Kita Kita (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2017)

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Kita Kita could be compared to a gift from a long, lost friend. It felt like it needed to be opened slowly. The act was to unfold. The pace, deliberately not quick, to maximize the full potential to surprise. You knew Empoy Marquez was there and yet his arrival seemed to have taken too long to happen. Let’s focus on Alessandra de Rossi first then. Lea. Brown, Filipina tourist guide in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, carrying a cute backpack. She had a Japanese love interest at the start. There were a few flashbacks and then back to present time. Soon we found her heartbroken and temporarily blind.

Enter Empoy as Tonyo. Was he Lea’s suitor? Her stalker? An OFW who had the makings of a trying hard, morning deejay at a local AM radio show, thin-voiced, with disheveled moustache hairs which seemed to crawl like wild grass, with strands like cockroaches’ feet, said Vice? And the more they were not really pretty when you find Tonyo at his worst, at the ‘pit,’ his one selfie picture looking like it was digitally altered to show a broken face. It looked a little blurred and pixelated, cartoonish even, like he was Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece, with knocked out teeth. In hindsight you felt that seeing him dirty like that allowed your insensitivity to show. You ask yourself, remorseful, why you had to whimper and smile at the same time at that depressing moment.

When Tonyo and Lea met, the connection was obvious. She laughed at his jokes. He seemed to be a man with a plan–a sexually tinged one not many would label as such. That was primarily where the electricity and energy were coming from. They were at his fingertips. Heat emanated from his skin when he moved closer to Lea which jolted the real Alessandra I think at some point. Empoy is, really, not an ugly guy after all. Trim or shave his moustache. Keep his pomaded hair as is. Make him wear the same clean, plain, long sleeves and stylishly-fit pants he sported in the movie. Advise him to minimize those make faces and he’s a presentable suitor. He also spoke many times with some tenderness, words which lilt and with lambent ends they could tickle any girl. Such was what many girls jokingly professed in social media that they experienced in watching the movie. That ‘joke’ in social media was the truth.

It was a simple story which banked on a structure rarely used, hence the movie felt fresh compared to some previously shown local rom-coms. Its freshness was also attributable to the combination of de Rossi and Marquez, an unlikely and unpopular showbiz pair. Their ultimate gift to the audience is their rapport, their genuine joy as they travelled at some romantic spots in Japan: blind girl, finding herself falling for this unknown man who tried hard–and succeeded–to make her smile and giggle. Lea nearly gave her body to him and gave in to the loving feeling. Nearly, maisusuko sana ni Lea ang kanyang Bataan because he earned her trust and fished her heart. You know the romance hook worked when Aishiyu sounded like a term of endearment instead of a sneeze.

Like with what could possibly be done to a special keepsake or collectible, you were made to witness how to ‘wrap’ (and wrap-up) the movie. That was after having ‘used’ it lightly, having savored its feels, and then having our eyes memorialize it. You take out that red scarf and seal those precious emotions and scenes from the movie you wanted to keep inside your mind. Alessandra’s Lea would live there. Her natural and effortless performance would bring joys when recalled.

You would not forget Empoy too, despite his jokes at his recent TV guestings still mostly falling flat. In Kita Kita, Director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo elicited just the right amount of humor and charm from him. I bought Empoy’s pretense of being a matinee idol material on top of his pretense of ugliness. He brought out in his scenes that rare and acute mix of sadness and comic some of them were so close to genius I would call them mini Chaplin-esques. We saw them in his gestures and glances. They were present when he was sitting on a tiny foldable chair, eating his sour soup pork. You could appreciate that posture even in long shots–that cramped yet memorable thriftiness in his occupying a physical space. But even in that somehow inert state, he drew us to him with his soft nasal voice, hypnotizing us with its combination of care and carelessness. His ‘acts’ looked simple and clean, without the flamboyance, craziness, and bigness a jester or a buffoon presents. His was truly an endearing and an effective performance.


Area (Luisito Lagdameo Ignacio, 2016): Aye-One

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In Area, Ai-Ai delas Alas’s portrayal of an aging sex worker could be an effortful switch for her, considering the type of comedy she had built her career from. On the big screen and on T.V.,  she had played loud characters and caricatures–that to be able to convince us that she was this experienced prostitute in a poor section of Angeles, Pampanga should be a feat. And she partly succeeded.

Her strategy was to play the character anemically, an even amount of white powder painted on her face, dark eyeliner on to emphasize her sad eyes. She was Hillary, a woman longing to see her son, the boy separated from her for years since the aftermath of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. Ai-Ai had to let that snicker and screechy, cacophonous voice she is known for to leave her for this stint to win us over. How she pointed her lips and opened her mouth into shapes while delivering dialogues, how she squinted her eyes at the same time while laughing–they, too, had to go. She spoke softly. Like she swallowed her voice as if filled with shame. 

She was ready to cry anytime, her stare warned us. Her face was dead-cold when she had sex with some freak, like a suffering saint’s while she pleasured a senior citizen. Forget her chin being her physical asset in comedy.  It had turned into an ID in the brothel. Hearing someone call her Baba (chin) could summon memories of teenage bullying she might have endured in the past. She must have capitalized on what little pain that namecalling could resurrect inside her, which added to her interiority, paled her face more, made her head tilt a few times to its left side, weakened, ready to repose, sucked of her Ang Tanging Ina spirit. 

She had this rare but appropriate bursting out from her general ‘flatness’ of portrayal. In one long-take, she gave her all, with an absence of self-consciousness, a little of her comic energy coming out of her face and in her cry. It was a pumped-up version of Hasmine Killip’s continuous take in Pamilya Ordinaryo the first time it had sunk in on her that she had lost her Baby Arjan, Ai-Ai looking similarly like Killip, both looking lost themselves.

Others in the movie displayed a sense of commitment as if they contributed money in producing the film. Sue Prado played her role memorably as one of Area’s sex delights. With Hillary and the rest of the prostitutes, she reared her children inside their ‘casa,’ owned by an operator played by Allen Dizon. Those who acted as kid pimps and sex workers brought life to their roles too and did not disappoint. They helped create this pseudo-reality that was comic and a little carnivalesque. Depressing most of the time.

I thought the story was about to sprawl into a multicharacter study to depict and represent that squalid place, the ‘area’ reached after passing through a narrow street, which was this ‘portal’ to a wretched wonderland reeking of urine at each turn and fun you could sense there was a sparse number of people poised to play sakla (native card game) soon while some sweaty, smelly, gigantic, bearded, regular customer copulate with a cheaply-priced petite sex worker inside one of the rooms of the small, dilapidated, bungalow, with the sex mismatch you could imagine it’s close to pedophilia but who cared? But to one of my friend’s and to my dissappointment, the movie gathered shape at about two-thirds of its screen time, focusing on two character-story arcs.

This is not to say that this movie is something to be completely dismissed. Praise it for being another tireless take on poverty and on those symptoms of our society’s malaise. Poverty and prostitution never went away anyway. The film should have also worked better as a period piece. Some scenes better cut short to improve the pace.

Despite its faults, there was this good vibe I sensed in the whole production that, when I gave in to cry a little at some key moments, I never felt bad or manipulated. Somewhere close to the end of the movie, however, the producer and director unwisely yielded to the temptation of literally stamping their faces in one scene as manifestations of their pride for their film output.

Ai-Ai should hold her head and chin up high no matter what. She had shown boldness in exposing some skin and in sharing those little circles of keloid scars on her back for authenticity’s sake. Here a tamed hyena, with a generally competent ‘sheepish’ performance, she just had one too obvious awkward moment: when she talked or asked an old best friend how she was doing when she met her in church. That short clip should have been edited out as she looked like she snapped out of character. 

For the most part, she was fine, especially towards the end, when she was defenseless in front of someone who could be familiar. She unwrapped her nakedness after taking a bath,  was ‘cleansed’ like what the fat, male obstetrician’s findings was of her sex organ after a test–“Non-smelly and beautiful,” he described.  Then, when you were feeling the urge to urinate, that was the time Ai-Ai regained that aura of delicacy, as if the sex profession had amazingly preserved the purity of her heart. 

It’s all right that this role had been cited as one of her best performances, and had been reaping for her nominations at local award-giving bodies this year. But I won’t be giving her the award. It lacked that peculiarity, that slight shape-shifting of emotions that should have driven women living in such an oppresive condition to act crazily at times, that one dirty word or two here and there coming out of her mouth, some ‘exterior’ proofs of strength that would support how she had thrived in such a place, or at least even that pretense of strength. There were none of those that I noticed, none of that sprinkling of coarseness to enrich her character. Her rendition (or the requirements) of her role was to be too good, too willing to be victimized, too ‘heroic’ and ‘dreamy’ she could be an older version of Kim of Miss Saigon–the movie minus the lovely pop songs that would have entertained us and kept us awake in its unnecessarily prolonged scenes, the movie ending in a bittersweet note because there was an inappropriate narrative closure to it somehow, sweet as it underscored or implied the importance of religious faith, making us leave the theaters feeling good, bitter because the roots of the social ills still existed and remained untouched.

Sleepless (Prime Cruz, 2015)

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A few walks away from Emerald Avenue, Ortigas, Pasig City, a little opposite Strata 2000, along Onyx Road, at the ground floor of the Parc Chateau, still stands a branch of Mini-stop. For me, it looked like the actual place Prime Cruz shot the scenes where his lead characters mostly met. Gem and Barry (Glaiza de Castro and Dominic Rocco) were call center agents who visited the convenience store at night because they couldn’t sleep. They downed their cups of noodles and bottled drinks there. Stared through the store’s transparent glass wall. Imagined things and creatures. They came up with crazy ideas which were somehow related to some deep emotional mess they’re in.

This pair of co-workers did not ‘actively’ do something to escape their individual dillemas. I mean, they were both capable of choosing a more stable and ‘regular’ work. Their current job felt like a harmless diversion while they didn’t have definite plans yet. The work’s monotony drowned their deep-seated hurts.

They and many among us hadn’t thought this type of employment as a form of slavery though. It’s a cultural re-infiltration, strengthening our decades-old awe with anything America. To specify: Many of these employees had subscribed to imported TV series and talked animatedly of Hollywood movie blockbusters as if they were the only ones worth watching. They consumed those plots and stories like those were the ones that speak truthfully to us, mindless that our habits and tastes continue to be dictated upon by our ex-colonizers. Whatever distinct little things we had left inside us are being blurred and eradicated like how international corporations had been doing for years in subtly subjugating distinct cultures, in having some degree of stronghold on our economic interests.  A.k.a globalisation. In recent years it’s a sad fact too that this call center culture somehow had become influential in aiding this impression that our local TV shows and local films are thrashy, substandard, or unworthy of money and patronage.

Sleepless didn’t really tackle or go deeply into these themes. It’s about a friendship or, call it, a burgeoning romance. But the more I remembered this scene in the movie, of Gem with her ‘boyfriend’ Vince (TJ Trinidad) dining in a somewhat plush restaurant, also recalling them having a conversation on art inside an art gallery, which exposed the sharp difference in their opinions on the subject, then, remembering Barry’s dream of looking for his son in Canada, the more I thought of words like ‘displacement’ and ‘class difference’ no matter how convinced I was that those associations were quite a stretch.

To divert my attention, I asked myself these about the characters: What was making Gem more insomiac? Her feelings of being unloved despite her having a charming personality and a facial structure and big eyes as beautiful as an Egyptian princess’? She could attract more deserving men a lot better than Vince, who would give her the importance she deserved. Does Barry need to worry of not being able to take care of his son? I think that’s a virtue rarely depicted in cinema: a young man who searches for his child when the mother doesn’t even require him to send them financial support. There must be something really special between Barry and his ex-girlfriend for him to be too emotionally attached to his boy as if he were his life. Usually a young man would feel relieved that the woman he’s sired with didn’t require him of such a daunting responsibility. But Barry was unlike them. He was responsible, sensitive, and took each relationship and life-event preciously.

We would learn more what’s underneath Barry and Gem’s young faces–and they’re good at hiding what to others could be so depressing. Glaiza and Dominic didn’t exaggerate or overact their characters’ problems that it was so easy for them and for us to slide and glide to the emotional currents of the movie. I think some philosopher said that life is a continuum of pleasure and pain. That’s how the movie felt, to describe it vulgarly:  well lubricated. There were no sharp spikes. Things felt seemingly light.

Together, the couple were fun to look at and looked easy to go along with, despite the fact that their speaking decent, respectable English slightly gave me second thoughts if I would pursue making friends with them. They went to some secret meeting place at the office during coffebreaks, at the rooftop, which might make some folks tag them as weirdos, and which made me gravitate toward them and made me quickly forget my initial reservations.  They seemed to love to bask at the vast space at roof decks, somehow owning that space to themselves. And when they’re at the ground level indoors, the colors of the things in a convenience store and toyland and the lights around them served as visually pleasing backdrops. They danced to techno-pop tunes. They created their playful and imaginary universes.

Prime Cruz  had built a structurally beautiful film, proving himself a good director. Every scene, each frame or funny conversation, was a transition, a ‘plant’, a symbol, or a foreground. We recognized the function of moments and sequences with ease, those visual clues that suggested a problematic relationship or those that insisted something acutely, breathtakingly close to romantic love was unfolding. In one scene, the placement of Gem in the middle of the many little frames of eye paintings and photographs seemed to isolate her, made her feel conscious that she’s being stared at because she knew she didn’t belong, intensified her incorrect self-assessment that she lacked sophistication. The mechanical way Vince and Gem undressed before having sex spoke obviously of the type of love theirs had evolved into. Staring at Gem and Barry sleeping face to face in bed put to a cliffhanger all the sweet possibilities that scene cultivated. These were samples of pregnant images in the film, and there’s an artfulness in making them obvious but tempering them to look not too loud. No frame or sequence stuck out like nodes. The images and events flowed smoothly. The repetitiveness of images and symbols gave the movie a charm for its feeling composed, calculated or structured, yet the nuanced performances and the complete absence of hysteria made it all feel real.

It wouldn’t end the same way mainstream movies wrap up, but these easy but fertile associations made the story to simmer in our minds into its final images. The level of judiciousness the first-time director Prime Cruz applied in balancing the indie vibe and the mainstream elements was first-rate and impressive. He had provided me my first deeply satisfying movie-theater experience this year.

I worked in a call center in Ortigas. I had an officemate who drew the skyline using M.S. Paint to avoid falling asleep. When the sun began to shine, I marveled at the piece. It was not a realistic drawing, but an accurate representation of a panoramic view of what we saw through the curtain glass walls of the office. I saw on the illustration the slabs and electric poles of old edifices which are now hid or replaced by the Marco Polo Hotel. I could not be mistaken that there was also a part of the facade of the Meralco Building somewhere at the corner of the drawing plane. There they were, vertical lines,  punched square windows, concrete columns, glass enclosements, and steel frames being the stuff our urban forests are comprised of. It’s been years and the coldness and barrenness the memory of the drawing represented still punctured. After periods of  pretending to be numb, after seeing the movie, I realized that the heart becomes crazier in measuring or approximating (and could not escape) the pains from what could be those years together that were lost–the seemingly on-and-off symptoms of an incurable ‘disease’ caused by some cruel but ‘necessary’ distance.

Sleepless had a three-week run at select SM Cinemas last May 2017, as part of the CineLokal fest, a partnership of SM Malls and the Film Development Council of The Philippines.

Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa (Nestor Abrogena, 2016)

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“What’s the plan?” That was the immediate question Sam (Nicco Manalo) got from his close friend after he learned late that Sam had entangled himself  in a complicated relationship.
The question was stressful, insistent, urgent, and had a little exasperated ring to it, probably due to the friend’s surprise. But even the simplest of romantic loves couldn’t be that easy to explain, isn’t structured the same way we compose formal essays to pull up easily an answer to such similar questions as if there was an outline, as if the processing were as accessible as plucking a strand from an abundance of body hairs. This type of love’s the one wired to multiple brain neurons and dependent on those unpredictable surges of hormones and complex appetites, that to control oneself of its after-effects could be crazily difficult. But Sam looked ‘composed’ and reacted ‘well’ that time when his friend gave him some bromantic spanking, asking where had his crazy head gone to to get into such a stupid situation. Sam retorted with a fuck you in jest. He must have subconsciously meant it: who the hell are you man you fucking don’t know what I’m feeling!

But that was just my thought. There was not a single scene where you’d hear and see any character burst out and break down like in a lot of the romance dramas in the past. In Nestor Abrogena’s Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa, hysterical moments were absent. There were seesaws of what looked like petty disagreements–in one long take, and we would’ve been lucky to hear screaks. Silences occupied voluminous spaces here. As the plot was lean, it couldn’t be just that without pulling out something big in the end, that secret which was an editing success, and was our worthy reward for staying patient.

Things unfolded slowly so it took time to understand why the couple Isa and Sam acted with limitations, Isa (Emmanuele Vera) using more tact, a little apathetic and insensitive to Sam in school–because her boyfriend Frank (gasp) also studies there.

But when Isa and Sam were outside the college walls, they shared a cup of gulaman and a small tray of siomai. She slept resting on his shoulders inside the LRT train. They held hands. Flirted. And they got me more interested in them after they shared a journal-book by Kurt Cobain. Isa mentioned about borrowing a guitar, and seeing her hold and play it I thought damn that might be a Hole song she’d do a cover of. To my dismay it was some ballad which she sang instead.

It initially felt like the girl was just using the guy, Sam who was presented as intellectually superior, having been admitted to some film-related seminar or scholarship in Berlin. But as soon as we learned that Isa had prepared a gift for him, a John  Mayer vinyl record, and when they were finally both in Isa’s room, she was sparse in speech but the warmth and sorrow in her littlest body movements were loaded with tenderness, we became convinced that she had some deep feelings for him too.

The milieu they moved around was an unfamiliar place for me, somewhere I’m not so excited to be a part of because it smacked of elitism. Wow for a school in a highrise building with those curtain glass walls with a majestic view of the skyline. It was a privileged world, a little too modern and American for my third world country taste, it somehow put me off. The blues and grays, the concrete, the steel and the glass materials in different combinations and design schemes in schools, in trains, and in waiting stations, despite the signages of popular avenues like Katipunan or that shot with Isetann Recto in the background, they made me feel displaced. My eyes longed for the bright bright sunlight, for some Pinoy religious icons on some wall, for some rusty roofing with an old limp tire lying on it. My instinct to affiliate myself with an impoverished location grew more intense in time as the movie played. Not the film’s fault though. It must be trying hard to be different, saying goodbye to the visual template of poverty porn. (That silhouette of the two lovers seated opposite each other in the school cafeteria symbolized their ‘clandestine’ relationship. It could be a frame-homage to Transit by Hannah Espiah.) In fact, the director’s skill, the nuanced performances, and the polished cinematography made this romance drama look authentic, I think. That it made me imagine and ask myself how lovers from the poorest of the poor handle such a similar situation, on top of the nagging aches of the different parts of their bodies which are symptomatic of their struggles to live. Do they have the time to wallow for these types of pains or even realize how complicated it is they’re in when there is so much chaos and cries of hunger inside their heads and in their midst?

Init (Lino Brocka, 1979)

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Photo from Video 48

A sunset bookends the opening montage of Lino Brocka’s Init, with the shadows of mother and daughter Osa and Bayang (Charito Solis and Rio Locsin) who paddle their raft to the beach. Its warm-tangy color, with fluffs of gray and white against the gradations of orange, is pleasant to see. It’s like a backdrop of a painting, prettier than those ‘commercial’ landscapes which adorned the walls of many middle-class residences in the ’80’s.

Osa and Bayang gather firewood, fish, and tend goats, in the opening clips, like amazon women focused on their tasks, on chopping and splitting the branches into carriable pieces, skilled in jumping into the water and returning with a wriggling tilapia in one hand. 

Because of her stylishness, Charito Solis playing an islander, needs some effortful convincing though . She has that Sophia Loren vibe. What she wore at the first fishing scene could be your washerwoman’s uniform. Despite the attire being loosely fit, however, it looks on Ms. Solis so well that if you ask her to wear heels and to put some choker or jewelry around her neck and on her peeking royalty’s breasts, she’s all set right there and then to attend an awards show, or ready to party at Faces or Copacabana. 

What secrets does Osa keep that they live in a hut away from the many inhabitants of the island? Osa reveals to us later her versions of her past—thrice, in fact. Twice to her ‘houseguest’ Emil (Phillip Salvador), and then once to her daughter Bayang where she ‘sanitizes’ it. The barrio folks are partly aware of that story too: They know that she left her parents for a man from the city and then returned pregnant without a husband. Perhaps unforgiving of persons who attempt to separate themselves from their class or who turn rebellious to fight for their crazy love, the people must have been scandalized by such boldness of this woman to go against her parent’s commands. Perhaps they’re also envious of what wisdom and experience the trees of knowledge of the metropolis have bestowed upon Osa that that envy has shrunk to nada what little genuine care they have left to spare for her when she returned. They must have clearly made known their distaste with Osa’s existence that they successfully made her live like an outcast in their already remote place.

Except Juan (Leroy Salvador), Osa’s ex-boyfriend. He waits for that chinky-eyed mestiza to love him again despite having married Idad (Laurice Guillen), she who had given him no child in their ten years of union. One night Idad feels the sexual urge and she begins kissing him on the neck and shoulder. She frisks his sides and attempts to touch his private part. But Juan shoos her away like a fly, like a nuisance. Deepseated yet not unknown to his wife, he’s also began to get madly jealous of Emil, the man Bayang found gasping for life on the shore, now living in Ora’s hut, with the youthfulness, looks, and charm of a city dweller capable of stitching ‘magical’ stories which could turn his house companions under his spell. He could convince Osa to leave the island again, Juan fears.

True enough, Emil makes his moves. He seduces Osa. He deflowers Bayang. The set up would’ve been initially fine for the trio, until Emil and Bayang decide to leave Osa and make known their plan to leave the island.

It is at that moment that the hidden surfaces appear, that some essential truths about the lives of Emil and Osa are revealed. Suddenly, Osa realizes that it was like the past happening before her very eyes. The memories bring the pains back, and based on her pronouncements, we are invited to speculate how such a beauty slavered to ‘receive’ men nightly, probably feeling like being nailed on a crucifix, helpless in a room lit by the blinking neon lights outside through the room’s small high window.

It looks like a simple yet interesting story, isn’t it? But the movie doesn’t burn to climax the sure old-fashioned way. The indiscriminately scattered  dialogues slow down the movie’s pace. For a film with a lot of sex scenes, not much excites. Those copulations in the forest, beach, and hut feel highly stylized, the compositions angular, that the human fluids oil not warm bodies but ‘mannequins’ or at worst ‘machines,’  and those sexual acts underscore those who are in control and in power more than the burning of libidinal lard. 

Phillip Salvador performs like a newly discovered talent, promising but lacks the depth and mystery needed for the character. Ms. Solis’s unmistakable presence and some close ups where she conveys a mix of whorishness, wildness, and bliss, slowly ‘fades’ away. Nothing exceptional too in Leroy Salvador’s portrayal. Laurice as Idad has something going on with her. Her desire is real, but it’s not yet the Laurice Guillen who is capable of stealing the spot from a co-star who played a nun. Actually, there’s this overall impression that the cast are literally like chess pieces, turning faceless as the movie reaches its end. It must have been because there aren’t enough tics or idiosyncracies that make the characters come alive. With about five persons generally sharing screen time, and being that most of the scenes are sex scenes, the movie is anemic of shots which show a character’s face or a simply prolonged scene of a person in a specific spot which effectively give the audience the ample time to try to connect with the individual’s emotional state or psychological burden. Not even a virginal Rio Locsin, who would prove in the years to come that she is a reliable actress, could escape to look like a mere ornament. 

Init was released after Rubia Servios and before Ina, Kapatid, Anak, and Jaguar. Brocka had already directed two of his acclaimed all-time bests Insiang and Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag before it. I could only imagine the pressure Lino had on himself, in coming up consistently with masterpiece after masterpiece. With about 60 plus feature films under his belt, doing about 3 films per year on average, it would be genius and a miracle to have films of similar excellent qualities and success. He definitely knew that compromises would happen, realistic that he couldn’t do all the the time the films he wanted to make, having to face the reality that moviemaking is also business. He knew that he needed to keep on experimenting until he finds the right formula that would both lure a sizable audience in theaters and turn out as significant contributions to the artform, significant contribution in the sense that the movies become instruments in awakening the audience of the different social realities, inequalities.

The movie must’ve failed to be a critical success based on the rarity this Brocka work gets mentioned. But it’s a good transitional work, with themes to be plumbed from it. One is that it’s a woman’s film, though anti-feminist–with the three female characters punished for knowing what they want, for liberating themselves from the shy, chaste, and submissive female stereotypes. It looks like the movie is a ‘regressive’ piece for the activist Brocka, but it merely reflects the generally bad perception of strong women of the time. More interesting to note though, caused by flaws in characterization, is that we didn’t see or feel any character genuinely empathize, show love or show concern for another. For the same reason, we are not moved when somebody dies or gets punished. Are we to assume that the emotional links between characters are there? Something we do not need convincing anymore as they are givens, between mother and daughter, between lovers, between sex partners–something we do not need to see? But as a visual medium, this kind of movie should have scenes that render and dramatise the relationships especially if the creators would want to show points of departure and contrasts for maximum dramatic effect. To add, some form of selfishness (individualism) even grips each character. For a movie entitled Init, which is ‘heat’ in English, it is freaking cold in the love and care department.

Towards the end of the movie, an orange-red sunset appears again with the silhouette of a mob below it. This time the shadows are sharp. I could see clenched fists, sticks, long knives, and other frightening implements in the mix. I remember a red-orange cloth in one of the rooms in my grandmother’s house, with pentel pen-drawn figures of people, placards, slippers, and barbed wires. On the lower part of the plane, written with hardened gray acrylic paint squeezed from a tube, were the words “Justice is in our hands,” like they were piped lettering on a cake. The masses don’t completely get the essence of that line, even if I duplicate that poster and then wave them at the balcony of our second floor bahay-na-bato like flags. Many have forgotten the power that rests in them, and many of those who were once aware are now content with FB trolling and following some woman who’s giving me the Mein Kampf mistress vibe, black dress and sheen black hair and that overall diabolic-vampirish package. Why don’t we ‘ride’ with her and with where a lot of the doomsday signs are seemingly going to? Let’s make some purposeful use of the blossoming chaos, agitate the masses a bit, and then turn the elite, the landlords, and the corrupt politicians to beg and cower to be put in jail rather than they entertain the thought and horror of being guillotined by an angry crowd, as punishment for their cupidity and for the social injustices they propagate.

The film is available in Jojo Devera’s Magsine Tayo! Tumbler site.

Die Beautiful (Jun Lana, 2016)

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        Christian Bables ‘turned’ his body into a female’s in Jun Lana’s Die Beautiful, and it was a convincing transformation. I mean he’s not like Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire wrapped conservatively in ladies’ gowns or schoolmarms’ dresses. In the movie, his body was exposed many times. He wore short shorts. He flaunted his shapely, womanly legs, his biceps well-toned yet non-muscular. He’s a doll in skimpy outfits. When he walked wearing high heels, his posterior profile boasted of a woman’s waist, his behind like a rocking pear on a bough, and that straight imaginary line on the soil punctured by his lady shoes seemed to have surfaced when he passed by. 

He was a knockout. His sharp-pointed nose recreated in our minds how Pauleen Luna or Aubrey Miles must have inhaled and relished the smell of bouquets of fragrant flowers. It’s one of those rare miracle of a performance for such a role where the exterior gelled with the interior. If he were really acting here, then he must forgive us if we believed he’s not, if we thought he’s gay.

We had for the longest time been supplied in Philippine popular TV and cinema with those loud, extreme, and caricaturish, videoke songmaster-types from the LGBT folks who provide zany, sometimes self-deprecating humor. Mr. Bables and Mr. Paolo Ballesteros’s turns as trans women Barbs and Trisha Echevarria came as welcome surprises because of the right blend of comic and realism in their rendering of their roles. With a good script and good actors’ delivery, the movie projected a naturalness (You’d hear hard-ons and penis mentioned casually in Filipino). Somehow these modified the viewer’s reactions.

Jokes were intricately knitted with the story and themes. That made us accept the movie’s presentation of humor with some degree of reverence. You felt compelled to hold back laughter compared to the way you react to a good, decent Vice Ganda joke or gag. Many times, you felt like it’s definitely more appropriate to smile than roll on the cinema hallway’s dusty floor carpet laughing.  You’re careful that you might be laughing at someone you know, a relative, an officemate, an FB friend. And you don’t want your enjoyment to be misconstrued by another as offensive.

During the dramatic moments, the musical score went almost unnoticed. A few scenes were layered with instrumental pieces I’m sure. When it’s non-intrusive, it’s tasteful. It’s as if somewhere inside a glass room, viewing the rushes or the takes themselves, an overseer-conductor like Gerard Salonga was present hushing his strings section, advising them to play it really quietly and pianissimo, some music reserved to the subconscious, subtle and non-flashy. It must have added in stirring you subliminally to make you cry buckets of tears near the end. 

As the title suggests, the main character, Trisha, had died and she wanted to be made up like a different famous woman each night for seven days before she’s put to her final rest. In between those days, the movie pieced how she came to be, her struggles with  her father who disdained her for her sexuality, her relationships with friends and lovers, with her sister, with her adopted daughter. It narrated her colorful ’employment’ as an untiring and hardworking gay beauty contestant. 

Her dedication made her come up with tricks to stand out in those contests. One thing she did was explore the wonders of makeup, copy the faces of popular celebrities. The work didn’t prove convincing at first. Her Regine Velasquez had a burnt Rudolph the reindeer’s nose, or looked like someone from the musical Cats. Then she competed in a pageant as Britney Spears, but her modified appearance looked like a cross between Britney and Jessica Rabbit, with skin tone as colorfully crisp as pork lechon. Barbs’ makeup works on Trisha during the wake were the ones that gave justice to a beautiful life lived, close to masterful, nearly capturing the essence of each chosen celebrity, especially her version of Beyonce. Trisha’s corpse was like the Queen of the Damned for one night.

Louder than the crackling of the chips munched by the couple at the upper row seats in the cinema where I watched, sharper than the biting truths about violence, rape and discrimination this movie comments on, the  movie at its heart is a celebration of self, effortlessly achieved by iteration, and not by shoving into your senses those big loaded words classed under values or virtues. You wonder why the terminal phrase of the answer of Trisha in a beaucon Q & A “…nobody, nobody, but me”  reverberates? It’s partially because you also remember the beat and claps from the hit single “Nobody” by the Wonder Girls which had insidiously made itself part of your cherished memories. Funny and serious. There’s no special need for you to adopt a persona anymore. Unless you’re like me desperate to do a Bob Dylan act. It shouldn’t generally be a neccessity for you to have a facial surgery unless you wanted to hide because you’re Kerwin or a shamed Leila or you badly needed a botox. You should be prideful for who you are. Pamper and affirm your unique spirit. Our society in general lags behind and a lot are still suprised by all the liberating thoughts and opinions about sexuality and morality being disseminated by its advocates. Yet, on another side, we have institutions and persons in power who are still comandeering to keep things as old, ‘normal’, conservative, ‘straight’, and restrictive as before, still fired up to reform in sanatoriums and barracks those who agreed to be stamped as ‘weaklings’ and ‘sick.’ For these institutions and self-righteous people, the Earth is like a humongous ball with lots of hollow spaces inside, ‘appropriately’ managed by moralists and dictators, with rooms for balloons and transparent bottles, shaped, sized, and customized for each ‘fighter-queer’ person to inhabit, to eventually suffocate her and to cut the spread of her ‘infected’ bloodline.

Seklusyon (Erik Matti, 2016)

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Erik Matti’s Seklusyon is a thematic expansion of his short film Vesuvius, a hate-letter to the ensnaring pageantry and hypocrisy of established religions, a call for incredulity, an exposé of convents and seminaries as towers also inhabited by tortured souls. 

It features a girl named Anghela (Rhed Bustamante), whose popularity as faith healer has reached the Catholic hierarchy which responds with an investigation to check the veracity of the girl’s ‘miracles.’ After recently becoming ‘orphaned,’ and cared by her ‘nun-assistant’ Sister Cecilia, Anghela is permitted by the church to stay in a house where deacons have started to live, the young men secluded for seven days before their ordination. Meanwhile, the assigned investigator-priest verifying the miracles worries for the child, distrusts Sister Cecilia, until he learns later about these two females’ secrets. Events are set in 1947. 

The movie has the usual horror genre elements: murders, twin monsters, girl and lady ghosts, crying religious icons,  candlelit rooms and hallways. These details establish the tone of the film.

Though the visual elements succeed in  keeping the mood dark and evil, a few factors unnecessarily disrupt focus. The movie’s sound was uneven, some parts a little offensive. Sometimes, especially for outdoor scenes where the camera is focused on the investigator, you could hear splintering twigs or branches–or chirping birds, at almost the same volume levels of the speaking voices. Also, the text quotes from the bible that appear on screen feel like intertitles of a silent film which rob us of our capacity to figure out some mysteries ourselves.  Add to these the weak performance of Ronnie Alonte- supposedly the ‘strongest’ of all the deacons, especially in those crucial scenes where a range of emotion is needed, and what he could give is a good-for-afternoon-soap opera delivery of a dialogue, looking a little self-conscious or blandly motivated, seemingly eschewing the demands of the character at that moment.

Notwithstanding these ‘negatives,’ the movie is superior in many respects, particularly its cinematography and production design. Seklusyon’s climax, wonderfully alludes to some biblical sacrifices , and ends gloriously ‘celebratory’ it made me ask and wonder what religious denomination Erik Matti belongs to now. Rhed Bustamante is exceptionally good too for a child playing this challenging role, fitting the frames cinematically especially in long shots of her walking in the woods, wearing that white plain gown, her long hair resting on her shoulders when she ‘hounds’ the doubting deacon, or, when she dons a bishop’s mitre and vestments, photoperfect in her stance, eerie and majestic as she gazes and speaks like a sly, old soul. The child actor’s innocence has been wrapped and ‘suffocated’ by shadows, and it’s not just the wonders of lighting or make-up responsible for her convincing turn. Her internalisation is short of being by a genius, her strong and manipulative spirit so natural, which stays and boggles you even when the movie’s done. 

The film is irreverent and thought-provoking, capable of shaking someone’s faith. Before, we were moved to tears by rituals, moved by staring at the sad-eyed  figurines. During Holy Week these human-sized wooden idols are jammed, together in one covered court, flowers festooning them, wilted. We look at each statue and  wonder what spirits could inhabit or possess them, our country an archipelago of superstitions, a lot of our people curious and amazed by news of the dancing Sto. Niños, of miraculous waters, of  ‘visiting’ relics on parade being protected by big umbrellas while devotees are sniffling and coughing drenched in the rain. We listen to a garbed priest officiate a mass, and don’t completely believe him. He repeats words and prayers. Many times we question his sincerity. Sometimes he delivers them hastily, words blared by cheap speakers also sound like mumblings as a result of a too echoey mic. We’re not ignorant of some priest’s or religious leader’s immoral acts that when we see them in these religious gatherings about to speak, we quickly leave the church building enraged seeing the celebrator blaspheme the event , in the same vein that many pastors declaiming and exclaiming and shedding tears at large-scale rallies sound and feel fake. The truth is it’s just a job for them from which their group’s coffers directly sluice to them leaders’ bank accounts, the sect or group corrupted to financially ‘support’ them and help to construct their own private mansions, to bring their anointed one’s children to study at exclusive schools abroad, to bring them to gain political clout and national renown.

Seeing those wolves in sheep’s clothing looking triumphant in their mission, ready again to set up another base or territory for ‘business’–is the film’s most terrifying ‘gift.’ We must be careful on who to trust and on where to invest our faith in. We need to be skeptical, believe, not just with our hearts, but also with discerning minds. We need to scrutinize our religious associations, the movie, in the end, warns us.

​Every Room Is A Planet (Malay Javier, 2016)

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White hallways. Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. A city skyline at night, seen through a condominium unit’s glass panel walls. Antoinette Taus’s solid, sexy woman’s back. Quark Henares wearing goggles coming out of the bathroom. I’m enumerating stored images–residue-memory of this animal-structure of a film–Every Room Is A Planet. It has, at its center, its most captivating energy buttressed by one breathtaking song–a capsule of a short romance you think, after all those weirdness before and after it, is impossible to happen. But despite the movie’s general  disjointedness in terms of plot, there are elements that hook scenes: binary codes that come and go like a silent film’s intertitles, a sound design that’s appropriately eerie. And tolerable except for that instance of loud volume which must have cracked my eardrums, the time that milkwhite-skinned actress, probably with Polish blood, screams with the violence of pulled bound set of knives with edges scraping the bathroom tiles, and that same sound, overdubbed with the grumbling voices of demons. Those many edged pains were unleashed after the woman was reminded of her missing husband whom she believes had been abducted by aliens. 

That woman, Yannie (Valeen Montenegro), is neither stranger nor extremely different from the other cast of characters. Elly (Rap Fernandez) looks like an apathetic Japanese who is bored initially with his visits to his sick sister-in-law. Ms. Taus as the psychiatrist Dr. Cara hides, in her icelike mien in public and in her sexually stimulating voice inflections, what could be her feline, kinky, little, wild animal version under the sheets. Pinky Amador as the mother of Elly acts like a mental patient herself, who must be waiting for an antenna to grow, out through her skull through a sliding opening lid on her forehead to reveal a hole.

Early on, we search and wait for logical and emotional connections in the story. The waiting is too much, too long to handle for a time–that some airplane thrust levers appear on the sides of my seat enticing me to pull them up to eject and propel me out of the theater. I’ve seen a few members of the audience dart into the bathroom compartment to take quick breaks from what could be a prolonged nauseating filmic turbulence. Then the narrative haze and din clear up thankfully, after we see Elly and then Yannie watch a video. At that point, the director must have received our telepathic messages saying that we have begun to relate to his work. We feel the characters’ helplessness. We recall that brief tryst and we wish a couple to live happily ever after. 

When we think that things have finally normalized, the characters become perturbed again. A ‘ghost’ resurfaces. And then, finally, we must go away like Elly who sports the same apathetic look as when the movie started. This time though we can see and feel a thin layer of pain on his face. He must be wishing for things not to turn out ‘normal’ like before, which is really him being consumed with jealousy for sometime as we later would infer–the man victorious in keeping probably this desire to murder someone to himself. 

Every Room is a Planet gives us a deep space ride. It is a unique exploration of relationships and it takes time to be fully grasped. When you’re forgiving and strong enough to withstand the movie’s puzzles and peculiarities, you’ll find yourself rewarded in the end.

2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten (Petersen Vargas, 2016)

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The main character in 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten kept calling himself weirdo. We accepted it without really giving it much thought. I mean labeling himself as such sounded harmless coming from a seemingly upright boy. Geek. Bullied. Khalil Ramos as Felix was your typical high school overachiever who busied himself with solitary acts more than being socially active. He studied and daydreamed instead of choosing to date, drink, and smoke–instead of learning all those forbidden habits generally experienced by growing-up kids tagged as normal. But at the onset, we had a preview of some sort of the latent wickedness of this character whose growth was temporarily set aside to give way first to more comedy, to suck the audience in, to let them enjoy how light and fun and pressured it was to be young, to literally make us live again in a little world called ‘school.’ The movie also included details that would make it somehow historical, the specificity adding a certain ring of fact and truth to it more than merely making it freestand as an account of a tale: details like the 90’s generation’s fascination with imported Japanese superhero TV series and like how cool it was to carry a Walkman, how to rewind the cassette tape with a ball pen, what of an old neighborhood in Pampanga be looking like a few years after being buried in lahar. These details were convincing enough to transport us back into a specific past, yet the movie never looked outdated to alienate us. That little dream party sequence of three high school students, with laser beams and all, was an economical gen Y rave.

Felix opened his ‘core’ while he and his tranferee Fil-Am classmate, his tutee Magnus Snyder, were in front of peace-inducing waters which stream above graveyards created by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. There, Felix somehow self-talked about the force of nature and confessed his secrets. He revealed his cruelty when he said that he felt good witnessing their place being destroyed. He hinted at his homoerotic tendencies when he compared the smoke and explosion to a giant mushroom. But Magnus was not carefully listening.

This story evolved an innocent-looking boy into someone most capable of skinning a kitten alive. The conversion began when he was enmeshed with the lives of the attractive Snyder brothers. Felix emotionally connected with Magnus–and events would make them need each other until his budding love, repressed, became indistinguishable from obsession.
Jason Laxamana’s story was an interesting mix of comedy and a little psychopathy. His written dialogues and conceived narrative were potent and elicited instant responses from the audience: giggles, laughter, shock. Meanwhile, the film’s cinematography was functional, pretty, and symbolic. Some frames made me remember scenes from my favorite movies, which enriched the viewing experience.

This commendable first feature could be Petersen Vargas’s homage to Edward Yang, a twisted shorter little niece (in spirit) of A Brighter Summer Day. Not an avid follower of Petersen’s works, but after seeing recently his short film Last Day and having seen the trailer of Lisyun qng geografia, it made me ask: What’s with young characters wearing school uniforms? Are white polo shirts and khaki or dark pants emblems, a fascination or fixture in the same way Hitchcock had his blondes, an early laying down or building up of an auteur’s stamp? Let’s see what he comes up next.
If his succeeding features come out consistently strong like this, it’s fine nobody should be complaining and making a big fuss out of his preferred themes, if they remain about characters conveniently close to his age moving in a milieu the director is familiar with. Fine too if the school uniform is some type of security blanket, fetish, or lucky charm.

Mixed Shorts Reviews #1

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​Vesuvius (Erik Matti)

What amplify the creepiness in this Matti-Yamamoto short collabo are the layers of sound, the muffled church song, the sound of boiling water as if there’s this witch concocting an execrable-looking and -tasting potion, with eyeballs and intestines ground and juiced to create that green, tangy soup. Also the dubstep and all sorts of crittery sounds looped, the buzz of the fly that moves from the left to the right and back to the left ear channel, and the tinkling echoes of what could be rubies, jades and quartz and onyx stricken or jangled, blasphemously complementing the most evil yet hip among the versions of lady apparitions. The lady’s face is appropriately ghostly, a little japanese-inspired, that spirit disguised by painting the white kabuki make-up on the face of a mestiza-looking actress. The movie is some kind of a tract, a warning for our being superstitious and credulous; however, evil being too clearly defined here decreased the film’s potential of providing a richer, more interesting and lasting, frightful experience.

Two Men and a Wardrobe (Roman Polanski)

Two men from the sea attempt to fit in in town, but obviously their being inseparable from their furniture ostracizes them from their newfound place. If this could be these aliens’ short visit, unluckily for them the trip has turned traumatic. And as we watch them struggle and haggle to be accepted, images of cruelty of men towards their own kind, even to an animal, are shown. So is it a beautiful world we are creating, like what one child does at the beach, building a city of cup sandcastles, when he doesn’t even notice or he’s simply mindless of the two men carrying the drawer pass him by, the duo obviously retreating, unquestionably disappointed with beings considered to have the most advanced minds on earth but whose actions invalidate such perception? The stink and poison creeping from an immoral, self-centered city are a lot more sickeningly fearful than the onslaught of raging waters.


The Big Shave (Martin Scorsese)

This short has a Hitchcockian look and feel to it at the onset, with an initial feature of a worm’s eye view shot of a toilet bowl, and with the subsequent parade of details like shower dials, faucet, and lavatory. A jazzy, big band sound arrives nearly at the same time as the appearance of a Caucasian male. Then the man lavishes his face and neck with shaving cream, takes the razor from inside the built-in cabinet beside the mirror, then strikes to clean his face. There’s a ritualistic, even a masturbatory undertone to the act, which feels interminable for a while. The touch of the blade on the skin could be equated to strokes or caresses, and especially with a horn or sax playing on the background. The movie ends with an image projecting and extending a result of what could be guilt for carnal thoughts and acts, the guilt brought about by a puritanical or Christian upbringing. The mind could be sadly unnecessarily unforgiving and violent.


J’ai faim, J’ai froid (Chantal Akerman)

The two girl characters in Ms. Akerman’s short film want to grow old and taste life urgently, as exemplified by the racy, hasty, one liner exchanges between them, and the fast cuts or edits of shots. The older girl looks like a butch, and the younger one looks like a diabolical walking doll. They do things as they want: smoke, eat, kiss, and then get their ‘job’ done one time with their charmingly bizarre singing at a restaurant like carolers, which earns them the night’s free meal and hooks them with a man. One will experience that which is supposed to be special and that which ‘normal’ lovers do. But with the quick, cold, final resolve to leave after the implied act, it’s unmistakable to conclude that what they learn out of that brief encounter with the guy isn’t worth all the rush. Probably even disgusts them.

The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz, 2016)

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When Horacia Somorostro steps out of the correctional, Lav Diaz gifts us with a beautiful long shot of his heroine staring and standing still on a concrete bridge. It’s as if the director tells us how far Horacia has become disconnected with the outside world. It’s an establishing shot, and a few of this are used at the early parts of the movie, each time the protagonist arrives at a new place–the frame assymetrically balanced. It shows stasis, contemplation points. Horacia literally and psychologically temporarily immobile with her struggle, burdened with her bags and baggage. She is about to claim the justice she deserves for a frame-up for murder which resulted to thirty years of her life spent in jail. Her ex-boyfriend, Rodrigo Trinidad, was the mastermind. After a fellow inmate confesses that she was the one who committed the crime Horacia had been paying for, Horacia was released. Her freedom turns out somehow pointless though, being estranged to her daughter for about three decades, and returning, finding her son missing and her husband, dead. She needs to finish the things she has planned to do if she dreams of moving on.

The Woman Who Left is Diaz’s most austere work. Like his other films, the colors are bled into black and white. It is also bereft of musical score. When Horacia comes out of prison, the sound of horns and traffic strike her as possibly a little violent. The exchanges with other characters, the captivating tone of her voice being a natural raconteuse, and the sounds of news from the radio she is used to–they are the other sounds that we will encounter frequently, alternating with stretches of long silences as we gaze and focus on people,  enlarging from or disappearing towards the station points of one-point perspective compositions. Sometimes a poem Horacia had written is recited. One central piece with lines that have rats, cockroaches, winds, corners and crevices presages a pre- or post-plague psychology, alluding to the string of pestilence in Exodus. But overall the story is uncomplicated. The location and set up are generally unadorned.

It’s painful and terrifying  to plot to kill a former love, to execute revenge. Somehow, meeting characters who are marginalized and discriminated by society lightens the weight of Horacia’s burden, being better off or more stable in many ways than all of them: the hunchback balut vendor, the poor residents living beside the mansions of powerful families in town, the deranged Mameng, the troubled epileptic transwoman, Hollanda. Horacia helps them, empathizes with them. They unwittingly become accessories to her scheme.

No doubt that Horacia knows that what she’s planning to commit is immoral; hence, the countless times that she has to trail her prospective victim. It’s not really to be methodical about it, but because there is a clash within her. Lav Diaz in fact gives away proofs of her moral struggle: We see Horacia anguish over pointing a gun. We hear her say in her drunkenness that she’s thankful that Hollanda had arrived–or she had proceeded to kill Rodrigo that same day. 
It’s also ironic  that we see Horacia go to church but we don’t see her pray. We find her sleeping on the church pews. We find her inside the church closely listening to Mameng excitedly  point to her where the ‘demons’ are seated when they attend mass. Diaz opting not to explicitly associate Horacia to a specific religious denomination is telling, especially for a character who would usually need a spiritual connection in her difficult times. The absence of subsequent acts of praying, from her earlier only scene in jail where she joins a group of inmates praying the rosary, suggests that Horacia had lost her religious faith. Religious icons ocassionally appear in the background, like a small picture of Christ on the wall, or an imposing Quiapo Church. But they do not actively affect or influence the character or the story. They carry little to no significance, except to show that as things, they exist.

Meanwhile in one short scene, we glimpse Rodrigo’s psyche when he confides to a priest. He proclaims his moral confusion, yet such struggle is tainted with arrogance and laziness. His seemingly innocent questions arrive as a philosophical joust with a priest, empty inquiries, not a realization of his errors or a sudden regrowth of conscience, but could be a mockery of the priest’s beliefs.

Part of the power of the film comes from this contrast between our heroine and villain, I think–this clash between humanity and society’s many evils as represented by Rodrigo.  Add to that the dualities, the visual and verbal motifs, and the counterpoints which strengthen the truths that the movie wants to project. We also find as solidifying element the similarities of fates of many characters, in their chorus of cries for social justice.

There is an extreme spotlighted long shot of Hollanda dancing in the street at night, like a tiny ballerina on a music box. She spins, graceful  even from a distance. Like the musical object, she resurrects the song in Horacia’s life. Briefly. In Horacia’s house. After Hollanda recovers from gang-rape. It feels like that signals a fresh start for both of them but then the song Sunrise, Sunset the two individuals sang gives us prescience projecting a future which is a mix of bitterness and triumph. Then Hollanda pays back her keeper’s generosity. Horacia eventually leaves Rodrigo’s town to search for her missing son. She will tread on unknown paths and spaces, trudging with a mind constricted by invented memories of what should’ve happened in the past three decades, also as if she’s accursed to return to the place where the movie started and for a long time she was kept. It’s as if she has never left.

Isla (Celso Ad Castillo. 1985)

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​It’s not just this impression that it contains plenty of sex scenes and nudity that should make you search for a rare copy of Isla. The movie should more importantly be seeked being a film by of one of our most celebrated filmmakers, Celso Ad Castillo. Here, he gives us masterful visuals again, different angles and shots of a ferris wheel, long shot compositions of people and nature, georgeous underwater scenes of Maria Isabel Lopez as Isla, naked, which no doubt have made the oysters gasp and the sea ferns wave and sway in approval. 

What could have been a celebration of sensuousness and beauty turns out to be the story of a young woman who wants to leave the place. Isla needs to escape from being continually molested by her grandfather, Kadyo. She lives in a ‘typical’ opportunistic male’s world, a ‘damsel’ who asks for help but always ends up miserably with a similar male type who sees her as mere sex object, the female’s dilemma versus the male underscored by having the symbols of power in society to be well represented by men with a seemingly singular goal which is a product  of lust.

Blue Danube opens the film, plays while shots of native and nature images appear. We think the tune is an odd musical score. Then we confirm it’s diegetic, the sound coming from Lolo Kadyo’s turntable. That sequence creates a visual and aural dissonance which confirms the hypocrisy of the owner of the player. It hints and supports Kadyo’s position of  superiority, of his pretense of having ‘culture’, yet he has punctuated the end of that orchestral piece with his quick, short pelvic thrusts  foreshadowing his  barbarism.

We have already been set to be suspicious. We confirm that Kadyo is protective of his grandaughter, but only does so to prepare her for his time of ‘plucking’ and ‘reaping.’ The visiting priest, in an implied  part of the confession scene, ‘fortuitously’ forbids Isla to allow her grandfather to consummate his advances. He fills the young woman’s mind with the idea that God will never forgive her if she lets it happen, burdens her with guilt despite being the victim, poisons  her mind with a selective, shackling, even a perverted kind of morality. We will know that the priest has his devilish motives.

Soon enough Isla is shown using her body to help fulfill her dream to leave. She has seduced a schoolteacher, gets entangled with a cuckolded husband who is an infidel himself, approaches the chief of police and barters her body for the trip, and finally thinks she has found genuine love and salvation, however briefly, in the arms of an asthmatic NPA member. She loses her virginity, gets kissed and had her breasts fondled. Sadly, nothing comes out of these sacrifices and peddling. Isla is cursed to be trapped in that island.

Clear is the movie’s socio-political message and it may well be classed with the overt protest films of the period by Bernal, Brocka or Mike de Leon. It allegorizes a country’s people silenced for years despite the abuses of her colonizers.  At that time, pre-Edsa revolt, it presents a people seemingly acquiescent to an incestuous relationship with her dictator.

I have waited for an emotional high we usually expect from a pretty straightforward or linear storytelling, but it doesn’t come. A slight edit would have done the trick.  If we learn of the incestuous relationship much later, and similarly, if Isla reveals towards the end that she also wants to leave because she wants to search for her parents, it would have drastically changed the impact . We would have wondered longer what it is which drives her to act desperate to the point of having her body as payment just like that. When those secrets are revealed at the crucial time, it would feel like a literal stab at the heart.

Isla is a movie of note for its boldness, for its important underlying message, and for its aesthetic values. You’ll also find out out how sharp to listen to a Tagalog word is the first time Isla admits to the chief of police and to her grandparents that she had sex with a man. You’ll also be able to validate one of its themes in the words of Kadyo to Isla, when he says, “Hindi kita kinamkam.”

Men who have close encounters with our protagonist either disappear or die after. Unlike the blind hobo. He masturbates to orgasm near the beach midway through the story, harmless and unknowing that Isla watches him writhe with pleasure. One brief segment, he’s gone, and then later, he shows up again and creates guttural off notes, tries to mimic the sound of a rusty trumpet but succeeds in sounding closer to the noise created by a hen being strangled. When he’s out of sight, we’re assured he’s someplace, happy, ‘horning’ in his self-contained world.

Till We Meet Again (Elwood Perez, 1985)

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Till We Meet Again is an emotional roller-coaster ride caused by events which happen at an admirable pace. You forget to question the logic and coincidences right there and then and to belittle the seemingly overused plot and themes, a compendium of poor vs rich, rags-to-riches tale, evil martriach controlling the affairs of her son who’s in love with a woman the daughter of a household help. The woman is Theresa, played by Nora Aunor. The movie must have one of her most prolonged screen kisses of all time.

It moves and entertains you unlike what many Star Cinema rom-coms superficially do. It’s primarily the combined skills of the director, editor, writers, and actors which make this romance genre piece energeic, the film, not overt in displaying its deeper significance which lie within its commercial and melodramatic virtues.

It opens with a montage of the characters of Aunor and Tirso Cruz III (Pocholo) as childhood friends growing up together, becoming sweethearts, while the theme song Till We Meet Again sung by the same loveteam plays on the background. The pair’s vocal harmonies are so good to listen to and the pop ballad is a strong piece like many classic movie theme songs I’m thinking it should’ve been part of an album compilation or should be considered for re-release. There’s no question that fans, even those who were just curious then to brave the queues during the movie’s theater run, must have fought hard–and lost–against the movie’s spell which caused them to swoon then go home dreamy and wasted in screaming with joy, probably sated even if they  had only watched that opening montage alone.

Later, after the lovers are separated by fate and lies, they meet again, bookmarked by that ingenious short strip in a restaurant where Theresa sings a few lines of the theme song, flanked by the pianist she calls Willy (Was it Willy Cruz?). Pocholo asks a lady he first bumps into in the same place if the woman he sees (and must have heard singing) is the establishment’s resident lady-crooner. Surprising to hear the question asked when in fact never did Theresa sing in any previous scene in the film. The clip hints at the movie’s playful self-awareness and teases and delights us of our knowledge of the lead actress’s other exceptional talent.

The actors’ performances are made up of the right balance of hysterics and underacting. Armida Siguion-Reyna and Dina Bonnevie are a perfect foil of self-combusting furies to Aunor’s subdued yet devastating replies and glances.
Clocking at more than two hours, the story happening probably in a span of 6 or 7 years ( excluding the opening sequence), the movie rivals Perez’s other classic Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit in terms of emotional power and scope. Nora Aunor represents again strongly in one symbolic scene the marginalized class with that long shot silhoutte of her and a water buffalo one night, tilling a piece of farmland, while her baby is in a crib alone in their shack, crying, hungry. Poverty convincingly sounded primal and painful at the same time. Scenes exemplifying a mother’s true and selfless love, more heartbreaking and intense than these aforementioned images, ensue.

Tuos (Derick Cabrido, 2016)

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Barbie Forteza as Dowokan, the next-in-line binukot princess in the movie magic-realist drama Tuos (The Pact), disobeys and ‘tampers’ herself and the glory and ‘privilege’ attached to her fate. Such ‘misstep’ or action puts Pina-ilog’s (Nora Aunor) life in peril, the tribe’s reigning princess, which forces Nora to fight later the nature spirits that have enshrined and have safeguarded the sanctity of such position.

It’s somehow a cruel fate to be cloistered inside a hut, barely touched by humans except by serf maidens’ hands and with mostly the cold, beautifully beaded and woven linen of ceremonial dresses having contact with the body. Vanity could be prized by some women, and I guess acceptable amounts of self-love and -admiration is necessary. To stay alluring and attractive even for one’s own eyes is at a certain degree tolerable. But in Dowokan’s case being lavished with gifts for her beauty and being put to a pedestal to be stared at by her tribesmen for years doesn’t matter much. The pervasive nature of different cultures and the onslaught and accessibility of media, must have altered her tastes and must have been influential for her to have the gall to question an esteemed tradition, and must have heightened her primal instincts and passions, especially such boldness to test that early how it feels to love and to break the ‘pact.’Dowokan’s initial intransigence puts to the spotlight again the need to analyze the cultural and traditional role of women, in this particular case presented more like a bane, especially if we take cue from that childlike and spirited hops of Pina-ilog on the beach towards the end, and the projection of the nature spirit as a sexual punitive demigod-beast.

In this movie Forteza’s character is presented in a series of scenes hence more ‘relatable,’ easier to follow, her actions and reactions laid in a simple story arc. Our understanding of Pina-ilog on the other hand is hampered by the fact that she is presented in pieces, in clues, which I would say is a deft strategy of the plot and direction and in consonance with the mystical nature of her character. Some thought that that cold birdlike eyes of Aunor, probing and staring at Forteza framed on the other mirror, is mere majestic visual accident? No, if they recall it after seeing later Pina-ilog’s ‘reminiscence,’ they would have understood why she stared at Dowokan with a little tinge-mix of dread and anger then. Some should have felt and understood why Pina-ilog, bedridden, had to utter upon waking up from a bad dream her granddaughter’s words with a certain degree of trepidity; but they didn’t, because comprehension happens towards the end, and only in re-watch would they have appreciated that, that at-the-moment’s grandmother’s fear, crushed spirit, which also must have partially caused her sickness.

Despite their initial mis-appreciations, who could forget that enchanting hawk dance of Aunor, trampling other dance scenes in Philippine cinema in regard to impact. There is no striptease there, only a woman garbed in traditional tribal mandarin  dress, with arms stretched as if readying to fly, regal with each step. When the camera moves to close-ups of her face and does a circular dolly track shot , we gasp and our hearts flutter at the different shades of the face aged with wisdom and grace, lighted and shaded,  the figure absorbing all the warmth, magic and energy around her, and immediately returns to us mini-explosions of her own magic. In the seeming interminable minutes of the sequence, we don’t complain. We are happy to be intoxicated and we recover thankful for the much needed internal mini paroxysms.

Tuos is a new Filipino film classic. Cabrido’s hands are certain here. Under his direction, the various elements of the movie complement each other, from the opening drably-lit but textured cinematography and production design in the day scenes, to the gloriously lamp-lit night scenes where the facial expressions, the geometric details on clothes, the preciousness of jewelry and headdress, create a filmic wealth of moments that underscore the uniqueness of our tribe and culture. The suture between reality and animation is unnoticeable, the snippets of instrument-playing, and chants and what could be diegetic sounds from the rustling of leaves and branches, to the little cries of animals and insects, further strengthen the transitions.

With this movie, Nora Aunor steadily solidifies again a new set of body of works apart from an already impressive and enviable filmography. This time the accretion is measured not in terms of the popular label or tag like ‘Noranian moment’ but with the way she consistently disappears as a movie star and actress into her role and then unleashes a little of that star power when necessary. It’s proof that she has truly become better with age. She acts more subtly, more effective here like with that slow inverted arc of her lips in the final scene at the beach, and with gestures and nuances of her body projecting a memorable composite expression of freedom, digging up, from the deep waters of her past and from her more recent ‘errors,’ sympathy, pain, and richness of feeling, a certain group of the rich and elite could only view and admire from a distance because they are afraid to lose their precious wealth and status and their furtive brand of discrimination. Some of their kind are usually the ones who mistake this artist’s recent contributions (and roles) as minor when in reality they are otherwise.

Dukot (Paul Soriano, 2016)

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Dukot opens too disjointed too long, with an obvious intention to perplex. When it finally allows us to connect images and to make sense of things, it poses to tackle a parallel story development: that of a well-off family and that of a family of crooks. Most of the time, related acts from the then unfamiliar individuals serve as transition scenes between the two different worlds, like two people from different locations holding a glass of alcoholic drink. So a birthday celebration in a mansion happens here, a preparation for a crime where gin bottles lie at the table’s center, there.

Soon things become clear that those are set to contrast millieus and provide the background drama before the central incident happens: The kidnapping of Carlo Sandoval (Enrique Gil). The robbers will demand ransom from the Sandoval family whose father has stolen money  too from the government agency he works for. The movie will provide details of the negotiations, how the family of the victim try to cope up with the ordeal, and in passing, to what extent are the kidnapper’s family complicit to the crime.

A thriller, the movie boasts of suspense-inducing ambient sounds, quick cuts to speed up the action, sometimes dizzying but functional use and stringing of different shots for shifts in visual distance, familial and group tensions, and a decent cast to give life and make the movie more heart-wrenching. Bing Pimentel, Ricky Davao, and Enrique Gil particularly stand out.

Aerial view shots of the getaway cars traversing the highways, through the forested areas, until they stop beside a small bungalow in a faraway town, and the frequency of cuts and the many cameras used, impress and speak of the movie being well-financed.

The cinematography is sleek. The criminals also look cool, like from Now You See Me, looking presentable even in plain shorts, shirts, and sando. That’s why deglamorizing Christopher de Leon is an overkill. He sticks out, out of place in the gang of goodlooking criminals, his star power initially unnaturally neutered. I believe he’s capable of restraint  and he could tone down his performance like what he has proven here, without the unneccesary ‘transmogrification.’ We get used to him looking like that. He ‘disappears’ for a while. But we sense he holds a special, pivotal role. As the movie proceeds, our suspicion on his importance is confirmed.

I’ve not finished Paul Soriano’s Kid Kulafu and have seen only the trailer of Thelma. With what I’ve seen, he seems to be competent enough. Dukot, making me recall Honor Thy Father in many ways, is well-made. The action escalates to its right places until we are all tears from mixed feelings of pity, shock, and fear, probably for fear that the story might not end quietly celebratory as how it has turned out.

But then after the emotional impact, when our tenseness ebb down or stabilize, a few hours later, we realize and sense a lack in it, a missed opportunity for the  film to be great.

It must be the scene showing the tattoo design and its explicit connection with a prayer in a scene that has preceded it, which looks contrived and preachy appearing in the crucial frame. Also the one where Christopher de Leon washes his face or body in the water from a lake in the middle of the forest, is another choice that weakens the movie. It doesn’t perfectly fit, hinting or symbolizing a quasi-religious experience that in retrospect feels like it came from nowhere, unearned. Most importantly, the movie lacks a naturalness, a solid mise en scene, a singular spirit to transcend the assessment of the movie of being a mere respectable directorial exercise.

I think it was a perfect decision to cast Enrique Gil as victim. His European features, the monochrome color of most of the close-ups of his face, and him subjected to mental and physical torture, makes me suspect that Soriano might have tried to do an ambitious homage to Renee Falconetti’s performance in Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. To find that connection makes the director’s effort praiseworthy enough. But his frames are too clean and slick, too structured and composed, that sometimes they call attention to themselves and compete with the essence of images, that the transference of the victim’s suffering to us doesn’t go too deep beyond the initial surface hurt.

Ma’ Rosa (Brilliante Ma Mendoza, 2016)

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Ma’Rosa is a slice of life movie of a family caught victim in a chain of corruption. Mud-brown is the film’s dominant color. We see its various gradations everywhere: clothes, dirtied shoes, hair dye. We rarely notice the glorious sunlight. No character is seen awaiting the sunrise and sunsets. There is no space or opportunity to do it in the alleyways, where shabbily constructed houses cover the horizon, or to do it on streets where a mongrel might be defecating at a corner, where sacks of wastes and little mountains of plastics and empty soy sauce bottles, scraps of instant noodle pillow packs pile up under lampposts, ready to be swept to clog the shallow drainage, when they’re present, when a heavy rain arrives.

Brown and mustard colored patched shirts, low yellow painted concrete fences–there is this shortage of image which you can describe as beautiful. Except that one scene, that one frame of Andi Eigenmann as Rosa’s daughter looking fresh and innocent the first time she appears to solicit money. Beyond that there’s nothing more. You hear the name of a flower Dahlia, but it’s just a moniker of a bullied young homosexual who lives in the office with the brute group of police-scalawags, as if he’s accepted his fate to be errand boy and to be embarrassed to survive.

Jaclyn Jose is Rosa Reyes. Ma’Rosa. Punk wearing that Kiss t-shirt. “Laklak”, an alcoholic’s anthem, plays in the videoke and is sung by young men, pitchy, obviously drunk. The song hovers in the background before Rosa and her son reach their house. A sari-sari store fronts it. The Reyes family sell in retail those goods they bought from a bigger house of merchandise. They also sell drugs.

It is not rock and roll you find in the chaos, dampness and the feel of a dog-eat-dog community. Sex is probably easy to be had. You could barter it with something like a shot of “ice” or you could set your price. Haggle with a customer. Because here such means to live too could be mistaken with a taste of compassion and love. Surely, it’s also a way to forget.

The same night, Rosa and her husband are apprehended in their house for selling meth. They’re questioned by operatives, locked inside a police station’s basement, with the policemen taking turns in shaming the couple and testing the efficacy of their scare tactics. The family will have to produce fifty-thousand pesos in exchange of freedom,  with this ransom, with this illegal settlement. Rosa’s three kids will have to be responsible to collect the sum from friends, relatives and ‘trade partners.’

Director Brilliante Mendoza succeeds again in letting his imprint out in this film. He makes his audience see the larger story in his lean script, in his docu-style treatment, with the use of details, in the repetitiveness of actions, like in making  regular walking-trips, captured in tracking shots look like a ritual. Hand-held cameras are again used by Oddyssey Flores to create that grit, making us a little dizzy and giving us a raw taste of a small underworld, away from our semi-perfect and peaceful enclaves. The characters are again drenched by rain at some point. The car windows are dotted by raindrops. In one scene, the vehicles’ headlights flash on a car, through that glass on to a spot in the backseat:  Jaclyn Jose’s face, alternately highlighted and hid. Her weariness and worries are displayed despite the character’s effort to stay composed. In another shot, a young lady is captured by the camera with an obvious accidental slip. Allan Paule reappears for a few scenes reprising his gay role in Masahista.

The intrusive role of the camera, its omniscience, transports us to where the action is. We become not just eavesdroppers and kibitzers, but direct yet silent participants. We smell the blood. We feel the limp and crisp peso bills. The story being no fresh news, this version of fact still suffocates, with layers of corruption and depravity of individuals, from the smallest to the bigger beneficiaries in the greedy chain–their postures and deeds are sickening.

Evil is up close. We recognize each form and shape of it. We’ve met them in our neighborhood, in our police outposts. We’ve sat close to someone inside a jeepney who flips his false teeth inside his mouth while staring at a woman passenger whom he desires to rape or steal from. A member of Dura-dura gang high on drugs at 6 a.m. One even resembles a brother or a sister, you need to move your eyes away from the violence and reality or you need to go to the theater’s restroom to breathe the smell of soap or detergent. Yes, it is respite there in this circumstance.

But you don’t leave your seat as you don’t want to miss Jaclyn Jose’s much-heralded performance. A Mendoza film ends when you least expect it, and you don’t want to take a break when that moment is soon. So you wait. Patiently. True enough, after many characters have kept their emotions in check for long despite different scenes and modes of oppression and prostitution–these victims hardened by poverty, groomed in a dark, bare, and drably colored environment–Rosa appears before the movie closes, eating fishballs. She quickly chews the street-food with all the strength her jaw could muster, against the mockery of some people who were seemingly powerless against her before. She sees a portrait of a happy family closing their ambulant store. She is shamed, tired, envious, hungry. She has bottled up all those  feelings for hours and she hears her spirit crack. Her interior is about to crumble.

Ma’ Rosa has skewered for us hers and our memories of poverty and survival that in the end, no amount of suffering and bad experiences excuses us to be apathetic. At the back of Rosa’s mind it is perhaps this impending collapse which is harder to swallow. Shedding tears must have become in the past an act, a strategy to protect and to disarm, like in Mendoza’s similarly-themed and ‘grander-scaled’ movie Tirador where we remember a couple who cried and begged not to be turned over to the police after they were caught stealing a DVD player. This time though, the pain cannot be controlled. The piled up baggage in a span of a few hours is much for Rosa to hold, to hold back her tears, that when she transfers them to us in the last flickers of the film–they are too heavy, she succeeds in breaking our hearts.

Love Me Tomorrow (Gino Santos, 2016)

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Why did Love Me Tomorrow rake in millions at the box-office? Was it because of the surprise appearances? Did people find the movie refreshing because of the rave and beach party scenes in it? Were they reminded of the mechaclone The Prince in Bioman when they saw Tim Yap?

It’s a glossy world and the movie’s technical aspects did not belie that fact. It’s actually showy too about how generation Y-ish it was, with scenes of the main characters using a gadget, having three-way video-chatting, and similarly, in somehow pimp-spotting Spotify.

Most of Carole King’s fans might not like the disco treatment of their idol’s classic ballad in the movie though. But Dawn Zulueta as Christy tried and expressed her appreciation for it. She slightly enlarged her eyes with wonder in response to a pouty-lipped Piolo Pascual’s  DJ disc-spinning JC, who twisted and turned the song danceable that time with his console, blasting Christy’s fave to the public as a declaration of his love.

Such gesture would sure flatter any woman, especially Christy, who had been a widow for more than a year, had two children overseas too independent, too old enough to agree to be cuddled. She had no one but a dog in their house and a household help. The offer to have an affair was not a bad proposition. Why not she’s not cheating on a spouse unlike her horny newfound batchmate friend played by Carmi Martin. Knitting and gazing at spools of threads and piles of linen would not be her only preoccupation anymore. At night she had the option to have a stake ordered then served upon her boytoy’s abs.

Things were slowly heating up until the distractions. After the get-to-know-you phase, the movie dragged on, lost focus. The relationship felt to have turned into a mere accident and each of the lovers went their own way, with facing their personal issues or entanglements becoming top priority. Never did the couple go someplace far, like OOC or Ilocos Norte to celebrate and fortify their togetherness. There was no montage with them in the park, HHWW, no Christy with queenbee shades looking stylish and JC with  tight-fitting Topman shirt on, not wearing a nipple tape underneath. There were no more sex after the tender lovemaking they had, no raunchy or even naughty scenes that would show how passionate they were for each other. I mean what’s the point in showing us something that was neither a showcase of a memorable romance nor a  rendering of great love ?

Apparently, Christy was not thinking long-term with her new relationship. She might smirk or play deaf if in case JC would propose to hire a surrogate mother to carry their baby like what the Belo couple did.  She didn’t even think of adopting but JC did. They mostly talked. In this case where there was already that burden to create a sexual-romantic connection, to convince us that there was something really special between them, words weren’t enough.

The affair looked doomed midway the movie. No forever. No catfights and impassioned exchanges after Christy saw her boyfriend kissing his fuck buddy. Most of the time, Dawn projected her character as someone sure and composed despite the ‘complications’, rich and still a stunner at age 50. She didn’t look like she’s enamored with him. Her words particularly lacked intensity, flirtatiousness and desire when she spoke with him, so that there was a big part in us which didn’t care in some supposedly crucial moment, like their breakup. There when Christy said she loved JC as he was crying buckets of tears, we were tempted to shout Liar. But it’s Dawn. We remembered her wearing ternos in the State of the Nation Addresses and Vin d’honneurs, which doused our hotheadedness and flabbergastation.

It was a relief that the cameo appearances happened–a nice break and a quick scene to terminate a dragging, aimless second act and a lame climax. The 90’s showbiz couple which approximated the essence of those Harlequin Romance novel covers in local movie release still delivered thrills and must be the one many people had talked about. Viewers still found exciting cinematic possibilities in that team-up.

Just The 3 of Us ( Cathy Garcia-Molina, 2016)

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One day I just got curious if watching another rom-com movie would make my cheeks fluster, that was despite the andropausal hot flashes and the vestiges of a bitter traumatic breakup. I had high hopes it would happen specially with the news of a movie of a once dreamed-of pairing. Two of the hottest rom-com stars. I was able to watch their team-up finally, and it was just o.k.

Jennilyn Mercado as CJ Manalo had this persistence to require John Lloyd Cruz’s Uno Abusado to support her pregnancy, which was a result of their one-time big-time sex in the restroom of a bar. It’s one unusual place to procreate but that was not extraordinary to happen. Captain Uno initially showed a ‘pretense’ of apathy towards the mother-to-be, but John Lloyd eventually shape-shifted into the kind of lover boy whom we are familiar with based on his old outputs (plok!). Some distractions and complications in the middle. Then the pair got reunited, with ‘airplanes’ around them crashing one by one, ‘fittingly’ when the movie ‘Just The 3 of Us’ ended. The crashes neither emitted nor transferred heat to me since the expected ‘explosions’ didn’t come.

This is not to say that the movie was incapable of eliciting laughter, tears, and wonder. It was. The change of setting was commendable too. Airports. Pilots. FA’s arriving and departing. The psychological and social make-up of the would-be-lovers though struck us as not different from what we already knew would come from Star Cinema. Some said it’s a rehash. What drastic change was there to expect from a director and a movie outfit focused on one genre? The change of physical milieu was fine, but I guess it’s not really the surface change that was flawed.

Jennilyn appeared to be in another effortless reincarnation of her previous roles, this time with a ‘baby in her womb.’ We wouldn’t have believed because her tummy never enlarged, but the pregnancy was confimed by the doctor so nothing misleading there. She was endearing, a little silly. She wore wigs also, again, making me think what that ubiquitous items symbolize in Cathy Garcia-Molina’s filmography. Is the director elevating her women to the level of barristers? Ha. Does it underscore the ‘truth’ about this movie, that it is indeed a fairytale? Or are their presence mere authorial stamp?

For John Lloyd, I read that many found his Uno Abusado another well-handled and -emoted character. Probably. ‘Perfection’ achieved through habituation. Perfect that his unmistakable boyish charm felt overused already, not different whether it’s a Sarah Geronimo, Bea Alonso, Angel Locsin or Luis Manzano who faces him. It’s not actually a character I saw portrayed by him but it’s John Lloyd acting instead, projecting his star quality, at times delivering a type of acting for TV, with a tinge of fakery, of trying to be cute. His style and delivery of dramatic lines were no different from his ‘heavy’ moments in his other Rom-com stints. I thought I even heard him recite, recycle or repeat an old dialogue. One of those negatively impacting deja vu moments.

How his character’s family background was disclosed was a surprise though. The way Garcia-Molina hid that secret until the day when Uno had to let his hurt out to his unwitting hero-antagonist, was done expertly. The father-son drama was sufficient enough to complicate John Lloyd’s character. Its effects were established at the onset that when we finally learn about his pain’s source, we understand him more. It clarified his previous actions. The other extraneous and unnecessary addition, the one which was supposed to balance things out and add conflict to the relatonship and put some pressure on Jen’s character didn’t fit the movie well.

When Baron Geisler appeared, the movie reared it’s biggest flaw. It shifted to the opposite of what could be an amiable audience reaction overall. His entrance felt like an afterthought, as if it was added to increase the screen duration and to set up more dramatic highlights. Or it must be because it was Baron. We already knew his purpose. He was too black and white, obviously evil. Some actor who looked harmless would have perfectly slid into the story, without the unnecessary jolt. With Baron, the storyteller and viewer’s connection and trust felt breached. We became suspicious of what’s next from then on. Good thing the movie was really about to end.

How could I forget an incident, inside an FX taxi. Seated behind me was a talkative teenage girl who looked and acted like someone who just had her first-time trip to Mandaluyong. She was jolly until after thirty minutes of travel time elapsed. Then I heard her scurry which was followed by the rustling of plastic. She let out tempered sounds, cries like from an animal being bled or cut into half, slightly muffled quacks. A whiff of the pungent smell of spoiled cheese and vinegarish spaghetti sauce permeated the air for about two minutes afterwards. I fainted.

Then this dream sequence. Baron Geisler loomed uninvited in one birthday party dressed like Captain Hook-slash-Jack Sparrow. He asked around if we saw his mother Wendy–we were inside a branch of a famous fast-food chain of the same name. When he didn’t find who he was looking for, he slammed open a plastic vat half filled with liquid, and as a result splattered almost everyone in the area with catsup.

The movie was like that,  fun with some sour and offensive parts. It didn’t sponsor a story that would, without force, disbelief, and doubt, lead us into falling in love.


Whistleblower (Adolf Alix, 2016)

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Filigree designed-covered sofa, tiger printed blouses, and rich, dangerous women welcome Zeny Roblado (Nora Aunor) on the first batch of many flashbacks. They’re inside a mansion which we can ascribe to be symbol of a jungle, the women assessing their strengths against others, sensing which ones belong to the pack of predators, which ones belong to the prey. It’s also the time that Lorna Valera (Cherry Pie Picache) gets to scan a seemingly sheepish character of Aunor. She skins her with her gaze. She must be dreaming of future conquests with that poor accountant, that woman a few class below her but definitely has worth based on the buzz. Zeny on the other hand is not a kid in the field of falsification. She has done exceptionally on small-time ‘tasks’ before that day. Fate would be ‘good’ to her and place her a bit higher in the order of thievery. In no time she becomes an important part of a silent gargantuan monster-machine which is weaned by and which milks the nation’s udder-coffers.

But not everything runs smoothly in a scam hatched by the powerful men and labored by pawns in the movie Whistleblower. At some point, someone would become dissatisfied with how the sharing of profits is done. Or someone becomes too nerve-wracked by his personal issues that anytime he could endanger the business. Someone has to go, the bosses contemplate. It isn’t easy though and things go out hand. Zeny is locked up. The NBI rescues her. She speaks to a member of media and starts a short circus that caught the whole nation by surprise, the same way Benhur Luy exposed who Janet Lim Napoles was and her role in the pork barrel controversy.

Whistleblower is a curious kind of film. A political-thriller-slash-satire. The satire is in the stylized acting of Cherry Pie and her friends, the manner the politician Laurice Guillen delivers her lines, the slow cadence of her voice and her deceitful inflections. We’ve heard words like ‘Mabagal ang gobyernong ito” (This government is slow) which is a dig at the Aquino regime. And then, the mocking tone of Vangie Labalan when she calls Zeny a ‘golden goose’–it sounds like it came from someone who relished the thought that she had stolen someone else’s orgasm.

As a thriller it fails and the ‘failure’ feels deliberate. The backstories and flashbacks are too many and slow down the action. The choice to desaturate to a gray-violet monochrome sucked pale most of the flashback scenes blood, kind of appropriate since it’s generally a story of vampires–the flashbacks, their reminiscences. These further strengthens my theory that Alix Jr. aimed to redefine or create a cross-breed of some genres. Or am I making wild justifications for him to cover the weakness and failure of his intention and design?

The exciting, unquestionably laudable element of this movie though are the performances. The actors are good, almost all of them.

Nora leads the pack and does very well again for the nth time here. She presents a ‘darker shade’ of a woman, deceptively easy in her execution of character. While her Mabuti is all goodness, and Mara Fabre is a prisoner of her traumatic past, this time Aunor breathes life into a creature that looks manipulated but is also scheming, a woman so subtle a social climber, unlike your most hated or most envied ________, that we also wonder what her sense of morality is. Yet when we see those slightly tilted-low-angle shots of her looking at the TV screen inside a safe house, we sense a pensiveness rarely captured by a movie frame. It’s as if the whole world then is on her shoulders, seeing her ex-boss utter another lie. Does seeing Lorna make her seethe with anger remembering how she was locked up for days? Is she afraid for her life? For her family? Or is she being bugged by her conscience having realized the magnitude of her evil deeds?

It’s this ambiguity, the contradictions that Aunor’s face could easily summon from the depths of her experiences in life that amaze us. What could be torturous internalization for another actor is effortless venture for her. She claims the assigned persona with conviction. That’s why she’s an indelible presence on screen. We can’t take our eyes away from her even if she’s just on the background, even in long shots with a crowd, we still see her. In one scene where Cherry Pie announces her bonus to her employees, check Ms. Picache’s  face with her wide-teethed devilish smile against Nora’s. Despite the former’s foreground position and size in the frame, the latter on her right side with those prideful eyes still stands out. In another scene, Nora’s pair of lovely pearl earrings, probably even if they were as big and as popular as Imelda Marcos’s Pearl in the Bow Brooch shining against her dark skin, remains accessories, never even coming close to stealing the attention away from the actress’s highly-praised globules and her as usual brilliant performance.

How Whistleblower performed at the tills also seems to be a reflection of the masses’ disinterest in its real-life counterpart. Not many talk about Napoles now. We don’t feel as angry as before about the hoodlums who had plundered the big taxes that are regularly excised from our salary. This sorry truth is validation of our weak memory. Yes, it’s okay if it will take years for the wheels of justice to grind and put the criminals behind bars, that when the time comes when one is convicted, some form of humanitarian consideration could be given to him thy old evil man. Generally like some well-publicized cases involving the rich and powerful, and in the pork barrel case with much of our stolen money being used by the ‘suspects’ to defend themselves in court against us, with a hired high salaried lawyer donning a sharply-pointed-ended moustache, it’s not far-fetched to have another case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

Inglorious Basterds (2009)

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inglorious basterds





Inglorious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s ode to Hammurabi, a story that pits the historical to his fictional genocide. He has created a lovely woman who shares his interest, a cinema operator-owner who turns self-sacrificial to avenge her loved ones, most lovely in the scene where she wears red in a premiere of a German film screens in her theater.

Before that German movie opens though, the camera captures the woman viewing the Nazi members below from her cinema’s balcony. Her left cheek is softly lit but her anterior outline is prominent. Her reflection on the circular glass window is cast, a romantic it evokes. When the camera zooms in on her in slow-mo, we hear a James Bond-sounding musical score.

Another story thread, that of a group of U.S. spies and Jewish commandos who share the lady’s goal, is present. These basterds aim to exterminate the Nazi leaders and generals, to torture them first to make them ‘sing’ to know more about the other’s whereabouts and stop them. What best strategies would Tarantino’s fictional armed group employ? They will scrape the skin of victims’ heads like a salute to Salo, which must have been inspired by the practices during the Inquisition. They will beat the captives’ heads to a pulp with a baseball bat.

There’s this extreme long shot of a Jewish girl escaping a massacre. Also there’s a quick close-up clip of a man whose frame is somehow similar to one in Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence. The man’s right eye bleeds like a pinched egg yolk. Blood drips on his cheeks like chocolate syrup. These are violently staged and pregnant scenes, but beautifully executed themselves.

So much creative energy is spent on these juxtapositions of compositional beauty and gore, that in the climax, when the bullets demolish the lovely projectionist’s body, it’s not blood that splatter but strips of petals that shoot like blasted confetti which we see.

We want to celebrate with the woman’s triumph by that time. We shout, surprised with the manner the scenes were arranged to reach that high moment. Nazi members scurrying to escape like cockroaches. Rain of bullets in Hitler’s chest.

It’s given us a weird satisfying feeling because we know our history. The dialogue exchanges, the presentation, and the instances where characters act caricaturish make us laugh sometimes. But the deep realization after, similarly with other good black comedies, is, it’s not all fun watching this. The movie disturbs. It intensifies our awareness and sensitivity in dealing with people, that is, after a string of shocking scenes, despite a seemingly implicit goal with its violence to desensitize us.


Always Be My Maybe (Dan Villegas, 2016)

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Always be my Maybe
Director: Dan Villegas
Year of Release: 2016




Tintin, Arci Munoz’s character in the movie Always Be My Maybe, broke the fourth wall somewhere in the first few minutes of the film, speaking, from an uploaded youtube video, to Jake (Gerald Anderson) and to the rest of the audience about make-up and simultaneously about breakup, like a classier Pastillas Girl. She initially seemed a little kooky, yet we’d get to know her to be sweet and endearing and honest and candid. Name it: sex, one-night stands, ‘balls’, motel. She was not going to blush hearing those words. She’s game in using them in fact. Being upfront and probably careless to be proclaimed whore by conservatives if they see her approach a man, see her ask him to drink with her, and see her flaunt those spotless milky white cleavage at night to a guy who’s emotional, recovering from his brokenheartedness, and who’s handsome and drunk, it’s not far that they’d stone her to death the morning after. The male species on the other hand, dry from ST and titillating treats of cinemas for years, must be impelled to tease Gerald for the missed opportunity, for letting such a White Castle girl worthy beauty just leave his side without even getting a ‘score’ that same day. He should’ve proven himself what his character was and should’ve not just given us a lecture and a differentiation between Love and Sex. Bakit di pa niya tinuka ang palay?  But. Gerald Anderson’s Jake must have been cracked and traumatized with his recently being dumped by his ex. And Arci’s Tintin, despite her scrapping the Maria Clara image, it didn’t make herself less of a person–a woman  who is simply being herself deserves respect. Jake proved to be that kind of guy who wouldn’t do things without consensus.

Dan Villegas took this nice directorial journey from a rural, coming-of-age romance-drama Mayohan up to this contemporary urban romance-comedy. Switching between restaurants, bars and offices, his new movie made us  witnesses to a lot of friends’ and lover’s talks. There were enough small happenings to keep the pace of the movie not sleep-inducing during those conversations. Aside from the funny and captivating dialogues, there were…cockroaches on soups, Yakuza tattoo on Arci’s back, the sound of moans from a sex video scandal which came from Gerald’s laptop and… sashimi on the mountains haha to keep us awake in case we were too impatient and we sensed a ‘lack of movement’. But even the facial expressions were enough to hook us, the gestures were spot on. The feelings were true and romance bloomed unlike this in a long time in local movies that we welcomed its packaged verisimilitude.

The best parts were the ones where the attraction developed into something more serious before our eyes, which was really the whole journey from the time the couple meet, up to the end. And that was what’s great. We discovered who the characters were in the exchanges.We were there with them. We saw their actions and sensed their emotions and found them in a restaurant, discussing what’s true or shitty, like jealousy, like lack of trust,  and we knew that each of this moviestar couple had really truly madly fallen in love in real life, obvious when we scanned their faces. In what looked like some form of Jake’s soliloquy, we saw Gerald shed genuine tears. We were familiar with their fears to attempt to try  love anew. I knew the feeling of being punched in the chest and being torn apart and torn into pieces, resulting to having a torn shirt. I knew what walking on the streets with no destination felt, circling the Araneta Coliseum circumference by feet multiple times as if someone imaginary threw morsels of bread for me to follow until night until one guard stopped me and suspected me for someone plotting a midnight crime.

And then on the most intense of meetings where the truth had to be set free and the decisions had to be made, one must finally step forward and remove all those filters and let the mascara slightly fade. But she’s caught emotionally defenseless with how the exchanges turned out that time that giving a quick answer might be a dangerous thing and might result again to a misstep. End of climax.

Somewhere sometime at work or any place, he dreamed of her, saw her in Angel, Lorie, Lani. She was the person riding a motorcycle underneath that black tight-fitting overalls, with face hiding under the protective helmet. She was the one holding the camera, smiling, displaying those disarming dimples. When she smiled, she flashed a nice set of teeth ready to bite a red, red apple. Finally, she arrived carrying things expected of a wooing admirer, but he played a game of hard-to-get for a short time and he greeted her with the words: Where are my chocolates?

It was a perfect ending. A woman who technically had started the relationship was given the chance to resolve it with that simple gesture, of bringing things which were the ones she would have preferred to receive herself. And Tintin paid attention to what Jake once said. It didn’t matter where the place was–it didn’t have to be in the middle of a big ogling crowd or in an office building seeing the other buildings outside explode. It’s okay anytime. Of course it’s extra special if it were Valentines or his birthday or their monthsary, but really, any date would do. What mattered most was being with the right person. She only needed to ask and say the right words to make that crazy little thing called love certain.






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.





Lolita (1962, Stanley Kubrick)

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LolitaNubile Lolita, who looked ‘experienced’ despite the mask of her young age, flirtatious and sensual, and who would later prove to be materialistic, was introduced to us with a highlight of a chorus of bright beach California sounds to heighten our awareness of her, to intensify our desire to know her more after seeing her in her near-nakedness. She didn’t look like someone who just started to discover things like nests and hives. She projected a mien ready and confident of her powers to tease.

That was also how she struck Mr. Humbert. He was a professor looking for a place to rent. We identified with him. With him, we slowly developed a form of madness because of her seemingly innocent provocations. He chose to stay in her house because of her. Meanwhile, Lolita lived with her widow-mother who was as sexually needy as Lolita seemed to be but more conspicuous with her ‘advances’ with her future tenant, theatrical and comic in her display of affection, a little crazy and immoral like most of the mature characters in this movie who, basing on their innuendos, would have found ‘swinging’ as a natural way to beat boredom on a weekend.

Fate (and the old man’s patience) made Mr. Humbert and Lolita have an affair: Old man and young girl, father and daughter, Tarzan and Baby Jane, pedophile and ‘victim.’ An immoral one even by today’s standards, especially if you’re living in a generally Catholic nation. Shocking despite the clever ways the sexual relationship was hinted at. Read P.D. James’s Innocent Blood for a small but similarly ribald and shocking intimation.

It’s like a one male’s story, Mr. Humbert’s, his obsession with this girl. But on the fringes was another amazingly crazy male character whose importance would be revealed towards the end, after the long wait, after what looked like the movie’s prologue. Peter Sellers’s Mr. Quilty is an amazing creation. Was it patterned after Martin Scorsese? Genius, lisping, motormouth, rambling, with looping dialogues. The difference with the Raging Bull director was that this character had a unique charm of its own, and with a multiple personality disorder perhaps to have made those clever acting switches. It’s a dream role for an actor, a character conscious that he was taking on different guises.

He was introduced to us inside his mansion, with all those glitz and grandeur in helter-skelter, and it made us remember that great movie by Orson Welles. Mr. Quilty could be miserable after that devilish girl left him. He must have thought he could overcome his desire for her. But now he’s alone it was natural for him to really be insane. The first few moments Mr. Humbert enter Mr. Quilty’s place, at the top right side of the frame we found a chair covered with white linen at the high end of the staircase. It ached to add a bit of terror, a phantom. That must have been one of Lolita’s favorite spots when she’s in the mood to play her hollow games.