Monday, August 29, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
I have a secret. When watching a movie, it doesn’t take much for me to shed a tear. I’m Holly Hunter’s Jane Craig (“Broadcast News”). I could outcry Roxanne Barcelo (Pinoy Big Brother) or any of Kim Chiu’s teleserye personas. Any hint of an emotional strife in a story, I easily employ my lachrymal glands for catharsis. Crying feels good, and even better when my boyfriend watches a movie with me. Men seem to adore me more when I sob and turn to their bulging muscle-bound shoulder for solace. When Jerry Lopez Sineneng’s “Way Back Home” came to the fore, I knew I’d be in for some orgasmic marathon-style crying.
When little sisters Jessica and Joanna (Julia Montes and Kathryn Bernardo respectively) join their parents for a beach outing in Zambales, the younger Joanna wanders off and is never seen again. For the next 12 years, Amy (Agot Isidro), the girls’ mother, is inconsolable. She stares into the great beyond, hair beautifully coiffed, garment immaculately pressed. The mere kink, i.e. losing a daughter, in her charmed existence has taken its toll on Jessica, now 16, who carries the burden of having lost her little sister. She overachieves in school with the hopes of gaining her dear mother’s attention, but all her effort is for nought. One day, during a swim meet where Jessie is to compete, Amy hears a young girl Anna (Bernardo) singing a lullaby (Francis Salazar’s “Langit”) at the ladies room; the very same song Amy used to sing to her little Joanna. The song made her suspend her bowel movement. You would if you suddenly found your lost daughter, wouldn’t you?
During the swim meet, Amy instead roots for Anna who eventually wins the championship, all the while ignoring Jessica who settles for second place. Amy runs to Anna’s side and without much batting an eyelash, declares, “Joanna, naalala mo ba ako?” Anna is nonplussed and bewildered. We don't blame her. There’s this labile woman – with beautifully coiffed hair, garment immaculately pressed – claiming her. Anna returns to her seaside home, in a fishing village where her loving, albeit impoverished family subsists on the bounties of the sea. She then asks her mother Lerma (Lotlot de Leon), “Ba’t po wala akong kamukha sa inyo? Anak n’yo po ba ako?” ("I don't look like you. Am I your daughter?")
Anna eventually and reluctantly joins her affluent birth family, while Jessie is beginning to harbor ill feelings against her returning sister who’s enjoying her mother’s favors and attention more than ever. She detests such injustice – and the story turns into florid teleserye melodrama clutter. What becomes of saintly Anna who’s constantly getting brushed off and blatantly embarrassed by her elder sister? Will she ever find her, err… way back home? Guess.
There is meretricious theatricality on display and you can’t escape the narrative maneuverings designed to inspire some old-school whimpering. I must have cried a bucket. Unfortunately, it gets too obvious that such manipulations have resulted into a contrived and unctuous yarn lacking discernment.
On point of performance, Julia Montes fares better than pretty Kathryn. Her depiction of a conflicted Jessie is insightfully threshed out despite unfair caricature as it's written. She’s the bitter and vindictive sister. As she spews out her venom against saintly Anna, you absolutely understand why she’s cantankerous. That we don’t find her a despicable creature altogether is a testament to her ability to allow us understanding of what her character is going through. That she doesn't come off silly or caustic is a marvel. And that’s a feat!
Kathryn Bernardo is a charmer, she lights up the screen when she smiles. Unfortunately, Anna is written on desultory wisdom. Her whole being is nothing but a komiks heroine not dissimilar to those written by Nerissa Cabral and Gilda Olvidado, i.e. unnaturally good natured she would put some saints out to pasture. If you believed her kindness is reality-based, then you’re as naïve as, say, KC Concepcion. (wink wink)
There are bothersome parts of the story: Agot Isidro takes a meaty role as grieving mother Amy, yet 12 years is such a long time for bereavement. When it happens, such melancholic state should underline a clinical pathology. People who can’t cope should manifest in their manner of dressing, in their sleeping habits, in their general appearance. Agot, for the most part, looked ready to walk the runway. Even when she screams, which is awkward, her action feels deceitful. You don’t feel her pain, but you see her lurid facial contortions. Her character grasp is too loose to derive sympathy. This is what theatrical experience taught her? And what are the odds of finding your lost child in a swimming contest? Moreover, that this particular child still sings the same lullaby that was once taught her as a three year old. Serendipitous affairs can only go so far in the natural scheme of things.
Then there's this lump-on-the-throat idea that Montes and Bernardo (as Jessie and Joanna) are actual sisters. The purview of such all-encompassing artistic freedom to make them blood sisters is too far fetched. It is more believable to quaff Montes as Lotlot's daughter. After all, both Lotlot and Kathryn have Caucasian blood. Otherwise, we heavily rely on suspension of disbelief with the narrative at hand.
The movie is beautifully photographed (Julius Villanueva); the screen glistens with postcard-pretty locations and sanitized camera work. Even the derelict kubo (hut) in Anna’s fishing village looks like a little piece of heaven. One is reminded of Romy Vitug's work back in the days. Enrique Gil registers well, his “fish jokes” provide momentary diversion but it also dispenses unnecessary off-kilter detour to an already overwrought narrative. Ditto Sam Concepcion who plays AJ, Jessie’s love interest (a character that pays homage to AJ Perez). Lotlot de Leon brandishes a perceptive, if a tad underwritten part as Joanna's adoptive mother. And I like Ahron Villena who plays Joanna and Jessie's brother (he looks so clean and good looking).
Since we’ve mentioned about distractions, let me just point out the character of the maid who’s made out to be a Visayan character. Though she was designed to provide humor to this sullen story, she was distracting and downright annoying. We have had Visayan maids yet they never speak like she did, exaggerating every syllable with quasi-delivery and hard syllabication. Let’s take the following examples: People in Visayas and
Another distraction was Angeline Quinto’s faulty elocution while singing Odette Quesada’s “You’re My Home”. It goes: “You’re my home, and together we share this love for us… You’re my home and together we’ll strive to make this world a better place to be.” If felt like needle pricks every time she would repeatedly lash out “to-ged-der” with inspired bravado. It’s a “th”, girl – not “d”. There’s a difference.
For those partial to their Pink Films, there are a couple of characters that would tickle their fancy: Josh Ivan Morales of the notorious “Ang Lihim ni Antonio” does a cameo as Tiyo Dado, Anna’s “uncle” (mother Lerma’s brother). Ray-an Dulay (“Kambyo”, “Ang Laro sa Buhay ni Juan”, “Ben and Sam”) also cameos as Anna’s adoptive father Berto, though he’s been relegated to flashbacks. This is a heads up to the men who made their cinematic splash from exploitative gay-themed films. Director Sineneng surely has an eye for such studs. These may be bit roles for Morales and Dulay but they render their profession legitimacy and provide avenues for future mainstream appearances.
Bernardo and Montes have a bright future ahead of them. They are watchable and hold such promise. They could be the next big thing. But longevity in the business doesn't rest on mush and sentimental schmaltz. I may have cried buckets over such clutter, but those tears would have evaporated long before the next promising stars make their mark. They could do better with non-manipulative stories and perceptive directors.
Friday, August 19, 2011
French film master Olivier Assayas. I wish he turns his gaze on some of our Filipino actors for a project. That would make me blush.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Marlon Rivera’s “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” (The Woman in the Septic Tank) is a high wire act of film making. It’s perceptive and hilarious in ways too far removed from the usual Pinoy comedy. It playfully runs rings around human folly where boundless ambition is held up to scorn and ridicule. In fact, this is one work that elevates local humor to greater heights. This likewise underscores the capability of the Filipino to weave a yarn dripping with wit and hilarity, I’d be proud to recommend this to anyone: friends, family, foe - even to Indonesian producer Delon Teo who believes that movies should bear no logic (go figure)!
In the film, the narrative follows an independent film making crew – director Rainier (Kean Cipriano), producer Bingbong (JM de Guzman) and their production assistant Jocelyn (Cai Cortez) – as they wind their way to making a film about a woman with seven children as they navigate their environs in urban squalor. The filmmaking crew's budget allows them a mere 12 days of principal photography.
With a script on hand, they scrutinize every detail of the production, from the story (straight out narrative versus docu-drama), the camera to be used, post production requirement and editing, the look and setting of the film, the titling ("Walang Wala"), its poster, and its eventual casting.
With international festivals provocatively whirling at the back of their minds, the pumped up trio eventually lands at the door of Miss Eugene Domingo, the actress who’s being offered the role of Mila, the desperate housewife from the slums who’s out of her wits feeding her seven kids with watered down noodles. One day, Mila finds herself peddling her little boy to a Caucasian pedophile. Now, how receptive is Domingo to the project? We find out in one of the most joyous conclusions that had us laughing in shameless stitches and beguilement.
The movie is a social commentary on poverty porn, this dime-a-dozen new age genre of Philippine cinema that takes advantage of the country’s sweeping poverty - the squalor, despondency and moral ambiguity that pervades in society. It likewise generously takes shots of the inflated egos running around the world of legitimate independent film makers.
In one of several masterful narrative devices discussing their choices of actress to portray their cinematic heroine, we find Eugene Domingo, Cherry Pie Picache and Mercedes Cabral alternately portraying Mila; a tack that’s such a delectable treat for the audience’s cogitative state. In fact, we find ourselves engaged in the casting of Mila. It conjures interactive participation from its audience. Who would have thought this was possible in Philippine cinema?
In another scene, the buttoned up production assistant re-imagines the story told as a musical, and once again, it gallantly comments on the inherent mawkishness of the medium – was it referring to the previous Cinemalaya hit, Florida Bautista’s “Saan Nagtatago si Happiness?” or even Chito Rono’s “Emir”? There were very similar scenes as a crowd of irregular settlers dance in wild abandon. While Mila waits for her child by the stairs, we see Domingo immerse herself in dire emotionality typical of the genre. We were actually snickering.
I have two favorite scenes: The first was the trio’s encounter with the high-flying Arthur Poongbato, the indie film maker who, on his very first film, won big at the
Fact is, we have a subcommunity of film makers who take a premium on international film festivals, ignoring the local scene altogether; their works never see exhibition for the 95 million Filipinos to appreciate. What good are these awards if they don’t even lift a finger to get their works shown in commercial theaters? What is their international recognition worth, but inflated egos, and not much else. At least not to the home crowd who can’t fly to
Our other favorite scene was when they finally meet the voluble Eugene Domingo to discuss the project. Domingo executes her mastery of the comedic language in flagrant strokes that defy adequate description. When she finally objects to scenes involving her physical immersion in a septic tank, all hell breaks lose. And on my second viewing, we found the scenes even more hilarious. “Tae yan; madumi ang tae,” Domingo emphasized.
When Domingo drops her lines with a certain rhythm and cadence (check out the three types of acting in her book), we shriek with laughter. She is such a joy to behold.
Frontal nudity, check! Sex scenes with actual penetration, check! Domingo enumerates things she’s willing to do for her art. But a septic tank? Will she or won’t she? You have to watch this to witness one of the most hilarious highlights to ever grace the silver screen. Scriptwriter Chris Martinez outdoes himself and turns up a tight, insightful work that, as one of his characters underline, works in many levels. Not the least of which is as one darn funny movie.
We chuckle at the sheer ambition and arrogance of its young film makers, but we're somehow lost in the preternatural re-imaginings such as the narrative that turns into a protracted musical - or a gritty in-your-face docu-drama. When Domingo lampoons herself as a mainstream personality (replete with product endorsements), her segment significantly veers away from thematic focus, as much as all her suggestions - in the guise of being "collaborative" - ultimately water down much of the film makers' raw vision on realist cinema. And didn't anyone notice Larry Manda's underwhelming cinematography? The film, in fact, opens with pixelated images adorning the opening frame. But these are minor quibbles. If anyone fails to recognize the superior craftsmanship in a film such as this, then you can be sure there won't be a lot of movies better realized and more superior than Marlon Rivera's flick.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
You want magic, go to a magic show or a circus! Cinema has the duty to reflect reality and truth, unless the genre you're making is sci-fi, fantasy or the dime-a-dozen vomit-inducing horror flicks from Indonesia (like Teo's "Macabre", 2009). Is "Jayden's Choir" fantasy? Did Jayden fly on air with wizard brooms and magic wands? Did he suddenly transform into Optimus Prime? Was he injected with a serum that transformed him to an ape or a web slinger? I don’t think so. Unless we watched a different movie. The film is supposedly based on real events (i.e. special children with musical talent from Beijing). It wasn't about magical incantations the way you require your superior cinema, was it? Babaw huh!
And what's with "logics"? Gosh! It's a singular entity, my dear! Get your English right before espousing on what a good or bad review is! When you're advocating something, make sure it's a worthy cause, instead of something with mediocre artistry! What kind of filmmaker does not require logic in his work? Since Mr. Teo is a filmmaker (a producer, I think I have his "6:30" somewhere), it makes you sad and scared. This is the kind of producer that Asia has? Someone who doesn't think that logic should be part of a story?
Finally, last time I checked, it was my own money that paid for my movie ticket. Ergo, it is my consumer's prerogative to write how I really feel about it - the way I want to, regardless of its musical director being Lombardi or Leonardi! If Teo is not against bad reviews, I, on the otherhand, am allergic to people with poor taste. They repel me. I get hives listening to their uneven syllogism. Or should I say “logics”?
Friday, August 5, 2011
Julia Roberts, on the other hand, plays Mercedes in Tom Hanks-directed "Larry Crowne". Mercedes Tainot is another imperious educator of an informal speech class where Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks), a down-on-his-luck and newly down-sized retail store employee, attends. Crowne was made redundant when the company finds his educational qualifications wanting. “There’s no room for advancement,” his bosses reasoned. Prior to this, Larry has been piling up his Employee of the Month citations. As a result of this, Crowne decides to enroll at the local college; ditches his car for a scooter; and applies for a job at his neighborhood diner. In the process, he finds ways to deal with his house's impending foreclosure.
Cameron Diaz makes no apologies playing the inconsiderate, crude, selfish teacher, but despite an annoying foray into a poorly scripted comedy, she comes out with a deceptively winsome character that eventually pays out as its credits roll. That “there is inherent goodness even among the most execrable human beings” is a stretch, but it’s nevertheless a hopeful piece. Roberts, on the other hand, turns on her mega-watt charm to fuel this cinematic misfire. Larry Crowne is another geeky Forrest Gump wanna-be who navigates his neighborhood with the most superficial motives.
At one point, he tells his teacher Miss Tainot (Roberts), “You’re a good teacher.” But if you’ve been attentive, Mercedes Tainot (Roberts) was everything but… She attends her class with a degree of contempt, and talks to them with acidic scorn and palpable disdain. She listens to the presentations of her students half bored, half repellant. Moreover, why she would suddenly find the wrinkly Crowne vaguely attractive is beyond me! Whatever chemistry existing between these Superstars have all but dissipated in their heydays. Tainot is a bad teacher, written otherwise by Nia Vardalos to conjure a feel-good flick in the vein of her “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.
You don’t exactly wonder why it fared tepidly at the box office.
Meanwhile, I was transfixed at my seat while watching a Korean flick - Ha Yu’s “A Frozen Flower” (aka “Blood and Roses”). This period piece follows a Koryu king (Ju Jin-Mo) who's fond of a young soldier Hong-Lim (Jo In-Seong). In fact, he favors his presence over the Queen’s - the royal better half who can't even share the king's bed. As the story unravels, Hong-Lim’s loyalty is highlighted. It becomes clear that his allegiance goes beyond subordinate subservience as he enjoys the intimate privilege sharing pillow talk with his beloved king. But there’s a problem: the king needs to provide an heir to the throne or he would have to abdicate his reign. "You have to work hard for that to happen, my king," implies the almost desperate queen. Unable to fulfill his matrimonial duty, the king decides to thrust Hong-Lim to father the Queen’s would-be child. Little did he expect that his much favored chief – and bedmate – would find the Queen’s company ultimately addicting. The plot then thickens.
Populated by a beautiful cast (and some of the most risky sex scenes in a historical epic– they made me blush), “A Frozen Flower” tackles the thin line dividing love and allegiance to duty, and the boundless limits of heady desires. If you think these Korean actors are shrinking violets, you’d be very wrong. Now this is a cinematic scorcher!
DEATH OF PIRATES
I didn’t think it was possible!
Last week, I accompanied my cousin as she checked out some dental equipment she was planning to purchase for a branch of her clinic. This would be in Quiapo. And quite nearby was the notorious cloister – a subcommunity and kingdom of pirated DVD’s. Guess what? This community has finally ceased to exist. Mayor Alfredo Lim has finally succeeded to do the impossible.
Gone are endless rows of DVD shops. Patrol cars were seen parked at several corners. Police officers confiscated stacks of blank discs. Stores were empty, and display grills were taken down. I remember a few years ago when Mayor Lim also dismantled the red-light district along Ermita. No one thought that was possible too. Sure, there’s still prostitution everywhere in the metropolis, but not in the blatant flesh trade that once characterized the place. The good mayor sure has balls the size of Texas. If you want results, trust the good mayor to get his job done, come hell or high water. This event is not exactly celebratory as the country’s only avenue for the rare art films has diminished by leaps and bounds. But then, piracy is piracy.
After 8 long years, the Superstar – Nora Aunor – is finally back! The country rejoices! I am very pleased as well. This calls for a celebration. Though I am weaned on Sharon Cuneta fodder (my parents being ardent Cuneta fans), there is no denying that La Aunor’s cinematic work is priceless. She was once the greatest actress of the country (up until she acquired annoying acting crutches: the constipated delivery of lines, etc.) and we will always respect her achievements. At her peak, she was said to be phenomenal as she captured the imagination and hearts of the Filipinos.
HOTOTAY - THE MASTERPIECE
However, as she gradually settles back into her country, her so-called “projects” feel underwhelming, at least for a star of her magnitude. A legend is back and she does a film called “Hototay”? LOL. Then there’s a historical epic topbilled by an actor not exactly known for his artistic merits: E.R. Ejercito (portraying Emilio Aguinaldo)! Remember the debacle that's "Lapu-Lapu" (with Lito Lapid and Joyce Jimenez)? Now why am I not clapping? She obviously deserves better, right?
On her supposed vocal setback: she allegedly lost her singing voice after a facelift operation in Japan! A tweety bird told me that facial operations like these may indeed result into the cutting of a nerve called “recurrent laryngeal nerve”. If that happens, this results into the paralysis of that muscles that this special nerve supplies. Effect: loss of voice! Medically, this is called aphonia (inability to speak). If part of the voice is somehow saved, it will be hoarse! Is Ms. Aunor hoarse? Just to recapitulate, children: With damage to the aforementioned nerve, you lose your voice. Not just the singing voice, but the speaking voice as well!
Why La Aunor’s vocal side effect suddenly turns selective is a mystery. Why just lose the singing capability? I’m also told that people lose their singing voice from a variety of factors: abuse, drugs, nodules and fibrosis, advancing age. Now consider the list based on the Superstar's notorious lifestyle in the past and tell me if she cannot check out any of the aforementioned items?
Here’s hoping the Superstar gets all the projects she deserve – and not fall on similar fate of another comebacking hottie, Gabby Concepcion. He was hot, but where is he now? Shame on you, ABS-CBN!
Nora Aunor is the penultimate actress that this country has ever produced. She deserves no less than the best! Not with a cinematic masterpiece named after a Chinese soup dish. Not with a leading man who was never an A-lister to begin with. And definitely not as Ejercito's mother! Riding on the coat tails of Emilio Aguinaldo doesn't necessarily guarantee a memorable flick. It may win a gubernatorial re-election seat for some, but where does that leave the one and only Superstar? Try the Tirad Pass.