Thursday, November 24, 2016

George Vail Kabrisante's "Upline Downline" - Old World Tricks, Senile Ramblings

Audiences don't want to be lectured at, spoken down to or given bittersweet lessons, thus news-worthy topics have to struggle to find balance between real-world problems and entertainment. In the former, if a viewer gets catharsis, or to some degree, enlightenment or epiphany, then these pictures will elicit the appreciation they deserve. As a general rule though, whether a film teaches, informs or entertains, it has to be deeply invested in the human dramas underneath.

In George Vail Kabrisante's "Upline Downline", the struggle lies in the story telling as it vacillates between trite and convuluted - and messy! It doesn't help that the production values are way way below par. Kumbaga sa pyramidal business, na scam. On a more sophisticated jargon, this is textbook "artistic bankruptcy", but that would mean there was considerable artistic merit or investment to begin with, debah?


Married life isn't a walk in the park for Richard and Ann (Matt Evans and Ritz Azul, respectively). Love alone does not guarantee financial stability to sustain their rich-girl-poor-boy scenario. Their elopement has estranged them from Ann's acid-mouthed mother (Snooky Serna) who would have married off her daughter to flashy Carlo (Alex Castro) who hails from a well-to-do family. What's worse, the couple has been threatened with eviction for failure to pay rent. 

When Richard gets fired from work, he turns to networking, selling a gamut of products from skin whiteners and hair growers to a "pampasikip" (just one sip of the concoction and your coochy snorcher tightens automatically - like magic). His goal is to win the annual networkers' convention which will gain him a car, a house and lot; and P5 million.

But Richard's hours are grueling and long, leaving pregnant Ann to her own devices in a shanty in Antipolo where she regularly fetches pails of water from a well, you'd think she was filling up an olympic-sized swimming pool. Tsk tsk tsk. 

One day, Ann suffers from threatened abortion and decides to abandon Richard. Meanwhile, Carlo, now a networking rival, is gaining up on Richard who even loses his flirty client (Inez Veneracion) to Carlo. It turns out, former pimp Carlo (yes, this rich boy pala pimps escort girls!) even peddles his own flesh to get horny downline matrons to invest. How revolutionary!

How will Richard catch up? He turns to his uncle (Juan Rodrigo) who just got out of prison for embezzlement and estafa; the same uncle who wears thick-rimmed glasses and a lab gown even at home. He's actually on his way to discovering a potion that will turn brown Pinoys into Caucasians - and fair-skinned people to tanned gods! Uncle ex-convict is so generous that he even invests millions as downline for Richard! I had to stop myself from gagging! 

Meanwhile, Snooky can afford to shell out a million peso-worth of investment for Carlo, but can only spare a giveaway rice cooker for her own daughter! She didn't care if Ritz were making igib from the balon in a barong barong in the bayan. Everything is so quaint and sensible!

George Vail Kabrisante's movie bills itself as "the first ever film in recent history that tackles nontraditional multilevel marketing and networking business". It even describes this film project as "searing". I have more appropriate adjectives for this flick but I'll get to that in a bit. Ambition seems to fuel its story. In fact the film structure is predicated on a pile of tales awkwardly pieced together. Here are a few of those that branch out from Richard and Ann's marital woes:

1. Carlo's own networking business bafflingly involves pimping, product selling, talent management, etc. This strain has a gay guy named Jogi J. Jigo (Jai Ho) who ends up committing suicide.

2. Prof. Robert Dumlao (Juan Rodrigo), a beaker-and-flask bearing "scientist" who concocts a skin whitening potion, is just released from jail. Jojo Alejar regularly appears as his hammy and eager-beaver legal counsel/financial adviser. 

3. A school of thugs kidnaps Carlo because he owes them millions.

The story evolves into different genres: from romance and drama to action suspense. Each one fails in their respective little episodes. The style is a throwback to the sensibilities of the 80's, with tired, old world tricks and senile ramblings. 

Kabrisante just doesn't have the directorial insight to give this "searing" tale its cinematic justice. It isn't even well told, but a mere hodgepodge of random strains that lacked urgency, congruence or believability. 


* When Snooky sees her daughter Ritz on her hospital bed, she shouts to the doctor: "I'd like to transfer to another hospital. A more expensive hospital." Somebody needs a fat slap on the face.

* When Matt and Ritz were thrown out of their house for not paying rent, guess where they conveniently found shelter? Alex, who's Matt's romantic rival!

* When Alex invites Ritz for an unspecified sortie, she gets all dolled up like a hooker. She didn't even bother to ask where she's supposed to go or inquire about the job description. Is she a robot who just follows orders? Then she learns that she's being pimped to Rez Cortez by the man she was formerly betrothed to. Go figure.

* There's a lingering reverb in the actor's lines so you are transported to videoke country. 

* Ambient sound is heard in most scenes,which is disturbing.

* A rioting scam victim is decked in silvery sequined gown. She even gets a complete cinematic moment - by fainting (or dying!) with her shining, shimmering outfit! Was she dressed for heaven?

* Action scenes involve a torture scene and men in leather jackets reminiscent of those mediocre action flicks of the 80's.

* When Snooky sees Matt driving a Porsche, she suddenly changes tunes and quips, "A woman's place is with her husband." How a Porsche can briskly change a mother's point of view, right?   

Darkness in Araneta!
Lastly, when Richard finally won his award at the Araneta Coliseum, he goes up the stage and delivers an impassioned speech - bathed in darkness! Naubusan nga ng budget? He has P5 million from a company who can't afford lights? Or just maybe, someone forgot to light the winner? Or maybe Araneta Coliseum forgot to pay its Meralco dues? They could have used candles too; those scented ones.

The intersection of genuine social issues and fictionalized drama can take audiences somewhere different and new. This is one of the personal draws of the cinema for me; that it takes you to places. But when film making techniques put out something that makes people run away from the nearest cinema, then that's a disservice to the medium. Do you wonder why some people keep away from indies? A film like this is one of the culprits. Brava?

"I can pimp your wife because you're both freeloaders!"

"Maawa kayo! Ibalik n'yo pera ko! Naubos sa sequins ng gown ko!" Collagen implants are expensive too. Teehee.

#uplinedownline   #mattevans   #ritzazul   #alexcastro  

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