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At times looking and sounding like a real Filipino action film from 50 years ago, while painstakingly edited to juggle storylines across several realities, Leonor Will Never Die is worth seeing for its originality and ambition alone. Among so many other films that function as sanitized "love letters to cinema," this one bears the distinction of still feeling charmingly scrappy and improvised even with how meticulously it's crafted. It doesn't simply pine for a bygone era of movies, but it actively explores what purpose movies serve to us as individuals and as communities. Where it arrives with regard to healing and acceptance and bringing people together feels entirely earned, even if it might not always be easy to understand.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Alemberg Ang, Allan Bautista, Anthony Falcon, Ara Chawdhury, Bong Cabrera, Dido dela Paz, DMs Boongaling, Edgar Ebro, Elias Mabia, Helen Anang, Kip Oebanda, Kristine Kintana, Madeleine Nicolas, Martika Ramirez Escobar, Miguel Almendras, Popo Diaz, Raion Sandoval, Rea Molina, Rocky Salumbides, Ryan Eigenmann, Sheila Francisco, Sheron R. Dayoc, tin velasco, Victor Villanueva

Director: Martika Ramirez Escobar

Using the documentary form with supreme clarity and righteous fury, Lakota Nation vs. United States distills hundreds of years of American history into two powerful, consistently engaging hours of film. The information presented in this movie has always been available to the public, but directors Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli do an excellent job at allowing these historical accounts and more recent headlines to cumulatively take on a truly emotional—almost spiritual—resonance. The enormity of the losses that Native Americans have endured physically, culturally, and economically is genuinely horrifying, and every new obstacle that the Oceti Sakowin peoples face feels heavy with the struggle of all of their ancestors before them.

Short Bull and Tomaselli stick to a generally conventional structure, but are able to weave together together personal stories and factual legal arguments through archival footage, majestic shots of the frontier, and the poetry of Lakota poet Layli Long Soldier. The whole film, then, begins to take on more of a lyrical quality—as if every tragic moment has permanently become part of the tapestry of Native life, impossible to forget and always driving efforts for reparation forward. Still the Native struggle continues, but with much more hope than despair.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Candi Brings Plenty, Krystal Two Bulls, Layli Long Soldier, Nick Tilsen, Phyllis Young

Director: Jesse Short Bull, Laura Tomaselli

As courageous now as it was when it was first released domestically in the Philippines, Aswang stands as an essential act of bearing witness to a "war on drugs" that the government continues to deny or justify to this day. Director Alyx Arumpac remains firmly by the side of these ordinary people who have to live through the nightmare of their friends, relatives, and neighbors being slaughtered in the streets. There seems to be little editorializing on the part of the filmmakers, as they allow the people to walk us through their own stories—even if larger powers would have us believe that the poor are dangerous, volatile, and in need of disciplining through death. It's a harrowing watch that presents on-the-ground stories with clarity, tenacity, and a surprising level of polish to boot.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ciriaco Santiago III, Ezra Acayan, Jomari, Orly Fernandez, Vincent Go

Director: Alyx Ayn Arumpac

“It is better to live miserable than to die happy,” or so says one of the characters in Jia Zhangke’s anthology film A Touch of Sin. On its surface, the “sin” referenced in the title might pertain to the acts of murder that the four protagonists commit, but in the context of China’s rapidly changing capitalist landscape (a theme explored in the director’s other pictures), it reveals itself as a malady shared by Chinese laborers treated as dispensable resources by the powers-that-be. Murder, then, is explored as an extremity, the effectual breaking point of people no longer able to contain the injustice within themselves. Beneath the splatters of blood is a plea for empathy and understanding, at once remorseful and full of conviction.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Actor: Baoqiang Wang, Han Dong, Jiang Wu, Jin Zhang, Li Meng, Lu Liu, Luo Lanshan, Qiang Wang, Wang Baoqiang, Wang Hongwei, Wang Qiang, Zhang Jiayi, Zhang Jin, Zhao Tao

Director: Jia Zhangke

Though only currently available on Prime Video Philippines, Carlo Francisco Manatad's critically acclaimed drama boasts the kind of directorial vision and technical brilliance that deservedly kept it on the international festival circuit throughout 2021 and 2022—and that deserves to be seen around the world. Through textured cinematography and sound design, and art direction that situates its story halfway between reality and a dazed state of mind, Whether the Weather Is Fine isn't so much a factual retelling of life after Typhoon Haiyan but a meditation on what home and freedom mean to those who no longer seem to have it.

Manatad's background in experimental short filmmaking shines through in how the film seems comprised of so many irregular parts, but the emotional through line is unmistakable. Three incredible performances—from Daniel Padilla, Charo Santos-Concio, and Rans Rifol—illustrate the different ways that people try to escape or cling to hope in the wake of devastation. It's the furthest thing from "resilience porn," as the different perspectives of these characters clash and inevitably push each other away. And while that might not sound like the film offers a constructive point of view on disaster management, its intense psychological focus feels like something we haven't seen on screen before.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Charo Santos-Concio, Daniel Padilla, Francis Magundayao, Johnny Manahan, Joji Alonso, Mercedes Cabral, Nico Antonio, Rans Rifol

Director: Carlo Francisco Manatad

Whether or not you're a fan of Nick Cave's contemplative, idiosyncratic style of music, This Much I Know to Be True still works on a purely experiential level. There's confusion, then a rush of euphoria, then an overwhelming sense of peace when listening to Cave's (and musical collaborator Warren Ellis's) cryptic lyrics and delicate compositions—shot with breathtaking use of studio lights by director Andrew Dominik and cinematographer Robbie Ryan.

And things only get more emotional when you consider how far Cave has come, that these performances are happening several rough years from the untimely death of his son. And suddenly even all the unrelated B-roll footage included in the film—of Cave talking about his sculptures, talking to Ellis, answering profound fan emails—takes on a greater urgency. This sounds like music for mourning, but in its own way it's music for celebration, too, and gratitude despite everything.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Andrew Dominik, Earl Cave, Marianne Faithfull, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis

Director: Andrew Dominik

After 2019's The Souvenir—a drama about a toxic, suffocating relationship—director Joanna Hogg brings back her protagonist (played by a superb Honor Swinton Byrne) and sees her attempting to communicate the experience of this failed romance through her thesis film. Anybody with an interest in the production process of cinema should glean a ton of useful advice from The Souvenir Part II's mundane on-set interactions and difficult conversations about the line between compromise and practicality. And through increasingly surreal images of stages within stages and reflections within reflections, Hogg paints a complex, intelligent portrait of cinema as a place of ultimate self-examination.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alice McMillan, Amber Anderson, Amrou Al-Kadhi, Anna Calvi, Ariane Labed, Ben Hecking, Byron Broadbent, Charlie Heaton, Chris Dickens, Crispin Buxton, Davide Albonetti, Erik Wilson, Frankie Wilson, Gala Botero, Harris Dickinson, Honor Swinton Byrne, Inès Rau, Jack McMullen, James Fox, Jaygann Ayeh, Joe Alwyn, Lydia Fox, Richard Ayoade, Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke, Tosin Cole, Yasmin Paige

Director: Joanna Hogg

In a global movie industry of children's entertainment that often feels like it isn't even trying, this little Peruvian bear coming to England is a wonderful reminder that films aimed at younger audiences aren't inherently limited. If anything, Paddington challenges itself to come up with a far more creative (and effective) way to talk about the lingering scars of colonialism manifesting as discrimination in everyday "civil" society. It sounds like heavy stuff, but Paddington approaches its fish-out-of-water story with the exact counterbalance of silliness, and a riotous cast that's far funnier than anyone would have expected them to be.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family, Kids

Actor: Alexander Bracq, Alice Lowe, Ancuta Breaban, Asim Chaudhry, Ben Whishaw, Catherine Shepherd, Cleo Sylvestre, David McKail, Denis Khoroshko, Dominic Coleman, Faith Elizabeth, Geoffrey Palmer, George Newton, Gus Brown, Hamish McColl, Hugh Bonneville, Iain Mitchell, Imelda Staunton, James Bachman, Javier Marzan, Jim Broadbent, Jude Wright, Julie Vollono, Julie Walters, Justin Edwards, Kayvan Novak, Kenneth Hadley, Llewella Gideon, Lottie Steer, Madeleine Harris, Madeleine Worrall, Mary Roscoe, Matt King, Matt Lucas, Michael Bond, Michael Gambon, Nicole Kidman, Nigel Genis, Peter Capaldi, Ross Boatman, Rufus Jones, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Joslin, Simon Farnaby, Steve Edge, Steve Oram, Stuart Matthews, Tarik Blake, Theresa Watson, Tim Downie, Toby Williams, Tom Meeten, Vic Waghorn, Will Smith

Director: Paul King

Rating: PG

Many comedians use humor as a way to ease into more serious subject matter, though there always exists a risk that a comedy special can skew too far down the silly or the self-reflective route. Mike Birbiglia has come about as close to the perfect balance as possible, in this recording of his one-man Broadway show at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Key to this is the fact that Birbiglia tells one very cohesive story throughout these 77 minutes, frequently branching off to other humorous anecdotes but always returning with a pensive self-consciousness to the real possibility of him dying sooner than he'd want.

This filmed version of Birbiglia's show doesn't give a full idea of its multimedia qualities (Birbiglia occasionally has words and images projected onto the curved screen behind him, which he also physically interacts with), but the comedian's sincere style of storytelling more than makes up for the lack of audiovisual tricks we're permitted to see. And don't get it confused: this is a very funny stand-up special, whose jokes always come from the most unexpected places—it also just happens to contain some truly moving moments that come out of nowhere, but make total sense alongside all the laughter.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Mike Birbiglia

Director: Seth Barrish

Rating: PG-13

, 1994

Filmed with a perfect blend of realism and embellished style, Fresh is a coming-of-age story set in the poverty of the New York City projects, wherein the protagonist "grows up" only by learning to become dangerous and losing his sense of self. There's no satisfaction in watching 12-year-old Michael (or "Fresh," as he's called) use his supposed innocence as a tool to manipulate his way to a safer position. The system continues to reign supreme and Fresh only buries himself into a deeper hole. Boaz Yakin's direction is direct and expressive, the city stirring to vibrant life in every scene, and the tremendous performances from Giancarlo Esposito and a then-teenage Sean Nelson drive home the tragedy with full force.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Afi Bijou, Ali A. Wahhab, Anthony Ruiz, Anthony Thomas, Belinda Becker, Charles Malik Whitfield, Cheryl Freeman, Cortez Nance Jr., Curtis McClarin, Danielia L. Cotton, Davenia McFadden, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Elsie Hilario, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Esposito, Guillermo Díaz, Iraida Polanco, Jacinto Taras Riddick, Jason Rodriguez, Jean-Claude La Marre, Jerome Butler, José Zúñiga, Luis Lantigua, Matthew Faber, N'Bushe Wright, Natima Bradley, Robert Jimenez, Ron Brice, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Nelson, Yul Vazquez

Director: Boaz Yakin

A twitchy, uncomfortable noir film for the digital age, Decision to Leave blends the trappings of a restless police procedural with an obsessive forbidden romance. Here, director Park Chan-wook flips every interrogation and piece of evidence on its head, pulling us away from the whodunit and towards the inherently invasive nature of a criminal investigation. It's a movie that remains achingly romantic even if everything about the central relationship is wrong. For detective Hae-jun and suspect Seo-rae (played masterfully by Park Hae-il and Tang Wei, respectively), the attraction between them is built entirely on distrust and suspicion—illustrating the danger of falling for the idea of someone rather than the person themself.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Ahn Seong-bong, Cha Seo-won, Choi Dae-hoon, Choi Sun-ja, Go Kyung-pyo, Go Min-si, Hwang Jae-won, Jeong Ha-dam, Jeong So-ri, Jin Yong-uk, Joo In-young, Jun Sung-ae, Jung Yi-seo, Jung Young-sook, Kim Do-yeon, Kim Mi-hwa, Kim Shin-young, Kwak Eun-jin, Kwon Hyuk, Lee Hak-joo, Lee Hak-ju, Lee Ji-ha, Lee Jung-hyun, Lee Yong-nyeo, Moon Jung-dae, Park Hae-il, Park Jeong-min, Park Yong-woo, Seo Hyun-woo, Shin An-jin, Tang Wei, Teo Yoo, Yoo In-hye, Yoo Seung-mok, Yoo Teo

Director: Park Chan-wook