Sir Jackson himself, along with many thank yous

Sir Jackson himself, along with many thank yous (Photo credit: asgw)

The Hobbit reminded me a lot of the Dune TV miniseries – an adaptation that may be too faithful, too detailed for its own good. The way the High Frame Rate (HFR) makes everything look hypo-real, with sets looking like sets, and CG backdrops looking like obviously composited matte paintings, makes their aesthetics even more similar. Maybe Peter Jackson should’ve hired Vittorio Storaro as well. His philosophy of color couldn’t have hurt.

But honestly, the actual quality of the movie itself seems almost beside the point. As far as I was concerned, the real draw was getting to see a whole film in 48 frames per second, a.k.a. High Frame Rate or HFR.

The good news is you DO get used to the high frame rate. The bad news is, it takes practically the whole film for you to completely get used to it. The not-so-bad news is, you get used to it in phases. Getting used to HFR is actually like a study or self-realization in how the human brain perceives things and what your visual cortex pays the most attention to.

Getting twice as much visual information than it’s used to when in “watching a movie” mode, your brain initially gets thrown for a loop. Practically EVERYTHING looks kinda sped up, jerky and out of synch in the beginning. So your brain first adapts by anchoring itself onto what it can make the most sense of – the dialogue and its corresponding facial and mouth movements. This is what starts looking normal after a few minutes. Then your brain progresses to adjusting to the “look” of other normal and regular bodily movements like walking and sword fights. Other forms of motion take quite a bit longer to “normalize”. Camera movements such as zooms and pans all seem faster and more rushed than necessary in the movie’s first half or so, even if they’re probably the usual speed and length an editor would cut to. Fire, smoke and flowing water, all look rather “off” until almost the last few scenes.

In the scenes where 48fps DOES work, the results can be devastatingly realistic, as close to “you are there” as one can get in a cinema, even trumping IMAX at points. But there appear to be certain criteria required in a scene for HFR to be able to best work its magic. Well-lit scenes shot outdoors on location, from wide angles with slow pans, and the moving elements kept mostly to the midrange, is one such scenario. Busy, contrasty scenes, with multiple planes of depth, and multiple elements in motion, is another. It was kinda to be expected, but still rather surprising, at just how much slow-motion scenes look absolutely AWESOME in HFR. So you can’t help but think how it would’ve been a lot better if we’d all gotten a 48fps “introductory film” featuring all these HFR-friendly shots and compositions to train our visual cortex with, before tackling this rambling Tolkien adaptation.

I guess I should at least say that it all comes together in one standout slow-mo shot almost at the end when things just CLICK and you catch your breath and wonder why movies haven’t been in HFR until now. By that point you’re grateful that your eyes and brain have finally gotten used to how fire looks like in 48fps.

Scenes where HFR does NOT work that well, are most indoor scenes shot in tight angles. “You are there” shifts to “they are on a set” in these cases. Dimly lit scenes with a narrow range of colors and low contrast also mostly look so-so, unless filled with tons of set and costume detail with distinct elements to catch the eye. Otherwise, they can easily stray into this straight-to-video-sci-fi-B-film “look”. HFR also seems to be particularly unforgiving to CG visual effects. What may be impressive or acceptable in good old 24fps can look downright shoddy in 48fps, especially once things start moving.

HFR even seems to affect how acting is perceived. It doesn’t seem to favour loose, erratic movements and line delivery, while performances that are more nuanced and deliberate come off better.

I also can’t help but wonder if, rather than the novelty of 48 fps HFR, maybe the relatively cool and wan color palette and lighting scheme also contributed to the video-like look of some scenes, and also whether this was caused more by the particularities of the lenses and image sensors of the digital cameras used (the RED EPIC 4k, which has been said to be prone to desaturating colors), or the slight dimming and loss of focus caused by the 3D glasses. I really wish there was a 2D HFR version to check out as well.

With the tech overshadowing the technique, the style over the substance, Jackson has produced what is for all intents and purposes, an audience-proof movie. Hardcore fans and those hungry for the next big blockbuster will line up and swoon, while most critics will shrug and share ineffectual rants and raves.  But HFR is something really new to mainstream cinema, going beyond even 3D or IMAX-size screens. Jackson is trying to fundamentally upgrade the way we watch movies, how we perceive simulated life itself, and I’m willing to cut him a lot of slack for that, even if I was never really a big fan of his to begin with.

In last year’s Tree of Life, Terence Malick mesmerized audiences with his meditation on the nature of the universe and our passage through it. He encompassed the entirety of time from creation to the rapture, throwing in a bunch of dinosaurs for good measure, in order to weave a tapestry that shows the interconnectedness of life in all its infinite variations. Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature film touches on a lot of similar themes — nature, family, the harmony of life — and also uses a mixture of surrealist imagery, compressing memories, fables, dreams, folklore and imagination in order to achieve an acute, unique visual style. Instead of dinosaurs, he has “aurochs”, mythical beasts that once roamed the earth as a metaphor for our struggle to maintain our precarious control over the earth. But unlike the sprawling Malick film, Zeitlin tells a narrative with such amazing focus and precision of emotion. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a reminder of the power of cinema to transport its audiences physically and emotionally, it is escapism imbued with the highest form of artistry.

Set in the Bayou, the movie centers on a young girl named Hushpuppy, played by newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis. Much like her small community affectionately called The Bathtub because of its location outside the levee, she is a scrappy, resourceful six-year old who has a precocious self-understanding of her place in the universe. Echoing the mechanical worldview of Hugo Cabret in Hugo, she sees herself as a tiny yet essential piece of a gigantic puzzle. According to her, “the whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right”. So she spends her idle time catching birds and other creatures and putting them close to her ear, hoping that she would catch traces of the ethereal life force that flows across all beings speak back to her. One consequence of this philosophy is perceiving the world as a chain of cause and effect, so when a Katrina-like hurricane ravages her home after she throws a tantrum, she blames herself for ruining the balance and sets out to restore the order that was lost. “When you’re small, you gotta fix what you can.”

It is hard to imagine what caused Hushpuppy to be so possessed with the awareness of the mystical forces that govern our world, but it is easy to claim that it is Wallis’s raw performance that serves as the lifeblood of this film. She has such a commanding presence contained in her tiny frame, all the more made realistic by the fact that she was just a local schoolgirl whom Zeitlin chose her to play the part. Her pout, her energy, her determination — her entire constitution, really – is nothing short of enchanting, and also profoundly moving. Her troublesome relationship with her father Wink, played by another amateur actor named Dwight Henry, rises and falls like the tumultuous weather. There are storms, and there are peaceful, serene calms, and Zeitlin builds it up to an emotional crescendo that is as shattering, and heartbreaking, as the deluge itself.

The Bathtub represents a sort of premodern way of living. It is a racially mixed group of what at first seems like society’s dregs, but there is a charm in their unhurried lifestyles. Everything is built from found materials and wreckage, but life abounds in their makeshift abodes. They have their own set of norms, which include no crying when somebody dies and helping out whoever is in need. Their attachment to their less than idyllic way of life is understandable because of the civic spirit that reside within these people, and without. Again, the interconnectedness of the universe is rendered even more urgent and perceptible when confined to such a narrow space, and it is much a journey of the destruction and rehabilitation of a community than it is of Hushpuppy.

This movie is a constant tug-of-war. It is about the people of the Bathtub fending off modern, bureaucratic institutions intending to “save” them. It is about Hushpuppy trying to tame the beasts that live within her and gain control of herself and the world around her. It is a contest between Hushpuppy and Wink, two people who have the capacity to hurt and love each other the most. It is a movie filled with the most heartwrenching tensions, not least because it tries to mirror life itself in a most piercing way. 

I can see the DVD/Blu-ray blurb already: “Rashomon meets Irreversible meets Y Tu Mama Tambien!”  Alas, Alberto Rodriguez’s After never quite reaches the aesthetic or emotional heights of those cinematic touchstones, despite borrowing liberally from their filmic language and tropes. Relying on a chronologically-recursive narrative to make more profound what seems to be, on the surface, a shallow character study of three hard-partying Spaniards, “After” can be seen as both a cautionary tale and fantasy for people on the verge of midlife crises.

“After” also continues a proud Eurofilm tradition of more-or-less average-looking middle-aged guys (Tristan Ulloa and Guillermo Toledo) paired- (or in this case, triod-) up with a younger knockout female lead (Blanca Romero). The gist of this love triangle goes like this, one guy wants the girl, but the girl wants the other guy, who doesn’t know what he wants. We follow their frustrated ménage-a-trois through the especially Spanish ritual of la marcha – drink, drugs, and debauchery till dawn.

Long a staple of coming-of-age films, artsy indie erotica, or R-rated comedies, the crazy club-crawl usually features pretty young things unburdened (albeit temporarily) by the demands of reality or human physiology. What makes “After” seem relatively refreshing is how it shows full-grown adults to be just as capable of (and just as consumed by) making absolute messes of themselves in pursuit of that elusive emotional or chemical high. It also manages to properly dramatize how each shot and snort take a far more evident toll on flesh that’s past its prime, and how the real world never really goes away, even if you can escape or put it on hold for a few hours. There’s a genuine lived-in world-weariness to the film’s tone and spirit that shows it was clearly made by and for real adults, not precocious twenty-somethings just playing at being all decadent and jaded.

Knowing that this film was conceived and written before 2009, one also realizes that it’s a time capsule of a Spain that doesn’t exist anymore, a snapshot of the twilight of a more carefree, confident country, just before the economic mierda hits the abanico.

The film definitely falls into that narrow navel-gazing genre that deals with White People/First World Problems, thus its relevance seems particularly questionable considering Spain’s current fiscal situation and the fact that it’s being shown at a festival in a developing country. But as another film favourably reviewed on this blog had been accused of celebrating “bourgeoisie juvenilia”, and its cinematic worth eventually defended, lack of perceived relevance doesn’t make crises or emotions any less human or sincere. Spanish star Guillermo Toledo, who’s made his mark in more comedic roles, is featured in the film’s most searing story arc. Despite the set-up and character being generally unsympathetic, his portrait of a man hitting emotional rock bottom rings true, and stays with you as the most hauntingly affecting aspect of the film. Heartbreak and disillusionment truly are universal tragedies, no matter the context.

– This film is currently being screened as part of Pelicula, the 11th Spanish Film Festival in Manila. For more information check out:

There really is nothing innovative about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, not least because the book by Stephen Chbosky, who also penned the movie’s screenplay, has been a major influence on teen culture over the past decade. The film is filled with a lot of the sensibilities that have come to define the contemporary indie movie — the well-curated soundtrack, the pop culture references, the quirky, off-beat characters who are too cool for their own good. But I guess that its precisely the tonal perfection that makes this movie a precious, endearing thing to behold, even if it might attract some derision from people who would find it too cloying and “white”.

Enter Charlie (Logan Lerman), a loner freshman with a tormented past who has a hard time fitting into the social hierarchies of high school. He belongs in the same league as Cady from Mean Girls and Oliver from Submarine, the type of kids for whom finding a lunch table in the cafeteria is a Herculean task and whose curiously insightful thoughts are transmitted to us by way of overhead narration. He’s the titular wallflower — always observant but hesitant in what he calls “participating” in the real world. That is until he befriends Patrick (Ezra Miller), an excitable queer senior who takes Charlie under his wing, and his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson), a pretty girl-next-door whom Charlie gets immediately attracted to. We follow him as he navigates a complex terrain of emotions that come with adolescence, except that for the most part he’s directionless and lets his two newfound friends, along with his English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), lead the way. Together, they go through the teenage experience — they exchange The Smiths songs, party, do drugs, reenact The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But the movie also takes some dark, melodramatic turns as it deals with the repercussions of, among other things, teen suicide and homophobia.

The movie’s main cast is, to my surprise, brilliant. Lerman in particular showed an astute restraint in his performance, a far cry from his kiddy turn in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. Playing Charlie demanded a believable mix of vulnerability and likability to serve as our conduit to the nostalgia of our youths, and at his best, his portrayal can get under your skin and evoke emotions and memories that you thought you’ve left behind. Miller is equally impressive. He doesn’t fall into the trap of simply being the gay best friend but instead infuses his character with a charming dose of pizzazz and vigorous spirit. And finally, weird American accent aside, Watson is acceptable enough as Sam, perhaps the weakest of the three lead performances. It is easy enough to project whatever ideal we had of the perfect high school girlfriend because of a certain blankness in her delivery of that character, although whether or not it was intentional from her part is unknown.

As far as fantasized depictions of teenage life goes, this is a pretty good movie that will find its following. If I have one main reservation, its with the movie’s bumper-sticker mantra derived from one of the oft-quoted lines from the book: We accept the love we think we deserve. It’s catchy enough to seem reasonable, but I don’t agree with the sentiment of conveniently blaming someone’s low self-worth if they find themselves in an abusive or otherwise crappy relationship. Love is much more complicated than that. But hey, what do I know. I’m also just a wallflower.


The Academy recently announced that this guy would be hosting the next Oscars.

His name is Seth MacFarlane.

You may be familiar with some of his works, which include Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, American Dad and the recent movie, Ted.


Here are some reasons why this might be a brilliant idea:

Here are some reasons why this might be the worst idea ever:

‘Tis October, three more months before we bid 2012 goodbye. Being the last quarter of the season, it’s the time of the year when we start getting flooded by the heavy-hitters aiming for Oscar glory. Better get ready to be pounded with “prestige” biopics (Lincoln, Hyde Park on Hudson, Hitchcock), sweeping “epics” (Les Miserables, Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi) and other “serious” dramas (Zero Dark Thirty, The Sessions). Oy vey.

Some new things this month:

1.) Why don’t we have a bit of genre-specific fun and have a …

Horror Movie Marathon: Scary Asian Shit Edition

A Tale of Two Sisters (Korea – 2003)

Audition (Japan – 1999)

4bia (Thailand – 2008)

2.) New Poll: To celebrate the start of the Oscar season, I ask the question: which of the past five best pictures winners was your favorite? Answer the poll at the sidebar, and if you say The Artist or The King’s Speech, be ashamed. Be very ashamed.

3.) Got some tickets to the London Film Festival, and hoping to write some of the films I get to see there (Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Sessions, etc.). Going to be a busy month because school just started, so will write whenever I can, which will hopefully be a lot.

That’s it, have a rockin’ month everyone.


I went to the last event of the MoreLondon Free Festival at The Scoop, which was an outdoor screening of the 1961 Oscar winner for Best Picture, West Side Story. I saw it mostly to see how well it stood the test of time, and for the most part it still manages to entertain in the way that movie musicals from that era usually do (read: Funny Face, The Sound of Music, Singin’ in the Rain). The music was laid on too thick, the choreography overdone and the dialogue hokey. But I don’t say this to disparage the movie because I think that that’s where you actually derive most of the pleasure in re-watching it. Instead, I’m suggesting that if there ever is a Platonic ideal for 60’s musicals, West Side Story comes pretty damn close.

Part of what makes it really entertaining now is that it is, of course, extremely campy. As if the cheese factor of the Romeo and Juliet story wasn’t enough, the gang rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks that manifested in pirouettes and pliés was pure, unadulterated theatricality, the kind of which can’t be performed anymore without someone batting an eyelash at the smarminess of it all. And what makes it authentically campy is its unintentionality. As Susan Sontag said in her classic piece “Notes on Camp”, camp which knows itself to be campy is usually less satisfying. So when Maria’s says “Tony, when you come, make sure you enter the back door,” you can’t help but be amused by its naïveté.

Watching it in the outdoor amphitheater amplified some of the emotions that still manages to resonate fifty-one years after the movie was first released. It lent Maria and Tony’s duet Tonight an extra poignancy, for example. And the fantasy wedding scene between the two while a tad mawkish still managed to convey sincere emotion. And I guess what makes West Side Story refreshing when it came out is the way it treated serious national issues — gang violence, immigration, racial tension — with an air of frivolity that trivialized it in the way that made it seem like they really should be trivial. It sought to redeem the American dream, that people should’t be fighting and killing each other over their places of birth because in America, everyone gets a new start and gets to leave their baggage behind. Of course now, that myth has been shattered and when Anita sings “Buying on credit is so nice” you want to give her a pat on the shoulder and say, “No, dear. It really isn’t.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that people tend to ignore West Side Story when the topic of movie musicals come up. The last time I remember it penetrate the cultural conversation was when Glee ran a subplot about the kids staging the musical for their school, but that really isn’t saying much. Like its other more-loved contemporaries, there are a lot of gems that shouldn’t be forgotten here, like Rita Morena’s scene-stealing performance as Anita, or yes, even Jerome Robbins’ choreography that predates Grease in the way it brilliantly combines the tough-guy, street gang culture with the femininity of ballet and dance. There are a lot of things that didn’t age well, and Natalie Wood’s tragic demise probably altered the way people have appreciated this movie, but it is one that on occasion, should be revisited, if only to revel in Maria’s ode to feeling pretty or in Tony’s anticipation that something great might be coming tonight. Because really, who knows?