Saturday, May 31, 2014

Jerry Lopez Sineneng's "Maybe This Time" - All Around Awful

Awful. I was incredibly perplexed. When Sarah Geronimo opened “Maybe This Time” with a voice over, it was like listening to a “best elocution exercise”. It could earn a good mark if we were in class, but it was an exercise nevertheless. Deriving sincerity from her skewed delivery was another thing. Why Geronimo would exclusively speak in the Queen’s tongue in a story that involved Tagalog-spewing Pinoy blue collar workers is as baffling as Kris Aquino comparing “My Little Bossings” and “Spiderman 2”. It was off-putting to say the least, because it came out stilted and unnatural. Lea Salonga in “The Voice” commented that Geronimo’s English is improving. “Push mo yan,” she’d egg her on, but hearing Geronimo’s “There was never as ussssssssssss….” kept giving me goose bumps. Sharon Cuneta spoke impeccable English yet her quotable film quotes were kilometric Tagalog words, not vacuous pretentious English phrases that reeked of hollow emotions and cliches lifted from some undisclosed romantic novels. Viva Films is apparently trying hard to elevate Sarah’s hip quotient. If Jerry Lopez Sineneng’s film is any indication, then they’re doing Sarah a disservice because it is becoming obvious what she is not.

The story leaves much to be desired. Boy meets girl (Coco Martin and Sarah Geronimo, respectively) during the latter’s outreach program in an idyllic seaside community. He flirts with her while she’s giving the poor children reading lessons. But what can you say about a guy who disrupts classes, flirts in front of the kids, puts his arms on her shoulder without any resistance, sweeps her off her feet and carries her to the sea – all these even before he officially asks if he could court her. Yeah, sure, we’re tickled pink. Their world is an alternate universe of light-hearted romance. Yipee! But we have to wait for another day before she accepts his romantic offering, right? When that day finally comes, Sarah learns that she’s been abandoned. No notes, no goodbyes, no text messages, no emails, no YM offline nor Kakao talk messages. Nada. This was of course 10 years ago.

Present day. Sarah, aka Stephanie Asuncion, works for an advertising firm whose main client is Kakao Talk (so we basically know how juvenile and cheap the company is, right?) This is headed by Ruffa Gutierrez aka Boss Monica, who eats Steph for breakfast, Steph for lunch and, once again, Steph for dinner. Monica detests Steph’s ideas so much that she had to entrust an exquisitely important project to – drum roll please! – Steph! At this point, my neck wasn't moving sideways, but spinning Linda Blair 360 degrees. Why hand over a special account to the underling who constantly drew your ire? The math here just doesn't add up. But then how would Sarah and Coco (aka Anton Bugayon) meet again if we don’t overlook this unbelievable lapse of judgement and turn of events?

Turns out, Steph is still sporting a heartache, and Anton is likewise carrying a torch for Steph. Between our star-crossed lovers is a tall and statuesque, Prada-toting Monica, replete with her middle-aged lateral canthal crow’s feet. What to do?


In 2010, Sarah Geronimo and Coco Martin starred in “Idol”, a Glee-inspired TV series that didn’t fly. In fact this was unceremoniously shut down way before it’s supposed to. Even Sarah’s million-and-counting Popsters were so bored with it, they kept their distance. Writing was middling and painfully derivative, but more than that, there was no real and palpable chemistry between the two stars. What changed 4 years later? Nothing. Their pairing is as tepid now as it once was. You would think they’d learn from the TV debacle, right?

If Sarah and Coco are a match made in purgatory, Ruffa Gutierrez’s presence is a behemoth mystery. Think Bermuda Triangle, or the Stonehenge, or (ready with those lightning-catchers!!!) Kris Aquino shamelessly proclaiming herself as the Oprah Winfrey of the Philippines. Gutierrez is simply too superannuated to complete the romantic triangle of an already belabored screen pairing. And if she were a tad intuitive as an actress, she could have helped sweeten the already murky cinematic palette. But Ruffa is a Gutierrez and what have we realized about the Gutierrezes as far as thespic quotient is concerned?

That an advertising firm is suddenly tasked to turn a sorely lisping new millionaire into a socially copacetic restaurateur is one for the fairy tales. Isn't owning P40 million socially fragrant enough? They could have invested on a speech coach who could doctor the sibilant-heavy script, couldn't they? Aga Muhlach lisps but we were never aggrieved by his deliveries in movies. Coco meanwhile struggles, and these awkward moments pile up like a dozen crucifixes on our shoulder. Oh how I suffered.


The bigger question is, why was everyone in “Maybe This Time” ridiculously bad, it almost felt like it was vying for a world record of worst performances in a single movie. Steph’s trio of friends were ill-conceived. They were fugly, a fabricated gay man and an idiotic looking lass who consistently looked befuddled. Ogie Diaz as Mama Mae was more eccentric than funny you simply wanted him rushed to the loony bin. Even Shamaine Centenera – in her worst performance ever - is dragged down by a vomit-inducing script fit for GMA Films, not a Star Cinema vehicle. It’s just embarrassing! 


Now, which self-respecting “artist” would allow his narrative dredged with product placements? Only the greedy ones – Sharon Cuneta and Mark Meilly did this with “Crying Ladies”; Sarah Geronimo did the same with “Hating Kapatid”; Kris Aquino sprinkled that cinematic garbage called “My Little Bossings” with 20 products; now it’s Coco Martin’s turn – a pawnshop, an over-the-counter analgesic, an alcoholic beverage. If you are conscientious of the products you are endorsing, why would you endorse a business which takes advantage of the miseries of people in dire need of financial support? The pawning business is largely unregulated, thus it has unfair practices that prey on people’s desperation. Saying that it provides beneficent service to the needy is akin to proclaiming that Dracula loves his victims. ;) Sarah and Coco lovingly endorse this business. How inspiring, debah?

Product placements in a medium where people pay hard-earned money to watch and be entertained is simply a disrespectful and reprobate practice to a paying audience. Pambabastos. This is something Viva Films and Kris Aquino have yet to realize, but then the latter lives in the cloud of fantasy she wouldn't even comprehend the simple concept of delicadeza. There should be a law that would require local movies to have disclaimers outside the cinema stating how many "commercial products" are being peddled in the film. Say, "My Little Bossings" - 20 products; "Hating Kapatid" - 9 products, etc. This way, the movie going public will be made aware of such flagrant and abusive peddling. Enter at your own risk. Think Chito Rono's "Feng Shui" if it had shampoos, cooking broth, laundry products, fastfood chain, sanitary napkin, etc. in its story. Pakapalan na lang ng mukha, right Sarah?

Sometime in the film’s last third, the narrative downspirals into a mawkish melodrama. To tie the narrative pieces to an undeserved denouement, Steph enters an exhibition hall riddled with driftwood art pieces. What struck me were the droll, mediocre driftwood displays. Oh my goodness. No wonder Monica wanted to do away with Anton’s lofty ambitions. Weren't we supposed to be impressed? With such abominable driftwood displays, not by a long shot. I wouldn't take a single piece at home even if they gave them away for free.The point being, the story was supposed to show Anton's special skills in making precious pieces from driftwood. Turns out he was an unexceptional artist. Ho-hum! Back to the drawing board. He can't be an artist so he might as well be a restaurant owner. Get my drift?

We’re so glad that “Maleficent” had a bigger crowd when we watched both films on their opening day, considering that Jolie’s superlative film was screened in two cinemas and “Maybe This Time” only had one. Cinema Evaluations Board once again misrates the movie with a stupendous B rating. We’re not surprised. The people who populate the C.E.B. are the some of the most clueless, or opportunistic, individuals to have walked the earth. In this case, “B” could refer to that six-letter Tagalog word that means “waste, debris, rubble, trash, sweepingssssssssss”. And just maybe Sarah can elocute these enumerated words adequately.

"Maybe This Time" is like going to a buffet and coming home with steady bout of flatus. You pay much and are rewarded with nothing but air. Anyone who declares that it's a "solid movie" does not know what he's talking about, that's for sure.

Laughing all the way to the bank with a cinematic turd.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ronald M. Rafer's "Gigolo" - Tens Years Back

Life hasn’t been a walk in the park for Julio (Mygz Molino) who, as a child, lived with a wicked stepmother who spared no affection for him. At last straw, he finally found the courage to runaway and live on the streets with other urchins. Fast forward to the present. Julio grows up an able bodied Romeo who, along with his friends (Maichel Fidelis and Jake Galeon), hang out in gyms and busy avenues to peddle his flesh to libidinous gay men. His girlfriend Margot (played by a girl who uses the ridiculous-sounding name “Kissy Babe Kisses”, believe it or not) doesn't mind. She herself is a prostitute.

One day, Julio overhears a story from Dominic (Christoff Ken), a gym guy with whom Julio is curiously drawn to, about Dominic’s mother Imelda (Carla Varga) who allegedly gave away her own child when she was younger. Why Dominic would unravel this to a complete stranger is stuff of legends. Anyway, Julio follows this lead and confronts Imelda. She was indeed the same mother who abandoned him. And she had been searching for him. They have a tearful reunion and vow never to be separated ever again. End of story?

Well, not quite. Julio comes home to find Margot battered and blue. Her last customer was Mr. Marquez (Rob Sy), an inveterate sadist. He gets his kicks torturing his girls. Julio vows to avenge Margot. He marches to the club where she works and finds the bald sadist. With great effect, he wears his hood and takes out his shiny knife, then bludgeons Mr. Marquez to his ultimate demise.

Next scene is a baffling testament to absurdity. The whole family: Julio and girlfriend Margot, mom Imelda and son Dominic walk the streets away from their house as they seek new glory under the sun. Yup, as easy as that. Murder completely erased from their timeline. Wide open smiles and bright inspired faces with no iota of guilt, grief or trepidation. Just how a fairy tale should be.

There has been a spate of entertainment writers and tabloid reporters who dabbled with Pink Indies. There’s Benny Andaya (“Tatlong Beses Isang Araw”), Sandy Es Mariano (last year’s “Jumbo Jericho”), and Ronald M. Rafer for “Gigolo”. Let’s not forget Ronald Carballo (“Pikit-Mata”). What’s the common denominator? Except for Carballo whose film we haven’t seen, each project is among the worst that Philippine Cinema has ever produced. In fact, giving these writers carte blanche to actually direct a film is several steps backward. Try 10 years! If this isn't a gargantuan slap on the face of Philippine Cinema, I don't know what is.

Rafer’s story telling technique is in desperate need of constitution. He tells his tales with barely any valid framework. Not only does he tell it in incongruent episodic clutter, he also resorts to spur-of-moment whims inserting narrative threads that do not belong to his story.

Let’s take the case of former Survivor Philippines’ Rob Sy and his protracted bed scene with the bar girl he hired to assault. Sy’s character could be absolutely stricken off because it dilutes the story of Julio and takes the focus away from the main characters. And it did. 

Rafer peppered his tepid story with its undeserved, unrelated and discrepant climax, but the character of Mr. Marquez is non-essential. He is disposable, and his presence puts emphasis to the movie’s randomness. Their scene which must have lasted a good 15 minutes involved an expendable, if not superfluous narrative string – a rape scene whose perpetrator humped away fully clothed! May medyas pa yata. :) How’s that for cinematic will or focus?

Rob Sy, Mahal, Maichel Fidelis and Ms. Carla Varga (Go figure!)

Rafer’s narrative exposition is painfully limited, and his scene transitions are very abrupt that one caterwauling scene briskly follows another head-splitting breakdown scene, then another “Magbabayad-ka-sa-ginawa-mo” scene. Carla Varga, who plays negligent mother Imelda, is a good example of Rafer’s very loose grip as director. Julio asks Imelda, “May anak kayo?” Then with no rhyme or reason, she bawls her heart out. They converse further. When Julio leaves, Imelda once again cries as though she just ate something awful.


Every scene with Carla Varga is executed with over-the-top melodrama, I half expected the Earth to open up and devour the actors for the noise they were generating. Moreover, I was befuddled why Varga is distinctively billed “Ms. Carla Varga”! Why the special title? Is she royalty in the league of Ms. Lea Salonga, Ms. Zsa Zsa Padilla, Ms. Lorna Tolentino or Ms. Eula Valdez? Is she an icon or hero? Is she vaguely popular? Raise your hand, children, if you know who she is. Is she young, vivacious and full of verve? Isn't she 55, or 65? Does she carry an enviable thespic prowess a la Nora Aunor, Bea Alonzo or Shamaine Centenera? Is she a personality of immense Helenic beauty? Mahal, is in fact, a more popular name than Carla Varga will ever be. Yet Mahal isn't billed “Ms. Mahal”. Mahal instead takes the film’s sidelight selling cigarettes at the bar entrance, with ribbon on her hair that's bigger than her head, screaming “Notice me! Notice me!” It’s woeful. We have a conundrum.

With all these peripatetic narrative detours, Julio’s story as “Gigolo” takes second fiddle. We are left out of Julio's kaleidoscopic world. Yes, there are more than half a dozen sex scenes, but some of them don’t even concern our protagonist. Rafer is taken to his “flights of ideas” leaving poor Mygz Molino disoriented in his own titular movie.  

Rafer further recruited some actors familiar in the genre for walk-on parts, as though he is cooking up chopsuey. Throw whatever he can into the brew to disguise the vacuity of his work. Brad Laurente awkwardly hams it up as a gayer-than-gay concupiscent queen bedding one of the guys. Jeremy Ian is likewise billed although I must have blinked and missed him.

Equal opportunity is a double edged sword. Anyone who dreams of directing can buy or borrow himself a camera and call himself a director with no heed for the filmic language or its artistic requisites. See any of G.A. Villafuerte's flicks to realize that the guy tells a single story in 15 of his films all told within 525,600 minutes. Repetition is supposed to turn into mastery, right? Not with Villafuerte, and in this case, Rafer, whose talents are limited to besting how to get worse than their last. In this country, even a secretary without any aptitude for governance can rise to become a Senator. That’s what makes this country great… and shitty.

Mygz Molino is Julio.


Please read our featured post on Cinema Bravo and why Web Criticism sometimes makes us nginig:

Saturday, May 10, 2014

G.A. Villafuerte's "Harot: Puso Ang Kikirot" - The Art of Dumping

Beejay (Richard Crisostomo) is in no rush to tie the knot with girl friend Jane (Ishang Fernandez) who’s putting the pressure on him. It has been two years since the couple decided to live together, but Beejay’s career as a photographer hasn’t taken off. And Jane’s mother is getting impatient. But things are looking up. Sarah (Merrylyn Quibingco), Jane’s friend, has scheduled photo shoots with Beejay whose calendar is filling up fast. And Randell (Icer Abella, below), Sarah’s ex boy friend, has repeat sessions with Beejay to muscle up his modeling portfolio. 

One day, Beejay’s assistant Jona (Francis Cariaso) comes home with his boss’ laboratory results. Beejay is more than surprised to learn that he tested HIV positive. What bothers him more was his concupiscent dalliances with both Sarah and Randell. Has he infected Jane, Sarah and Randell? As he walks away from home, Beejay turns introspective. He tearfully asks himself: “Kung pumapatol ba sa kapwa ay bading na rin?” Seriously? He's more concerned with labels now than his medical condition.

Such ponderous moment had me laughing in stitches, I was ready to roll down the floor with overflowing hilarity. People with such mind set are usually not turned into directors or storytellers; they’re better off sent up the mountains to plant camote or okra – and even more appropriately, talong (eggplant)! Now isn't this a more productive, albeit nutritious career?

Director G.A Villafuerte cluelessly thows these fatuous and puerile lines one would expect from 4 year old kids – or anyone with an underdeveloped level of comprehension. Like other G.A. Villafuerte films, his characters have polysemous sexuality. There is no distinction between straights and homosexuals; their sexual persuasions are as ambiguous as the story teller’s capacity to shape believable characters or envision valid story lines. How else do you reconcile a thinking mind with someone who chooses to open his film with his protagonist taking a dump! Yes, the first few minutes has Crisostomo displaying his very healthy backside (as he wakes up in bed) before going to the toilet to (drum roll please) defecate! Inspiring, right? I actually thought it was going to be the requisite shower scene, which eventually and predictably came soon enough. Talk about scenographic variety.

Richard Crisostomo (above) is a relaxed performer although he isn't emotionally required to do much, not even when he learns of his affliction. The same demeanor is true where his requisite shower scenes are concerned. And, if you don’t blink, you’d see his shrunken bits. By this, I mean a degree of shriveling is evident. Icer Abella on the other hand, is more enthusiastic than competent. The two gentlemen are a study in contrast. While Crisostomo is “hunky”, Abella is “twinky”. On the other hand, Ishang Fernandez and Merrylyn Quibingco have a limited share of the spotlight. Fernandez figures in a shower scene. As I've said before, “showers” are the be-all and end-all of a Villafuerte movie. Other than that, there’s not much to discuss.

Funny things: Instead of fleshing out his story with something real, Villafuerte instead concerns himself with less important aspects, like assigning complete names for all his characters. If a pet animal was in the cast, I was sure it would have its own surname. In another scene, when Sarah related an anecdote on how a friend saw her ex-boyfriend cheat on her, Merrylyn Quibingco (who plays Sarah) quipped, "She confronted to me." She, of course, meant "confided". Where's the English doctor when you need one? There's always Tagalog, unless she was born with the Queen's tongue. "Ipinagtapat nya sa akin" - there. Isn't that easier?

Sometimes one wonders if Villafuerte ever takes stock of his body of work when not a single title from his ouvre is worth anything except as time fillers. This situation is probably like waking up one morning and finding out that all your collections weren't gold, but mounds of cow dung! Surely you can't be pleased with that situation - unless you're the fly that hovers over these stinking end products.When Villafuerte decides to open this film with his lead star moving his bowel, you realize that there's metaphor there somewhere.

Icer Abella

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Camille Delamarre's "Brick Mansions" - Action And Nothing Else

Detroit, 2018, is one of squalor, entropy, and lawlessness. In the dystopian district of the Brick Mansions, once progressive but now occupied by hardened criminals and low lives, a containment wall separates the public from these criminals. Undercover drug agent Damien Collier (Paul Walker) is keen to bring down drug kingpin Tremaine Alexander (RZA). But with a heavy coterie of thugs surrounding the latter, that’s not the easiest of tasks.

Meanwhile, Lino Dupree (David Belle) wants to clean up his community by interfering with the drug shipments. This doesn't put him in good stead with Tremaine who then kidnaps Lino’s girl friend. Things come to a head when a neutron bomb gets stolen and taken to the mansions. It detonates in 10 hours. Damien and Lino must come together to secure the bomb which is now under the care of the drug lord. Will they succeed before everything’s too late?

The first 15 minutes of the film will have you wide eyed and open mouthed. Lino gracefully sashays with his parkour skills, gliding on walls and staircases light as a feather as he escapes from thugs. He then jumps out of the building, swings by the ledge and straight into the window a floor under. But then David Belle is the founder of Parkour, so that's no surprise. And who needs spider web when you can be a super hero without wearing spandex?

Action is so fluid it washes you with a drum of adrenaline. Unfortunately, not all that’s kinetic makes good sense. In fact, there’s not much story to hang on to. The movie further highlights more action: watch two cars hit head on, missing both Damien and Lino while the guys tumble on the air and land on their feet unscathed. If you’re into heavy action, you’d probably enjoy this. Just leave common sense out of the picture. You’re also well likely to compare this to the claustrophobic atmosphere of “The Raid”, but all comparison stops there. This is an inferior version. Way, way, way inferior.

Delamarre’sBrick Mansions” is a remake of a 2004 French movie called “District 13” that also had David Belle playing the same character with a slightly different name “Leito” (instead of “Lino”). How does it feel to repeat yourself 10 years later? We better ask Mr. Belle. Better yet, let's ask airhead Kris Aquino to interview Belle so she could once again namedrop her vomit-inducing "My Little Bossings". What's funnier, "Brick Mansions" seems like a masterpiece beside that piece of shameful cinematic turd. Sometimes, there's no accounting for taste.

Paul Walker did better in Eric Heisserer's flood drama, " Hours".

The founder of Parkour, David Belle glides effortlessly for his parkour stunts.