Thursday, September 25, 2014

Percival Intalan's "Dementia" - Deafening versus Horrifying

After 37 years, Mara (Nora Aunor) makes an unexpected homecoming to a remote town in Batanes. She’s suffering from Dementia, a clinical condition where cognitive and intellectual functions are sufficiently impaired, thus requiring close supervision and care. She’s mostly in the fog, forgets people and things, and is unable to function productively. Her cousin Elaine (Bing Loyzaga), along with husband Rommel (Yul Servo) and daughter Rachel (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), has flown back from the U.S. for a 7-week sabbatical to facilitate Mara’s discharge from the hospital as well as her transport to the tempestuous islands (Batan, Sabtang). Rommel is understandably peeved, and Rachel is mostly indifferent. But Elaine, the only person Mara remembers, grew up under Mara’s care, and owes her elder cousin a great deal.

In a somnolent town where electricity shuts off at 9 PM, Mara is left to meander this vaguely familiar house made of stone and thatched roof. 

Hopefully, this would steer her to remember things from her past. But in a creaky old house incessantly fanned by strong winds from the Pacific, there’s more to Mara’s abandoned memories, encapsulated in a journal she’s been keeping.

Mara starts seeing visions of a girl wearing vakul (a traditional Ivatan head gear made of straws used for protection against the sun, wind and rain) and a ghoulish maiden wearing a wedding gown. Mara also gets hold of a mysterious amulet with a hole in the middle. Then flashbacks start rushing by.

As a young girl, orphaned Mara was taken in by the Fabre couple who, unknown to the young girl (Althea Vega), has been keeping an intellectually challenged daughter named Olivia (Chynna Ortaleza) away from the prying eyes of the public. Mara soon realizes how she would figure in the household - as Olivia’s guardian and friend. The girls grew up affectionate of each other until Mara falls in love with a young man who then proposes to marry the dusky lass. In a fit of jealousy, Olivia stabs Mara’s beau. The situation briskly escalates into one of morbid consequences.

There’s much promise in Jun Lana’s story. Unfortunately, megman Percival Intalan’s directions leave much to be desired. Laid out as a psychological suspense thriller, the sluggishly told narrative soon falls prey to the wornout Asian horror cliché that makes use of sudden – and excruciatingly loud! – music/sound that eventually annoys more than it terrorizes. 

A door opens then a loud noise suddenly plays, and so on. Effective horror plays to our psyche, not bullyrag our auditory senses. And a story teller creates an atmosphere of impending doom. Lesser equipped film makers resort, on the other hand, to cheaper artifice, by creating “sudden noises” – the ones that actually break eardrums! Becoming deaf from movie watching isn't my idea of entertainment. I want to get pissing-in-my-knickers petrified, not deaf. This is why Von de Guzman's’ music and Addiss Tabiong's sound design contribute to Dementia’s faux pas as a cinematic chiller. Music and sound should enhance cinematic atmosphere, NOT call attention upon themselves. They shouldn't drown out the visual canvas. Of course, Intalan will be grateful to De Guzman and Tabiong because the pair was able to “jolt” the audience out of their ennui when this should have been the job of the story teller.

Plot crawls in dilatory fashion. Even as an atmospheric drama, Renei Dimla’s script should be circumspect. Instead it was nothing but patchy. One scene tries to explain Olivia’s relative “anonymity” through a sound byte from one of the characters, “Batang bata pa kasi sila nung namatay si Olivia” (thus most barrio folks weren’t made aware of Olivia’s presence). But even if you doze off between Mackie Galvez’s confoundingly underlit scenes, you would know that Mara and Olivia both grew up into adults. How else would Mara find romance? Was Olivia really kept behind the stone walls of the Fabre abode? Highly unlikely. You see the girls playing around the vast wind-swept landscape of Batanes. In a small town with a population less than a hundred, can you really keep a moving, breathing, living being under wraps?         

Bing Loyzaga unexpectedly keeps the story together as much as her character strings her otherwise divisive family. Loyzaga’s portrayal is so consistent you feel her strength amid internal strife. Jasmine Curtis-Smith is a joy to watch. Unlike her older sister, Jasmine never “overbakes” her characters. She’s temperate; and she steers clear from dramatic indulgences even when she’s already “possessed”. Truth be told, she is a gifted actress, managing to hold her ground and shine even in under-the-radar roles (Nika in Mike Alcazaren’sPuti”; Yael in Hannah Espia’sTransit”). Yul Servo, on the other hand, suffers from a one-note performance, making his presence disposable and forgettable. In fact, when Olivia’s ghost finally stabs Yul with a knife, Bing immediately abandons and forgets him. She instead runs after Jasmine and the wandering Nora. Bing was inconsolable when she realizes that Nora’s “gone”. Meanwhile, she forgets her husband Yul altogether. Didn't I say “disposable”?   

Perci Intalan's directorial debut is one blustery noise and blundering ambition. I was more horrified watching the video of a young Indian man being attacked by a white Bengal tiger in a Delhi Zoo. That didn't require sudden loud noises, blood spurting out of stones or crawling anophthalmic brides. What's better, I didn't have to pay a dime for it to scare me.  

Nora Aunor's grasp of the clinical condition seems dicey. Cognition, which refers to the "quality" of knowing, perceiving, recognizing, sensing, reasoning or imagining, isn't the equivalent of "amnesia" or "Alzheimer's Disease". Nora, on the other hand, refuses to interact with her surroundings, unless they're fueled by visual or aural hallucinations. She doesn't listen to people talking to her and sees way past them even when she's directly facing them. You'd somehow suspect she was "deaf and mute" more than demented. Or just maybe she's revisiting her role in Lamangan's "Sidhi"? She would occasionally look at their faces, smile a half-second grin, then it would disappear as fast as it came. Now that was scary. I heard someone whisper, "Ay, parang baliw!" This doesn't bode well for a narrative that necessitates a glimpse of familial articulation. More than her illness, Mara is too disconnected not just from her relationship with her family or her environment, but with the whole story as well.

La Aunor has had a spate of movie roles that showcase her thespic chops to unflattering light. Yes, the Superstar is Philippine show business’ most intuitive actress, and the capacity of her eyes to highlight man's nethermost empathy is stuff made of legends. Her acumen is mostly based on instinct. She takes to the vision of her director then she brilliantly expounds and creates from it. But her instinctual proclivity also places her at a disadvantage when her director has but a mere incipient grasp of his vision.

This year, Nora Aunor has appeared in Joel Lamangan’sHustisya” where she inhabits the persona of a foul-mouthed Biring who facilitates the human trafficking business of childhood friend Divina (Rosanna Roces). In the movie, Nora navigates the backwaters of an intricate underground syndicate while constantly worrying about her missing son Michael (Jeric Gonzales, who's also in "Dementia" playing the helpful trike driver Vincent). 

Though Nora may have won her Balanghai trophy for "Hustisya" as Best Actress for the Director’s Showcase, this was mostly due to the dearth of female lead parts in the showcase category. In fact, the film was dubious all the way through. At best, La Aunor was a fish out of water. If you believed her characterization in it, you’d be the most impressionable dingbat this side of Lala-land. I kept wincing on how acutely awkward she was with her half-baked profanities. One couldn't help but consider Gina Pareno (playing Amy) who essayed a character congruent to Biring's in Jeffrey Jeturian’s “Kubrador”.


Now imagine Vilma Santos donning Biring’s shoes. Wouldn't that create gargantuan sparks – no, make it fireworks! - where Aunor was only able to spew fumes off a dying chimney. Get my drift? So much has been written about those legendary eyes but when Lamangan chose to end his convoluted story with a close-up of a severely wrinkly protagonist laughing away until screen “freezes over”, I was transported into a maelstrom of epiphany. Some extreme close-ups aren't meant to be. There's just too much of them even here in "Dementia". 

Nora Aunor, in all her legendary glory, has limitations. Wasn't she miscast in Leroy Salvador’s 1985 ouvre “Beloved” while portraying the rich and sophisticated heroine? In Jun Lana’s Barber’s Tale”, did anyone smoothly swallow Aunor’s character as a guerrilla leader “hook, line and sinker”? I didn't. She was (again) miscast. The “special role” was so fallacious it would have benefitted the film if it ended up in the cutting room floor. Truth is, you can’t just place Nora Aunor on an apple box and let her transform herself into someone else she’s not. Not everything in cinelandia is applicable to her smoldering pair of Laura Mars eyes.

My point here is, while it is true that Nora Aunor is a brilliant actress, she isn't the most versatile. Comparisons are inevitable with Vilma Santos who, of late, has been overshadowed by Aunor’s spate of lifetime achievement awards and National Artist ascriptions. But while Aunor has “Dementia”, Santos appeared in the better-crafted “The Healing” which raked in P110 million, 2012’s 3rd Filipino film to gross over the P100-million mark. Which film was Cinemalaya 2013’s “box office champion” – Santos’ “Ekstra”.

As I was challenged and asked by a bungling idiot: How much did "Ekstra" earn during its commercial run? Insiders place it at P67.3 million. Let's conservatively round that up to P60 million. Surely that's way, way over what "Thy Womb" earned at the MMFF where it was unceremoniously and heartbreakingly pulled out from majority of the cinemas just 3 days after it opened on Christmas Day. Director Brillante Mendoza had to "beg" the cinema owners in public, on TV news and on print to retain it in cinemas. The 7-day haul amounted to an embarrassing P13 million, a far cry from the second "kulelat" (tailender), "El Presidente" which earned P33 million. And if you aren't "demented", you'd readily remember that both "Thy Womb" and "El Presidente" had Nora Aunor in the cast! Even their cumulative earnings of P46 million could hardly compare to "Ekstra's" P67.3 million.


Those irascible, irrational and blindly loyal Noranians could ride on their cumulative P46 million vehicle, "sumakay pa silang lahat" , it's really a no-brainer. How much did  "Ang Kuwento ni Mabuti" earn when it had its one week run at the Gateway last year? Drum roll, please! You bet, they were ecstatic to earn less than P50,000 - for ONE WHOLE WEEK screening! Divide that with the ticket price of P200, that's a mere 250 people occupying a 500-seater cinema hall that has 4 screenings a day for 7 days! Makes you wonder - how many die-hard Noranians are existing today - 250? How miniscule. Even if each of them would watch the film 3x in one week, they couldn't recoup expenses for the use of cinema, electricity, payment of ushers and projectionist, and airconditioning. Do they know how to count? The Philippines has a population of 100 million. And Nora can only coax 250 to watch her movie? It just makes me cry. Cinema, after all, is still business. People making films and screening movies should also earn. Otherwise, the cinema as we know it would die a natural death. That's a sad reality that people who love movies would have to cogitate on.


Just mere two days after its opening, Dementia has already been pulled out from majority of its theaters, including places where you'd expect bigger Aunor patrons, like SM San Lazaro, SM Fairview and SM North Edsa. One guy wrote about his movie watching today and he shared, "There were just seven of us in the cinema," then corrected himself, "Ay, anim pala." On a busy Saturday? Maybe it was a block screening? LOL. If you say you're a Noranian, watch it now while it's still available in few cinemas in Metro Manila. Otherwise, you'd have to fly to Misamis Oriental, Pangasinan, Baguio, or worse, South Cotabato just to catch a sleep-inducing, closeup-rich movie. Ironically, even in Aunor's hometown of Albay, they choose not to screen it anymore (Bichara Silverscreens and Pacific Mall) preferring to show the comedic "Maria Leonora Teresa" (on its 3rd week), the name of the doll given by Nora's erstwhile boyfriend Pip to the then-phenomenal singer sometime in the 70's. Yes, Virginia, even three ugly dolls do better than La Aunor at the box office. Ouch.

Now, which other actress from the 70’s has the same mainstream-drawing power 5 decades later? But we’re not talking about box office clout, right? It's an exquisitely sensitive matter for some. (wink wink) On record, Santos is believable playing rich, poor, middle class, prostitute, nun, half-fish, superhero, bit player. Let's add governor to that varied resume. Aunor is believable playing pauper, abused or the down trodden and... errr, Super Gee? (Of course there's a few more colorful real-life "resume" worth adding here, but let me refrain from doing that for now. Tee hee.)

Nora Aunor may have made herself relevant in the contemporary independent film scene, but she should be careful when picking projects that gravely compromise her strength as an actress. Not every indie film maker has the aptitude of Brillante Mendoza (“Thy Womb”) and Mes de Guzman (“Ang Kuwento ni Mabuti”). Remember Mark Meilly’s “El Presidente”? Remind me again who looked laughably ridiculous playing Aguinaldo's aging wife? Or maybe the interchangeable indies no one came to watch prior to La Aunor’s jubilant  homecoming: Suzette Ranillo’s Home Care” and Joey Romero’sIngrata”? Bad films don’t exactly contribute to becoming a “National Artist”.  I hope Adolf Alix’sPadre de Pamilia” and “Whistle Blower” do better.    

Monday, June 23, 2014

Greg Mclean's "Wolf Creek 2" - Steeplechases in Remote Australia

A pair of bored highway police officers patrol a desolate strip of the Australian backways. When they finally see a lone vehicle plying the route, they stop and ticket him - just for kicks. Little did they realize who they were dealing with. Not long after, the younger cop gets his head blown into smithereens while the older one is made to crawl and, later, burn to his demise inside their patrol car. Carnage follows when a couple of German backpackers are hiking their way to Wolf Creek Crater, a well-preserved meteorite crater found in a remote area in Western Australia. When night falls, the campers meet grumpy Mick Taylor (the creepy John Jarratt), the same highway culprit earlier encountered by the erring cops.

Mick offers to take them to a camping site but when the couple refuses his "help", he turns to them, bludgeoning cute pie Rutger (Philippe Klaus) with his knife and raping Katarina (Shannon Ashlyn). Later, we see Mick dissecting Rutger's remains into pieces. He even snips off Rutger's penis, raises it for inspection and quips, "Ain't he a donkey."

This gives Katarina the chance to escape - and get haunted by Mick who didn't want to let go of his "new toy". Katarina strays to the highway, "rescued" by British surfer Paul (Ryan Corr) who takes his sweet time to interrogate her in the middle of nowhere. Would they escape Mick's steeplechase? Guess.

Like its predecessor screened 8 long years ago, Greg Mclean's "Wolf Creek 2" follows a framework not dissimilar from the first. Strangers stray to a remote place and finds their sanguinary comeuppance. The concept is intriguing as much as its employ of a mysterious crater, discovered by scientists in 1947. The metaphor- laden association is uncanny and stokes a degree of paranoia and wonder among us.

The film is buoyed by a charismatic cast and a villain that seems sturdier than metal or mortal (see: he gets hit by a hammer yet he stands, bloodied, but seemingly unhurt). Before long, we're treated with carcasses and snappy slideshows of bondage and rotting corpses. Novelty wears off half way through though what buoys the remaining narrative is Ryan Corr's enigmatic presence. in fact, at the torture chair, we wince and grunt as he loses some of his fingers to a "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire"-style mind game.

Like many films of its genre, the characters exhibit immense stupidity in multiple situations. They linger when they're supposed to run away. When given the chance to fight back, they allow the villain to recover when they could easily finish him off and end their misery right there. This narrative ruse is, of course, unfortunate because you don't want them harmed. I mean, come on, I'd rather see Kris Aquino appearing in another Chito Rono flick - with stickers of "My Little Bossings" on her forehead, cut down to pieces and her tongue tied down her double chin - than Ryan, Ashlyn or Philippe in several stages of dismemberment. Now that would rid this Oprah-wannabe of her eternally smug countenance, right?

Other than all the blood bath, we were quite comfortable right where we were sitting the whole duration of the film. For a suspense thriller, that's not such a good thing.

The prologue offers that some 30,000 people are reported "missing" in Australia every year - 90% of whom are eventually found. The rest is gone forever. And yeah, this story is based on actual events. I have my doubts, but who am I to say? ;)

Ryan Corr as Paul Hammersmith

Wolf Creek Crater is believed to be 300,000 years old (Pleistocene) but was discovered in 1942. It was named after a gold rush-era storekeeper Robert Wolfe. 

Ryan Corr seems to transform well. Check out a younger, albeit sunshiny Ryan below.

When Ryan Corr was younger. Wasn't he a doll?

Philippe Klaus

Shannon Ashlyn

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tony Y. Reyes' "My Illegal Wife" - Humor Challenged Borrowings

After getting booted out of a job in Japan, 39 year-old Clarisse Sabaldica (Pokwang) comes home with a resolve to find her children a “father”, someone they can depend on. As fate would have it, she serendipitously meets Henry James Acuesta (Zanjoe Marudo) on her flight back to the Philippines. It's love at first sight. Unfortunately, her attraction is not reciprocated. But when their plane crashes, they find themselves marooned on an island. What’s worse, Henry suffers from amnesia. It's the opportunity opening up for her fervent wish.

Clarisse then concocts a plan to convince the poor guy that they are a married couple. “Pinatulan kita?” asks a baffled Henry. So goes the start of their blissful lives. Unknown to Clarisse, Henry is a “gold mule”. Several pieces of gold have been incredulously planted in his abdominal viscera prior to the plane crash (as though this was even medically possible). As if that wasn't enough, Henry is actually in a relationship with struggling jeweller Clarize (Ellen Adarna) who plotted the stygian operation. And the latter is desperate to find her missing beau. 

Back on the home front, Henry is starting to enjoy the attention he’s getting in Clarisse's household. The couple is, in fact, planning their church wedding with the help of their zany circle of friends (Beauty Gonzales, Pooh, Empoy Marquez, Edgar Allan Guzman). But sinister Clarize - "with a Z" - is closing in on them.

What happens if Henry regains his memory? Will Clarisse’s annoyingly cloying son Liam (John Steven de Guzman) lose a father figure? Will Clarisse forfeit her chance to have a complete family? Guess.

Tony Y. Reyes’ “My Illegal Wife” predicates solely on borrowed narrative snippets culled from Star Cinema’s array of blockbuster romcoms and the hit Angel Locsin teleserye, not to mention Kathniel's "Got2Believe": “It Takes a Man and a Woman”, “She’s the One”, “Bakit Di Ka Crush ng Crush Mo”, “Bride for Rent”, “Starting Over Again”, and that commercial-riddled vomitus called “Maybe This Time”. Its derivative content makes movie viewing utterly predictable and an unnecessarily gargantuan snooze . I felt like playing “sipa” or “tumbang preso” inside the cinema. I wanted to be anywhere but there. 

Even the supporting characters feel manufactured. Let’s take Empoy Marquez’s fractured and specious use of English words. Hasn't he done this similar ruse in a couple of romcoms in the recent past? If you had a fourth of a brain, you’d get exasperated by Marquez’s ludicrous shenanigan. "I smell something specie?" Duh. Too much of something is, well, “too much” – so we wanted to flush this charmless dingbat in a toilet bowl. Get rid of this abomination already. Beauty Gonzales’ briskly disappearing pout (supposedly born out of her rabidly kissing lover) is present in one scene and gone the next. She even felt the need to reference Wella, her character in “Starting Over Again”, as though people would find it amusing. I didn't. Wella’s two minutes of fame has rightfully passed so puh-lezzz bury her now!

There are several lines that make fun of physical attributes: "Ang isa, mukhang itik." In another scene, it becomes "Ang mga kaibigan niyang mukhang nalubog sa putik." "Janitor fish!" This is a hallmark of old school humor; the lazy variety that comedians/humorists of low-tier capability employ very often. And what's with the side story involving Jimmy Santos? Wasn't it one of the most painful movie moments you've ever watched in your life? Santos' idea of heightening emotions is his annoying sudden shouts. He would follow this up with grievous dramatic caterwauling. You'd think this old man had schizophrenia instead of Alzheimer's Disease. Santos apparently can't act to save his life. Yes, "Bang Bang Alley" was a fluke. But then Santos is being directed by Reyes; someone who's as clueless with on-cam emotions as he is in telling stories. 

Joy Viado’s cookie character is likewise troublesome. “Ba’t mo in-Indian si Liam, hindi ka naman Indian?” That was a joke? Seriously? Who laughed? And the clincher was...? Tony Reyes’ idea of humor is so 80’s that he could be responsible why Vic Sotto’s filmography is worth nothing but crap. “Pak! Pak! My Doktor Kwak?” “Lastikman?” “Fantastic Man?” “Iputok Mo, Dadapa Ako (Hard to Die)?” “Kabayo Kids?” Enumerating these titles even feels like an ominous predicament, a prostitution of sobriety and common sense.

Pokwang doesn't really take on a character. The movie runs with a succession of parody that doesn't quite synthesize into a singular coherent narrative. It's a feast of paper-thin caricatures. Pokwang is, of course, comfortable "being herself" but the film medium is a make-believe world and she isn't making believe. She's doing a protracted stand-up comedy show. Her impression of Nora Aunor elicited laughter ("Meron ba akong hindi alam, asawa ko?"). Zanjoe’s impression of Xian Lim, Daniel Padilla and Enrique Gil bear no semblance to the aforementioned gents so you end up with a headache trying to connect his so-called "joke". It was so flat I heard the wind from the east on its way to Ecuador. Zanjoe’s “Pinatulan kita,” was funny though. Joy Viado’s flirting with men was cringe-worthy. Zanjoe’s “I need an acceptable explanation” likewise flatlined and went to heaven. You see, everything about the film is a “hit-and-miss” affair; but they're mostly “misses”.

After Sarah Geronimo and Coco Martin’s recent disaster, Pokwang and Zanjoe Marudo follow awkwardly like another blundering pair, you’d never believe in a hundred million light years that something will romantically curdle between these two disparate souls. That Marudo and Pokwang are hailed as the “King and Queen of Skylight Films”, respectively, is pure gas. It is a slice of dishonor, if you ask me. Skylight Films, Star Cinema's alter-ego, has been churning out one mediocre film after another, with the exception of Veronica Velasco's “Tuhog”. This purveyor of second-rate mainstream fare is giving Star Cinema a bad rep.

A glimmer of hope in this gloriously wasteful effort is Ellen Adarna. She initially comes off irresolute, no thanks to vapid, albeit one-dimensional character development, but she eventually catches up, playfully pursuing the sinister-but-occasionally-funny vixen. When she contorts her face, you knew she was going to be a fumbling menace. And oh God, what a beautiful menace she is. If her character’s a bit unhinged or incoherent, it’s the brilliant writers’ undoing.

In one scene, she yells, “Sino ba ang babaeng yan?” How can she not know? Her henchmen had been spying on Pokwang’s Clarisse for some time to get to Zanjoe's Henry. It was even the reason why they found him, wasn't it? Someone conveniently forgot?


Here's a surprising fact: I watched "My Illegal Wife" twice to confirm my observations about this film, but what I've observed was this. Sarah Geronimo's "Maybe This Time", released 2 weeks ago, has folded for good. It's not in cineplexes anymore as I write this. How long did Toni Gonzaga's "Starting Over Again" run in our cinemas? An impressive 8-9 weeks, and even longer. "Maybe This Time" (MTT), after its 2nd week is gone. So tell me honestly, would you believe when they say that the Sarah-Coco starrer was a gargantuan hit? In fact, "My Illegal Wife" enjoyed a bigger and fuller crowd in Cebu (SM Cinema 3) as it was at a Gateway cinema. Moreover, while the Manila crowd had a more reserved reception to the film's humor, Cebu crowd was rowdier. Davao audience wasn't as pleased. The movie played on almost empty halls and the few who watched weren't laughing. What does this signify? Is the Manila crowd a more sophisticated audience than the provincial folks? Is Davao more urbane in their humor? There should be a sociological explanation to these discrepancies, shouldn't there?
But this much is true, when a comedy flick offers laughters that are exceeding few and far between, you would wonder about the material’s raison d’etre and, subsequently, its source of inspiration. They designed a persona with Pokwang's ebullience and temperament. "My Illegal Wife" is a bad idea in the guise of comedy. One wonders why Star Cinema is “making hay” successively producing bad films this year! Is it following the foot steps of GMA Films? Anyare?   

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Jerry Lopez Sineneng's "Maybe This Time" - All Around Awful

Awful. I was incredibly perplexed. When Sarah Geronimo opened “Maybe This Time” with a voice over, it was like listening to a “best elocution exercise”. It could earn a good mark if we were in class, but it was an exercise nevertheless. Deriving sincerity from her skewed delivery was another thing. Why Geronimo would exclusively speak in the Queen’s tongue in a story that involved Tagalog-spewing Pinoy blue collar workers is as baffling as Kris Aquino comparing “My Little Bossings” and “Spiderman 2”. It was off-putting to say the least, because it came out stilted and unnatural. Lea Salonga in “The Voice” commented that Geronimo’s English is improving. “Push mo yan,” she’d egg her on, but hearing Geronimo’s “There was never as ussssssssssss….” kept giving me goose bumps. Sharon Cuneta spoke impeccable English yet her quotable film quotes were kilometric Tagalog words, not vacuous pretentious English phrases that reeked of hollow emotions and cliches lifted from some undisclosed romantic novels. Viva Films is apparently trying hard to elevate Sarah’s hip quotient. If Jerry Lopez Sineneng’s film is any indication, then they’re doing Sarah a disservice because it is becoming obvious what she is not.

The story leaves much to be desired. Boy meets girl (Coco Martin and Sarah Geronimo, respectively) during the latter’s outreach program in an idyllic seaside community. He flirts with her while she’s giving the poor children reading lessons. But what can you say about a guy who disrupts classes, flirts in front of the kids, puts his arms on her shoulder without any resistance, sweeps her off her feet and carries her to the sea – all these even before he officially asks if he could court her. Yeah, sure, we’re tickled pink. Their world is an alternate universe of light-hearted romance. Yipee! But we have to wait for another day before she accepts his romantic offering, right? When that day finally comes, Sarah learns that she’s been abandoned. No notes, no goodbyes, no text messages, no emails, no YM offline nor Kakao talk messages. Nada. This was of course 10 years ago.

Present day. Sarah, aka Stephanie Asuncion, works for an advertising firm whose main client is Kakao Talk (so we basically know how juvenile and cheap the company is, right?) This is headed by Ruffa Gutierrez aka Boss Monica, who eats Steph for breakfast, Steph for lunch and, once again, Steph for dinner. Monica detests Steph’s ideas so much that she had to entrust an exquisitely important project to – drum roll please! – Steph! At this point, my neck wasn't moving sideways, but spinning Linda Blair 360 degrees. Why hand over a special account to the underling who constantly drew your ire? The math here just doesn't add up. But then how would Sarah and Coco (aka Anton Bugayon) meet again if we don’t overlook this unbelievable lapse of judgement and turn of events?

Turns out, Steph is still sporting a heartache, and Anton is likewise carrying a torch for Steph. Between our star-crossed lovers is a tall and statuesque, Prada-toting Monica, replete with her middle-aged lateral canthal crow’s feet. What to do?


In 2010, Sarah Geronimo and Coco Martin starred in “Idol”, a Glee-inspired TV series that didn’t fly. In fact this was unceremoniously shut down way before it’s supposed to. Even Sarah’s million-and-counting Popsters were so bored with it, they kept their distance. Writing was middling and painfully derivative, but more than that, there was no real and palpable chemistry between the two stars. What changed 4 years later? Nothing. Their pairing is as tepid now as it once was. You would think they’d learn from the TV debacle, right?

If Sarah and Coco are a match made in purgatory, Ruffa Gutierrez’s presence is a behemoth mystery. Think Bermuda Triangle, or the Stonehenge, or (ready with those lightning-catchers!!!) Kris Aquino shamelessly proclaiming herself as the Oprah Winfrey of the Philippines. Gutierrez is simply too superannuated to complete the romantic triangle of an already belabored screen pairing. And if she were a tad intuitive as an actress, she could have helped sweeten the already murky cinematic palette. But Ruffa is a Gutierrez and what have we realized about the Gutierrezes as far as thespic quotient is concerned?

That an advertising firm is suddenly tasked to turn a sorely lisping new millionaire into a socially copacetic restaurateur is one for the fairy tales. Isn't owning P40 million socially fragrant enough? They could have invested on a speech coach who could doctor the sibilant-heavy script, couldn't they? Aga Muhlach lisps but we were never aggrieved by his deliveries in movies. Coco meanwhile struggles, and these awkward moments pile up like a dozen crucifixes on our shoulder. Oh how I suffered.


The bigger question is, why was everyone in “Maybe This Time” ridiculously bad, it almost felt like it was vying for a world record of worst performances in a single movie. Steph’s trio of friends were ill-conceived. They were fugly, a fabricated gay man and an idiotic looking lass who consistently looked befuddled. Ogie Diaz as Mama Mae was more eccentric than funny you simply wanted him rushed to the loony bin. Even Shamaine Centenera – in her worst performance ever - is dragged down by a vomit-inducing script fit for GMA Films, not a Star Cinema vehicle. It’s just embarrassing! 


Now, which self-respecting “artist” would allow his narrative dredged with product placements? Only the greedy ones – Sharon Cuneta and Mark Meilly did this with “Crying Ladies”; Sarah Geronimo did the same with “Hating Kapatid”; Kris Aquino sprinkled that cinematic garbage called “My Little Bossings” with 20 products; now it’s Coco Martin’s turn – a pawnshop, an over-the-counter analgesic, an alcoholic beverage. If you are conscientious of the products you are endorsing, why would you endorse a business which takes advantage of the miseries of people in dire need of financial support? The pawning business is largely unregulated, thus it has unfair practices that prey on people’s desperation. Saying that it provides beneficent service to the needy is akin to proclaiming that Dracula loves his victims. ;) Sarah and Coco lovingly endorse this business. How inspiring, debah?

Product placements in a medium where people pay hard-earned money to watch and be entertained is simply a disrespectful and reprobate practice to a paying audience. Pambabastos. This is something Viva Films and Kris Aquino have yet to realize, but then the latter lives in the cloud of fantasy she wouldn't even comprehend the simple concept of delicadeza. There should be a law that would require local movies to have disclaimers outside the cinema stating how many "commercial products" are being peddled in the film. Say, "My Little Bossings" - 20 products; "Hating Kapatid" - 9 products, etc. This way, the movie going public will be made aware of such flagrant and abusive peddling. Enter at your own risk. Think Chito Rono's "Feng Shui" if it had shampoos, cooking broth, laundry products, fastfood chain, sanitary napkin, etc. in its story. Pakapalan na lang ng mukha, right Sarah?

Sometime in the film’s last third, the narrative downspirals into a mawkish melodrama. To tie the narrative pieces to an undeserved denouement, Steph enters an exhibition hall riddled with driftwood art pieces. What struck me were the droll, mediocre driftwood displays. Oh my goodness. No wonder Monica wanted to do away with Anton’s lofty ambitions. Weren't we supposed to be impressed? With such abominable driftwood displays, not by a long shot. I wouldn't take a single piece at home even if they gave them away for free.The point being, the story was supposed to show Anton's special skills in making precious pieces from driftwood. Turns out he was an unexceptional artist. Ho-hum! Back to the drawing board. He can't be an artist so he might as well be a restaurant owner. Get my drift?

We’re so glad that “Maleficent” had a bigger crowd when we watched both films on their opening day, considering that Jolie’s superlative film was screened in two cinemas and “Maybe This Time” only had one. Cinema Evaluations Board once again misrates the movie with a stupendous B rating. We’re not surprised. The people who populate the C.E.B. are the some of the most clueless, or opportunistic, individuals to have walked the earth. In this case, “B” could refer to that six-letter Tagalog word that means “waste, debris, rubble, trash, sweepingssssssssss”. And just maybe Sarah can elocute these enumerated words adequately.

"Maybe This Time" is like going to a buffet and coming home with steady bout of flatus. You pay much and are rewarded with nothing but air. Anyone who declares that it's a "solid movie" does not know what he's talking about, that's for sure.

Laughing all the way to the bank with a cinematic turd.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ronald M. Rafer's "Gigolo" - Tens Years Back

Life hasn’t been a walk in the park for Julio (Mygz Molino) who, as a child, lived with a wicked stepmother who spared no affection for him. At last straw, he finally found the courage to runaway and live on the streets with other urchins. Fast forward to the present. Julio grows up an able bodied Romeo who, along with his friends (Maichel Fidelis and Jake Galeon), hang out in gyms and busy avenues to peddle his flesh to libidinous gay men. His girlfriend Margot (played by a girl who uses the ridiculous-sounding name “Kissy Babe Kisses”, believe it or not) doesn't mind. She herself is a prostitute.

One day, Julio overhears a story from Dominic (Christoff Ken), a gym guy with whom Julio is curiously drawn to, about Dominic’s mother Imelda (Carla Varga) who allegedly gave away her own child when she was younger. Why Dominic would unravel this to a complete stranger is stuff of legends. Anyway, Julio follows this lead and confronts Imelda. She was indeed the same mother who abandoned him. And she had been searching for him. They have a tearful reunion and vow never to be separated ever again. End of story?

Well, not quite. Julio comes home to find Margot battered and blue. Her last customer was Mr. Marquez (Rob Sy), an inveterate sadist. He gets his kicks torturing his girls. Julio vows to avenge Margot. He marches to the club where she works and finds the bald sadist. With great effect, he wears his hood and takes out his shiny knife, then bludgeons Mr. Marquez to his ultimate demise.

Next scene is a baffling testament to absurdity. The whole family: Julio and girlfriend Margot, mom Imelda and son Dominic walk the streets away from their house as they seek new glory under the sun. Yup, as easy as that. Murder completely erased from their timeline. Wide open smiles and bright inspired faces with no iota of guilt, grief or trepidation. Just how a fairy tale should be.

There has been a spate of entertainment writers and tabloid reporters who dabbled with Pink Indies. There’s Benny Andaya (“Tatlong Beses Isang Araw”), Sandy Es Mariano (last year’s “Jumbo Jericho”), and Ronald M. Rafer for “Gigolo”. Let’s not forget Ronald Carballo (“Pikit-Mata”). What’s the common denominator? Except for Carballo whose film we haven’t seen, each project is among the worst that Philippine Cinema has ever produced. In fact, giving these writers carte blanche to actually direct a film is several steps backward. Try 10 years! If this isn't a gargantuan slap on the face of Philippine Cinema, I don't know what is.

Rafer’s story telling technique is in desperate need of constitution. He tells his tales with barely any valid framework. Not only does he tell it in incongruent episodic clutter, he also resorts to spur-of-moment whims inserting narrative threads that do not belong to his story.

Let’s take the case of former Survivor Philippines’ Rob Sy and his protracted bed scene with the bar girl he hired to assault. Sy’s character could be absolutely stricken off because it dilutes the story of Julio and takes the focus away from the main characters. And it did. 

Rafer peppered his tepid story with its undeserved, unrelated and discrepant climax, but the character of Mr. Marquez is non-essential. He is disposable, and his presence puts emphasis to the movie’s randomness. Their scene which must have lasted a good 15 minutes involved an expendable, if not superfluous narrative string – a rape scene whose perpetrator humped away fully clothed! May medyas pa yata. :) How’s that for cinematic will or focus?

Rob Sy, Mahal, Maichel Fidelis and Ms. Carla Varga (Go figure!)

Rafer’s narrative exposition is painfully limited, and his scene transitions are very abrupt that one caterwauling scene briskly follows another head-splitting breakdown scene, then another “Magbabayad-ka-sa-ginawa-mo” scene. Carla Varga, who plays negligent mother Imelda, is a good example of Rafer’s very loose grip as director. Julio asks Imelda, “May anak kayo?” Then with no rhyme or reason, she bawls her heart out. They converse further. When Julio leaves, Imelda once again cries as though she just ate something awful.


Every scene with Carla Varga is executed with over-the-top melodrama, I half expected the Earth to open up and devour the actors for the noise they were generating. Moreover, I was befuddled why Varga is distinctively billed “Ms. Carla Varga”! Why the special title? Is she royalty in the league of Ms. Lea Salonga, Ms. Zsa Zsa Padilla, Ms. Lorna Tolentino or Ms. Eula Valdez? Is she an icon or hero? Is she vaguely popular? Raise your hand, children, if you know who she is. Is she young, vivacious and full of verve? Isn't she 55, or 65? Does she carry an enviable thespic prowess a la Nora Aunor, Bea Alonzo or Shamaine Centenera? Is she a personality of immense Helenic beauty? Mahal, is in fact, a more popular name than Carla Varga will ever be. Yet Mahal isn't billed “Ms. Mahal”. Mahal instead takes the film’s sidelight selling cigarettes at the bar entrance, with ribbon on her hair that's bigger than her head, screaming “Notice me! Notice me!” It’s woeful. We have a conundrum.

With all these peripatetic narrative detours, Julio’s story as “Gigolo” takes second fiddle. We are left out of Julio's kaleidoscopic world. Yes, there are more than half a dozen sex scenes, but some of them don’t even concern our protagonist. Rafer is taken to his “flights of ideas” leaving poor Mygz Molino disoriented in his own titular movie.  

Rafer further recruited some actors familiar in the genre for walk-on parts, as though he is cooking up chopsuey. Throw whatever he can into the brew to disguise the vacuity of his work. Brad Laurente awkwardly hams it up as a gayer-than-gay concupiscent queen bedding one of the guys. Jeremy Ian is likewise billed although I must have blinked and missed him.

Equal opportunity is a double edged sword. Anyone who dreams of directing can buy or borrow himself a camera and call himself a director with no heed for the filmic language or its artistic requisites. See any of G.A. Villafuerte's flicks to realize that the guy tells a single story in 15 of his films all told within 525,600 minutes. Repetition is supposed to turn into mastery, right? Not with Villafuerte, and in this case, Rafer, whose talents are limited to besting how to get worse than their last. In this country, even a secretary without any aptitude for governance can rise to become a Senator. That’s what makes this country great… and shitty.

Mygz Molino is Julio.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

G.A. Villafuerte's "Harot: Puso Ang Kikirot" - The Art of Dumping

Beejay (Richard Crisostomo) is in no rush to tie the knot with girl friend Jane (Ishang Fernandez) who’s putting the pressure on him. It has been two years since the couple decided to live together, but Beejay’s career as a photographer hasn’t taken off. And Jane’s mother is getting impatient. But things are looking up. Sarah (Merrylyn Quibingco), Jane’s friend, has scheduled photo shoots with Beejay whose calendar is filling up fast. And Randell (Icer Abella, below), Sarah’s ex boy friend, has repeat sessions with Beejay to muscle up his modeling portfolio. 

One day, Beejay’s assistant Jona (Francis Cariaso) comes home with his boss’ laboratory results. Beejay is more than surprised to learn that he tested HIV positive. What bothers him more was his concupiscent dalliances with both Sarah and Randell. Has he infected Jane, Sarah and Randell? As he walks away from home, Beejay turns introspective. He tearfully asks himself: “Kung pumapatol ba sa kapwa ay bading na rin?” Seriously? He's more concerned with labels now than his medical condition.

Such ponderous moment had me laughing in stitches, I was ready to roll down the floor with overflowing hilarity. People with such mind set are usually not turned into directors or storytellers; they’re better off sent up the mountains to plant camote or okra – and even more appropriately, talong (eggplant)! Now isn't this a more productive, albeit nutritious career?

Director G.A Villafuerte cluelessly thows these fatuous and puerile lines one would expect from 4 year old kids – or anyone with an underdeveloped level of comprehension. Like other G.A. Villafuerte films, his characters have polysemous sexuality. There is no distinction between straights and homosexuals; their sexual persuasions are as ambiguous as the story teller’s capacity to shape believable characters or envision valid story lines. How else do you reconcile a thinking mind with someone who chooses to open his film with his protagonist taking a dump! Yes, the first few minutes has Crisostomo displaying his very healthy backside (as he wakes up in bed) before going to the toilet to (drum roll please) defecate! Inspiring, right? I actually thought it was going to be the requisite shower scene, which eventually and predictably came soon enough. Talk about scenographic variety.

Richard Crisostomo (above) is a relaxed performer although he isn't emotionally required to do much, not even when he learns of his affliction. The same demeanor is true where his requisite shower scenes are concerned. And, if you don’t blink, you’d see his shrunken bits. By this, I mean a degree of shriveling is evident. Icer Abella on the other hand, is more enthusiastic than competent. The two gentlemen are a study in contrast. While Crisostomo is “hunky”, Abella is “twinky”. On the other hand, Ishang Fernandez and Merrylyn Quibingco have a limited share of the spotlight. Fernandez figures in a shower scene. As I've said before, “showers” are the be-all and end-all of a Villafuerte movie. Other than that, there’s not much to discuss.

Funny things: Instead of fleshing out his story with something real, Villafuerte instead concerns himself with less important aspects, like assigning complete names for all his characters. If a pet animal was in the cast, I was sure it would have its own surname. In another scene, when Sarah related an anecdote on how a friend saw her ex-boyfriend cheat on her, Merrylyn Quibingco (who plays Sarah) quipped, "She confronted to me." She, of course, meant "confided". Where's the English doctor when you need one? There's always Tagalog, unless she was born with the Queen's tongue. "Ipinagtapat nya sa akin" - there. Isn't that easier?

Sometimes one wonders if Villafuerte ever takes stock of his body of work when not a single title from his ouvre is worth anything except as time fillers. This situation is probably like waking up one morning and finding out that all your collections weren't gold, but mounds of cow dung! Surely you can't be pleased with that situation - unless you're the fly that hovers over these stinking end products.When Villafuerte decides to open this film with his lead star moving his bowel, you realize that there's metaphor there somewhere.

Icer Abella

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Camille Delamarre's "Brick Mansions" - Action And Nothing Else

Detroit, 2018, is one of squalor, entropy, and lawlessness. In the dystopian district of the Brick Mansions, once progressive but now occupied by hardened criminals and low lives, a containment wall separates the public from these criminals. Undercover drug agent Damien Collier (Paul Walker) is keen to bring down drug kingpin Tremaine Alexander (RZA). But with a heavy coterie of thugs surrounding the latter, that’s not the easiest of tasks.

Meanwhile, Lino Dupree (David Belle) wants to clean up his community by interfering with the drug shipments. This doesn't put him in good stead with Tremaine who then kidnaps Lino’s girl friend. Things come to a head when a neutron bomb gets stolen and taken to the mansions. It detonates in 10 hours. Damien and Lino must come together to secure the bomb which is now under the care of the drug lord. Will they succeed before everything’s too late?

The first 15 minutes of the film will have you wide eyed and open mouthed. Lino gracefully sashays with his parkour skills, gliding on walls and staircases light as a feather as he escapes from thugs. He then jumps out of the building, swings by the ledge and straight into the window a floor under. But then David Belle is the founder of Parkour, so that's no surprise. And who needs spider web when you can be a super hero without wearing spandex?

Action is so fluid it washes you with a drum of adrenaline. Unfortunately, not all that’s kinetic makes good sense. In fact, there’s not much story to hang on to. The movie further highlights more action: watch two cars hit head on, missing both Damien and Lino while the guys tumble on the air and land on their feet unscathed. If you’re into heavy action, you’d probably enjoy this. Just leave common sense out of the picture. You’re also well likely to compare this to the claustrophobic atmosphere of “The Raid”, but all comparison stops there. This is an inferior version. Way, way, way inferior.

Delamarre’sBrick Mansions” is a remake of a 2004 French movie called “District 13” that also had David Belle playing the same character with a slightly different name “Leito” (instead of “Lino”). How does it feel to repeat yourself 10 years later? We better ask Mr. Belle. Better yet, let's ask airhead Kris Aquino to interview Belle so she could once again namedrop her vomit-inducing "My Little Bossings". What's funnier, "Brick Mansions" seems like a masterpiece beside that piece of shameful cinematic turd. Sometimes, there's no accounting for taste.

Paul Walker did better in Eric Heisserer's flood drama, " Hours".

The founder of Parkour, David Belle glides effortlessly for his parkour stunts.