13 August 2015 | jrd_73
Samuel Fuller ends with a so-so TV movie
Samuel Fuller's last "film" is a French TV movie, Tinikling or The Madonna and the Dragon. While the end results are certainly watchable, it is not much of a swan song considering the director's reputation.
Simon (Luc Merenda) and Patty (Jennifer Beals) are divorced photojournalists who find they are both covering a violent election in the Phillipines. The plot hinges on a photograph that Simon takes of a soldier executing a villager. The government (the Marcos regime) want the photo to destroy it. The rebels want to publish the photo and turn the quickly approaching election in favor of the underdog. Along the way the reporters pick up a street kid nicknamed King, who one group will use as a bargaining chip for the roll of film.
Tinikling opens with an old man diligently saying the Lord's prayer. The camera pulls back to reveal an armed soldier preparing to execute the old man. This is the type of in-your-face sensationalism that Fuller specializes in. There are other such bits sprinkled throughout the film. At one point, the journalists are descended upon by a mob of garbage dealing children with spears. Toward the end, a villain is unexpectedly and surprisingly assassinated, the violence seeming to appear out of nowhere. One wishes the film had more of these violent nuggets, as it plays out rather lifelessly at other times.
The acting is somewhat hard to judge. The copy I saw was in English with Japanese subtitles, and some of the performances appear to be dubbed. Regardless, most of the actors were fine. Luc Merenda gives a solid performance as Simon, the cynical photojournalist. Top billed Jennifer Beals, as Simon's idealistic ex-wife, is merely fair, credible in quiet moments but overdoing the more emotional scenes. Fuller took some heat in previous films for casting his wife Crista Lang. However, Lang is quite good here as Mama, the shrewed casino/brothel owner whom Simon owes five grand to. Speaking of the Fuller family, my favorite performance was by the director himself playing Patty's editor. Fuller may not be a master thespian, but he knows the world of journalism, and he has energy. Beals's best acting moment is with Fuller as her scene partner.
Tinikling or the Madonna and the Dragon can be skipped by non-Fuller fans. Although it has some aspects to recommend it, most viewers are going to find the film too familiar and rather unremarkable. However, Fuller fans might find more to enjoy.