★★★★ / ★★★★
Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) signed up to be a soldier because he felt like participating in a war was a family legacy since his grandfather and father fought the wars of their generations. Being a new soldier, he looked up to two people who had higher ranks: Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) and Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger). The former represented composure, control and ethics despite the craziness of war, while the latter embodied the evil, darkness, and cruelty. I thought this movie was going to be another one of those war classics that was overly long. I was quickly proven wrong because of the number of scenes that highlighted the silence and all we could hear was the rustling of the leaves as the soldiers slithered their way through the jungle. I also didn’t expect a lot of character development because war pictures often focus their energy on the epic battle sequences. The narration worked for me because the thoughts and insights that Sheen’s character was unable to talk about with his comrades was out in the open for the audiences. There was a real sensitivity to his character; the real turning point for me when I decided that I was going to root for his character was when he proudly wore his naïveté on his sleeves regarding one of the reasons why he volunteered to be a soldier. He reasoned that that the rich always got away from all the dirty work and he felt that he shouldn’t be anyone special just because he was born with money. Also, since he felt like he wasn’t learning anything in college, essentially, he might as well make himself useful by joining the army. Scenes like those when the characters were just talking and measuring each other up really fascinated me and I was interested in what ways they would change by the end of the picture. Oliver Stone, the director, helmed a war film that had an internal mologue mixed with moral ambiguities instead of taking the easier route of simply entertaining the viewers with empty explosions and guts being flung into the air. “Platoon” was gorgeously shot in the Philippines and the night scenes really captured the horror of the enemies blending into the environment. Lastly, it was interesting to see future stars such as the younger Johnny Depp, Kevin Dillon, and Forest Whitaker. “Platoon” ranks among other unforgettable war pictures such as “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket.”
The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (2005)
★★ / ★★★★
This critically acclaimed Filipino film about a flamoboyant gay twelve-year-old (Nathan Lopez) who happens to develop a serious crush on a cop (J.R. Valentin) both impresses and disappoints. The conflict comes in when the cop finds out that Max’ family is involved in several crimes that range from theft to murder. I liked that this picture did not flinch when it comes to showing the poorer neighborhoods in the Philippines. While the living conditions are cramped, it still manages to show that most people are generally happy with where they are because things can get a lot worse. Having been raised in the Philippines for the first eleven years of my life, I found this film’s perspective to be accurate yet bona fide because it still manages to respect its subjects. It’s easy to look down upon a group of people if you don’t truly understand them. Another aspect I enjoyed about it was that Max being really queer was really not a big deal to most people. What I love about the Philippines and Filipinos in general is that it’s pretty easy for them to accept others who are different from the norm as long as they find a common bond. When I was growing up in the Philippines, I didn’t see a lot of LGBT celebrities on television. But nowadays, if you tune in on TFC (a cable set that people can subscribe to so they can watch Filipino programs all over the world), it’s difficult NOT to see gays and lesbians. In fact, they tend to be the most entertaining hosts on game shows or characters on soap operas. So I’m glad that this movie reflected the current realities in Filipino society. However, there were some things about the picture that disappointed me. Instead of truly exploring the non-sexual relationship between Lopez and Valentin, it delved too much into the politics of cops and criminals to the point where it took the focus away from Lopez’ interesting character. I wanted to know more about the lead character and his relationship with his accepting family (no matter how dysfunctional they may be). I also didn’t enjoy the overly melodramatic scenes. Perhaps it’s because I expected more comedy because of the trailer. Nevertheless, I’m giving this a slight recommendation because it’s strong in many aspects. It’s just that the very (but important) negatives kind of weighed down most of it.
★★★ / ★★★★
“Jellyfish,” directed by Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret, peeks into the lives of three women in Israel: Batiya (Sarah Adler) who one day meets a little girl on the beach and wakes her up from the seemingly meaninglessness life she’s living; Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a Filipina who takes care of older people whose children do not have time for them and at the same time feels a lot of guilt for leaving her son to earn money from another country; and Keren (Noa Knoller), a recent bride who breaks her ankle on her wedding night and fears that her husband is cheating on him during their honeymoon. This is definitely not everyone’s kind of movie because it doesn’t have a traditional way of storytelling: a defined exposition, rising action and climax. The camera simply drops in and out of the three women’s lives yet at the same time it strives to find a commonality among them. The idea of loneliness and fear is at the forefront but one can also argue that this film is ultimately about hope and strength to keep on living. And that’s what I love about it: it’s very open to interpretations because it’s full of symbolism and elements that may or may not be real. Even though the three women’s paths do collide at some point, it doesn’t feel forced like many American movies where one circumstance changes everybody’s lives by the end of the movie. In my opinion, “Jellyfish” is the perfect title for this film because its way of telling the story and structuring of the characters is mostly dependent upon the movements on the ocean, which means it’s organic and natural. However, I do think that some of the subtitles weren’t accurate enough. I can understand Tagalog and there’s a certain disconnect between what the character is saying and what’s written at the bottom of the screen. However, most foreign films have that problem so I’m not going to heavily hold that issue against this picture. If one is up for watching something a little different, “Jellyfish” is a recommendation because of its inherent poetry and sadness.
★ / ★★★★
I decided to see this film because I was curious about what Filipino gay cinema has to offer. Unfortunately, this one is a big disappointment. It doesn’t really have a focus even though it had a lot of ideas that it tried to get across. It mostly likely has something to do with Crisaldo Pablo’s direction. The story started off with nerdy and naive Ray An Dulay falling for a much older Jet Alcantara. Eventually, Dulay’s innocence was shed and he became someone that he wish he was in the first place. Becoming someone that he wanted to become took a toll on his personality and his relationships with the people he loves most. Out of nowhere, the picture tried to inject new ideas such as loneliness, the hardships of finding the right person in a society where being a homosexual is looked down upon (most Filipinos are Catholic; though one can argue that most Filipinos do accept homosexuality because they’re always on television) and how gays tend to be disgusted with each other. Personally, I found the latter to be the most interesting because I think it’s the most honest. There’s already a plethora of gay love stories and the story here felt all too recycled. On the other hand, I do feel like gays do feel some sort of disgust with each other in real life. So, an exploration of that idea would make an interesting movie. The script didn’t help either because because it felt a bit too soap opera. I didn’t need the subtitles because I can understand Tagalog but even the first-hand experience of hearing the original script wasn’t enough to push through. I felt that whenever it is about to go into that vulnerable place, it hesitates and faces toward a less in-your-face subject. That’s the most frustrating aspect I found in “Bathhouse” and it happened again and again so I lost interest. The actor whose character I wanted to get to know more, however, was John Lapus. Even though he’s your stereotypical gay, there’s a certain anger and vulnerability in him that defies his mannerisms and outer appearance. I think if the movie focused on him instead of Dulay and Alcantara (and their lack of chemistry), this would’ve been a stronger movie. In the end, this is another one of those forgettable foreign gay movies.