the 'suggestions' of the powers that be. He stuck with his decision to film with a purely Mindanao-based crew and actors. In the end, he was vindicated. The resulting film eventually won the Netpac Award.

The bittersweet movie boasts of a brave, gripping script and lovely soundtrack. It is the first indie film to deal directly with the notorious Death Squad in Davao City. Previous films, such as the excellent Imburnal and Engkwentro, only allude to extra-judicial killings by nameless death squads. Sheika takes the issue head on. It presents the true story of a mother who’d lost her four sons to the heartless assassins of Davao City. It indicts the local business group for supporting the death squad members.

The soundtrack does not seem to include a song by Joey Ayala, but his song themes are very much apparent. Davao City and Mindanao in the film were not unlike the places depicted in the songs of Ayala. Gun-related violence and bloodshed mar the beautiful city and the bountiful island. Hamletting and discord are widespread. With corpses springing out from nowhere, the city is slowly turning into a cemetery.
Pastilan! Pastilan... Ang Dabaw ay sementeryo!

However, just like Shie, Davao City and the rest of Mindanao can still recover from a traumatic past. Twisted loving care from a friend helped Shie to get well. Local songwriters and filmmakers seem to agree that love can overcome violence and hatred in Mindanao. The Cinemalaya 2010 standouts Limbunan and Sheika both utilized Asin's immortal song Himig ng Pag-ibig in their soundtracks. Amidst all the misery and ugliness brought by the war, the Mindanaoan filmmakers are still hopeful that beauty, peace, and love will reign someday in the southern Philippine island.