Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lamog - Maui Taylor & Ace Castro Shake A Dysfunctional Family

I was admittedly looking forward to watching Carlo Alvarez’sLamog” (Bruised), something that doesn’t happen often with me and local flicks. I’ve chanced upon the trailer of the flick and it looked promising enough, it echoed movies like “Gamitan”, “Hibla” and other Maui Taylor movies of the past – those that provoked and bristled with an undeniable undercurrent of suspense. Moreover, the camera work seemed inventive, the shots moody and glossy. And I have always believed that movies should be visual first. It has to start with the basic knowledge of imparting a story on a visual tableau because if all you have is a great story, sans cinematic technical facility – go write a book instead, honey!

These days though, it’s easier to expect cinema that doesn't quite deliver the goods. So let’s get down to business.

Eddie (Ace Castro) is an I.T. professional enjoying a frenzied, albeit financially lucrative existence in the big city. One fateful day, he gets a call from an old friend. It has been two months since the demise of his mother. Though he’s practically abandoned his family, he’s nevertheless furious why his brother Atong (Chris Evert) didn't inform him. With his girlfriend (Ruth Russel), he saunters back home. He arrives at their old house now craggy and rundown, leaves strewn everywhere, as though it’s just memories taking residence. He eventually finds his brother Atong, now married to Lila (Maui Taylor), the girl he left behind without saying goodbye. It’s now his stepfather (Emil Saldoval) calling the shots. After a brawl and a caustic altercation, he learns that most of his deceased mother’s properties have all been dispossessed. After all, her dialysis and eventual funeral services siphoned most of the family’s resources. Furthermore, Eddie didn’t leave them a forwarding address. “Hindi umiikot sa ‘yo ang mundo,” accuses his stepdad. From there, they’re left with hushed conversations brimming with pathos of a strained past.

Eddie’s contention doesn’t end with his mother’s death. When he finds himself alone with Lila, he couldn’t stop himself from touching her. The attraction is mutual. Lila stops his advances. The morning after, Eddie leaves in a huff. But not before realizing that he has to make his proper goodbye this time. “Para matuldukan,” he tells his girlfriend. During their discussion, Eddie unwittingly tries to win Lila back, making excuses for himself. Lila’s inconsolable: “Hindi mo lang alam kung gaano kahirap mula nung umalis ka. Lamog na ang puso ko, lalo mo pang binubugbog.” Cryptic words, indeed.

Eddie drives away, but they ran out of gas. The couple returns to the house and finds it abandoned. Later that day, Eddie witnesses events that would eventually clue him in on what’s been transpiring there. Henceforth, the narrative switches genre.

The ex-girlfriend, the brother, the protagonist, and the stepfather (clockwise from top-left).

It was crucial to find the perfect protagonist to buoy a labyrinthine plot, and for the most part, Ace Castro fits Eddie perfectly. In fact, we have someone who inhabits his character like second skin – and Ace is snug as a bug in a rug, so to speak. His manner of delivery could have used a little more finesse as he comes off too street smart sometimes. If you’ve made a good life in the big city, a little refinement in your manner of delivery could have strengthened a character's believability. Castro looks conspicuously good, his images (in contradistinctive angles) remind me of Dino Guevarra, Joseph Bitangcol, even Daniel Matsunaga, while his Pinoy looks is reminiscent of Dennis Torres (“Lagpas”). Castro makes a great lead. It is quite evident the way director Carlo Alvarez pans through Castro’s profile and contour with deifying close-ups. The camera loves his actor. This unfortunately exposes Castro’s unflattering side (healed pimple scars, conspicuous cinematic make-up and lipstick). Take note of Alvarez’s camera work: he pans objects as though they are sentient characters – the ramshackle house, Eddie’s car symbolizing affluence over a grungy past, edgy silhouettes. Alvarez is an insightful visual artist. But it’s in the attention to detail that the director turns a bit sloppy.

Maui Taylor’s return to the screen is a welcome delight. This time around, Taylor loses the “school-girl vixen” demeanor that she was known for. Her face looked fuller, and curiously more elongated than triangular, giving her a more mature look. Her presence renders this production a legitimate feel. Emil Sandoval has a certain level of adroitness in his characterization, but it would have benefited with a little more subtlety. There were instances where you’re made acutely aware that the narrative was swerving towards Cesar Montano’s “Ligalig” territory. In fact, there should have been a bit of a historical exposition into Emil Sandoval’s motives to give his character adequate raison d’etre. The nature of a person is the sum of his experiences from his past, di ba?

The past and present face Lila in brothers Eddie and Atong.

Ruth Russel (aka Ruth Partida) and Ace Castro (aka Dexter Castro)


Music (by Alfredo Onleo) prevails over the narrative in heavy handed convention. It gets obtrusive when the score is laid out loudly even during specific moments when you’re supposed to pay close attention to what the characters are saying. In a scene where Lila was pleading for her stepfather to stop the slaughter, she shouts: “Eddie, tama na!” It wasn’t Eddie facing her with a gun, it was her stepfather (Emil Sandoval)! While Sandoval was sodomizing Lila, you’d hear her cry (without tears), yet Eddie’s girlfriend from the next room didn’t hear the fracas that included taking a kidnapped girl (Maribel Esteban) inside the house. "'Di man lang nagising? Baka bingi," asked someone near my seat. And do kidnappers really take their victims home? I thought that was a major no-no in Kidnapping 101. (Never take your victims home or at work where people could easily trace you.)

Director Alvarez is adept, deviceful and capable. And “Lamog” is a serviceable romp into dysfunctional domestic territory. By maneuvering it from a cabal dramatic feature into a full blown suspense thriller, some narrative elements get unhinged. A few more questions are suddenly exposed and left unrefuted.

I'm giving Alvarez my thumbs up. Let’s hope he doesn't end up as a “great visual technician but otherwise gravely wanting of storytelling skills”, like Michael Tuviera or Topel Lee.

Ruth Russel fights for her man.

Beautiful Maui Taylor returns to the big screen.

Ace Castro as Eddie

Dennis Torres of "Lagpas"

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