Saturday, June 13, 2009

nail bites and james patterson

so... i found myself drawn to james patterson's latest novel - "sundays at tiffany's". (i keep telling the sales clerk "nicholas sparks", geez...)

i just couldn't stop myself from purchasing this one. the blurb intrigued me no end. for 3 straight days, i stopped myself from swiping my credit card. though i thought i've succeeded, i soon started having dreams! dreams! can you believe it?

so... on a weekend, and what do i find in my bag? james patterson!

24 hours later, i am half way through and half done... and i need to finish this pronto before i end up without any my thumb nails from my bites. lol

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cinematic Recess - Predictability in "Kamoteng Kahoy" Consumption

It's a big suprise how the movies coming out from the Sine Direk project are faring. Except for Soxie Topacio, who I don't exactly remember directing a high profile or critically acclaimed movie from the past, most of the directors in this series are big names - Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes, Maryo J. de los Reyes, and Joel Lamangan. Mel Chionglo, who last came out with a mediocre exploitation gay movie, was supposed to come up with an interesting film called "Bente" - but Maryo de los Reyes' "Kamoteng Kahoy" was released first! I was expecting a surplus of great cinematic satiety but for some reason, the best of the lot has to come from a relatively "inexperienced" Soxy Topacio - in terms of film output. His "Ded na si Lolo" was an unexpected critical as well as commercial success. In fact, "Ded..." enjoyed a longer shelf life in most of the SM cinemas all over the country than say, Sharon Cuneta's BFF. There's no doubt in my mind that "Ded" was a more successful piece than any other entries from Sine Direk.

Unless, the still to be shown "Bente" turns out great...

The latest to come out from this series is another Gloria Romero starrer called "Kamoteng Kahoy", graded A by the Cinema Evaluations Board (CEB), a really funny set of individuals with the credibility and believability of a bad harvest of peanut.

Lola Idang( or was it Edad), played by the lovely Gloria Romero is a kind hearted ambulant vendor at San Isidro Elementary School. She is such an endearing character that she even gives out her free kamoteng kamoy merienda to half the school's population who doesn't have the money. Unfortunately, after such philatrophic inspiration, the kids started vomiting blood, just minutes after consuming the kamote. Some 75 children were downed by the kamote, and 27 of them eventually died. It was apparent that Lola had accidentally mixed a caustic chemical while she was cooking her "paninda". I was inclined to retitle it - "Na Ded ni Lola". LOL

The aforementioned events set a melodramatic turn of events that involved a lot of pathos, of grief, of annoying wails and hysteria. Who wouldn't if your child died from a mere kamoteng kahoy, right? Unfortunately for its audience, everything falls into some tediously predictable conclusion that seemed to highlight out-of-work actors - Yul Servo, Tofee Calma, Anton Bernardo,

Nash Aguas is a breath of fresh air. This child actor has always been watchable. Gloria Romero does adequately although the way her character was written (by the venerable Ricky Lee, I was surprised!) could be a little less annoying - a little less mawkish!

It is a curiosity why these Sine Direk works come up with mostly "passable" works, especially if these were supposed to elevate the quality of "Pinoy Cinema". I couldn't help but expect better works from these cinematic greats. More importantly, except for Joel Lamangan, these works have been helmed by semi-retired "master directors" of the 80's and 90's. Could be a contributing factor? Budgetary constraints could be a factor too, but then several indies have succeeded with much less. I can only guess.

"Baka minadali," a friend offered. After all, these works come out every week.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Date with Baby Angelo

So I braved the rains to watch another indie - Joel Ruiz's "Baby Angelo" at the Robinson's Galleria.

A fetus well over his first trimester is found buried in the rubble of a garbage dump beside an apartment block. This discovery becomes catalyst to a series of events that gradually hones in on the seemingly humdrum lives of the occupants of Genevieve Homes. In almost glacial pace, we are introduced to a bevy of characters whose personalities are gradually shaped by piece meal vignettes: a landlady who fends to and polices her tenement, a social welfare employee who dotes on his curiously lazy wife, a geriatric who regularly snags provision (soup, food, fruits, flowers) from a mysterious benefactor, a failed medical student and his devoted limpwrist brother, an Indian couple, and – let’s not forget – the happy-go-lucky girls of Room 1F who pollutes the tenement all day long with gratingly bad Karaoke ballads. When a “local” investigation ensues, this multitude of characters begins to unravel into more complex individuals. At the heart of this fact-finding exploration is Bong (Jojit Lorenzo) who is tasked to interrogate the aforementioned. Will they ever find the answers to the mystery surrounding Baby Angelo’s origin?

The first thing that catches your attention about this film is the exquisite photography coupled with a commodious color tone. If at first there is something to complain about this decision to employ an almost monochromatic palette, it gradually becomes obvious that this was setting a cinematic milieu that would help focus the viewer’s attention more on the richness of characters co-habiting in this apartment complex. Soon, these denizens seemed to deserve separate movies of their own. As its narrative winds into a tentative close, the utterly slow middle part of the movie begins to bristle and brew, and each character experiences a degree of metamorphosis, ironically capped by a scene involving a cheerful free make-up session within the tenement. Suddenly, the dour Genevieve Homes transforms into an environment in dire need of colors and make-overs, regardless of how glib and desultory – and superficial – they may be.

To be honest about it, I was fidgeting as the movie draws into its first hour. There were so many individual stories told, but there wasn’t a lot of stuff happening. The lives of the characters seem to fall into an abysmal routine – the boring daily grind of people stuck in their dismal, mediocre lives. And who wants to watch that? But the last 15 minutes or so surprises, as events unravel – for everyone! Suddenly, there’s a flash of inspiration that moves the events. Things happen and situations radically change. Then we are back to where it all started – the garbage! The movie ends and I was thinking, hmmm… how very French! If you’ve seen most of the movies being screened at the current French Film Festival, you will know what I mean.

The performances are topnotch, most notable are Jojit Lorenzo (was never fond of him before), Diana Malahay (who was mediocre in “Tukso” but registers strongly here) and Katherine Luna (Gosh! Now I remember how great she was in “Babae sa Breakwater”).

Then I remember that this is from the same director who megged the cerebral short film, “Mansyon” – and I feel it’s about time that Joel Ruiz fields a full length film at a commercial cinema. After all, IMHO, what is a good filmmaker if he can’t even offer his work to a commercial public. What does a Lav Diaz mean to a film enthusiast like me if I’d need to go to Brussels or France to suffer his 16-hour masterpieces? LOL. His contributions to Philippine cinema becomes absolutely nothing to a Pinoy like me since he seems to prefer to exhibit his works anywhere but the Philippines (except of course those once in a blue moon elitist local film festivals).

Now back to Mansyon, which was a personal favorite during that Cinemalaya season - THAT was also very Frenchy. Very sophisticated – a tightly woven piece of cinema.

I have several trivial questions though about “Baby Angelo” (BA). Were all the actors tasked to learn those creepy jukebox ballads? If BA was a Joel Lamangan flick, would Bong ride into the sunset with Apple? Would Lamangan make Lisa own up to dumping the fetus? Me thinks she friggin has to. LOL. Does Mr. Noel’s entrepreneurial skills involve the ladies of Room 1F? Does Joel Ruiz watch a lot of French films? The answers could be somewhere in the dumpster.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Male Voice - An Intensely Entertaining Theater Experience

Joaqui Valdes charms...

Delfin and Zamora - Powerful, insightful, poignant parallel monologues in "The Stain".

I am anti-hype, so I was reluctant spending a fraction of my savings to watch a play about men justifying their existence on the violence that permeates the modern world. Vagina Monologues for men? But since it was a barkada decision, sige na nga. So off we trooped to the RCBC Plaza to watch "The Male Voice".

What I didn't expect was a consistently powerful set of monologues that reek with honesty and an opulence of stories that for the next 2 hours transfixed me on my seat. Divided in 15 parts, the stories start coming alive in carefully placed monologues that were culled from interviews of real people. These are a variety of anecdotes about a child's first "palo" to another child's deadly kiss to his mother, a homecoming that unravels a lifetime of secrets, etc. Since I was caught unaware the play had no intermission, I didn't dare leave the theater for a toilet break. I couldn't. Joaqui Valdes was charming his way through a monologue about a popular macho dancer and escort. Not only did he perfectly personify "Adonis", he somehow justified Adonis' descent into moral oblivion, it was almost unbelievable when things turned 180 degrees and we find him bearing his soldier's gun. But then reality is sometimes stranger than fiction, isn't it?

It is hard to pick favorites in a cast that pulls heavy punches. Michael Williams was downright hilarious in Victor/Victoria, it's hard not to recognize the internal facility of an actor who is veteran to some of the most complex characters on Philippine Stage. However, in Victor/Victoria, Williams simply comes of age. He was sympathetic and engaging in every line that comes out of his mouth, I so wanted to meet him and shake his hand. Even in less serious piece like "The Belt" - an anecdote about a guy's shopping experience with a girl when they detoured to shop for a belt in a Bangkok market! Williams took hold of the material and transformed it into his own experience. I could swear he was telling his own story. This anecdote gave me an insight into the male viewpoint when girls like me get ourselves in a tizzy shopping! Should we apologize for finding materials other than a much-needed "belt"? I am inclined not to - but I'll try to be more understanding of guys' exasperation. There are elements of nature that are hard to control. That includes our penchance to roam and shop! Excuse moi! That was funny!

In Tommy Abuel's performances lie years of well-honed experience. I was shaken by his "Apat na Sulok ng Kalayaan ni Bobby", about a convict who finds salvation at the penitentiary, then he finds his son joining him in jail. It was hard not to sympathize with his plight. Miren, my friend, would cower down her seat everytime Abuel shouts at the audience (in "Si Adonis, Si Dennis", etc.). He was just such a powerful presence, I find my friends saying, "Nakakatakot naman sya." Tommy Abuel's power lies in his facility to deliver words like his life depended on them. They embody clarity and strength, I couldn't help shed a tear as he concluded his monologue.

Then there's Joel Trinidad. In "Kuya's Picture", he narrates a life cloistered within the secret walls of family betrayal. He was consistently empathic - as though there is a vicarious experience that suddenly needed closure. From his initially muted ramblings to a building guilelessness that belies a thespian at work, Joel Trinidad was a force to reckon with. He displays the same grit in the thought-provoking "LRT/MRT" about sexual equality in the realm of riding the LRT/MRT!

Now, let me point out that one of my favorite scenes was the ingeniously interconnected monologues of a couple of HIV cases in "The Stain" (Batik), performed by Rem Zamora and Pete Delfin. This piece is carefully structured to parallel the lives of men who have fallen victims into the reality of HIV/AIDS - one promiscuous (an escort who would travel as far as Australia) and one discrete. There are lessons to be learned here - that it will take a single moment of carelessness (thoughtlessness) to suffer a consequence as morbid as HIV. Rem Zamora was intense and absolutely persuasive though his monologue is characterized by a very subdued delivery. He was so believable, Tina, my seatmate kept saying, "It's his story, I'm sure! It is his story!" And I was tempted to ask after the show. Pete Delfin was similarly engaging. The power of these vignettes come from the way these seemingly, excessively cumbersome tales of human experience are told matter-of-factly - sans melodrama. These amazing tales of grief and excesses have been carefully tempered, giving them the respect that they deserve. After all, these stories are not mere caricatures. They are real stories - and they haven't been taken advantaged of.

It was easy to fall into the mistake of milking the peculiarity of these individual situations, but THIS is New Voice Company. This is the company that turned the Liza Minelli's song "Cabaret" from a frisky ebullient Broadway song to a more appropriate moody, cheerless, haunting version (sung by Ms. Monique Wilson) that perfectly suited the fate of what befell the Jews during the Holocaust.

Monologues are a tricky thing to perform. Even big named stars in the Westend and Broadway try to avoid one-man shows. They are daunting. For one, you have to be pretty secure of your capacity to engage your audience the whole time you are on stage. In monologues, an actor will have to solely interact with the audience. It is more difficult than sharing the stage with others. Though in TMV, there were several interactions among the 4 actors on stage, they were mostly left to their own devise. What a fantastic ensemble. If there was a competent Theater Awards in the Philippines like the Tony's, this ensemble should win hands down! And I salute New Voice Company for a brilliant material and fantastic show.

As usual!