Monday, January 28, 2013

Joel Lamangan's Menor de Edad - A Discordant Tragedy

At 15, Jenica (Meg Imperial) is a pallet of quandaries. She doesn’t do well in school where she doesn't have friends. Her boyfriend Jimboy (Arvic Rivero) is seeing another girl after she gets cold feet and turns away from a sexual dalliance. On the home front, Jen is constantly embarrassed by her mother Edna’s (Ara Mina) relationship with Jaggz (Jaycee Parker), a lesbian security guard, who lives with them. Bemo (Jim Pebanco), a bothersome neighbor, dogs her around while street thugs (Mico Aytona, plague her with innuendos. Her anxieties push her way into a hiphopping girl gang called Sosy who empower themselves with a lot of attitude, vandalizing innocent civilians at every turn.  Ariel Basco (Wendell Ramos), Jen’s Pilipino teacher, provides succor in her miserable existence.

Meanwhile, Ariel is his school’s Most Outstanding Teacher. Students flock to him and his fellow teachers (Jef Gaitan) are drawn to his benevolent demeanor; this despite being relatively new in the institution. He even offers free tutorial sessions with students who need help – like Jenica! But Ariel skirts from a tenebrous past. In a previous school where he taught, he barely got off a sexual harassment case filed by a student. What’s worse, Ariel couldn't shake off his penchant for gambling. In fact, their household finances are a shamble, what with his wife Layda’s (Almira Muhlach) pregnancy and “illness”.

One day, Jen comes home distraught, claiming she was molested by her favorite teacher, Mr. Basco. Is Ariel’s past finally catching up with him?

Joel Lamangan’s “Menor de Edad” reeks with a heavy handed exposition and an exasperatingly obstreperous plotting. Like most of Lamangan’s ouvre, social ilks are brandished without heed for narrative restraint. What transpires is a story that feels inordinately overdone, you end up throwing away any form of empathy that the film builds early on. How do you relate to a miserable girl who rebuffs the sexual advances of a boy he loves, yet she throws herself to her sympathetic teacher? Then she accuses and takes to court the only soul who’s ever given attention and understanding?

Moreover, why would you commiserate with an individual like Ariel who throws away his salary to chance? He navigates the dark alleys of his neighborhood as though he isn't a respected high school teacher, comes home late to a sleeping wife, reports to class wrapped with tattoos and bruises? So much for building a character, right? While Wendell Ramos isn't a lamentable actor, his performance is as confused as his dubiously written character.

Jenica and boyfriend Jimboy
Meg Imperial, on the other hand, coasts on incongruous direction.  She never quite got the grasp of the material though she wasn’t awkward in it. The culprit could be the dated writing of Raquel Villavicencio whose treatment of her protagonist is that of an ungrateful daughter. You see, Jenica’s mother Edna was not the nagging kind; Jen was neither physically abused, and her lesbian “stepparent” seemed to care for her. Other than cloaked in the mediocrity of poverty, why all the worthless angst of a seemingly lost teener? She’s not the only one who hasn’t come to know of her biological father who, as events unraveled, was the sniveling, whimpering, spine-tingling, and more importantly, stalking neighbor Bemo, played by Jim Pebanco. Like most of his previous performances, Pebanco disgracefully depicts his character with stagey flourish. In all of Pebanco’s years in the business (he was in Bernal’s “Himala”, for crying out loud), he is yet to learn how to relax his thespic muscle (Cinemalaya Best Supporting Actor trophy not withstanding). Heavens help DJ Durano (wink wink) for we see a pattern in their situation!

The nail in the coffin for this messy tripe is a quasi-journalist named Nancy Molina, played by Chynna Ortaleza. Molina editorializes her report when they should be delivered objectively, making her segments contentious at best. Or do we have to lecture about journalism? She gropes for words, a dastardly performance for one whose supposed to be a veteran tele-journalist; kinda like a Ricky Lo without his netherworld accent. Take note that in more than three of Molina’s episodes, she only covers a single set of subjects, a charmless gang of publicity hungry girls called Sosy. Metro Manila, with its population of 12 million, is bereft of more interesting subjects that a journalist would linger on a single group of personality for one whole month? Go figure. Ortaleza desperately ought to practice her reportorial spiels to be decently believable.

In one scene, Reporter Molina sees Jenica with the Sosy Gang. “Bago siya?" She asked, yet two interviews ago, Jenica was already seen with the group. How can one journalist not notice this? They’re supposed to be a very observant lot! Or just maybe she probably suffers from Attention-Deficit Disorder? At any rate, this doesn't make her a competent media practitioner, does it? From out of the baffling blue, Molina quipped, “Iba na s’ya ano? Astig na!” Huh? Didn't she just say Jen was a newbie? Ano ba talaga, ate? Then like ray of sunshine, a bulb flickers and she suddenly associates Jen with the case of the revered high school teacher who allegedly sexually assaulted his student. How convenient.

Jaycee Parker & Chynna Ortaleza
There are more bewildering strains in this flick. Here’s a girl who got gang raped by her neighbors. What do we expect from her? Stay at home and recuperate from her genital abrasions and crushed self worth, right? She’s instead seen practicing her karate chops with the rest of the girls who looked like they haven’t seen the bathroom in, say, five-hundred-twenty-five-thousand-six-hundred minutes. A message of self empowerment? Go go go, feminists!

During the court proceedings, no one remembered that a medical report (i.e. an internal examination) of the victim is parcel to trying a rape case.

But – did you know that, if you were to follow Reporter Molina’s story, these fierce girls peddle their flesh for cash? What then do we have here? Tough teenage street urchins who immerse in gang wars – and prostitution? Huh? If you've never used “incoherence” and “incongruence” in a sentence before, this is the golden moment for that. Otherwise, you might as well go home, plant camote, grow letsugas in your backyard, braid your labandera’s hair, decapitate a spider; grow bed bugs in your lolo's bed, anything but watch this horrifying tripe. Sanity alert!

Meg Imperial plays Jenica. She'd rather take the only person who has shown her respect, mercy and understanding to prison than get the bedeviled thugs who actually raped her. Now, children, let's do this in unison: "Why?"
Wendell Ramos plays award-winning teacher Ariel Basco. This exemplary person also gambles until he's blue. Err I mean "red"?.  ;->

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Anatomy of an Interview - The Ricky Lo-Anne Hathaway Debacle

A partial "swindle sheet" of the interview:

Ricky Lo: Hello, Uhnn. Nice movie.
Anne Hathaway: Hello.
Ricky: Oh-some. It’s so spell binding.
Anne: Thank you.
Ricky: First off, Uhnn, You lose the 25 pounds for Fantine and how did you do it and how did you get it back?
Anne: Haha! Umm, I’d rather not talk about the way I lost it please.
Ricky: Ah-hehe! (He chuckles as if it’s the most amusing thing in the world. Then he gasps for air.) Okay, how else did you prepare for the role?
(Anne replies with a lengthy dissertation regarding her process of preparation.)
Ricky:  You’re sin (scene), uh, showing you singing "I Dreamed a Dream" was memorable.
Anne: Thank you very much.
Ricky: I have a friend in the Philippines. Her name is Lea Salonga.
Anne: Huh! Hmmmm. (She touches her left chest with her right arm, lifts her head, closes her eyes and smiles.)
Ricky: I told her that I was going to en-terview you which is ah… (this part becomes unintelligible). In fact she has a me-seyj for you.
Anne: She does? (She grins and leans forward to check Lo's phone.)
Ricky: Yuh, I’d say he’s uh… oh dats set (that's it). (He hands over his phone, and Anne reads the message.) She texted it to me from da, from de US. (Lo sits back smugly.)
Anne: Oh I hope to meet her too.
Ricky: Oh see said see could hardly wait to hiss see da movie.
Anne: Oh my gosh, I adore her. I…
Ricky: Yes… (Lo cuts her.)
Anne: I adore her.
Ricky: You really say in uh Vogue en-terview that you could never have compared with Lea? And your mom who also played Pantene… Kate Mac-COW-ley! Why did you say dat? But you’re uh (shrugs 3 times as he grasps for a word he couldn't seem to remember) tea-rific in da movie.
Anne: Thank you. Thank you. (Then she talks about how Lea has made a career as a singer, “one of the great voices of our time” – Oddly, Anne doesn't seem to regard Salonga as an actress of considerable repute considering that “Les Miserables” was a musical played by “singing actors". The musical is not exactly just a concert. Salonga played two roles for the Les Miserables' Broadway run from March to October that year.)
Ricky: Did you get any pointers from your mum?
Anne: No!
Ricky: None? Now, for somebody who’s perceived to have, uh to live a life of luxury and privilege, how were you able to identi- (this point he turns gibberish) hu-wee… identify with uh Pantene.
Anne: Ehhh….
Ricky: Have you ever experience to be hang-gree (hungry), be poor, and you know, just like the character…
Anne: That’s a very personal question.
Ricky: A-hah-hah, okay. (Then he looks at his phone.) Yeah, how about uh, what’s your favorite sin (scene) in the movie? And hard-eest (hardest) to do?
(She replies it’s the scene where she gets to come back as an angel…)
Ricky nods ecstatically and mutters something unintelligible.
Anne: I got to feel nice. (Anne chuckles. Then Lo drops his phone…) Oh careful! The hardest scene was “I Dreamed a Dream.
Ricky: Oh, I dreamed… (gibberish) yes, yes, yes, yes. And uh, they’re sayin that you’re a SHO-in for da Oscars uh next year, uh how do you feel about it? (Anne smiles.) … At this early!
Anne: It is early. I feel like it’s early. Its… it would be extraordinary if it were to happen but I’m not counting on anything.
Ricky: Yes, what about  ey-ny (any) other musical that you like to do maybe on stage or in the movie.
Anne: Many.
Ricky: Oh!
Anne: Many.
Ricky: Yes. Uh would you like to say ah ey-ny me-seyj for Lea who’s looking forward to watching the movie and to meeting you in person?
Anne: Buh… we've already talked about that.
Ricky: Ah you did!
Anne: Yes.
Ricky: Ah okay.
Ricky: Ah what about inviting uh fans uh in the Philippines showing January yet.
Anne: Why don’t you invite them? I think they’d much rather hear from you.
Ricky: Ah okay (He chuckles with glee and embraces himself).
Anne: Hmmm hmmm (she laughed with pursed lips)
Ricky: Ah okay thank you.
Anne: Thank you very much.

As early as Friday evening, my BFFs Iyaya and Kyle had been separately prodding me to watch the viral interview between Philippine Star entertainment editor and columnist Ricky Lo and actress Anne Hathaway. They wanted to know what I felt about it. To cut the long story short, it was one of the most painful interviews I've seen in a long time. In fact, I shrunk several inches smaller by the time Ricky Lo muttered his last “Ah okay.” That it had to be uploaded online meant that it was available to the general public. This also meant that opinions about its content are rightfully expected. After all, the interview was made available to a very public platform. And why not? People love Anne Hathaway. She was a darling at 2011’s Oscars where she shared the stage with James Franco, singing about Hugh Jackman, etc. Her hosting spiel was charming and, to quote a Time Magazine piece about the show, “strangely aggressive.”

Ricky Lo’s interview with Hathaway, which happened on the first week of December 2012 at a hotel suite in Tokyo’s bustling Roponggi District, drew more attention due to the graceless exchange between the blundering Lo and the lovely actress. It is easy to see why this has gotten much attention from netizens. One entertainment writer (Tempo’s Ronald Constantino) dismissed this hullabaloo as “Much ado about nothing”. Clearly, this wasn't nothing. Something has to be done so we can avoid this embarrassment from happening again.

Journalists sent on junkets have to learn from this debacle. Ricky Lo didn't just represent himself and he knew this. Why else would he keep namedropping his compatriot and “friendLea Salonga as though she was the only one to have portrayed Fantine; as though Salonga was in the same film Hathaway had flown to Japan for? A mere mention would suffice, but Lo had to repeatedly ask and even share his phone’s SMS to the Oscar-nominated actress. He was bestowed a 5-minute audience with an A-lister and he had to insinuate Lea Salonga 3 times within his 5-minute time limit? Ever heard of overstaying a welcome?

Lea Salonga as Fantine
Was Hathaway rude? Ricky Lo sure thought so. In his Funfare column, Lo said he was not offended at all. Was she rude? “Hmmm only a bit,” he prudently offered. What did “only a bit” mean exactly if that wasn't a clear statement: Yes, Lo felt that Hathaway was rude. Then he added: “I must say that (ehem!) the more than 200 other Hollywood stars I have interviewed were absolutely more delightful, far nicer, and totally engaging.” This comes from someone who was not in any way offended by how he was being replied to. Which begs the question: Didn't the 200 Hollywood stars, not to mention two or three decades of interviewing personalities, train him how to conduct a better, albeit decent interview?

Ricky Lo should have come prepared. Mere research doesn't suffice. He should have vocally practiced some of his questions because he had them written on his phone anyway. He was, after all, facing the camera as well. He could have done away with a lot of “uh” and those inscrutable gibberish that only the heavens could understand. Several of his questions were dotted with unintelligible words; I had to transcribe the interview to be factual. His “scenes” became “sins”; “hungry” became “hang-gry”; “interview” became “en-terview”; “any” became “ey-ny”  and “hardest” became “hard-eest”. Heck, he can’t even pronounce Anne’s name right, calling the actress “Uhnn” as though she just crawled out of a cave and we're still in the Paleolithic age. “Hi, Uhnn,” he’d greet her. Moreover, he called Anne’s mom “Mc-COW-ly” (Anne’s mother is actress Kate McCauley Hathaway). As in “moo”? He fumbles with his tenses and subject-verb agreement. Between statements, he turns gibberish.  My favorite, of course, was “shoo in” which sounded ”SHO-in". 

The most glaring problem with this interview was how a veteran entertainment editor couldn't seem to “connect” with his subject. Lo seemed tentative and awkward. Anne was guarded and selectively nice. In Lo’s recent article (a sort-of “rebuttal” which he referred as “putting things in proper perspective”), he wrote that Anne perked up when he showed her Lea’s message. He continued, “When she gave me back my cellphone, I accidentally dropped it, prompting Anne to exclaim, Be careful! Lo’s statement is spurious because, if you check out the video, Hathaway handed back Lo’s phone at 1:35 and his phone fell at 3:16. This was when the actress reminded him to be careful. Isn't it rude fiddling with your phone while talking to someone, and on cam at that? It is important to pay attention to your subject instead of constantly gawking at your phone. Spontaneity is to be had when you listen! 


What transpired should provide a valuable lesson. A junket like this is made possible by the movie"s distribution arm. In this case, it is Solar Entertainment. Couldn't they have properly chosen someone more adept at interviewing stars? The better question is, how do they choose? Tic tac toe? Spin the bottle? Or maybe they consult Marites Allen's feng shui for their pick? There are plenty of journalists who are not too fixated with Lea Salonga, aren't there? Or is the country in a dearth of good journalists that people who can’t speak intelligible sentences had to represent the Philippines? And for what, so they can make fools of themselves? And how can an entertainment editor perform so dreadfully? 

That Ricky Lo finds nothing wrong with his “performance” is a study of ignorance; that he finds it “amusing” is a more serious matter and could be a reflection of cognitive or psychological malfunction, unless these declarations are nothing but avenues of self-preservation. Wasn't this debacle a pondering of taste (or the lack thereof) and blatant inadequacy? Is Lo the best that the country can offer in terms of entertainment journalism? If this were so, aren't we in a lamentable state? Finally, why are GMA7 and Philippine Star fond of hiring people whose screen personas and TV appearances make my skin crawl? I can name two others. Guess who?   

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kim Nguyen's War Witch - Senselessness

Like most people in the sub-Saharan territory, Komona (Rachel Mwanza) lives in the squalor of her riverside community. At 12 years old, her village is invaded by rebel forces, headed by one called the “Great Tiger” (Mizinga Mwinga), who forcibly recruit and kidnap children, transforming them into ruthless soldiers. For Komona, she was ordered to shoot her parents with an AK-47. “Shoot them, or I will kill them with a machete, and they will suffer more,” prods the invader. She does so, thus she was taken to the rebel camp where they’re forced into manual labor.

At an encounter with government forces, Komona becomes the sole survivor. She is bestowed the superstitious tag, the “War Witch” – she who’s able to see hiding enemies in the ornery jungles. At 13, she meets their fascinating rebel leader, believed to possess magical powers much like a “spirit medium”. Komona is further “deputized” as a lucky charm; someone who could help the rebels avoid imminent death and eventually win their war. She meets Magician (Serge Kanyinda), a fellow child soldier, who constantly looks after her. One day, Magician convinces her to desert the rebel forces. They leave and fall in love. Unfortunately, the life and gruesome past of a “war witch” aren't easier abandoned. What future does Komona have?

 Two years ago, Gerard Butler appeared in a film called “Machine Gun Preacher”. The film, based on real events, centers on Sam Childers (Butler), a former biker who turned preacher and defender of African orphans kidnapped by the malevolent forces of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony believed to have recruited between 60,000 to 100,000 child soldiers and displaced around 2 million people throughout South Africa. The LRA is a militant religious, albeit superstitious cult, operating in Northern Uganda, South Sudan (the setting of “Machine Gun Preacher”), and the Democratic Republic of Congo where “War Witch” was filmed. Komona’s story might as well be a chapter in Sam Childers’ chronicles. That being said, “War Witch” is a fitting companion piece to the less successfully realized “Machine Gun Preacher”.

Director Kim Nguyen’s “War Witch” (Rebelle) sets his narrative in an unnamed African country, giving spotlight to this virulent infliction of brutal wars in African territories. Nguyen tells his story with impressionistic strokes that's almost anti-schmaltz. Half way through the story, he unexpectedly lunges into rom-com territory: Magician proposes to Komona who would agree to marry the former if he finds her a “white rooster” as a sort-of dowry; one of the traditional pre-wedding practices in the region. Problem is, white roosters are exceedingly rare in Africa. The film swerves to a different flavor when Komona is re-captured by the rebels (after all, how can they win the war without their “witch”) who then becomes sex slave to a rebel commandant (Alain Lino Mic Eli Bastien). To exact her revenge, she finds an avocado seed, cuts it to its core, insinuates a razor blade inside, then places the seed inside her vagina. You can just imagine what transpires with a “forcible entry”, right?

The real Lord's Resistance Army
Nguyen delivers his exposition with bewitching narrative artifice, like showing Komona’s parents as ghosts – ashen faced and solitary. Their society believes, much like ours, that the dead has to be properly buried for their souls to rest. This has Komona’s ghostly parents intermittently haunting her, pleading for a proper burial. In these impressionistic expositions, we find a world that's far removed from ours, but these reflections offer glimpses into a universal truth: war is senseless. There is a need for constant reminders, but people keep forgetting anyway.

War Witch” is one of the five Oscar nominees in this year’s Best Foreign Language Film category. It is Canada's entry to the Academy. It already won several awards including Berlin's 2012 Silver Bear Best Actress Award for its 14 year old lead Rachel Mwanza who likewise won at the Tribeca Film Festival. Interestingly, Mwanza was discovered by Nguyen on the streets of Kinshasa, the capital of Congo. Just FYI, Brillante Mendoza's "Captive" joined Berlin's 2012 Main Competition - the first time a Filipino film was able to penetrate the Main Competition in 3 decades after Bernal's "Himala".

Komona meets the "Great Tiger".

Restless "ghosts"

Komona's parents ask for proper burial.
Director Kim Nguyen

Friday, January 18, 2013

Paul Singh Cudail's Scorpion Lovers - Deception in Elementary Exposition

Romy (Karl Matthew Garcia), a call center agent, lives with lover Angelo (Dice Vergara), a student whom he financially supports. In a two-story apartment, they play out their seemingly harmonious lives. But Romy is on the verge of resigning from his job, looking forward to a well deserved summer holiday in Dumaguete with Angelo. What he doesn’t know is that Angelo failed his classes (he keeps putting off showing his class cards). What’s worse, their congenial relationship is a one-way affair; and Angelo’s itching to get rid of his doting benefactor. Meanwhile, a new boarder moves into a room downstairs. Vince (Glenn de Luna), the new guy, is imprudent, something that Angelo despises. the new housemate is a former macho dancer now being kept by a lascivious housewife (Jessica Ruiz) whose husband works overseas as a seaman.     

While Romy is away, Vince catches the disagreeable Angelo pleasuring himself while holding Vince’s missing underwear. This gives Vince the opportunity to seduce Angelo who, with nary a second thought, gives in – and even offers compensation for the former gay bar habituĂ©. “Magkano ba’ng bayad nila sa yo? Siguro naman, kaya din kitang bayaran.” he asks.

Before long, Vince and Angelo become regular bedmates. One day, Romy comes home unexpectedly earlier than usual and he finds his housemates tintinnabulating their bells. What’s a guy to do? Should he accept the gun that his friend Joaquin (Ian Ileto) is offering? Guess.

Director Paul Singh Cudail’s “Scorpion Lovers” is 2013’s first local film released in commercial outlets. And I shiver at the thought of what this hints. Are we going to be inundated with more neuron-challenged male-oriented eroticas? The story, if you haven’t noticed, has been told several times in the past. While deception has many faces, “Scorpion Lovers” is particularly derivative and not well conceptualized. Like most of Cudail’s works, the story is laced with a hundred-and-one loopholes. Romy pays for his lover’s education yet he’s resigning from his job? How is he going to pay for Angelo’s tuition? Sure, they were planning for a summer holiday. But most working men take a leave of absence when taking a vacation; they don’t quit work.

Angelo never showed his new housemate Vince an iota of hospitality – or even attraction for that matter. He despised the guy, yet when he found Vince’s soiled underwear, he scampers to his room so he could “play” with it. This hardly makes sense. Even a sexual deviation like paraphilia has to follow certain rational strains.   

At the film’s second half, the narrative aimlessly rambles; the story gets desperate for a plot device to further move the story that seems to have stagnated. So Cudail presents us with his “deux ex machina” of sorts to address his storytelling dilemma. Enter Ian Ileto, the film’s editor and cinematographer, who cameos as Joaquin, Romy’s friend. His mere presence provides a foreboding that you could smell a mile away. Quite predictably, Cudail, who by then has painted himself into a corner, has found his narrative salvation. Is this brilliance? You could only wish. Similar minded Pink Flick directors like Edz Espiritu, Jigz Recto and Darry dela Cruz always end their stories tragically to provide an undeserved drama. Why not kill off a character? Better yet, why not kill everyone? Let's conclude the whole she-bang with a blood bath for inspiration, debah?

Cudail has been taking down notes from Blush because, for the first time in his mediocre directorial career, he didn’t offer a single shower/bathing scene, thinking perhaps that the absence of which could improve his storytelling acumen. It is wishful thinking, of course. But it is nevertheless refreshing not being able to watch anyone soap away their grime. Make no mistake, it’s still exploitative. A lot of wrinkly derriere (check out the opening scene) is still being flashed around. 

Glenn de Luna gets it on with boyish Dice Vergara.

Dice Vergara is as doltish as Karl Matthew Garcia who, with his tall and lanky frame, tries hard, if a bit too awkwardly. Garcia, who we last saw wave his “light saber” in Crisaldo Pablo’s inane, “Bagito”, must be raring to move away from Pablo’s shadow. Glenn de Luna’s performance is likewise hobbled by caricature. If there’s anyone who registers better than the main characters, it’s the hunky Ian Ileto who earlier topbilled a “Blue Lagoon” yarn for Deo Fajardo’s “East of Paradise”. Unfortunately, Ileto appears in only 3 sequences or so.

Why “Scorpion Lovers”? The title is an afterthought, to be honest. It turns out that both Angelo and Vince were born under one astrological sign - ScorpioNaw, they didn't turn into predatory eight-legged arthropods with claws and venomous stingers. Cudail would have you believe otherwise, but mark my words. Nothing is vaguely profound in this film. It’s superficial, it’s crass and it’s cheap.

Ian Ileto pawns his gun to Karl Matthew Garcia. Not that gun!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild - Stories from the Bayou

The images flickering before your eyes are nothing short of mesmerizing. The terrain is a dolorous montage of swampland teeming with dark crabs and catfish, and rugged earth ostensibly ravaged by catastrophe. Yet this is contemporary America somewhere at the fringes of New Orleans. It's a secluded bayou that the locals call the Bathtub constantly imperiled by melting ice caps and, to the mind of a 6 year old child, aurochs - the ancestors of the domestic cattle. They were wild gigantic, carnivorous beasts so savage that they annihilated anything that crossed their paths, and ate even their newborn. And we wonder why they're considered extinct.

In this isolated bayou, 6 year old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) lives with her emotionally distant father Wink (Dwight Henry) who's afflicted with an obscure illness. Wink keeps the impressionable child at bay, intermittently reminding her "not to cry", pepping her up with "Who's the man" mantras. But their surrounding is a place of desolate poverty; most folks take to their alcohols seriously like Sunday church service. When the rains finally come, downpour turns into ravenous flooding that eventually turns the ecosystem that used to provide food and drinking water to this displaced community into nothing but wasteland. Carcasses are seen floating on swampland, and the fish population has dwindled to nil.With houses and farmlands obliterated, Hushpuppy finds herself homeless. Yet the survivors refuse to evacuate the place. With Wink's declining health, the local community are eventually and forcibly sequestered into hospitals and evacuation centers. Will Wink recover from his illness? What becomes of Hushpuppy?

Quvenzhane Wallis gives an astounding performance as 6 year old Hushpuppy.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" is a prodigious Oscar entry, with 9 year old Wallis getting the nomination nod for the Best Actress category (the youngest in the category in Oscar history), and we're not surprised. The piece is compelling though, at times, hard to he employs unconventional story telling tack. In fact, the first 30 minutes unravels like a dreamy, albeit disturbing fairy tale, chimerical in its narrative structure and almost otherworldly with its haunting images and the voice over musings of Wallis. There are scenes that would have you breathless (like when Wallis visits a bar filled with hookers to look for her mother, or when Hushpuppy meets a horde of aurochs, or when the frustrated little girl gets frustrated that she burns down her shanty to the ground). If there's an "experiment" in film making, this would be it, not the cinematic gibberish of, say Gym Lumbera's "Anak Araw".

The movie is not for everyone, but reflects the inconstant, if pragmatic taste of the members of the Academy. Ben Affleck's snub as Best Director for "Argo", a film that already won several awards at the Golden Globes (including Best Picture and Best Director) is a major misstep. But they get a sliver of salvation for recognizing the artistic merits in director Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild".  

Navigating the bayou.

Father and daughter

The aurochs as depicted in a painting by Heinrich Harder and (above) in a cave in France (from wikipedia's Prof sax). 

Director Benh Zeitlin. "Beasts..." is his first full length feature, but as young as 6 years old, he already made a "Batman" film with his friend in his New York City neighborhood. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Antonio Mercader's Galaw - Muddled Thoughts

As earlier promised, I am posting one of the most popular titles (based on page reads and number of visits from their "blank pages") for our hundreds of Pink Film readers. This was initially scheduled for a December 1, 2012 posting. Is this movie any good? I'd lie if I say it is. It features some of the hottest names in the genre. Director Angelo Mercader is a discombobulated soul at best. Read on.


Simon (Glenn de Luna) braves Manila all the way from Gumaca, Quezon. Upon reaching the choleric byways of the city, Simon meets and makes a deal with Paolo (Brad Laurente) who sells stolen cellphones. You see, Simon needs to buy a new phone. Moreover, he's selling his brother's expensive necklace. Upon delivery of the gadget, Simon unknowingly accepts a "treat" from Paolo who offers a bottle of soda spiked with a sleeping pill. Simon succumbs to the scheme. When he wakes up, he's lying on the ground divested of a few things. He's lost his wallet, a pair of shoes, and the prized necklace. Amazingly, he gets to keep his cell phone which is an act of benevolence from the baddies, debah? Otherwise, Paolo must have missed the phone. Simon vows for vengeance - and he won't stop until he gets everything back.

Meanwhile, a third character named Jonathan (Jeff Luna) shows up in Paolo's house. Jonathan enjoys intimate moments with Paolo. He is also attracted to his young and handsome roommate (TJ Alonzo) who intermittently services him for a massage. Owing to their salubrious association, Jonathan becomes party to Paolo's schemes; the one who got Simon in trouble.

One day, Simon finds the boarding house owned by Paolo. He pretends he's someone else; a guy named Jake. And as though cast under a hypnotic spell, Paolo doesn't recognize Simon who becomes the new boarder. A case of Attention Deficit Disorder, perhaps? When the time was right, Simon eventually confronts Paolo, sequestering him inside a room, then threatening to annihilate the cell phone thief - with real loud, albeit vein-popping shouts - if he doesn't return the loot. Will Simon be able to retrieve the things he lost?

Director Angelo Mercader must have been in a fog when he conceived "Galaw" (Move) because almost every twist in his narrative is characterized by absurdity. There's Jeff Luna's Jonathan whose every move is dictated by his carnality so he drifts around fantasizing about his next sexual rendezvous. He doesn't do anything but lurk around Paolo's. Glenn de Luna, also known as Luigi Romero in gag-worthy Lucas Mercado flicks, mentions that he works for a call center. He was sent by his company to errr... sell a necklace? Buy a cell phone? Perform a shower scene? Gumaca is far just for mere showers.

"Nakita kitang pinapanood mo si Jake," Paolo tells Jonathan.
Which makes you think: Quezon must be a bustling metropolis teeming with call centers; something I wasn't aware of until now.

What's funnier is how Simon needed to travel to Manila just to buy a stolen phone so it suits him well to get bamboozled by the same seller. Don't they have cell phone shops in Gumaca that he had to endure 140 kilometers of travel, not to mention spend a considerable sum on bus fare? To exact his revenge, Simon needed to relocate and stay in Paolo's boarding house. Over a P20,000 necklace? There are less painful ways. He can report to the barangay, for starters. These narrative sketches don't add up at all.

Glenn de Luna headlines this astonishing piece. While he does a wee bit better than his previous flicks, these triumphs aren't much to crow about. In a scene when he finally confronts Brad/Paolo, he manhandles his beefy landlord. Laurente could easily flex his muscle because Glenn is several stones leaner, lighter than Brad. Yet the latter just stares at Glenn as though bitten and paralyzed by a venomous snake. The whole scene is truly a beholding piece of asininity.

TJ Alonzo, in his film debut, looks lost, but so would you if your character is a caricature of something that's hard to describe. What the heck is he doing here? I had been looking forward to seeing TJ on screen because, let's face it, this young man is quite a looker. But then his raison d'etre starts and ends when he starts canoodling with Jeff Luna for a massage session. When he begins kissing Luna all over his torso, you could see Alonzo trying hard not to land his kisses. He doesn't do well mimicking this. It was a painful watch. Poor boy!

If you consider it punishment to follow the story, your agony is further compounded by bad audio. You strain to hear some of the lines and you actually miss a few things. Director Mercader is too inept to clean his narrative as well as his film making skills. But what do you expect from a former setman of films like "Pasukob" (Ai Ai delas Alas, Rufa Mae Quinto). He probably got his on-the-job film making education from Wenn Deramas. And serously now, what can anyone learn from Deramas? Telling a story is a matter of common sense. And it's a a no-show here. This is why a little knowledge is dangerous. Because props men tend to believe that they can direct movies after mere observation.
What's a Pink Film without a shower scene, right? Glenn de Luna (as Simon/Jake soaps away like there's no tomorrow.
Paolo (Brad Laurente) senses something.
TJ's kisses land in midair.
Right after his bed scenes with TJ Alonzo, Jeff Luna is suddenly seen sharing his bed with Paolo. Did I miss a frame? Is the editor in the building?

Simon drinks a apiked cola.

Glenn de Luna formerly Luigi Romero

TJ Alonzo: Isn't he adorable?
TJ Alonzo in one of photographer Vic Fabe's best works. Visit his site at Mr. Fabe also has photo magazines bearing his name available at bookstores. Hmmm I may grab a copy soon if my BFF Kyle doesn't get his first. :)


Please read our featured post on Cinema Bravo and why Web Criticism isn't always about good writing:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Blush - The Best, The Breakthroughs & The Irritants of 2012

Making a shortlist to represent 2012's best films was harder than I thought because at some point, I found myself overwhelmed by the startling number of local film output. We've given the number from our last post: 142 films were shown in commercial cinemas. This number was bolstered by the emergence of a flurry of film festivals: SM Cinema's Big Shot, Cinemalaya, Cinema One Film Festival, MMFF New Wave, Metro Manila Film Festival. The point here is, I want to present a compendium that best represents the film year. But more than anything, the titles have to be beautifully told, exquisitely presented, and the most important element is its entertainment quotient. After all, I am disinclined to include a title that I did not enjoy; who cares if it's one of the best reviewed films of the year? They have to compel me to attentively sit back while I am taken into a different world.

After several days of meticulous deliberation, I narrowed the list down to a crop of 20 and added a couple more titles ("Unofficially Yours", "Rigodon") that we feel should not be ignored, mainly because they're geared for their pecuniary existence. What reveals is that more than 50% of these titles come from the aforementioned film festivals; only five titles were from mainstream machinery. It's thus becoming clear how mainstream mentality is gradually losing ground where artistic patronage is concerned because, if you haven't noticed, the Cinemalaya screenings alone drew huge crowds at cinemas of exhibition. Many of these works were directorial showcases more than an actor's vehicle (Fredo's "In Nomine Matris", Sanchez's "Jungle Love", Martinez's "I Doo Bidoo Bidoo", Acierto's "Grave Bandits"). These films and film makers made 2012 a pleasurable year for shelling out hard earned money to be able to enjoy the magic of the silver screen.

BEST FILMS of 2012:  

1. Vincent Sandoval's Aparisyon
2. Jun Lana's Bwakaw - WINNER
3. Joyce Bernal's Of All The Things
4. Chris Martinez's I Doo Bidoo Bidoo
5. Mes de Guzman's Diablo
6. Sherad Anthony Sanchez's Jungle Love
7. Pam Miras' Pascalina
8. Marie Jamora's Ang Nawawala
9. Brillante Mendoza's Thy Womb
10. Erik Matti's Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles

Also considered: Tyrone Acierto's Grave Bandits, Marty Syjuco's Give Up Tomorrow, Adolfo Alix, Jr.'s Kalayaan, Richard Somes' Mariposa sa Hawla ng Gabi, Sari Lluch Dalena and Keith Sicat's Himala Ngayon, Loy Arcenas' REquieme, Will Fredo's In Nomine Matris, Lawrence Fajardo's Posas, Arnel Madroquio's Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim, Erik Matti's Rigodon, Ian Loreno's Alagwa, Cathy Garcia-Molina's Unofficially Yours


1. Will Fredo – "In Nominee Matris"
2. Chris Martinez in "I Doo Bidoo Bidoo"
3. Jun Lana – "Bwakaw"
4. Brillante Mendoza – "Thy Womb" - WINNER
5. Vincent Sandoval – "Aparisyon"
6. Mes de Guzman – "Diablo"
7. Marie Zamora – "Ang Nawawala"
8. Tyrone Acierto – "The Grave Bandits"
9. Pam Miras – "Pascalina"
10. Loy Arcenas - "REquime!"

2012 also gave us indelible performances. We've narrowed down our choices to a maximum of 10. Six names are big studio draws; one is a Thai superstar. Kristoffer King drew thespic strength from Paul Sta. Ana's "Oros" and Armando Lao's "Ad Ignorantiam", but we had to pick his more complex performance to make the list.


1. Eddie Garcia as the grumpy and closeted Rene in Jun Lana's "Bwakaw" - WINNER
2. Aga Muhlach as Emil, the Bar Exams flunker, in Joyce Bernal's "Of All the Things"
3. Dingdong Dantes as childless husband Edward in Ruel Bayani's "One More Try"
4. Coco Martin as carpenter Pol in Emmanuel Palo's "Santa Nina"
5. Kristoffer King as the necklace-snatching suspect Roberto in Armando Lao's "Ad Ignorantiam"
6. Jericho Rosales as a grieving father Robert in Ian Loreno's "Alagwa"
7. Dennis Trillo as Ruben, the lonely caretaker of a former President's house in Aloy Adlawan's "Ang Katiwala"
8. John Lloyd Cruz as news intern Mackie Galvez in Cathy Garcia-Molina's "Unofficially Yours"
9. Ananda Everingham as disturbed soldier Julian Macaraeg in Adolfo Alix, Jr.'s "Kalayaan"
10. Dominic Roco as Gibson, the traumatized twin, in Marie Jamora's "Ang Nawawala"


1. Nora Aunor as Shaleha, the childless Badjau midwife, in Brillante Mendoza's "Thy Womb" - WINNER
2. Angel Locsin as Grace, the mother with a very sick child, in Ruel Bayani's "One More Try"
3. Ama Quiambao as Nanay Lusing, the lonely mother of three sons, in Mes de Guzman's "Diablo"
4. Eugene Domingo as Rosie in Chris Martinez's "I Doo Bidoo Bidoo"
5. Olga Natividad as a hotel's housekeeping supervisor Ella in Julius Cena's "Mga Dayo"
6. Shamaine Buencamino as barangay chairman Swanie for Loy Arcenas' "REquime"
7. Angelica Panganiban as Jacqui in Ruel Bayani's "One More Try"
8. Bea Alonzo as Sari, the seamstress with a secret, in Olivia Lamasan's "The Mistress"

I have to say that Angel Locsin turned in a career's best. In this tackily titled movie, Locsin bravely tackles a role with a considerable degree of difficulty that she was able to hurdle quite impressively. Locsin was as empathetic as Aunor's Shaleha. However, La Aunor succeeded more as she gracefully disappeared into her character without much vocal calisthenics or excessive physical artifice.


1. Art Acuna as menacing Inspector Domingo in Lawrence Fajardo's "Posas" - WINNER
2. Ronaldo Valdez as philandering husband Rico in Olivia Lamasan's "The Mistress"
3. Daniel Fernando as the aging boxer Lauro in Jose Antonio de Rivera and Bianca Catbagan's "Suntok sa Buwan"
4. Nicholas Varela as the doped out Mike in Christian Linaban's "Aberya"
5. Joey Paras as the feisty Tracy in Jun Lana's "Bwakaw"
6. Tommy Abuel as the sympathetic father in Joyce Bernal's "Of All the Things"
7. Cesar Montano as Andres Bonifacio for Mark Meilly's "El Presidente"


1. LJ Reyes as Doray, the orphaned girl driven to prostitution, in Lemuel Lorca's "Intoy Syokoy sa Kalye Marino" - WINNER
2. Janice de Belen as the vengeful wife in Rico Maria Ilrde's Pridyider
3. Annicka Dolonius as heartbroken Enid in Marie Jamora's "Ang Nawawala"
4. Raquel Villavicencio as guilt-stricken Sister Vera in Vincent Sandoval's "Aparisyon"
5. Hilda Koronel as Regina, the wife who desperately craves for her husband's undivided love, in Olivia Lamasan's "The Mistress"
6. Clara Ramona as Mercedes Lagdameo, the dance ingenue who sacrificed her family for her love of dance, in Will Fredo's "In Nomine Matris"
7. Tami Monsod as Ava Bonifacio, the former flamenco star who gave up everything for love, in Will Fredo's "In Nomine Matris"
8. Andi Eigenmann as man-eating Rafi, who desperately tries to claw her way into a man's affection, in Nuel Naval's "A Secret Affair"
9. Alessandra de Rossi as Madel, the incestuous cousin, in Emmanuel Palo's "Santa Nina"

Breakthrough Artists of 2012

This category spotlights the performers, mostly new names, who made quite an impression in their roles from films released in 2012. Other personalities (Nicholas Varela, Art Acuna, Annicka Dolonnius) belong here, but since they're in major categories, we've decided to take them off this list to avoid being redundant. This list contains promising names that deserve better projects and more exposure in the entertainment business. Some of them will create bigger waves in the industry.

1. Alex Medina - He already won an acting award for his part in Ato Bautista's "Palitan". This year, we first noticed him in Dimaculangan, Ramos and Rivera's "Balang Araw" (Bullet Day). He then appeared in four more flicks: Richard Somes' "Supremo" and "Mariposa: Sa Hawla ng Gabi", Bautista's "Palitan" and Pam Miras' "Pascalina". He was, of course, in several other indies like Paul Morales' "Concerto". His father is actor Pen Medina.

2. Patrick Sugui. This former PBB Teen was a revelation in Gino Santos' "The Animals".

3. Carlo Cruz in Archie Dimaculangan and company's "Balang Araw" (Bullet Day). We also saw him as a sinister senior fratman in Gino Santos' "The Animals".

4. Acey Aguilar - He appeared in Alcazaren's "Colossal" opposite Mercedes Cabral. He also headlined the MMFF Student Short Film, Nikko Arcega and Minette Palcon's "Lugaw" where he played out-of-luck Boyong, the father of a sick child.

5. Jacob Miller as Brat for Lem Lorca's "Bola". This newbie from Davao can give many veteran actors a run for their thespic money!

6. Kristoffer Martin as Abet in Paul Sta. Ana's "Oros". His eye-catching turn here should usher more roles in prestigious indie film projects as he is clearly underused in his mother studio.

7. Mara Lopez - She was quite an eye-catcher in Ron Morales' "Santa Mesa" a few years ago. This year, she comes into her own in Ato Bautista's "Palitan" and Maribel Legarda's "Melodrama Negra".

8. Ronald Pacifico - He charmed the audience as the grave-digging thief Romy in Tyrone Acierto’s Zombie flick "The Grave Bandits".

9. John James Uy and Yam Concepcion scorch the screen in Erik Matti's ultra-sexy "Rigodon".

10. Gino de la Pena played Emman in Jose Javier Reyes' "Mga Munting Lihim".

11. Benjamin Alves. This Piolo Pascual-lookalike is Pascual's real life nephew and has his uncle's strong presence. He appeared opposite Lovi Poe in Tara Illenberger's "Guni-Guni". He is now groomed by GMA7 for bigger things.

12. Micko Laurente as Berto, the solvent-sniffing street urchin in Michael Angelo Dagnalan’s "Paglaya sa Tanikala". 

13. Richard Bradley Arma earlier played lead in Gabs Ramos' "Mestizo: A Beautiful Boy". He then re-appeared in Ronaldo Bertubin’s "Gayak". This Caucasian looker speaks flawless Tagalog. 

14. Sef Cadayona. He is arguably this year's most successful breakthrough actor, moving out from career limbo by appearing in Emmanuel dela Cruz's "Slumber Party" then in Ronaldo Bertubin's "Gayak". 

Clockwise from top left: Carlo Cruz, Jacob Miller, Kristoffer Martin, Ronald Pacifico, Gino dela Pena.

Clockwise from top left: Acey Aguilar, Sef Cadayona, Benjamin Alves, Micko Laurente, Richard Bradley Arma, John James Uy and Yam Concepcion.

Left to right: Alex Medina, Mara Lopez, Patrick Sugui


With 45 titles released in 2012, this genre clearly represents the worst lot in the film industry. They exploit men willing to wave their shortcomings for the 2-minute glory under the celluloid sun; they have sparse narrative, redundant scenography and limited imagination. It is thus a pleasure whenever we find titles that rise above the muck. We've written about them here. And we're proud to declare these 4 titles, the year's Best Pink Films:

1. Gerardo Calagui's "Marcie"
2. Monti Parungao's "The Escort"
3. Lem Lorca's "Bola"
4. Niko Jacinto's "Salo" (Share)


1. Khen Aldovino is an all-around irritant in Krizzie Syfu's Big Shot entry, "Tahanan". 

2. Suspenseful scenes in Somes’ "Corazon Ang Unang Aswang" where the characters of Tetchie Agbayani and Erich Gonzales are written and depicted as insane people more than monsters. There’s a stark difference between monstrosity and insanity.

3. Protracted building of mood and atmosphere in Muhammad Yusuf’s "The Witness" tests fortitude and challenges common sense. Every action is done in slow motion that the mere opening of doors will take 2 minutes!

4. Every single creature in Joel Lamangan’s "The Mommy Returns" is a despicable character. There’s the dying father who’s rushing his matrimonial plunge so someone could take care of his children when he croaks (isn’t deception horrible?) There’s the new stepmother who dubiously agrees to marry her beau less than two weeks after their serendipitous meeting (why was she that desperate to tie the knot?) There’s the greedy in-law (Gloria Diaz as Mabel Diaz Laurel, a society matron who has fallen on hard times) who’s ecstatic over Catherine’s marriage to William as it would allow her to pay off all her accumulating debts (aren’t we the opportunistic in-law?) There are the meanest children who would do everything to embarrass their stepmother.

5. Cesar Montano’s pa-burgis demeanor as Ben Muriilo in Montano’s action flick, “Hitman”.

6. Wenn Deramas' "Moron 5 and the Crying Lady". Need I say more?

7. Arkey Munoz's incessant bawling in Edz Espiritu's Pink fodder "Hubo". You'd think he was competing for an Olympic-gold for his irritating lacrimation prowess.
8. Gigi Alfonso-Javier's preachy and amateurish "Flames of Love".

This is how a Manunuri and film professor make movies? Whenever she needs help, Dina Bonnevie's character would ask everyone to kneel down and pray, yet she flagrantly prods her friend Lani Mercado, a married dermatologist, to sleep outside her marital bliss.

This revolting piece runs for a painful 2 1/2 hours and doesn't show much artistic intuition. Truly one of the year's worst!

9. Sexual assault/rape is deemed hilarious in Emmanuel dela Cruz's "Slumber Party".

10. Vacillating accents of a physician played by Alex Cortez in Joyce Bernal's "Kimmy Dora and the Temple of Kiyeme".

11. Paul Singh Cudail’s "Hawla" - A stark proof of Cudail’s cinematic idiocy is a scene showing a medical report confirming that, indeed, a character was HIV-positive! This paper was amazingly signed by an X-ray technician and a radiologist, instead of a medical technologist and a pathologist!

     12. Very unsteady and aimless camera in Armando Lao's "Ad Ignorantiam". Come on, enough of this gag-inducing and lazy film-making shtick!

13. Films that made me want to walk out: a. Raymond Red's "Kamera Obskura". While visually arresting, the novel concept eventually loses steam as the second half wavers into narrative indecision. b. Khavn dela Cruz's "Edsa XXX" is a revolting pastiche of dissonant and noisy musical-cum-comedy-cum-political satire. c. Gym Lumbera's "Anak Araw"'s overly self indulgent musings of an albino who believes he's an American's child. The film is filled with visual borborygmus (flipping through the pages of a dictionary lasting for more than 3 minutes) that will initially draw you in, but ultimately repel you from excessive aimlessness. The film is in dire need of a narrative structure. An experiment that does not work. Yet these three works are some of the year's most critically praised pictures. Go figure! 

14. Angelica Panganiban's mostly inebriated character in Dante Nico Garcia's "Madaling Araw, Mahabang Gabi". 

15. The choice of employing the Queen’s English as medium of expression in Leonardo Belen's "Pinoy Super Kid" is befuddling! In fact, the first few minutes felt like a joke. Take one look at Buboy Villar and his physical attributes: brown skin, flat nose with upturned nostrils, eye slits typically Asian – then he opens his mouth and out comes English, in its most horrifically pugnacious form! This eventually turns into a laughfest with teachers, drivers, sari sari store tinderas “trying” their spine tingling twangs. What's wrong with Tagalog? 


Some of the most compelling stories are told in the most concise manner. You don't need 2 or 5 hours to tell a clamorous tale. These are a few of the short films that we thoroughly enjoyed in 2012. "Manenaya" has some of the most sublime scenography. "Salvi's" brilliant use of set transcends local post-apocalyptic scenario - in Ilonggo! What is the price of a stolen necklace? Hannah Espia's "Ruweda" provides a disturbing answer as she drives us around a congested perya (a local town carnival). Pagotan's "Manibela" is buoyed by striking leads (Jennica Garcia, Bernard Laxa, Paloma and the sinister Joey Cando). Acey Aguilar makes a delectably sympathetic, albeit dreamy protagonist as his character Boyong looks for work so he could buy his sick child food and Paracetamol - in Arcega and Palcon's "Lugaw". Move over, Piolo Pascual! :) But the best realized story is Matutina's relentless "Imik" with Mercedes Cabral and the intimidatory/predatory Paolo Rodriguez. "Imik", in fact, feels like a feature film more than a mere short feature.

1. Richard Legaspi's "Manenaya" (Waiting)
2. Hannah Espia's "Ruweda"
3. Roberto Pagotan's "Manibela"
4. Anna Isabelle Matutina's "Imik"
5. Nikko Arcega and Minette Palcon's "Lugaw"
6. TM Malones' "Salvi"