Month: February 2016

Tandem: An Excellently Written Crime Drama (King Palisoc, 2016)

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Director: King Palisoc

Year Released: 2016


Tandem is a domestic drama about the love between brothers and up to what extent that stands. Roman’s love for Rex is solid up to the end. It’s without question and it’s efficiently laid out and rendered in the film. Also Roman’s character is well-written. An ex-prison mate who seems to be on a road to change his criminal ways but he suggests, not yet. So he needs to be extra-careful as he does his ‘petty’ crimes. He has a forthcoming baby, and a patient wife who dreams about his complete renewal. His sensitivity is showing or catching up—he hums a song to his unborn child sometimes. This love and responsibility must have tamed Roman that we don’t see or catch a glimpse of how ruthless a criminal he once was–one of the reasons why he strikes us as a weakling in his execution of crime, awkward and prone to bungling his act. Obviously, we doubt if he really is even a worthy paid assassin despite that story-justified halfheartedness. Perhaps our stereotype of what a goon is adds to this impression. Although not really a bad performance, one thing I am sure of is the role felt too big for Nico Antonio. He did not show enough muscle and intensity to make the character live up to our expectations. I’m thinking Kristoffer King would have brought a more convincing mix of evil and good and would have added more dimension to the role.

The other half of the tandem, Rex, the one with an obviously edgier sounding name, is played by JM de Guzman. He is a harmless looking, lackadaisical kid, with a sweet smile but who mouths cusswords: There’s a little disconnect between the image of that charming face and that young man speaking with invective, that it strikes us as a result of his eagerness to impress, an outward act  to prove himself, as if he’s saying I’m the new cool, the new James Dean, I wanna drink, fuck my classy broad, roam around with my newly pimped up motorbike, explore possibilities, carry a gun and show it shiny to the world–I wanna taste my first kill—no, I’m just kidding. Those worked well for the character, a mix of actions and gestures that are perfectly convincing posturing of a kid, of an apprentice young thug. JM’s Rex is an authentic.

This partnership, this riding-in-tandem, scouts the streets, university belts, subdivisions, areas with isolated ATM booths, spotting their next victim. They will be involved in a more serious and bigger crime as the plot supposedly heats up to its climax, that crucial scene ending with JM proving himself as a sensitive artist.

As an action film though, the action sequences felt slow and lack energy.  Editing could have improved them. That’s why the feeling is its all still waters and then we experience a blast near the end. The story-plot buildup is fine, the durational pace wasn’t.

Allan Paule could have done better playing the antagonist cop—he could have toned down a bit, could have projected more menace with silence and less movements. He does otherwise hence sometimes his performance looked caricaturish. Paolo O’hara is okay as a seeming parroting sidekick cop. Elora Espano as Rex’s girlfriend reminds me of Ruby Moreno in terms of presence and fearlessness and I wish more meaty roles for her. Rochelle Pangilinan is not really amazing as the patient and loving wife of Roman, but appearing without us remembering any trace of her sexbomb girl image should be considered a feat already, similar to winning the highest prize in a TV game show, probably a million, which is definitely better than winning an acting award at the MMFF nowadays.

Overall, the movie is good, excellently written, and generally decently acted by the ensemble. It seems to be telling us, as a fact, that for certain people, the criminal way is an option or means for subsistence (At the end did you see that blurred image of a bust in the background?).  Except for that bit about Roman’s wife talking of not having celebrated her birthday with a birthday cake until that moment, we did not see or hear that concept of poverty as cause exploited. The movie is praiseworthy for deliberately avoiding to capitalize on that cliche and reality then. Scenes of the brothers as kids who are forced by their indigence to skip meals and beg for alms on the streets would have been a nice sob backstory, coloring and making our anti-heroes more empathetic, but good that there was none of those. That lack gives the characters their uniqueness and mystery that distantiates them from us.

And so we also speculate. It strengthens the position that it is a choice of the brothers to live that way. To support it is that scene where the wife informs Roman of an offer for a job as driver, which Roman refuses.  This preference of stealing over a decent job could be a result of a well-ingrained despicable system of corruption and perversion of morality in the characters’ place. From where else would that choice have sprung? Another proof: All of the supporting roles (except for that decent chief of police) are somehow accessories to a crime!

Some poor people have toiled to be financially successful, making a complete turnaround from their hardscrabble lives. Some men wants to follow an easier route to success.  To the latter, that’s where the devil could cling and thrive, that dangerous ambition which results to a perverted sense that we can own territories and make choices without caring for others, the way someone could steal something tangible and then them throwing it away.

Like stealing and then disposing, unread,  a textbook entitled The History of the World.




Lakbay2Love (Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, 2016)

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Director: Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil

Year of Release: 2016




There is joy in travelling, in companionship. There are better options after a heartache.

These words or something similar to them circle and play inside our heads after watching Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil’s feature. It’s a romance story melded with advocacy filmaking, in cycling and nature trips. Here we witness a woman who just had a breakup. We follow her move on from the pain. We see her find a new source of inspiration, see her make a liberating choice. The woman is Lianne (Solenn Heusoff). She experiences ups and downs with the two biker men, Macky (Kit Thompson) and Jay-R (Dennis Trillo) at the opposite ends of her scale. Macky her ex-boyfriend shares with her an indelible past. He is ‘ubiquitous’ to her life then, dating back to her childhood. She feels that it’s already the end of their romance and finds diversion from the hurt when she becomes close to Jay-R when they work on a video project. He is a strong male figure, an idealist, a bike-achiever and forester, definitely a better man than Macky, with strong family bond and a clear disposition in life. What complicates things is that Macky and Jay-R are close friends. That fact makes the men eventually step back, think things over, probably torn if plunging into a romantic relationship with Lianne is worth it at this point when she’s just recovering from the hurt. Also if it will negatively impact their friendships. We access and hear their thoughts and feelings via internal monologues serving as transitions and connectors to scenes. With those, we confirm that their respect and love for each is immanent.

It’s fresh to find a depiction of love and romance without much commotion, without much heaviness. The story is back dropped by nature,  mountains and meandering bike courses and roads, trees, places populated by simple folks and dedicated biker men and women we all meet in the main character’s journey. The story runs smooth-sailing most of the time, with some bumps, which doesn’t really mean that the problems faced are not essential. In fact who wouldn’t find finding the right match, the right companion not a weighty matter? But with much energy being dedicated to an also important and healthy undertaking such as biking and loving nature, with clean air and greens and nature’s colors being perceived by our protagonists, why wouldn’t it be illogical and more acceptable that they are more able to cope with their problems than us, more well-adjusted when the emotional hardships arise?

Solenn, Dennis, and Kit play their characters with rawness, sometimes some awkward gestures add to the actor’s charm and give the scenes credence. I would not be surprised if the director simply advised them to be themselves, to tap all that’s real in them, and the actors delivered. What would have been the major flaw, the ease that Lianne forgives Macky, is compensated by that charming disarming look of Kit, saying at that time that he is mistaken with his past decision to call it quits with his woman, bringing out those articles that could soften Lianne’s heart to forgive him being that the items are pregnant with their shared history. Whatever other flaws of characterization or seeming lightness of the problems that are given to our female lead, those are compensated by commendable performances, especially of Dennis and Solenn whose faces when framed display an unassailable honesty, the glances meaningful and filled with emotion and desire.

Except for that fastfood chain placement at the beginning, the other explicit advertisements of products and sponsors do not really interfere with the story. The basic information about biking and love for nature also seem to work to make us consider to do the same. After the screening, I feel that urge to bike around in our area, in our plaza, in our memorial park.

It is fitting that the song to accompany Lianne in her solo biking trip at the end of the film is that which was sung with tenderness by Kai Honasan– Liwanag. The song’s base melody is a loop of the tinkling intro of the ukulele, as if someone spins the loom and plucks the thread to sound with magic while the wheels of Lianne’s mountain bike roll on the dirtroad and the camera zooms out to capture the expanse of the forest. Those little steps and notes in waltz time build up into a hypnotic dance, restful,  sleep-inducing even, with little points that prick and stimulate. It’s a song that projects positivity. It underscores Lianne’s state of mind at the film’s close, with her glancing at the sun, basking in its warmth and light. The joy in communing with nature and the high in a newfound independence resonate. We smile seeing Lianne in that triumphant moment.


Rating: 8.5/10


Everything About Her (2016, Joyce Bernal): Not Your Tearjerker Movie For All Seasons

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everything about her

There’s something suspicious, even hilarious, about the gait of Vilma Santos as mogul Dr. Vivian Rabaya in the opening scene. Yes, we are being introduced to symbols of power. We see her come out of her car, make herself stand straight and be comfortable wearing shoes with four inch heels, get herself dolled up by a group of assistants as she prepares for a speaking engagement. But when she speaks a bit of English she syllabicates and stresses some words awkwardly, which feels like nerves that add to our doubts if we are really seeing a lady boss. It also feels like she is trying hard to project a fierceness that the role requires. And as with her previously celebrated performances whose strengths lie generally on her displays of memorization skills and histrionics, this stint comes out similarly as a passable, bright in spots, uneven rendering of a character.

With Vivian’s visibly ‘blinding’ riches and success, she seems to have it all. Later, we discover her estrangement with her son Albert Mitra (Xian Lim). He carries deep-seated issues with her, having been made to choose between his father and mother as a child, one of the banes of marital dispute. Mother and son would settle their gap specifically in one scene in a hospital bed, as Vivian tries to get herself cured of cancer.

Jaica Domingo (Angel Locsin) on the other hand is Vivian’s private nurse. A practical charming ordinary woman who has problems with her mother herself. She might also have made it easier to snatch Albert to stay in the country and stay with his mom because of their somehow similar predicament with their mothers. Most probably because of her appeal as well.

The movie is a dramedy, the movie bisected into these two genres. The weepy scenes and seriousness becoming dominant in the second half. The bad thing is the dramatic parts come in succession, like strung edits, careless of pace. There is this feeling that the conflicts need to be resolved before a set duration time lapses and there is no logical place but to pack them all near the end. There are too many dramatic highlights that in retrospect, we feel we are manipulated to sob and lacrimate in series and I hate it. Imagine a head-honcho’s witch-like and imeldific laughter each time someone sheds a tear and then saying, “We have them. Money shots for the formula-beguiled masses.”

The movie is watchable, ‘moving’ even. But despite its theme being close to our hearts, the memorable lines and exchanges disappear as soon as the tears it squeezed out from us dry.

Visually lovely in parts, especially when the characters are surrounded by lamps or when they face a chandelier, some movie-frames look expensive, like snapshots from a high-end T.V. commercial. Vilma also looks her best in years in one scene, at the beginning, wearing that red gown, before she faints caused by her terminal disease, I think at the tail-end of the opening montage. But there are moments also when her make-up is gone and we wonder where that lovely ‘powerful’ woman with bright red lipstick is. Those moments are the ones where Vilma is stripped of her “burloloy,” sitting or standing with a plain shawl–and it’s the real her we see. We are astonished with what cosmetology and photography have done for her here when she’s glammed up, that this film’s make-up artist, lightsmen and D.O.P should earn, aside for their distinct categories, also an award-giving body’s nomination for best visual effects.