Sunday, December 4, 2016

Bb. Joyce Bernal's "The Super Parental Guardians" - That Vice Ganda Magic!

Arci aka Ariel Ciriaco Taulava (Vice Ganda) works as the executive assistant of Madam Marife delos Santos (Assunta de Rossi), wife of the influential spokesperson of the Philippine National Police. He also doubles as the social media manager and runner of the impatient madam who promises to help him get employment in Korea where he dreams of working as an interior designer. To add to his growing list of chores, he's tasked to house-sit the matron's mansion currently undergoing renovations.  

One day, he unexpectedly reunites with Sarah Nahbati (Matet de Leon), his childhood best friend. When Sarah falls victim to the series of murders happening in her neighborhood, Arci gets the custody of Sarah's children, 12-year old Megan aka Melvin Gaspar and 5-year old Ernie (Awra Briguella and Onyok Pineda, respectively). 

But not if Paco aka Neil Nahbati (Coco Martin), the children's uncle, can help it. To keep the kids in a safer surroundings, Paco decides to take shelter in Arci's home (which isn't really his to begin with).

Together, the odd couple play momshie and papsie to the precocious kids who are having difficulties in school. Ernie can't be stopped from scribbling all over his school walls. Megan's grades are plummeting ("from 97's to 79's"). A mother's death, a new guardian and relocation don't exactly make life easy for children, right? Meanwhile, Paco, a former gang leader, is turning over a new leaf as he pursues being a stunt man. But his immediate past is briskly catching up with him. In fact, he is being pursued by Jake (Joem Bascon), his gang's arch enemy - and the current boyfriend of ex-flame Emme (Bela Padilla). 

When Megan and Ernie are kidnapped by Jake's minions, Paco and Arci must act fast. Or this would spell the end of their bahay bahayan.

Bb. Joyce Bernal's "The Super Parental Guardians" has a story that mirrors contemporary events. Suddenly, the life of the Filipinos is peppered with vigilantes. People are dropping like flies because a segment of society has decided to play judge, jury and executioner. If this isn't enough, the unfortunate respondents to the growing statistics even includes "kahit yung mga mukhang drug addict". You can be a suspect and die - without getting a day in court! If this is an idiot's interpretation on the concept of peace and security, then you can forget that civilization actually follows a set of rules - and the constitution - that also safeguards against abuse.   

This makes cinema a relevant mirror of society. But enough of this wanton philosophizing. This isn't the right vehicle for this topic. The story also becomes a flimsy smokescreen to the production's main objective - a festival-grade money-making scheme. How else do you explain the sudden appearance of a game-console button that spits up exploding balls? Did Vice suddenly acquire magical powers from Engkantasia? 

Then when Arci, along with his beki troop, pursues the bad guys at a train depot, they find Megan and Ernie tied up on a hand rail, and forthwith there appears zombies bound for Boo-san. Yeah, we understand satire, but even the most popular ones need to make sense within a story. Unless, of course, if time is running fast and a deadline is being pursued - so you conjure narrative strains that don't even fit in the mold. But that is an act of desperation.   

Vice Ganda is a cut above the rest. He can make the silliest lines hilarious. His witticism easily translates into physical and verbal humor. And there are quite a number here. Like when he gets his Korean visa and unexpectedly meets Matet. The bag-hitting stunt would have been silly, but it drew laughter all around. 

Scenes from the wake similarly succeed in bringing forth amusement, particularly when he was making selfies with the corpse; then again when he gives his beki troop Kathryn, Liza and Nadine (MC, Lassy and Kiray Celis) a streak of face smacks. That was slapstick, and as old as the Three Stooges. Not fond of it, but it was funny nevertheless. One particularly silly number happens when newly arrived Arci takes a photo of an unwelcoming maid. We knew that the "Ay, na lowbat!" punch line was coming, but sometimes jokes gain their hilarity from a comic's competence.   

Coco Martin gets his cue from the world of Cardo, his character in the top-rating "Ang Probinsyano". Unfortunately, while Cardo brims with charm, Paco lacks the empathy of his television persona. 

It doesn't help that Paco postures like an action star - and constantly wears a sulk. Sure, his TV series is hard to topple, but let this be a reminder that there's a very valid reason why the action genre has died a natural death. If he decides to embark on a movie career as an action star from hereon, he will soon realize why the genre has rested in peace, thank heavens.

Coco isn't absolutely charmless, as when he occasionally flirts with the boisterous Arci. Or when he walks out of after a confrontation with Arci saying, "Yuck!" His lisp is occasionally onerous, but he has learned to be comfortable with it. In real life, lisping doesn't diminish a person's functional capacity. Yun nga lang, these little imperfections are magnified on screen. As the story comes to its climax, Coco makes a go with Gary Valenciano's "Wag Ka Ng Umiyak" bringing the audience to hilarity.  


Awra Briguella is given his spotlight, as he squares of, if a bit prematurely, with the seasoned Vice. Some memorable scenes: Megan competes with Vice for the hunky construction workers' attention. While they serve them spaghetti, Arci offers them chicken lollipops and Megan has his glutinous "ginataang bilo bilo". In another scene, Arci suffers from Megan's acrobatic number at Family Day. That was kickass hilarious! Onyok Pineda, unfortunately, fails to translate his magic on celluloid. His lines are either shrill or labored.  

Some jokes don't quite make the grade: the sudden appearance of the Leila de Lima-lookalike shouting from nowhere (it was a punch line without a premise); the ramen-date of Coco and Vice and the noodle-pulling stint; and the appearance of the zombies. 

That they didn't give Kiray Celis a more substantial part is a wasted opportunity. This little girl is funny as heck. If they didn't realize, Kiray is one of the year's biggest box-office stars, courtesy of the blockbuster movie, "Love is Blind". MC, Lassy and Negi give considerable support. I won't mind seeing them again in future comedy films.

I first time saw the movie on it's opening day after watching "Enteng Kabisote 10 and the Abangers" so it was easy to compare the influx of people. Let's just say someone got butchered in this competition. 

I watched it again yesterday in SM, to accompany my mom, where 5 of its 12 cinemas (including IMAX and Director's Club) were showing "SPG". Sotto's "Enteng" was showing in only 2 cinemas. In Light Mall, they've already pulled out "Enteng" in favor of the disappointing vampire flick "Underworld: Blood Wars".


Industry insiders whisper that Star Cinema padded its P65 million opening (Enteng has P14 million). But if you consider the ratio of theater distribution, it seems very possible to earn as much as they said they did. As I write this (Sunday), Robinson's Galleria has 3 cinemas for "SPG" and 1 for "EK". SM North Edsa (and The Block) has 4 cinemas for "SPG" and 1 for "EK". Gateway has 3 cinemas for "SPG"and 2 for "EK". Greenbelt 3 does not show "EK"at all. "SPG" has allegedly breached the P150 million-mark on its 4-day run.

While I am not entirely sold on the artistry of "SPG", the movie made me laugh. But there are portions also that spotlight its weaknesses. The zombie appearance is one part. That scene alone was a palpable reminder why "SPG" didn't quite make the festival grade this year. 

But if Vice Ganda has something to say about his film's non-inclusion, he wasn't going to shut up about it. In its climactic end, he bawls his heart out and shouts, "Ba't kami hindi nasali sa filmfest?!" Then he blames the kids: "Dahil yata sa mga batang ito." Stroke of brilliance. It was so darn funny. 

But it also made people think. Money rules?

Or maybe, it's something simpler. 


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Friday, December 2, 2016

Marlon Rivera & Tony Y. Reyes' "Enteng Kabisote 10 and the Abangers" - Schlockmeister's Nightmare

It felt odd sitting inside an SM cinema with so few people. There was a family of 5 behind me and a mother-and-her-child down the row. It was the opening day's second screening (1:15PM) on a Wednesday - and a public holiday to boot. There was hopeful anticipation all over. Christmas came early, people thought. It was the start of the festival of MMFF rejects! 

"Enteng Kabisote" movies are usually a chaotic experience, though not as much as a Vice Ganda film. Last Christmas, I remember miserably sitting on the orchestra floor watching "Beauty and the Bestie" because the cinema was filled to the rafters. It was traumatic for me; the most unglamorous experience I've had to endure, it made me blush! There were allegations of ticket-switching, but that was just ludicrous stunts from desperate fantards. It should be clear now who walked away with the box-office crown. 

But this begged to be asked: Where was the holiday crowd? Have the hundred-thousand Aldub twitterverse warriors gone off to the mountains for a sabbatical? Maybe they've gone political and raised arms to exhume the remains of a despotic president who was buried with a hero's pomp and pageantry. Pero secret lang huh? Tee hee. But really, anyare?!    


Enteng Kabisote (Vic Sotto), the country’s favorite handyman, is back. This time around, he has reinvented himself. The upgraded version displays a long, lean face, a familiar grin, that silvery fringe of mop on his head, and a protruding chin. He is "au fait" of all the shenanigans of the world. After all, he has battled monsters, wizards, giant tipaklongs, magical tutubi, shape-shifting vampires, and all the most ridiculous figments of a briskly dwindling, not-too-fertile imagination. 

These days, Enteng dabbles in robotics, posturing like Tony Stark, the scientist. He even has a very active Instagram account that gets updated regularly. (Would you seriously follow a near-60 Instagrammer-Snapchatter?) His corporate bosses – the three lolas – are putting the pressure on him as he tries to complete a robo-gadget called Kalba Kalba suit. But his project requires a mineral ("limestone corals") he has yet to discover in Bohol. To celebrate his birthday, he books his family holiday tickets for Tagbilaran. Unfortunately, his busy schedule keeps getting in the way of family bonding.

On the domestic front, things aren't as peachy. Benok (Oyo Boy Sotto) is now a police chief deeply investigating a suspicious game application called "Slashman" believed to possess its gamers. The half-breed engkanto suspects that a syndicate more sinister than humans is behind the series of amok-related events. To make matters worse, he's at loggerheads with his father for spoiling his son Benokis (Alonzo Muhlach). 

To cut the long story short, Enteng flies to Bohol alone - with a heavy heart! It is high time to take stock of his life, now that wife Faye (Pauleen Luna) is busy running Engkantasia, her fairy world. But what Enteng didn't foresee, the troubles of fairyland are spilling over in the world of man. Seven power-bearing half-breeds, collectively called "The Abangers" now live in their midst, and the nefarious "Tatlong Bibe" syndicate, headed by Dr. Kwak Kwak (Epy Quizon) are out to capture them - so he could re-acquire the powers that are rightfully his.

Enteng must help Benok stop the proliferation of Slashman, controlled by the mystical sovereign of Dr. Kwak Kwak - before it's all too late!

Inspired already? Not me. A portion of my right brain atrophied by 0.083% by merely telling that story. 

The story is gaunt and clearly derivative of other Enteng Kabisote movies since 2004. It is fueled by a formula that other lazy minds find comfort in watching. Many Filipinos have been conditioned to find gratification in anything familiar and predictable. This is one of the strengths of this movie series. Watching a Vic Sotto film doesn't require transmission of impulses to brain neurons, thus nothing is painful or belabored, but the P240 cinema admission.  


One other draw of the movie franchise is this potpourri of constantly growing "dabarkads" that populate Enteng's world. When we find some of the characters doing cameos (like Allan K, Jimmy Santos, Ruby Rodriguez, Ryza Mae Dizon, or Joey de Leon as "Pandoy"), we slap ourselves silly and think, hey isn't that cool? It's the "cotton-candy syndrome". After a joyous sugar rush, we get tooth ache or die of hyperglycemia. The gains are as flimsy as a gossamer linen that eventually gets blown into the netherworld. 

Let's take the case of the phenomenal Aldub who figures too fleetingly in this 10th incarnation. The couple play Enteng's hotel attendants Richard and Nicomaine (Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza, respectively). In the movie, we find them constantly canoodling together wherever Enteng goes while in Bohol. The running gag goes like, "Kayo na ba?" Then they both deny this, like they'd die an excruciatingly painful death if they'd admit it. When Enteng flies back to Manila, they also disappear unceremoniously - like that lavender-scented toilet paper too thin for substantial use. So they're disposed of accordingly.


Vic Sotto isn't entirely charmless. Ten Enteng films and a long-running (now defunct) television show are a testament to this, but it has been 10 years of the same shtick. Kaumay na. This qualifies Sotto as the Philippines' undisputed movie schlockmeister, purveyor of inane movies! If you disagree, name one excellent Vic Sotto movie - fast! 

As the revamped Enteng, Sotto is besieged by old world jokes. How else does he render a subtext for "I know right?" circa 2009! On the other hand, April "Boy" Regino's "Di Ko Kayang Tanggapin" is even more archaic. The song came about in 1994 when Justin Bieber was born into this world so you can imagine the comic value of a song like this. Yes, I laughed - because I couldn't believe they're still stuck with this song! (Tickle tickle tickle) 


Among the motley crew of characters, it's the Zobelayalas that provide the most amusement - Lola Nidora (Wally Bayola), Lola Tinidora (Jose Bayola), and Lola Tidora (Paolo Ballesteros). 

The mere thought of these color-coordinated Zobelayalas and I couldn't suppress a giggle. These characters are too hilarious for my sanity, to be honest. They are unpredictable, adorable and every line they utter has a way of driving you to funny heaven and back. Vice Ganda has this talent. They could star in their own movie - and I'd gladly queue up and watch! 


The lolas are part of the 7 "abangers" ("abang ng abang magkaroon ng silbi at maging kapaki-pakinabang" - go figure!) They include Oring (Cacai Bautista), Lucas Malakas (Jerald Napoles), Bisteka (Sinon Loresca), and Remy (Jelson Bay). They eventually get to slug it out with Dr. Kwak Kwak. In fact, one of the film's high lights is set within a computer-game. Fraught with comic flourishes, the presentation is visually impressive though the scene is protracted and unnecessarily long. 

Humor in this film is oddly off-kilter. When Enteng finally subdues Dr. Kwak Kwak (a character that he portrayed in a 2011 Star Cinema film with Bea Alonzo, "Pak! Pak! My Dr. Kwak!"), he tells his nemesis, "Paano ngayon, Kwak Kwak, kwek kwek ka na!" Funny, right? Some other overworked lines: "Anong style mo?" "Style na bulok." There's also the "ma at pa" - "malay ko at pakialam ko!" In another scene, Remy tells Enteng, "Sa haba ng mukha mo, baka masaksak mo ako!

At an airport, Enteng meets Jaya (a joke cross-referencing the "Queen of Soul" and Enteng's "soul searching"). Enteng then cracks, "Andaming bagahe. Lumipat na siyang talaga!" That got a chuckle from me. But you see, the jokes are a hit-and-miss affair. Some of them work. Mostly, they don't. 

Curiously, the ubiquitous product placements are gone! Nahiya? Tee hee. 

The film has two directors. Somehow, you get a sense of the parts directed by Marlon Rivera ("Ang Babae sa Septic Tank") and those by Tony Y. Reyes (director of all the past Enteng Kabisote movies from 2004 and the awards-worthy "Milyonaryong Mini" with Anjo Yllana). Dichotomy of sensibilities? 


"Enteng Kabisote 10 and the Abangers" is a stark reminder why things should change. Such vapid movies have spoonfed the movie-going public with harebrained stories for too long now. It is time we stop this tradition of Christmas mediocrity. They've used the festivities as their milking cow, feeding crowds with a lot of cinematic garbage. They should give it a rest. There are 365 1/4 days in a year. Pick a date to show your masterpieces - outside the Christmas season.  

It is about time that we're purged of the vacuous drivel perpetrated by the Festival Mafia. Vic Sotto, after all, supports all these changes happening around. Change has indeed come. I hope Sotto will embrace this with gladness in his heart.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

John Paul Su's "Toto"- The U.S. Visa as Measure of Success

Toto (Sid Lucero) has but one dream - to go to America. So he's turning every rock to find the means to get there. But the American visa is a huge stumbling block. It doesn't help that the amiable hotel bellhop has very few treasures to show at the embassy. His checklist is a tall order: a rich family, a fat bank account and the steadfast resolve to hurdle every rejection. Now where can he acquire the aforementioned?

Toto's prospects aren't promising. His head is up in the clouds, barely looking over his shoulders to realize that his girlfriend Tessa (Mara Lopez) and best friend Yam (Thou Reyes), who both harbor feelings for him, are conveniently being taken for granted. But this is his "show", not theirs, so he's all too willing to dance to the popular tune, the "Macarena", no matter how cheesy it is, to find his place in the American sun.

On the side, Toto peddles pirated DVDs and postures like Tom Cruise. He meets Eve Porter (LIza Dino), a fil-am guest in the hotel where he works, who accepts his marriage-for-convenience proposal, But it will cost him. Another guest, David (Blake Boyd), a gay businessman from Texas, becomes an unexpected mentor and friend. But even the best laid plans don't always turn the way we want them to. 

John Paul Su's "Toto" is a comedy of manners, though this time it zeroes in on the working class. Many stories have been told about the much-vaunted American dream. Heck, even Cameron Mackintosh's "Miss Saigon" (recently screened in SM Cinemas nationwide) sang-and-danced for it. Bela Padilla's more recent "I America" was screened at the Cinemalaya with very similar story and setting, it even has Thou Reyes playing another gay friend named Whitney! 


People dream for different reasons although most Filipinos do it for the opportunities they present. Economic and financial security are, after all, as basic a need as breathing air. Sid Lucero, in an Inquirer interview, mentioned that he dreams of just flipping burgers, feeding people and surfing - that's his piece of the American dream. I don't have an American dream. I may be as colonial in manner and sensibility, but my heart lies in this archipelagic mess. This takes me to the wayward ideation that getting to America is, by itself, a measure of success. Babaw huh. Filipinos should put a lid on this and readjust their criteria to something more substantial. Your stepping on American soil does not automatically make you the epitome of success, but a mere statistics of migration.

This exactly is the reason why I am hardly fond of movies with such themes. Opportunities are available right within our shores. You don't need to go to, say Hong Kong, earn P7,000 a month as a domestic helper, and call yourself an achiever, do you? Propagating the mystic of migration does a disservice to the talent of the Filipino. Despite all these, the diaspora continues.

"There is desperation all over, but one tendered with glee and enthusiasm.

"Toto" makes the journey to acquiring a visa more upbeat, and Sid Lucero does a great job depicting the resolute spirit of the Filipino dreamer. There is desperation all over, but one tendered with glee and enthusiasm. This is the Filipino's penchant for seeing the silver lining in the midst of misfortune and apathy. Doing Toto is like walking on thin ice because it is a crucial balancing act. Besides, Lucero once admitted that he isn't too crazy about slapstick comedy - or just comedy, in general. Thou Reyes is adorable as the protagonist's gay best friend who would rather go behind bars than see Toto fail. In some ways, he mirrors what true love is all about, i.e. that sacrifices are part of the package. Reyes is insightful, vulnerable and funny. 


I saw this movie last year at the Indie section of the Metro Manila Film Festival. I wasn't over-the-moon then, but I wanted a second viewing this time so I could place it alongside "I America" which is one of the better outputs from this year's hundred-and-one film festivals. Both movies are a companion piece. Robin Padilla's "La Visa Loca" (2005) is a distant cousin. I may have readjusted my perceptions about it but I am of the opinion that stories like these should be given a rest. Make no mistake, Director John Paul Su's movie is well made, adequately paced, entertaining and has great performances all around. But the subject matter is a bit of a pickle.

In my book, getting an American visa is a mere procedure and doesn't deserve a parade. Or a whole movie for that matter. More importantly, stepping on American soil is not a measure of success, and shouldn't be celebrated as such.          

Toto, Tessa and Yam share more than friendship.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Chris Martinez's "Working Beks" - Cinematic Preponderance and the Gay Men

Okay. Here's a premise that's almost too simplistic to share. But sometimes, people need reminding. Like other homo sapiens, gay men are human beings with their own burdens to carry. In Chris Martinez's "Working Beks", some of these specimen get fishbowl scrutiny. 

The film follows the lives of five gay men within a 24-hour period. Champ Reyno (Edgar Allan Guzman), a matinee idol, figures in a gay video scandal. He’s gone incommunicado and taping for his popular teleserye is put on hold for two weeks. 

After seeing his mother plead on television, Champ resurfaces. His handlers decide to face him off with a veteran investigative journalist (Leo Martinez) for a scripted revelation that would have him admit his romantic affair with perennial screen partner Joy Madriaga (Bela Padilla). But how do you smokescreen a viral video scandal?

Meanwhile, Tommy Sarmento (TJ Trinidad), a marketing executive for a liquor and beverage company, is on tenterhooks. Their company's number one product endorser is missing, but his extracurricular shenanigans might affect sales of their product. More than this, Tommy is gearing up for a well-earned promotion. But he soon discovers that he is being passed up for the position because he is gay. In fact, his homophobic boss detests Tommy’s flaunting of his “alternative lifestyle' - one that involves overachieving children and a supportive partner (Arnold Reyes).

Jet (Prince Stefan), a call center agent, learns that the random stranger he’s recently had unprotected sex with committed suicide upon learning that he’s HIV positive. To make matters worse, Jet has been feeling under the weather, with symptoms that include fever, coughing, malaise and night sweats. Does he? Could he?

Jet's lifestyle is an accident waiting to happen. His promiscuity has him cruising bars, hooking him up with strangers 7-8 days a week. His body is taking the brunt  of it all. He knows he needs to get himself tested. But he realizes that the journey to finding the truth is harder to accomplish.

Gorgeous aka Gregorio (John Lapuz), a cross-dressing food vendor, struggles to support his extended family who all depend on him. His mounting obligations don’t allow him to socialize so he keeps flirtations with a hunky security guard Gardo (Jeric Raval) at bay. Meanwhile, his no-good father (Rez Cortez) is harassing him for a dole out, something that he doesn’t have.  

Finally, Mandy (Joey Paras), a “reformed” gay man, is preparing to march down the aisle with sensitive bride Judith (Cai Cortez) who’s aware of his struggles. Unfortunately, Champ’s sex video provides an inconvenient bump on the road. This temptation is too potent to remind him of his real preferences. As a desperate measure, he enlists the help of his colleague Brother Benj (Atak) to cure him of his homosexual tendencies. In the process, they employ various methods of pseudoscience once believed to avert homosexuality. Would they work or should Mandy just walk away?


Intermittently told in dramedic fashion, the cross-section of characters tackles concerns of the contemporary gay men, and there's considerable amusement to be had. Jet's story particularly rings like a discordant bell. In a society where even "killing" is sanctioned, endorsed and condoned by the authorities and its gutter-minded apologists, moral conventions become moot and academic. 

Killing loses its "illegality" (let's forget the moral grounds) because it is no longer regarded a social taboo. It's an everyday occurence. Weighed alongside these murders, Jet's nihilism seems inconsequential; a non-issue, in fact. What people don't realize is that this moral apathy is gradually rejecting even the very basic social conventions like manners and social grace.

In the movie, Jet finds meaning in his life by filling a vacuumn satisfied by his material desires, leading to an excessive hedonistic lifestyle of shallow sex and loud social events with even louder, if disposable, friends. He congratulates himself for his sexual catharsis that only provides temporary escapism. Unfortunately, Jet represents a steadily growing population of nihilists. 


Champ's dilemma, on the other hand, is a common scenario nowadays. This is a new world that fosters digital voyeurism, that even orgasm is one-click away. People's inherent nature to connect allows others to take advantage, employing the digital media to nefarious use. How many personalities have succumbed to the lure of the watchful and omnipresent video camera? These salacious videos, recorded and even traded for a bigger audience, have willing viewers because people are basically curious and wouldn't want to be left out of the bandwagon. Add into the fray, that dash of superiority of witnessing a person satisfying his most basic urges. 

This is why watching Champ tintinnabulate another guy's genitalia on video isn't too alien a concept. Not anymore. This leaves Mandy's story a bit stale, prosaic. Champ's proud member becomes part of a hundred others, nothing particularly special unless he has a gold-plated schlong the size of a molave branch. If I were Mandy, I'd go watch the video then move on. A mere sex video won't figure in any normal person's decisions - gay or straight. It baffles me why a silly video would make a dent on Mandy's marital plans, to be honest. The most that we should get from his story is its comic proclivities, a pampakwela more than a didactic exposition.  

This takes us to the elements surrounding Mandy's gay exorcism a.k.a. "conversion therapy". The design involves a series of "conditioning" meant to catechize or indoctrinate the mind into believing that homoerotic tendencies are distasteful and aberrant. It should averse the subject.

Thus "aversion therapy" is employed in the form of repetitive mantras ("I love the vagina", "Gay is not okay"); emesis therapy preconditions the subject to throw-up upon application of a visual stimulus, i.e. half-naked men. Then there's the more drastic and invasive electric shock therapy (ECT) employed similarly for schizophrenics and depressives unresponsive to medicine.

These treatments are, of course, considered archaic nowadays and have no scientific basis so it is rather odd that such ridiculous methods find their way in a modern, "educated" comic tale. But let's treat this as an artistic license to mine the comic possibilities. The result is a hit-and-miss affair. It would have been productive if they shortened these episodes in favor of a more grounded, albeit situational approach involving Mandy's surroundings and personal relationships. After all, it should be clear to every half-wit that no amount of rubber band punishment will change one's sexual preference. How do you combat an affliction too deeply ingrained in the genetic composition of a person? Immanuel Kant’s critique on metaphysics and conditioning doesn’t have a place in this diatribe. Surely, you don't psychoanalyze nature nor treat it as a pathological disease.


Among the five characters, it is John Lapus' skillfully depicted and well-limned turn as Gorgeous we find most sympathetic, and for obvious reasons. Gorgeous doesn't deny his cross-dressing nature, and he acts and dresses like one, but this doesn't stop him from working hard for the people he loves. 

Neither does his homosexuality prevent him from becoming a decent person - and a productive member of society. In fact, it is his selflessness that defines him, not his being gay. It is in Gorgeous' story where we find the movie's cinematic worth and beating heart.

Like many Chris Martinez films, "Working Beks" bristles with wit and, in some way, cinematic urgency. Portions of it skid away carelessly, and stereotypical delineations sometimes get in the way of an insightful discourse. Nevertheless, it is a brave effort to showcase stories of the gender-benders otherwise relegated to comic support in mainstream films. While the arc of the narrative doesn't exactly allow it to soar, it is hard to dismiss the film as something less relevant. The stories fleetingly interconnect, but you get a decussatory feel among the characters; that there's a string that pulls them together to fuel cinematic preponderance.


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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Jean-Francois Richet's "Blood Father" - Return to Form

John Link (Mel Gibson), a reforming ex-convict on strict parole watch, gets a desperate call from his estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) whom he hasn’t seen in years. Holed up in a trailer truck park in the California desert with few options, John makes a living as a tattoo artist. He has been sober for 2 years, and is trying to keep it together.  But Lydia’s situation is a game changer. The 17 year old girl is being pursued by a Mexican drug cartel after she accidentally shots boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), who may have used Lydia to conceal contraband. John refuses to get pulled back into his past, but he must take action to protect Lydia by knocking on these doors. 

The story is one that may have been told several times in the past, and the theme is universal, much like Brad Pitt's also-showing "Allied", i.e. protecting the people your love at all cost. 

But Mel Gibson and the film's cavalcade of characters are an engrossing bunch, you're compelled to watch the events unravel. Besides, this is Gibson's comeback after a two-year hiatus (last seen in Patrick Hughes' "The Expendables 3").  

I keep thinking of Peter Craig's novel where, surely, Link's story is better told. John Link is a former Hell's Angel, an ex-con, trying to stay clean and sober while running a tattoo parlor from the kitchen of his trailer home. Link was in fact in prison for 9 years. While Lydia hails from a relatively wealthy upbringing, her relationship with her mother leaves much to be desired. The teenager has had three stepfathers.

The movie is told in straight-forward fashion. It takes us to the dusty, craggy and scabrous communes of this desert community. Despite adequate screen time, Moriarty's character is poorly threshed out, thus she comes off a bit on the tepid side, barely convincing as a good-girl-gone-bad. But the motley crew of characters may suffice - there's an all too-eager AA sponsor (Macy), a white supremacist (Parks), a nasty cellmate, a cartel soldier called sicario (with unnerving tattoo inked all over his face) and an opportunist boyfriend (Luna) - each one navigating Link's netherworld with ulterior motives. 

The script doesn't hold much traction, but this is vintage Mel Gibson, the quintessential action hero we all root for. In "Blood Father", you can't miss his raw magnetism and the unmistakable hint of humor in his eyes. If this isn't obvious enough, this cinematic vehicle is a return to form.  

Erin Moriarty

Mel Gibson when the world was his oyster.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

George Vail Kabrisante's "Upline Downline" - Old World Tricks, Senile Ramblings

Audiences don't want to be lectured at, spoken down to or given bittersweet lessons, thus news-worthy topics have to struggle to find balance between real-world problems and entertainment. In the former, if a viewer gets catharsis, or to some degree, enlightenment or epiphany, then these pictures will elicit the appreciation they deserve. As a general rule though, whether a film teaches, informs or entertains, it has to be deeply invested in the human dramas underneath.

In George Vail Kabrisante's "Upline Downline", the struggle lies in the story telling as it vacillates between trite and convuluted - and messy! It doesn't help that the production values are way way below par. Kumbaga sa pyramidal business, na scam. On a more sophisticated jargon, this is textbook "artistic bankruptcy", but that would mean there was considerable artistic merit or investment to begin with, debah?


Married life isn't a walk in the park for Richard and Ann (Matt Evans and Ritz Azul, respectively). Love alone does not guarantee financial stability to sustain their rich-girl-poor-boy scenario. Their elopement has estranged them from Ann's acid-mouthed mother (Snooky Serna) who would have married off her daughter to flashy Carlo (Alex Castro) who hails from a well-to-do family. What's worse, the couple has been threatened with eviction for failure to pay rent. 

When Richard gets fired from work, he turns to networking, selling a gamut of products from skin whiteners and hair growers to a "pampasikip" (just one sip of the concoction and your coochy snorcher tightens automatically - like magic). His goal is to win the annual networkers' convention which will gain him a car, a house and lot; and P5 million.

But Richard's hours are grueling and long, leaving pregnant Ann to her own devices in a shanty in Antipolo where she regularly fetches pails of water from a well, you'd think she was filling up an olympic-sized swimming pool. Tsk tsk tsk. 

One day, Ann suffers from threatened abortion and decides to abandon Richard. Meanwhile, Carlo, now a networking rival, is gaining up on Richard who even loses his flirty client (Inez Veneracion) to Carlo. It turns out, former pimp Carlo (yes, this rich boy pala pimps escort girls!) even peddles his own flesh to get horny downline matrons to invest. How revolutionary!

How will Richard catch up? He turns to his uncle (Juan Rodrigo) who just got out of prison for embezzlement and estafa; the same uncle who wears thick-rimmed glasses and a lab gown even at home. He's actually on his way to discovering a potion that will turn brown Pinoys into Caucasians - and fair-skinned people to tanned gods! Uncle ex-convict is so generous that he even invests millions as downline for Richard! I had to stop myself from gagging! 

Meanwhile, Snooky can afford to shell out a million peso-worth of investment for Carlo, but can only spare a giveaway rice cooker for her own daughter! She didn't care if Ritz were making igib from the balon in a barong barong in the bayan. Everything is so quaint and sensible!

George Vail Kabrisante's movie bills itself as "the first ever film in recent history that tackles nontraditional multilevel marketing and networking business". It even describes this film project as "searing". I have more appropriate adjectives for this flick but I'll get to that in a bit. Ambition seems to fuel its story. In fact the film structure is predicated on a pile of tales awkwardly pieced together. Here are a few of those that branch out from Richard and Ann's marital woes:

1. Carlo's own networking business bafflingly involves pimping, product selling, talent management, etc. This strain has a gay guy named Jogi J. Jigo (Jai Ho) who ends up committing suicide.

2. Prof. Robert Dumlao (Juan Rodrigo), a beaker-and-flask bearing "scientist" who concocts a skin whitening potion, is just released from jail. Jojo Alejar regularly appears as his hammy and eager-beaver legal counsel/financial adviser. 

3. A school of thugs kidnaps Carlo because he owes them millions.

The story evolves into different genres: from romance and drama to action suspense. Each one fails in their respective little episodes. The style is a throwback to the sensibilities of the 80's, with tired, old world tricks and senile ramblings. 

Kabrisante just doesn't have the directorial insight to give this "searing" tale its cinematic justice. It isn't even well told, but a mere hodgepodge of random strains that lacked urgency, congruence or believability. 


* When Snooky sees her daughter Ritz on her hospital bed, she shouts to the doctor: "I'd like to transfer to another hospital. A more expensive hospital." Somebody needs a fat slap on the face.

* When Matt and Ritz were thrown out of their house for not paying rent, guess where they conveniently found shelter? Alex, who's Matt's romantic rival!

* When Alex invites Ritz for an unspecified sortie, she gets all dolled up like a hooker. She didn't even bother to ask where she's supposed to go or inquire about the job description. Is she a robot who just follows orders? Then she learns that she's being pimped to Rez Cortez by the man she was formerly betrothed to. Go figure.

* There's a lingering reverb in the actor's lines so you are transported to videoke country. 

* Ambient sound is heard in most scenes,which is disturbing.

* A rioting scam victim is decked in silvery sequined gown. She even gets a complete cinematic moment - by fainting (or dying!) with her shining, shimmering outfit! Was she dressed for heaven?

* Action scenes involve a torture scene and men in leather jackets reminiscent of those mediocre action flicks of the 80's.

* When Snooky sees Matt driving a Porsche, she suddenly changes tunes and quips, "A woman's place is with her husband." How a Porsche can briskly change a mother's point of view, right?   

Darkness in Araneta!
Lastly, when Richard finally won his award at the Araneta Coliseum, he goes up the stage and delivers an impassioned speech - bathed in darkness! Naubusan nga ng budget? He has P5 million from a company who can't afford lights? Or just maybe, someone forgot to light the winner? Or maybe Araneta Coliseum forgot to pay its Meralco dues? They could have used candles too; those scented ones.

The intersection of genuine social issues and fictionalized drama can take audiences somewhere different and new. This is one of the personal draws of the cinema for me; that it takes you to places. But when film making techniques put out something that makes people run away from the nearest cinema, then that's a disservice to the medium. Do you wonder why some people keep away from indies? A film like this is one of the culprits. Brava?

"I can pimp your wife because you're both freeloaders!"

"Maawa kayo! Ibalik n'yo pera ko! Naubos sa sequins ng gown ko!" Collagen implants are expensive too. Teehee.

#uplinedownline   #mattevans   #ritzazul   #alexcastro  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Mike Flanagan's "Ouija Origin of Evil" - The Fortune Teller's Horror Tale

Headstrong widow Alice (Elizabeth Reaser) is at wit's end raising her daughters Lina (Annalise Basso) , a high school sophomore, and 9 year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson). Her fortune telling job, which are staged readings, doesn’t suffice to save their house from impending foreclosure. But their fortunes turn when she obtains a Ouija board that communicates with the departed, including husband Roger. These spirits even drag Doris to the basement for a quick fix of their financial woes, i.e. a valuable stash. (Give me these spirits anytime, I say!) However, the board also inadvertently draws malevolent spirits. 

But communing with tenebrous spirits, including one named Marcus and a Polish victim of the Holocaust, takes a toll on sweet Doris who soon displays a peculiar disposition. 

Lina senses unsettling changes happening to her sister, which Alice refuses to acknowledge so Lina summons the help of Father Tom (Henry Thomas) who's only too happy to oblige. After all, he took Alice out for a dinner date at a fancy restaurant where he used to take his wife (before he turned to priesthood). Convenient, right?

Director Mike Flanagan’s "Ouija Origin of Evil" has hair-raising moments involving otherworldly critters that navigate walls and jump from ceilings. A dozen jumpy tricks coupled with thunderous bangs will jolt you from your seats. There are even references to the atrocities of the Nazi regime. Make no mistake, this is your well intentioned horror concoction. But sometimes, these explicitly obvious scare tactics ignore logical narrative flow, thus ultimately off-putting. 

My misgivings involve a few scenes. When a body is dropped on a noose hanging down a ceiling, no one budges. They just look and move elsewhere. When Doris disappears, the same set of characters just stand looking around until Doris'voice is heard shouting for help. Suddenly you suspect a neurotransmitter has been blocked disallowing them to act with a sense of urgency. On the whole, the compelling first half doesn’t deserve the muddled, predictable and gimmicky second.

To stop the voices, Lina has to keep it shut.

Parker Mack plays Lina's 17 year old boyfriend Mike

#ouijaoriginofevil   #horror   #lulu wilson