Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Best Films of MMFF 2016: Oro, Vince & Kath & James, Sunday Beauty Queen and Die Beautiful

How was MMFF 2016 so far?

Like a breath of fresh air. There were fewer crowd, but who says a festival’s sole measure of success is its box office return? Who says that the dimension of triumph is measured in terms of a man’s financial riches alone?

In this year’s revamped festival, the films were meticulously made. “Saving Sally” took 10 years to finish. “Sunday Beauty Queen” took more than a year. Meanwhile, how long did Vice Ganda’s zombie-populated “Super Parental Guardians” take to finish principal photography?


More importantly, this year’s entries are diverse in theme and scope. There are false prophets and the battle of good against evil in Erik Matti’s “Seklusyon”; adolescent love amidst the digital revolution and social quandary in Theodore Boborol’s “Vince & Kath & James”; territorial terrorism in Alvin Yapan’s “Oro”; desperation brought forth by the Filipino diaspora in Baby Ruth Villarama’s “Sunday Beauty Queen”;

Foibles of contemporary film making in “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2”; chronicles of struggle and abuse of a transgender woman in Jun Lana’s “Die Beautiful”; the worrisome extra judicial killings take the spotlight in Real Florido and Arturo San Agustin’s “Kabisera”; unrequited love inhabits a dimension that combines live action and animation in Avid Liongoren’s “Saving Sally”.  If this lineup doesn’t satisfy anyone’s criteria of provocative and “relevant” film making, I don’t know what would. But just to make a point, remind me again if Enteng Kabisote’s 10 film installments could match any of the aforementioned flick’s pertinence or social purpose? Enteng fights the monsters of the evil world and wins! In one sweeping statement, that sums up the entertainingly redundant Enteng 1 to 10. If this repetitious vacuity is your cup of tea, then there is something so wrong with the way your brain is wired. Nuf said.

In this post, we will be spotlighting the festival's Best Films (in descending order). 

Alvin Yapan’s “Oro” follows the ordeal of the people of Barangay Gata, Caramoan in Camarines Sur when armed henchmen, pretending to be environmentalists, take over the island’s ball mill where local folks harvest gold from a nearby cave. 

The head strong barangay captain (Irma Adlawan) needs to produce a DENR permit for her community’s mining activity to start an argument with the strangers. Unfortunately, we know how long the system takes. People are going hungry. Elmer (Joem Bascon), the mill’s caretaker, is forced to sign up with the aggressors. After all, her girlfriend Linda (Mercedes Cabral) is pregnant with his baby.

Yapan has always favored slow burn narratives. His stories have always been subtle and introspective, but “Oro” changes all that. In fact, this is the director’s most accessible. 

The change of pace is apropos for the urgency of the story. It also demands a few questions, not the least of which is operating a small-scale mining without any form of permit. 

Mali ba ko?” Adlawan, in a sincere moment of indecision, asks and chastens herself. Oro is undoubtedly Adlawan’s best performance in a long while. 

The scene makes you shiver. Moreover, her long monologue in front of a camera is instructive of empathetic delivery. We listen to her and feel her anger and frustration. 

The movie also emerges as among this festival’s four most watchable films. It is entertaining, unnerving and as relevant as the real story it drew inspiration from. For a change, Yapan does away with the subtlety that usually characterizes his narrative flow. The story is fluid and told in a straight forward manner.

Theodore Boborol’s “Vince & Kath & James” tells a simple story. But the characters’ facile associations belie their complicated lives. 

Vince Arcilla (Joshua Garcia) pines for the attention of reluctant college beauty queen Kathleen Gonzales (Julia Barretto) who, in turn, has her eyes set on handsome jock James Raymundo (Ronnie Alonte), Vince’s cousin. 

But life isn’t a walk in the park for our lovely protagonist. To make ends meet, Kath works for her uncle’s “talyer” (auto shop), a shop their family once owned. It has since been sold to her uncle after her father, who works in Dubai, flew the coop and abandoned their family. He left his household undone so Kath's mother (Shamaine Buencamino) does odd jobs to support 19 year old Kath and his 11 year old brother Kyle. Her life gets more engaging when she’s beset by anonymous text messages from a secret admirer. What Kath doesn’t realized, annoying schoolmate Vince is the one sending these messages. James is too cowardly to tell her in person. Just when Vince and Kath start building up their acquaintance, James decides to pursue Kath? Would Vince play their mediator? Will Vince, who lives with his cousin, once again give way to his obdurate pinsan?

The movie is the festival’s most adorable film - bar none. It boasts of a vibrant story that tackles issues related to migrant workers, unwanted children and the seemingly trivial concerns of the youth. It builds up its story around Vince and Kath's delightful texting, a valid augury of modern-day social interaction. The film stars a charming cast that’s easy on the eyes, but more importantly fits into their characters as though they were written for them. 

While it’s easy to dismiss the flick as just another vacuous romcom, the story itself surprises like a well-tempered coming-of-age that takes us without much fanfare, but leaves us breathless and swayed. 

I am pretty sure that word of mouth will prove the naysayers wrong. Boborol weaves an upbeat story that sustains its audience's interest from start to finish. It has an unobtrusive score that deftly uses the song "O Pag-ibig" like an ambrosial potion. Keep an eye on the spell-binding Joshua Garcia who coaxes a surprisingly enthralling performance. 

What’s more remarkable is how Garcia can easily shift from a flirtatious dork to a cowardly guy, then to a heartbroken son. No awkward misstep here. Garcia is consistently great and even-tempered. His scenes with Ina Raymundo, playing the role of the mother who gave him up, was particularly heart breaking. I wouldn’t be surprised if Raymundo gets, at the very least, a nomination for her limited screen time. Indeed, no role is too small for great actors.

If we stretch the domain of “epistolary novels”, then Jenny Ruth Almocera’s “social media novel” (originally titled “Kath and Vince”) falls within this literary genre that makes use of “documents” – like letters and emails (text messages may be considered documents, as they're now used in judicial inquiries and investigations) to tell its story. The strategy renders it a slice of realism that almost gets rid of the third person. This makes “VKJ” totally relatable. We feel like we’re peeping into a private conversation that doesn't overstay its welcome. It’s ironic though how this popular writer doesn’t even like reading books. I'd say it's talent, but then what does a writer make without reading influences?

Baby Ruth Villarama’s “Sunday Beauty Queen” follows several Filipinas working as domestic helpers in Hong Kong where 190,000 other Filipinas endure slave-like conditions. Most of them get a Sunday respite. On this day, several of them join a beauty contest that provides a bit of tumult brought about by the spotlight. It's their moment away from their daily grind and somehow fills their loneliness. Most of these ladies get a basic salary of $HK 555 a month. In turn, they’re expected to work from 8 AM to 7 PM daily.

While some employers treat them humanely, others are more mean spirited. When one of the girls missed a curfew (from the pageant), she was terminated right away. The Hong Kong government gives these girls 14 days to find new employers or they're sent home. 


Many of them get emotionally and physically abused. One of them sleeps in a make shift room adjacent to the kitchen. When a cyclone blew it away, she wasn’t allowed to sleep on the sofa – so she made her bed on the kitchen floor. Another girl is allowed to bathe once every 3 days – to save water. This was later changed to every 5 days. Another employer refuses to dole out salon allowance (a grooming stipulation), duly mandated by law, so she unceremoniously shaved her helper’s hair herself. Another girl was terminated from work at 12 midnight, leaving the girl homeless for the night. It’s important to realize that many of these girls hold college degrees: AB English, Computer Science, Information Technology, etc. These horror tales are cringe-inducing, but they're told casually like everyday scenarios straight out of their sob stories.

Jack Soo, a veteran Hong Kong producer and distributor who employs a Filipina, says, “If the Philippine government decides to stop sending foreign helpers outside the country, the world will be in big trouble.” The statement is, of course, debatable, considering the disturbing conditions many of these workers have to endure to keep these jobs. At some point, an advertent government must put a stop to its people's dependence on foreign employment in scurrilous nations. That its government cannot provide well paying jobs is no excuse to feed his people to the lion's den.

Villarama’s latest documentary is her most accomplished work to date. This could be because the stories are close to home. Just before the credits roll, the film acknowledges Villarama’s mother who once toiled as a domestic helper.  

Truth be told, the time is ripe for these so-called “indies” to grace this country’s most popular film festival. Brillante Mendoza’s brilliant “Thy Womb” was once a fluke. In fact, it didn’t last for more than a couple of days at the tills. It was unceremoniously removed. But in a time when these independently-produced films are gaining ground abroad and winning awards outside the country, it is high time that the mainstream-loving Filipinos experience a paradigm shift towards less escapist fares - towards “cinematic excellence”. Who can refute these films when foreign spectators treat them like gold? Why can't we?

On the other hand, I am not completely sold that this festival is a venue for a documentary film like “Sunday Beauty Queen” (SBQ). However, I am glad that its artistry has allowed it to stand alongside the other seven feature films. Still, when you use the traditional criteria for judging film excellence, consider that “SBQ” won’t even be eligible for many of the categories: performance, script, etc. Just maybe, it’s time to rethink inclusion of documentary works for this festival. My point here is simple. Allow me an analogy:  A beautiful trans woman doesn’t belong to an all-natural female contest like the Miss Universe. There’s a right venue for “her”. We shouldn't mix apples in a basket of pears - and sell them like they're a single entity. They aren't.

Speaking of trans women, Jun Lana’s “Die Beautiful” is about a transgender woman who wishes to be made up, for seven successive days, like his popular idols (Angelina Jolie, Beyonce, when he’s laid to rest – so he can die beautiful. 

The story is bravely told, but isn’t the easiest to digest either because the protagonist’s journey isn’t a smooth alleyway. In fact, Trisha Echevarria's path is more of a back road filled with pot holes and life-threatening boulders.

Born Patrick Villar, our effete protagonist doesn't see eye to eye with his unsparing dad (Joel Torre). He knows that it's a matter of time before he's eventually thrown out of the house. One fateful night, after missing curfew from joining another of his gay beauty contests, he is caught red handed. He leaves the domicile and moves in with best friend Barbs (Christian Bables). He starts living his life the way he wants to. But homosexuals like Trisha have it rough. Amid a world that sneers at limp-wrists are opportunists and bigots. He gets "raped" by his campus crush (Albie Casino) and his gang. He couldn't even refuse or say "no". "Hindi naman ako pinilit pero di man lang ako maka hindi." It was his first time with a guy - four of them! What follows is a succession of failed relationships and the chance encounter with Jessie (Luis Alandy), the married man who wooed him and showed him true affection - or was it?

"Die Beautiful" is a courageous story of growing up different and graciously living with it. It isn't seamlessly told, as the nonlinear storytelling tends to distract and confound than enveigle empathy. It's narrative energy is occasionally dragged down by dawdling narrative strains. But Trisha's chronicle ultimately clobbers its audience like a lightning bolt. We need to be a little more tractable to human differences. After all, it's easier to judge willfully without taking heed to an individual's back story. Besides, wouldn't the world be a kinder place to inhabit without a lot of unsolicited knee-jerk perspicacity? 

Was Paolo Ballesteros's high profile win at the Tokyo Film Festival well deserved? You better believe it. Ballesteros is a shoo in for the festival's best actor plum although Joshua Garcia could pull an upset - if the jurors were a discerning lot. Christian Bables lends a more than competent support. Lana's acting lynch makes cameos: Iza Calzado, Gladys Reyes and Eugene Domingo make the beeline to grace this piece of celluloid magic. But no Nora Aunor, Anne Curtis or Eddie Garcia?

Among the short films included at the festival, Brian Spencer Reyes' "Sitsiritsit" (shown alongside Erik Matti's "Seklusyon") is a worthy addition for the festival's line-up of shorts. The story involves a guy who, while knee deep working on his thesis, starts to hear an unrelenting call... but there's no one there. Is it all in his head? Short films should be adequately vetted to make this section a worthy addition to the revamped festival.

If you haven't seen a single MMFF movie yet, what are you waiting for? Another Enteng Kabisote Meets Panday Meets Juday Meets AiAi Meets Vice Ganda Meets Probinsyano? Stop making all those silly excuses. Be part of this worthy change.

#oro   #vincekathjames   #sundaybeautyqueen   #diebeautiful   #mmff2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lav Diaz's "Ang Araw Bago ang Wakas" - Up For Interpretation

“In the year 2050, the Philippines braces for the coming of the fiercest storm ever to hit the country. And as the wind and waters start to rage, poets wander the streets.” So goes the blurb for Lav Diaz’s 17-minute short film.

My mind raced back to Dodo Dayao's "Violator" for wasn't the tale set in the midst of a raging storm? The film opens without hint of the future so without the blurb, it could have happened today. 

A mangy dog scavenges the streets of Evangelista (either in Quiapo or in Pavia, Iloilo). A dentist does prophylaxis on the patient. A waiter tends to the customers of a restaurant. A student slouches on a thick book.Despite the warnings, it's just another day in the lives of the people.

Elsewhere, a man starts reciting the third act of Shakespeare's "Hamlet":  "To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer. The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep." In steady succession, the poetry goes on: Ophelia (Hamlet's potential wife) comes into the picture. A girl (Hazel Orencio) marches into the scene, sits on a bench and bewails the difficulty she's having: "Kung anu-anong pinagagawa ng director." You'd hear her say. A commentary maybe about the film making process not being a walk in the park?

There's a steel work nearby, and as the night falls, Shakespeare turns... Ilocano? The same girl then recites Mark Antony's speech (Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar") before the market crowd who's mostly oblivious to her ramblings. It felt like Moses warning her brethren about an impending catastrophe. But in the midst of different dialects (yes, dialects, not "languages", excuse me), the exercise is lost in the most unlikely trumpeteers of doom. 

Then the rains come in torrents. Soon, the streets fill with flood. The girl scampers for home, but a shadowy figure follows her. Is the devil trailing her? 

Lav Diaz's short film is a series of seemingly unrelated narrative strings with a "lot" of missing strains thus it's hard to make sense of them. The images are prepossessing. There's the skewed horizon we've grown accustomed to from Diaz's "Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon" (2014) and the proclivity to offer no explanation. The concluding scenes particularly baffles: From the very wet exteriors, the camera takes us inside a very dry room - well-lighted, and more importantly unimpaired by the cataclysm outside. Then it zooms in on a moth! Voice over: "He arrives silently bringing with him color; and life."  

Though not particularly a satisfying experience, "Ang Araw Bago ang Wakas" (The Day Before the End) is a thought-provoking tale employing incongruent images. It could be a discourse about heeding warnings or the role of destruction to bring forth new life - or both. Wouldn't you be interested in Lav's thoughts on this film (because questions beg to be asked)?

The blurb isn't very appropriate though. The "poets" start to wander the streets before "the wind and waters start to rage". It won the principal prize at the 62nd International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, Germany last May this year.

Lav Diaz is finally appreciated in his homeland; something that we've wished for him even before he became prominent abroad. His films have found an audience among Filipinos. Who would have thought that "Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis" would get SRO screenings when it opened here? For someone who doesn't believe in lengthy expositions, I love his films. Diaz is a genre all his own. I've seen most of his films. I even like him as an actor, last seen in "Singing in Graveyards". Let's just hope he gets his horizons straight next time. Tee hee. 

#angarawbagoangwakas   #lavdiaz   #shortfilm   #hazelorencio

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Jigz Recto's "Binatilyo" - A Caterwauling Fete (An Unpublished Post from 2012)

Vintage Blush? Well, this is an article we weren't able to publish for some reason, but this had an original post date of November 8, 2012 - 4 long years ago. It had Jao Mapa too. It was one of those pink films that flourished that time. I am sure some of the followers of this blog have missed the spunk and irreverence we've dedicated towards the exploitation and vapid film-making that proliferated back then. I didn't really care about the associated metrics, but when each post was being read by between 8,000 and 18,000 people, you realize that you must have done something right. After all, this is a text-heavy blogsite so I know that my readers aren't illiterates. They also have impeccable taste. Tee hee. So here goes.

TJ (Norris John) is infatuated with his classmate Karla (Lili Montelibano). But TJ isn't the school’s most popular student. In fact, he gets brickbats for his father Dading’s (Jao Mapa) effete ways: “malamya, malambot, kumekendeng”. A few days before Karla’s birthday, TJ gets a reprieve from Karla’s snootiness. If TJ can provide her with a new smart phone - as gift, of course - for her birthday, then he’s welcome to court her! Quite the opportunist, isn't she? So what’s a guy to do? His very own cell phone is ten years past its prime and held together by an adhesive.

At home, he badgers his impoverished, albeit hard-working parents for the fashionable gadget. Truth to tell, TJ’s foible is a vice his family can’t afford. But his attentive and persevering father works even harder and appropriates a good chunk of his earning, much to the consternation of TJ's mom  Elma (Angela Ruiz). The boy is getting impatient because Karla’s birthday is close by. TJ turns to his best friend (Winston de Dios, “Sulot“, “Rigodon”) who moonlights as an exotic dancer and hustler. Lulu (Lorraine Lopez), TJ’s classmate and overt admirer, is only too happy with this development. She wants a piece of TJ’s inches as much as she enjoys his best friend’s. Little did TJ realize that Lulu is a nefarious henchman’s girlfriend. This gets TJ into trouble.  

Karla’s birthday comes, but Dading’s hidden stash is confiscated by his wife. What’s a father to do? Will TJ ever find the acceptance from Karla? Will there be enough cellphones in the Philippines in time for the opportunist's birthday? I shiver.

TJ (Norris John) despises his father.

Director Jigz Recto once again weaves another unctuous and exceedingly mawkish mixbag of melodrama and Pink-leaning narrative. “Binatilyo” is, in fact, one of the most painful films to watch, reminiscent of the protracted scenes from “Dulas” and “Kasalo”, both directed by the same director.  These films stretch the dramatic scenes much longer than you can say "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis"

Just when you thought the protracted aria has been delivered, the emotive gravity resumes again with another set of caterwauling that burrows deep inside your head. I have been sensitized to these cinematic punishments, but this flick has tested my patience. I was this close to walking out. 

Clueless directors believe that they could milk their dramatic tableau by expanding their dramatic scenes. This isn't a case of “the longer, the better”, or is it? Norris, who isn't a tall guy, would surely not agree either. The boyish actor works hard and though he succeeds to personify the spoiled rotten juvenile, his characterization is hobbled by the non-expository ethos of his cinematic persona. It’s hard to swallow how a once-loving son has transmogrified into this insensitive brat. 

Elma and son TJ (Angela Ruiz and Norris John)


It’s quite apparent that the ministrations fueling the narrative are meant as deus ex machina. The inclusion of Lulu’s gun-toting beau and TJ’s best friend is perplexing. When prodigal TJ comes home, he learns that his father died looking for him (TJ saw him in a gay bar and thought that his father has come out of the closet when, in fact, he was there to work as a waiter so he could earn more money to buy a new phone for his son). He further learns of his mother’s ornery past: When she got pregnant, his boyfriend ditched her. Kind-hearted Dading comes to the rescue and assumes the responsibility as husband and father. This he did despite being as queer as a three dollar bill, so to speak.

After Elma’s confession, TJ gets a 30-minute crying spell. It was night time. The next day, he visits his father’s grave and another lachrymose caterwauling arises. You wonder where prodigal TJ went that he didn't even catch the loooong wake – and the burial. Did he maybe peddle his flesh overseas? Like Okinawa or Antananarivo, maybe? But he was just enjoying a staycation with his classmate. Why wasn't he told? But the most blatant antagony is the crux that fuels the story: What guy in his right mind would purchase a smart phone for a pompous girl who isn't even his girl friend yet? The story is riddled with holes the size of the supermoon.

The Pink element appears when, one night, a drunk TJ gives Winston’s a visit who then attends” to his friend's drunken stupor, undressing him and giving him a diligent, thorough, and refreshing sponge bath. Ayayay pag-ibig, coos Ara Mina. What are friends for, debah? By sunrise, TJ finds himself glisteningly speckless and exfoliated. 

Binatilyo” is one of the most excruciating flicks I’ve seen this year. It’s a “buwis buhay” experience. Someone deserves to be tied on a tree teeming with fire ants. Either that - or he deserves to be shipped somewhere where transport only comes once every 50 years. No... make it 70!

TJ daydreams of Karla (above) then rollings in the hay with Lulu.

Gay husband Dading and wife Elma.


Winston de Dios and Norris John
Norris John

Norris John


Read our feature Cinema Bravo and Web Criticism? :

#pinkfilm   #binatilyo  #norrisjohn   #jaomapa

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Ian Loreno's "Chinoy Mano Po 7" - The Inevitable Formula

We don't have a problem with the "Mano Po" anthology because it usually presents different and valid concerns associated with the Filipino-Chinese population in contemporary Philippine society. Theirs are stories we've always been fascinated with because they're a clannish lot that strictly adheres to colorful traditions we're interested spectators of. We even become players in their folktales sometimes.


Business tycoon Wilson Wong (Richard Yap) runs a tight and disciplined ship, both at work and in his household. He has rules and tradition that allow him to set and achieve goals - and he expects everyone around him to abide by these, including his children Wilson Jr. (Enchong Dee), Katkat (Janna Agoncillo) and Caroline (Janella Salvador). Unfortunately, rules are easier written and enumerated than followed. His children detest that he hardly has time to spend with them. Deborah (Jean Garcia), his subservient wife, feels lonely in a relationship that's more of a bootcamp than household.  

What seems like a progressive kingdom is actually an emotional prison full of weeping souls. Sonson (Dee) has his head in the clouds from booze and drugs. Carol tries to pursue cello playing (her father's choice) when her heart is in vocal performance. 

Devoted wife Debbie is running a jewelry shop and keeping the household together while Wilson Sr. is closing deals. 

It isn't a very contented and happy kingdom, to say the least, and the king is least aware of this. When a charming stranger Marco (Jake Cuenca) barges into Debbie's shop, the latter doesn't mind the attention that the strapping lad showers on her. But is Debbie carrying an affair? 

Director Ian Lorenos' "Chinoy Mano Po 7" is an engaging drama that tries to build up the characters of his cinematic canvas with circumscpect cerebration so we actually understand their back stories and motivations. Enchong Dee particularly sizzles from this forethought. In "Mano Po 7", Dee is the troubled son bearing enough ethos for the whole Wong family. He takes his situation and reacts, and we are a bit unsettled. He pulls off his party pooper scene adequately. In his moments with Jocelyn (Jessy Mendiola), they get to discuss the Chinese ways, i.e. the use of negative language to coax motivation or express affection, but does the "movement" really come from Confucius? I'd have thought that the philosopher was more circumscpect than to use negative psychology in motivating people. 

Kong Fu Tse (551 BC - 497 BC), the philosopher's non-Westernized name, built up his idea about the strength of the Chinese family. What is the proper attitude towards parents? His answer is short and straight forward: "Never disobey." In the 4th concept of Confucianism - filial piety (hsiao), a lot is written about family values: Parents are revered because they are the source of your life. It also says that you have to make your family name known and respected. But there is an unanswered question with regards to the hsiao: "What do you do if your values are different from your parents"? There's a general rule to live by: to "remain unsoured even though one's merits are unrecognized by others." (AnalectsThis gives authority to the philosopher's advice about never turning bad or selling out, no matter what. It is a rather universal concept, right? 

Jean Garcia turns in a well limned and sympathetic portrayal of a painfully subservient wife. At one point, she arrives into the conjugal bed and starts her romantic overture, only to be rebuffed and told that she had to "clean up first before stepping on the bed." Ouch. Did she smell? Even romance follows a set of decorum? Hmmm. I am almost sure that this isn't a universal practice among Chinoys. Wilson Sr. is a flawed individual altogether, a Shakespearean character that deserves to be extinguished from the face of the Earth. How can you admit loving the people around you when you're so insensitive to their needs? 

Meanwhile, in the midst of the melodrama, Janella Salvador is a breath of fresh air. Her presence lights up the screen, particularly when Marlo Mortel joins her scenes. Her side story involving Kian Cipriano's lecherous music teacher is a misplaced narrative strain. But didn't it merit a considerable reaction from Wilson? His daughter got sexually harassed, for Pete's sake. NR lang?


I am somehow concerned about Garcia's "relationship" with volatile Jake Cuenca. Was that really harmless friendship? Though she swears that nothing transpired between them - "walang nangyari sa amin", her frequent meet ups with Marco were "extramarital" enough and disconcerting. A married woman, after all, shouldn't go on intimate car dates with a single man, debah? Unless she plans to do an Angelica Panganiban (and be an unmarried wife), that is.

The narrative convolutions in "Mano Po 7" are engaging enough, but it is nevertheless formulaic and unfortunately, predictable. There's gorgeous photography all over. Sound needs moderation because music is excessively played in some scenes. When louder than what human ears can take, music is nothing but noise. In one party scene, it was so loud it almost challenged the integrity of my tympanic membrane How can a very loud music help move a story, I wonder. 

Now, is this really the best of the anthology? Not really. For the most part, we feel it's an inferior version among the Mano Po tales. Film no. 7 is less ambitious. Heck, even its requisite travel scenes could only afford to take the cast to Taipei instead of mainland China. If its story telling is not "revolutionized" in the succeeding "episodes", this anthology will eventually lose its relevance. 


But wait? How is Richard Yap in the film? While he fits the role like hand in glove, the actor conveniently subscribes to his go-to "laging galit" acting schtick. We've seen him in similar persona before, in other teleseryes and movies. Nothing changes much here. No revelations. Even when he turns conciliatory with his wife, I feel Yap's performance was one-note; no emotional variation to speak of. When he sheds a tear (while at the tomb of his stern father), it was screaming for a bit more vulnerability. Most people easily break down the barriers when they're on their own. But Yap was as stern as when he's with others. Is that consistency - or just limitation of capability? The good looking actor wasn't bad, but his performance was nothing to crow about either.  

Janella Salvador is Caroline.

Enchong Dee and Jessy Mendiola discuss Confucius and negative motivations.

Jean Garcia is in top form as the suffering wife Deborah Wong.

Taiwan, this time.

Down time and the music class of Janella, Marlo and Kian.

#manopo7   #chinoy   #richardyap   #janellasalvador   #jeangarcia   #enchongdee   #jakecuenca   #jessymendiola   #ianlorenos

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Piotr J. Lewandowski's "Jonathan" - Ties That Bind

What if you find out that your dying father were homosexual, would you up and go?

In a small rural German town, 18-year-old Jonathan (Jannis Niewohnermanages to keep the family farm going by the sweat of his brow, where everyday is a struggle. He also takes care of his suicidal father Burghardt (Andre Hennicke) who's in the terminal stage of his metastatic skin cancer. What's more difficult for the handsome lad is his father's pessimistic demeanor to throw the towel in. Morbidity sometimes affects a person's decision making

Jonathan doesn't even think twice about his onerous duties. What he couldn't comprehend is the inexplicable hostility and animosity between his aunt Martha (Barbara Auer) and his sick father. Jonathan has stopped trying to understand this as he's mostly too exhausted at the end of the day. 

The bucolic setting would have provided a halcyon escape from the internal strife all around. But emotions run high between siblings who refuse to speak with each other, even when one is at the throes of death. Pride indeed has a way of eating through our rational thinking.

When cheerful nurse Anka (Julia Koschitz) arrives, Jonathan is afforded extra time to indulge in his artistic inclination (making beautiful lanterns, etc.) He used to dream of pursuing a college education in Berlin and leave their hand-to-mouth existence in the country. But with his father's condition, he knew it would have to take a back seat.

So he toils the wheat fields away. 

One day, a stranger knocks on their door; Ron (Thomas Sarbacher) was his aunt's ex-boyfriend, but Ron has come for Burghardt. His arrival would open dehiscent emotional wounds, but his father seemed genuinely happy. He has shaved and cleaned up, and the long forgotten smile has returned. Before long, Jonathan is able to put the pieces together, and realize that the stranger was his father's lover. Were Jonathan's existence and everything that transpired before this revelation all a lie?

The issues in the story are universal: honesty, family and love. Germany may be one of the world's most uninhibited countries, but the norms and tolerance for sexual taboos and practices are nevertheless the same. Within the confines of a close-knit family, honesty is still a valid criteria for acceptance or rejection.

Director Piotr J. Lewandowski's cinematic canvas is gorgeous. The setting is idyllic, a piece of paradise, playing out its contrast against the palpable high tension evident in the opening scene. 

The storytelling artifice seems obvious. The director takes advantage of beauty to underline the story's grisly elements and the dark emotional turmoil experienced by the characters . In fact our protagonist is a proverbial "god" - Jonathan (Niewohner) is too beautiful for words that it's hard to take your eyes off him when he's on screen. He is tall, physically fit, with blond hair and blue eyes - and is absolutely devoted to his sick father. What more can you ask for in a guy? 

Scenes move languidly but they somehow temper a narrative movement that one would expect to conclude with an explosive denouement. There are sexual moments far removed from the blatant vulgarity of coupling. They delineate passion and define joy and loving. In these tender moments, we realize that Jonathan will see through the tempests of his young life.

"Jonathan" was QCinema section's best feature (and one of the 4 Pink Films) in its rather disappointing "Rainbow QC" lineup. It also featured other gay-interest flicks - Andrew Ahn's "Spa Night" (US/Korea), Sara Jordero's "Kiki" (US) and Nontawat Numbenchapol's quasi-documentary "BKKY" (Thailand). 

Jannis Niewohner, 24,  stands 6'1".

#jonathan   #jannisniewohner  #QCinema   #pinkfilm

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sheron Dayoc's "Women of the Weeping River"- War Will End Us

Sometime in the early 90's, feminist writer Leila Ahmed discussed the concept of "Women and Gender" in Islam. She argued against the oppressive practices to which women in the middle east are subjected. Such practices result from the prevalence of patriarchal interpretations of Islam, one that patronizes gender-based hierarchy. 

Men decide and dictate, women follow regardless of the merits of any given situation. Opinionated women are frowned upon. On a more universal scrutiny of the concept, look where that got Hillary Clinton who's more experienced, more intelligent and probably even more vicious than her political rival.

The new millennium has made strides to improve on these concepts, but despite the evolution of "Gender and Development (GAD)" and its introduction in governance, many middle eastern countries remain immune to or simply ignore such programs. In countries like Iran and Afghanistan, women are still regarded as second-class citizens; their opinions are disposable. But look no further. The same is true in certain Muslim communities in Mindanao where a certain form of war (conflict, hostility) is sanctioned by men. Any perceived transgression or dishonor is solved by "war". That's what their quran advocates, after all.

This scenario is on spotlight in Sheron Dayoc's "Women of the Weeping River" which won a well deserved Best Picture prize at the recent QCinema Film Festival.


Satra’s  (Laila Putli Ulao) family is deeply enmeshed in a clan war against the Ismael family. The feud has them in sporadic outbursts of retaliatory violence. 

After the murder of Hasmullah, Satra’s husband, Satra is shook up. Farida, the aging community mediator, advises to diffuse any action that will further escalate this endless rido before it claims another life.

This blood war has already claimed the husband and son of the rival clan’s matriarch. But Mustafa, Satra’s father, is bent to carry on with his jihad which dictates protection of a family’s honor and shame. The cash-strapped family even sells Satra’s jewelries just to purchase a P120,000 rifle. One night, Hassim, Satra’s youngest son wanders off into the wilderness. Will he fall victim like his father?

Sheron Dayoc’s “Women of the Weeping Violence” is a brave dissertation on the culture of war endemic in Muslim Mindanao. This malignant practice consumes life and eradicates property - and it displaces families. On a more sociological standpoint, it cripples the local community. 

Dayoc insightfully scrutinizes a local tradition, not uncommon in Philippine society, where men has absolute authority over women who barely have voices of their own. He also underscores the tragic futility of war by spotlighting the demise of innocent children caught between warring factions. Like most of the director’s early works, amateur actors are adequately employed to mirror realism. The effect isn't always notable, but it brings a degree of earnestness on the yarn spinning. As the movie comes to a close, it was clear what the ultimate message was. As H.G. Wells once said, “If we don’t end war, war will end us.” 

There are no real victors in it.

The beauty of Mindanao has a deceptive nature.

Read our post on Cinema Bravo and the Headaches of Web Criticism:

#womenoftheweepingriver   #clanwar   #jihad   #qcinema

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Most Provocative Movie Posters

I was in Sao Paolo, Brazil and was basking in the sight and sounds of the sprawling metropolis. One of the things that caught my attention was police visibility in the financial-commercial district - police men populating the streets of Paulista Avenue. Boy oh boy! I've truly never seen police men like those: bulky muscle gods with arms the size of a narra trunk and the waist line as small as mine, and I just blush! They looked like they just got off shooting scenes from a porn production. Tee hee. I mean, come on, put them beside our Pinoy-grade policia... and there's just no contest.

But the topic of this post comes from the same place: the subway stations of Sao Paulo. Littered with movie posters and billboards like the one posted above. It made me think.

What if such poster was on display in the billboard garden near Guadalupe Bridge in Edsa? The manangs would be up in arms, right? There would be commotion. There will be congressional hearings. It would be De Lima's fault again!

But just to highlight the contribution of a movie poster in promoting the finished product, here are my most provocative movie posters I have come across, including 3 local flicks - one of them from an awful film maker. By the way, Gabriel Mascaro's "August Winds" (Ventos de Agosto) is a glacial-paced tale about the discovery of a corpse in a slumbering coastal town. 

In these movie posters, most provocations are sexual in nature, but some tackle violence. I remember seeing a poster of Alvin Yapan's "An Kubo sa Kawayanan". The picture of this solitary hut ("kubo") excited me no end. It told stories. On the other hand, Tekeoglu's "Extraordinary People" has the same powerful effect - the photo of a cable that transports people from one side of the mountain to the other. Philippine movie posters are less imaginative and more commercial because artsy ones tend to turn off its possible audience. 

Here are my 25 most provocative movie posters. What provokes you? What's your list?

Human Centipede 2
Dujardin was in hot water for his poster of "The Player" (Les Infideles).

The culture of rape and coping in Jason Banker's "Felt". 

A harrowing tale of 3 British Muslims held and tortured for 3 years in Guantanamo in Mike Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom's quasi-documentary "The Road to Guantanamo". 

Shoes and the phallus? Sarah Jessica Parker's movie stands erect with sexual innuendoes. 

Nothing Personal (US, 2009)

When too much love drives people crazy in Mani Manserrat Agah's Swedish flick "Us" ("Vi", 2013)

The Tribe (Ukraine, 2014)

The Marriage Manual (Documentary, US, 1970)

Red Wine in the Dark Night (Kuen nan, Thailand, 2015)

Ryan Reynolds naked on a gurney? Isn't that enough provocation? 

Delicate Crime (Canada, 2005)

We braved the evening chill one wintry day to watch a retrospective of the so-bad-they're-good films of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey at the South Bank in London.

Extraordinary People (Turkey, 2015) is a documentary about the people who live in the mountains.

Jane Fonda only has 2 short scenes in Paolo Sorrentino's "Youth" but the scene where she learns of her director's untimely death was so potent I had goose bumps. Indeed, there are no small roles for good actors.

Chuck Gutierrez's "Iisa" was memorable. This poster was the opening scene... and one of the most compelling in years.

Derick Cabrido's "Tuos"

College students, drug dealers and bisexual classmates in Roger Avary's "The Rules of Attraction" (US, 2002).

Poonam contorted in various positions to spell out Amit Saxena's 2013 Bollywood hit, "Nasha" about an 18 year old boy falling in love with his 25 year old teacher. 

One of my favorite directors, Lars von Trier, almost crosses the line in the explicit "Nymphomaniac 1 & 2".

Fred Vogel's "August Underground" (2001) - In one scene, a serial killer forces his victim to eat her brother's genitals.  

Steve McQueen's "Shame" (US, 2011) is written with a bodily fluid. 

Priests and vampires in Park Chan-wook's "Thirst" (2009, South Korea)

Livid lechery and predatory exuberance in Cris Pablo' s " Hinala" - Our review here: