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?