Friday, September 30, 2011

Falling Skies - Surviving Alien Invasion

It’s been 6 months since the aliens have invaded earth. Ninety percent of the population has been decimated and the remaining survivors have all gone into hiding. A ragtag community of about 300 civilians have banded together to fight back and survive. Others have hopes of claiming their kidnapped children, brothers and sisters – 8 to 16 year old children who have been turned into drones through an obedience device attached to their spines.

Among these children is Ben, one of the three sons of Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), a former Boston University history professor, now the 2nd in command of this post-apocalyptic group of fighters called 2nd Massachusetts. Tom is conflicted in planning an attack that would release Ben, but his direct superior Captain Dan Weaver (Will Patton) isn’t supportive. Hal Mason (Drew Roy), Tom’s 16 year old son, is frustrated. He is planning a heist to rescue his younger brother. Unfortunately, Boston has ceased to become a safe place. Navigating the city is a treacherous endeavor. The buildings have all been deserted, looted or destroyed, and several different alien creatures are constantly patrolling the metropolis. People live to survive and compete for the limited supply of resources made available in deserted groceries and warehouses.

Falling Skies” echoes the predicament of Andrew Lincoln’s Walking Dead” without the zombies, but the concerns are identical: survival in a fast dying, albeit competitive dog-eat-dog world. The first episode is a 2-part scorcher that had us sitting at the edge of our seat while our survivors battle against the Skitters (lizard-like creatures), the heavy-footed Mechs (Attack Drones), and those grayish humanoid forms! As if that weren’t enough, they had to face bandits headed by John Pope (Colin Cunningham)! On board this little throng includes a pediatrician Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) and an interesting line-up of characters that keep the narrative exigent and tense. It brims with fast paced action, moved by dynamic story lines.

Moon Bloodgood is Dr. Anne Glass

Noah Wyle, sporting a beard and a goatee, initially looks like an unkempt Dr. John Carter (“E.R.”) but as the story unfolds, Wyle comes into his own as a struggling father who tries his best to keep up with the action. After all, what can a history professor do where muscles and might are concerned, right? Drew Roy registers impressively as headstrong Hal (one of Tom's three boys) who’s desperate to rescue his younger brother Ben (he's been spotted held captive by the aliens). Moon Bloodgood plays another passionate character who constantly talks down her field of specialty (she’s a Pediatrician). “I’m the only doctor you’ve got!” she would defensively point the obvious.

Will Tom and Mason get to rescue Ben? I am tempted to cheat, but I have a hunch I’d end up pleased. The series comes straight from the creative minds of Robert Rodat and that other vaguely familiar guy named Steven Spielberg. Do you then doubt its entertainment quotient?

Noah Wyle as Tom Mason, a former history professor.

Drew Roy is broody Hal. He's itchin' to rescue his younger brother from the clutches of the aliens.

Drew Roy

Moon Bloodgood

Moon Bloodgood

Moon Bloodgood: Not just another sexy magazine bod.

Jessy Schram is Karen, Hal's girl friend.

Sarah Carter is feisty, gun-toting Margaret (above and below). She survives John Pope, rape and those pesky lizard-like creatures.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rakenrol - False Depictions, Tepid World

Odie and Irene (Jason Abalos and Glaiza de Castro respectively) have been friends from school, and though they seem to be poles apart, their love for the local music scene has brought them closer. Now they’re best friends. One day, Irene hears one of Odie’s own compositions. She comes up with the idea of putting up a band. Though initially reluctant, Odie soon finds people to fill up the group: an ex-punk coffeeshop staff Mo (Ketchup Eusebio) and the emotionally labile Junfour (Alwyn Uytingco). Even before I could correctly enumerate the complete names of the original members of the Eraserheads, the group suddenly finds themselves a gig! What’s better, Matet de Leon (yes, one of Nora Aunor’s children) offers to manage them, shows them the ropes, introduces them to the movers and shakers of the scene.

When Jacci Rocha (Diether Ocampo), flamboyantly high profile lead singer of “Baron Munchausen” enters the picture, Irene succumbs to his charms. Hapipaks (the band's name) starts recording songs and making a music video of their first coming-out single. The group is suddenly thrown into a maelstrom that envelopes this vibrant underworld, all the while struggling to deal with their domestic lives: Mo is conflicted living with his eccentric artist friend; Junfour learns that his girlfriend is pregnant; and shy Odie can’t reveal his feelings for Irene. Why is everyone miserable when their dreams are coming true?

Quark Henares revealed in a talk show that “Rakenrol” was a wish fulfillment project. In fact, it’s taken him 5 years to make. He wished to translate a moment in his younger years when he would navigate this subculture of struggling, albeit talented musicians. Alas, where’s the thrill and urgency? Though the first half of the narrative is told in brisk chapters, the latter half soon dwindles into prosaic storytelling. The bristling introduction hopelessly turns into one drab exposition.

For the most part, the story loses steam in translating the vibrancy of that music subculture. As is depicted on screen, this was a world populated by people who look like they haven’t bathed in 5 years, no, make it ten! They were struggling (artistically and otherwise), aberrant, capricious and completely unrelatable. What’s worse, when Hapipaks finally plays their main number, “Oplan Pag Ibig”, it was nothing more than pedestrian. Sure, their audience was jumping up and shouting, but you can’t fake great music! And great it wasn’t!

Now let’s get into the casting. I’ve always found Jason Abalos a sincere actor, except in a cinematic crap called “Handumanan” (one of the worst films in two decades), but does Abalos embody the persona of how we perceive musicians should be? I think it’s clear he doesn’t, which makes this foray a little too disconnected. It’s like doing a biopic on Lea Salonga with, say, Kris Bernal portraying her. Doesn’t work. Abalos is probably too dour to represent a figure head! Maybe Abalos represented the shy and self effacing Henares? Maybe, since Quark is the epitome of a well grounded guy who admits his triumphs as graciously as his failures (In the aforementioned interview, he considers “Keka” as his greatest achievement, while “Super Noypi” as his worst – didn’t I say it here?)

But cinema is a medium that needs emphasis by writing such statements in bigger, bolder strokes. This is exactly the reason why when we want to propagandize personalities, we choose high profile celebrities. This is the same reason why a little known murder victim like Lilian Velez becomes Sharon Cuneta on screen; why Jericho Rosales had to portray the younger Manny Pacquiao in “Pacquiao: The Movie” instead of the likes of Mark Herras or Carlos Agassi. My point is, when you need a poster boy to represent a habituĂ© from that oh-so exciting underworld, you require gravitas; not someone with the verve of a complacently growing pumpkin.

We love Glaiza de Castro’s Emma in Katski Flores’ “Still Lives” and as Isabel in Rommel Sales’I-Libings”. She has somehow proven that an inferior Angel Locsin she isn’t, but if she’s indeed the Irene in “Rakenrol” (as her Facebook pronouncements would say, “Ako to!”) then Glaiza doesn’t paint a flattering picture of a rock and roll vixen. The portrait is wanting; the brew is tepid. Listening to her sing her bubblegum song, “Patingin-tingin” (from her 1st and only CD) was more enjoyable by leaps and bounds than having her rock it out here!

Diether Ocampo must have pleasurably crapped himself portraying the gaudy, resplendent, and downright splashy Jacci Rocha, but his portrayal is too out-there to be truly enjoyable. Parodies only work when there’s ample moderation, and Ocampo’s portrayal just shoots through the roof. There are a few more items on our list why “Rakenrol” is a snooze, but the ones mentioned have been the most blatant.

How do you find a band drummer, for example? Choose the school bully! That way, he can channel his frustrations by way of hitting his drums. Brilliant, right? Sounds like quack therapy to me. I didn't think it's funny so I scoff. Ketchup Eusebio plays Mo as smugly as Jacci Rocha swaggers with confidence. Eusebio should be here to pay homage to a departed online critic for whom this film was dedicated. Unfortunately, Eusebio's winking portrayal doesn't depart from a less regarded Smokey Manaloto! I'd choose the latter for his genuine humor - anytime.

As the film moves to its conclusion, the narrative shimmies into a plateau. Is there really a plausible moral of the story? When its protagonists are as plain, homely and tentative as the ones in this film, I couldn't give a damn! They might as well give me a shot of epinephrine before I flat line out of disinterest.

That the film won an "Audience Choice Award" in Los Angeles is a bit of a mystery to me. Mainly, it goes to show how some film festivals abroad can be so apocryphal. It's as ambiguous as when "Twilight Dancers" is supposedly hailed at the Toronto Filmfest. Ditto the execrable, vomit-inducing "Fidel" at the Berlin Filmfest, and the underdeveloped "Thelma" at the Hawaiian Filmfest. You just have to scratch your nape and believe that a parallel universe exists. Otherwise, such things wouldn't happen.

Quark Henares may have fulfilled his wish list. But this was a personal story that somehow wasn’t worth sharing. Not to a paying crowd, anyway. If this were an invitation to a subcommunity, I’d say, no thanks. It’s too small scale and unexciting. More importantly, the people looked like they smell.

The iconic Ely Buendia cameos: "You have to play, man... for us!" You gotta be kidding me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

TV Series - "Teen Wolf" is a Compelling Watch

It was bound to happen.

They’ve romanticized vampires, and turned them into cool creatures that inhabit many of our television habits. But where are the werewolves? In MTV’s “Teen Wolf”, the lycanthropes take center stage and they are among Beacon Hills High's coterie of beautiful people navigating the California suburb.

One night, high school best friends Scott and Stiles (Tyler Posey and Dylan O’Brien respectively) learn that a couple of girls have been found dead at the woods. Half of their bodies were unrecovered. While they wandered in the shadowy forest, Scott survives an attack by a fierce creature in the night. The succeeding days were revelatory for Scott, a social outcast in school. With his senses heightened, he soon becomes a superior player in their school’s lacrosse team to the consternation of popular boy Jackson (Colton Haynes) who isn’t pleased sharing the limelight with previously nerdy Scott. Moreover, Scott gets the amorous attention of the new girl in class, the beautiful Allison (Crystal Reed).


Trouble starts hounding Scott whenever provoked. His anger “shifts” him, wherefore he loses control of his strength and temper. Is lovely Allison safe around Scott? Enter Derek Hale (Tyler Hoechlin), a guy whose family perished in a mysterious fire. “We’re brothers now,” warned Derek. He further advised Scott against playing for his lacrosse team because he might lose himself and, in the process, expose this lurking community of wolves to predatory hunters. But Scott wouldn’t hear of it. He wants to play and feel like a winner. He wants to stay with Allison. He prefers not being seen as a loser by his peers. Not anymore. Will Scott be able to play and win for his school?

When a school bus driver is attacked, Scott is anxious he could have done it. He'd seen it in his dream. He worries that he might actually hurt Allison who agrees to a group date with him, Lydia (Holland Roden) and Jackson. This takes them to a bowling alley which eventually ends up with Jackson doubly annoyed after losing, yet again, to the suddenly-overachieving Scott. Later that night, the bus driver dies. Scott is angry with Derek whom he believed was responsible for turning him into a werewolf, only to learn that a more powerful wolf, the "alpha" was actually responsible for his turning into one; not Derek. This affords him a "connection" to the fierce creature who has been attacking his community, thus his "visions".

Tyler Posey, who plays Scott, adequately carries the series with his boy-next-door charm. He's a sight for sore eyes, yet exudes vulnerability. And it doesn't hurt that he intermittently ends up half naked. LOL. His character has to content with juvenile angst, not the least of which is the fact that his favorite girl's dad is one of the wolf hunters. Crystal Reed registers well and somehow reminds me of the belles of "Smallville", sunshiny and vibrant.

The series rightfully feels like a high school drama, but with werewolves in it. It’s a compelling watch and the characters are easy to remember. There’s still a bunch of mysteries waiting to be discovered, but with the spirited performances of its young cast, you can’t help but be enamored. The stories move briskly and the characters feel “normal” despite the series’ supernatural veneer. By the end of its third episode, I knew I would be watching more of “Teen Wolf”.

Crystal Reed

Dylan O'Brien is Stiles, Scott's loyal best buddy.

Colton Haynes plays high school's most popular boy Jackson.

Colton Haynes modeled at 15 for A&F in New York then moved to L.A. to pursue acting. He was in fact a werewolf in the TV series "The Gates" before taking on the role of a jock in "Teen Wolf" where he is pitted against the series' protagonist who turns into a werewolf. Seems like he can't shake off his association with lycanthropes.

Colton Haynes

Such a bad bad boy. He actually grew up in a Kansas farm, is half cherokee and half European.

Holland Roden is the series' competitive "queen bitch". Despite the role, Roden is a nice girl who loved "science" in school. She was a full time student where she recently received her degree in women's studies in UCLA.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

G.A. Villafuerte's Bahid - Delusion of Appearance

Agatha Christie is the queen of whodunits. Though she's been dead for 35 years, her legacy lives on as she is survived by her bestselling novels and a play (“The Mousetrap”) that holds the record for the theatre’s longest initial run: it opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on November 25, 1952 and as of 2011 is still running after more than 24,000 performances. More than this record, she was known to have written nail-biting stories of murder surrounded by a milieu of suspense and a mastery on plotting and characterization. She presents a lineup of characters, seemingly normal and others eccentric, and then lets her audience/readers guess: who’s the killer?
G.A. Villafuerte’sBahid” subscribes to such artifice to tweak his Pink Film ouvre, albeit with grievously disappointing results.

When lovers Glen and Vivian (Lawrence Manalo and Honey Lopez respectively) visit her godfather in Pampanga, she didn’t except her ninong to have come out of the closet. They were grandiosely welcomed with open arms, but they have discovered in ninong a boisterous aristarch who nags and complains about everything. Michael has become Madam Michelle who is loud and detested by the people around him. In this “mansion”, we are introduced to a cadre of characters which includes a trio of gay friends (Kahlel Urdaneta, Rjames Villaran, Jay-r Alcaraz), a sexually ambivalent gardener Lando (Miguel Alcantara, who appears half naked most of his screen time), maids Clara, Rosario and Magda, the driver Mang Dante, and house custodian Nanay Lydia (Tart Carlos).
Plot thickens when people start disappearing. In fact, Madam Michelle is soon found murdered on his bed. Who has a motive to these crimes?
You start getting concerned with the intellectual capacity of these characters when, despite all the killings or disappearance, no one leaves the compound. What were they waiting exactly? We later find out, of course, when the story climaxes in a dark basement. The lost characters have been found: blindfolded and tied down, but not gagged. Otherwise, this would inhibit the staging of a rather rambunctious, annoying and ultimately noisy scene when the perpetrator finally meets the victims.

The film divides its focus between perfunctory couplings, really trite unimaginative bed scenes, involving our characters (and showcasing Miguel Alcantara’s enviable physique as he lures both men and women to his bed) and the whodunit chapter. Unfortunately, there isn’t much aptitude involved in the film making process, and the actors are left to their own devices, giving way to the annoying excesses of some actors, particularly the one playing Madam Michelle and, more importantly, Tart Carlos’ Nanay Lydia who deserves a crown for her histrionic turn. Yup, there’s the “nanlilisik ang mata” staple here; the harsh and heavy-handed delivery; the demented witch countenance, and the excruciating swagger of thespic desperation! This was her 10-seconds of fame. She might as well get noticed! LOL
And wait for an intriguing epilogue that would put the befuddling “Inception” or even DiCaprio's "Shutter Island" to shame!

Madam Michelle (center) chastises everyone: "Nasaan si Magda? Ba't hindi s'ya nagpapaalam. masakit na ang tumbong ko sa katatalak!"

Clueless policemen

The performances are cringe-worthy and stumped. They either sleepwalk, summon a monotonal delivery or appear perplexed (Reference #1: basement scene; Reference #2: When they found the missing cellphone at the driver’s quarters). I could swear that the driver has more intuition than all of the characters combined.
The production is also hobbled by inaudible delivery of lines that are mostly muddled by room tone: a dog that keeps barking, a nearby hammering, the frolic of children playing, a motorcycle passing by intermittently. These transient sounds were largely ignored as though they wouldn’t make it in the final cut; a testament to the film maker’s carelessness and indolence, or his discombobulation to the medium.
What’s the best thing about “Bahid”? Aside from finally leaving the cinema hall? The theatrical posters! There are a couple that would have you believe that this was a sophisticated production, and that people behind it knew what they were doing. See what the delusion of appearance imparts?
In a scene representative of its inattention to detail, a maid picks up a tray, looks at the camera like she sees the Holy Grail, and leaves with a nonchalant, “Iwan ko muna kayo riyan”. How can you resist such utter ingenuity?

Lawrence Manalo

Honey Lopez

Miguel Alcantara (above and below)

Rjames Villaran

Jay-r Alcaraz

Who do we crucify?