Friday, February 26, 2010

Wanted: Border (2009, Ray Defante Gibraltar)

Is it a masterpiece or not? I’ve seen Wanted: Border a couple of times but I’m still torn about my feelings for this unforgettable film. There are times when I deem it not worthy enough to be rated as one of the best films of 2009. But, there are those days when I consider it a masterpiece.

The films of Ray Gibraltar are mainly characterized by jumbled editing. This one-of-a-kind film straddles the thin lines between sanity and craziness, between the seven last words and the seven deadly sins, between excellent acting and bad performance, between the sacred and the profane, between a likable good film and a disturbing great film. The non-linear editing by Tara Illenberger is perfectly suited to the ‘border’ concept of the film. It gives viewers a glimpse of the unstable and volatile state of mind of the characters.

A plethora of disturbing characters pepper this film. An envious and greedy politician connives with a resident to spread vile rumors against a mother and her daughter Salvacion. The fatal lynching of her mother leaves the girl to fend for herself alone until she reaches adulthood. The young lady hooks up with a soldier assigned to torture and kill communists. This affair triggers her lust for blood.

As decades pass, Salvacion ‘Saleng’ Castro (Rosanna Roces) becomes an owner of an apartment/eatery. She is a religious fanatic who had a few conversations with God. Her apartment/eatery becomes some sort of haven to problematic people such as the gluttonous obese woman, slothful/lustful filmmaker, and the wrathful student.

Acidic black humor abounds in this film. The scenes with the imprisoned artist are a hoot. There is also the wicked scene involving a dildo and a lecherous stepfather. The campy acting of Roces serves as some relief from the dark and disturbing nature of the movie.

Roces is perfectly cast as Saleng. Her performance borders on greatness and campiness. There are some scenes in which she seems on the verge of laughter. Roces said that her ‘bad’ acting was ordered by director Gibraltar. She made her director proud. It is her best performance so far. It was a surprise to learn that Gibraltar initially thought of offering the lead to Ronnie Lazaro. The latter is a great actor but I think he would be too serious to give the film the desired ‘campiness.’ The proposed film with Lazaro will just end up being too dark and wicked.

Wanted: Border is a must-see film. It is remarkable for its vicious ability to have viewers identify with the sinful behavior of a character/s. It is up to the viewer to exorcise those personal demons or let them out in the open. As it is, Wanted: Border is a perfect movie to watch this Lent.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mano Po 5: Gua Ai Di (2006, Joel Lamangan)

There are still Chinese parents in the Philippines who strictly follow the tradition of pairing off their kids to fellow Chinese. The elders mean well when they keep up with tradition. They only want the best for the kids. But then, we hear stories of Chinese guys marrying Filipina girls. It might be because they have open-minded parents or they have enough courage to fight for their love. What is rare though is the case of a pure Chinese girl marrying a non-Chinese guy.

Mano Po 5 focuses on a forbidden love between a pure Chinese and a non-Chinese. Issues and problems of the Filipino-Chinese community have seen their fair share of screen time in Mother Lily Monteverde’s Mano Po films. While some of the films don’t deserve to be given the Filipino-Chinese slant, the fifth film of the series deals significantly with a uniquely Filipino-Chinese problem.

In this film, culinary student Charity Co (Angel Locsin) is unica hija of a pure Chinese couple. She gets fed up blind dating Chinese guys. One day, the beautiful lady catches the attention of a good-looking veterinarian at a mall. There is a spark that pushes the guy to chase the girl. In a contrived kilig moment, they even get to share an umbrella while rain pours. Soon enough, a montage features even more kilig moments for the couple.

Months pass before Charity gets the courage to present Filipino boyfriend Nathan (Richard Gutierrez) to her family. Nathan’s lack of Chinese ancestors is not only the obstacle that he has to hurdle. He is also born under the sign of Rooster, which in Chinese zodiac is not compatible with Charity’s animal sign Pig.

A bigger obstacle for Nathan is the return of Charity’s childhood friend, Timothy. The latter is well-known across Asia as singer Felix Yan. Successful, good-looking, and Chinese, he is the one that Charity’s mother Yolanda dreams of having as son-in-law. She cooks up a plan to get rid of Nathan.

The movie then follows the Star Cinema template for romance films. Boy and girl split up. Boy moves to a far away place. Time passes by. Boy returns and finds the girl still single. They reconcile. Happy ending… or is it happy ending only for box-office-focused producers such as Regal Films and Star Cinema?

Romance films are routinely made in our country. Several of them are generally well-made but the sad part is most romance films look the same. In order for romance films to really stand out they must have an interesting, intelligent storyline and should excel in most technical aspects of filmmaking.

Mother Lily Monteverde collaborated with several writers on the story of Mano Po 5. It is said that the Mano Po series shows autobiographical details of the Monteverde family. This film takes liberty with Mother Lily’s colorful romantic life. Mother Lily disobeyed her parents by marrying a non-traditionalist Chinese guy. Her parents disliked her husband because of his refusal to pay the dowry.

The film has a unique storyline but failed to show us why Chinese parents prefer Chinese partners for their kids. What is behind that tradition? Is it because of deep concern for a daughter’s future? Is it because of the dowry? Or is it something else? The script is also full of contrived situations. Several characters suddenly have a change of heart. I disliked the stereotyping of Yolanda, the mother of Charity who speaks in atrocious Tagalog. The film’s technical aspects are not something to brag about, too.

Films about the Filipino-Chinese experience have been wanting although I liked Chopsuey. This neglect may come to an end as Cinemalaya 2010 has Chinese-Filipino (Tsinoy) filmmaker Ian-Dean Loreñas as one of its finalist. His entry The Leaving deals with how Tsinoys confront the slow demise of their culture.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hospital Boat (2009, Arnel Mardoquio)

Cinema Rehiyon 2010 is an annual event highlighting films from the other Philippines. Filipino filmmakers have mostly replaced progressive singers such as Patatag, Inang Laya, and Joey Ayala in bringing out social issues to the open. Armed with digital video cameras and do-it-yourself ethos, local filmmakers churned out films that arouse social action and change through their depiction of the real conditions in their localities. Some of the films exhibited the past few days at Cultural Center of the Philippines were wonderful regional gems such as Wanted: Border, and Anacbanua. Event organizers Dr. Miguel Rapatan and Teddy Co did an excellent job selecting notable works of veteran and budding regional filmmakers such as Erik Matti and Christopher Gozum.

Arnel Mardoquio is a promising filmmaker/peace advocate from Mindanao. His films deal with the elusiveness of peace in the southern Philippine island. Hunghong Sa Yuta (2008) focuses on a deaf-mute boy’s dream of a world without war. It tells the story of lumads, Muslims, and Christians living together peacefully in a small community called Hinyok. It is a well-intentioned though overrated peace advocacy film. The clunky theatrical elements detract viewers from the message it wants to impart. The film somehow managed to nab a handful of nominations from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. The Urian award given to music scorer Popong Landero is well deserved, though.

On the other hand, Hospital Boat is one of the best films of 2009. Rarely seen after its world premiere at the Cinemalaya Cinco festival, the film is currently on a campus tour. Initially projected to be three hours long, it was edited down to 125 minutes in order to accommodate screening requests by school officials. Even in its shortened form, the film is already a potent and powerful movie. Music scoring and direction are top-notch.

One of the few films to directly deal with the evils of political warlordism, it chillingly prefigures the Maguindanao massacre of November 2009. A viewer during the Cinema Rehiyon 2010 screening of the film was surprised to learn that the movie was finished long before the massacre. The film depicts a fictional set of southern islands plagued by violence. The main purveyor of dark deeds is Muktar, half-brother of a Muslim congresswoman. He operates a gun-running business, trains child warriors for his private army, and holes up in a palatial fortress. Every one who disobeys him or gets in his way ends up being killed, mostly at his hands. He accepts dirty jobs for influential people.

A politician, wishing to earn the approval of the Americans, approaches Muktar. He wants the latter to convince a Muslim girl impregnated by an American soldier to go abroad. This scene alludes to the Nicole-Smith rape case. Another real-life event alluded in the film is the Ces Drilon kidnapping case. The violent acts are not only against women. Violence in this film is encompassing, ranging from senseless killings of people to violence against Earth. Conditions in Mindanao have been so dire and bloody that even religious people are left with no choice but to take up arms and do things they would not normally do.

Hospital Boat showed several possible paths to achieving peace and prosperity. It highlights the importance of education in improving the lot of people. The teenaged shaman returns to school. Another topic discussed is the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain. This is a thorny issue as it needs the amendment of the constitution to fully implement it. Mindanao also needs service-oriented leaders and dedicated workers. The title of the film refers to a boat commissioned by a tireless rural health worker Dr. Sittie. The appearance of the boat at the end of the film suggests that there is still hope for peace, healing and development in Mindanao.

I’m eagerly anticipating Mardoquio’s third feature-length film, Sheika, which is an entry to the Cinemalaya 2010 competition. If Mardoquio continues to get better in his craft, then Sheika will probably end up as most-awarded film. Other Cinemalaya finalists include Mindanaoan filmmakers, Sheron Dayoc and Gutierrez Mangansakan II. Exciting and refreshing stories await viewers at the Cinemalaya 2010.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rome & Juliet (2006, Connie Macatuno)

If you are itching to watch a film from the QueerLoveFest event at indieSine, then please consider Rome & Juliet. It is still one of the best products of the Cinema One Originals competition.

I remember watching this unusual romantic film on Valentine’s Day in 2007. The indieSine theater at Robinsons Movieworld Galleria was chock-full of lesbian couples of all sizes and types. The audience was generally quiet during the screening, but there were a few comments about the English subtitles. There was a smattering of applause at the end of the movie. The happy faces of exiting moviegoers say a lot about their approval of the debut film of Connie Macatuno.

The movie's premise is that love knows no gender. Juliet Flores (Andrea del Rosario) is a preschool teacher waiting and praying for the one who will be her life partner. She asks for a sign from God. To her surprise, her politician boyfriend Marc Villanueva (Rafael Rosell) asks her to marry him. She accepts his proposal.

There are problems, though. Juliet still has not iron out her differences with Marc. She hates tying up her hair in order to please him. She is not yet ready to have a baby. And, florist Rome Miranda (Mylene Dizon) enters the world of Juliet.

The seed of love between Rome and Juliet is nurtured slowly. The two friends get to discover and accept each other, warts and all, from the very start. They have similar interest in cooking and poetry. They share secrets and important feelings. They connect on all levels.

The baring of secrets and baring of one's soul are the best parts of the award-winning script of Macatuno. The film shows how difficult and awkward it is to bare one's heart. Juliet is ostracized by her mother and co-workers because of her love for Rome. But, she never gives up on that love. She backs out from her wedding with Marc.

The direction by Macatuno was a good one. There may have been a few problems with crowd control but her handling of the actors was almost perfect. Mylene Dizon and Andrea del Rosario gave wonderful, sizzling hot performances. Their mere glances were smoldering. It helps that they were given full characters to portray. Rosell won an acting award from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

I’m wondering though why Macatuno hasn’t come up with her second film. It’s been four years since the Cinema One Originals screening of her debut film. Will she be destined to be a one-hit wonder?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Todo Todo Teros (John Torres, 2006)

John Torres’s Todo Todo Teros is a film that will outlive us. That much this writer will boldly predict for this instant classic. Eros and terror, its twin concerns, will be relevant for the indefinite future, long after we're gone. (Terrorism for Torres is more universally quotidian, and not so much about suicide airplanes or car bombs.). But to repeat and acknowledge this film for what it is: it’s a classic. Not many of today’s films – perhaps the works of Lav Diaz and Raya Martin – will ever attain such a rarefied ontological status, but this one has it: the quality of the classic. Serendipitously shot, few films will approach the surprising and unexpected moments of Todo Todo Teros again. Not by Torres, not by anyone else.

If Lav Diaz is the moral conscience and the ideologue, and Raya Martin the postmodern historian among the ranks of Filipino independent filmmakers, John Torres may be christened the confessional poet. We say that half in jest, of course: he is far from the self-destructive kind – on the contrary, he can be romantically celebratory amidst adversity – but his confessions are sublimated in literally inventive and lyrical ways. These confessions stake out a territory all their own – the intimate and the poetic – and Todo Todo Teros, a work that is prefigured by four early shorts, is the film that brings this aesthetic to a culmination.

Todo Todo Teros defies easy filmic categories and deploys many styles and forms of expression. It’s a collage of creative affinities that have shaped the director, weaving together not just home movies, film diary and other found footage but also a penchant for musical performances and felicitous poetry authored by Palanca Awardee Joel Toledo. There is wizardry in much of its editing that reveals a certain do-it-yourself ethos and a nod to latter-day aesthetics. These double-edged tonalities are far-ranging, for instance, contrasting a militarized city under surveillance with the romantic longings and inner conflicts of a pensive protagonist. Much of the first half of the film happens in the dark and restless nights of Manila, while much of the second happens in the daytime outdoors of Berlin.

To see Todo Todo Teros with traditional conceptions of what a film should be can be a trying experience. There is little to no plot to follow here: a filmmaker who leads a double life as a terrorist is torn between women and allegiances. We see him traipsing through an almost hushed cityscape as though through the stealthy cameras of state police. As a performance artist visiting Berlin, he falls for his Russian guide named Olga. There should be no trouble except that the filmmaker is a married man. Artists can be such bastards, and that is almost certainly the film’s more primal statement of terrorism, the bombed-out relationships.

What is sweet and poignant are not the mechanics of Todo Todo Teros’s plot, but the fact that it features very intimate footages from Torres’s personal archives: his romantic interlude with the real-life Olga. Constantly framed and kept on her toes by Torres’s attentive lens, she is an endearing and mesmeric presence. Everything has been reverse-engineered to feature Torres’s moments with her, and still this reality-within-a-film all works magically. No seams show at all. As the courtship unfolds, we marvel and gasp at the intimacy Torres affords us. Tantalizing is the moment when Torres tries to trick Olga into saying “Mahal Kita” (I love you) to the camera.

Todo Todo Teros has few precedents in recent memory. Torres’s tactics and thematics can perhaps be likened to those of Ross McElwee, an American independent documentarian who played out his romantic efforts before the camera in films like Sherman’s March (1986) and Time Indefinite (1993). The young Filipino filmmaker, however, stylizes the passages of documentary, his results more fictional and more artifice-laden than McElwee’s efforts. With his non-conventional aesthetic and the non-reliance on traditional narrative, Torres’s film is consciously avoiding the methods of commercial filmmaking. His fascination with found footage seems to point towards a conscientious study of film history, not dissimilar to the immersions of the Cinematheque Francaise habitues of the 1960s (better known as the French New Wavers). Torres shares this diachronic learning of film history with Raya Martin, who often references structural and underground films in his works.

Still memorable moments are rife in Todo Todo Teros. The home movies of the streets of the metropolis during New Year’s Eve exploding with the thunder of firecrackers find consonance with the specter of terrorism. The car ride where Lav Diaz, as himself, talks about passages in Pigafetta’s chronicles (in particular, those about the sexual precocities of the natives in the 15th century) is priceless and fits in well with the notion of the filmmaker-terrorist’s hold on women. Poignant and haunting is the moment when the filmmaker-terrorist’s wife, in utter despair, projects his husband’s indiscretions, the footages of Olga, onto walls and all manner of surface. And of course, there is Olga. More haunting. Beguiling. Todo Todo Teros, in the end, is a valentine of sorts, a valentine to the other in these bigoted and belligerent times.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Heremias [Unang Aklat: Ang Alamat Ng Prinsesang Bayawak] (2006, Lav Diaz)

The nine-hour epic is my pick as best Filipino film of the 2000s. It has a great start (probably the best initial two hours of a Lav Diaz epic), and a great cliffhanger of an ending. In between are amazing images and captivating stories. The tale of a Japanese straggler and the legend of the scary lizard deserve to be turned into separate films. Credit must also go to Ronnie Lazaro's excellent performance as Heremias.

I love this Malay time-inflected film! It is a joy to see such laid-back film with lots of extended takes. French film critic Andre Bazin remarked that a long take allows viewers to settle on the shot and gives more freedom as to where to look. The freedom given to viewers is exhilarating. There is a danger though of viewers tuning out or growing restless.

The first hour sets the pace of the film. It consists of several 10-minute or so long takes. The static shots focus on a handful of Brahman bull-drawn carts traversing a highway. The somber black and white cinematography enthralls the moviegoer to take a meditative look on the swaying grass blades and the zooming motor vehicles overtaking the carts. The lushness of the ambient sound enhances the contemplative experience.

The film slowly lures us into the unhurried world of roving handicrafts vendors. I enjoyed this segment of the movie. Director Lav Diaz reveals beauty in the routine activities of the joyful vendors and their families. The local adaptation of the children’s song ‘Where is Thumbkin?’ has never been sung with much gusto as in this film. Songs, stories, food, and liquor figure prominently in the world of close-knit villagers. Eating and drinking become main occasions of communal life. The drinking sessions in particular are not only entertaining but flesh out the characters.

The titular character, Heremias, seldom joins the men on extended drinking sessions. Thus, he ends up being the butt of stories. The elder of the group advises the men to just mind their own business and leave Heremias alone. During the course of the trip, Heremias chats with the elder. He wants to veer away from his companions. Despite friendly warnings about possible mugging and the prospect of running straight into a supertyphoon, he defiantly changes course and chooses the less-traveled road.

There is a shot of the white Brahman bull plodding through the bumpy, rough road as seen from the eyes of Heremias. From that point on, the film shifts gear and thrust the viewer into the point-of-view of Heremias. The willing viewer gets to see and hear what he is experiencing.

Contemplative moments abound in this film. There is a majestic, meditative scene showing a seated Heremias wading in the middle of a river. He is looking at a distant mountain. This scene prefigures a similar scene of a young Heremias looking at the Mayon Volcano in Book Two of Heremias. These meditative moments compel the viewer to ask what is exactly bugging the problematic merchant.

Slowly, the character of Heremias comes to light. A dark deed in the past continues to hound him. Random encounters with people inevitably remind him of his past. Their tales allude to his dark side. However, his bouts with contemplation and a strong typhoon wash away anger in his heart. He withholds at the last second his plan to kill a suspected thief.

Heremias seeks out the person/s responsible for the theft of his goods and his bull. Just as night falls, a group of young people holes up in his stakeout place. What Heremias (and the viewer) will see and hear for the next hour is disturbing enough to make people walk away. Try to imagine seeing drug crazed people doing despicable acts for almost an hour. Add to that shattering experience the cuss words and lewd stories rifling out of their foul mouths. These acts are light-years away from contemplative moments experienced by Heremias. He may have been itching to walk away but cannot because he might miss out on something important. He (and the viewer) patiently waits. The waiting took the whole of the penultimate hour but no earthshaking info came out of it.

Paradoxically refreshed from the draining segment, I later caught on with the important plot info. The last hour of the film saw me eagerly anticipating Heremias’ efforts to rescue a young girl. After exhausting major means of saving her, the prophet-like Heremias gets kicked out of town by the police chief and left unconscious in the forest. Upon waking up, he implores God to save her. He hikes off to the mountains and vows to fast for 40 days. Redemption comes at last to the troubled wandering merchant.

I’ve seen a two-hour preview of Book Two and it lives up to the high standards set by Heremias [Book One: The Legend of the Lizard Princess]. I hope Diaz can finish Book Two so that viewers can finally grasp the answers to lingering questions such as: What happens to the young girl? What are the dark secrets of reticent Heremias? Will Book Two equal the excellence of Book One?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Movies for Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year

Buti pa ang kalendaryo, may date...
Buti pa ang Hershey’s, may kisses…

It's that time of year again. Love is in the air and romance films are being shown all over Metro Manila. The local film Paano Na Kaya sucks big time. What films to watch then?

Catch the fantastic Chinese films at the Spring Film Festival at Shangri-la Plaza Edsa. Ditch the synopses. Go out and walk in blindly to any of the festival screenings there. All films are surprisingly good. They also deal with the different facets of love. Festival will end on Tuesday, February 9, 2010.

I haven’t seen The Princess and the Frog but it has a satisfactory ranking at Metacritic. The film Dear John seems popular with ladies. It is currently the number one film in the United States. I’m wary though of watching it because of its low ranking at Metacritic. The movie Valentine’s Day has not yet been shown abroad. It opens locally on Friday, February 12.

Here is a screening guide to recommended romance/love-themed films:

(500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb)
Hearing The Smiths' ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want' is just one of the cool things in the movie.
UP Cine Adarna
Mon, Feb 8 - 2:30 pm, 5 pm, 7 pm
Tue, Feb 9 - 2:30 pm, 5 pm, 7 pm
Wed, Feb 10 - 2:30 pm, 5 pm, 7 pm
Thu, Feb 11 - 2:30 pm, 5 pm, 7 pm
Fri, Feb 12 - 10 am, 1 pm

Cape No. 7 (Wei Te-Shang)
A rocker reads about the heartbreaking tale, culled from letters, of a teacher leaving his student.
Shang Cineplex, Shangri-la Plaza Edsa
Mon, Feb 8 - 8:35 pm
Tue, Feb 9 - 2 pm

In Love We Trust (Wang Xiaoshuai)
A mother's love for her daughter shakes up the relationships of two couples. Deeply moving and unforgettable.
Shang Cineplex, Shangri-la Plaza Edsa
Mon, Feb 8 - 6:10 pm
Tue, Feb 9 - 4:45 pm

Sanglaan (Milo Sogueco)
Pawnshop appraiser meets the boy of her dreams.
UP Videotheque
Wed, Feb 10 - 4:30 pm, 6:30 pm
Thu, Feb 11 - 4:30 pm
Fri, Feb 12 - 6:30 pm
Sat, Feb 13 - 2:30 pm, 6:30 pm

Seventeen Years (Zhang Yuan)
A female prisoner, on a holiday pass, hesitates to go back home.
Shang Cineplex, Shangri-la Plaza Edsa
Mon, Feb 8 - 4:15 pm
Tue, Feb 9 - 7:10 pm

The World (Jia Zhangke)
Two lovers working at a tacky theme park end up being plutoed by globalization.
Shang Cineplex, Shangri-la Plaza Edsa
Mon, Feb 8 - 2 pm
Tue, Feb 9 - 9:05 pm

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cinemalaya shorts at Pasinaya 2010: CCP Open House Festival

The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) will be holding its one-day performing arts festival, Pasinaya 2010: CCP Open House Festival on Sunday, February 7, 2010. CCP resident companies such as the UST Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Philippines will perform excerpts of their upcoming shows. Aside from the Resident Company Zone, there will be a Music Zone, a Dance Zone, a Theater Zone, a Literary Zone, a Visual Arts Zone, and the Children’s Zone. Watch as much as you can for only a minimum donation of 20 pesos. Saan ka pa?

The Film Zone features five short films from last year’s edition of Cinemalaya. The recommended films are the winning entries Bonsai and Blogog. Tatang is also worth a view.

Blogog (Rommel Tolentino)

Rommel Tolentino has carved a name for himself as maker of award-winning short films. He won awards for Orasyon (2006) and the rollicking hilarious feature Andong (2008). His latest short film Blogog nabbed the special jury award. It tells the charming story of a boy who picked up a mysterious ball. The object buoys up the spirits and confidence of the bullied kid.

Bonsai (Borgy Torre)

An overweight security guard tries his best to lose some pounds. He is eyeing a beauteous morena. Taking inspiration from the bonsai plant, he goes extreme in his makeover. Richard Somes, director of Yanggaw, does a fine acting job as the obese Rico. Angel Aquino also stars as the object of Rico’s affection.

Tatang (Nico Hernandez)

Tatang is a gritty story about a snatcher’s daughter getting involved in petty crimes. A fateful gunshot will forever scar the delinquent girl.

Si Bok at ang Trumpo (Hubert Tibi)

I barely remember this film. Watch something else at the CCP.

Wat Floor Ma’am (Mike Sandejas and Robert Seña)

Mike Sandejas collaborated with Robert Seña on this over-the-top imagining of a discussion between a former First Lady of the Philippines and a rugged action star. Watch something else at the CCP.

Pasinaya 2010 Information