Monday, August 27, 2012

Tara Illenberger's Guni Guni - Busy Exposition in Narrative Clutter

Mylene (Lovi Poe) glides through her life with unruffled sobriety. On cursory glance, everything’s a bed of roses for the statuesque medical student: she tops her tough class; she nurtures a seemingly loving relationship with boyfriend/classmate Paolo (Benjamin Alves); and her best friend Joanna (Empress Schuck) is a constantly unwavering presence. But she has disquieting secrets. She possesses a scar that runs the whole length of her torso down to her flank. She would occasionally fight off suicidal tendencies. Moreover, she collects human body parts from her school’s janitor Jonas. However, these gifts come with a dear price. But why such emotional upheavals?

Mylene’s troubles don’t end there. Her rent hasn’t been paid for two months and her promissory note has been rejected. “Ikaw na lang ang ‘di nakakapagbayad at hindi makakakuha ng exams,” reminded the cashier. Meanwhile, on their first year anniversary, boyfriend Paolo is determined to get into her pants. When she stalls, he walks out and leaves her stranded on a remote field. Such frustration.

People at her boarding house have secrets of their own. Her landlord Tatay Nanding (Jaime Fabregas) who’s afflicted with Alzheimer seems to be feeding raw meat to a creature that’s buried at his backyard garden. Mrs. Arevalo (Gina Alajar) cryptically waits for her son Javier’s (Guji Lorenzana) intermittent visits. Nanny Vangie (Julia Clarete) diligently follows after her mentally challenged ward JJ (Gerald Pesigan), all the while pining for the affection of JJ’s father (Neil Ryan Sese), a detail man in Tarlac. Meanwhile, Joanna (Empress) could feel the restless presence of wandering souls all around her. When a new girl (Ria Garcia) arrives to rent an available room, mysteries further rankle the already muddled scenario. And our characters start dropping like flies.    

Paolo: the impatient lover

Tara Illenberger is one of the industry's most prolific film editors, and editors usually make great directors. It comes with the territory of judiciously using pieces of a story to make a coherent whole. This was why it was a thrill to hear about Illenberger's first mainstream project. Unfortunately, Illenberger's "Guni Guni" (Figment) is a product of an over eager storyteller. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to point out a singular narrative strain more urgent than the next. There are too many disparate concepts that don't mesh well with the individual predicament of our characters. The by-product is one messy cinematic experience that's more tiresome than frightful.

Are we discoursing about guilt? Retribution, maybe? Alienation? Insanity? Are we dealing with ominous fixations? If the answers are all "yes", then we know there's a problem. A film has to have a single focus. In "Guni Guni" however, there are several creatures that go bump in the night: and every single character is hounded by them; there's the eye-enucleating, sexually starved doppelganger with eyes made of tin foil hastily pasted over the lids; the Juon-patterned ashen faced child ghost; there's the aborted fetus; the visiting ghost of a son, etc. There's also a bevy of issues not directly related to the horrific premise - like the infanticipating Alicia (Ria Garcia) who underwent a simplistic dilatation and curettage procedure from medical student Mylene - or did she? Her story came and went without much fanfare. In fact, you could rid of Alicia's character without disrupting the flow of the story. Why was she there in the first place?


Mylene is collecting human body parts that would somehow physically re-construct Myra, her Siamese twin; these would approximate her physical persona had Myra survived. You see, Mylene was born a conjoined twin, but her twin Myra had to be sacrificed because they shared a single heart. "Ikaw ang pinili ko kasi napakaganda mo, anak," explained their looney mother (Isay Alvarez) who's mentally scarred for life for doing so.

In the film, you'll find a medical class whose only subject lingers around twins - as though they are specializing in Twinology more than treating the sick body. And if it isn't serendipitous enough, Dr. Gonzaga (Chinggoy Alonzo) isn't just Mylene's didactic professor; he was also the same doctor who separated Mylene from twin Myra some 20 years ago. Doesn't this shake you to the core? Are you still following me? :) Moreover, there's a best friend with a 3rd eye. Her senses are too acutely aware of the spirits moving around the house, yet she never unravels any of the mysteries surrounding them. How useless naman, debah?  

Joanna feels the presence of ghosts.
Mylene buys Tatay nanding's meat.

Lovi Poe inhabits Mylene with enigmatic chagrin, but something about her guilt - or lunacy - doesn't rope you into her life. She inspires detachment more than empathy, thanks to the muddled character development. Benjamin Alves registers well and competently tackles his naughty persona with adequate verve. Empress isn't really allowed to do much, though she's never bad. Others don't fare as well - Gina Alajar's cryptic Mrs. Arevalo is so theatrical, you wonder where her thespic control and brilliance have gone after all these years. Ditto to Isay Alvarez who's very lost in her lunatic borborygmus.

With sparkling camera work, great production value and an embarrassing riches of talent, it's such a pity to end up with a snooze-worthy product that's more narrative diarrhea than compelling story. Pass that Imodium tablet please.  

One-year anniversary frolic

Alicia is pregnant and gets an abortion from a medical student even before the latter does clinical work. 

Tin-foil eyes recklessly pasted over the lids.

Lovi Poe

Benjamin Alves

Benjamin Alves

Empress Schuck

Lovi Poe and Benjamin Alves

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jose Javier Reyes' Mga Munting Lihim - Acrimony and the Ties That Bind

Mariel and Carly (Judy Ann Santos and Iza Calzado) have been inseparable since they were little girls; they might as well be sisters. As adults, their exclusive circle has grown when Sandy and Olive (Agot Isidro and Janice de Belen) decided to join them.

Carly (Calzado) is a prosperous, albeit ball-busting lady executive who gets whatever she sets her mind to. Despite her triumphs, Carly feels incomplete. Her view on most things is met with apprehension and she jadedly believes people have unflattering motives for the things they do. In fact, when a relative asks for help, her thoughts would meander: “May mga kamag-anak ako, pero walang pamilya.” More than anything, she’s envious of her friends for having started families of their own. Meanwhile, romance seems to keep its distance from her.

On the other hand, Mariel (Santos), with feet firmly planted on the ground, is happily married to Vince (Roeder Camanag) - with children to boot. Her life is so domestically chaotic, she frequently bemoans her hectic routine and the absence of personal space. She hasn't even been to nearby Hong Kong because more urgent priorities always supervene. Sandy (Isidro), who’s eternally and intentionally late for their soirees, is married to a filthy rich geriatric. She doesn’t waste time flaunting her designer wardrobe and her jetsetting lifestyle. Olive (de Belen) is married to a much younger guy whom she met from a chatroom. He now works in Dubai, so money is occasionally scant. Though the girls occasionally squabble and annoy each other, they all manage to thrive in their respective domestic anarchy.      


One day, Mariel drops a bomb. She has pancreatic cancer, a proverbial death sentence in most cases. This brings the friends closer than ever. But when Mariel eventually dies, she leaves a box full of journals. And she has tasked Carly to peruse through her entries – entries that contain her deepest thoughts about each of her friends; entries that reveal specific moments in their lives, underlining the weakest links in their relationships: like when Mariel had to clandestinely sequester Eman (Gino dela Pena) from Carly, just to prove that Carly does not always get everything. Sometimes, these friends aren’t always emotionally supportive: they tell thirty-something Olive that her 21 year old chatmate (a former actor) is a “kabit ng bakla”; that she never pays what she owes - and even lies about them. Carly muses that Olive isn't the smartest girl. And they even conclude that Sandy’s marriage to an older guy was merely for convenience, inferring that Sandy’s an inveterate gold digger. What’s happening here? With friends like these, who needs enemies? More importantly, is this friendship even worth keeping?     





It is instructive how scriptwriter and director Reyes is able to delineate his characters with luminous contrast. Mostly, it’s thanks to the intuitive performances of Santos, Calzado, Isidro and de Belen. Iza Calzado confidently glides through the cinematic palette with persuasive charm. She reminds me of Bea Alonzo’s character in “Sa Yo Lamang” – the iron butterfly with an emotionally-charged back story. And why not? She lost “the one” who could have given her happiness – from her deceptive best friend. Judy Ann Santos’ role is surely a walk in the park for the effulgent Santos who doesn't succumb to the theatricality of Mariel’s situation. She displays adequate control of her emotions, avoiding mawkishness. Agot Isidro is venomous without being irritating, while Janice de Belen is compelling. And it is high time de Belen, one of our better actresses, graces our celluloid dreams once again. A regular date with the treadmill would have her in perfect form.


While it is true that the four actresses provide a variety of clamorous and symbiotic emotional landscape for this narrative, it is also clear that Calzado and Santos’ roles weigh more than their co-stars. It is thus ridiculous not to be able decide and pick a single “Best Lead Actress” from the four actresses. Iza Calzado stands out from this amazing ensemble. What I’m saying here is, giving the Best Actress and Supporting Actress plum to the four actresses is a cop out – and the product of lazy or inferior minds. It’s a matter of discussion among the Cinemalaya judges to peel through the individual aptitude and merits of each actress. Kaya nga contest para may isang mananalo... then we end up with FOUR winners for TWO categories! If this isn't ridiculous, then it’s hilarious!


The awarding ceremonies of Cinemalaya have always been sketchy. Jim Pebanco won "Best Supporting Actor for "Patikul", remember? Ina Feleo won Best Actress for whatever role she played in any Cinemalaya entry. Heavens, where has delicadeza gone, amigas y amigos? Next thing you know, sister Ana Feleo would headline another entry - and win an award! We then have one award-winning happy family, don't we?

Back to the topic at hand, we have 4 winners for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Does that make sense? Once upon a time, people used their cognitive functions to choose one that's best among the rest. After all, "best" usually denotes a singular presence or entity, NOT FOUR! People used to "boo" at contemptible ties during awards night. Remember Sharon Cuneta and Nora Aunor sharing the award? How do we react to an atrocious FOUR-WAY tie spread between two categories? More importantly, what's the need for judges if they can't even decide on a singular winner? The world is sometimes full of lazy minds, isn't it? Next year, they should open up the categories to Best Actresses, Best Actors, Best Pictures. We've opened the flood gates of generosity, anyway. Let's all be generous and give everyone awards. Para masaya, debah?

Back to the movie, the pacing of the story is brisk, and the editing (by Vanessa de Leon) is dynamic. The atmosphere is bright and breezy, unlike most movies that deal with mortality. Among the Cinemalaya entries, Reyes’ “Mga Munting Lihim” (Those Little Secrets) is the most accessible for mainstream viewers. In fact the sensibility of the film is too far removed from what we perceive as "indie" fodder.

I also have to mention the participation of former Survivor castaway Gino dela Pena who captivates with his short, but attention-catching cameo as Eman, the “man that got away”. Dela Pena maybe tentative at times (it's his film debut), but there’s no denying his strong screen presence. More of Gino, por favor!       

Director Jose Javier Reyes fills his plot disclosures with a hundred and one acrimony. Some issues leave you with mouth agape; others leave you laughing hard on the floor. Countless times, you weep like a baby. Such is this cinematic dilemma. The narrative is a roller coaster ride of emotions filled with insightful situations reflective on your own relations. You find situations that are easily identifiable among your own group of friends. This makes the viewing so much entertaining because of its "participatory" characteristic.

On point of logic, revealing the unpalatable details of Mariel’s diary seemed pointless. Intimate thoughts of a dearly departed friend should never create dissension among the living. The act itself is counter productive. People should never dwell on the negative aspects of their past. Besides, which friendship is free from altercation and disagreements? Moreover, isn’t it clear that despite their differences, they still end up lending hand whenever one of them needs it? You may not always agree with each other. You may scoff at their choices. You may cringe at their manner of deduction and call them simple-minded. But you will always pick them up when they stumble. That is the magic of friendship.  

The revelations

Iza Calzado, Judy Ann Santos, Agot Isidro and Janice de Belen.

Gino dela Pena invites you to his table. Where do I queue? :)

Gino dela Pena: Captivating!

I'd prefer this more apropos theatrical poster over the more commercial one they are using in cinema lobbies.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Crisaldo Pablo's Masukista - Deviancy in Amateur Exposition

While taking a leisurely walk in the woods, Clyde (Joeffrey Javier) witnesses a young man being sodomized. Amidst constant violent thrusts, Clyde hears Neil’s (Christian Cruz) whimpering. So he jumps to the rescue and takes the vulnerable lad home where Neil is welcomed with palpable affection. Clyde, in fact, has been celibate for the past 5 years, but feels he connects with Neil. That night, the couple consummate their mutual attraction. The following day, Clyde finds himself alone. Neil has left a video saying goodbye: “Di mawawala sa isip ko ang hugis ng iyong mukha.” (Was it triangular, rhomboid or octagon? I wonder.) Neil needs to sort out his relationship with his boyfriend Dex (Charles Delgado), the same guy Clyde saw at the woodland with Neil.

But little did Clyde realize that he’d see Neil once again – right in front of his doorstep. The new couple enjoys their blissful moments together. Clyde, who manages a tutorial center, even takes Neil to work; introducing him to friends. But something’s amiss. Neil gets unbelievably clumsy, succeeding to drop plates and glasses; spill coffee on office reports, etc. And every time these happen, the latter would taunt Clyde to physically hurt him as punishment. Soon it becomes clear: Neil derives infinite sexual pleasure from extreme pain, humiliation and rough sex. To accommodate his lover’s whim, Clyde seeks the help of Dex (Charles Delgado), Neil’s former boyfriend, who manages a sadomasochism (S&M) club. He needs to understand more about Neil’s deviant fixation with pain. On the home front, Neil has been pushing the limits of their increasingly violent games. Though Clyde acquiesces, warning bells alarm. Will they find salvation in Neil’s violence-riddled sexual games? Or will conditions down spiral into the ultimate tragedy?

Director Crisaldo Pablo’sMasukista” valiantly tackles a subject matter that deserves discourse. After all, this sexual deviation exists. How do we deal with it? Do we accommodate these aberrant proclivities? Where do we seek help? Unfortunately, Crisaldo Pablo isn’t the right person to confront the issue. In his case, this testy situation becomes more hazardous than empowering because he delves into it like a noose awaiting its owner’s head.

Like most Crisaldo Pablo flicks, the writing is imprudent and sketchy, you’re better off reading about this topic from, say, Wikipedia. Here’s a guy (newbie Christian Cruz) who speaks in the most egregious monotones, yet when Clyde’s friends apologize for calling him “tanga” and “clumsy”, he suddenly turns into an Einstein: “Na aappreciate ko ang pagiging reactive nyo, at ang dynamics ng reaction nyo.” Huh? Then suddenly, the two dimwits reply with the most vomit-inducing: “Wala ba ‘yang kapintasan?” referring to this baby-faced, albeit cachectic guy they earlier called moron. And what’s the “dynamics of a reaction?” Is that some inscrutable Freudian psychological mumbo jumbo that needs figuring out? Then let’s not forget how, after 3 dozens of films, you still hear lines dictated to his actors with no compulsion to diligently memorize a written script (if indeed there’s one). A 10-minute rehearsal prior to a “cinematic take” would do wonders for Pablo’s fledgling amateur show. Is it really too tedious to allow your actors to memorize and rehearse their lines first before shooting a scene?     

Clyde (Joeffrey Javier) saves Neil (Christian Cruz, left) from sexual battery by taking him home  then sharing his shower. How's that for "extending a hand to the needy"?

Joeffrey Javier as Clyde, Christian Cruz as Neil


During Clyde’s tour to the S&M Club handled by Dex, rules were given: 1) You have to strip naked when you’re walking the club’s hallways; 2) When you’re tying up your partner's limbs, make sure you don’t compromise the blood supply; 3) When you’re hitting your partner, avoid blood vessels; 4) Use safety terms to moderate the infliction of pain, i.e. red to stop, green to go ahead, and so on. I am not even aware that such club exists in the country, and if it does, is it even legal? After all, if pleasure factories like those seedy massage parlors (used as prostitution fronts) were illegal, how much more for establishments that inflict pain and condone violence? Moreover, endorsing such clubs in your middling exposition gives it an iota of validity, thus condoning a deviant behavior that needs to be addressed medically. As for rule number 4, while we’re at it, why not just say “stop” when you’re hurting already? What if you said “purple” and your partner perceives this color code as continuous lashing until you’re purple? Then that’s one purple eggplant hanging down a harness, isn’t it? J

Except for Charles Delgado, who’s mostly a comfortable actor, the performances are god-awful. Joeffrey Javier disappoints mostly because his delivery mimics R2D2. At least George Lucas’ robots don’t buckle. In a scene where he was dressing down his staff, he explodes: “ Hindi n’yo ba naiisip na baka kontra sa image natin ang pag aadvertise niyo? Isipin nyo ang salitang ‘cheap’ at baka isipin nilang cheap tayo” – It took him awhile to finish this line because he had to tumble and roll down between phrases. Now imagine what if you made him say: “Ang relo ni Leroy Rolex”! He won’t make it until kingdom come, surely. What happened, Joeffrey? He was doing so well in Eduardo Roy’sBahay Bata” and he was alright in Zig Dulay’sHuling Halik”! Well, two words – Crisaldo Pablo! He inspires the worst in his actors, giving them the veneer of idiocy.


Newcomer Christian Cruz, on the other hand, alarms. Sure, he has the face of an angel, but he is exceedingly gaunt, he could fly off if you suddenly sneeze! His arm is a fourth of Joeffrey’s thighs; his eyes sunken so deep, you could place marbles in the socket and they’d run around the orbit like sungka pieces! This boy has to be fed fast before he expires from kwashiorkor! How was he as Neil, the titular masochist? If Joeffrey was robotic, it would be a disservice to robots to call him the same. He is as clueless with his lines as he is with his role. I was anxious seeing him disrobe (which he did with gusto), taking showers, getting sodomized and gang raped, etc. Cruz looked so fragile, you’d be scared to hold him tightly or he might break from osteoporotic fracture. Seeing him move around in his hyposthenic state is alarming. Does he have an active tuberculous lesion? Do people actually feed him? Can’t the DSWD help?


Another source of annoyance is this horrible music, repeated ad nauseam: Isha’sSikretong Pangarap” and the throaty dirge (yup, a funeral song), “Kung Gusto Mo Akong Makuha”! The pitch is set too low so that the vocal quality sounds like it’s scraping a concrete bottom. Oh god, I had nightmares with these awful songs playing like a virulent soundtrack! As for Romy Guinoo’s ballad, “Bukas Muli”, we’ve heard this song several times in many of Pablo’s past ouvres. He keeps recycling these tracks until we’re blue! This once again underlines the mind set of this producer-director. Crisaldo Pablo’s artistic acumen has virtually receded into levels I cannot even define. His cinematic discourses have become too elementary, it’s almost unfair to even call it an exposition. Isn’t this truly sad?   

Charles Delgado as Dex, Neil's former lover and the manager of an S&M Club.

Dex teaches Clyde the rules of the game.

Neil derives pleasure from pain.

Gang banging the willing.

Joeffrey Javier - Back to zero!

Charles Delgado

Christian Cruz and Joeffrey Javier have the chemistry of inert substances.

Charles Delgado smiles like the boy (who willingly disrobes) next door.

Charles Delgado, Karl Matthew and Mico Madrid

Good looking Karl Matthew is wasted in any Crisaldo Pablo film. At least he had lines in  GA Villafuerte's "Kapa".

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Frasco Mortiz's The Reunion - Lost in the Music

Ten years after their high school graduation, Lloyd, Joax, Boggs and Patrick are still finding their place in the sun. Lloyd (Enchong Dee), a graphic artist, works at a print shop churning out calendars and pasting faces in glass mugs. Joax (Xian Lim) drives other people’s cars at a valet parking. Boggs (Enrique Gil) does the harrowing grind of a real estate stand selling nothing. Pat (Kean Cipriano), a musician, still pursues his dream of making it big in an industry that has so far ignored him. Stuck with their dead end jobs, the barkada finds themselves in a class reunion where, once again, their level of success is under scrutiny. This somehow takes them back to their momentous past: Lloyd was besotted with shy but receptive Ara (Cristine Reyes); Joax flirted with student council rival Toyang (Megan Young); Boggs succeeded to get fellow athlete Ligaya’s attention – and affection, as did Pat with Shirley's (Bangs Garcia)! One fateful day, Pat and his friends got unwittingly involved in a scandal (involving Alodia Gosiengfiao’s missing jewellery piece inside the girl’s car) that nipped these romantic couplings in the bud.

Back to present time, they believe that their setbacks are somehow rooted on that specific incident, like a trajectory that went awry. The solution: to reconnect with the girls from their past. So with the help of Ali (Jessy Mendiola) and Jay (Matt Evans), the guys set themselves up for a wild goose chase to find their Juliets. Unfortunately, Lloyd’s opportunity to find the girl is closing in fast. Ara (Cristine Reyes) is rumoured to be getting hitched. And no one seems to know where to find her. In the age of google and one-click search boxes, phone directories, Facebook and twitter accounts, finding Ara becomes a quest for the Holy Grail – and she couldn’t be found! Go figure. The same goes for Shirley who has moved up the fame ladder by becoming a popular FHM model. (Another head scratching moment! She's gone so famous that she couldn't be found? LOL) What about Toyang? Where the heck is Carmen San Diego, err... I mean Toyang? O, Diyos ko, ano ba naman ito? Will the boys be able to correct the misplotted dots and “rectify” their misdirected lives this time?  

Director Frasco Mortiz’s movie runs on a premise that’s too ridiculous to believe. In fact, connecting the dots should be the least of their worries as logical groundwork in the narrative leaves much to be desired. Sure, Mortiz buoys his story with unbridled energy, delightful music and testosterone charm, but it’s a hurdle going through something as ludicrous as getting flak for helping a girl find her lost jewellery inside a car. If this incident became a scandal then, didn’t it warrant an investigation? A single paragraph of explanation would have easily cleared the air, wouldn’t it? Didn’t anyone – Lloyd, Joax, Boggs, Patrick - even try to explain the situation to Ara, Shirley, Toyang and Ligaya? Everyone believed they were guilty of sexual indiscretion though they were all fully clothed inside a car that isn’t even tinted? How have they become such idiots?

The sprightly music of Ely Buendia’s Eraserheads is turned into discordant chapters that help bestow cinematic vim to an otherwise droll, sitcom-inspired, albeit middling story. What’s worse, there’s hardly chemistry among this filmic brotherhood. You don’t discern sincere camaraderie. Despite their emerging problems, you end up not caring. In fact, many of the characters are downright forgettable. I had to refer to my notes to check who Boggs was or if Pat had a girlfriend. When your protagonists don’t make a lasting impression, you know you’re in trouble.

Among the guys, Enchong Dee ends up with a more sympathetic character. His Lloyd was written as a geek and he succeeds depicting him in some ways, deflecting an occasionally noticeable "softness". But he should thank the luminous Jessy Mendiola resilient in a half-baked character named Ali who eternally tags along with Lloyd like a fag hag, i.e. if Lloyd was a fag (get it?) Something about Xian Lim disconcerts me. He has a perfidious veneer that seems detached from real emotions. He towers over everyone which must be why empathy is hard to come by. Either that – or he needs more teleserye experience to finetune his craft. His “singing” scenes should have imbued a little more compassion, but this moment flittered like a lovely, piquant butterfly on its way to rainbowland. Many other talents are wasted here: Julia Montes (who’s always competent); Bangs Garcia (who’s back to being a mere boob-girl); Gina Pareno (as Aling Nena, was inconsequential); Janus del Prado in a politically incorrect and insensitive role.

I am thus baffled why this was given a B rating by the retards and dimwits of the Cinema Evaluations Board (CEB). How can anything with such incongruent narrative strains deserve such “quality-indicative”, tax-evading rating? But then, I’ve long accepted the fact that these CEB evaluators either have self-serving motives or possess the brain of cockroaches. “Pak! Pak! My Doctor Quack” was rated B. Need I say more?

The E-heads surely deserve homage the way ABBA got their “Mamma Mia”. After all, their music helped define a generation. But pinning their musical legacy on a mediocre story, wrapped in frothy, buoyant energy is nothing short of a disservice. Some heads need to roll.  

In her drunken stupor, Aling Nena (Gina Pareno) offers an unsolicited advice: "connect the dots" which reminds me of a recent horror flick.

Ali (Jessy Mendiola) pines for her best friend.

Toyang and Joax flirt around.

Pat (Kean Cipriano) and Shirley (Bangs Garcia) give each other their hearts.

Enchong Dee

Xian Lim

Enrique Gil

Kean Cipriano

Jessy Mendiola