Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rod M. Ortega's "The Firefighters: The Unsung Heroes"

Rod M. Ortega's "The Firefighters: The Unsung Heroes" follows the story of Santi (Jeric Raval) an obedient boy of Abuyog, Sorsogon who grows up from a simple family. At breakfast, he gets a reminder from his morose-looking mother saying, "The family that prays together stays together." I got misty-eyed from such sentiment. We see him chop wood and fetch water. We also see teenage Santi (Paolo Gumabao) loitering the beach with his girl friend (Nicole Gee), just like a normal young man.

One day, Santi witnesses three girls drown from what appears to be the shallow waters of a polluted beach (they sniffed the air apparently, and lost their ability to swim; isn't that tragic?) He charges into the water fully clothed (long sleeved sweat shirt and jeans) - just like a hero should - and tries hard to save them. All three girls drown anyway. It's the thought that counts, debah?

But the incident has scarred him for life that from here on, he shall save drowning girls - by enrolling as a police man at the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA)! Save drowning girls = police! Not as a lifeguard nor a doctor, but a police officer. Get nyo? Fate takes him to the fire brigade where he eventually rises from the ranks, despite conniving nemesis Brando (Jethro Ramirez). He hurts himself during one of their operations while trying to save the life of a guy trapped inside a burning building. But his wife (Hanni Miller) is constantly beside him despite occasional marital conflicts. End.

If there ever was a contest for film making cluelessness, this would be among the finalists. The film is a curmudgeon of genre, and doesn't quite settle into one, simply because its director just doesn't have the facility to do so. When the heavens distributed talent for story telling, Ortega must have fallen asleep. He throws a lot of random scenes together, and prays to the heavens that they organically transform into a coherent story. Wishful thinking, of course. This, it turns out, is one cinematic mess. It's hilarious without meaning to. And in the general sense, annoying for wasting precious time and money. I had to travel far to be fed garbage. It's nothing short of deplorable.

The narrative composition is one big mystery. There are classroom scenes of a boy reciting a gag-inducing poem ("Ang Guro") about a teacher called Mrs. Catapia that concluded with something like, "Hindi lang siya mabait, maganda pa. Ang suwerte ng mister nya." Then the teacher's husband is shown with a wide grin, peeping from the classroom window. Huh? A group of children grilling corn would alternately deliver lines with no rhyme or reason, my niece had better school programs in school, and I didn't have to pay P200 to watch them.

From out of the blue, Joseph Bacareza, head honcho of the Fire National Training Institute (FNTI) suddenly discusses what the institute is all about. I was of course disoriented by Bacareza's sudden appearance because I wasn't there to learn about the darn institute. Then random footages of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) appear. Cadets perform their exhibitional gun drills. This then shifts to a fire prevention training where an instructor is teaching students about clove hitch knot. If you aren't perplexed by this confounding turn events, hang on to your knickers, there's more.


A powerpoint presentation follows. Yup, a slide show. What is fire? What are its 3 stages? What are the modes of heat transfer? Was I in the right venue? Or was this really a tutorial on fire prevention more than a cinematic event? Ask director Rod Ortega. He must have an idea. The plot returns to Jeric Raval training at the fire institute. While everyone on training is bald, Raval sports a full head of hair replete with his characteristic squint and tough-guy grimace.

Cut to Raval courting his new girl friend who replies with an ecstatic, "Yes na yes na - basta pakakasalan mo ako ha?" He was just asking her to be his girl friend, mind you. The film shifts again to a commercial about "Textfire" and the modern facilities acquired by the organization, including a 10-second feature about a volunteer named Gerry Chua. Someone is shooting blanks in all directions. But wait, whatever happened to Santi?

Santi, now a successful fire chief, complete with Dolphy-and-Panchito channeling bodyguards (comedian Kuhol and another poor soul), returns to visit his hometown in Sorsogon. He donates a complete set of musical instruments for his band, "Santiago Serenade and Friends" whose songs are being played all throughout the movie. If I have to say, these are kakapangilabot original songs about love, written in English, played a la bolero, sang in godawful diction. I wanted to squirm and turn into a prune. Moreover, it inspired violent tendencies - like running amok and start shooting the audience inside the cinema. Population: 2. Believe me, watching this so-called movie just isn't healthy.

Another scene shows Santi briefing his fire brigade during one very sunny dayListen and learn: "Maghanda tayo. Ang bagyo ay tatama sa loob ng dalawang oras." I shivered with fright.

Jeric Raval, looking youthful, tries to carry the story with a straight face but is limited by the absence of a decent plot. Former sexy star Hanni Miller (as Santi's wife) isn't given much to chew on either. Young upstarts are showcased, albeit fleetingly. Paolo Gumabao plays the teenage Santi. Despite his "baby fats" (check out his scenes at the beach), it is clear that Dennis Roldan's son is his father's spitting image. He actually reminds me of dashing Jake Ejercito - with lipid excrescences, of course. Nicole Gee and Marina Salvador look promising as well.

The film could be any of the following: a biopic; a flight of fancy; an invitation to the PNPA; a tutorial about fire prevention; a political propaganda for C/Supirentendent Santiago E. Laguna. Someone's probably eyeing for an elective position. Inspiring, this isn't. Quite frankly, this won't help Mr. Laguna. In fact, this dug him a hole. Without a doubt in mind, this godawful flick made me want to play with fire: Burn every darn personality responsible for producing this movie - then  feed them to Kuhol. And please include the SM Cinema executives who thought that this movie deserves to be seen by a paying audience. If this is what characterizes an SM Exclusive, I'd rather stay indoors. Thank you for wasting my time.

Gumabao and Gee enjoy baby-fat moments!

Hanni Miller

Nicole Gee

Paolo Gumabao channels Jake Ejercito
Jethro Ramirez plays bad guy Brando.
C/Supt. Santiago E. Laguna

Monday, November 24, 2014

Jigz Recto's "Katabi" - Of Stiffled Affections and Attention-Grabbing Bulges

Tom (Rafael Perez) and Jeff (Jigz Imperial) have known each other since they were kids. When Tom moves to the big city for work, Jeff follows suit. But life in the concrete jungle isn't easy so Tom invites his best friend to live with him. They do everything together: take their meals, share shower times and sleep in one bed.

One day, Jeff shares that Rhea (Nina Rossini), the girl next door, has agreed to become his girl friend. Would Tom want to meet her?

But the girl is a complex item in their equation. Rhea secretly flirts with straight-laced Tom who, one day, finally takes her bait and sleeps with the predatory girl. (Rhea, by the way, wants a luxurious watch similar to Jeff's prized possession. Such lofty ambition, debah?) This has put a strain on Jeff's relationship with Rhea.

She ends her commodious coupling with heart-broken Jeff who just borrowed P20,000 to get his girl the watch that she wanted. (She'd offer him heaven in exchange of riches; something that she's only too willing to impose on Tom without him asking. Go figure.)

When Jeff learns of Tom's concupiscent rendezvous with Rhea, the two friends quarrel. In tight white briefs, they engage in masculine fisticuffs, rolling on their small bed in errr, wild abandon. Accusations are thrown around - and Jeff finally kicks dear, dear Tom out of his house. Might as well. Tom's work is already suffering due to Jeff''s constant loans: the expensive gifts, the celebratory drinking sprees, etc.  Is this the end of their life long friendship? Guess.

Rafael Perez
Jigz Recto's "Katabi" is unexpectedly superior from his previous works, though this isn't in anyway an endorsement of his directorial acumen. Far from it. But this is ten notches better than his unenviable body of work characterized by bathetic stories that overly dramatize confrontations, stretched out for what seems like a dozen lifetimes. These were mawkish dregs of misplaced emotionality, interlocked with repeated shower scenes and peekaboo wonders, and acted by borderline wanna-be actors too clueless to delineate real emotions from make-believe. Moreover, these dramatic highlights are punctuated by persistently heavy-handed suspenseful music that go louder as situations progress.

Don't get me wrong. Shower scenes are still a staple in Recto flicks, but they've been moderated (blame the holier-than-thou  MTRCB for this very conservative trend of late). In one scene, the two friends bathe together; they "rub" each other's backs amid long, silent stares, broken by, "Nababakla ka na ata sa akin." These romantic coquetry create a few moments of unbridled sexual tension - that actually fizzle.

Such mood making is sustained after a drinking spree (Ugh. Didn't you expect?). When Jeff gets too inebriated to walk, Tom is only too glad to help. Jeff vomits on Tom's shirt while the latter takes his friend to bed, disrobes both their garments, until they're only donning their impeccably clean tight-and-white briefs. Tom then cleans his friend all over with a wet towel, every crevice diligently sponged. Meanwhile, the camera intermittently pans on Jeff's attention-grabbing bulge, you could probably use it as compass while it points north-east to pleasure first then switches south-west to joy. Jigz Imperial, it turns out, is directionally versatile. Incredible. Ooohlala!

Nina Rossini, playing the shrewd Rhea,  conveniently becomes a cinematic third wheel. But then this is a Jigz Recto movie where girls are third-class citizens and guys tintinnabulate their own bells. See Imperial rabidly sponge his privates (it must be exquisitely durrrty) as he makes several "dukot dukot" while intently bathing. It's almost an Olympic sports event at the rate he's doing it. Don't we just adore meticulously clean guys?  

Jigz Imperial is directionally versatile.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Carl Joseph Papa's "Ang Di Paglimot ng mga Alaala" -

Two years after a tragic chapter in her life, Pia collates and presents materials while trying to remember her cancer-stricken mother Lilibeth. From a bevy of fading photographs to video conversations with her Aunt Nancy who lives in North America, the thread of events covers the period from December 1997 to a more current time, March 16, 2012 to April 2012, when the mother has finally admitted defeat, “I’ve lost the battle but won the war.”
While the concept presents a novel idea for narrative exposition, the material ultimately fails to gather enough traction to make a case worthy of one’s attention. In fact, the early part constituting old photographs ushers into something that briskly alienates the viewer when the latter becomes an indifferent spectator of what seems like random chronicling of a person’s life. More importantly, the subject isn't even interesting to begin with. It’s like getting stuck in a long haul, 18-hour flight with a chatty seat mate who panders to the stranger’s ineluctable boredom, blabbering on about his mundane life. If you’re the recipient of such attention, you’d have to sit through hours of torture listening about a most disinteresting life.

In the film, Pia Franco, the narrative protagonist , goes prattling on to a distant aunt Nancy about random topics: buying a hula hoop she hasn't even learned to use; watching television series like “Supernatural” because season 5 has become an engaging watch; getting through the novel “Catching Fire”; dissing the ex-boyfriend who has migrated to Ontario, California; sharing her career change because she prefers fixed hours than the “flexitime” that pays nil for OT’s; or reminiscing about her mother who tells an erring teacher “Bullshit!” The story ultimately centers on the plight of the mother who gets diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 2 as it spirals down to her ultimate demise .

The movie experience, at some point, felt like punishment. You start watching a girl who’s too cheerful for her own sake. She’d giggle at anything she’d say. What transpires before you are sapped out monologues, it doesn't even matter if they're real or not. While it is valid that people will always have stories to tell, not everything is a cinematic event. And not every novel idea is worth the price of a movie ticket. In this semblance of cinema, what transpires on celluloid does not entertain, does not provoke and does not engage. It kills time though... in a plodding wasteful manner. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Elwood Perez's "Esoterika Maynila" - Contemporary Realities

In Manila, there’s a healthy dose of mayhem and magic.

Who knows this better than Mario (Ronnie Liang), a na├»ve nursing student who's on a trail of self discovery. While working as a cook in a Chinese restaurant, he meets Donato (Federico Olbes) and Mona (Adelle Aura). In their presence, Mario discovers his penchant for the arts and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Enamored by the beautiful Mona, the strapping lad starts a relationship with the besotted “widow”. Meanwhile, Donato introduces him to a motley of eccentric characters, including a photographer, a tourist guide, a writer, and a graphic artist. Then comes Raul (Vince Tanada), a frustrated opera singer who’s desperate for work. 

Donato is in love with Raul who begrudgingly sleeps with his elderly benefactor in exchange for favors: Donato lends him a car; takes him to meet prospective producers; offers a room in his apartment, etc. But unknown to Raul, Donato has plans of moving overseas. To make matters worse, the elder gentleman’s fortunes are fast dwindling. 

Out of Raul’s chagrin, he submits himself into the dark corners of the city, losing himself in drugs and the lure of seedy cinemas where the flesh trade takes him to a netherworld.

One day, while on a train, Mario sees Solita (Solita del Sol), an enigmatic girl who has infatuated him so. He breaks up with the disgruntled Mona (who turns out to be a transgender), and starts pursuing the elusive Solita. Mario is further introduced to exciting experiences so foreign from his sensibilities - and he likes them. He meets Carlos (Carlos Celdran), a tourist guide, who reminds him that what molds people is his past. This is a country that spent “300 years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood”. Carlos takes Mario to his lover Tessa (Tesa Martinez), a photographer who convinces Mario to model for her. But what Mario belatedly finds out is that Carlos and Tessa are “frustrated vampires”. On occasion, they wear fangs and role-play the part.

Things come to a head when Mario gets pursued by Raul who’s agonizing over his sexual relationship with Donato, unaware of the latter's love for him. Things downspiral when Raul learns that his movie project isn’t pushing through. Will Mario find his way in the realm of artists and the elite? How will Raul survive without Donato’s money or influence?

Elwood Perez’sEsoterika Maynila” isn't for everyone, thus the apropos titling. But its unlikely charm rests in its idiosyncratic story telling and psychedelic vibe. It is whimsical and occasionally bewildering. The script, co-written by Perez and Jessica Zafra, has an astute sense of dynamism and intelligence. The story could have benefited from a judicious splicing of a number of narrative strains. But Perez imbues it with adequate verve and dedication that despite its flaws, the audience is taken for a capricious, albeit captivating ride. It veers into “Crying Game” territory (and you see this a mile away) then gets right back to its intended course.

You can’t miss the film's homoerotic flourishes. Three of its characters are transgenders (Gilda played by Boots Anson-Roa, Mona and Solita); there are fellating scenes between Raul and Donato, then again between Raul and a male prostitute inside a cinema; and there’s Solita’s full frontal revelation. (Yup, no need to blink. It hangs down in its full flaccid glory.)

Liang’s liplocking scenes with the epileptic Tanada feel irrelevant. You have a sneaking suspicion that they're set up for Tanada's amusement than to move the narrative. It would have been easier to swallow if Tanada studied his convulsive fits more realistically. Like a true patron of modern day Pink Cinema, Perez unnecessarily includes a nocturnal scene with Liang waking up while one of his cousins masturbate on his bed. And the point being...? But the film’s brave indulgences are refreshing. If anything, this is largely unforeseen because I absolutely hated Perez’s pretentious opus “Otso” (2013).  

Ronnie Liang has an imposing presence. His handsome face and sculpted frame make him a worthy protagonist because despite his passive demeanor, he is able to command attention. While it is true that Liang is occasionally too stolid and too tentative to persuade us of his character, he benefits from the early “innocent demeanor” of the naive provinciano. After all, his character is on a journey of self discovery. On paper, it's easy to believe that he represents the chaste soul who eventually gets corrupted by the inherent vices and conceit of the big city. He required coaching in some scenes, like when he suddenly jeers, "Abominable! But that's sodomy!" It was too awkwardly and painfully delivered that for the rest of the screening, I suffered from diction-induced visceral toothache.

Vince Tanada, on the other hand, continues to repel us with his over-the-top histrionics. It would be instructive to tell him to temper down his theatrics because his emotive skills are too obvious, too crass that at some point he comes off as either annoying or just plain silly. Federico Olbes, in his geriatric debut, is a find. His skill is raw and at times gawky, but his look and stance (not to mention his vacillations to French, Spanish and English lines) provide a delectable character to the twisted story.

The film likewise gathers an enviable line-up of personalities doing cameos: John Hall, Snooky, Serna (her scenes are from Lance Raymundo’s indie flick, “Fidel”); Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, Jessica Zafra (who looked too pained to be in front of the camera), Tessa-Prieto-Valdez, singer OJ Mariano,  

Perez has painted a cinematic canvas of an urban landscape where impossibilities unravel. It isn't always a pretty picture, but they are part of contemporary reality. In the film, there’s an unsettling acknowledgement of the presence of fetishes and of what others would deem as deviant. Somewhere in its exposition is a subtle appeal for acceptance or tolerance. They don't make hindrances to one's notion of success.   

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Baby Ruth Villarama's "Little Azkals" - Little Film, Big Heart

"The only way to be better," shares Phil Younghusband, Philippine Azkals' most prominent personality, "is to play with better players." Younghusband, an iconic figure in the sports, was invited by the team that gathers 22 under-11 boys from all over the nation to take them to Loughborough in Leicestershire, United Kingdom. This cultural partnership with the British Council and the British Embassy ambitiously endeavors to help train - for three weeks - the young upstarts right in the home of football, the world's most popular sport.

The undertaking isn't a walk in the park, uprooting kids to a place so far removed from their environment, some of whom still sleep beside their parents. Babysitting these boys can be a tactical nightmare. The team is composed of five kids from Mindanao (Cagayan de Oro, South Cotabato, Davao, Bukidnon and Dipolog), nine from the Visayas (Cebu, Negros Occidental, Iloilo, and Dumaguete), and eight from Luzon (Laguna and NCR).

There's Agiel of Negros Occidental, Niel of Malabon, Charles of Cebu, Shane of Malabon, Jil of Iloilo, Kano of Koronadal, Michael of Muntinlupa, Nicolai of Laguna, and 16 other kids from all over the land. Trouble starts early on when a typographical error almost bars one child from getting to his Emirates flight to London. 

For the upstarts, England is a virtual fantasy land, far from the gaze and nurturing care of their parents. Their only guardians are their coaches. Their new environment is cold and food has "no taste". Loughborough, for the next three weeks, becomes home. The place hosts football lessons the way they play it in England, and allows them matches against British teams, testing their skill against a race who lives and breathes the sport. Styled like a boot camp, the children sleeps at 10 PM and wakes up at 6 AM. Their days start with football exercises with day visits to good ole London, visiting Wembley to watch World Cup qualifying games (UK vs. Moldova); English Premiere League games (Albion vs Swansea); and Manchester United's turf. To some quarters, these provide a surreal experience.

On their first game, the "Little Azkals" lost against Quorn JFC 2-3, a game that discombobulated some of the players. In fact, Kano Rojo of Koronadal scores "for" the rival team. If this is quite telling, it's because the young Azkals played against a team that has been playing "together" for the last 5 years. They, however, are a new team, hailing from different provincial leagues. On their next game, they win an impressive 4:1 against their opponent. How's that for kids who have trouble playing their offsides and even have intermittent crying spells because they miss home?

Baby Ruth Villarama's "little film" wears a "big heart" so it's hard not to fall for our little hopefuls. In a country where "basketball" is the grassroot sport, "Little Azkals" shares tidbits of inspiration by taking baby steps towards an ambitious goal - the Under-17 FIFA World Cup of 2019. By that time, many of these young pups would have turned 16 and wiser in ways of the game.


Daddy Rob visits the Little Azkals.
There are interesting moments worth mentioning: Like Phil Younghusband referencing his then-girlfriend Angel Locsin to get the children to listen: "Angel threw me a party last night. Do your girl friends do the same?" Rob Gier, co-captain of Philippine Azkals and centre back of Ascot United, also drops by to help coach the children during one of their matches, and - oh, what a gorgeous sight, but that's just me. ;)

In another scene, the children use an inordinate amount of salt to put flavor to their pasta. "Walang lasa," says one kid. We are a nation known to favor extreme taste; sweet or sour, and almost nothing in between. Or when one of the kids throw almost half his room to the laundry bag. Then there are the difficult wake up calls. Or when their English Coach  Stuart noticed the language barrier so he says in jest, "I'd have to speak 20x slower." Ouch. During an earlier pep talk, the coach also highlights the most important thing about the sport. That more than trying to get better in the game, you have to "enjoy yourself first". After all, games are supposed to be fun, and so is playing them.

The film, endearing though it may be, is rough around the edges and feels random than anything ground breaking. Camera work, for example, fails to capture winning goals on cam. While that may not be the point of this documentary, essential moments like that render a sense of urgency. What is a basketball documentary if it doesn't even have dribbles, dunks and making goals? This is a stark contrast to Cha Escala & Wena Sanchez's  "Nick and Chai" which has beautifully framed and efficiently photographed scenography. Sometimes "a big heart" just doesn't suffice when you're presenting an artistic medium like cinema. You just don't point and shoot unless you're content to being labelled an amateur - or someone hiding behind the guise of "documentarian". To put it bluntly, shoddy camera work is not art, unless you're Lars von Trier.

Moreover, the film feels like a fragment of a bigger picture. We don't see the earlier selection process that lead them to qualify for the Under-11 team. It's like getting into a novel midway into the book, and we're made to swallow what's being spoonfed. The prologue feels wanting. We're shown a few kids returning to their homes.  These limited scenes don't even have enough traction to get through as narrative denouement. What has the kids taken with them from their very British experience? Where has this journey taken them? Are they better players, or persons, after their experience? If anything, there's a sense of expurgated closure; an unfinished story waiting to be told.

Bright faces pose for posterity.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Wenn Deramas' "Moron 5.2 The Transformation" - One Big Blooper

Albert, Isaac, Aristotle, Mozart and Michael Angelo (Luis Manzano, Billy Crawford, Marvin Agustin, DJ Durano and Matteo Guidicelli respectively) have grown up and gone “wiser” after graduating from high school. 

Albert (Manzano) takes up law, but is disenchanted by the course’s constant debates so he ends up selling hopia in Ongpin, pretending to be Chinese. Isaac (Crawford) seeks the limelight, doing auditions for roles he’s unlikely to get cast in: they want everything he isn't – thin, woman, child, ballerina, gay, etc. Aristotle (Agustin) dabbles into culinary, but his take on dishes are discrepant from his superiors’ (He serves paella for a “sinigang na tahong”). Mozart (Durano) manages a gym but ends up hurting his clients. And Michael Angelo (Guidicelli) recovers from an incident that has accidentally burned his face. His plastic surgeon has done wonders for his facial reconstruction (thus Moron 5’s Martin Escudero becomes Matteo Guidicelli).

On the home front, each of our protagonists has raised a family of his own, with beautiful wives (Yam Concepcion, Danita Paner, Nicki Valdez, Mylene Dizon) and smart bemedalled children (named Fidel, Macoy, Gloria, Corina) to boot. (Except Michael Angelo who shall serendipitously meet his princess.) Unfortunately, the children are embarrassed of their fathers’ bungling antics. “Sana ice cream na lang ako… para matunaw ako sa kahihiyan,” quips one of the kids. They’d rather hire strangers who shall pretend to be their fathers to attend their commencement ceremonies than be caught dead with their biological, albeit moronic fathers.

One night, while on a drinking spree, the quintet discovers what seems like a power-emitting object falling from the sky. After trying to retrieve it, they were struck by lightning – twice! Surviving from the catastrophe, the guys start to believe that this accident has transformed them into superheroes. And they've vowed to follow Peter Parker’s mantra (“With great power comes great responsibility.”) and help people in need. They've become invincible beings. Or have they?

Meanwhile, Beckie (John “Sweet” Lapus), the quintet’s former nemesis, has languished at the asylum. It’s been 7 years. His mental status exam has been deemed promising by his psychiatrist (Karla Estrada) who plans to discharge Beckie. But when asked what his name was, he replies, “Gretchen Barretto”. 

With his release deferred, Beckie plots to break out from the asylum. Without pulling a muscle – and the blundering help of his loony colleagues (Manuel Chua, Boom Labrusca) and a bollixed security guard (Chrome Cosio), they find themselves out of the mental institution. Together, they form Moron 5’s unlikely adversary. Will the evil forces succeed against our heroes? Guess.

Like its predecessor, the energy on display is quite stirring that the audience is left breathless from the film’s lightning pace and exuberant energy. There’s really no accounting for logic. With zippy speed of delivery, you aren't given enough time to think beyond the shallowest subject matters. 

Let’s take the case of one joke that lingered longer than it deserved: What time are the children’s dismissal from school? 3:15 or 3:16 PM? Getting the time right, as the joke would have you believe, spells a difference of “3 hours”? Or an hour? Hilarious, right? And if you bite the bullet, you must have noticed how this idiocy has been stretched for good measure until Deramas felt it served its comedic glory.

Perceived humor pulsates in similar fashion all throughout the movie. When Isaac cogitates, “Di ko maisip eh.” “May isip ba tayo?” Irony plays out effectively as this is reflective of the storyteller’s acumen. Is there an intelligent being behind the shenanigan? Cinema 8 was unnaturally quite. No laughters, no snickers, no slap on the lap - but then maybe it’s because there were just 5 of us inside the huge cinema. Where’s the usual Deramas crowd that loves to get dumb or dumber?

In this new era, slapstick absurdity a la Luciano Carlos seems misplaced. Have we moved forward into the new millennium? Is contemporary comedy really this vacuous? We seem to be stuck in the epoch of Pugo and Togo, Dolphy and Panchito, Babalu and Tange. At least the aforementioned have anchored their humor on comic situations instead of barren ideas. Moreover, constant references to Billy Crawford’s public disobedience, inebriation and transient incarceration smack of poor taste. Presinto, presinto, presinto. Crawford’s run-in with the law wasn't funny. It was't hip either. Otherwise, we might as well get uncontrollably drunk and maul a lady police officer – then we can all laugh about it, right? Hey, young punks! Let’s get drunk and smack a police man for harmless fun!

Why should people watch the movie? Their publicity drumbeaters proudly say, "Because the film teaches about family values." Isn't this a figment of fantasy? We have kids as young as 8 and 9 years old with doting, non-abusive fathers and seemingly contented mothers. Yet they'd rather denounce them, albeit very publicly, if I were to add, because they're stupid. Of course they had a change of heart when they realize that they're actually superheroes. But what values are we teaching our little ones? That love is conditional. We shall love our parents only if they're rich, successful or intelligent. The losers we shall cast away to the wind? I cringe at the thought of a society who accepts this line of thinking as valid measure of familial devotion. Have we forgotten the fifth commandment, that we "should honour thy father and thy mother"? This commandment is all encompassing and without a caveat. But just maybe, in Deramas' inane and fantastical world, elementary education doesn't have values education.

Were there even consequences for the children's cunning? Without them realizing that what they did was deplorable, these tykes shall grow up selfish pricks, opportunistic demons and greedy Philippine politicians. If I were their parents, I'd nip them in the bud and send them to Siberia, with Deramas as guardian, until they take real family values to heart.

Joy Viado’s role as Matteo Guidicelli’s romantic interest brings some comic moment. After all, Viado has mastered the art of self deprecation where her appearance is involved. Turning Viado into a romantic heroine is funny stuff, something that should have been realized early on by Emerson Reyes, the director of “MNL 143”, who huffed and puffed for the sake of artistic freedom when the Cinemalaya bigwigs balked at his idea to pair Viado with Allan Paule for a romantic drama; the conceit of arrogant rookie film makers who cannot be nudged to reconsider their stilted and pompous cinematic choices. Now wasn't that work forgettable? But I am digressing.  

Unlike other Wenn Deramas flicks, “Moron 5.2 The Transformation” doesn't have the requisite bloopers that get played at the closing credits. But this actually avoids redundancy. The whole movie is one big blooper.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Francis dela Torre's "Blood Ransom" - Lingering Melancholy

While Crystal (Anne Curtis) grieves for her parent's death, she finds solace in the dark corners of West Covina, and embraces the lure of the wandering souls who inhabit this underworld, including charismatic Roman (Caleb Hunt) who offers the gift of immortality - as a vampire! The whole process takes 7 days to complete, and within these days, she has to accept by directly feeding and killing her victims. But Crystal is a reluctant predator. Meanwhile, mysterious deaths are happening around the strip joint where Crystal works. Authorities, headed by Fil-Am cop Daniel (Darion Basco), have started their investigations.

When a group of thugs kidnap Crystal, her occasional driver Jeremiah Rose (Alexander Dreymon) comes to the rescue. Trouble is, she doesn't want to return to Roman's fold. Bill (Jamie Harris), Roman's fierce hitman, has been sent to get Crystal and exact punishment on Jeremiah. Crystal is getting weaker for refusing to "feed", but she's constantly battling her thirst for blood. And her new protector is falling fast for the beautiful monster.

Crystal's kidnapping catches the attention of Daniel whose aunt Paz (Suzette Ranillo) raised Jeremiah as a child. To make matters worse, Jeremiah's involvement takes the psychopathic Bill to Tita Paz's doorstep. Will Jeremiah rescue her adoptive mother in time? More importantly, how can they stop Crystal from completing her transformation?

Director Francis dela Torre tweaks the nature of the vampire. In his cinematic macrocosm, vampires don't perish under the sun (they just prefer the night); they're not afraid of crucifixes; and they can't be easily killed by stakes on their hearts - but by special blades on their throats. And if they drink holy water admixed with the blood of the vampire who turned them into one, this shall stop any transformation within seven days.

Despite a promising premise, the story moves with glacial pace; plodding, whispery deliveries and dawdling action. The cinematic palette is filled with clusters of idle moments. To say the least, it is sleep-inducing and requires a certain amount of patience to keep your lids from drooping.

This is a curiosity considering the possibilities of the subject matter. Blood sucking creatures usually parlay dynamism in any narrative - not this one. The atmosphere is one of lingering melancholy; one that would drive suicidal people to eventually end their misery. Gothic stories need not be lethargic in presentation, do they?

The film has unmistakable Pinoy flavor: Tita Paz would play Pilita Corrales' "Dahil Sa Yo" while cooking her delectable longganisa. Her home is a proverbial religious temple. Road signs read "Manila Way". Thugs and laboratory technicians wear their spread out ala nasi. Unfortunately, these don't help move the story. Not even when Bill starts shooting at Jeremiah and Father Mena (Jonjon Briones).

Anne Curtis makes a compelling damsel in distress, although her character feels too passive to be unforgettable. More importantly, she doesn't embarrass herself in her first foreign movie. Unfortunately, some scenes are too guileful to be believed, like when she had to lick the blood splattered on the road. Afterwards, you'd see her walk away with chin all drenched in blood. Was she too dazed to wipe herself up? She reaches a motel looking like she's feasted on roadkill. Wasn't she trying to be discreet? So much for trying not to get noticed. Alexander Dreymon ("American Horror Story", "Christopher and His Kind") has the presence of Channing Tatum. But with a temperament midway between drama and horror - not quite nailing either genre, and a narrative progression that ultimately fails to soar, "Blood Ransom" becomes an inferior vehicle for highlighting their acting chops.

Some lines are either smart or pretentious: "Killing is a funny thing. Most people stay dead," Bill tells Jeremiah. Or when Crystal berates Caleb, "What have you done? It's immoral!" That, coming from a sect who preys on humans as a means of survival. If I have to emphasize the obvious, watching the movie poses one big challenge: How to stay awake!

Caleb Hunt is Roman, Crystal's master.

Sinister Jamie Harris

Alexander Dreymon and Anne Curtis

Anne Curtis

Alexander Dreymon

Alexander Dreymon

Caleb Hunt

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Antoinette Jadaone's "Beauty in a Bottle" - In Pursuit of Beauty and Youth

Vilma (Assunta de Rossi) is a hotshot advertising creative director who has been in the business for 20 years.  When a new anti-aging product requires fresh ideas from progressive young minds, Vi's time-tested acumen is put to a test. Will she be as contemporary as brazen new rookie and younger colleague Tanya (Ellen Adarna) who's expected to clinch the Belo product? Her boss Santi (Carmi Martin) isn't promising her the account just yet.

Meanwhile, upcoming actress Estelle Suarez (Angelica Panganiban) is fighting a seemingly losing battle with the bulge. Her co-star Empress (Empress Schuck) is stealing the spotlight from her.

When Estelle is pitted against Empress for a lucrative product endorsement, it didn't even take the competition 5 minutes to clinch the deal. During Estelle's go-see/auditions, she is subjected to more embarrassment that reduced her to a shrinking mess. How will she grab the project from Empress' arrogant grasp?

Judith Madamba (Angeline Quinto) is an aggressive realtor, selling 10 units in six months. But her enterprising successes don't translate to her personal life. She's weighed down by issues of self-esteem. In fact, she feels she doesn't "fit" in the social circle of his boyfriend Pocholo's (Tom Rodriguez) wealthy family. She just wants to impress them so. In her sheer paranoia, she ends up making a fool of herself.  

Three disparate lives intersect in Antoinette Jadaone's rollicking "Beauty in a Bottle", a cinematic dissertation on people's penchant for physical beauty and corporeal perfection. While we aim to be paragons of pulchritude, we forget that we have limitations we need to embrace to be able to truly find happiness and contentment.

In brisk, effortless strides, the movie is both insightful and downright hilarious, reminiscent of the verve of Ishmael Bernal's "Working Girls" made 3 decades ago.

The movie is buoyed by its finger-snapping pace and exceptional performances from its zany cast, particularly Angelica Panganiban as the eternally insecure actress Estelle and Assunta de Rossi as the aging advertising executive Vilma. Panganiban's audition scene and her shooting sequences ("Come back to the young and beautiful you.") are nothing short of brilliant, and are testaments of Panganiban's indisputable versatility. Quite frankly, it's hard to think of someone else who can evenly shift from drama to comedy, with flying colors in both.

De Rossi displays impeccable comic delivery and timing as she rolls with the narrative punches. What have Assunta and Alessandra's parents been feeding the girls that turned these siblings into spectacular actresses, one wonders? Empress plays a deliciously scornful version of herself, and comes up with one the year's most illustrious cameos, the consummate rival to a magnificent Panganiban.

How did Angeline Quinto fare? Not so badly actually. Though visibly awkward in a few scenes, Quinto breezes through her role with wanton enthusiasm, valiant enough to take thespic risks. This, after all, isn't her forte. But with temperament written to suit her personality, it's hard to make a false move. This is Quinto's card to a legitimate acting career.

Framed by thoughtful "steps to attaining success" (Step 1 - Just say yes; Step 4.1 - Know your product; Step 10 - Research, research, research; Step 48 - Check on your competition; Step 28.1 - Be better than your competition; Step 39 - Savor your success), the movie percolates with winking charm and raillery. It is provocative, upbeat, and pokes fun on our misperceptions and insecurities. It allows scrutiny of our thoughts on beauty and youth. How far are we willing to pursue them? Do they guarantee success? Or happiness? The film also gathers some of contemporary cinema's most brilliant and dynamic artists: Chris Martinez, Whammy Alcazaren ("Islands", "Colossal"), Atty. Joji Alonso, and of course director Jadaone ("Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay").

This collaboration results into one of the year's most exuberantly exhilarating films. What's better? It screened to a good and receptive crowd. I like that. Great films deserve no less. This allows film makers to churn out more of quality cinema. As a paying audience, this is money well spent.

Gorgeous Tom plays Angeline's boyfriend Pocholo.