Monday, December 22, 2014

Jason Paul Laxamana's "Magkakabaung" - A Gem in a Festival


Randy Alcantara (Allen Dizon) lives a facile, albeit joyless life as a single parent to sickly 8 year old Angeline (Felixia Crysten Dizon) in bucolic San Vicente where dust settles on crops and its murky river. Randy is a coffin maker in nearby Santo Tomas where he takes home P285 for a day of carpentry work. A devout father to his child, Randy’s only vice is mischievous town beauty Neri (Chanel Latorre) who mostly takes him for a ride in exchange of phone load and the occasional night out at the cinema. One day, Randy, along with his colleagues, gets hired for an overnighter to rush 60 coffins for a Congressman’s charity project. This will earn him P800 and a day off work thereafter.

Before rushing to work, Randy buys antibiotics (Amoxicillin) for Angeline who’s febrile and coughing, and tells her to take the medicine while he’s out to work. Later that night, Randy comes home to a child who’s barely breathing. He rushes Angeline to the hospital, but it was too late. Fraught with guilt for having given his daughter a drug she’s allergic to, Randy is helplessly unhinged. What’s worse, his P800 salary doesn’t suffice to claim his daughter’s corpse. Where will he get P1,500 to pay the hospital bills?

But like an expeditious reply to his cry for help, Pablo Canda (Emilio Garcia) comes along offering him P2,000, saying “We’ll settle this loan later”. Canda turns in profits by peddling corpses, albeit illegally, to medical schools in need of cadavers. Now, Randy is torn between selling his daughter’s dead body for a P20,000 profit or paying Mr. Canda P10,000 so Randy could finally take home Angeline who now lies in Mr. Canda’s funeral home.

In the morning, Randy makes an unexpected visit to Mabel (Gladys Reyes), Angeline’s biological mother, now blissfully married to an American. He asks for her help so they could claim Angeline’s corpse. Mabel acquiesces. After all, Angeline is her daughter too. But she wants Angeline’s body to undergo autopsy. “Ako na’ng bahala,” she insists. This presents a dilemma for the still-discombobulated Randy who’s aware that he could be pinned down for his daughter’s untimely demise. What to do?


The film tells its story like a slow burn, thus you won't miss any of the salient points the film tries to convey. This richness of ideas thrive within the story: lessons on self-medication; single parenthood; desperation of people where even corpses have become a salable commodity; that sending a dead body to a hospital can cost you P2,300; and the anecdote of the coffin maker who eventually ends up making one for his own daughter.

Allen Dizon, as Randy Alcantara, makes a career-best performance that unusually reeks with cinematic paradox, i.e. emotive vulnerability and confidence we’ve never seen from the actor’s previous works. Without any hint of awkwardness we usually find him in (e.g. Joel Lamangan’sKamkam” and Joven Tan’s “Paupahan”), Dizon immersively loses himself in portraying the beleaguered father who may have caused his daughter’s death. His character is adequately entangled in a bind where the harder he tries to extricate himself out of his self-inflicted predicament; the deeper he digs himself a hole. And there seemingly is no light, or ladder if you will, at the end of the tunnel.

Laxamana makes adequate use of the region’s local color, giving the film a crisp atmosphere that’s typically rural and a visually fresh scenography. He likewise succeeds using local language to convey a deceptively laidback atmosphere without alienating his audience (i.e. those who don’t understand Kapampangan or are allergic – not just to Amoxicillin – but to subtitles as well). What’s better, his ensemble is a commendable lot: Gladys Reyes, Chanel Latorre, Emilio Garcia, Bor Ocampo and even the comebacking former-sexy star Tonio Ortigas all contribute to a suspenseful cautionary tale. 

Jason Paul Laxamana’s “Magkakabaung” (The Coffin Maker) benefits from the script’s anti-drama swerve, refusing to spiral down into melodramatic sentimentalism despite obvious avenues into the story. Laxamana deftly employs longs takes to tell his narrative sequences; a ploy that usually requires patience, precise blockings and time-consuming rehearsals or re-takes. What unravels before you is an organic flow of events - and a very cohesive story telling that’s hard to shake off. Laxamana’s compelling yarn-spinning feels like the perfect delivery of a promise seen in his earlier works, “Astro Mayabang” and “Babagwa”. There are a few misplaced snippets (like the scene showing the “possessed or convulsing girl”) but most of the details harmoniously settle into a fully realized cinematic work. Without a doubt, “Magkakabaung” is my favorite; it is undoubtedly this MMFF New Wave edition’s best picture, and one the year’s finest.

While we're at it, you may not want to miss Zsa zsa Padilla's delectable turn as the cancer-stricken, foul-mouthed lawyer Bella Monteclaro in Zig Dulay's   "M (A Mother's Maiden Name)" where Nico Antonio likewise delivers a spot-on portrayal of Joven, Bella's gay son. If however, for some reason you want to acquire a slice (or two) of tension headache amid lush cinematography, try Ato Bautista's "Gemini". And bring two boxes of Ibuprofen with you.   



Monday, December 15, 2014

Nico Salvador's "Tatay Kong Bading" - Elementary Cinema Returns


Ike (Ike Sadiasa) is an preachy father of four, including grown up Mia (Mia Henares) and her younger brothers. Mia is a hard-working ambulant vendor whose brothers gather and sell wood. But life isn't all that bad. Mia maintains a relationship with charming Charles (Charles Delgado) who, unknown to Mia, is her father's object of desire. (He buys him drinks in plastic cellophanes. How chic, right?) Meanwhile, young lovers Barbie (Barbara Chavez) and Mico (Mico Madrid) can't keep their hands off each other, a sight that makes Mia despairingly envious. After all, her swishy father has just reminded her to finish her studies first so she can eventually help send her brothers to school.

One day, Mia comes home with a bad news. "May nangyari po sa amin ni Charles. Magsasama na po kami," she confesses to her livid father. She gets a slap and a mouthful, but this gets her to share her room with Charles who calms down his would-be in-law with a mere pat on the back.

But despite the seeming calm after the storm, Ike secretly talks to Alfonso (Enrique Sapanta), the kanto boy who's forty-turning-fifty. "Matagal na kitang gustong maging manugang," prods Ike who asks Alfonso to devise a scheme that would hopefully break Mia's relationship with Charles.

Alfonso then abducts Mia and rapes her. This frustrates Charles so that he goes on a drinking spree. He haunts Alfonso down and stabs him - without any one aware of his delectable act of vengeance. One night, Charles comes home dead drunk. Effusively benevolent Ike then assists his strapping son-in-law to bed, then (whaddayaknow?) in Charles' drunken stupor offers to massage him. (He can't even walk. Why would he sit up for a massage?) The wrinkly father-in-law then gets his hand on him - and, subsequently, his buccal mucosa to taste what his daughter has been feasting on. But inflagrante delicto, Mia catches her father with his mouth errrr... "full". What to do?

The morning after, Ike sees the error of his ways. He wails with grief, "Ipinagkanulo ko ang aking anak para sa isang lalaki," he cries ever so horridly - but of course he elicits his sense of remorse after he's tasted (more than) a few inches of Charles. (wink wink)

He grabs what seems like a blunt knife (the one served to gently slice meat during fine dining), runs faster than Usain Bolt, heads to the shore, cries further like a toddler on false teeth, kneels down, and dramatically stabs himself. Ouch. Not with a blunt knife. Everyone rushes to his dying body and cries. End.

In this scene, Sadiasa checks his son-in-law's wares while he bathes.
Director Mike Angelo Salvador's return to B-movie territory (he directed "Mahilig" in 2010 and has another film, "Bayad Utang" released this year)) is as randomly vacuous as his previous work. In fact, it isn't the easiest thing piecing together one coherent story from the way he presents his narrative. The progression of scenes seem aimless, and the running logic feel arbitrary at best. In the story, he dreams of a good future for his daughter yet he allows a "kanto boy" to rape her and be her new lover? Huh? Do we even see him work?

Lazy and inept film making is at play here. What's painfully evident is the lack of a back story. How did someone as effete (and old) as Ike have four children? Where is the children's mother? A case of supply-the-missing narrative? And if he really wanted good education for his daughter, why don't we even see her go to school; not even a pretense of studying, or wearing a uniform for that matter? A lot of things are missing in this narrative bubble. If you aren't flabbergasted yet, wait until a chirpy French song plays in the background. How avant-garde indeed.

GETTING IT ALL WRONG

Ike Sadiasa, gloriously swishy, wrinkly and balding - and can't act to save his life - gets "executive producer" credit as well, although this film could possibly be produced by the director's family. If you want more clues to this outfit's harebrained artistry, check their theatrical poster. They can't even get their stars' names right. And if you haven't noticed, the scriptwriter won't even assign fictitious names to his characters, thus the characters in the story carry the stars' screen names. Didn't I say lazy? Mia Henares becomes Mia Henandez. Barbara Chavez becomes Barbie Chaves. I could even hazard a guess that Enrique Sapanta could actually be "Zapanta".

Kristine Mina is prominently on display on the theatrical poster, you'd think she was central to all these shenanigans. Mina plays a balikbayan lass whose idea of a good time is "maligo sa tabo" than "to frolic on Philippine beaches" because, according to her, she's gotten tired of the beaches of Canada. Huh? Havey na havey, debah? Edit her out of the movie, it wouldn't change the story. Her presence is mere conceit and remains disposable. Yet she highlights the poster. Go figure.

The only flicker of light in this godawful flick is Charles Delgado who's sorely missed in Pink celluloid. Delgado has always been a comfortable, albeit generous actor (in ways you can imagine); not long on gravitas but nevertheless conveys a natural demeanor every time he's on screen. You would if you started baring your inches when you were just an impressionable minor. (He blazed the Pink cinema trail when he was barely 16.) He has since retired and gone bulky; a far cry from his twinky image in the past.

In one scene, Mico and Barbie canoodle with each others' bits while Mia looks on. She tells them, "Itigil nyo na yan. Naiinggit na ako." The couple won't stop. So Mia giggly repeats her message, "Tumigil na kayo." They don't. How many times does she repeat this line - before it changes to another scene? Five. That's the width, breadth and extent of the film maker's imagination. I rest my case.  
 
Watch that nose. Barbie Chavez delivers as awkwardly as her screen partner Mico Madrid.

Sadiasa does hari-kiri with a blunt knife while Charles and Mia try to stop him.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What Were They Thinking? - 2014 in Head Scratching Moments



It's the little things you notice. Like when a science teacher explains the sound of a heart to her class, and she goes "Dug dug... dug dug..." Yet every one who attends a science class knows that the official normal heart sound is "lub dub... lub dub..." - and not something that reminds you of an animal that bites - or barks. 




Cathy Garcia-Molina's "She's Dating the Gangster" has other gaffes: The first 15 minutes briskly breeze through the news of a missing plane and an emergency landing in CamSur, with no list of survivors to speak of. But the possibility that several people, including Kenneth's dad Kenji (Richard Gomez), could be dead is absolutely lost on Kelay (Kathryn Bernardo) who's high spirited and bubbly, acting as though it's a festive season to hop around with wide grin on her face. Something here doesn't make sense, does it? 

Make no mistake, "She's Dating the Gangster" is one of 2014's most adorable movies. It's also Kathryn's best performance to date. The director's flair for dynamic story telling is undeniable. It is utterly charming that you tend to ignore the minor gaffes. When your movie earns P262 million domestically, who cares really about the nitpicking? Subsequently, would you be as sensitive, or just shrug your shoulders, if your film earned a measly P5 million (well, P5,165,190 - every nickel counts), like Nora Aunor's "Dementia"? The cast and crew of 15-20 people flying to Batanes alone would cost a fortune so P5M isn't exactly earning, is it? I rest my case.

With the film year almost coming to a close, Blush features some of the year's "Most Head Scratching Moments" on celluloid. The point here is: Film makers have to be attentive to the details used in their stories. After all, these films are commercial products that people pay good money to watch. There's plenty more where this list comes from considering the volume of releases this year. We have excluded some items that we've already written lengthily before. 

2014's MOST HEAD-SCRATCHING MOMENTS


Pop quiz. What do dogs, creatures without cognition, do when sideswiped by moving vehicles? They scuttle away, tails behind their legs, as dictated by instinct. Cats do the same, with claws bared out and fur standing on end. You'd think humans, even those with defective cognition, would do the same. After all, instinct universally dictates for "fight or flight" - for self preservation.

But Percival Intalan's "Dementia" shows one for the books. Mara (Nora Aunor) strays by the roadside, disoriented to time and place, looking around this strange place. Out of nowhere, a speeding bicycle then sideswipes her. She falls, then scampers to get up. Then for a split second, she grins with her saccharine sweet smile! What thinking creature grins after getting hit by a moving vehicle? Anyone with half a brain would wonder about such an incongruous reaction! Yet this film is called "intelligent" by many reviews. Go figure.

In another scene: Nora is doing her jigsaw puzzle on the table. Yul Servo then charges and loudly accuses her: "Bakit kayo ganyan sa akin? Wala naman akong ginagawa sa inyo, pero mula pa noon, minamaliit at minamata nyo na ako.” 

Yul's emotional outburst, of course, goes unnoticed because Nora didn't seem to hear anything. Deaf? The movie insists that this is "Dementia". But anyone confronted with such passionate display would get frazzled, or disoriented. And she'd rightfully get upset. Not catatonic! But Intalan decides to forget this salient feature and focus on those phantasmagorically expressive pair of eyes - and let's give her the extreme close-ups she deserves, while we’re at it. Ocular porn, anyone? This is how an "intelligent movie" should be.
                                           

Sigried Barros-Sanchez must have paraded what seemed like 3 dozen personalities in the first 60 minutes alone of his documentary "Ang Gitaristang Hindi Marunong Magskala". An hour later, you're nowhere familiar with his subject, legendary guitarist Nitoy Adriano of "The Jerks". Sanchez, who has always been fixated with 70's-80's pop culture, presents his "story" by way of an endless array of anecdotes from people like Bobby Balingit ("Wuds"), Ira Cruz ("Hijo"), Robert Javier ("The Youth"), Mike Brewer, Soliman Cruz, Ely Buendia, Bong Sotto, Noel Cabangon, et.al. The personalities are numerous, but the whole narrative is lost in the randomness of the exposition. While other documentaries take us to places, Sanchez heavily relies on his interviewees that, on the whole, know less about Nitoy Adriano as a person. What's worse, an annoying guitar riff plays throughout this series of clips while uneven sound comes out from his subjects whose voices are either drowned out by excessively excruciating noise or are hopelessly inaudible.

If "Cine Totoo" were truly a festival of "international caliber", why can't they "screen" their entries adequately? Were they wearing ear plugs when they screened this embarrassment? Shoddy film making is a legitimate criteria of exclusion if they're serious of this undertaking. This film was painful to watch, it almost prevented me from watching the other entries.



Let’s take the case of Thai film maker Urophong Raksasad's lyrically sumptuous "Songs of Rice", the dialogue-free visual dissertation on Thailand's "rice culture" set in places like Chiang Kam and the Don Yanang village. 

Even without words, you learn so much about a regional neighbor, something that was never accomplished in “Ang Gitarista’s…” million-words. "...Rice" was one of the last films to screen at the Cine Totoo Festival

Barros-Sanchez's "Ang Gitarista..." feels more like a great disservice to the personality it is paying homage to. The director is fond of giving "tributes". Remember "Mga Kidnaper ni Ronnie Lazaro" and "Ang Anak ni Brocka"? Now this particular work should've been abandoned altogether.


In Rod M. Ortega's "The Firefighters: The Unsung Heroes", a movie that doesn't have a clue what it wanted to be (a biopic; an instructional course - complete with slide shows about fire; a political propaganda?), Santi, portrayed by Jeric Raval, attends a class. A teacher then comes in declaring, "This is your Chemistry class. We are going to have a graded oral recitation." First question: "What is Chemistry?" Now that's a question I've never heard from my college chemistry professor before. Without much fanfare, Raval, in his bravest demeanor stands up and recites, in excruciatingly fractured delivery, "Chemistry is a branch of science that studies the composition, structure..." As if that wasn't enough, he adds, "The one practicing it is called a chemist." Then everyone claps, shaking their heads with wide-eyed wonderment. I had to stand up as well and give the guy an ovation. Where did they pluck this director? The water spinach farm? Opps, that's the kangkungan. Tee hee.


Angeli Bayani plays a field reporter for a TV news program in Nick Olanka's "Ronda". Her beat - the police precinct where Ai-Ai de las Alas works as a police woman. In one scene, Bayani, whom director Ang Lee calls as a "National Treasure", reports live at the scene. It was very telling because Bayani shows how gravely miscast she was for the fleeting role. She bungled her way through a short live telecast, mumbling inanities that just didn't feel real. If I were her TV producer, I'd have fired her on the spot! This goes to show that one cannot just "pretend" to be a news reporter. There are skills involved; skills you don't just acquire from presumptions. Otherwise, you'd look like a bumbling twat.

Good thing Angeli Bayani has had a spate of star turns in the recent past. She gave a powerful performance in Francis Xavier Pasion's gripping drama "Bwaya" where she played Divina, the mother of a girl attacked and devoured by a crocodile in Hinuotan, somewhere in the marshlands of Agusan del Sur. She was also seen in Lav Diaz's "Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan," one of my favorite movies in the recent years. Let's not forget her understated grace in Anthony Chen's poignant "Ilo Ilo" (2013). In the latter, Bayani played the role of a nanny working for a struggling Singaporean family.


"Ronda" was one of those films with a story that meandered, employing scriptwriter Adolf Alix's penchant for static shots and long takes. While I love narrative slow burns, there has to be a discernible build-up that leads to a focal point. This one wavered into several side stories that muddled its focus. Cesar Montano, playing a guidance counselor, didn't even look or speak the part. He had this protracted phone conversation that seemed like hollow adlibs. Think wandering salesman.

The film is an uncomfortable showcase piece for the comedienne. It is also thematically derivative. You know that you've seen something like this in the last 5 years or so. And if you believed for a second that Ai Ai delas Alas, with her distractingly gargantuan mammaries juggling around, was a police woman, I am the Queen of Versailles.


One of QCinema's documentary features this year was Barbara Politsch's "Cemetery Life". The film follows three people who have chosen to take residency, albeit illegally, in some of the neglected mausoleums of Manila North Cemetery's 54 hectare sprawl. Ricky, an aging ex-convict, navigates the tombs with arrogant demeanor, cursing often to show he's made of sterner stuff. Helen is a middle-aged woman who has dispossessed a corpse of a coffin to secure a comfortable bed. And Rachel, born in the cemetery, returns to her birthplace pregnant. With a mere P50 fee, these denizens get free electricity; a massage parlor, a sari-sari store and the occasional raiding team to color their makeshift lives.

Description of the movie is more interesting, and I quote, "It is built like a ghost town... the last refuge for the wealthy deceased. Social outcasts have discovered this place. At first sight, it seems idyllic. The poor who have set up their homes within these walls live in makeshift suburban Utopia." Sounds like a prize-winning documentary already, right? Think again. The finished product is unfinished, 3 years after it started collecting video materials for this project. In fact, Ricky's story is the only subject with a fuller narrative structure. Moreover, his story looked scripted. Helen, you hardly see; and Rachel is almost non-existent. You hear voices instructing its subjects instead of just observing them in their natural environment. This is, after all, their home, and no one should dictate how they live their lives, which defeats the purpose of this quasi-documentary. This is worth its P2 million grant? Seriously? What self respecting film maker would even present an unfinished work, deeming it competition-worthy? Better yet, what ambitious film festival would screen unfinished works? Now consider what happens to the cash-strapped Cinemalaya if these QC amateurs begin to artistically control the content of the beleaguered festival? It is nothing short of a festival disaster waiting to happen.

SLEEPWALKER'S FESTIVAL

The finished product is a big technical headache: 70% of the material is characterized by regular buffer stops, playing out like a bad internet connection. You feel like watching incoherent video fragments with a consistently delayed sound. Anyone who considers this worthy of festival admission is in dream land and does not know what he's doing. Otherwise, you realize that whoever curated this festival has been sleepwalking through his job. Quezon City Film Festival seems to be scraping the bottom, and has no insight on quality features. No one screens or monitors its entries. Or at least no one with semblance of a working brain.  



In Chito Rono's riveting "The Trial", theater royalty Isay Alvarez ("Katy", "Miss Saigon") plays lawyer Patricia Celis who has taken on the case of "rape victim" Bessy Buenaventura (Jessy Mendiola). On her first meeting with Amanda (Gretchen Barretto), she wears a baffling smirk. The lawyer carries unusual vitriol, regarding Amanda with absolute acrimony. She's haughty and morose. You would think that Atty. Celis has a personal stake on the case. You’d likewise mistake her as the aggrieved party. As counsellor, wasn't she supposed to approach the case with sobriety and rational savvy? Which lawyer gets herself a gargantuan slap from a would-be witness? 


In Wilden Anonuevo's sex-comedy "Swapped", Brando (Jobben Bello) and Kelly (Adrana Gomez) get into a heated argument with each other while an old woman watches on.

The morning after, our warring strangers realize that they've fortuitously swapped personalities. The plump man gets the vivacious girl's body, and vice versa. What happens when each of their partners starts flirting with them? Billy (Luke Pradia) does a sexy strip dance for his girlfriend Kelly. And KC Miller wants to do the naughty deed with lover Brando. Can true love's kiss really turn the spell around?

While intended to be humorous, we soon find out that the funnier parts weren't the otherwise drab and absolutely predictable situations that came after.

Chaka Khan will be proud.
In one scene, straight guy Brando, now inhabited by straight girl Kelly's identity, wakes up and starts playing music - Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire". Before long, Brando is impersonating Chaka Khan's bravado belting - and all hell break loose. Did Brando get a girl's identity? Or got possessed by a gay man's floridly swishy personality? Hilarious doesn't even begin to describe the scene.

Who can forget Wenn Deramas' "Maria Leonora Teresa"? In the story, an eccentric psychiatrist (Cris Villanueva) peddles his dolls as therapeutic regimen to facilitate the grief therapy of Faith (Iza Calzado), Julio (Zanjoe Marudo) and Stella (Jodi Sta. Maria).

The trio lost their children from a vehicular accident on the day they were to go on a field trip. I understand that these therapeutic dolls can be cuddled by patients diagnosed with clinical depression, dementia, or trauma, but who on earth would cuddle the ugliest dolls I have ever seen? Who chose these dolls? Or were they blind when they picked them?

The movie also showcases Iza Calzado's first bad performance of her entire career (I didn't think this was possible), thanks to Deramas' ambiguous vision on the different manifestations of bereavement. Trust the director to bring out the worst in his actors. Good thing Jodi Santa Maria, the only positive aspect in this poorly conceptualized flick, was on board to save the day. But what sets this horror flick apart from other scary movies was how funny it turned out to be. I have never heard my yaya chuckle throughout a screamfest. Horror = laughter! Who'd have thought that such formula was possible? It's something that only Deramas can accomplish - without even trying!


Kevin Mercado, Keanna Reeves' delectable 20-year-old boyfriend, shares screen time with her more senior girlfriend in Joric Raquiza's ridiculous "Magtiwala Ka - A Super Typhood Yolanda Story". In the movie, set in Basey, Samar, we separately follow rice farmer Malaya (Keanna Reeves) and her stolid-looking kids; and farmer's son Leo Dagami (Kevin Mercado) who dreams of finding his fortune in Manila. Storm depiction  was so amateurish, it looked like one of those fake rain machines drenching all dolled up Keanna. Her lips were red as blood, and she didn't even run for shelter.

But it's the aftermath that's funnier. We find Leo in half a dozen scenes parading different hip attires, as he feigns to look for his lost mother. I started suspecting this was one big fashion show. Did he really lose his garments during the storm? Why does he have so many new, well-ironed shirts?

In a couple of these scenes, Leo, ever so dashing (I couldn't take my eyes off this fresh-faced boytoy, promise!), would suddenly kneel down the ground and start crying - while a plump girl (Dhen Ibanez) would start singing in the background - in irritating music video fashion. The nerve-wracking song gets repeatedly played throughout the film. I started getting ideas how tortures are to be carried out.

Ironically, my attention never wavered. This was one of those "excruciatingly bad films" that entertained in its cinematic cluelessness. I was hooked! And it didn't disappoint. It downspiraled into moronic levels no other film maker has gone before. Later in the story, we finally unravel the raison d'etre of this project: Dr. Manny Calayan starts appearing to promote his medical expertise (I actually cringed at the thought), alongside products called "Unipak sardines" which get distributed to the typhoon victims. Hands down, this takes the cake as the years most awful movie!  

Move over, Enrique Gil. Kevin Mercado can give you a run for his money. Just don't let him speak. LOL
Can someone please prescribe a "reality pill" for this atrociously dreadful director named Joric Raquiza? He makes G.A. Villafuerte look good! Planting camote on the mountains of Alitagtag would be a better career option for this godawful film maker. The other option is migration to an uninhabited island in the Spratlys. Chain him there... for Pete's sake!


A bankrupt patriarch (Robert Arevalo) takes his grown up grandchildren Anna (Cris Villonco) and Ricky (Rafa Siguion-Reyna) to Alapaap, a derelict 4-story tenement in Tondo to help them "grow balls". In the process, he pimps heart broken Anna to a ngongo (Lorenz Martinez) and even encourages for a romantic tryst with him; pushes frustrated musician Ricky to a group of street musicians (Aiza Seguerra, et.al.) who sing but one song! He also introduces them to eating "pagpag"; to sleep in a room full of roaches and a toilet that hardly flushes. I mean, if we're into teaching them how to toughen up, why not take them to the jungles of Basilan and Sulu, debah? The whole idea is nothing short of preposterous - especially when you are compromising the health, safety and well-being of the people you love.

Cartoon characters. Think "wicked stepsisters".
One can't help but question the logic behind such irresponsible actions. After all, Arevalo isn't completely disenfranchised. His grown-up children are still rich; surely, they wouldn't begrudge him of a comfortable home to stay. "Mayaman yun eh," he even quips, referring to son-in-law Daniel Fortaleza (Eric Quizon), Anna's father.

His other children Olivia (Ali Sotto) and Julio (Audie Gemora) don't do so badly themselves, they carry wads of cash around (the scene where they bribe their encargado Rez Cortez with stacks of legal tender).

Carlitos Siguion-Reyna's "Hari ng Tondo" plays out like a modern-day fairytale with quirky characters and charming protagonists. Bibeth Orteza's old-world "komiks" sensibility is quite palpable. Charm floats around all over, but it's like eating cotton candy. The content is all sweet and fluffy - but without much nutritive value. Heck, even Cardo's greedy children feel like one-dimensional characters straight out of Cinderella (the wicked stepsisters). And can anyone please tell Rafa to stop singing? Leave that to Cris Villonco who's a cinematic revelation here.


Let's pick a representative from the fast dwindling Pink Cinema. In G.A. Villafuerte's "Damong Ligaw", a reconciling mother and daughter hug each other as the latter bids her mother goodbye. The mother (played by producer Elona Mendoza, who painfully struggles with simple lines) then rallies for her daughter Loisa, comparing her to a "damong ligaw", a wild grass, if you will. I wanted to roll on the floor laughing. Other parents would compare their daughter to a rose, an angel, a breath of fresh air, a teddy bear, even a "touch of heaven" - but this mother can only think of the titular "Damong Ligaw". Ouch. Here's a suggestion to the director-scriptwriter , who's undoubtedly artistically bankrupt (he repeats his stories ad nauseam; his movies are interchangeable; he only changes the names of his characters): "You're like an ethereal wild flower that blossoms in the most unexpected places." Now isn't that more poetic? Translate to: "Para kang magandang kampupot na bumubukaka sa burak." ;)

PBB FIXATION

In this inanity, Villafuerte, who always writes his own godawful scripts, names his characters after PBB housemates: There's a Ranty (RJ Rodrigo), a Loisa (Mendoza), and a Jacob. In another film, he names a girl Aina. Why not Cheridel?

But it's the epilogue that qualifies for "Ripley's Believe it or Not."

To tie all his loose ends, he writes 5-sentence paragraphs for all of his characters, including the bumbling parlorista and postman! (wink wink) Imagine 10 characters with full epilogues after their frozen faces. You'd think you were in a reading marathon.

Villafuerte must have forgotten that the movies are a visual medium! You do wonder where he must have acquired his film education. I shiver at the thought. Wherever it is, it needs to be shut down. Fast! But I am not done, a film called "Housemates: Are You In or Are You Out? Get Out!" was slated to be shown as of this writing. Nope, I'm not making this up. This isn't a joke. If you've heard of the most ludicrous titling, this should take the cake. Imagine, Villafuerte is probably patting himself stupid for what he seriously believes is brilliant titling. Stroke of genius? Try the other end of the spectrum, hon. More importantly, he needs electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to get over his fixation to PBB. Seriously.



While we're at it, in G.A Villafuerte's recently shown "Sana Maibalik Pa Ang Kahapon", Monica (Elona Mendoza) gets the shock of her life when she sees Raffy (Joseph Francisco) walking on the street. Rafael was the boy that got away. What baffles her was how he hasn't aged a bit; not a day older when she last saw him 22 years ago. Dorian Gray anyone? She tells this to her gay brother Dennis (Princess Jolens) who quips, "Di siya tumanda, nagka-amnesia!" Half my brain slid down my throat. Since when has looking youthful been equated to amnesia? Is it virus or bacteria, right Wenn Deramas? So funny.

Turns out Raffy is Rafael's son, making him the brother of Noel (Arlo Soriano), Monica's gay son. Elona Mendoza has always produced and appeared in these godawful films where she'd be seen in gawky cameos. In her very short roles, she would uncannily mimic robots and deliver lines as stolidly as her tongue. Fast forward to 2014. She has graduated as an "extra" and has conveniently made herself "lead star" - with similar painfully fractured renditions, it seemed like something got stuck down her posterior pharyngeal wall. Pakapalan na lang. Other than her absolute cluelessness to acting, she insolently displays her 3-gallon collagen pout and a "proudly" 4C bumpers. In each of her scene, I'd notice her lips growing tighter and fuller, I half expected her to make animal sounds next: quack, quack, quack! This is misplaced ambition this side of Carla Varga.


In Nico Salvador's "Tatay Kong Bading", titular protagonist Ike Sadiasa salivates as he watches son-in-law Charles Delgado bathe in wild abandon, soaping away his privates with grave intent. Aren't people supposed to peep through holes? This "banyo" has a proverbial window, openly inviting spectators while they soap away their dirty inches. Sadiasa might as well take a chair inside for a ringside seat.

In "Sine, Laging Kasama", a Jet Leyco documentary that attempts to trace the evolution of cinema in the Philippines - from the European shorts that first introduced the medium during the Spanish colonization era to the birth of the dynamic independent cinema, there' stark absence of the most influential name in the 80's - Sharon Cuneta. Only Wenn Deramas mentioned her in passing.

In a line-up that includes sound bytes and film clips from stars like Dolphy, FPJ, Lino Brocka, Christopher de Leon, Don Jose Nepomuceno, Judy Anne Santos, Tito, Vic & Joey, Toni Gonzaga, Charo Santos-Concio, Boots Anson-Roa, Ricky Lee and Jolina Magdangal, failure to discuss the reign of the "movie queens" and the influence of the star system make this work seem emaciated; as though a chapter of Philippine celluloid has been totally ignored.

SOCIAL RELEVANCE

In the same documentary, Wenn Deramas shares, "Pag binigyan mo sila ng horror, dapat matatakot sila." Is that why "Maria Leonora Teresa" was so darn funny? Meanwhile, Erik Matti, the director of "On the Job", fervidly discusses social realism in cinema as though he is the exponent of the genre. Let's be reminded that he's only done - drum roll, please - one! Or just maybe, the new age definition of a socially relevant film equates to "Gagamboy", "Scorpio Nights 2", "Pedro Penduko", "Tales from the Enchanted Kingdom:", and "Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles". Oh, let me add "Mano Po 2: My Home". The conceit of pretense made my stomach turn, I suddenly required a vomit bag.


GHOST SALUTES TV HOST

In Romy V. Suzara's "Sigaw sa Hatinggabi", a spiritual medium Salvacion (Regine Angeles) guests in a popular TV show hosted by a confrontational cynic named "Kapitan" - a Tulfo-style TV host. When asked if she feels any "presence" in the studio, she closes her eyes and a soldier's apparition then appears behind the host. The soldier then possesses Vacion's body who suddenly stands up to salute the Kapitan. The skeptic host then salutes right back. I almost fell off my chair laughing.

In another scene, the director named (believe it or not!) Allan Pangalan, played by a bumbling Hero Bautista, assigns roles to his spirit questors, "O kayong dalawa ang mag-nobyo. Ikaw ang nerd." Questors have to play roles like they were actors? This TV show was supposed to be a reality show about seances investigating the presence of wandering ghosts in a haunted house. Why assign roles? Someone's obviously confused. The movie, eternally bathed in darkness, is one of the four cripplingly inane entries in FDCP's Masters Series, an annual festival of mostly unemployed veteran directors with no clues how "film language" is expressed in the age of digital cinema.

If you're big on personalities, there are several worth catching here. With a messy story telling and mediocre film making on board, you might as well find another source of amusement. Barbel-on-his-face personality Lance Raymundo returns to the big screen. Pink film denizen Alvin Duckert renames himself (for the third time) as Alvin Nakassi. He figures in the film's only sex scene - what do you expect? Cebuano bikini-open model David Karell also makes his film debut. While you hardly see anything in the movie's third (the set ran out of lights or budget), you will hear more than you require. As I have mentioned in the past, horror directors with limited insight resort to loud sudden noises. There's auditory overload here.


GHOST ATTENDS WEDDING

But one of the most bizarre scenes we've seen this year was that of a ghost attending a wedding! Jason Abalos plays Arman, closeted Ricky Davao's love interest. During Victor Neri's wedding to Ritz Azul, Davao, who isn't even close to Neri, attends the wedding. Don't ask me why. In the story, Davao plays a bank officer who facilitates Neri's car/business loan. I never had any bank officer attend weddings in our family - so this was a stretch! More than that, the ghost of Jason Abalos joins Ricky Davao to witness the church ceremony. Don't ask me why again. This was so hilarious, and clearly incoherent, considering that Davao and Abalos did not even consummate their "relationship" (unless there's a Director's Cut I missed). I almost died and went to heaven laughing.

Director GB Sampedro desperately wanted to hook up all his characters and narrative strains in one neat moment. And what could be more unforgettable than the dearly departed witnessing a marital ceremony, right? And I thought I've seen everything.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rod M. Ortega's "The Firefighters: The Unsung Heroes"


Rod M. Ortega's "The Firefighters: The Unsung Heroes" follows the story of Santi (Jeric Raval) an obedient boy of Abuyog, Sorsogon who grows up from a simple family. At breakfast, he gets a reminder from his morose-looking mother saying, "The family that prays together stays together." I got misty-eyed from such sentiment. We see him chop wood and fetch water. We also see teenage Santi (Paolo Gumabao) loitering the beach with his girl friend (Nicole Gee), just like a normal young man.

One day, Santi witnesses three girls drown from what appears to be the shallow waters of a polluted beach (they sniffed the air apparently, and lost their ability to swim; isn't that tragic?) He charges into the water fully clothed (long sleeved sweat shirt and jeans) - just like a hero should - and tries hard to save them. All three girls drown anyway. It's the thought that counts, debah?

But the incident has scarred him for life that from here on, he shall save drowning girls - by enrolling as a police man at the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA)! Save drowning girls = police! Not as a lifeguard nor a doctor, but a police officer. Get nyo? Fate takes him to the fire brigade where he eventually rises from the ranks, despite conniving nemesis Brando (Jethro Ramirez). He hurts himself during one of their operations while trying to save the life of a guy trapped inside a burning building. But his wife (Hanni Miller) is constantly beside him despite occasional marital conflicts. End.


If there ever was a contest for film making cluelessness, this would be among the finalists. The film is a curmudgeon of genre, and doesn't quite settle into one, simply because its director just doesn't have the facility to do so. When the heavens distributed talent for story telling, Ortega must have fallen asleep. He throws a lot of random scenes together, and prays to the heavens that they organically transform into a coherent story. Wishful thinking, of course. This, it turns out, is one cinematic mess. It's hilarious without meaning to. And in the general sense, annoying for wasting precious time and money. I had to travel far to be fed garbage. It's nothing short of deplorable.

The narrative composition is one big mystery. There are classroom scenes of a boy reciting a gag-inducing poem ("Ang Guro") about a teacher called Mrs. Catapia that concluded with something like, "Hindi lang siya mabait, maganda pa. Ang suwerte ng mister nya." Then the teacher's husband is shown with a wide grin, peeping from the classroom window. Huh? A group of children grilling corn would alternately deliver lines with no rhyme or reason, my niece had better school programs in school, and I didn't have to pay P200 to watch them.

From out of the blue, Joseph Bacareza, head honcho of the Fire National Training Institute (FNTI) suddenly discusses what the institute is all about. I was of course disoriented by Bacareza's sudden appearance because I wasn't there to learn about the darn institute. Then random footages of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) appear. Cadets perform their exhibitional gun drills. This then shifts to a fire prevention training where an instructor is teaching students about clove hitch knot. If you aren't perplexed by this confounding turn events, hang on to your knickers, there's more.

SLIDE SHOW

A powerpoint presentation follows. Yup, a slide show. What is fire? What are its 3 stages? What are the modes of heat transfer? Was I in the right venue? Or was this really a tutorial on fire prevention more than a cinematic event? Ask director Rod Ortega. He must have an idea. The plot returns to Jeric Raval training at the fire institute. While everyone on training is bald, Raval sports a full head of hair replete with his characteristic squint and tough-guy grimace.

Cut to Raval courting his new girl friend who replies with an ecstatic, "Yes na yes na - basta pakakasalan mo ako ha?" He was just asking her to be his girl friend, mind you. The film shifts again to a commercial about "Textfire" and the modern facilities acquired by the organization, including a 10-second feature about a volunteer named Gerry Chua. Someone is shooting blanks in all directions. But wait, whatever happened to Santi?




Santi, now a successful fire chief, complete with Dolphy-and-Panchito channeling bodyguards (comedian Kuhol and another poor soul), returns to visit his hometown in Sorsogon. He donates a complete set of musical instruments for his band, "Santiago Serenade and Friends" whose songs are being played all throughout the movie. If I have to say, these are kakapangilabot original songs about love, written in English, played a la bolero, sang in godawful diction. I wanted to squirm and turn into a prune. Moreover, it inspired violent tendencies - like running amok and start shooting the audience inside the cinema. Population: 2. Believe me, watching this so-called movie just isn't healthy.

Another scene shows Santi briefing his fire brigade during one very sunny dayListen and learn: "Maghanda tayo. Ang bagyo ay tatama sa loob ng dalawang oras." I shivered with fright.

Jeric Raval, looking youthful, tries to carry the story with a straight face but is limited by the absence of a decent plot. Former sexy star Hanni Miller (as Santi's wife) isn't given much to chew on either. Young upstarts are showcased, albeit fleetingly. Paolo Gumabao plays the teenage Santi. Despite his "baby fats" (check out his scenes at the beach), it is clear that Dennis Roldan's son is his father's spitting image. He actually reminds me of dashing Jake Ejercito - with lipid excrescences, of course. Nicole Gee and Marina Salvador look promising as well.

The film could be any of the following: a biopic; a flight of fancy; an invitation to the PNPA; a tutorial about fire prevention; a political propaganda for C/Supirentendent Santiago E. Laguna. Someone's probably eyeing for an elective position. Inspiring, this isn't. Quite frankly, this won't help Mr. Laguna. In fact, this dug him a hole. Without a doubt in mind, this godawful flick made me want to play with fire: Burn every darn personality responsible for producing this movie - then  feed them to Kuhol. And please include the SM Cinema executives who thought that this movie deserves to be seen by a paying audience. If this is what characterizes an SM Exclusive, I'd rather stay indoors. Thank you for wasting my time.

Gumabao and Gee enjoy baby-fat moments!

Hanni Miller

Nicole Gee

Paolo Gumabao channels Jake Ejercito
Jethro Ramirez plays bad guy Brando.
C/Supt. Santiago E. Laguna

Monday, November 24, 2014

Jigz Recto's "Katabi" - Of Stiffled Affections and Attention-Grabbing Bulges


Tom (Rafael Perez) and Jeff (Jigz Imperial) have known each other since they were kids. When Tom moves to the big city for work, Jeff follows suit. But life in the concrete jungle isn't easy so Tom invites his best friend to live with him. They do everything together: take their meals, share shower times and sleep in one bed.

One day, Jeff shares that Rhea (Nina Rossini), the girl next door, has agreed to become his girl friend. Would Tom want to meet her?

But the girl is a complex item in their equation. Rhea secretly flirts with straight-laced Tom who, one day, finally takes her bait and sleeps with the predatory girl. (Rhea, by the way, wants a luxurious watch similar to Jeff's prized possession. Such lofty ambition, debah?) This has put a strain on Jeff's relationship with Rhea.

She ends her commodious coupling with heart-broken Jeff who just borrowed P20,000 to get his girl the watch that she wanted. (She'd offer him heaven in exchange of riches; something that she's only too willing to impose on Tom without him asking. Go figure.)

When Jeff learns of Tom's concupiscent rendezvous with Rhea, the two friends quarrel. In tight white briefs, they engage in masculine fisticuffs, rolling on their small bed in errr, wild abandon. Accusations are thrown around - and Jeff finally kicks dear, dear Tom out of his house. Might as well. Tom's work is already suffering due to Jeff''s constant loans: the expensive gifts, the celebratory drinking sprees, etc.  Is this the end of their life long friendship? Guess.

Rafael Perez
Jigz Recto's "Katabi" is unexpectedly superior from his previous works, though this isn't in anyway an endorsement of his directorial acumen. Far from it. But this is ten notches better than his unenviable body of work characterized by bathetic stories that overly dramatize confrontations, stretched out for what seems like a dozen lifetimes. These were mawkish dregs of misplaced emotionality, interlocked with repeated shower scenes and peekaboo wonders, and acted by borderline wanna-be actors too clueless to delineate real emotions from make-believe. Moreover, these dramatic highlights are punctuated by persistently heavy-handed suspenseful music that go louder as situations progress.

Don't get me wrong. Shower scenes are still a staple in Recto flicks, but they've been moderated (blame the holier-than-thou  MTRCB for this very conservative trend of late). In one scene, the two friends bathe together; they "rub" each other's backs amid long, silent stares, broken by, "Nababakla ka na ata sa akin." These romantic coquetry create a few moments of unbridled sexual tension - that actually fizzle.

Such mood making is sustained after a drinking spree (Ugh. Didn't you expect?). When Jeff gets too inebriated to walk, Tom is only too glad to help. Jeff vomits on Tom's shirt while the latter takes his friend to bed, disrobes both their garments, until they're only donning their impeccably clean tight-and-white briefs. Tom then cleans his friend all over with a wet towel, every crevice diligently sponged. Meanwhile, the camera intermittently pans on Jeff's attention-grabbing bulge, you could probably use it as compass while it points north-east to pleasure first then switches south-west to joy. Jigz Imperial, it turns out, is directionally versatile. Incredible. Ooohlala!

Nina Rossini, playing the shrewd Rhea,  conveniently becomes a cinematic third wheel. But then this is a Jigz Recto movie where girls are third-class citizens and guys tintinnabulate their own bells. See Imperial rabidly sponge his privates (it must be exquisitely durrrty) as he makes several "dukot dukot" while intently bathing. It's almost an Olympic sports event at the rate he's doing it. Don't we just adore meticulously clean guys?  

Jigz Imperial is directionally versatile.