MONDAY (Day 1) - So, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring. The American, Dreamworks-produced remake of the Japanese horror film Ring directed by Hideo Nakata. Coming in, several of us were already pretty sure that it wouldn’t be able to stand up to, let alone top, the original, which scared us witless during its run at the recent Cinemanila Film Festival. So unlike our experience watching Ring, we came into the theater with heavy expectations already, a definite disadvantage for the film. So how does it compare? Not very well. The script (by Ehren Kruger, who wrote Arlington Road) tried so hard to explain a lot of the things the Japanese original didn’t bother to (since it wasn’t particularly necessary in just trying to destroy you with terror). They had to explain exactly what “the” ring is, why it takes seven days for you to die, what’s the significance of most of the shots in the curse video, etc. I didn’t particularly like the guy who played Naomi Watts’s ex-husband, and his acting wasn’t anything spectacular, either. Watts was decent, no fireworks. The kid did okay, but he wasn’t Yoichi, whose eerie calm mixed with his just-too-cute Japanese schoolboy looks provided just the right mixture of weird needed to unsettle you and make you feel protective at the same time. Mostly, the film did what we expected it to do: transpose the story to a Western setting, explain everything, shorten the investigation scenes in favor of a montage of news clippings that are superimposed over a traveling car, invent a few scenes of more horror (one scene, in particular, involving a horse, was quite good, I must say), and mostly pump everything up with a loud score and special effects. The CG is noticeable, so even if it is good, you can tell it’s CG. And they didn’t really need it anyway. The climax is still there, thankfully, the most important set-piece of the film should be left intact, but here it’s marred by cuts (unnecessary, and derailing) and extravagant camera movements (also unnecessarily showy, and distracting). It still scared the shit out of Mich and her popettes Goldie and Hannah, the latter two never having seen the Japanese version.
TUESDAY (Day 2) - Finally got to see Lav Diaz’s Batang West Side, the famously 5-hour movie, courtesy of the Flip Movie Club. I didn’t really know what to expect with this going in. Trinka didn’t like it, yet Alexis called it “an unequivocal masterpiece.” What I got was a good film that fell under the weight of its own ambition. I don’t oppose the idea of a 5-hour film, I really don’t. I’m all for creative freedom and expression. My only demand is that you make sure why it’s a 5-hour film. Because I don’t want to call Batang West Side self-indulgent. There’s a lot of brilliant scenes, it’s got some of the most interesting cinematography I’ve seen recently in a Philippine movie (although sometimes they lacked enough light). But I felt at the end of the film that there was still a lot of things you could’ve done to shorten it. The story’s about a murder investigation in New Jersey. A young Filipino teen’s been shot in the head and it so happens that a Filipino (Joel Torre) is assigned to investigate the case. As he does this, he speaks to and interviews almost everyone who knew the kid while he was here, and they each give their 30-40 minutes of personal narration, their voice-overs going while we “see” how they knew the victim, what aspect of him they knew, etc. One of my main concerns was that Joel doesn’t have much of a character. One of the most important dimensions of the murder investigation story is how the investigation affects the one investigating, and here I didn’t see enough of it. I appreciate going into the murder victim’s life thoroughly, his history, his feelings and emotions and hopes and dreams, but how does it affect Joel? There are dream sequences and scenes where he talks to a psychologist, but this, aside from his mother on life support and his ex-wife and children, seem to be the only existing facts about him (until the end, during an expository “confession”). The scale with which you oppose the coverage of the murder victim’s life and Joel’s is disproportionate. I also felt that the last few scenes meandered a bit, losing the focus of the murder investigation that occupied the preceding four hours. There’s a spoiler here, so I’ll make it invisible and it’ll be at your discretion if you want to read it: Joel’s character, in the end, DOESN’T solve the murder. He hands the investigation over to his partner. Asking your audience to sit through a 5-hour film is one thing, but not doing that, well, you’re bound to get people feeling cheated. And though it may be the point of the film, especially since it’s pretty obvious that the murder victim is a stand-in for the Philippines and its youth (along with the attendant ills like drug addiction, confusion, dysfunctional family, etc.), there’s still something to be said about closure. The conclusion seems to be that everyone had a hand in his murder, that if he didn’t die by gunshot wound, it would’ve inevitably happened in any number of myriad ways: gang rub-out, OD, suicide, etc. There are also times where you really wish they took more takes, or just better actors (mostly supporting roles; Joel was for the most part decent but only a few scenes of his impressed me with his acting, subtlety and all). Sometimes the inevitable sound and light problems of shooting guerrilla style in the US makes it feel like you’re watching a really good student film (a lot of continuity problems also were evident and this was very distracting). For the most part, I think Lav has got so much potential. He’s a good writer and director. But he needs to rein it in. He needs to cut the fat, to make the meat lean. To go for the subtle, to see if he can apply the “less is more” adage. Because you can cram the whole world into your film if you like, but what do you want the audience to remember? They might not remember anything. You’ll overload them with information. Still, you have to admire the balls it takes to release a 5-hour film, and I look forward to whatever he’s doing next (his next film is supposedly already 8 hours, and still unfinished).
WEDNESDAY (Day 3) - was just the Ring Trilogy screening at Brash. We didn’t really watch, just hung out and shot the shit outside the screening room with Joey, Margie, Alexis, and Chris, with Mark joining us later after Ring. Met some people from the Brash mailing list, like Marishka and Noel Vera and Awi. Later on the others came: Mich and Lia and Neva, fresh from their spa. Quark followed from his sleep at home. Ernan and Alia arrived, and the popettes soon came out (they hadn’t seen any of the movies so they were watching). It was pretty well-attended, though attendance diminished the longer the night got. They screamed at all the right parts (even some wrong ones) and Chris and I caught our favorite scenes from Ring 1 & 2.
I got Coraline and finished it in under 12 hours, it’s just that fun and enjoyable. The fact I’ve been waiting for it for half a year didn’t hurt. Am going through Haruki Murakami’s After the Quake right now, 1 to 2 stories a day. If I can resist reading it straight, that is.
How can you not love The Onion?
IDOL: RAY BRADBURY Just look at this guy: he turned 81 last August, has a new book out in time for Halloween (From the Dust Returned), with a cover by the late Charles Addams (creator, of course, of The Addams Family). Still uses a typewriter. Will already live forever because of Fahrenheit 451 and Dandelion Wine and The Machineries of Joy and The Martian Chronicles and what have you… Did you know he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 9 days, on a rented typewriter, in a room underneath the UCLA library?
Did you know Utada Hikaru is already married?
Did you know that Joel Torre, who’s played Jose Rizal, changed his name from the original Jose Rizalino?