It's the little things you notice. Like when a science teacher explains the sound of a heart to her class, and she goes "Dug dug... dug dug..." Yet every one who attends a science class knows that the official normal heart sound is "lub dub... lub dub..." - and not something that reminds you of an animal that bites - or barks.
Cathy Garcia-Molina's "She's Dating the Gangster" has other gaffes: The first 15 minutes briskly breeze through the news of a missing plane and an emergency landing in CamSur, with no list of survivors to speak of. But the possibility that several people, including Kenneth's dad Kenji (Richard Gomez), could be dead is absolutely lost on Kelay (Kathryn Bernardo) who's high spirited and bubbly, acting as though it's a festive season to hop around with wide grin on her face. Something here doesn't make sense, does it?
Make no mistake, "She's Dating the Gangster" is one of 2014's most adorable movies. It's also Kathryn's best performance to date. The director's flair for dynamic story telling is undeniable. It is utterly charming that you tend to ignore the minor gaffes. When your movie earns P262 million domestically, who cares really about the nitpicking? Subsequently, would you be as sensitive, or just shrug your shoulders, if your film earned a measly P5 million (well, P5,165,190 - every nickel counts), like Nora Aunor's "Dementia"? The cast and crew of 15-20 people flying to Batanes alone would cost a fortune so P5M isn't exactly earning, is it? I rest my case.
With the film year almost coming to a close, Blush features some of the year's "Most Head Scratching Moments" on celluloid. The point here is: Film makers have to be attentive to the details used in their stories. After all, these films are commercial products that people pay good money to watch. There's plenty more where this list comes from considering the volume of releases this year. We have excluded some items that we've already written lengthily before.
2014's MOST HEAD-SCRATCHING MOMENTS
Pop quiz. What do dogs, creatures without cognition, do when sideswiped by moving vehicles? They scuttle away, tails behind their legs, as dictated by instinct. Cats do the same, with claws bared out and fur standing on end. You'd think humans, even those with defective cognition, would do the same. After all, instinct universally dictates for "fight or flight" - for self preservation.
But Percival Intalan's "Dementia" shows one for the books. Mara (Nora Aunor) strays by the roadside, disoriented to time and place, looking around this strange place. Out of nowhere, a speeding bicycle then sideswipes her. She falls, then scampers to get up. Then for a split second, she grins with her saccharine sweet smile! What thinking creature grins after getting hit by a moving vehicle? Anyone with half a brain would wonder about such an incongruous reaction! Yet this film is called "intelligent" by many reviews. Go figure.
In another scene: Nora is doing her jigsaw puzzle on the table. Yul Servo then charges and loudly accuses her: "Bakit kayo ganyan sa akin? Wala naman akong ginagawa sa inyo, pero mula pa noon, minamaliit at minamata nyo na ako.”
Yul's emotional outburst, of course, goes unnoticed because Nora didn't seem to hear anything. Deaf? The movie insists that this is "Dementia". But anyone confronted with such passionate display would get frazzled, or disoriented. And she'd rightfully get upset. Not catatonic! But Intalan decides to forget this salient feature and focus on those phantasmagorically expressive pair of eyes - and let's give her the extreme close-ups she deserves, while we’re at it. Ocular porn, anyone? This is how an "intelligent movie" should be.
Sigried Barros-Sanchez must have paraded what seemed like 3 dozen personalities in the first 60 minutes alone of his documentary "Ang Gitaristang Hindi Marunong Magskala". An hour later, you're nowhere familiar with his subject, legendary guitarist Nitoy Adriano of "The Jerks". Sanchez, who has always been fixated with 70's-80's pop culture, presents his "story" by way of an endless array of anecdotes from people like Bobby Balingit ("Wuds"), Ira Cruz ("Hijo"), Robert Javier ("The Youth"), Mike Brewer, Soliman Cruz, Ely Buendia, Bong Sotto, Noel Cabangon, et.al. The personalities are numerous, but the whole narrative is lost in the randomness of the exposition. While other documentaries take us to places, Sanchez heavily relies on his interviewees that, on the whole, know less about Nitoy Adriano as a person. What's worse, an annoying guitar riff plays throughout this series of clips while uneven sound comes out from his subjects whose voices are either drowned out by excessively excruciating noise or are hopelessly inaudible.
If "Cine Totoo" were truly a festival of "international caliber", why can't they "screen" their entries adequately? Were they wearing ear plugs when they screened this embarrassment? Shoddy film making is a legitimate criteria of exclusion if they're serious of this undertaking. This film was painful to watch, it almost prevented me from watching the other entries.
Let’s take the case of Thai film maker Urophong Raksasad's lyrically sumptuous "Songs of Rice", the dialogue-free visual dissertation on Thailand's "rice culture" set in places like Chiang Kam and the Don Yanang village.
Even without words, you learn so much about a regional neighbor, something that was never accomplished in “Ang Gitarista’s…” million-words. "...Rice" was one of the last films to screen at the Cine Totoo Festival.
Barros-Sanchez's "Ang Gitarista..." feels more like a great disservice to the personality it is paying homage to. The director is fond of giving "tributes". Remember "Mga Kidnaper ni Ronnie Lazaro" and "Ang Anak ni Brocka"? Now this particular work should've been abandoned altogether.
Good thing Angeli Bayani has had a spate of star turns in the recent past. She gave a powerful performance in Francis Xavier Pasion's gripping drama "Bwaya" where she played Divina, the mother of a girl attacked and devoured by a crocodile in Hinuotan, somewhere in the marshlands of Agusan del Sur. She was also seen in Lav Diaz's "Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan," one of my favorite movies in the recent years. Let's not forget her understated grace in Anthony Chen's poignant "Ilo Ilo" (2013). In the latter, Bayani played the role of a nanny working for a struggling Singaporean family.
"Ronda" was one of those films with a story that meandered, employing scriptwriter Adolf Alix's penchant for static shots and long takes. While I love narrative slow burns, there has to be a discernible build-up that leads to a focal point. This one wavered into several side stories that muddled its focus. Cesar Montano, playing a guidance counselor, didn't even look or speak the part. He had this protracted phone conversation that seemed like hollow adlibs. Think wandering salesman.
The film is an uncomfortable showcase piece for the comedienne. It is also thematically derivative. You know that you've seen something like this in the last 5 years or so. And if you believed for a second that Ai Ai delas Alas, with her distractingly gargantuan mammaries juggling around, was a police woman, I am the Queen of Versailles.
Description of the movie is more interesting, and I quote, "It is built like a ghost town... the last refuge for the wealthy deceased. Social outcasts have discovered this place. At first sight, it seems idyllic. The poor who have set up their homes within these walls live in makeshift suburban Utopia." Sounds like a prize-winning documentary already, right? Think again. The finished product is unfinished, 3 years after it started collecting video materials for this project. In fact, Ricky's story is the only subject with a fuller narrative structure. Moreover, his story looked scripted. Helen, you hardly see; and Rachel is almost non-existent. You hear voices instructing its subjects instead of just observing them in their natural environment. This is, after all, their home, and no one should dictate how they live their lives, which defeats the purpose of this quasi-documentary. This is worth its P2 million grant? Seriously? What self respecting film maker would even present an unfinished work, deeming it competition-worthy? Better yet, what ambitious film festival would screen unfinished works? Now consider what happens to the cash-strapped Cinemalaya if these QC amateurs begin to artistically control the content of the beleaguered festival? It is nothing short of a festival disaster waiting to happen.
The finished product is a big technical headache: 70% of the material is characterized by regular buffer stops, playing out like a bad internet connection. You feel like watching incoherent video fragments with a consistently delayed sound. Anyone who considers this worthy of festival admission is in dream land and does not know what he's doing. Otherwise, you realize that whoever curated this festival has been sleepwalking through his job. Quezon City Film Festival seems to be scraping the bottom, and has no insight on quality features. No one screens or monitors its entries. Or at least no one with semblance of a working brain.
In Chito Rono's riveting "The Trial", theater royalty Isay Alvarez ("Katy", "Miss Saigon") plays lawyer Patricia Celis who has taken on the case of "rape victim" Bessy Buenaventura (Jessy Mendiola). On her first meeting with Amanda (Gretchen Barretto), she wears a baffling smirk. The lawyer carries unusual vitriol, regarding Amanda with absolute acrimony. She's haughty and morose. You would think that Atty. Celis has a personal stake on the case. You’d likewise mistake her as the aggrieved party. As counsellor, wasn't she supposed to approach the case with sobriety and rational savvy? Which lawyer gets herself a gargantuan slap from a would-be witness?
The morning after, our warring strangers realize that they've fortuitously swapped personalities. The plump man gets the vivacious girl's body, and vice versa. What happens when each of their partners starts flirting with them? Billy (Luke Pradia) does a sexy strip dance for his girlfriend Kelly. And KC Miller wants to do the naughty deed with lover Brando. Can true love's kiss really turn the spell around?
While intended to be humorous, we soon find out that the funnier parts weren't the otherwise drab and absolutely predictable situations that came after.
|Chaka Khan will be proud.|
The trio lost their children from a vehicular accident on the day they were to go on a field trip. I understand that these therapeutic dolls can be cuddled by patients diagnosed with clinical depression, dementia, or trauma, but who on earth would cuddle the ugliest dolls I have ever seen? Who chose these dolls? Or were they blind when they picked them?
The movie also showcases Iza Calzado's first bad performance of her entire career (I didn't think this was possible), thanks to Deramas' ambiguous vision on the different manifestations of bereavement. Trust the director to bring out the worst in his actors. Good thing Jodi Santa Maria, the only positive aspect in this poorly conceptualized flick, was on board to save the day. But what sets this horror flick apart from other scary movies was how funny it turned out to be. I have never heard my yaya chuckle throughout a screamfest. Horror = laughter! Who'd have thought that such formula was possible? It's something that only Deramas can accomplish - without even trying!
Kevin Mercado, Keanna Reeves' delectable 20-year-old boyfriend, shares screen time with her more senior girlfriend in Joric Raquiza's ridiculous "Magtiwala Ka - A Super Typhood Yolanda Story". In the movie, set in Basey, Samar, we separately follow rice farmer Malaya (Keanna Reeves) and her stolid-looking kids; and farmer's son Leo Dagami (Kevin Mercado) who dreams of finding his fortune in Manila. Storm depiction was so amateurish, it looked like one of those fake rain machines drenching all dolled up Keanna. Her lips were red as blood, and she didn't even run for shelter.
In a couple of these scenes, Leo, ever so dashing (I couldn't take my eyes off this fresh-faced boytoy, promise!), would suddenly kneel down the ground and start crying - while a plump girl (Dhen Ibanez) would start singing in the background - in irritating music video fashion. The nerve-wracking song gets repeatedly played throughout the film. I started getting ideas how tortures are to be carried out.
Ironically, my attention never wavered. This was one of those "excruciatingly bad films" that entertained in its cinematic cluelessness. I was hooked! And it didn't disappoint. It downspiraled into moronic levels no other film maker has gone before. Later in the story, we finally unravel the raison d'etre of this project: Dr. Manny Calayan starts appearing to promote his medical expertise (I actually cringed at the thought), alongside products called "Unipak sardines" which get distributed to the typhoon victims. Hands down, this takes the cake as the years most awful movie!
|Move over, Enrique Gil. Kevin Mercado can give you a run for his money. Just don't let him speak. LOL|
A bankrupt patriarch (Robert Arevalo) takes his grown up grandchildren Anna (Cris Villonco) and Ricky (Rafa Siguion-Reyna) to Alapaap, a derelict 4-story tenement in Tondo to help them "grow balls". In the process, he pimps heart broken Anna to a ngongo (Lorenz Martinez) and even encourages for a romantic tryst with him; pushes frustrated musician Ricky to a group of street musicians (Aiza Seguerra, et.al.) who sing but one song! He also introduces them to eating "pagpag"; to sleep in a room full of roaches and a toilet that hardly flushes. I mean, if we're into teaching them how to toughen up, why not take them to the jungles of Basilan and Sulu, debah? The whole idea is nothing short of preposterous - especially when you are compromising the health, safety and well-being of the people you love.
|Cartoon characters. Think "wicked stepsisters".|
His other children Olivia (Ali Sotto) and Julio (Audie Gemora) don't do so badly themselves, they carry wads of cash around (the scene where they bribe their encargado Rez Cortez with stacks of legal tender).
Carlitos Siguion-Reyna's "Hari ng Tondo" plays out like a modern-day fairytale with quirky characters and charming protagonists. Bibeth Orteza's old-world "komiks" sensibility is quite palpable. Charm floats around all over, but it's like eating cotton candy. The content is all sweet and fluffy - but without much nutritive value. Heck, even Cardo's greedy children feel like one-dimensional characters straight out of Cinderella (the wicked stepsisters). And can anyone please tell Rafa to stop singing? Leave that to Cris Villonco who's a cinematic revelation here.
Let's pick a representative from the fast dwindling Pink Cinema. In G.A. Villafuerte's "Damong Ligaw", a reconciling mother and daughter hug each other as the latter bids her mother goodbye. The mother (played by producer Elona Mendoza, who painfully struggles with simple lines) then rallies for her daughter Loisa, comparing her to a "damong ligaw", a wild grass, if you will. I wanted to roll on the floor laughing. Other parents would compare their daughter to a rose, an angel, a breath of fresh air, a teddy bear, even a "touch of heaven" - but this mother can only think of the titular "Damong Ligaw". Ouch. Here's a suggestion to the director-scriptwriter , who's undoubtedly artistically bankrupt (he repeats his stories ad nauseam; his movies are interchangeable; he only changes the names of his characters): "You're like an ethereal wild flower that blossoms in the most unexpected places." Now isn't that more poetic? Translate to: "Para kang magandang kampupot na bumubukaka sa burak." ;)
In this inanity, Villafuerte, who always writes his own godawful scripts, names his characters after PBB housemates: There's a Ranty (RJ Rodrigo), a Loisa (Mendoza), and a Jacob. In another film, he names a girl Aina. Why not Cheridel?
But it's the epilogue that qualifies for "Ripley's Believe it or Not."
To tie all his loose ends, he writes 5-sentence paragraphs for all of his characters, including the bumbling parlorista and postman! (wink wink) Imagine 10 characters with full epilogues after their frozen faces. You'd think you were in a reading marathon.
Villafuerte must have forgotten that the movies are a visual medium! You do wonder where he must have acquired his film education. I shiver at the thought. Wherever it is, it needs to be shut down. Fast! But I am not done, a film called "Housemates: Are You In or Are You Out? Get Out!" was slated to be shown as of this writing. Nope, I'm not making this up. This isn't a joke. If you've heard of the most ludicrous titling, this should take the cake. Imagine, Villafuerte is probably patting himself stupid for what he seriously believes is brilliant titling. Stroke of genius? Try the other end of the spectrum, hon. More importantly, he needs electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to get over his fixation to PBB. Seriously.
Turns out Raffy is Rafael's son, making him the brother of Noel (Arlo Soriano), Monica's gay son. Elona Mendoza has always produced and appeared in these godawful films where she'd be seen in gawky cameos. In her very short roles, she would uncannily mimic robots and deliver lines as stolidly as her tongue. Fast forward to 2014. She has graduated as an "extra" and has conveniently made herself "lead star" - with similar painfully fractured renditions, it seemed like something got stuck down her posterior pharyngeal wall. Pakapalan na lang. Other than her absolute cluelessness to acting, she insolently displays her 3-gallon collagen pout and a "proudly" 4C bumpers. In each of her scene, I'd notice her lips growing tighter and fuller, I half expected her to make animal sounds next: quack, quack, quack! This is misplaced ambition this side of Carla Varga.
In Nico Salvador's "Tatay Kong Bading", titular protagonist Ike Sadiasa salivates as he watches son-in-law Charles Delgado bathe in wild abandon, soaping away his privates with grave intent. Aren't people supposed to peep through holes? This "banyo" has a proverbial window, openly inviting spectators while they soap away their dirty inches. Sadiasa might as well take a chair inside for a ringside seat.
In a line-up that includes sound bytes and film clips from stars like Dolphy, FPJ, Lino Brocka, Christopher de Leon, Don Jose Nepomuceno, Judy Anne Santos, Tito, Vic & Joey, Toni Gonzaga, Charo Santos-Concio, Boots Anson-Roa, Ricky Lee and Jolina Magdangal, failure to discuss the reign of the "movie queens" and the influence of the star system make this work seem emaciated; as though a chapter of Philippine celluloid has been totally ignored.
In the same documentary, Wenn Deramas shares, "Pag binigyan mo sila ng horror, dapat matatakot sila." Is that why "Maria Leonora Teresa" was so darn funny? Meanwhile, Erik Matti, the director of "On the Job", fervidly discusses social realism in cinema as though he is the exponent of the genre. Let's be reminded that he's only done - drum roll, please - one! Or just maybe, the new age definition of a socially relevant film equates to "Gagamboy", "Scorpio Nights 2", "Pedro Penduko", "Tales from the Enchanted Kingdom:", and "Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles". Oh, let me add "Mano Po 2: My Home". The conceit of pretense made my stomach turn, I suddenly required a vomit bag.
GHOST SALUTES TV HOST
In Romy V. Suzara's "Sigaw sa Hatinggabi", a spiritual medium Salvacion (Regine Angeles) guests in a popular TV show hosted by a confrontational cynic named "Kapitan" - a Tulfo-style TV host. When asked if she feels any "presence" in the studio, she closes her eyes and a soldier's apparition then appears behind the host. The soldier then possesses Vacion's body who suddenly stands up to salute the Kapitan. The skeptic host then salutes right back. I almost fell off my chair laughing.
In another scene, the director named (believe it or not!) Allan Pangalan, played by a bumbling Hero Bautista, assigns roles to his spirit questors, "O kayong dalawa ang mag-nobyo. Ikaw ang nerd." Questors have to play roles like they were actors? This TV show was supposed to be a reality show about seances investigating the presence of wandering ghosts in a haunted house. Why assign roles? Someone's obviously confused. The movie, eternally bathed in darkness, is one of the four cripplingly inane entries in FDCP's Masters Series, an annual festival of mostly unemployed veteran directors with no clues how "film language" is expressed in the age of digital cinema.
If you're big on personalities, there are several worth catching here. With a messy story telling and mediocre film making on board, you might as well find another source of amusement. Barbel-on-his-face personality Lance Raymundo returns to the big screen. Pink film denizen Alvin Duckert renames himself (for the third time) as Alvin Nakassi. He figures in the film's only sex scene - what do you expect? Cebuano bikini-open model David Karell also makes his film debut. While you hardly see anything in the movie's third (the set ran out of lights or budget), you will hear more than you require. As I have mentioned in the past, horror directors with limited insight resort to loud sudden noises. There's auditory overload here.
GHOST ATTENDS WEDDING
But one of the most bizarre scenes we've seen this year was that of a ghost attending a wedding! Jason Abalos plays Arman, closeted Ricky Davao's love interest. During Victor Neri's wedding to Ritz Azul, Davao, who isn't even close to Neri, attends the wedding. Don't ask me why. In the story, Davao plays a bank officer who facilitates Neri's car/business loan. I never had any bank officer attend weddings in our family - so this was a stretch! More than that, the ghost of Jason Abalos joins Ricky Davao to witness the church ceremony. Don't ask me why again. This was so hilarious, and clearly incoherent, considering that Davao and Abalos did not even consummate their "relationship" (unless there's a Director's Cut I missed). I almost died and went to heaven laughing.
Director GB Sampedro desperately wanted to hook up all his characters and narrative strains in one neat moment. And what could be more unforgettable than the dearly departed witnessing a marital ceremony, right? And I thought I've seen everything.