Month: December 2015

Honor Thy Father (2015, Erik Matti)

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honor thy father

It doesn’t have the opening pageantry, the breathtaking action sequences, the cool hip-hop music, the model and movie-star-looking actresses like Angel Aquino and Shaina Magdayao. It’s bereft of sex scenes. To note, Honor Thy Father is an action-drama movie that is way different from Erik Matti’s previous stab at the genre with On The Job. The former doesn’t have the latter’s showiness and bombast. It doesn’t painstakingly visualize or display to us the main character’s, Edgar’s (John Lloyd Cruz), relationships with any person close to his heart. We just know by exposition. He sometimes says it explicitly, like his loving his wife no matter what, despite her failings. In fact, we see more of the negatives, his quarrels (even with his brother), and the escalated stress levels having to face all the financial troubles and later, the more serious and life-threatening entanglement.

Just like the main character, the movie is unflinchingly unsentimental. Things turn to worse for Edgar’s family. They were unsuccessful in their previous business outings, which makes his wife enter into a somewhat pyramiding scheme, which in no time exposes itself as a scam. When a group of investors never got the earnings they are promised, they ransack Edgar’s house of their properties against the couple’s pleas and physical struggles, even when the cadaver of the  father of Edgar’s wife (Meryl Soriano) has just been prepared for the wake, lying unattended in a casket.

Edgar gets heavily beaten at that point. John Lloyd’s face is made to look misshapen and bruised as we have never seen before, and perhaps we’ll never see again.  But that deformity is nothing compared to what a disgruntled and vengeful couple  could do, who could hold hostage your daughter or your wife, those who couldn’t let pass the dupery and could resort to murder if they don’t get what they want.

I am always fearful for Edgar’s daughter’s life.  She is a little generously powdered-faced charming princess who has got the potential to do crazy things, who reminds me of Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire.  And then when she dons the bonnet with ear flaps, that girl in Your Lovely Bones comes to mind.

The movie though isn’t interested to dwell much on her character or on any other’s. The movie and the camera is focused on her dad. With no flashbacks or no scenes of backstory, Edgar comes as a curious figure, seemingly distrusting. He moves or remains static amid the crowd, the star quality of John Lloyd, the camera manipulations, and the blocking making him stand out. Sometimes in certain scenes we see closeups of him while faces close to him blur, like in one instance, Meryl’s face is defocused so we can scan John Lloyd’s face, to make us wonder what goes on in his mind. On other occasions, in the Church of Yeshuah, he either stands or lazily goes against the flow of sways of the deeply religious praise-singing crowd. Or while almost everyone in their Church demonstrates impassioned responses to the Bishop’s pleadings (Tirso Cruz III), he who recites Latin to exoticize his speech till he ends his lines with a summoning tone as if praying for the tempest to arrive or go away, Edgar remains mysterious, suspicious and still.  His shady character slowly unfolds before the film closes.

Michiko Yamamoto has crafted a story that must have been inspired by a news item a few years ago about a gang which robbed a pawn shop. Erik Matti must have been alluding to Chito Rono’s Eskapo when Edgar and his brothers do their dangerous act.

Technically brilliant, the photography surprises us on many occasions, especially with that extreme long shot of the funeral, also that brief, breathtaking shot of the funeral service where we see a backdrop of houses in Baguio, evoking  Positano, Italy.  The score and sound are well placed. Sometimes, a series of piano notes are followed by brooding jabs of harpsichord or violin here and there to heighten the fear and drama. Or mixed with noise, they indicate a mind that is becoming more clouded by the not-so-pretty things happening in our lead character’s life. Color grading is consistent all throughout, sallow, mauve, and de-saturated earth colors for a literally and thematically dark and drab rendering.

I think John Lloyd is at his best here, with my most favorite and what I feel is his most touching performance in the whole film, somewhere rightfully in the middle (or heart) of the duration of the movie: when he hugs his mother (Perla Bautista) when they talk about his dad.

The ultimate star of the whole production though is Erik Matti, who created a film that is deceptively, seemingly ‘middling’ in its depiction of relationships and violence, gloomy for this season of merriment and too small a drama for this season of excess.

For coming up with a film that gives a fuck you to mediocrity and goes against our expectations, he should be commended. And in this film fest, for being that rare and brave piece of cinema, his movie is the one every Filipino should not fail to see, a work worth every drop of sweat you excrete, worth every precious second you would waste in braving the long lines in cineplexes just to be able to buy a ticket in that place where the din must be at this time thick, there where the people’s collected speech is like a discordant choral buzz, as if the place is fly-infested.

10/10

 

A Second Chance (Cathy Garcia-Molina)

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a second chance

Many should’ve known by now the significance of the stacked peanut butter sandwiches in the movie A Second Chance. It was not just there to sit on a plate to look like a lousy scale model of a skyscraper, which if dotted with raisins or square bits of dark chocolate on the sides, would have been an edifice fit in Batibot’s award-winning stop-motion clay animation film ‘Nguyamyam’.

Unlike the clay animation short though, which gradually led to a disappearance, a form of destruction, the relationship of the couple in A Second Chance had its highs and lows, but it never really went down too deep and to worse to call it a deterioration.  The marriage of Popoy and Basha (John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo) was tightly anchored in an untiring love between the two, which even if it seemed like someone accused the other of distrust, or if someone made the other feel unimportant, we knew and sensed that the gap would just be temporary–the couple would get back in each other’s arms.

They had a deep level of respect for each other. That, I think, is an unacknowledged virtue of the characters in movie. Despite the fights, despite the different accusations, no matter what was broken to pieces or thrown at on the walls, nobody was physically hurt in the heat of the argument. No one was too intense and raging to inflict physical damage to the other. John Lloyd never got slapped on the face.  Bea didn’t strike John Lloyd with a clothes hanger or punch him in the chest.  They resolved their conflicts by moving away, letting things cool down, intuitively avoiding physical violence, having that subconscious care not to hurl hurtful words at the other person that would haunt them and would qualify to end up being relayed at a shrink’s or a police officer’s desk.

It may be too good to be true, even hilarious at one point when after they’d broken their plates in the kitchen during one fight, they still managed to sit beside each other in the car on their way to attend a friend’s birthday party. But John Lloyd and Bea earned our trust and made it work. They came up with performances that were consistent and true to their characters, better and more heartfelt than what Aga Muhlach and Lea Salonga did in their own romance classic (that’s somewhat a spoiler). Probably better than what Christopher de Leon and Vilma Santos did in some of their past movies.

The other person praiseworthy for consistency and excellence here is helmer Cathy Garcia-Molina. Being also one of the writers of the movie, she and her partners worked on a story structure which referenced another Star Cinema romance classic. The relation of the titles is a giveaway–that ‘inconspicuous’ homage was ingenious. She also worked within the bounds of the Star Cinema formula. The look of the film was glossy during those happy scenes.  There were still long exchanges where the audience could still remember and lift ‘hugot’ lines. The film still had visual elements that reminded us of Garcia-Molina’s own brand of ‘fairy tales’ using those small  but crucial articles: the spectacles for girls, the recognizable complementary or contrasting colors of the couple’s clothes, the wigs and hair with burgundy highlights.

What we needed to commend Garcia-Molina more beyond those trademark details though was her intelligence to create a movie-cake that had a different flavor– I’m sure it’s inappropriate to write on the surface of it using a buttercream icing pipe the word Rom-com. It felt like the director had come up with a concoction, a more meaningful and mature work. It’s as if she had ‘grown up’, the same manner that John Lloyd had added some weight, the boyish face gone, sometimes dirtied with a stubble, and Bea had become sexier and more convincing as an actress.  Garcia-Molina looked like she’d taken a self-imposed challenge of making her movies better than the previous one. She should continue to do that and take on different themes if she wanted to grow as an artist. She should bring her believers with her in exploring new levels of awareness and of telling stories.

I came up with a short silly film in my head, about a director at work. I visualized the person carrying a wand at film shoots, wrapped in black cape. There he urged his production design team to create a classy wedding venue filled with lights that looked like stalactites patterned after the chandeliers in CCP. One time he pointed the magic wand on the screen and told the video editor, “let’s de-saturate these frames. It’s one of those sad moments. Let’s use mauve and a lot of violet hues to underscore and symbolize the emotional state of the character in this scene.” Then, before the afternoon break, he did an Amazing Mumford act, and the sandwiches inside the caterer’s baskets disappeared.

Make no mistake in misinterpreting or looking for symbolism in that imagined clip. That’s not Cathy Garcia-Molina. It never crossed my mind that someone’s controlling her. In a ‘struggle’ before  a movie is released and where different factors are considered, power, ego, and clashing opinions will also obviously take part in deciding what is right, smart, and profitable. It felt like the lady-director mastered how to make things still within her control despite that, probably adjusting things without sacrificing the integrity of her work. And so even with a few individual’s complaints on the story’s predictability, all the movie elements in A Second Chance remained solid and excellent–script, editing, acting, photography. It’s a tough balancing act, but the director hurdled the challenges. The people responded to her hard work by giving her another box-office hit.

Like a fairy tale, the movie ended with the couple embracing, punctuating their love with the romance genre’s requisite kiss. Outside the movie-house I approached the nearest desserts stall and bought a slice of dark chocolate cake. I sat on a bench, held that slice, just stared at it, felt the whiff of cold air, grabbed then hugged my backpack. I heard some NCBA high school girls passing by sing their slightly out of tune version of Ella Mae Saison’s “If The Feeling Is Gone.” I began to feel shitty about my solitariness. I stood up and head home.

Rating: 10/10