Tuesday, July 23, 2013

what national artist?

Four National Artist awardees of 2009 being invalidated broke news just recently. The order issued to the four by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was nullified because it “disregarded the rules of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in giving ‘preferential treatment’ to the four in the selection of awardees.” (The Philippine Star). 

The one who spearheaded this case was Commissioner of NCCA, National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario. In a capsule, it stated that all was made without proper procedure. And being the most vocal and more visible in the media among the four, Carlo J. Caparas retaliated on national television.

“Kilala ako sa buong bansa. Itong mga tula ni Almario, walang bumabasa,” Caparas said (I’m recognized all over the country. These poems by Almario, they’re not read).

As a practicing writer, his words struck a nerve. Being mostly unread by the mass is always a given to those who toil for literature. It is a lonely craft, so they say. Though this is more of a personal claim, I believe writers do not aim to please, as compared to Caparas and his body of works. His profession doesn’t make him less accomplished on what he must be oh-so trying to do for many years.

Cartoonists or comic book artists can be as revered as ballerinas, architects, or even poets. But here’s the catch: He’s not the artist of Panday or Bakekang. Never has been. He’s only the brain behind it. Thus, the title of National Artist for Visual Arts bestowed upon Caparas is beyond comprehension. That fact alone makes the conferment null, void, and overtly embarrassing.

Besides, the National Artist award requires a certain gravitas, a respect mined not by measures of fame but of influence. A National Artist brings ripples to society with his or her introspection of the human condition, may it be through dance, lyric or sculpture. A National Artist never brings attention to himself (hopefully).

But he is right on one point. Almost everyone knows him in the country. And I guess here rests the problem of his logic: Popularity entitles quality.

It is sad Caparas keeps this myth close to his heart. All hopes for progress would certainly go down the drain if anyone’s thinking goes in line with this. With his statement, it seems we have to agree that what brings more applause, what is trending on Twitter, what is consistently shoved on our faces is the one that truly matters, the one thing that we must not ignore. For heaven’s sake. These so-called Minions are famous, but that doesn’t make them food for the soul, right? Junk food is famous among children but that doesn’t make it healthy, right? Right.

I will not argue any further.

The point is, if Carlo J. Caparas insults another National Artist who does deserve the title, demeans the rest of the pantheon of Philippine letters, then to the Gates of Hell with him. Because on the bright side, that would be a fantastic comic book story for many writers.

Friday, July 05, 2013

seen in the cinemas no. 1

I have noticed that I have only produced one post per month this year (except for the month of March which has three posts). A very dismal number that could easily make anyone stumbling into this site uninspired. So to save this blog from its slow descent to obscurity and irrelevance (as if the internet can’t get enough of it), I have decided to offer my two cents’ worth on movies that I have seen in the cinemas the past few months. Here they are.

Iron Man 3

The third installment in a franchise, more often than not, rarely takes off and matches the brilliance of the first two. See the Spider-Man movies by Sam Raimi, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Pirates of the Caribbean. On the other side of the spectrum there are those that managed to amp it up as their stories progress: Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter series, The Dark Knight trilogy. In the case of Shane Black’s Iron Man 3, it falls between the two. It’s not bad but it’s not memorable. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man remains reliable in giving a hilarious quip, but in this iteration his act is all but an act. The fresh wit was thin, if not gone. Even the editing was not as slick as the superb first and second films. Save for Ben Kingsley’s surprising character, Gwyneth Paltrow’s turn as a pseudo-feminist savior, and references to the presence of The Avengers, the rest of the film felt tired and burdensome to get through. Its attempt to make it a little bit grim—perhaps as a response to the popularity of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy’s gritty realism—also makes it jarring as a continuation of sorts to Jon Favreau’s  Iron Man 1 and 2. If not for the second movie’s dismal existence, I would have regretted seeing this third installment. And to keep a superhero away from humiliation, I think his or her third movie should end on the third crusade. Warning sign: the Richard Donner Superman films.

It Takes a Man and a Woman 

Now here’s a fine example of a film that milks on the tried-and-tested success of its predecessors. Directed once again by Cathy Garcia-Molina, this movie follows the love story of Laida (Sarah Geronimo) and Miggy (John Lloyd Cruz) that began with A Very Special Love and then with You Changed My Life. All are huge profit-gainers for the producers, luring in hundreds of people to the cinemas, even though the titles alone could instantly give anyone the summary on how the tale starts and ends. In short, predictable. All’s well that ends well. Here’s a thought: Major studios in the Philippines these days are usually recycling the formula again and again, even adapting (or copying?) our neighboring countries’ blockbuster hits, instead of being dependable on releasing entertaining yet original, thought-provoking stories that could easily stand head-to-head or even best other foreign works. It is heartbreaking, like Laida and Miggy’s obstacle in the second act of the movie. We have good actors, we have good writers, and as proven by many independent filmmakers, we can make do with the smallest of budget. What we usually do not have are stories that can be remembered for being compelling and not for Sara Geronimo’s over-the-top performance.

The Great Gatsby

Weeks before the release of the film, I hastily read the revered American classic by F. Scott Fitzgerald and boy was I drunk with its prose. Rich and velvety, one could almost taste the novel’s words. And this is how I feel for Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation. It even goes beyond the sensation of taste. His film is a delight to the senses. The backlash is expected to arrive after its premier, what with the relentless buzz surrounding the film from its production to the release of the book tie-in, but I say that Luhrmann lives for the flashy, the elaborate and the spectacular. It is his edge over other artists (see Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!) or maybe his Achilles’ Heel (see Australia). We can never complain that Wes Anderson is too neat, that Steven Soderbergh uses too much filters, that Quentin Tarantino spills to much blood on screen. Luhrmann, whose artistry roots in theater, has daring, is daring. And Fitzgerald’s very malleable story is the perfect canvas to paint with his creativity. In Luhrmann’s hands, Tobey Maguire brings more attitude to Nick Carraway, Leonardo DiCaprio projects more passion and familiar mystery to Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan makes Daisy Buchanan more relatable but sketchy at the same time, Joel Edgerton adds more grit and conceit to Tom Buchanan, and lastly, the Australian Hollywood newbie Elizabeth Debicki puts an impressive stamp on screen as Jordan Baker compared to the otherwise forgettable character in the book. As for the anachronistic soundtrack that is executive produced by Jay-Z, bringing modern hip-hop to the 1920’s, thus, bringing much heated debate, I love it. It feels dangerous but beguiling, feels that we are treading on foreign territory, just like how it must have felt like when you open your eyes one day to the so-called jazz age. Despite its excesses, it all fits well.

Man of Steel 

With the previous effort by Bryan Singer failing to launch a lucrative franchise in the mid-2000’s, the latest reincarnation by Zack Snyder of 300 and Watchmen fame has a lot of weight on its shoulders. He’s dealing with the granddaddy of superheroes after all. It is anticipated with expectations as immeasurable as the title character’s strength. To a fanboy’s eyes, these are met. To a critic’s though, it is an entirely different story: almost absent chemistry between Henry Cavil (Kal-El/Clark Kent) and Amy Adams (Lois Lane), overlong fight scenes, complete disregard for collateral damage, and the once bright and optimistic last son of Krypton is now a brooding, husky man who seems to miss his igloo or one who has read too much philosophy textbooks. Add to that a supporting cast like Kevin Costner (Papa Kent), Diane Lane (Mama Kent) and Russel Crowe (Jor-El) that put extra gravitas in every frame of the film. Luckily though, I watched it with the eyes of a freshie. The origin story is grounded on the basic questions of how would an alien feel in a world that is peopled with no one like him, how would he grow up and embrace the discovery of his powers, and how can he be trusted? Snyder, who I still believe is a capable director but easily falls into the allure of blockbuster bombast, deftly moves his way around these questions, inching towards the battle with the excellent Michael Shannon as Zod and closing admirably for a possible sequel. And by the way, I have no problem with this Superman’s chest and facial hair.

Four Sisters and a Wedding

Another directorial effort by Cathy Garcia-Molina, this romantic-comedy revolves around four sisters—Teddie (Toni Gonzaga), Bobbie (Bea Alonzo), Alex (Angel Locsin) and Gabbie (Shaina Magdayao)—who reunite when their only brother Reb-Reb (Enchong Dee) announces he would marry his girlfriend Precious (Angeline Quinto) of just three months. Add into the mix the girlfriend’s meddling, snooty parents (Boboy Garovillo and Carmi Martin) and mayhem ensues. The premise is fairly new in the Philippine context, but unfortunately the treatment blasted anything that is good far, far away from its comedic promise. The movie may not fall into mediocrity but it is on the brink of it. Martin and Gonzaga’s comedic chops are admirable but theirs belong to another movie. That is why Connie Reyes, as the mother of the siblings, stands out because her cool demeanor speaks volumes. There’s no need for excessive hand-wringing, there’s no need for screaming. But then again, she cried buckets in the near end, a Filipino staple. Those blatant product placements too leave no room for the imagination. If this movie’s in 3D, I suspect those manufactured goods would reach us, wrench our mouths open, and feed us with delectable consumerism. The film aces on the idealization of togetherness and forgiveness in a family, but with its constant traipsing on the preachy side, what has been gagged on our throats will be hard to forgive.