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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

entry arrow8:02 AM | Film Log 14 ~ 19: The Big Short, Senior Year, Young Frankenstein, Advantageous, American Horror Story: Hotel, and Macbeth

I do not get the acclaim for The Big Short (2015), Adam McKay's attempt to clarify the most recent banking meltdown in America, and how several men who foresaw the crisis chose to milk it for what it's worth, as is the American way. It's not a bad film, but it's nothing to crow about. It's, in fact, funny in places, and the cast is a virtual list of Hollywood hunk hotties, new and old, from Ryan Gosling to Brad Pitt, from Christian Bale to Finn Witrock, from Hammish Linklater to John Magaro, from Billy Magnussen to Max Greenfield -- give or take Marisa Tomei and Melissa Leo to make up for the gender disparity in the cast, plus Steve Carrel to remind anyone that McKay has, with this film, graduated to the front rank of Hollywood filmmaking after years of being in the comedy ghetto. (He gave us Anchorman, after all.) Beyond that, it is irritably condescending, underlined most of all by the celebrity cameos courtesy of the likes of Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez, Richard Thaler, and Anthony Bourdain explaining -- without really succeeding -- the shadowy complexities of Wall Street jargon and scandal. Its unbelievable Oscar nominations should have gone to Carol (left out of Best Picture), The Martian's Ridley Scott (left out of Best Director in favour of McKay), and Room's Jacob Tremblay (left out of Best Supporting Actor in favour of Bale). It is, this cannot be denied, a film of its time -- a manageable outrage for recent troubles -- but it's a film that seems destined to be quickly forgotten. ★★★☆☆

It has taken me a while to finish Mel Brook's singular achievement, 1974's Young Frankenstein -- a distinction admitted to by the comedy veteran himself. (It was also the same year that saw the release of Blazing Saddles.) What took so long? It's reputation as a comedy legend, perhaps. And an exhaustion from monster movies, which this film is parodying, especially the Universal Pictures variety. But what a handsomely made work! I loved it even if the laughs came far and few between. ★★★★☆

I finally managed to see Jerrold Tarog's Senior Year (2011), five years after it made some waves in the Philippine independent film scene. I remember it most as the film that sought to embody in fuller form the scintillating promise of Faculty, the short film directed by Tarog that preceded it, which went viral and reminded us once again that Tarog was a filmmaker to watch for. (Heneral Luna is only the most recent reminder of what he can do.) I like Senior Year. It has heart, and it has narrative ambitions reminiscent of Alan Parker's Fame (1980) and Aureaus Solito's Pisay (2007), two preceding films that sought to explore the lives of high school students as they go about the challenges of being teenagers: anxiety for the future, anxiety over love, anxiety about peer acceptance. It skims on many of the narratives it chose to follow, but that's to be expected in a film that's largely an ensemble effort to tell an ensemble story. It's narrative frame -- that of a high school reunion -- fails to ignite cohesion, given the traffic of narratives that already exists, but it does serve an important function to make sense of the epilogue: that our teenage dreams do not always necessarily come true, but high school was fun, wasn't it? ★★★☆☆

I wanted to like Jennifer Phang's Advantageous (2015), the minor Sundance hit written by two Korean-American women which centers on Jacqueline Kim's Gwen, an endorser and "face" for a lifestyle clinic in some futuristic world, who is summarily fired from her job, and is forced to undertake the new and still-to-be-marketed procedure of transferring her consciousness to a younger body in order to make ends meet and send her young girl to a proper school. The issues the film poses simmer -- the ethics of untried technology, the roots of race, the fleetingness of identity. It has ambition, sure -- and you can see the tire marks in its striving to create a fuller sense of execution of that ambition. Instead, you could see its obvious flaws framed and distinguished all the more by that ambition, marking the film as a middling, if noteworthy, effort. Generally, it is just a tiresome, unengaging watch. ★★☆☆☆

Let it be known that this is the first time I have ever completed all episodes of Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy's gothic horror extravaganza. I've tried before. I quit Murder House by the second episode, and Freak Show by its sixth, and skipped Coven and Asylum altogether. I like Murphy's breezy showmanship, but for the love of camp, he doesn't exactly know how to tell a coherent story. He delights in muddled narrative, puts a bow of ribbon on it, perfumes it with a whole flask of designer cologne, and nevertheless manages to call the Frankenstein monster of a product a ratings success. I couldn't be bothered to be hoodwinked. (Couldn't be bothered to stay longer for Scream Queens, either.) But American Horror Story: Hotel (2015-2016), for some reason, I finished. It's still muddled, yes. There are still so many loose strings left untied by the finale, yes. It's main narrative thread -- the vastly uninteresting Ten Commandments serial killings -- was also notable for fizzling out by the very middle of the entire season. But I grew to like small parts of it: Lady Gaga's The Duchess, David O'Hare's Liz, Kathy Bates' Iris, Sarah Paulson's Sally McKenna, Evan Peters' James Patrick March, and Mare Winningham's Hazel Evers. The end, when it came, was far, far, far from perfect -- but it was surprising: it was an episode that was strangely cuddly and warm, if refracted from an AHS lens. It's all about belonging to family, and fighting for it. Awww. Who knew? ★★★☆☆

I couldn't believe my eyes when I scanned the marquee of our local cineplex and saw that Justin Kurzel's adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth (2015) was screening. For a theatre chain loath to give us in Dumaguete a slate of good films, this was a complete surprise. The film itself is beautiful to look at -- Adam Arkapaw's searing cinematography is comparable to the miracle that John Seale achieved for George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) -- and contains two striking performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the murderous royals. But it plods: there is no energy to this adaptation, just an endlessness of emotic glances and whispers. It's a wasted exercise of epic filmmaking. ★★★☆☆

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