The Movies I Saw This Month: From Gothic to Mars
This Reader reads movies too. It’s my first love. Back in the 90s when VHS rentals were a thing, my cousin would bring home four or five tapes from Video City every week and we would watch them at their house. I was barely 7 or 8 I think when I first saw Silence of the Lambs. I was even younger when I saw my first Peter Jackson movie Dead Alive. Forrest Gump was a favorite as well as my first Ghibli film, Princess Mononoke (Japanese dub, without subtitles!). I also loved the Meg Ryan romcoms and enjoyed The Matrix trilogy immensely (well the last installation- not so much). I’m grateful that my cousin had diverse taste in movies that I get to see worlds I never thought possible in our small seaside village. I think it was in those years that I got exposed to genre and when it finally came to me, I accepted it as part of the natural order of things. So the thought that The Lord of the Rings has lesser truths to say than Schindler’s List didn’t even cross my mind.
Anyway, I think I’ve said enough on the subject of genre and I’ll leave it at that. Why am I telling you all this? Probably because I’ve had one of the most diverse movie experience in recent years. It reminds me of the reasons why I still go to the movies and why I’m excited when film adaptations of the books I read comes up. I saw the fitting adaptation of Andy Weir’s The Martian last September 30. I also saw last September the best Filipino movie in recent years – Jerrold Tarog’s critically acclaimed biopic Heneral Luna (to be the Philippine’s entry to next year’s Academy Awards). And just a few days ago, I saw Guillermo Del Toro’s passion project Crimson Peak and in my opinion, Spielberg’s lesser effort Bridge of Spies.
Let me tell you first about The Martian.
SCI-FI AT ITS BEST: THE MARTIAN
It always irks me when scientists or astronauts in movies don’t get along well, or are not even trying to be nice with each other. Case in point was Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. That movie managed to assemble a cast of the most unlikeable scientists or people in the world in a spaceship on a mission that spanned years! Ever heard of cabin fever? It’s a thing you consider when you’re putting up a multibillion dollar interstellar project. Anyway, let’s forget about that movie and forgive Ridley Scott because he undid his wrongs with his adaptation of Andy Weir’s The Martian – a true portrayal of the pioneering spirit of human kind and the efforts of many scientists behind the progress we experience today.
Unlike many scifi movies and series we see today that focus on a dystopian future, or making itself darker to be taken seriously (I’m not saying it’s Doctor Who, but it is), The Martian has discovered that untapped potential in the genre.
It could bank on real science to portray an urgent story. Why space travel? Why not just address the issues at home like hunger, war, climate change? Because it is human nature to look to the stars and discover the mysteries of the universe as it is also our nature to trick and kill other human beings in the name of some vague ideology. Because we have the urge to blow things up so we could shine fireworks on the ignorance that caused hunger, wars and climate change.
Death is a big and beautiful thing, says Watney – titular character, castaway millions of miles away from Earth. It is human nature to die as well.
I think we’ve never been told how wonderful the method of science really is. We’ve never seen a more open and fantastic people than those who work on the problems of our world one equation at a time. I think The Martian, in the tradition of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos had portrayed the best of human spirit.
Well here’s to one ghost in Philippine History that showed spirit – Heneral Luna.
A SKELETON IN THE CLOSET OF PHILIPPINE- AMERICAN WAR
I’m not sure how Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna is going to translate overseas. The United States is a big powerful country. Its people are proud of their history. It is proud of its conquests. But Heneral Luna, as his name suggests isn’t that crazy over America. The Philippine Republic in its infant years has been trying to rid the land of Spaniards until the Americans came along, buying the islands for $20 million. Our forefathers didn’t start the Spanish resistance only to be handed over to another master. And so in the years that followed, the country was building a more professional army to show the world that the Philippine Islands deserves autonomy. The task was given to Antonio Luna, European-schooled member of the elite appointed as Director of the War Ministry by the Philippine’s first president, Emilio Aguinaldo.
But the titular general was not only waging war against a world power, he was also battling a war against his own people who see America as an ally to befriend. He has enough demons himself to grapple against – a tendency to threaten to kill (or castrate) anyone who is incompetent, indecisive and inefficient – mostly everybody in the President’s cabinet really.
It is a wonder why it took so long for us to see a biopic on Luna. We had this obsession with the pacifist Jose Rizal or the revolutionary plebian Andres Bonifacio. Almost every movie about these personalities paints them as almost-saints. But no one has thought of Luna and his demonic temper or his tragic end. No one has ever thought of our forefathers as just humans beings with the same faults as we do today, until Jerrold Tarog.
They say the past is a strange country, in this case it’s the Philippines today.
BRIDGE OF SPIES AND THE AMERICAN HEGEMONY
Meanwhile, as Heneral Luna argues the Philippines’ right to autonomy, Bridge of Spies- Spielberg’s latest release asks what it means to be an American as only a lawyer could ask. It would be the stark difference at the maturity of the American institution compared to the Philippines’ that it could think of such a nuanced argument.
Set in the Cold War era, it tells the story of how American lawyer James Donovan defended soviet spy Rudolf Abel. While everyone around Donovan are interested to just get it over with and sentence Abel to death there are more things at stake than that- the integrity of American justice system.
It was an interesting watch, but I think if I’ll rank the movies I saw recently on the basis of freshness, this one would be at the bottom of the four. That’s not to say that it was bad, it’s just a bit too preachy at some points. And I have gotten a bit sick of the American hegemony after Heneral Luna. Also, not much sex for a movie with ‘spies’ on the title. 😛
BAD (GOTHIC) ROMANCE IN CRIMSON PEAK
I say bad, like how most people say ‘sick’ when they mean it’s so good it’s bad. And I’m a bit bothered though. I’m pretty sure Guillermo del Toro saw through my deepest darkest fantasies while he’s making this movie. Like, why don’t we put Tom Hiddleston in Victorian garb and have him live in a haunted gothic house with a sister he’s having an incestuous relationship with and they’re trotting the globe in search for gullible young heiresses and killing them slowly and horribly?
There I admit it. And I think that’s the point of gothic romance really. It plays out your Freudian archetypes dressed with all the lace couture and eerie wallpaper of the Victorian era. It must be decadent and indulgent and it must be psychosexually charged! And it’s all here in Crimson Peak. It’s invigorating to watch.
Unsurprisingly, most critics don’t know what to make of Crimson Peak…
I’d be hard pressed to give you the best gothic romance film of recent years. The adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire comes to mind and Francis Ford Copolla’s Dracula. Both films made back in the 90s (forgive This Reader’s less extensive memory of gothic outings, I was after all just born around the late 1980s and in my opinion they’re not making enough since then). This lack of outing explains why not many people are familiar with the conventions of the genre.
Crimson Peak as del Toro insists is not horror but gothic romance and it is a perfect gothic romance if a bit old fashioned actually. I think more moviegoers would appreciate it if they make the right expectations.
I’m really stuck with my writing engagements that I can’t stick with a book recently. So I hope you’ll forgive if I just skip with my book reviews. 😛