Friday, January 31, 2014

Paul Singh Cudail's Luhod sa Harapan - Found Hopelessly Wanting


Carlo (Dustin Jose), an irascible taxi driver, is having a bad day. His sister Nicole (Renee Lopez) carries a torch for him. One night, from a deep slumber, he finds her lying beside him. This gets him livid beyond belief. To make matters worse, gay housemate Rolly (Dennis Cruz) is likewise pining for his affection. And he's losing his patience fast. Such malediction! How has he become this irresistible? Gawd!

To drown him out of his sorrow, he turns to the booze and ends up surlier than ever. He accuses people of taking advantage of him during his drunken stupor – and eventually ends up driving everyone away. 

While Nicole relocates to pursue her dream of working abroad, Rolly moves out and becomes an ambulant pansit salesman, and takes a lover (Nino Abel).

One day, Carlo crashes his car while heavily inebriated. With no one to care for him, what becomes of this grumpy Romeo? Would Nicole abandon her dreams so she could take care of Carlo, who isn't really her blood brother, by the way? Has Rolly forgotten Carlo? Guess.

Rolly gets his chance with Carlo.
Dissecting stories from this genre is sometimes a futile exercise. After all, director Paul Singh Cudail has never delivered a passable film in his life - and the preponderance of a very limited insight on good storytelling is in itself a major debacle. He riddles his narrative with loopholes and questions begging to be asked. The most obvious question here is: why was Carlo extremely agitated and eternally furious of Nicole’s attraction for him? Isn't it extreme to kick a girl out of your house just because she’s in love with you? Maybe he’s a loony? Or needs anger management classes? Whatever his problem is, Cudail fails to explore this dilemma, which is odd, considering it is what’s driving his plot.

But who cares about plots – or making sense of it all? Cudail just wants to highlight Dennis Cruz’s bottom-baring shower scene (after being berated by Jose, Cruz was so devastated he had to run to the bathroom, cry a river, and soap up his backside until they glistened – such scintillating turn of events indeed). As if that wasn't enough, this is abruptly followed by another shower scene with Dustin Jose. In this scene, he apparently forgot for a second that he’s supposed to be drunk, or angry – thus he takes a (drum roll, please) … shower! You see, Cudail loves his bathrooms and he makes ample use of them.

Like other Pink flicks, the production values here resort to the minimum. A dirge continuously plays, scene after scene, a la punebre, surely paying homage to the demise of the film maker’s neurons. For example, there’s much ado about Carlo’s lost wallet (he dropped it during one of his drinking sprees) but this was left in the lurch. In another scene, a confrontation between Carlo and Nicole is drowned out by a couple of rabid dogs barking. Editing is another gray area. Rolly is shown arguing with his lover Benji (Abel) who refuses to break up with the fed-up Rolly, “Bakit ganyan kayong mga lalaki? Di ba kayo pwedeng sex now, pay later?” Cut to the next scene: Rolly and Benji get out of bed after a roll in the hay. And I thought they've broken up already? Post break-up sex, anyone?




Now let’s get into the story telling acumen of the writer. Here's a glaring scenario in the film. It's simple but underlines the mind set of the story teller and/or script writer. Rolly arrives at a sari sari store, after a day of peddling noddles. “Pabili nga ho ng softdrinks,” he tells the manang. She asks, “Ano’ng gusto nyo?” He replies, “Kahit ano ho.” What twat couldn't pick a specific brand? So if the manang handed over an “Amrat Cola” from Pakistan, “Cuba Libre” from Havana, “Bidu Cola” from Argentina or “Star Cola” from Myanmar, he’d accept it without a word? What if he's actually given "Markang Demonyo" Cola? Kahit ano eh! Now I know why a punebre plays overtime.

The penultimate scene has Dustin Jose weeping til he’s blue (above). Then in the most inane delivery, he says, “Kailangan ko pang mabulag para maibalik ko sa yo ang pagmamahal na ibinigay mo.” Huh? Did he suddenly turn affectionate? Or is someone in dire need of a dramatic ending to wrap his story up?

Luhod sa Harapan” tries to set up a stage to eke out a scenario that would put “Bukas Luluhod ang Mga Tala” or “Babangon Ako’t Dudurugin Kita” to shame. Kneel before me and lick my shoes, right? “Isang araw luluhod ka rin,” says the blurb. But there’s none of that here except that as epilogue, Carlo, now hopelessly blind – and still wearing the skimpiest white briefs, mind you - finally gives in to Rolly’s unabashed love and adoration. Aren't we tickled pink? How's that for denouement?   


Dennis Cruz (left) holds a priceless family jewel. Nino Abel (right) covers his. ;)

Nino Abel, Dustin Jose and Dennis Cruz practice color-coding.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mae Czarina Cruz's "Bride for Rent" - Hits and Misses


A grandson plots to deceive his grandmother by pretending that he’s married. But the grandmother, aware of his machination, hatches a scheme to teach his cunning grandson a lesson by marrying him off to the former’s accomplice. Meanwhile the third-party accomplice is actually a saint who sacrifices her puny self to provide for a family of five able-bodied souls. But she wouldn't be so poor if fate lends a hand and she suddenly finds love in the midst of all this ruckus, would she?

Would that suffice to fabricate a story that would propel a blockbuster romantic comedy? Fact: Mae Czarina Cruz’sBride for Rent” is 2014’s first official blockbuster with humongous crowds turning in cineplexes as early as the first screening. 

Let’s backtrack a bit. Rocco (Xian Lim) was supposed to cash in on his multimillion-peso trust fund when he turned 25. But there was a caveat to this; that he should be married before he gets the first P10 million, then P70 million if he lasted this number of weeks – and so on.

Unfortunately, Rocco doesn't have a girl friend who is willing to marry him. Moreover, his ad agency is in urgent need of cash (which he earlier splurged while gambling) or he loses a vital account that would embarrass him to his estranged father (Tirso Cruz III). So he hires aspiring actress Rocky (Kim Chiu) to be his bride. Meanwhile, the plucky girl just wants a roof on her family’s head. She agrees to the odd arrangement of marrying this stranger to save her family from being homeless. The pretense would have them living together in a conjugal home for a specific time before they could eventually call the marriage off, file for annulment, then live their lives with oodles of cash as they ride into the sunset.

But as predictable as Kris Aquino’s self-indulgences, life isn't a walk in the park, and the unlikely couple find themselves unexpectedly falling for each other. Should they admit their feelings and offer conciliatory confessions? Should Rocco re-propose and re-affirm his new found affection to the indubitable Rocky? Should the latter declare her love to the piano-playing Lothario despite her double-whammy deception? What to do?

As romcom goes, “Bride for Rent” resorts to a pother of sitcom gags that surprisingly work due to the burgeoning comic ability of Kim Chiu who’s experiencing a renaissance of sorts where her performing aptitude is concerned. She has found a persuasive and confident voice in her comic cadence. A few lines still fall flat, but Chiu is mostly resolute. The result is nothing to scoff at. Her spitfire Rockelita dela Cruz suddenly becomes a cinematic heroine worth remembering. She has several moments of impeccable precision, like when she starts enumerating her house rules, then quips with a nonchalant “Please refer to rule number 1, which you just agreed.”  How about her hooky, “Isn't it amazing? Isn't it surprising? Isn't it?” Or when Rocco suddenly catches her buck naked while showering, then she moans, “I feel so molested”. Or when she daydreams of kissing Rocco at the kitchen. Or during her repeat audition when she’d say, “Di naman ako na advice na Q&A pala to.” There’s no denying that Miss Chiu is basking on a new thespic sun, and we’re so glad for her.


What’s an adorable heroine without her equally dishy paramour? Xian Lim complements Chiu’s comic calisthenics with his earnest portrayal of the happy-go-lucky, albeit opportunistic dream boy who just wants to do better than the father he resents. Lim is probably aware of his physical charm and he makes good use of this (the kitchen daydream scene). When Rocky tries to remove his shorts, he fetchingly protests, “Hala-la-la-la-la”. Awww. Chiu and Lim have found the perfect chemistry in celluloid heaven. We just wish they’d stop Lim from singing too much on screen because, while he maybe a fantastic musician, his vocal chops aren't so much to crow about. And serenading a girl with a dissonant version of “Til I Met You” leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

While I admit to finding pleasure in the spirited performances of Kim Chiu, Xian Lim, Pilita Corales and Empoy Marquez, the story arc and details leave much to be desired. This is a romcom fueled by the imposturous ministrations of its characters. The grandson is deceitful. The grandmother is shifty. Rocky isn't the innocent by-stander either because she came into the picture aware of the schemes of both. Are we supposed to empathize with these grafters? Then there’s the lazy Dela Cruz clan. With 3 able-bodied brothers and a physically capable father (Dennis Padilla), why is scrawny Rocky working so hard while her four male kapamilyas are sitting on their arses, feeling sorry for themselves? This is one free-loading, indolent family I'd rather do without. They all deserve to be taken to Cedric Lee’s condo unit, no doubt. Maybe Mr. Lee can knock some sense into them as much as he’s capable of disarranging Vhong Navarro’s facial and skeletal - and allegedly even genital anatomy.

What lucid lola would push her apo to a spurious marriage? Even if this were “to teach him a lesson… so he learns to value what he has”, isn't she aware that sometimes no amount of money can guarantee a successful annulment case? Aren't old folks supposed to uphold marriage as a "sacred sacrament”? Yet she plays with this covenant, making God an accomplice to her lesson-teaching scheme. That is some grandmother.


Several other points are worth noting. The house given as a gift by Pilita was posh and huge, yet Xian had to coin toss for him to get a chance to stay on their matrimonial bed. Otherwise, it’s the couch for him. Weren’t there other rooms in this gargantuan two-story house? Poor, poor Xian.

The biggest glitch here is the restaurant scene. When Rocco had to re-propose, wasn't that Rocky’s chance to come clean and accept his real proposal, instead of unnecessarily admitting her part of the devious plot? After all, she’s admitted to Lala that she’s falling for him, and Lala seems to genuinely like her. They had to rock the boat to maneuver tension into the convoluted story. The big revelation (drum roll please!) was that their marriage was a sham. Who didn't know that? Rocco knew. Rocky knew. Lala knew. Now, even Rocco’s father knows. Such happy coincidences indeed. The succeeding scenes were too farcical to swallow. Rocco turns his ire to his crowd and declares, “This doesn't give you the right to play with my feeling.” This coming from someone who jumpstarted this whole put-up job? I had to scratch my head.  

The film succeeds to tickle some fancy. But if Mae Cruz wants to be taken seriously, she has to learn how to tighten her narrative and seriously sit on her story line instead of resorting to the moth-eaten romcom formula that Star Cinema is feeding her. For now, she has to thank her lucky stars for Kim Chiu and Xian Lim’s refreshing performances. That may not be enough next time.

Xian Lim and Kim Chiu: The hit-making team.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Benito Bautista's "Mumbai Love" - Pedestrian Effort, Failed Ambition


While on a fashion assignment in Mumbai, Ella (Solenn Heussaff) is pursued by Nandi (Kiko Matos), an Indian resident in Manila who’s in the Indian city to attend a cousin’s wedding. Sparks fly after their first date, but as fate would have it, Ella had to abruptly leave. What’s worse, the note she left for Nandi gets misplaced at the front desk of the hotel. With no contact details nor full names to go on with, both settle back into their lives with deep regret.

Back in Manila, Nandi tries the television talk shows to find Ella to no avail. The girl seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth. One night, while watching a gay pageant where his cousin Romni (Romy Daryani) is a judge, he finds Ella backstage attending to the contestants’ wardrobe. Ella’s Mama Nikka (Jason Gainza) is the pageant’s costume designer and make-up artist. The couple briskly rekindles their budding romance, but finds resistance in Nandi’s parents. They have earlier arranged for their 25-year-old bachelor’s betrothal to the daughter of a rich Indian family. Though warned of being cast out from the family, Nandi fights to keep Ella in his life.

But there’s more trouble brewing in the horizon. Ella gets abducted by Marco (Mart Escudero), her colleague from work and secret admirer, who takes her to a desolate farm house in Laguna, keeping her a prisoner. With the help of a nasty crew of “bumbays” – the loanshark gang headed by Rashid (Raymond Bagatsing), Nandi scours the town to secure the girl. Will they find Ella before it’s too late?


The Philippines is home to an estimated 150,000 Indians, mostly of Sindhi or Punjabi ethnicity; this according to a 2008 statistics. But this I believe is a conservative estimate. The number could be triple. After all, this minority group has been in the country since pre-colonial times, and the 17th century Gujarati merchants made sure that their transoceanic empire flourished long before we've even acquired modernization.

Moreover, anthropological studies have revealed proofs of active trade between Tamil Nadu (the south Indian region) and the country as early as the 8th and 10th century. These days, the “bumbays” have become part of our sociological existence: the turbans, rotis, 5/6, the tongue-burning gastronomy, snake charmers, Kashmirian fabrics, cheap surgical instruments and cancer drugs, and the frolic of Bollywood.

Gradually spilling over in the entertainment field, a number of the latest Indian features have been screened in SM cinemas last year. This includes Shahrukh Khan’s highly entertaining “Chennai Express”, Reema Kagti’s suspenseful ghost drama “Talaash” (“The Answer Lies Within”), Rajkumar Hirani’s “3 Idiots” (shown 4 years too late), and Yash Chopra’s “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” (Til There is Life) – also with superstar Shahrukh Khan. These screenings were always well attended, underlining the sizable population of Indians in the metropolis. Is it any wonder then that “Mumbai Love” would eventually come into being?

Kiko Matos is Nandi and Solenn Heussaff as Ella.
 “Mumbai Love” is constructed in the same Bollywood template: a main narrative premise, colorful Bollywood song-and-dance numbers, and a protracted story line that stretches for hours, Benito Bautista’s lighthearted tale is well anticipated. With spirited performances from its charming leads, a sparking cinematography, a traipse into delightful Mumbai and a director who showed immense promise in his two earlier films (the searing "Boundary" and documentary “Harana”), how could it fail? Unfortunately, this movie disappoints.

Bhansali's "Ram-Leela"
To begin with, the dance sequences are shabbily choreographed, the dancing not even synchronized - and dancing is a key element in Bollywood, for those who hid in the caves for the last century or so. 

Bollywood and its Hollywood-inspired nicknames (which officially started in 1932 as Tollywood based in Tollygunge, West Bengal)  treat their dance sequences with due attention, diligence and precision. Meanwhile, the dancers in “Mumbai Love” looked like they rehearsed for a fortnight then began shooting. Very few Indian movies do away with dancing and music, like one of my all time favorite, Aparna Sen’sMr. & Mrs. Iyer” (2002). 

Let’s take the case of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s…Ram-Leela”(2013) which is essentially “Romeo and Juliet” uprooted to the colors and exoticism of India’s Udaipur. This tale of the star-crossed lover becomes sexualized like it hasn't been before, yet its tragic comeuppance is nonetheless cloaked in some of the most eye-popping musical numbers I've seen in a while. And we're talking about a tragic narrative. Moreover, the plump guys in many Telugu films can out-booty shake anyone from “Mumbai Love” – and that’s a shame since we Filipinos are known for our universal musicality. In Bautista’s tale, music and dance become part of the ingredient, but they seem like after thoughts, i.e. expurgated flights of fancy.

You’d expect a “harana” (serenade) scene from Benito Bautista to work, but believe me, you’re better off forgetting the aforementioned scene altogether. 


There are commentaries about Indian customs like the arranged marriage, but even this was handled without much thought. After Nandi was warned against marrying another girl, the succeeding scene has the parents celebrating the rescue of Ella and their son’s engagement to the French-Pinay. What made them change their minds so fast? Fast resolutions can be attributed to 1) laziness to unspool the kinks in your narrative clutter; 2) carelessness of the storyteller; 3) a myopic vision on situations that should otherwise make sense. We blinked and Nandi’s dilemma for his “arranged marriage” is suddenly gone. How convenient.

LAPSES AND MISPLACEMENTS

Now the obvious lapse in the script: You go out on a fantastic date in a foreign land and you won't even ask for each other's full names? You won't even talk about which area you live in Manila? "Saan ka banda?" Ako doon sa malapit sa peryahan." Nothing? You ride bikes all over and have romantic rendezvous yet you won't even exchange numbers? No exchange of call cards or email addresses? What is this, the 1930's? Isn't that a little too incredulous to believe? That - or the thinking cap's been compromised.

There are misplaced side stories that didn't help move the plot, like Jun Sabayton and his son’s anti-Indian sentiments. Strike them off the story plate and you won’t miss anything. Raymond Bagatsing’s loansharks are another. Gym-buff loanshark Indians, seriously? And a commentary that the “5/6” scheme helps propel our nation's economy -  “because this is micro-enterprise” - sounds too superfluous to digest.

The scenes in Mumbai are another problem. In the movie, Mumbai forfeits its grandiose colonial sheen. Suddenly, the glorious streets of Colaba seem like little Quiapo, except for the iconic yellow-and-black taxi cabs inherent in Mumbai. The Gateway of India seems like an oblique view of UST’s century arch. If they WERE indeed filmed in Mumbai, then someone got shortchanged.

Beautiful scenery from Pila, Laguna.
Martin Escudero is hopelessly stuck in his “Zombadings” persona. His character Marco, who’s in love with Ella, is so effete, you’d understand why she never looked at him as a romantic possibility. When he starts acting out as the spurned lover, I half expected him to come out of the closet. Jason Gainza hams it up as Ella's cross-dressing adoptive “mother”. But we just didn't find him that amusing to begin with. Angelina Kanapi does another cooky "lady boss" role, but she comes off like a drugged out hipster. Hasn't she done this in 4 - no, make it 7 - other films in the past? The Indian cast does better, but then I am probably scraping the bottom already.

FLICKER OF LIGHT

If there’s a flicker of light in this lackadaisical ouvre, it would be Solenn Heussaff and newcomer Kiko Matos (last seen in Jason Paul Laxamana’s stirring “Babagwa”). While decidedly easy on the eyes, Heussaff is also earnest and makes for an adorable romantic heroine. There's much to admire about Heussaff because she has always been a sincere performer. She does away with extraneous emotions that would unnecessarily spill over a characterization. Her Tagalog is amazing – and remind me again how long has Sam Milby worked in the Philippines?

Kiko Matos, on the other hand, is just too gorgeous to ignore. Sometimes you want to click the pause button and just gaze at Matos’ smile a second longer! How's that for a romantic lead? He occasionally stumbles with his slapstick scenes, but you’re far from picking an egg to throw on screen. He is just adorable. Check out his bharat scene. He looked so awkward prancing around, but you hardly mind him. Beauty indeed has distinct advantages because sometimes, it helps you get away with murder. But what happens when novelty wears off?

In 2011, Director Bautista’s “Boundary” blazed the cinematic trail. There's no doubt that a great film maker was born. This was further reinforced when his documentary “Harana” opened in the festival circuit the following year. Then comes “Mumbai Love” which is nothing short of a rudimentary work. What happened?

If “Mumbai Love” gets a commercial screening anywhere in India, it would be an absolute embarrassment. The Indians who are weaned on the pomp and pageantry of Bollywood, Tollywood and Kollywood might find “our” craft too amateurish. Do we really want that? Do we deserve such pedestrian effort? 
   
Ikaw na, says Kiko Matos.
Solenn Heussaff and Kiko Matos pose in Mumbai.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Blush's 4th Annual Countdown of Philippine Movies 2013


I ask again, "How many Pinoy films did you watch in 2013?"

If you're one of the thousands who queued at the recent Metro Manila Film Festival to watch Vic Sotto and Kris Aquino's "My Little Bossings" and got rightfully irritated by the production's singular exercise of greed and abusive authority by parading and shamelessly endorsing some 20 products, you were justified. You paid good money not to be spoonfed with commercials. You accordingly complained about the trash that percolated around the cinematic season. You huffed and puffed, and deplored the bad state of Philippine Cinema. But this is all wrongful cliche. The fact is, 2013 had a bumper crop year of cinematic gems, and they were even accessible to the movie-going public. Majority of them were screened, not in the stuffy halls of CCP or the university theater, but in malls and cineplexes. This was one of the best years in Philippine Cinema!

So if your movie experience last year only consisted of Sotto, Aquino, Vice Ganda and any Wenn Deramas flick, please stop whining. You deserve them!

STEADY INCREASE

On our 4th annual rundown of movies, we've noticed a steady increase in the yearly film output since we started this in 2010. These are rough estimates, but essentially reflect trends that shall dictate how we will watch our favorite films in the next few years.

2010 had 73 films. 2011 had 105. 2012 notably jumped to 142. And 2013's number is 157. At no other time has this industry been flourishing by leaps and bounds. What's more impressive is the positive swing towards quality. While a good number of Pink Flicks and B-movies still found their way in commercial screenings, they were relegated to a very limited number of cinemas. Galleria has (almost) completely gotten rid of the exploitation flicks.

Film Year 2013 was essentially defined by a series of film festivals that congested the last two quarters of the year. Trailblazing Cinemalaya fielded an embarrassment of riches that it was easier to pick which films were inferior than which were the best. Carlo Obispo's "Purok 7", Eduardo Roy's "Quick Change", Jeffrey Jeturian's "Ekstra", Hannah Espia's "Transit", Jason Paul Laxamana's "Babagwa", and Jerrold Tarog's "Sana Dati" bowled us over, though we hated Gil Portes' "Liars" - and got annoyed by Barbara Miguel's character and portrayal in "Nuwebe".

Cinema One had an impressively strong line-up: the intricate narrative design of Jet Leyco's "Bukas na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na" had us glued right where we sat. Whammy Alcazaren's "Islands", a visual dissertation on isolation and/or solitude, and delicately framed by the seemingly mislaid epilogue, was a joy to behold. Arnel Madroquio's highly experimental "Riddles of my Homecoming" should set a benchmark for experimental cinema mainly because it was a delight to watch. Many titles in this genre would alienate audience; not this one. Miko Livelo's "Blue Bustamante" and Alfonso Torre III's "Kabisera" were likewise highly engaging. Watching Cinema One movies has never been this fun!

Cinefilipino was born this year. Angel Aquino was a beguiling presence in Sigrid Andrea Bernardo's "Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita", a compelling story of a pubescent girl who falls in love with the returning town maiden. Mes de Guzman's "Ang Kwento ni Mabuti" was a tenderly told morality tale that showcased the quiet thespic power of Nora Aunor. Randolph Longjas' "Ang Turkey Man ay Pabo Rin" is a bellyaching social commentary about the Filipino psyche and cultural proclivities set in the household of an interracial couple who wants to celebrate Thanksgiving. It's also one of the funniest films of the decade.

Miguel Alcazaren's "Puti" was on its way to becoming a masterpiece when the story went awry as it drew towards the concluding third part. Too bad because Ian Veneracion and Jasmine Curtis-Smith, the year's breakthrough actress, were fantastic in them. The bizarre twist of the plot was discombobulating, ultimately leaving a bitter taste in the cinematic mouth. Akihiro Blanco, one of the industry's best finds, makes an auspicious movie debut in Ato Bautista's "Mga Ala-Ala ng Tag-ulan" which was probably better realized on print/script, but not on the silver screen. We hated (and this is a strong word) Ron Bryant's "Bingoleras". Twas told that Mac Alejandre and Inquirer reporter Bayani San Diego, two of the festival judges, allegedly pushed hard to get this in the final line-up. But since when has San Diego become an authority on good scripts and great film making? Constant coverage of the indie film scene does not make him a great judge of good scripts, does it? Ditto with Alejandre who has never made a film worth a ticket admission. "Lastikman", "Ang Panday" and "Just One Summer", anyone?

Quezon City Film Festival bankrolled 3 films that were screened for a ridiculously limited three-day run. When the festival held its closing ceremonies, one of its films was yet to premiere later that night. Regardless, Alvin Yapan's "Gaydar" was an enjoyable frolic into the life of a perky girl (Pauleen Luna, a revelation) who always falls in love with a gay man.

MMFF's New Wave Festival had an uneven line up that erroneously picked Joven Tan's vexatious "Ang Maestra". Dramatic caterwauling made me want to regurgitate many times over. Since when has Joven Tan been considered a "new wave" personality? Hasn't he directed girlie flicks like "Kiskisan", "Biglang Liko", "Naked Nights", "Eskandalosa" and "Sex Files" in the early 90's? It's been more than 20 years since he started directing professionally - yet Tan still qualifies as "New Wave"? Digging deeper, his production people includes assistant director Cleo Paglinawan responsible for a flurry of Pink Films like "Indie Boys", "S.R.O.", "Bikini King", "Bugaw" and the awe-inspiring "Itlog na Pula"; then there's Darry dela Cruz as Tan's production assistant (and even part of the cast). Dela Cruz is the brilliant auteur behind "Malasado" and "Daklot"! New wave, right? Let's not forget that Tan recently bastardized the horror genre with "Morgue", a Mark Herras movie shown a week before MMFF New Wave started its run. Sometimes you wonder if the New Wave organizing committee knew what they were doing. Sigh. Good thing they had Gino Santos and Aloy Adlawan's delicately and alluringly told "Island Dreams". Armando Lao's "Dukit" is a cerebral telling of a struggling woodcarver's journey to success. Seamless storytelling and exquisite attention to detail predicate Alvin Yapan's "Mga Anino ng Kahapon", a tale about a woman's descent into paranoid schizophrenia, with superlative ensemble performance from Agot Isidro, TJ Trinidad, Carlo Cruz, et.al.

The main MMFF line-up yielded Joyce Bernal's edge-of-your-seat "10,000 Hours" - a tightly woven yarn loosely based on Senator Panfilo Lacson's escape from incarceration. The festival also spawned a gem in Chito Rono's "Boy Golden" with a cinematic texture reminiscent of Marilou Diaz-Abaya's "Baby Tsina"; it had humor, crisp lines and resplendent cinematography. A daring KC Concepcion emerged from this action biopic.

Sineng Pambansa's All-Masters Edition was supposed to highlight the consummate prowess of veteran directors, but with Gil Portes' mediocre handling of "Ang Tag-Araw ni Twinkle" and Elwood Perez's confounding and utterly confusing visual borborygmus in "Otso", the festival only proved that some masters are better "put out to pasture". Exceptions to this: Jose Javier Reyes' "Ano Ang Kulay ng Mga Nakalimutang Pangarap", Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes' "Sonata" and Chito Rono's "Badil", all superior films that deserve commercial screening outside the festival circuit. Celso Ad. Castillo's "Bahay ng Lagim" (shown a few years ago) was guest entry. Surprisingly, this version was different from the original we saw. Scenes with Karel Marquez, who wasn't in the earlier film, were inserted in the original, creating an even more befuddling story. Guest film maker T.M. Malones stretched his futuristic yarn in "Salvi Ang Pagpadayon". Though not a well-realized sequel of his successful short film, it was nevertheless interesting.

MAINSTREAM

Mainstream Cinema wasn't bad either. Star Cinema ventured into co-productions and came up with one of the film outfit's best line-up in years. Erik Matti's "On the Job" and Veronica Velasco's "Tuhog" were on the plate. Even Dado Lumibao's "Must Be Love" and Joyce Bernal's "Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo" were nothing to scoff at. While Star Cinema released almost a dozen titles in 2013 (and several distributions like Jericho Rosales' "Alagwa"), GMA Films had a paltry 2 films: Jade Castro's disappointing "My Lady Boss" and Cesar Apolinario's awkward "Dance of the Steelbars". Is this broadcast outfit really in dire financial standing? We wonder.

Star Cinema's output is a far cry from the heydays of Regal Films who, in 1990, for example, released more than 41 films, with a variety of genre - actioners like Lito Lapid's "Kahit Singko Di Ko Babayaran ang Buhay Mo", drama like Maryo J. delos Reyes' "My Other Woman", to Rene Requiestas comedies ("Starzan 3", "Pido Dida 2", "Ganda Babae, Ganda Lalaki"). Viva Films had about 20 films in 1990; this year, their output is 6, which includes the year's box-office champion, Cathy Garcia-Molina's "It Takes a Man and a Woman", a co-production with Star Cinema. The film making business has radically changed in the last 20 years.

Pink Films seem to have dwindled, but not by much because one title (or two) is released every week. G.A. Villafuerte leads this prosaic and unremarable pack with 13 titles in this list (we haven't seen "Idlip" and "Romansa"). Fifteen is, by no means, a small number, but how can anyone derive pride in a body of work that boasts of nothing but shoddy production values, one-day shooting schedules, redundant scenography, amateur actors who can't seem to read scripts let alone internalize characters, and stories that are all interchangeable? Most scenes even move in sheer darkness you suspect there wasn't any budget for lights. Consider Villafuerte's "Kaniig" (Bedmates) which was entirely shot in a love motel (Nice Hotel). The story revolves around a bevy of sexually ambiguous denizens who live, work, dine, fight, reconcile, shag - and even party in the same darn setting! How's that for cost cutting?

2013 LIST

The list below is a hefty compendium of Filipino movies that were mostly available in commercial cinemas last year. Included in this list are international features that might as well be Pinoy productions: Sean Ellis' pessimistic tripe, "Metro Manila", Anthony Chen's heart warming Singaporean drama, "Ilo Ilo" and the disturbing Dutch production "Lilet Never Happened" (by director Jacco Groen). The latter is a disconcerting, if a tad contrived look at child prostitution set in Manila. The film showcases newbie Sandy Talag as the brave and shrewd Lilet. It is possible that I may have missed a few titles, but compiling them wasn't a walk in the park. This took me a good 2 1/2 days. On overview, it has been a spectacular year for Philippine Cinema.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Films of 2013:



Adolf Alix Jr.’s Porno
Adolfo Alix Jr.’s Alamat ni China Doll
Adolfo Alix Jr.’s Death March
Aimee Lourdes Apostol-Escasa's Asin
Alfonso Torre III’s Kabisera
Alvin Yapan’s Debosyon
Alvin Yapan’s Gaydar
Alvin Yapan’s Mga Anino ng Kahapon
Andoy Ranay’s When the Love is Gone
Andy Andico’s Transmigrate: The Troubled One
Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo
Archie del Mundo’s Ang Misis ni Meyor
Armando Lao’s Dukit
Arnel Madroquio’s Riddles of My Homecoming (Mga Tigmo sa Akong Pagpauli)
Arturo San Agustin’s Talamak
Ato Bautista’s Mga Ala-ala ng Tag-ulan
Ato Bautista’s Palitan




Benji Garcia’s Philippino Story
Benny Andaya’s Service Boys
Bona Fajardo's Iliw
Brillante Mendoza’s Sapi
Carlo Obispo’s Purok 7
Cathy Garcia-Molina's Four Sisters and a Wedding
Cathy Garcia-Molina's It Takes a Man and A Woman
Celso Ad. Castillo’s Bahay ng Lagim
Ces M. Evangelista’s Amor y Muerte  (Love and Death)
Cesar Apolinario and Mamie Manicad’s Dance of the Steelbars
Chito Rono’s Badil
Chito Rono’s Boy Golden: Shoot to Kill – The Arturo Porcuna Story
Chris Martinez’s Kimmy Dora: Ang Kiyemeng Prequel
Chris Martinez’s Status: It’s Complicated
Christopher Castillo’s The Diplomat Hotel




Dado Lumibao's Must Be Love
Darry dela Cruz’s Longganisa For Sale
Darry dela Cruz's Male Box
Darry dela Cruz's Pakawala
Dominic Lim's Kapitan Basura
Don Bautista’s Gapang
Don Cuaresma’s Call Center Girl
Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon
Eduardo Roy’s Quick Change
Edz Espiritu's Bangkero
Eliza Cornejo’s Kaleidoscope World
Ellen Marfil's Boses
Elwood Perez’s Otso
Emmanuel de la Cruz’s Slumber Party
Emmanuel Palo’s David F.
Emmanuel Palo's A Moment in Time
Erik Matti's On the Job




Francis “Jun” Posadas’ Pukaw
Francis Villacorta’s Pedro Calungsod: Batang Martir
Frasco Mortiz’s Pagpag: Siyam na Buhay
G.A. Villafuerte’s Bagong Paligo
G.A. Villafuerte’s Boy Kabayo
G.A. Villafuerte’s Brutal
G.A. Villafuerte’s Dilig
G.A. Villafuerte’s Hayok (Hanggang Saan Ka Papasok?)
G.A. Villafuerte’s Init
G.A. Villafuerte’s Katas (Gusto Mo Ba ng Prutas?)
G.A. Villafuerte’s Sayaw
G.A. Villafuerte’s Tsikboy
G.A. Villafuerte’s Webcam
G.A. Villafuerte's Boitoi: Pera ang Dahilan ng Pusong Sinugatan
G.A. Villafuerte's Kaniig (Bedmates)
G.A. Villafuerte's Sabik Nananabik






Gil M. Portes’ Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle
Gil M. Portes’ Liars
Gil Portes' Bayang Magiliw (Funky Town)
Gino Santos and Aloy Adlawan’s Island Dreams
Hannah Espia’s Transit
Ian del Carmen's Bad Romance
Ian Lorenos' Alagwa
Ian Lorenos’ Saturday Night Chills
Jacco Groen’s Lilet Never Happened
Jade Castro’s Juana C. The Movie
Jade Castro’s My Lady Boss
Janice Perez’s The Muses
Jason Paul Laxamana’s Babagwa (The Spider’s Lair)




Jeffrey Jeturian’s Ekstra
Jerrold Tarog’s Sana Dati
Jet Leyco’s Bukas Na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na
Jigz F. Recto’s Bastusin
Jigz F. Recto’s Boy Onse
Jigz F. Recto’s Tag Sibol
Jigz F. Recto's Boy Onse
Joel Lamangan’s Lihis
Joel Lamangan's Menor de Edad
Joel Lamangan's The Bride and the Lover
John Torres’ Lukas Nino
Jordan Elbert Ferrer’s Hello, World
Jose Javier Reyes’ Ano Ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap?
Joseph Israel Laban’s Nuwebe
Joven Tan’s Ang Maestra
Joven Tan’s Morgue
Jowee Morel's Leona Calderon



Joyce Bernal’s 10,000 Hours
Joyce Bernal's Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo
Jun Pereira’s Bangungot
Keith Deligero’s Iskalawags
Keith Sicat’s Woman of the Ruins
Kristian Cordero’s Angustia
Lao G. Mira’s Kapit sa Patalim
Leo Abaya’s Instant Mommy
Lino Brocka's Maynila Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (remastered)
Mae Czarina Cruz’s She’s the One
Marlon Rivera’s My Little Bossing
Marlon Rivera's Ang Huling Henya
Martin Masadao's Anak Ti Pating
Martin Rey Aviles' Coming Soon
Maryo J. de los Reyes’ Bamboo Flower





Mel Chionglo’s Lauriana
Mes de Guzman’s Ang Kwento ni Mabuti
Mes de Guzman’s Sitio
Miguel Alcazaren’s Puti
Mikhail Red’s Rekorder
Miko Livelo’s Blue Bustamante
Moises Anthony Cruz's Limang Dipang Tao
Neal Buboy Tan's I Luv U, Pare Ko
Onat Diaz's Kung Fu Divas
Paul Singh Cudail’s Lantad
Paul Singh Cudail’s Romansa
Paul Singh Cudails Direktor’s Cut
Paul Singh Cudail's Diskarte (aka "Himas")
Paul Singh Cudail's Scorpion Lovers




Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes’ Sonata
Peque Gallaga's Oro, Plata, Mata (remastered)
Peque Gallaga's Seduction
Ralston Jover’s Bendor
Randolph Longjas’ Ang Turkey Man ay Pabo Rin
Randy Santiago’s Raketeros
Rica Arevalo’s The Privileged Migrants
Robbie Taroza's Pagari
Romy Suzara’s Tinik
Ron Bryant’s Bingoleras
Ronald M. Rafer's Gabriel: Ito Ang Kuwento Ko...
Ronn-Rick's The Fighting Chefs



Sandy Es Mariano's Jumbo Jericho
Sari and Kiri Dalena’s The Guerilla is a Poet
Sean Ellis' Metro Manila
Siege Ledesma’s Shift
Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita
T. M. Malones’ Salvi: Ang Pagpadayon
Timmy Horn’s Ang Pagbabalat ng Ahas
Toni Te’s Bodegero
Toni Te’s Ganid
Toni Te’s Laman
Toni Te’s Wanted Houseboy
Toto Natividad’s Saka Saka





Veronica Velasco's Tuhog
Vincent Sandoval's Aparisyon
Wenn Deramas' Bromance
Wenn Deramas’ Bekikang
Wenn Deramas’ Boy Girl Bakla Tomboy
Wenn Deramas’ Momzillas
Whammy Alcazaren’s Islands
Wilden Anonuevo's Halik ng Nympha
Will Fredo's In Nominee Matris (In the Name of the Mother)








Up Next:

2013's Best, Worst and Breakthrough Performances


Friday, January 10, 2014

G.A. Villafuerte's Ghost Lover - Horrific Spareness of Acumen


It’s been awhile since I last wrote about a Pink Film, but people just obviously love my rants about this genre that despite paucity of blog entries in Blush, this site still averages 250 to 400 page views a day! How's that for an inactive blogsite? Before I serve the annual “Best and Worst of 2013”, here’s my “gift” to the pink lovers. 

Film year 2014 has officially started with the release of G.A. Villafuerte’sGhost Lover”, before it shifts into high gear next week with Robin Padilla’sSa Ngalan ng Ama, ng Ina at Mga Anak”, Benito Bautista’sMumbai Love”, and Mae Czarina Cruz’sBride for Rent”.


CAPSULE

When Josh (Alvin Duckert), a violinist, and his girlfriend Dianne (Renee Gozon) moved to a recently departed aunt’s old house, they didn't realize they were sharing it with its restless, albeit phantasmal inhabitants. Doors shut at will; persistent knocks are heard in the wee hours; and the weirdest thing: Mobile phones lose signal. Eh? “Di ko siya ma-contact. Ang weird,” remarked Josh who must have never heard of poor signal from Globe and Smart telecom. To keep it interesting, Josh’s cousin and friends join the fray for a rather dubious excuse of a holiday. The young couple hasn't quite settled down, yet they already have guests. How fun.

FAMILIAR TERRITORY

Director G.A. Villafuerte once again dabbles awkwardly into familiar territory (“Lihim ng mga Nympha”, “Bahid”) but like previous efforts, the end product is nothing short of elementary. The sound is uneven; most conversations are unintelligible, scenes are underlit and cinematography is typically Villafuerte’ish, i.e. appalling. You get the nagging suspicion that his scenes were shot using a cellphone camera. This director likewise boasts of having done 15 flicks in film year 2013. Not even box-office director Wenn Deramas can duplicate that feat, having only released 4 movies last year. Unfortunately, Villafuerte’s acumen remains spare of any proof of film making adeptness or writing prolificity.

It’s been 3 years since Villafuerte’s directorial debut but he never acquired mastery of the medium, except for his propensity to finish principal photography in 24 hours. Imagine a gag-inducing flick like “My Little Bossings” shooting for, say two months. For that duration, Villafuerte is capable of churning out 60 flicks ready for exhibition in dingy, sperm-coated, third-rate movie houses. Such source of inspiration, debah?

Alvin Duckert, Renee Gozon and RJ Saycon
Alvin Duckert, also seen in Villafuerte’s “Bagong Paligo” last year, returns to display his bratwurst in two shower scenes. After all, what’s a Villafuerte flick without his male leads tintinnabulating their bells in sheer wetness? This sublime scene was punctuated by Alvin’s use of a foamy shampoo as he lathers his derriere with raw determination. In another scene, a spirit (of a jealous girl) possesses Josh – which conveniently sets the stage for a man-on-man action between Duckert and newcomer RJ Saycon who plays Xander, Josh's childhood friend. In another scene, Ace Toledo’s character Luke couldn't contain his urges so he plays with himself while two of his friends (one of them female) sleep closely beside him. Couldn't he even rush to the bathroom for an accomplished and satisfying, errr… manhandling?

But let’s attribute all these inanities to the director’s myopic vision and extremely limited imagination. Case in point: In his epilogue, the last scene has our characters driving away from the house. Just when we thought they've rid themselves of those pesky ghosts, Josh suddenly kisses Xander, imputing Josh’s possession. Hasn't this been done before in Villafuerte’s “Lihim ng mga Nympha” where the main protagonist is suggested to still be under the influence of a nymph? And wasn't that portrayed also by Alvin Duckert who has since taken 3 dozen energetic showers in various Villafuerte flicks? And wasn't “Lihim ng mga Nympha” a shameless, unattributed remake of a better film? Barely three years into his craft and he's already repeating himself. 

Someone’s artistic aptitude (if you call it that) is in desperate need of inspiration and is dwindling fast – and it’s just January! Tsk tsk tsk.