Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tarantino Unleashed in the Antebellum South

“Django Unchained” was a Christmas 2012 release in the US. Two months and two Academy Awards later (Quentin Tarantino for best screenplay and Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor), it’s ready for release, uncut with an R-16 rating in the Metro’s theaters.

In a nutshell, “Django Unchained” is the story of a man (Jamie Foxx) who starts off in the film as a slave, becomes a free man, then a bounty hunter and finally rescuer of his ladylove, Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington).

Christoph Waltz plays Dr. King Schultz, the man who unchains Django. I remember this quote of his from the 2012 San Diego Comic Con: “This is a unique and fabulous relationship that is forged in the course of fantastic adventures. We're talking about a Spaghetti Western, and I find it sensational that Italian directors imported a genre to Italy to forge a new thing--Spaghetti Westerns --and then an American director comes and takes the new thing and brings it back to America."

Leaving the screening room of Django Unchained with my cousin Hank, it was inevitable to get into a discussion about which one we liked better: “Django Unchained” or  2009’s “Inglorious Basterds.” Our jury of two was split. I preferred Basterds for the pacing and it’s more memorable scenes. I found the running time of two hours and forty-five minutes for Django bit too long. Ah, but this could all be a matter of taste for those who go to Tarantino films.

There were things we did agree on, apart from Christoph Waltz being brilliant again. We enjoyed the “amo” and “utusan” (or if you like Filipino internet memes, “Facundo”) chemistry and repartee between Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio) and his butler Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson.)

Schultz and Django arrive at the estate known as Candieland and Calvin Candie instructs Stephen to prepare a guest room for Django. Stephen shoots back with an incredulous ,“He stayin' in the big house!?!” He then adds he’s going to have to burn all the bedsheets after Django leaves.

Another great scene is one with Don Johnson and Jonah Hill as members of gang most certainly a precursor to the Ku Klux Klan. A good chunk of dialogue is devoted to how difficult it was to see through the holes in the white bags they used as masks.

What’s a Tarantino film without Easter eggs? I know we didn’t get them all but aside from having Miami Vice’s Crockett and Tubbs (Johnson and Foxx)—there are so many other little pop culture links. Tom Wopat who plays Marshall Gill Tatum was Luke Duke in the 80’s show “Dukes of Hazzard.” Franco Nero—the original Django from that late 60’s Western has a short scene with today’s Django.

Film buffs will likely recognize Tom Savini  who played Sex Machine (the man with the “groin gun”) in “From Dusk Til Dawn” and Osiris Amanpour in “Machete.” Ted Neeley who played one of the trackers was Jesus in the 1973 “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

There are also those zoom-in shots with a “whoosh” which were so common in 70’s films.

Expect excessive blood splatter—it almost looks like gratuitous red jello or watermelons exploding everywhere when the guns go off, scenes with great dialogue and of course Tarantino getting his actors into roles we thoroughly enjoy.

Django Unchained opens here March 13.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Is Oliver Stone Always Supposed to Be Taken Seriously?

Oliver Stone’s latest full-length feature,  “Savages,” was released in July of last year in the US. It’s finally being released here uncut.

I watched it with my friend and short format movie-reviewer, Manuel, and he loved it. I left the screening room feeling like the film had some sort of identity crisis. Maybe I should blame it on the Stone films I grew up with: Salvador, Platoon (where I first laid eyes on and fell in love with Johnny Depp), Wall Street, JFK and Natural Born Killers.

He was constantly making statements about politics, the US government, foreign policy, economy, the media, reportage, war and the current zeitgeist. So there I was sitting through “Savages” and looking around for that Stone statement on the drug war, or maybe on the legalization of marijuana.

Instead I got something that was sometimes stylish, sometimes thrilling, sometimes funny, often dark, bloody and violent. While it had brutal scenes of torture and murder to depict the ruthlessness of how Mexican drug cartel’s operate, I wonder how much of it real or fantasy?

Ex-Navy Seal Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and botanist-entrepreneur (Aaron Johnson) peacenik Ben run a small independent of producing some excellent cannabis in sunshiny Southern California. Mexico’s Baja Cartel gets a whiff of this and wants in. 

O (short for Ophelia) is the woman both best friends share—which makes her a target for the cartel seeking leverage on Ben and Chon’s operations.  O is played by Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively, who narrates the beginning and the end of the film.

Apart from having a ridiculously good-looking functioning love triangle at the center of story, you also have Salma Hayek as the vicious “Reyna Elena” of the Baja Cartel in her high fashion get ups and Cleopatra hair. I keep wondering if she is based on an actual character.

Rounding out the main cast is Benicio del Toro as the absolutely creepy carter “enforcer” Lado—the man who shoots, burns, tortures in the name of the drug business and John Travolta as Dennis, the DEA agent with questionable allegiances.

I thought Savages crossed a lot into Tarantino / Pulp Fiction territory.  And because of my previous view of Stone, I kept wondering whether he wanted us to take this movie seriously or not. Especially with the ending.

(I also saw “A Good Day to Die Hard” and while I heard some applause from the audience at the special screening, I thought it was downright awful. It was a textbook action movie with a forced plot, and one implausible scenario after another. I leave with a quote from an old Filipino film, “huwag mo nang buhayin ang bangkay.”)

"Savages" opens on Feb. 20 exclusively at Glorietta 4, Greenbelt 3, Trinoma, Market! Market! and Alabang Town Center.

Do all marijuana entrepreneurs look like this?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The ABS-CBN Philharmonic Scores, Manila Enjoys a Potter Riot

Last Sunday, I went to see the ABS CBN Philharmonic play to a full house.  It was their first major concert and according to conductor and musical director Gerard Salonga, it was the first time he saw all the seats filled up for the orchestra’s performance—not to mention these were bought tickets and not freebies.

The Meralco Theater brimmed with people of all ages who attended a concert designed around the musical scores of the legendary composer John Williams. Williams wrote the music for the Star Wars films, the Harry Potter films, the Indiana Jones films, Superman, Jaws, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind—to name but a few.

Gerard is the only conductor I’ve seen who addressed the audience throughout the show:  introducing the pieces played, telling a story or two and offering a little bit of trivia behind the music. At one point, he turned around to reveal the classic blue shirt with the Superman logo on it under his conductor’s jacket. He was obviously having fun.

I’m not an expert on concertos and orchestras (I do believe there is protocol both for the performers and the audience), while I can’t give  proper notes on how the 40-piece ensemble worked together or how the kettledrums sounded, to me, they were great and polished.

They did justice to the cinematic music which took many in the audience back to their childhoods (no matter how distant or recent). The show ended with a second encore--the closing credits from Star Wars, at which point, over a dozen members of the Philippines Outpost of 501st Legion of Stormtroopers (these folks are recognized by George Lucas himself) joined the orchestra on stage. Darth Vader, C3P0, Boba Fett, Stormtroopers and some of the gang from that galaxy far, far away.

Superman (aka Gerard Sison) was also on hand for photographs before the show. If anyone from the ABS-CBN Philharmonic reads this, can you do another one, with the music of Hans Zimmer? We’ll provide the pirates.

Harry Potter didn’t just have a moment at this concert though; he had a bunch of moments last week as “Potted Potter” played 10 nights here. The show is currently touring the region--apart from Manila, they go on in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand.

Potted Potter was a quite a little riot for a show with but two cast members, a humble set and a quick running time. Potted Potter fits all seven books in 70 minutes. The lads, Jesse and Gary, were marvelous comedians and it’s great how they fixed parts of the script especially for the local audience—they asked for a “walis ting ting” for playing Quidditch, Harry Potter sulks in his room to listen to the “Eraserheads” and the backdrop of for the scary forest looked more like “Boracay.”

Next week, I’m looking forward to catching the Metro Manila release of Cinemalaya’s “Ang Nawawala” directed by Marie Jamora and starring my coloring book partner, Annicka Dolonius.

Photo by Niki Yarte

The ABS-CBN Philharmonic performed the music of John Williams September 2nd. Potted Potter ran from August 28 to September 2. Ang Nawawala opens in cinemas in the city September 12th.


Every now and then I find myself in the mood to grab a beer, scratch my stomach and watch one of these indie caper films where some really cool and funny dudes get themselves into a lot of trouble, often involving gangsters: Ghost Dog by Jim Jarmusch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels by Guy Ritchie, In Bruges by Martin McDonagh. I felt it was good time to revisit a cult favorite: THE BOONDOCK SAINTS.

Right off the bat I have to say, this flick is my favorite from the vigilante genre. Irish-American brothers, Connor and Murphy McManus are the epitome of the vigilantes boys and girls next door want to be. They smoke, they drink and armed with the signature Irish wit and charm, they don’t over rationalize what it is they do and always seem to be having a good time doing it. That philosophy holds true for the rest of the movie as well. Actors Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus are more than believable as the chummy brothers who are never at a loss for shenanigans.

However, it is Willem Dafoe’s character, homosexual FBI detective Paul Smecker that steals the show. Smecker is tasked with catching the vigilantes, dubbed by the media as ‘The Saints’.  Breaking down murder scenarios in his own unique style, which is part Sherlock Holmes and part CSI with opera music playing on the headphones of his Discman CD player (they made the movie in 1999). In these scenes, Dafoe’s choreography alone is worth the price of admission. Trying out new  wardrobe at the film’s climax, and his bed scene with another man is just gravy and dessert, you choose in what order to take them.

Rounding out the main cast is Scottish actor Billy Connolly, who plays “Il Duce,” a hitman hired by the mob with a surprise connection to ‘The Saints’.  On a totally unrelated point (and maybe because I’m a Razorback fan) Billy Connolly kept bringing up images of Razorback guitarist Tirso Ripoll.

Not wanting to turn anybody off from a movie I deem should be on everyone’s “Must Watch” List, there is an actor named Bob Marley in Boondock Saints and it’s sequel, All Saint’s Day. But it is Bob Marley a Caucasian actor, not Bob Marley the reggae icon.

Some may also get a kick from seeing porn legend Ron “The Hedgehog” Jeremy as gangster Vincenzo Lapazzi.

Great soundtrack too—though one wasn’t made for the film. A sequel was made in 2009, I think we’re all good and ready for the next.

 Billy Connoly aka "Il Duce" reminds me of Tirso Ripoll of Razorback.