Curriculum Vitae

One does not simply start conversing with people out of the blue. Usually. When a complete stranger approaches you and tells you why The Exorcist and The Shining are practically horror filmmaking par excellence, you either stay away from the guy, or miraculously get enraptured by the stranger’s eloquent prose. The latter’s probably unlikely, but my point is that one must introduce himself to the other in the hopes that a fruitful conversation would eventually take place. As such, considering how I’m practically relaunching this blog of mine, consider this my introduction. Better yet, consider this my CV.

Who am I?

I’m Bok, let’s leave my name at that. I took up Liberal Arts for my undergraduate degree. I was supposed to go into Communication, but my Classical Literature instructor in college swayed me towards the Humanities. I went straight for a Master of Arts in Humanities degree, getting delayed a year due to thesis, and academic and personal drama, until finally graduating and working as an English teacher for five years in my high school. Considering I had no education degree, I took some units; I didn’t finish it as I had misgivings about the teaching profession five years down the line. I resigned from teaching and was recruited by my dad to work in his company. So now, I’m the H.R. officer in our family business, a company which imports fertilizers.

I believe the teaching gig, at least initially, offered one tremendous amounts of free time to train oneself in culture. One had to read the assigned reading texts in class in order to discuss them extensively, know basic aesthetics, and study composition techniques among others. In my case, I focused on Western Classical Literature. I apologize half-heartedly for ignoring Asian and Filipino literatures as, quite frankly, they confound me. Besides, my training in a conservative university deeply ingrained a love for classical aesthetics for both art, literature, and film. Simply put, we were immersed in mostly Western art, literature, and film.

My life doesn’t evolve around literature, however. In case the second full sentence in paragraph one isn’t clear, I love movies. I may have gravitated towards genre movies as a personal preference, but I don’t consider myself a total ignoramus in other genres. I also play videogames. With the exception of Monster Hunter and 2048, I prefer narrative driven games. Whether they be as simplistic as Super Mario or as complex as Spec Ops: The Line or Shadow of the Colossus, I appreciate videogames as an exciting medium for storytelling. I am also a writer by hobby. To date, I have one produced play, hundreds of story concepts, and roughly ten stalled first drafts which I was supposed to go back to but wasn’t able to because life happened.

Such are the simple pleasures of a professional bum, and he would have it no other way if he had his own way. However, something happened. The dreamer realized his dreams are futile, and the ideals he once held suddenly became politically “inconvenient”, bordering on “heretical” even. One encountered “reality”, its unforgiving nature, and turned one into a grouchy old fart as a result (despite, at time of writing, only 31 years of age). With these realizations came the desire to process these realizations even further so as to reconcile with my old and irreplaceable ideals; to filter my negotiables with my non-negotiables. As such, the old Evil Dr. Bok film critic persona has come to its (deservedly) ignominious end, and along with it, the website. But you didn’t come here to say, “goodbye”, you came here to witness a rebirth.

Reformatting the blog

Going over my old Evil Dr. Bok entries, I realized that they are not so much “reviews” of films but commentaries. A film review is supposed to look at the film as a whole; making sense of each individual element and how it properly and artistically contributes to a film’s narrative. Considering that I simply have an elementary knowledge of film criticism from a writer’s perspective, I found myself lacking in credibility to review films. Add to that the fact that I tend to be behind with the films I watch due to geographic location.

Being in the Philippines, I have to make do with Hollywood films. I mean that in its simplest terms. At time of writing, the last film I saw on the big screen was Infinity War. Before that, Black Panther. Simply put, there isn’t that much variety in Western films available in the Philippines, unless one does something naughty and visit the gray market.

And don’t even get me started on the local films, whether mainstream or independent. With all due respect to my contacts working with the local entertainment industry, mainstream Filipino films tend to be garbage while indies are almost always pretentious. I tried my very best to love and appreciate Filipino movies. But except for the following movies, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, Oro Plata Mata, and Yanggaw, all local films I’ve seen to date are simply not worth discussing, period.

Despite this lack of extensive credibility in films, I still see the importance of making sense of art, culture, and all the associated fluff with it. As such, allow me to rechristen this blog as:

COMMENTARY BY A JADED IDEALIST

Underwhelming and possibly pretentious, I’m sure, but shut up; I own the blog, and consider this my way of weeding out non-desirables.

This new format won’t be limited to movies but to what I said earlier: books, stories, art, videogames, essays, current news events, other commentaries, basically everything that would affect the human condition.

Jaded Idealist?

I believe in an inherent order in the universe. I believe in absolutes. I believe in morality and ethics, that human actions, despite committed in an arguably morally gray world, can still be determined as black or white. I believe in the importance of morality and ethics as taught by the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the historically documented abuses of this institution, I still wholeheartedly believe that the Church is the most sensible institution in terms of teaching morality, philosophy, theology, and social justice. In addition to this belief in absolutes, I also believe in objective standards of beauty.

These are all lofty and ideal, I have to admit. Can they be improved on? That’s arguable. Is it useless? No. There is a reason why the West rose to prominence, corruption aside. The West was founded on these lofty ideals of truth and justice. The West was founded on these “cliched” views, and they remained powerful institutions for centuries. I decry how the current cultural milieu seemed to have forgotten the values and ideals which have shaped it and are now adamant on destroying it. As a friend of mine said, the Old Powers seems intent on cannibalizing itself due to a grossly inaccurate and misguided understanding of their old beliefs.

Simply put, the good old conservative values (I’ll say it for what they truly are) are now deemed outdated, and I’m supposed to accept the new values of more liberal leanings. While I see the value of selected contemporary views, I just cannot stomach the idea of destroying the Old just because of incompatibility with the New. However, I also know that I won’t win readers and followers if I simply stuck to my old college habit of calling those who don’t share my worldview idiots. Condemning one to hell is never a good conversation starter.

What are your aesthetics then?

Considering my training in that conservative university, I prefer the classical form. I prefer a marriage of form and substance, how one cannot separate the product’s intended message with how it was made. I prefer balance and proportion, symmetry, and the occasional asymmetry. Again, you can cry how limiting and exclusive my tastes are, but it’s simply my own fault for being stuck in the classics as stupid me simply couldn’t comprehend anything post Renaissance except for the Existential movement.

This soft spot for existentialism is due to my “existential phase” back in 2009 or 2010. It was my Junior year in college when I got rejected by a crush, and I supposedly felt the “absurdity” of my actions when I still working on my thesis in 2010. And it didn’t help that I discovered Dostoyevsky’s Christian existentialism in Crime and Punishment, and the admittedly Romantic views of Camus’s Sisyphean absurdism. Sartre was too boring for me to read and understand other than a possibly simplistic notion that human beings are mere pieces of sentient flesh who need to create meaning in our lives. I would say that Sartrean existentialism was a bit nihilistic for my taste. I tend to abhor overly nihilistic works unless the apparent nihilism is a critique of nihilism’s own self-defeating purpose. But for works which are nihilism for nihilism’s sake, I tend to dismiss them on the basis that I don’t want to depress myself further into suicide.

This does not mean I’m completely averse to works not falling within the classical aesthetics. I recognize the possibility of encountering art beyond my preferred aesthetic standards which speaks to me. Videogames and film are practically postmodern mediums of storytelling, but I love how they use the medium to tell engaging stories.

Additionally, I tend to have respect for art which evokes a feeling of repulsion. I don’t mean torture porn or scat or whatever disgusting thing out there; it could mean art or ideas I don’t personally agree with because I don’t share with the artist’s worldview. I tend to put this people on a higher level over “bad art” because those works make me think. Didn’t Socrates say that the unexamined life is not worth living?

With that, what is “bad art”? In a word: lazy. I hate lazy art. These are art works which neither stir wonder nor disgust in me. The fact that the work failed to incite an emotional response show that something is fundamentally lacking in the work’s craftsmanship.

This would also hold true for supposed “art works” which push a specific agenda detrimental to culture. There’s a reason why propaganda is held in such low esteem as there is a disconnect between form and substance. Add to that a specific agenda which goes against everything I hold dear, talk about a work committing a mortal sin.

Come, let’s talk

This reformatted blog is a dialogue. These are my own views, opinions, statements of fact, whatever. While I’m not too enthusiastic about how a person’s opinion is his own and we don’t have a right to tell them they’re wrong, I prefer opinions to be informed. It’s much better to see where a dissenting opinion is coming from so that I can understand why that guy is wrong. Otherwise, that guy’s simply creating noise, of which I admittedly am guilty of committing every now and then. But like I said, this is a discussion. Correct me, point me to the right direction, suggest stuff which could tickle my fancy, I don’t care. All you have to know is that this CV contains my stance, my worldview, and that the succeeding articles have this particular worldview driving them: a Third-World, Western educated, postmodern-absolutist, idealist, Roman Catholic worldview.

And with that, welcome to the new blog.

 

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I’m Alive

I haven’t really updated this blog since 2015 due to adulting, changing interests, and shifting priorities. That, however, doesn’t mean I hate film. I still do, and it’s that love for pop and high brow film which drove me to come back here. So strap in, loyal minions: Evil Dr. Bok is back, and he’s here to stay.

Well, that is if you’ve really been following this blog from the beginning.

Birdman: Really Short Impressions

It’s been awhile since my last post here. Unfortunately, as much as I want to continuously update this blog, it won’t be happening at least for a couple of months. Once I find time to update this, then you guys will be the first to know. As such,

BIRDMAN.

It sucks. Well, not really. However, I find it extremely amusing how utterly shallow and pretentious that piece of tripe was. Definitely not something to win Best Picture, but then, the Oscars have been steadily losing its credibility since 2000 anyway.

I guess I shouldn’t be too harsh on it, though, as it has indeed some pretty good moments, but no, those aren’t enlightening moments. In the end, watching the film is tantamount to watching a director tell two hours worth of fart jokes; super crass, super un-intellectual, but told in such an interesting way that you’ll forget whatever “profound” message it attempts to convey as there really isn’t one. Another Emperor’s New Clothes in all its “best”.

Short Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

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It’s hard to not like this movie when you consider the previous film to be Michael Bay’s valedictory address. Transformers 3D (yes, I’m still sticking to that title) is a culmination of everything Michael Bay has learned in filmmaking (for better or for worse). To suddenly go back to the franchise when it was effectively concluded in the third film just reeks of everything rotten in the current Hollywood system.

“But Evil Dr. Bok,” some of you minions would groan, “You enjoy Michael Bay movies, The Rock, Bad Boys 2, and Transformers 3D to be exact. You even told your students that watching Michael Bay movies is to expect nothing but explosions explosions explosions. Heck, you enjoyed The Expendables, a movie which is essentially a corny 80s action flick made with contemporary sensibilities. Why the hate surrounding this movie?” The answer is simple; Bay-isms can only take the film so far.

Transformers 3D had a story, and that alone saved the film. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen had absolutely no direction in the plot, character, etc. While you may accuse Transformers 3D of committing the same atrocities, its crime to story-telling isn’t anywhere  near as criminal compared to Revenge of the Fallen. Age of Extinction’s plot is Revenge of the Fallen bad. What makes its frustratingly bad is that there are slivers of brilliance in the script. The idea of humans going against their saviors is actually a stroke of genius story wise. It actually challenges the Autobots’ faith in humanity; if humans will turn against their saviors, why save them to begin with? This is where Cade’s family enters. Yeah, it’s a cliche but it can work given the proper storytelling.

And let’s not forget about Lockdown, the primary Cybertronian antagonist in the film. This is actually one Cybertronian I’m scared of. This dude is scary; he’s ruthless, he’s badass, he’s cool. He holds no loyalty for the war between Autobots and Decepticons; that makes him scary.

These nuggets actually made the film for me, but they were unfortunately drowned in the excesses Bay usually presents in his films. The explosions are there; they still look gorgeous in typically Bay fashion but they lack something which was present in the earlier Transformers films. I can’t really pinpoint what it is, but I am under the impression that this film somehow lost the charm the three previous ones had. Everything here, except for the two points I mentioned, seems so disconnected. The film somehow feels half-baked, similar to how Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was. Sad to say, this film, I believe, is what Michael Bay makes when he is on auto-pilot. Yes, I’m saying it; despite my ultra low expectations for Transformers: Age of Extinction, this film is a bad film, even by Michael Bay standards. Do yourself a favor and wait for it once it reaches cable.

A Short Diversion: Philippine Independence, and the German football team

As of time of writing, it’s the 13th of June, Friday, 2014. Yesterday was the Philippine Independence Day, thus a holiday. Yahoo. Thanks for the other countries who celebrated with us in spirit. 😉

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Secondly, I just found out that the 2014 FIFA World Cup has just started. As the Philippine Azkals have not yet qualified for the World Cup, again we Filipinos must look to an imperial time to support. Most of my friends lean favorably towards the Spanish team. I, on the other hand, am leaning towards the German national football team. There’s just something about their play (at least during the previous World Cup) which appealed to me; I guess it was the “precision German engineering” aspect of it which hooked me in. So there, go Germany!

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See you at the movies, and at Brazil! 😉

Short Review: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (In Question and Answer Form)

rs_634x939-140324091106-634.jennifer-lawrence-x-men.ls.32414I won’t be the harlot that I was in my Godzilla entry. Is X-Men: Days of Future Past any good? It depends on what you mean by “good”. If you consider ANY X-Men film better than X-Men: The Last Stand as good, then yes, this is a good film. If you think that a comic book film that perfectly captures the feel of a comic book reboot ala Crisis on Infinite Earths is good, then yes, Days of Future Past is good. If you think that a film that apologizes for the debacles that were X-Men: The Last StandX-Men Origins: Wolverine, and arguably The Wolverine, is considered good, then yes, X-Men: Days of Future Past is good. If you think that a movie which tries to be an Avengers is good, then yes, X-Men: Days of Future Past is good.

“But Evil Dr. Bok,” you guys ask, “is it THE best X-Men movie made?” I answer, “No, it would still be X2: X-Men United“. “Is it the best superhero movie ever made?” you continue. “No,” I reply, “that would still be Spider-Man 2, arguably The Dark Knight, and The Avengers“. I wouldn’t call X-Men: Days of Future Past overrated; I just enjoyed the earlier superhero films more. For now, I would say that the best superhero film of the year would still be Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Other than that, consider this a recommendation. 😉

 

Thoughts on “Godzilla” (2014)

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This blog has always been known for its tendency to go against what most mainstream critics agree upon. Other times, it definitely agrees with them. Most times, it stumbles like an extremely indecisive dude who can’t seem to agree whether he will buy a pair of rubber shoes or a booster box of a Magic The Gathering cards. This entry feels somewhat in between because while I understand what the critics are positively saying about the latest Godzilla film, I still can’t over the fact that those critics seem to be deliberately ignoring certain problematic elements about the movie.

“Enough with the teasing, Evil Dr. Bok, you harlot you; did you like Gareth Edward’s Godzilla?” you mindless minions groaning in frustration as I make a long winded introduction to this entry. To that I reply, “If you were expecting giant monster fights ala Pacific Rim, then you will be sort off disappointed. If, however, you belong to those who have an excellent knowledge of the Godzilla lore from the original 1954 film to the more recent ones, who jizz at the very sight of Godzilla charging up for his radioactive breath attack, then yes, you will enjoy this movie IF (that’s a big if) you can forgive the fact that Godzilla has less screen time than the human characters.”

Anti-Nuclear Allegory

You see, one has to be in a certain mindset before watching this movie. Those expecting the kind of film where Godzilla fights other giant monsters might feel pretty underwhelmed when watching this movie because this film takes off from the 1954 version. And no, I’m not referring to the American re-edit title Godzilla: King of Monsters, but rather to the original Toho film starring Kurosawa veteran, Takashi Shimura. That Godzilla film was meant to be more of a sci-fi horror/disaster flick where Godzilla was indeed a monster, an unstoppable force of nature. It was meant to reflect the Japanese anxiety towards nuclear weapons and, for the time, one can only imagine the film to be extremely effective considering that it was released a mere 9 years after World War 2 ended.

Kaiju Battle Royale

So there we have it; the 1954 Godzilla was meant to address a present anxiety among the Japanese. It was with the sequels when the movie started to embrace the inherent ridiculousness of a guy in a rubber suit fighting other monsters; that was when the films supposedly became more fun. In other words, it was a film that didn’t take itself too seriously. Now, the first “true” Godzilla film I saw was the one film where Godzilla first teamed up with Mothra to defeat this alien monster. I was too young to remember precise details but I was pretty sure I was laughing my butt of with the sheer awesomeness of Godzilla drop-kicking the other monster. That’s the fun kind of Godzilla. To an extent, and I know some of you might violently disagree with this, but I actually enjoyed watching the terrible 1998 Godzilla. Yes it is the poor man’s Jurassic Park, and it was just a huge mess, but it is the kind of fun mess that I would want to watch drunk with my friends just so we can make fun of the film’s stupidity. In a sense, despite it having no relation to the Japanese Godzilla, at the film can still be enjoyed ironically with the help of a couple of beers and some boorish company.

Godzilla 2014 (SPOILER WARNING)

Which leads us now to the new Godzilla. I understand that it was meant to follow in the footsteps of the 1954 original, and for that, at least I can applaud them for echoing some of the post-nuclear anxieties of the 1954 film (the film’s prologue echoes the Fukushima disaster a few years ago). And the climactic Battle Royale with the two other monsters, was pretty satisfying (the radioactive breath’s introduction was pretty cool). However, this is where the audience’s patience will be tested for between the monster appearances and their fights, we are subjected to the human element of the story.

Now I know that I have said before that for a film to be effective, one needs the human hook; the investment towards the characters. This hook worked to an extent in Inception, The Expendables, and Captain America:  The Winter Soldier. These are summer blockbusters, but one they had which the current Godzilla didn’t are well developed characters (or at least, developed enough that they do not upstage the more brainless part of a summer blockbuster). Inception had Cobb wanting to return to his kids, The Expendables had Barney and Tool’s inner demons, and The Winter Soldier had the chemistry between Steve Rogers and Agent Romanoff. Godzilla, unfortunately only had Bryan Cranston who dies roughly 20 minutes into the film. Even if the writers’ intentions was to focus on the human element and their actions during a kaiju invasion, at least let the story have memorable characters that MAKE major and believable contributions to the plot. Other film reviews also mention Jaws and the Spielberg influence in Godzilla. I thought that the reference was invalid as Jaws had Chief Brody, Hooper, and Quint. Aside from Heisenberg, which human character stood out in Godzilla? If I were to summarize this portion in phrase, I would echo what my friends and I said about the first Transformers film, “More Godzilla, less humans.”

Closing Words

I may have been a bit harsh on the film as I enjoyed certain portions of it. The three-way climactic fight between Godzilla and the MUTOs was pretty fun. It was just unfortunate that the film had us wade through the sludge that was the boring human story elements for almost 90 minutes before we got through the kaiju fights that have been teasing us since Godzilla’ arrival at Hawaii. But heck, I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings book even as it had me go through 2 to 300 pages of walking, unpronouncable names, and scenery descriptions so who am I to condemn this film. That said, if you are indeed one of those hardcore Godzilla fans, or is simply willing to wait for 90 minutes for the giant monster extravaganza at the end, then consider this a recommendation on my part. Otherwise, stick to Pacific Rim or even the old Godzilla films if you want more no-holds barred kaiju action.