Sunday, February 7, 2010

Standing Room Only - Restless Souls in a Rundown Cinema

Standing Room Only” (SRO) follows Sonny (Rain Javier), Roldan (Kristoffer King) and Oscar (Charles Delgado) as they navigate the narrow, dark and putrid halls of a rundown cinema. The story unfolds from the point of view of young janitor Oscar who closely observes the rollercoaster sexual politics amidst a myriad of struggling souls: Oscar who once held his “throne” as king of callboys where for P300, you can have your way with him; “fresh meat” Roldan who threatens Oscar’s reign; a gun-toting cop (Paolo Rivero) who pines for the affection of one of the boys; a foul-mouthed prostitute Lucy (Sheree) who offers oral pleasures to horned up moviegoers; a blind and monologue-happy vendor (Ana Capri).

On paper, this sleazy underground world has always been interesting, as highlighted in groundbreaking movies like Brillante Mendoza’s “Serbis” and Jacques Nolot’s 2002 porn chic “Porn Theatre” (La Chatte a Deux Tetes), but what cuts the aforementioned flicks way above “Standing Room Only” is how deftly the narratives are told and pieced together; how the characters strut across the screen like real everyday people in dire straits, instead of the caricaturish cardboard cutouts that “SRO” fields, and the technical savvy of its filmmakers.

Charles Delgado

Simply put, this filmmaker’s incapacity – or inexperience! - to adequately use her medium as a visual artist and story teller translates into a mediocre work. The director tries to mine the corrosive, rough-around-the-edges characters that populate her story. With her history as assistant director of some of the worst films we’ve wasted our money on (Project X, Eskandalo, Binyag, Booking, Tutok, Dalaw), we are not surprised where director Cleo Paglinawan gets her cinematic acumen: Joven Tan! Are we surprised then that “SRO” turns out the way it is? Unfortunately for her, Paglinawan acquires Tan’s bad habits as well!

Here are a few reasons why: In several scenes, we hear “instructions” being whispered to the actors – so you are then transported to reality that this is really crappy filmmaking with hurried and unrehearsed scenes, and understudied roles. Sound was also bad. In a scene where Sheree chats with annoyingly over-eager Ana Capri, the quality of the sound changes (from muffled to noisy and back) each time the frames change from one character to the next! Capri and Sheree are given enough “balls” to shine, but they only succeeded in annoying me!

And once again, Sheree turns out to be such a turkey! There are glaring lapses of judgment too – Rain Javier is cast as the callboy has-been whose time had passed. Customers suddenly favor the arrogant newbie Roldan (Kristoffer King), but isn’t it obvious? Kristoffer King looks older than good looking Rain Javier who never looked awkward despite the way his character was written (he was always sullen or distant). Javier is enigmatic; he smolders on screen! Charles Delgado does well too; his “innocent look” sits well with the “ingénue” character that eventually lorded it over at the dank cinema! The cottaging scenes mostly appear farcical; scenes that you would probably hear as anecdotes from stand-up shows, but these celluloid situations require a certain amount of sensitivity and intimacy to be taken seriously - not stand-up humor!

Kristoffer King

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