Monday, July 25, 2011


If you are looking for reviews by Northern Portrait, then hop over to his new film blog at . His reviews are still suave and well-written as ever.

I’ll also jump ship soon as this film blog was originally a collaborative project with my cousin Northern Portrait. I just waited for Cinemalaya 2011 to end its fantastic run at CCP.

Thanks, guys! And please do continue supporting local films…

Nel C0stales

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cinemalaya 2011: Festival winners at Cinemalaya Goes UP 7

Catch the winners of the 7th edition of Cinemalaya when the festival goes to UP Diliman in Quezon City. Price of an admission ticket is 80 PHP. I think only SRO tickets are available for Ang Babae sa Septic Tank. Contact Alex at 0927 2990318.

Cinemalaya Goes UP screening schedule

July 26, Tuesday

5:00 PM Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa
Best Cinematography (NB)
Best Music Score (NB)
8:00 PM Ang Babae sa Septic Tank
Best Picture (NB)
Best Director: Marlon Rivera (NB)
Best Actress: Eugene Domingo (NB)
Best Screenplay: Chris Martinez (NB)

July 27, Wednesday

5:00 PM Amok
Best Editing (NB)
Best Sound (NB)
8:00 PM Bahay Bata

July 28, Thursday

5:00 PM Cuchera
8:00 PM I-libings

July 29, Friday

5:00 PM Niño
Special Jury Prize (NB)
Best Supporting Actress: Shamaine Buencamino (NB)
Best Supporting Actor: Arthur Acuña (NB)
8:00 PM Ligo Na U, Lapit Na Me
Best Actor: Edgar Allan Guzman (NB)

August 2, Tuesday

5:00 PM Teoriya
8:00 PM Bisperas
Best Picture (DS)
Best Actress: Raquel Villavicencio (DS)
Best Supporting Actress: Julia Clarete (DS)
Best Cinematography (DS)
Best Production Design (DS)

August 3, Wednesday

5:00 PM Isda
Best Actor: Bembol Roco (DS)
Best Editing (DS)
8:00 PM Busong
Best Director: Auraeus Solito (DS)
Best Music Score (DS)
Best Sound (DS)

August 4, Thursday

5:00 PM Shorts A
Best Picture: Emerson Reyes' Walang Katapusang Kwarto (SC)
Best Screenplay: Emerson Reyes for Walang Katapusang Kwarto (SC)
Best Director: Milo Tolentino for Niño Bonito (SC)
Audience Choice Award: Emerson Reyes' Walang Katapusang Kwarto (SC)
8:00 PM Patikul
Best Supporting Actor: Jaime Pebanco (DS)
Audience Choice Award (DS)
Best Film for Children (Kids’ Treat)

August 5, Friday

5:00 PM Shorts B
Special Jury Prize: Hanapbuhay (SC)
7:00 PM Ang Babae sa Septic Tank
Best Picture (NB)
Best Director: Marlon Rivera (NB)
Best Actress: Eugene Domingo (NB)
Best Screenplay: Chris Martinez (NB)
Audience Choice Award (NB)
9:00 PM Bisperas
Best Picture (DS)
Best Actress: Raquel Villavicencio (DS)
Best Supporting Actress: Julia Clarete (DS)
Best Cinematography (DS)
Best Production Design (DS)

*NB – New Breed
*DS – Director’s Showcase
*SC – Shorts category

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cinemalaya 2011: 7 competition films to watch this weekend

1. Niño - An artistic portrait of a Filipino family in shambles, Niño is an amazing film debut by veteran theatre personality, Loy Arcenas. It is a welcome respite from the poverty porn films pervading the local film festivals. Sir Arcenas, please do join the New Breed competitions in the coming years.

2. Busong - Auraeus Solito's film contains knockout images. A truth hunter, Solito exposes the social ills plaguing Palawan.

3. Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa - This is the only film so far of Alvin Yapan that I deeply adore. He has finally learnt how to transpose his literary visions into engaging film language. The cotillion scene is a fantastic show-stopper. Bravo!

4. Bahay Bata - Director Eduardo Roy Jr. made good use of his privilege to film within the confines of the Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila. The film is a searing eye-opener on the state of health care services for pregnant women and lactating women.

5. Cuchera - The in-your-face shocking images linger
in your mind. This raw, unrefined film could have been a major contender had it not been for its similarity with Halaw. Instead of people being trafficked, illegal drugs are carried by mules inside their abdomen, sex organ, and rectum.

6. Bisperas - Prepare for more 'shit' from Jeffrey Jeturian. The film includes scenes, realistic and unrealistic ones, that seem to cater specifically to foreign film programmers. It is notable though for its spot-on indictment of Catholics who have lost their sense of right and wrong, and understanding of the concept of sin. The queues for communion during Sunday masses rival that of Cinemalaya box-office lines but when was the last time you see hordes receiving the sacrament of penance?

7. Shorts B - The hilarious Hanapbuhay jumpstarts this fine collection of short features. The hardworking Luis diligently scours the area to earn his living. He was even seen in another non-Cinemalaya short, Tingala sa Baba.
- Immanuel is a well-photographed science fiction about a family spending their last Christmas together
- Mikhail Red seems to have tightened his short feature Hazard for Cinemalaya 7. The film tells the story of a father and son having a bonding moment

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cinemalaya 2011: Complete CCP & Greenbelt 3 screening schedules (grid format), Cinemalaya Goes to UP schedule, Festival passes…

The seventh edition of the Cinemalaya film festival is…
Broader – with exhibition features from several Asian countries
Bigger – with external venues at Greenbelt 3 in Makati City
Better – Hmmmm… There’s the seductive beauty of Busong, the acidic charm of Kano, the hilarious characters of Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria, and the entertaining gem of a film, Niño.

Click here for complete CCP & Greenbelt 3 schedules

Festival is too expensive?

Frankly, I don’t think the passes are expensive. Festival and flexi passes are good deals. The premium pass though is another story.

Festival Pass (PHP 2000)
- access to all 15 competing films (ie. 13 full-length films and 2 short features programs)
- access to 8 Netpac films
- souvenir program
- priority lane access to venues
So that is about 23 films. Below PHP 90 per film lang po.

Flexi Pass (PHP 3000)
- access to all 15 competing films (ie. 13 full-length films and 2 short features programs)
- access to 8 Netpac films
- access to 8 Exhibition films of your choice
- souvenir program
- priority lane access to venues
So that makes it 31 films. Slightly above PHP 100 per film lang.

Mahal pa rin and Cinemalayo for residents north of Pasay and Makati?

Both concerns are shot down when the fest goes to UP Diliman. Price of an admission ticket goes down to PHP 80. The atmosphere at Cine Adarna may not approximate the helter skelter at CCP during festival days but it is still a nice place to watch the entries. The mostly Quezon City-based students are an enthusiastic audience and they really get into the films. There might be a Q&A with filmmakers after every screening.

Cinemalaya Goes to UP Diliman sked

July 26, Tuesday
5:00 PM Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (Alvin Yapan, Jean Garcia) - Highly recommended ***
8:00 PM Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (Chris Martinez, Eugene Domingo)

July 27, Wednesday
5:00 PM Amok (Lawrence Fajardo)
8:00 PM Bahay Bata (Diana Zubiri)

July 28, Thursday
5:00 PM Cuchera (Maria Isabel Lopez)
8:00 PM I-libings (Rommel Sales, Glaiza de Castro)

July 29, Friday
5:00 PM Niño (Loy Arcenas) - Highly recommended ***
8:00 PM Ligo Na U, Lapit Na Me (Edgar Allan Guzman, Mercedes Cabral)

August 2, Tuesday
5:00 PM Teoriya (Alfred Vargas, Sue Prado)
8:00 PM Bisperas (Jeffrey Jeturian)

August 3, Wednesday
5:00 PM Isda (Adolfo Alix Jr)
8:00 PM Busong (Auraeus Solito) - Highly recommended ***

August 4, Thursday
5:00 PM Shorts A (Includes Emerson Reyes' Walang Katapusang Kwarto)
8:00 PM Patikul (Joel Lamangan)

August 5, Friday
5:00 PM Shorts B (Includes Hanapbuhay, Immanuel, and Hazard)
7:00 PM New Breed (Best Picture)

9:00 PM Director's Showcase (Best Picture)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rizal sa Dapitan (1997, Tikoy Aguiluz)

Jose Rizal was a gambler who regularly played the lottery in Spain. He thought that a possible win may help big time in having his book published. It was only later that he won a large prize from a Spanish lottery. The winnings were used in purchasing hectares of land during his exile in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte. The place holds the distinction of being a Heritage Zone mostly because of the innumerable Rizal tangibles and intangibles.

Rizal sa Dapitan, an award-winning film by director Aguiluz and scriptwriter Jose Lacaba, gives us a restraint account of Rizal’s stay in that small town from 1892 to 1896. It features arguably the best Rizal performance by a movie actor (Albert Martinez). The movie may be of worth even for those who are already well-versed in Rizal’s life. There may be a surprise, or two, left for the Rizal enthusiasts.

A well-loved doctor, Rizal’s legacy goes beyond his clinic. He creates the town’s water system, organic gardens, and fruit orchards. He made improvements to the town plaza by planting trees. He is a firm believer in education. Not only did he build a school for the children but he also teaches the kids in the afternoons.

This strong belief in education is one of the reasons why he rejects the idea of revolution as broached by Pio Valenzuela. Jose Rizal (Albert Martinez) believes that the Filipinos are not yet ready for independence. He may be a gambler but he is not a fool to push his ill-armed and ignorant compatriots to wage war against the Spaniards.

Rizal’s honor and integrity is severely tested when friends and allies coerce him to escape. He refused saying that he gave his word not to leave the place illicitly.

It is in this idyllic town that he meets Josephine Bracken (Amanda Page). The film shows the couple having a mock wedding because the Spanish parish priest will not accede to their marriage. They eventually became live-in partners. It is not entirely a rosy affair in the beginning. There is a scene wherein Rizal confronts Bracken about some rumors that cast a bad light on the character of the lady. The heated argument may have led to Bracken giving birth prematurely to a stillborn baby.

Rizal as a father? Yes, he is the father, not of Adolf Hitler, but of Francisco Bracken Rizal. And, he is also rightly called the Father of our Nation. He takes pride in being part of the Los Indios Bravos. He calls for reforms that will in time pave the way for complete independence of the Filipinos. His determination to forge a nation with common aspirations and ideals makes him the First Filipino.

Watch the film and be proud seeing Jose Rizal used his immense talents and skills to great use. Poet. Sculptor. Surveyor. Engineer. Naturalist. Surgeon. Farmer. Educator. Businessman. Nationalist. The list goes on and on…

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tree of Life (2011, Terrence Malick)

To be happy is to love…

The extraordinary, scintillating, and cathartic film bombards us with beautiful scenes of love: Children playing happily on the streets… A lad comforting a crying brother… A mother doling out advice to her three sons… Father and son collaborating on a musical duet…

Those halcyon days are long gone for a middle-aged executive named Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn). He glimpses back at the best of times but remembers mostly the worst of times.

Where were You?

A family outing turns into a lesson about life’s dark side. The religious lad asks the Lord, ‘why did a boy have to die?’ His dad, who prefers to be called father, decides to prepare his sons to get adjusted to the real world. It is a world fraught with dangers and evil people. He teaches them how to survive.

The tranquil family life is regularly shaken up with marital conflicts. These shouting bouts soon escalate into physical abuse. These latter events serve as trigger for the lad to have an intense hatred for his father. He releases his pent-up emotions through delinquent acts. He indulges in torturing frogs by tying them up in rockets. He blasts off the pointer finger of his little brother.

In his current state as a top executive, he tries to get a grip on his failed relationship with his father. He still looks up to the sky as if seeking for answers to his questions. (Director Malick is famous for his sky scenes and one of the most memorable is this film’s picturesque skyscraper scene blackened by a swarm of insects).

His father, Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt), is just like most parents who wish only good things for their kids and loved ones. They try to send their children to prestigious schools and provide them with the best food and shelter they can afford. They pray daily for the Lord to deliver them from evil and accidents. But, no matter how sheltered they are, the kids eventually get to face bullies, rumor-mongers, despicable ones, and low-life scums. How will religious, loving kids, who haven’t experienced traumatic events, react to evil things?

Mr. O’Brien’s approach is to toughened out his kids. He hones their boxing skills and teaches them to fight back. Jack obviously is a good student as he gets to make it to the top of a cut-throat world. But, it is a lonely world. There is a scene showing him all alone in a landscape that seems to be out of this world.


Amidst the search for answers, that word suddenly crops up in Jack’s mind. It will turn out to be one of the most important advices handed out by his beloved mother.

Corollary to love being the road to happiness, forgiveness is the key to surviving in an unfair world. Some people will ultimately disappoint and hurt you. The key factor is not to hold a grudge and just to forgive them. Enemies are not vanquished through fighting. They disappear when you love and consider them as friends or loved ones.

This Palme d'Or winner reminds critics of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey because of the creation scenes, wordless segments, monolith-like door in the alien landscape, life flashbacks, and the use of classical music, among other things.

Malick’s film though reminds me more of Sari Dalena’s magnificent short film The White Funeral. The lahar-ravaged landscape, erupting volcanoes, sins engulfing hearts of people, and the themes of forgiveness and rebirth are just some of the major images and topics also dealt with in The Tree of Life. The two films also feature powerful, memorable music scoring and sound effects. Both films have given me by far some of the most inspiring and uplifting cinematic experiences in my life. I can’t wait to see them again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jose Rizal movies: Screening schedules

Haven't seen Gerardo de Leon's epic Noli Me Tangere? In a few days you'll get your rare chance to watch it.... on the big screen!

SM Cinemas, Goethe Institute, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines join the nation in celebrating Jose Rizal's 150th birth anniversary with a simultaneous nationwide screening of the classic movie. The early morning screenings at SM Cinemas are for FREE.

Click here for SM Cinema sked (Jun 16 - Jun 21)

Can't wait for de Leon's Noli Me Tangere? Then catch Eddie Romero's take on Rizal's first novel. The 13 television episodes will be shown at the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Dream Theater. Admission is FREE.

Dream Theater, CCP Sked:

Eddie Romero's Noli Me Tangere (made-for-television)

Jun 15, Wed
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM

Jun 16, Thu
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM

Jun 17, Fri
9:00 AM - 4:00 PM

If you'll ask me what Rizal-related movies I highly recommend, then the Sisa movies are on top of my list along with Bayaning 3rd World. Mario O' Hara's enchanting, sexy Sisa and Gerardo de Leon's masterful Sisa will be screened back to back this week at UP Film Institute. Admission ticket is PHP 35.

Videotheque, UP Film Institute Sked:

Jun 16, Thu
Gerardo de Leon's Sisa - 5:00 PM
Mario O' Hara's Sisa - 7:00 PM

Jun 17, Fri
Gerardo de Leon's Sisa - 5:00 PM
Mario O' Hara's Sisa - 7:00 PM

Jun 18, Sat
Mario O'Hara's Sisa - 2:30 PM
Gerardo de Leon's Sisa - 5:00 PM

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Endo (2007, Jade Castro)

Endo: Short for end-of-contract. Slang for last day of temporary workers.

Endo, a cinematic highlight of the illustrious Cinemalaya 2007 film festival, tells the moving story of a habitual contractual worker named Leo (Jason Abalos). He has been accustomed to holding jobs temporarily that he stopped believing in long-term planning and long-distance romance. He lives on a day-to-day basis. His meager take home pay is just enough to take care of his distraught father and shoulder the school expenses of his younger brother.

His relationships with women have been regularly brief. Most of them don’t last longer than five months. He not only endures the pain of losing a girlfriend but also ends up agonizing over the loss of another job. Almost always, his love contract is co-terminus with his employment contract.

The intense pain of losing a job can wreck havoc on a person’s life. The American film Up In the Air has a newly-dismissed person committing suicide. On the other hand, Leo may not be dead but he is nevertheless lifeless. Caught up in a Groundhog Day situation, he gets to experience the pain over and over again with no possible relief in sight. He no longer cares about living life to the fullest. It’s a cul-de-sac for the underskilled lad.

All seems hopeless until he begins to yearn for Tanya (Ina Feleo), a fellow temp worker flitting from job to job. Leo is not entirely immune to pain after all. Losing a job may be a mosquito bite to him but the pain of losing Tanya is akin to enduring a harrowing bout with tooth abscess. The pain gnaws bit by bit until he can no longer ignore the jackhammer pain. The thought of missing her forever wakes him up from his stupor and he resolves to dream and live again.

The proletarian countenance of Endo is vastly different from the middle class sensibilities of Star Cinema romance films. Leo and Tanya go to a cineplex but both decide not to watch a film. ‘Walang maganda,’ says a character. But, in all likelihood, they do not have enough money to buy tickets. All they have is one another and the hope of a brighter future.

The romantic film Endo is notable for its tender moments. The most memorable of them is a cool scene that recalls the refreshing indie spirit of the café dance sequence in Band of Outsiders. The impromptu scene highlights the magical hold of Tanya on Leo (and the audience). The girl improvises an enthralling dance right in the middle of the street. She smiles, charms, and beguiles the guy. Her eyes twinkle brightly like stars in a dark sky. Her hips sway to the beat of the music. The vivacious girl is so full of life and bewitchingly loveable. She then gives him a long, long kiss.

Tanya’s contagious optimism and positive outlook resuscitates the inert Leo. The guy decides to wait for the return of the ship-bound girl. Tanya is no longer treated as a syota or short-time girl but a potential long-term life partner. He has found the girl of his dreams and will not terminate his love contract with her.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Working Girls (1984, Ishmael Bernal)

In 1984, the big guns of local cinema exploited the loosening hold of the Board of Censors, a fascistic arm of the Marcos regime. Their movies begin hinting of the burgeoning yellow movement. Lino Brocka collaborated with Pete Lacaba on their long-delayed film project, Kapit sa Patalim, which dealt with striking factory workers. Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L broke the fourth wall with an enlightened nun exhorting the people to go out on the streets and fight for their rights and freedom.

Ishmael Bernal’s Working Girls has a trio of small scenes that may be seen as a nod to the yellow fever engulfing the country. A friend of a sexy lady shopping for clothes gently approves of her color choice (yellow), which he says is just right for the times. The second scene shows another character alighting from a tricycle. Prominently plastered in the vehicle’s windshield is a yellow sticker with the words ‘Hindi Ka Nag-Iisa,’ a slogan coined by people seeking justice for the death of former Senator Ninoy Aquino. The third scene shows a secretary stripping pages from a telephone directory. The yellow pages will be shredded and used as rally confetti. Those scenes may be too tame compared to the heavily politicized scenes and in-your-face rally footages featured in the films of Brocka and de Leon.

However, the hilarious, blockbuster hit Working Girls is notable for espousing the idea that a woman can go places where no woman has gone before. The new Filipina can rise to become a chairperson of a large bank or even assume the leadership of our country. What a man can do, a woman can also do. As the film shows, women can do it better.

The women of Working Girls are all denizens of Makati’s central business district. Carla Asuncion, Isabel, and Suzanne work for Premium Bank. Amanda de Luna, Ann Concio, and Rose belong to a professional management company. Nimfa is a jewelry seller plying her wares to employees of the two offices. Most of them are assertive and know what they want. They achieve their goals with dogged determination and lots of cunning.

The film is recommended to people thinking of getting a job in Makati. It basically says 'no weaklings' allowed here. The searing portrayal of office politics is still spot on even today. Transport fare for airconditioned buses and dollar exchange rates may have changed but the dreams, needs, and idiosyncracies of Makati-based female workers haven't changed. Seductive secretaries prey on top male executives, who gamely go along for the ride. These powerful executives utilize their money to hide problems such as unwanted pregnancies and affairs with subordinates. Married women are not immune from these playboys. Sometimes, lack of appreciation from husbands lead these married women to have affairs.

Office gossip is not entirely a women's pastime and social weapon. Jealous and envious men also indulge in gossips and backstabbing. A jilted suitor of Isabel connives with his friends to spread unsavory rumors about Isabel. The pregnant girl, given advice by her boss Carla, eventually learns to fight back. Her restaurant vengeance act draws applause from fellow women employees.

Carla Asuncion has a hard time getting her objections taken seriously by the male-dominated board of Premium Bank. The male directors laugh at her female intuition. She gets downright dirty in getting evidence to support her objections. In the end, she has the last laugh as she gets promoted as chairwoman of the bank. It is interesting to note that Carla Asuncion's initials are C.A., which can be an allusion to Corazon Aquino.

The viewers back then must have begun entertaining the possibility of Cory Aquino's ascension as the country's president. It is not an 'Impossible Dream,' as what Nimfa is humming at the start of the film. There is no such thing as an unbeatable foe. The Filipino people can win if they join forces to fight the enemy. The 1984 films of Brocka, de Leon, and Bernal show that they are lots of people (eg. striking workers, enlightened nuns, Makati girls) fighting the system. Two years later, they did win by kicking out the Marcos regime in the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Temptation Island (1980, Joey Gosiengfiao)

The original version of Temptation Island is one of the craziest and funniest local movies ever. The dialogues are truly hilarious. Here's a sampling of memorable lines:

Suzanne: 20/20 yata ang vision ko
Bambi: Sorry ha. I thought that was your bustline

Ship stowaway: I'm a latecomer
Azenith: Latecomer?!? Sa gitna ng dagat? Ano'ng sinakyan mo, taxi?

Suzanne: So what else is new? Everybody needs a shipwreck once in a while.

Can't get enough of these delectable lines? Watch the film and you'll get lots and lots of similar sumptuous dialogues. What makes them doubly funny is the way they were delivered by the superb ensemble. Aside from the witty comic quips, the movie also boasts of memorable blazing hot visual images such as Suzanne’s lotion scene with her girl Friday and the mouth-watering ice cream/chicken fantasy scenes.

The film does a neat job of introducing the colorful characters. A plethora of promotional spots for the Miss Manila Sunshine contest convinces several ladies to join in the hunt for the title. Four beauties get selected in the pre-finals night of the contest. Miss Body Beautiful is the innocent Dina Espinola (Dina Bonnevie). Miss Photogenic is the social climbing crybaby Bambi Belisario (Bambi Arambulo). Miss Friendship is the bitchy burgis Suzanne Reyes (Jennifer Cortez). Miss Talent is the self-confessed con artist Azenith Tobias (Azenith Briones). The four finalists are then whisked off to a yacht to start their month-long interaction with the beauty pageant judges.

As fate would have it, a fire breaks out in the yacht. The occupants jump overboard for safety. The four lovely ladies end up in a desert island devoid of potable water, food, and shelter. The hot summer season compounded the woes of the ladies.

Five other people also share their misfortune as castaways. Joshua is the gay coordinator of the beauty contest. Ricardo is the current flame of Joshua. Stowaway Alfredo is an ardent admirer of Dina. Umberto is a hunky cruise ship waiter. Maria is the loyal girl Friday of Suzanne. Their interactions with the finalists spell out who will survive and who will not survive the horrendous ordeal. The castaways get to throw away their petty quarrels, biases, material riches, and even their panties.

I adored the performances of Azenith Briones and Jennifer Cortez. The scheming Azenith Tobias is a joy to watch. When she confesses to being a crook, she did it with style. Briones’ cool delivery of her spiel is sheer delight. Her natural confidence is also seen in her wonderful speech at the coronation night. I also enjoyed her 'shit' moment with the hunky waiter. Wow! Those are excellent, profound dialogues from Umberto.

However, it is Cortez’s Suzanne Reyes who ends up with the lion’s share of memorable dialogues. From ‘Komunista!’ to ‘My panty stays right here’ to ‘Hindi nga, eh. Parang nag-jogging lang,’ her retorts are outrageously funny. Her outspoken character always gets downright dirty in the ground due to a series of catfights but her optimism and sunny attitude helps her to stand tall at the end of the film.

The movie’s legion of cult followers put a lot of pressure over the hotly-anticipated film remake by Chris Martinez. The new version seems to be fun and yummy. It features five of the prettiest, sexiest, and funniest stars in the movie industry, namely Marian Rivera, Heart Evangelista, Lovi Poe, Solenn Heussaff, and Rufa Mae Quinto. Award-winning director Martinez is a self-confessed fan of the original film and creator of the wacky hit Here Comes the Bride. If Rivera ends up playing the Reyes character, then this film promises to be a wild riot. But, before watching the new version, do try your best to catch the original film. There might still be VCD copies of it in video stores.

Friday, May 13, 2011

In the Name of Love (2011, Olivia Lamasan)

Aga Muhlach. Angel Locsin.

With huge stars like that, film buffs naturally expect Star Cinema to bring in its top people for the project. Olivia Lamasan is an award-winning director and scriptwriter. Enrico Santos has been a script and creative consultant for dozens of Star Cinema blockbusters. Both filmmakers have been semi-regular fixtures of the committee that has molded the slick, dazzling, but trite Star Cinema stories loved (and hated) by viewers for years. I enter the movie theater expecting to be treated to the same old cinematic formula but with a tinge of hope for something out of the box. Lamasan and Santos in tandem? This film must be…

Different. That’s what struck me in the initial, nerve-wracking minutes of the film. A Pinoy hosto named Garry Fernandez (Aga Muhlach) gets the jitters while queuing at the immigration checkout in a Japanese airport. The tense situation makes the viewer imagine all possible misdeeds of Garry. Is he holding a fake passport? Or maybe a luggage filled with drugs? The recent news about a Filipina hoodwinked into using a drug-filled luggage plus the suave direction and editing makes the viewer on the edge of his seat. A thorough search of Garry’s luggage reveals wads of dollar bills. He undergoes a humiliating strip search and ultimately languishes behind bars. And, then the film cuts to a Seven Years Later still. It was a great start for the movie although the arrest inexplicably reminds me of James Bond’s arrest in North Korea in Die Another Day. Same blocking? I need to watch the Bond film again.

Meanwhile, Garry has a brief reunion with his son, who is set to fly to New Zealand along with his new father. Garry decides to open a dance studio because he can’t get a decent, nice-paying job due to his criminal record. His first client is a sexy, sultry lady named Mercedes Fernandez (Angel Locsin). The film then flashes back to the past to reveal the star-crossed love affair between Garry and Mercedes.

Flashbacks are well utilized by the filmmakers. They add enthralling, important layers to the story of a passionate romance. In the name of love, the couple, Garry and Cedes, do stupid things and sometimes, heroic deeds.

Garry, in a tear-drenched monologue, castigates Cedes for leaving him after his incarceration. The first few seconds of the monologue were tolerable but then it become somewhat of an eternity of wailing. My mind was churning out thought bubbles at a fast rate. Gago ka pala, eh! Ikaw ang umako sa kalokohan ng girlfriend mo tapos ngangawa-ngawa ka diyan.

Cedes has a startling revelation as well. She says ‘Mahal kita’ or something like that. Thought bubbles begin forming again. And, as if on cue, what I was thinking coincided with what Garry is blurting out: ‘Mahal? Iba ang katabi mo sa kama…Tapos, mahal?’ Any viewer can relate to it by coming up with dialogues such as ‘Iba ang kasayaw mo… Tapos, mahal?’ or ‘Iba ang kasama mo sa FB profile pic mo… Tapos, mahal?’

The film is clearly made to induce strong reactions from the viewers. While Aga Muhlach was overly-directed in his monologue, slick editing helped Angel Locsin shone through in the ‘mahal kita’ scene. The flashbacks showing the pain and hurts borne by Cedes makes her more sympathetic to the viewers. Totoo pala! Minahal at minamahal ni Cedes si Garry.

The flashbacks show how Cedes took extreme steps to help liberate Garry. She sold her body to politicians and people with enough influence to pull strings for Garry's release. Lamasan and Santos had me hooked completely after those flashbacks. I became one of the viewers wishing for a happy ending for Cedes.

The movie reminds us to hear the side of people who in our opinion deeply hurt us by their disappearance, absence, or lack of communication. What seems to be a despicable deed may in fact be a worthy sacrifice done in the name of love. So before you judge other people, make sure to at least get their side.

The notable film have several flaws such as the idiocy of the assassination plan and the awkward action fight scene atop a factory platform. I can't fathom why the masterminds will allow the assassination to take place during a dance number between Cedes and her beau. It is dangerous as the target keeps moving. And, why would the assassin place himself in an awkward position with obstacles hindering his view? Lamasan is still not adept in plotting action scenes. The escape of Garry is made possible by crafting clumsy goons.

There seems to be a bit of cheating during a flashback scene. I am referring to the initial meeting of Garry and Cedes in Japan. Cedes correctly guesses Garry's name through an embroidered towel curled up in Garry's shoulder. When did Emman Toledo originally assume Garry's persona? There's a runaround that flaw by having Garry as stage name of Emman in Japan.

Isn't it odd that with all the hurts and pain inflicted on the characters, we don't hear a single person say 'I'm sorry'? Not from Garry, Cedes, or Emily. The filmmakers seem to take their cue on the tagline of Love Story: Love means never having to say you're sorry. They even appropriated the film's theme. The dance montage set to the theme song with lyrics is not effective.

Despite the inept action scenes, corny theme song, and unmemorable dance scenes, the film is a nice farewell present for Aga Muhlach, who is leaving Channel 2 and Star Cinema. He may no longer be young (as Garry says 'Matanda na ako') but he still shows what it takes to be one of the best actors of his generation. He allows himself to be deglamorized with shots showing him with a potbelly and enduring a strip-search.

Angel Locsin does a wonderful, excellent take on a difficult character, Cedes. That she was able to make me root for her character shows Locsin's growth as a fine actress.

With this film, Lamasan and Santos clearly shows why they are Star Cinema's top script/creative consultants. It is hard to get an audience to empathize with movie characters but they did it with flourish. This film may end up as one of the best mainstream movies of the year.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sana Maulit Muli (1995, Olivia Lamasan)

25 years ago, three films about Overseas Filipino Workers fought it out for the top plum at the 19th Gawad Urian. Two films, Bagong Bayani and The Flor Contemplacion Story, dealt with the case of a Filipina domestic servant sentenced to death in Singapore. I haven’t seen both films although reviews suggest that they are really deserving of their Best Picture nominations. The third film Sana Maulit Muli may or may not have benefitted from split votes for the Contemplacion films but viewed on its own it is a worthy Best Picture winner.

Director Olivia Lamasan collaborated with two other scriptwriters on the award-winning script. The plight of illegal aliens working in the United States of America (USA) and the difficulty of maintaining a long distance romance were effectively shown in the film.

Immigrant Agnes Sarmiento (Lea Salonga) is having a hard time adjusting to life in the USA. She misses her boyfriend, Jerry Morales (Aga Muhlach), a big-shot advertising executive in the Philippines. The two struggle to keep their relationship afloat despite being thousands of miles away from each other.

Agnes’ early days in San Francisco, California, are extremely tough on her. She struggles to fit in with her mother’s new family. A simple errand takes her nearly the whole day to fulfill because she can't properly read a map. To make matters worse, her desperate calls to her boyfriend end up in futility. She can't seem to catch her ever-busy boyfriend, Jerry. The film shows how hard it was for couples to be worlds apart during the mid-1990s. There was no Twitter and FB back then that can instantly hook up the pair. Internet social networks were still years away and the founders of Twitter and FB were still in their teens and early twenties. Making phone calls is the way couples communicate. Sending letters via post office is an inexpensive albeit non-real time alternative.

Agnes eventually gets tired of making expensive overseas calls. Slowly, she tries to forget Jerry. Agnes takes on the job of a caregiver. A Filipina friend, Karen, guides and shows her the ropes to being successful in the USA. Agnes becomes more assertive and eventually nabs a job with a realty company. She rises from the ranks to become a top realtor. Her boss is so smitten with her lovely face and good character that he proposes to her. Agnes rejects it because she realizes that she still loves Jerry.

The jerk of a boyfriend, Jerry, wakes up from his stupor. He gets to fly to the USA because of a work-related seminar. He decides to stay as a TNT (illegal alien) and tries to revive his sagging relationship with Agnes. He takes on different odd jobs such as selling second-hand cars and working in a restaurant.

First-hand encounters of abuses against illegal aliens become a big issue for Jerry. He contemplates returning to the Philippines. His decision is made easier by Agnes’ closeness to her boss. He goes back to the Philippines alone and heart-broken.

I loved the open-ended finale of the film. Agnes returns to the Philippines and meets up with Jerry. The romantic viewers may see it as a happy reunion for the two former lovers. On the other hand, career-oriented viewers may look upon Agnes’ return as just a vacation for the hardworking lady. Lamasan said she and her fellow colleagues had a hard time thinking of an ending for the film. It took them months before settling on the finale.

One more thing I adored with the film was the inclusion of the song Walang Hanggang Paalam. The film shows Joey Ayala playing the song in a bar filled with Filipinos. The classic indie song talks about a couple’s love growing strong despite the distance separating the lovers. This love ultimately serves to bring out the full potential in the other person. Agnes blossomed into a powerful executive.

Lea Salonga floundered in the early part of the film but made up for it with a solid performance in the latter part. She wasn't effective playing a wimpy girl. She was better essaying the role of Agnes as a strong, cosmopolitan lady. Aga Muhlach won a second Gawad Urian for his vivid portrayal of an executive bruised by his experiences as a TNT in the land of honey. Muhlach was not overly-directed in his scenes. It is a good thing that Lamasan was not big then on having her actors cry. Nowadays, Star Cinema films have male characters crying their hearts out. Lamasan teams up once more with Muhlach in the 2011 film In the Name of Love. Will Lamasan make Muhlach’s character cry?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

34th Gawad Urian: Best Picture Nominees

Three award-winning regional films from the southern part of the Philippines emerged as frontrunners for the top plums at the 34th edition of the Urian Awards. The Mindanaoan films, Halaw and Sheika, won major awards at the Cinemalaya 2010. The Cebuano film Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria picked up the Jury Prize at the Cinema One Originals 2010 and the Best Southeast Asian Film award at the Cinemanila 2010. The trio of films nabbed 9 nominations each from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

Trying to steal some thunder from the purely local movies is the American co-production Amigo, directed by John Sayles. It deals with the seldom told story of the Filipinos’ bloody war against the Americans. The film also got a total of 9 nominations including a best direction nom for Sayles.

The 34th Gawad Urian will be held in May 2011.


Best Picture nominees:

Amigo – Brown monkeys. Indians. These are some of the epithets hurled by Americans against the Filipinos during their bloody war with one another at the turn of the 20th century. Sayles’ movie was co-produced by Joel Torre. The searing script is fiery enough although I found the film slow-paced.

Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria - 'Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria exceeded all my expectations. The phenomenal film is a knockout combination of adept filmmaking and caustic portrait of a Filipina mail-order bride and her debt-ridden family.' (Nel)

Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Yelo – 'The first ten minutes or so of the film are presented in an almost documentary fashion, with a warm narration that lures audience to the chilly, dangerous world of the mangangabogs/fish herders and tripulantes/boat workers in southern Philippines.' (Nel)

Chassis – 'Everything about Chassis is grim and dreary. Depicted in ominous tones of black-and-white, it seems forever set in a twilight hour… But what stays with us, more crucially, is the film’s chiaroscuro portrait of a woman with nowhere to go: Nora, with her funereal mask of a face, her sleep-walking steps, her lifeless stance – the shorthand of wretched resignation.' (Northern Portrait)

Halaw – 'Sheron Dayoc’s feature debut, Halaw, is a story of the dangerous, daily diaspora from Mindanao to immediate foreign territories, a story of risky human traffic we have for far too long turned a blind eye to. From a native Mindanaoan director, it is a welcome corrective to the lack of films about the region in general. Hopefully, it isn’t the last.' (Northern Portrait)

Limbunan – 'Whether he intended it or not, Mangansakan has forwarded sociocultural conservatism through his latest film. Limbunan may on the surface be a picture about one forced betrothal of a 16-year-old Maguindanaoan girl named Ayesah, but it is unequivocally a film about resignation and reconciliation to traditions, ultimately redounding to the practice of arranged marriages.' (Northern Portrait)

Noy – 'The movie Noy is not a great film although believers of President Benigno Aquino III will undoubtedly adore it while non-fans may find it worthwhile for various reasons. It combines the gritty realism of a Brillante Mendoza film, the acidic wit of Francis Xavier Pasion's Jay and images of a compelling TV documentary.' (Nel)

Sheika – 'The bittersweet movie boasts of a brave, gripping script and lovely soundtrack. It is the first indie film to deal directly with the notorious Death Squad in Davao City. Previous films, such as the excellent Imburnal and Engkwentro, only allude to extra-judicial killings by nameless death squads. Sheika takes the issue head on.' (Nel)

Tsardyer – A surprise inclusion in the list is Sigfreid Barros Sanchez’s haphazard take on the Ces Drilon kidnapping. The film though has potent sub plots dealing with child warriors and war’s effect on education.

Also-rans (Films without Best Picture nom but with Best Director or Best Screenplay nomination/s):

Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Bato – A grim portrait of a miner’s descent into the hellish pit reserved for greedy people. This is the second film of Mes de Guzman’s fascinating Earth trilogy.

Balangay – A film festival collaboration between Sherad Anthony Sanchez and Robin Färdig. The free-flowing style of Sanchez gets mashed up with the short film devices of Färdig.

Maynila sa Mga Pangil ng Dilim – A 2008 movie that wasn’t featured at all at the four major local festivals last year. The closest I got to this Khavn de la Cruz’s creation is seeing DVD copies of it on sale at CCP.

Presa - 'The fantastic finale elevates the fine film into a great film. Amidst the bevy of memorable performances, the artistry of Anita Linda shines brightly during the breakdown scene and the shooting segment.' (Nel)


If you missed most of the nominated films, then do catch up with them at the Cinemalaya 2011. The film festival's Ani section will re-screen last year’s notable films.

Here are 3 more films that might pique your curiosity:

Ang Ninanais - 'Refrains Happen Like Revolutions In A Song is a film of ever-changing, protean forms and guises. One is never too sure where he or she stands as realities interpenetrate. John Torres just manages to weave together an epistemic quilt that reveals the complexity of Filipino identity and psyche, while remaining true to his experimental nature.' (Northern Portrait)

Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio - Mario O'Hara weaved his magic and creativity on this faithful recreation of the trial of the founder of the Katipunan. Theatrical elements bring home the message that the trial is a moro-moro. Angeli Kanapi steals scenes as Ibong Adarna and narrator. (Nel)

Emir - The impressive musical epic, about a Filipina nanny working in a palatial home in the Middle East, is a showcase for the country's talented singers, songwriters, and dancers. It eerily foreshadows the turmoil in the region and the subsequent return of our OFWs. (Nel)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pisay (2007, Auraeus Solito)

High school pics and youth-oriented movies were hugely popular in the 1980s. The teen angst movies of John Hughes made a big star of Molly Ringwald. In this part of the world, the local Brat Pack headed by William Martinez and Aga Muhlach thrilled fans with their own version of adventures and misadventures. The films, booming with generation-defining songs, dealt mostly with common adolescent problems such as fitting in, identity crisis, unrequited love, and strained relationship with parents. However, most of the films are mere teen fantasies. Plain-looking Andie (Ringwald) nabs a date with a rich and good-looking playboy in the cult classic Pretty in Pink. The young lads from Bagets get to drive fancy cars and bed sultry women. The films make it look like it was a good time to be in high school.

But, what is high school life really like during the tumultuous, waning years of the corrupt Marcos regime? Auraeus Solito’s Pisay is probably the definitive high school movie on the era. The production design, slang, and music are spot on. It captured perfectly the spirit of the times. President Ferdinand Marcos lifted martial law in 1981 but the political repression and corruption continue to flourish. Former Senator Benigno Aquino was assassinated in 1983. Yellow fever swept the people until its zenith in February 1986. The zeitgeist molded patriotic students and created courageous young heroes.

The film Pisay takes a look at how the 80s affected eight bright students of the Philippine Science High School. They are part of the so-called cream of the crop. Several of these gifted students have competed, and will compete, in local Quiz Bee contests and international academic competitions. The award-winning script by Henry Grajeda presented a vivid account of student life in a highly competitive national science high school. Important lessons were imparted via science and math themes that are easily understood by ordinary high school students. However, it is the film’s handling of political themes that makes it more memorable and accessible.

Episodic in nature, the movie starts with a ‘love story.’ Rom and Wena’s growing affection for one another gets smothered by their teacher, Ms. Casas. They are likened to planets veering away from their orbits and wrecking havoc on outer space. Ms. Casas reminds them to focus on their studies. The wordless meeting between the two along the hallway is beautifully filmed. The alternate student Rom barges into the honors roll but loses the girl. Parting is sweet sorrow indeed.

Mateo seems to be one of those who cannot focus on their studies. He is a bullied dormer who still yearns for his family in the province. This homesickness takes its toll on his grades. The chubby student gets dropped from the school rolls for failing a college-level math subject. He shares a valuable lesson to others like him who got kicked out. A Bell Curve diagram identifies them as winners who just happen to pale beside more diligent scholars. Mateo returns two years later to tell his teacher that he is taking up Mathematics in college.

There are more stories of other students who did not graduate with the batch. Liway, a student more attuned with social sciences than natural sciences, fights for better school facilities and repeal of the school’s segregation plan. Her courage stems from exposure to the works of her activist parents. The whole family had to go abruptly to Netherlands to escape political persecution. On the other hand, Minggoy is a budding astronomer whose life is cut short by an illness. His early death may be an allusion to numerous students killed by Marcos’ henchmen.

The stench of the crimes of the Marcos regime can not be isolated even from a government-funded high school. I’m not sure whether there was a strong student movement against Marcos in Pisay (Ms. Casas plaintively recalls a rally gone wrong) but surely, the students must have had strong opinion against Marcos after the Edsa Revolution. They will learn that among other hideous things, his crony was responsible for the cancellation of their dearly beloved anime show, Voltes V. Nowadays; graduating students barely have a clue about the legacy of Marcos. There is even an absurd movement to have his remains buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Solito and Grajeda, both members of their school's Silver Jubilarian batch this year, have made their alma mater proud with this excellent film. Solito made a courageous decision to shun science courses by taking up Theatre Arts in college (yes, the character Euri is based on him). He went on to create movies with markedly Filipino sensibilities. I still have a hard time choosing the best film of Solito. My answer usually is the last film I’ve recently seen from among these three movies: Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, Tuli, and Pisay. The latter film though is still his best directed film.

Congratulations to those graduating this year. Remember you are all winners even if you belong to the left side of the Bell curve’s right half.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dung-Aw (1975, Lino Brocka)

The month of March is commemorated every year in the Philippines as Women’s Month. This week’s highlights seem to be unrelated at first glance…

March 16. Two days ago, Armida Siguion-Reyna, the feisty, octogenarian actress and movie personality, became the sole recipient of the Diwata award at the 20th International Women’s Film Festival.

March 19. On that day 280 years ago, a baby girl was born named Maria Josefa Gabriela Cariño in Santa, Ilocos Sur. She will later be known as Henerala Gabriela Silang.

What else bind both ladies aside from being Ilocana firebrands and, lower your eyebrows, Women’s Month role models?

Both figure in the historical/musical film Dung-Aw. The title refers to an Ilocano traditional verbal practice of highlighting a deceased person’s accomplishments. If you have seen the film Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio, then you’ve heard of the Dung-aw chanted by the Ilocana shaman. The Ilocano word also means ‘to look (or peek) out of the window. ‘

Dung-Aw is a glimpse into the heroism of 18th century revolutionary leader Gabriela Silang (Armida Siguion-Reyna). There is an early magnificent shot that captures perfectly the dung-aw concept. With a dirge playing in the background, we see the corpse of Gabriela lying atop a horse. A superimposed image of a black-clad lady makes it appear as if Gabriela has risen from the death. For nearly three seconds, the powerful image it presents is that of a victorious Gabriela. The extolling of a dead person’s achievements is ultimately what a dung-aw is all about.

The accompanying dirge is somewhat similar to the Lenten songs of the progressive singing group Patatag. There seems to be not so much difference between a dung-aw and the pasyon. Both lamentations narrate life stories.

Scriptwriter Mario O’Hara makes do with limited information about Gabriela. He gets straight to the point with regards the reason behind the revolution of the Ilocano peasants. The Spaniards usurp the indulto de comercio to their advantage. They allow Ilocanos to trade but only at prices set by them. The landowning couple, Diego and Gabriela, resorts to bypassing the Spaniards. However, a Judas Iscariot betrays them for a pouch of money. The assassination of her husband Diego prompts Gabriela to lead the rebels despite overwhelming odds. She was eventually arrested and, just like Jesus Christ, was executed publicly. A young revolutionary named Pablo waits for the second coming of Gabriela.

I admire the filmmakers for their courageous artistic decision of shaping the film into a dung-aw. The film is informative and instructive just like a dung-aw or a pasyon. But, it is not satisfying and doesn’t peak. It stays monotonous just like the droning sound emanating from the Pasyon. The songs and performances are not memorable. Siguion-Reyna has a beautiful voice but is simply too mature to play the fiery Gabriela.

O’Hara takes another crack at retelling the life of Gabriela Silang by directing his own film. That project, with the working title of Henerala, is on my list of must-see films at the Cinemalaya 2011. Is this the second coming of Gabriela bruited about in the film?

Another thing that whets my appetite is a dream project of Siguion-Reyna. The Diwata awardee revealed that she wants to make a no-holds-barred account of the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao. She doesn't care about possible repercussions. To paraphrase Siguion-Reyna, true courage is fighting even when death stares at you. Spoken like a true Gabriela.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Who’s That Girl? (2011, Wenn Deramas)

With the entry of SM Development Corp (SMDC) into the world of filmmaking, expect a proliferation of feel-good movies set in upscale chic condominiums and peppered with moneyed characters. Who’s That Girl? features the real estate developer’s latest celebrity endorser, Anne Curtis. The product placement starts from the very first scene. An aerial shot shows the splendor of the four-tower condominium development called Mezza Residences. The blatant advertising then gets more sickening as we see a lady transfer to her new swanky unit. A flock of hunks obligingly helps the beauteous charmer carry her things. Okay, we get it. Good Guys really do exist in these condominiums. And, also Audrey Hepburn-esque ladies, large swimming pools, and lovely rooms.

This bland movie, designed to sell the concept of high living at a condominium, may as well be the template for future SMDC movies. They will definitely not dwell in stories about corrupt generals investing in condominiums, balcony fall accidents, construction fatalities, and gas leaks in basements.

Elizabeth Pedroza (Curtis) is a UST Architecture graduate infatuated with her long-time school crush, John Eduque (Luis Manzano). Her world comes crushing down when she learns about the death of Eduque. She immediately goes to the wake and gets the shock of her life. She sees an older man, instead of a young man, lying in the coffin. The wife of the deceased John Eduque Sr gets piqued with her visit. A family friend’s simple question ‘who’s that girl?’ soon escalates into a grand-scale inquisition complete with kidnapping and high-profile rescue.

The movie takes risk with an unsympathetic character in Elizabeth. Yes, she’s hopelessly in love but her actions are reprehensible. A Thomasian stalker engaging in petty thefts? Bad… bad girl.

A stark contrast to her is Eduque, a campus heartthrob. He is supposedly a goody-two shoes but the scene showing him caring enough for mouth-agaped Elizabeth smacks of vanity and a bit patronizing. A second scene also doesn’t work out well. In a stagey contrived way, Eduque gets to comfort Elizabeth. The first act ends with no character to root for. Eduque comes across not as a Good Guy but plainly a rich, show-off kid. Elizabeth is simply despicable.

Curtis and Manzano tries their very best to salvage the movie with their on-screen chemistry. This is their third pairing and it is their worst film together so far. The characters are not likable and the truly comic moments, such as the predicament of a nude Eduque, come in trickles. I prefer their earlier pairings in All About Love and Ang Cute Ng Ina Mo, which was also directed by Deramas.

The use of a video recording to spur a moody change in Eduque’s mother is too convenient and unsatisfying. It is also a repeat of a device from the movie Ang Cute Ng Ina Mo. The video does not provide us with a concrete evidence of John Eduque Sr.’s undying love for Mrs. Eduque. How sure is she that she is the recipient of the video message?

The ending showing Elizabeth and Eduque frolicking at the UST Quadricentennial Fountain seems to be a last-minute addition by Deramas. Few films are set in UST so the Hotel and Restaurant Management graduate must have decided to show more of the school’s best assets. I think the original ending should have been the arrival of a lady in black at the interment of John Eduque Sr. Cue in the theme song, freeze frame, and you’ve got yourself a nice ending. The only problem with that type of ending is it will probably afflict the good guys at SMDC with sequelitis. No sequels please. I’ve had enough of this pathetic movie.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sisa (1951, Gerardo de Leon)

2011 is the year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the University of Santo Tomas and the 150th birth anniversary of Jose Rizal, an illustrious Thomasian. The year also marks the 60th anniversary of the screening of Sisa, an enduring masterpiece by Thomasian Gerry de Leon.

The classic film presents the background story of one of Rizal’s more prominent characters, Sisa. The sultry young lady is courted by four young men. One of them marries her and eventually sires two children. Another suitor takes away the life from her husband. The third one murders her child. The last one brings hope to the remaining child.

The black-and-white film contains most of the signature shots of de Leon. The first shot is a memorable close-up image of a smiling Sisa enthralled by the singing of Maria Clara. Near the end of the film is an equally memorable shot of a dark shadow cast against the walls of the bell tower.

In between the memorable iconic shots are samples of de Leon’s masterful mise-en-scene compositions. An excellent example is a beautifully framed shot showing a glowing lamp in the foreground with people on the background. Their pensive faces fill in the four corners of the shot. They speak one after the other in counterclockwise fashion. They are all wishing to be enlightened on the dark past of Sisa. Their curious faces highlight the importance of the illuminating information that will be unveiled.

The main theme of the film is enlightenment or lumina pandit. Most of the evil deeds in the film are done in dark, secluded places. These hideous acts and their perpetrators are later revealed and unmasked in broad daylight or in a well-lit room.

Scriptwriter Teodorico Santos seamlessly blended his wonderful background story of Sisa with segments from Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. Amongst her four suitors, Sisa chooses and marries Pedring. A jealous guardia civil named Antonio arrests and keeps Pedring in a cell full of lepers. When he is eventually released, he is no longer the same.

Another spurned suitor, Sakristan Mayor Baldo, takes revenge by bringing trumped-up charges of theft against Sisa’s son, Crispin. In a fit of outrage, he beats the boy to his death in the bell tower. He then throws the corpse in a river.

An idealistic young man named Crisostomo Ibarra takes pity on the marginalized couple, a leprous man and a crazed woman. More than any other film, Sisa is probably the main inspiration for Mario O’Hara’s script Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang. The latter also has a young man caring for his small town’s main outcasts, a male leper and a pregnant mad woman.

The fourth suitor, Elias, is a faithful admirer of Sisa. He is instrumental in helping Ibarra to evade the vicious authorities. He brings hope to the surviving child named Basilio by showing him the hidden treasures and briefly reuniting him with her dying mother.

Padre Salvi and Donya Consolacion, the inglorious bastards from the book Noli, also make their appearances in the film. However, Padre Salvi is barely seen as the celebrant in Sisa and Pedring’s wedding.

Donya Consolacion is in her all-out villainous mode. She utilizes her being the wife of the alferez to break up the party hosted by Ibarra. She hates the fact that she was not invited at all to the party. Another scene shows the Donya ordering the household helpers to close the window because she can’t stand the noise coming from a religious procession outside. She becomes even more furious when she hears Sisa singing. With a whip in hand, she orders Sisa to sing and dance for her. Then, she whips her until the crazed woman escapes from her clutches.

The film Sisa has a hypnotic grip on viewers. Anita Linda is simply amazing in an award-winning performance as the crazed title character. The story-telling is tight and well-paced. However, the climactic ending seems rushed. It is basically a CliffsNotes summary of the latter part of Noli Me Tangere. The sudden change in pace left me wondering whether some parts are still missing. Is there a director's cut somewhere?

The digitalized copy of the film is not in good condition. The images are chopped in the right and bottom sides. The audio is not clear enough and sometimes muffled. I had a hard time deciphering the name of Sisa’s husband. I’m not even sure if it is really Pedring. It sounds like Peding or Peping.

I’m still thankful, though, that I saw one of the best works of National Artist for Film, Gerardo de Leon. This film was definitely the highlight of the UP Diliman run of Cinemalaya 2008. I hope Cinemalaya 2011 has a section for films about Jose Rizal, his works, and his characters. Will we finally see a copy of Gerardo de Leon’s El Filibusterismo? The epic film was scheduled for screening decades ago but the screening was unfortunately scrapped. Is a print really existing or should we just be contented playing the film in our minds?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Valentine Girls (2011, Chris Martinez, Dominic Zapata, Andoy Ranay)

The Valentine offering starts with a loveless bespectacled author (Richard Gutierrez) pondering over possible themes for his trilogy of love stories. He gets a ribbing from his precocious little sister for wasting too much time writing on the computer.

Let us take a look at the stories if they are indeed time-wasters (and money-wasters, too).

Soulmates (by Dominic Zapata)

The first episode tells the story of Aia (Rhian Ramos), a pretty girl recovering from a car crash. She is regularly visited by a ghost named Oslec, who she learns was the guy who she bumped and killed during the crash. He came back to asked a favor from guilt-ridden Aia. He wants to go home. The story unravels as Aia helps Oslec journey back to his true home.

The plot twists can be seen far ahead. How is it that Aia was able to buy tickets for their ferris wheel ride? If she wasn't able to purchase tickets, then how come she didn't question her invisibility from living persons? As the questions pile up, your initial hunch that the pair is still alive and recovering from their injuries ultimately becomes stronger.

Putting out the episode title at the start of the feature is a poor decision. It defeats all efforts to camouflage the fact that both are still alive. The audience naturally expects the couple to be together at the end. The concept of the pair meeting and having a romantic affair in the dream world is a good one, though.

I loved the scenes showing Ramos screaming her lungs out during those supernatural encounters with Oslec. Ramos is perfect for those horror/slasher films. She also has a radiant screen presence and looks a lot like a well-known celebrity. Taylor Swift? Far from it. She reminds me more of the fashionable charmer Anne Curtis.

BBFF (by Andoy Ranay)

The second segment is the weakest of the three tales. The story has sexy Andie (Solenn Heussaff) ruing her decision to set up a blind date for her boy best friend (BBF). When the girl and BBF becomes a couple, she struggles to cope with being alone.

The I'm-afraid-to-lose-my-best-friend story has been done better in films such as Close to You. BBFF suffers from having a shorter running time. The characterizations are superficially fleshed out and the pacing seems rushed. I didn't like the amateurish direction by first timer Andoy Ranay. There are several scenes that are un-cinematic and out-of-focus. The poor blocking of characters makes my eyes wander to different parts of the screen. This scanning of a shot can be a good thing if what you see is beautifully framed, but as it is, BBFF's images are lackluster and bland.

Heussaff's strong personality seems fit for an Angelina Jolie-type of action film or superhero movie. Her whistle-bait figure was highlighted in several bikini shots. Having done well in the Survivor show, she also seems destined to do a survivor/adventure film.

Gunaw (by Chris Martinez)

The last tale is a hilarious post-apocalyptic love story. A Pinoy male named Aidan is a survivor of the Valentine nuclear holocaust in 2012. In his search for other survivors, he encounters and kills zombies with ease. Three years passed before Aidan meets Ivy, possibly the last woman on earth. Will sparks fly between the two?

Director Chris Martinez is on a roll. He was responsible for one of 2010’s top comedies, Here Comes the Bride. That film gave us the fantastic performance of Angelica Panganiban as a lustful gay. This time, Martinez once more cast another actress in an offbeat role. Who would have thought of pairing the dashing Richard Gutierrez with the irrepressible Eugene Domingo, and make it work?

Seeing Domingo as Ivy is a blast. Her first appearance sets off in motion a series of laugh-out-loud scenes. With serious music playing in the background, Aidan eyes a figure praying at the altar of a church he sought refuge at. The audience starts laughing when they realize that the figure is Domingo.

The funniest scene is a dig on the requisite kilig moment in mainstream romance films. Aidan is teaching Ivy the basics of tennis. When he comes from behind to guide Ivy’s hand, the theater erupts in a mixture of laughter and swoons. I think I may never associate a tennis-based kilig moment with romance again. I just had to recall Ivy’s beaming face and I burst automatically into a grin.

Richard Somes and a fellow production designer did wonders on a post-apocalyptic setting. From the North Korean nuclear room to the bombed-out building shelter to the zombie-infested swimming pool, the production design is truly outstanding.

The inclusion of Team Pilipinas zombies is a stroke of genius by the filmmakers. Aidan had a hard time getting rid of these agile and athletic zombies. It took Aidan’s cunning before he was able to get away from them.

Gunaw is the saving grace of the150-minute film My Valentine Girls. The two earlier segments are indeed time-wasters. The newbie directors, Zapata and Ranay, had to rely on showing more skin to make their segments more interesting. Martinez had the last say on this tendency to feature eye-candy by having Domingo don a swimsuit with a deep, deep, deep cleavage.

If you have some money to spend for a pair of movie tickets but don’t have lots of time, then you may skip the first two segments and just watch the rip-roaring third segment. Your partner may thank you later for taking him/her out to a wonderful movie. What to do with the time saved is up to both of you.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Bulong (2011, Chito Roño)

I always anticipate a horror film directed by Chito Roño. I can never forget my moviehouse experience of viewing Roño's blockbuster hit Sukob. It is so scary that I had goose bumps all over my arms. Sure, there are several cheap shock tricks but overall, the suspenseful and brooding atmosphere gives me spine-tingling chills. The movie, starring Kris Aquino and Claudine Barreto, is based on a local superstition stating that it is bad luck for two or more siblings to marry within a period of one year. The superstition had its origin in rural places. Children of farm hands are dissuaded from seeking marriage within months of a sibling's earlier marriage because it will surely deplete the family's savings and resources, which are dependent on seasonal harvests.

Roño once more mined a Filipino superstition for his new film Bulong. This time the movie suggests that a person with an unfulfilled wish can seek the help of a recently departed loved one. All that is needed is to whisper your wish to the deceased. The premise is that the dead person is now at the bosom of the good Lord and more likely will be able to intercede for the wishes of the living. In this regard, Filipinos seem to treat their dead relatives as saints. Most of them even visit their departed loved ones on All Saint's Day and not on All Soul's Day.

Hospital worker Conan (Vhong Navarro) is hopelessly in love with a sexy and beauteous nurse named Ellen (Bangs Garcia). He is on friendly terms with the alluring lady but gets desperate when he sees her kissing a resident doctor. The jealous guy seeks the help of his friends and learns about the power of a wish whispered to the dead. He scampers off to a wake and surreptitiously opens the casket. In a barely audible way, he whispers: Mahalin ako ni Ellen.

The next day sees Conan, oozing with confidence, making his moves on Ellen. The young woman isn't too happy with the brazen behavior of the guy and gives him a tongue lashing. The wish didn't materialize. Is it because the wish needs time to be fulfilled? No. The corpse didn't hear him. Conan belatedly learns that the dead person was deaf.

Yep, this is not a straightforward horror film. Roño knows that it is a tough act to surpass or equal his horror hits Feng Shui and Sukob. He changes tactics by making a horror-comic film. Bulong is a supernatural film hampered by the need to come up with funny scenes. In the end, it is neither scary nor is it super-funny.

While the film benefits from reliable performances of Navarro and Angelica Panganiban, Bulong is just an average movie that is a mishmash of mildly terrifying scenes and fluffily funny antics. The tired slapstick routine of bandaged patients wiping the walls and floors with their faces is here. The film also borrows some fiends and concepts from films such as Drag Me To Hell and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and also from the video game series Resident Evil. However, the special effects are very good especially the muddy zombies pestering Oprah (Angelica Panganiban) and the disfigured mammary glands of Ellen. The latter is memorable because of a deliciously wicked strip-tease set-up by Roño.

Bulong didn’t impress me much with its cinematic skills but it did leave the audience with a few valuable life lessons:

1) Leave the dead alone. They have just been freed from worldly undertakings so don't pester them with your wishes. There's also the possibility of a quid pro quo.

2) Be careful with what you wish for. This is good advice for single people especially this heart month. Conan is able to taste the love of Ellen but eventually vomits it out of his system. Being loved obsessively and violently by the girl of his dreams is not what he yearned for.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What is this thing called 'The Cinema of Lav Diaz'?

A glimpse at the schedule of Philippine International Arts Festival events this heART month reveal an Ani ng Sine feature film titled The Cinema of Lav Diaz. I don't know if this is a documentary or a set of short films by the maverick filmmaker. All I know is I'll be among the curious cinephiles waiting in line to view this piece on Sunday, February 6, 2011 at the Shangri-la Mall Cineplex.

ANI NG SINE: A harvest of the films produced during the 2008-2010 term of the National Committee on Cinema

The Cinema of Lav Diaz * Otsenta’y Nueve * Neo-Revolution * Dawa’t Tabling * Movement of the Sun * Waray in the City * Manila’s Forgotten Forest * Entablado * Tundong Magiliw * Ang Lalaking Tinubuan ng Pakpak * Sayaw: A Documentary Film on Philippine Dances

Shang Cineplex, Shangri-La Mall, Ortigas 11:00 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Sunday, February 6

Monday, January 31, 2011

Pasinaya CCP Open House Festival: Film sked

The biggest one-day multi-arts festival spectacle in the Philippines is back!

Catch folk dances, ballet shows, theater plays, Cinemalaya films, and more at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on February 6, 2011. From 8 in the morning until 7 in the evening, the public can choose from the more than 100 performances at a ‘pay what you can, see all you can’ scheme. Opo, pwede ang 20 pesos na entrance para sa mga estudyante.

For more info,
click here

Dream Theater (film zone)

Sunday, February 6

9:00 AM Alamat ng Sili by Julie Susan Lanzuela Almoneda
3 Lapu Lapu by John Aljo Ignite

9:30 AM HALAW by Sheron Dayoc
- won the Best Film award (New Breed category, Cinemalaya 2010)
- was cited “for its timely depiction of the rigors and dangers that Filipinos go through in order to reach Sabah in search of greener pastures, its mastery of the elements of filmmaking and meaningful narrative, and its powerful herald that Mindanao cinema has come of age”
- also won awards for Best Direction, Best Actor (John Arcilla), and Best Editing

12:20 PM Emo by Car Joseph Papa

1:00 PM Laogon by Sael Templado
Imahinaxion by Samuel Elias Kirk Bacsain

1:40 PM Maskara by Alejandro Karlo Zapanta
Clownes by Neil Paul Molina
Perang Kenkoy by Christopher Asa

2:20 PM Lukso by John Kristofer Sta. Clara
Grandfather’s Clock by Marcelo William W. Munoz

3:15 PM TWO FUNERALS by Gil Portes
- won the special jury prize (Directors’ Showcase category, Cinemalaya 2010)
- also won awards for Best Direction, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography
- is the funniest movie at Cinemalaya 2010. This film also bagged the Audience Choice Award. It tells the story of how a coffin was mistakenly sent to the wrong set of grieving family members. The mother (Tessie Tomas) then treks nearly the whole of Luzon to retrieve the corpse of her daughter.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Presa (2010, Adolfo Alix Jr)

Presa, winner of the Best Indie Film award at the 36th Metro Manila Film Festival, had a limited run at moviehouses. In several theaters, the prison drama was replaced by a foreign film after only a day, or two, of screenings. Is this a portent of what awaits award-winning indie films in the next 12 months?

I've seen only two festival indie entries, Presa and Jerrold Tarog's Senior Year. The former is the better film in terms of story-telling, acting, and over-all direction. Is it the best of the indie slate? I don't know. The film, though, is a pretty good one and probably Adolfo Alix's best so far. Yes, it is not a big deal but at least Alix is no longer contented in churning out pwede-na-yan films.

The prolific filmmaker, with more than 15 films to his name, came out blazing in the second half of 2010 with two excellent films, Presa and Chassis. The latter, about a homeless woman making ends meet as a prostitute, is a fine film marred by a shocking ending that could have been staged and directed more realistically. The castrated victim doesn't even defend himself. He is no Samson that has been deprived of strength. After the despicable deed is done, a freeze-frame of Nora's face would have sufficed. However, the acting in both films is amazing. Alix's handling of his actors is a marked improvement over his horrendous direction in Romeo at Juliet.

Anita Linda gives a tour-de-force performance as a former actress imprisoned for drug pushing in Presa. Every line and wrinkle on her face speaks of her bruising life experiences. She exudes toughness and bitchiness as Cion. She continually carps about the radio being played nightly. When she receives positive news about her release, she destroys the radio. She doesn't fear reprisal because she knows someone will come to protect her. Rosanna Roces plays the squad leader who is a big fan of Cion. She is a former policewoman who instills discipline among the women inmates.

A major effect of prison discipline is clearly shown in the clean surroundings of the prison compound. It is what you may expect from disciplined women who have lots of time. The whole place is like a well-maintained college dormitory. Each inmate has her own bed. They have access to a good bath. There is even a beauty parlor for the inmates. The food seems edible and comes in ample servings. Prison life in this correctional is a far cry from the grimy and violence-ridden jails of Deathrow, Selda, and Ranchero.

The 'good' prison life though is not the be all and end all of inmates. They desperately want to get out of prison. Daria Ramirez plays an inmate nearing completion of her jail sentence. She expects to be reunited with her husband, who is also scheduled to be released soon. Meanwhile, the other inmates go on with their prison life with the hope that their time will also come soon. Jodi Sta. Maria portrays a hardworking, martyr mother. She earns enough money by selling merienda items and laundering clothes. She then gives the money to her son during prison visits. These fleeting reunions with family members are cherished by the inmates.

Unsatisfying endings and lack of special attention to details are usually the weaknesses of several Alix films. This film luckily doesn’t have both weaknesses. However, I have a minor, minor gripe with the awkward way Tetchie Agbayani fell into the pool. A collision with a fellow running inmate must have been a better catalyst for Agbayani's dunking and surprise eloquence.

The fantastic finale elevates the fine film into a great film. Amidst the bevy of memorable performances, the artistry of Anita Linda shines brightly during the breakdown scene and the shooting segment. Cion (Linda), a self-proclaimed award-winning actress, has a hard time getting her act together during a film shooting. The pain she undergoes is wrecking havoc on her concentration. She bungles her dialogue, which speaks of her happiness over an inmate’s release. The tough, unrepentant octogenarian becomes a mere stammering softie.

Kudos to a briliant script by Alix and Agnes de Guzman, a volunteer at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong. Alix has always been known as a multi-awarded scriptwriter. With this film, he shows maturity as a film director.