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Everything About Her: Studio Fare as Feminist Manifesto (Film Review)

Nonoy L. Lauzon

There are many great things that can be said about Star Cinema’s major motion picture release Everything About Her. It is suffused with the acting prowess that has made Vilma Santos the country’s most enduring movie queen and all-time superstar.  It is officially the biggest assembly of creative women power ever attempted in local filmmaking. Besides Vilma in the stellar role, it has the Santos sisters Charo and Malou for executive producers, Joyce Bernal at the directorial helm, and Angel Locsin as the other lead. It has a ladies’ team behind its screenplay and even its cinematographer is female.

Everything About Her

Surprisingly, the film dispenses with the traits of celluloid soap and has opted to tell its tale of cancer-stricken real-estate mogul in a straightforward trajectory – minus all the unnecessary twists and turns in plot development and doing away with overt sentimentalizing. Bernal’s roots as a film editor manifest all throughout, especially with both the opening and climactic sequences sparkling with dynamism and dramatic action characterized by the interplay and right balance of perk and grace.

It is somewhat a different Vilma that audiences would see in the film as Bernal has done a good job in persuading the legendary actress to cut down on certain mannerisms that could have marred and gotten in the way of what is bound to be another sterling performance of her career. Vilma is ably aided by earnest efforts from co-stars Locsin and Xian Lim, both of whom have managed to create chemistry with the screen veteran in each of the scenes they respectively share with her.

The cinematic devices and motifs the film employs to drive its narrative have given it much advantage. Particularly noteworthy is the symbolism of the chandelier that Vilma is shown to gaze at in one of the many heartfelt moments of quiet drama the film boasts of. The convulsion scene is carried out in a single take that only an actress of Vilma’s caliber could ever pull off with much aplomb.     Vilma proves her comic mettle and efficacy in at least two scenes. One is the long shot of an open field with her voice heard clarifying with her staff the exact number of executive people she is about to have an exclusive meeting with. Another is the one upstairs at her residence as she confronts Angel’s character with the latter’s wrongly sent phone text referring to Vilma’s character as a creature from hell and a whore.

Everything4

There is no doubt that the film has all the makings of a huge crowd-pleaser with its combination of high-level filmic craftsmanship, disarming story of filial love, and over-all entertainment value. It is the kind of film that people from all walks may savor for its imparted moral lessons that from time to time they are better off to learn if only for the sake of maintaining one’s sense of sanity and rectitude in life.

An early Women’s Month presentation and Mother’s Day treat rolled into one, the film has also been infused with the message of true altruism that goes beyond the terms and dictates of entrepreneurial philanthropy. That a strictly studio fare to be embedded with such a message makes one wonder. Considering the nation’s state of affairs and social conditions for the longest time, it’s an occurrence that comes close to a miracle and must thereby be an instance in the realm of fantasy.

(This review was originally posted here.)

 
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Posted by on 08/02/2016 in Uncategorized

 

Silong, Game of the Sexes (Review)

Nonoy L. Lauzon

What began as a waltz between a man and a woman slowly drawn to each other dissolves to a dark tango between battling sexes engaged in some bizarre and twisted game.

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One would not guess the twist to what could have been a fairy-tale romance of the adult offbeat variety prefigured in the independent feature Silong.  Starring Piolo Pascual as something of a knight in shining armor, and Rhian Ramos as a damsel in distress. Along the level of the metaphorical, the film was the culminating presentation of last year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival and had its regular theatrical release with no less than Star Cinema as distributor while Heneral Luna marched its way to box-office dominance in September of the immediate past year. Local audiences have the occasion to catch it anew with its current screening run courtesy of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

For a directorial debut effort (from the tandem of writer Roy Sevilla Ho and cast member Jeffrey Hidalgo), the film is quite impressive with its visual flair, knack for arousing intrigue, curiosity and suspense, and fair success in eliciting outstanding performances from its leads. Just when one is convinced that the film is what it exactly professes:  an affectionate drama of two broken souls finding refuge in falling for each other, it turns things around to unravel an unforgettable yarn that totally subverts one’s expectations.

For most part of the film, viewers would find themselves rooting for the protagonists. Both respectively struggle to recover from a love that had gone wasted amidst contrasting circumstances. It is not hard for the audience to sympathize with both characters. They deserve to be cheered and prodded to take a second chance at love. They look good together.  All they need is to surmount the troubles, the wounds and the heartaches of previous failed affairs so that they can then look forward to live happily ever after in each other’s arms. This should have been all there is to the film except that the filmmakers have other things in mind.

It turns out that it is a different ever-after awaiting the amorous couple of the story. At some point, the film lets loose its own sense for the eerie and the spine-tingling.

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Needless to say, one has to watch the film to know the real score and actual tale. The beauty of it is that it is still to be seen as a film entirely about love, albeit, of the deconstructed sort that could only arise from the alienation brought forth in the modern world, the culture of impunity that defines the times and the workings of a sick society overrun by miserable people repulsing one another. It is a thriller in more ways than one as it posits and insinuates in all dexterity that the thrill we derive from feeling in love may be the similar burst of energy and mixed emotions we experience in a harrowing moment when we all of a sudden discover ourselves fearing and running for our lives.

(This review was originally posted here.)

 

 
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Posted by on 08/02/2016 in Uncategorized

 

Skilty Labastilla’s top Filipino short films of 2015

Skilty Labastilla

While many Filipino film buffs agree that we are witnessing the third golden age of Philippine cinema courtesy of the thriving independent film scene brought about by the digital revolution since the mid-2000s, most of us only get to see the tip of that filmmaking iceberg, so to speak, which are the full-length films that screen in the various national filmfests. The bulk of the country’s independent filmmaking output, the short films, is pretty much unseen, not only because they are less advertised than their feature-length counterparts, but more because people are not used to watching them.

That is unfortunate because there is a lot of talent and innovation going on in the short filmmaking scene, what with the increasing number of film schools requiring their students to make shorts as a thesis requirement, as well as the country’s indie filmfests increasingly incorporating short film sections.

I was fortunate to get to watch 125 short films that screened in film festivals in 2015. Here are my favorites:

15 – Ang Kapitbahay Ko sa 2014 (CCP Independent Film & Video Festival)

Kapitbahay

Anya Zulueta’s cheerful story of two neighboring girls who befriend each other from their respective apartment windows goes beyond the cutesy and warms the heart by effectively portraying children’s need for creativity and friendship, notwithstanding their different abilities or the adult world’s indifference to their imagination.

14 – Imahe (Singkuwento International Film Festival)

Imahe

A father visits the grave of his wife and tells her he misses her a lot and that their children are doing fine. He then goes home and calls his children for dinner. The film’s seeming simplicity is what makes the twist more effective, and Kristofer Navarro’s patient directing and Soliman Cruz’s heartfelt performance make this one a film to remember.

13 – Ding (Cinemalaya Film Festival, QCinema)

Ding3

Jewels Sison’s tale of a woman who realizes her mistake and goes back to her ex for closure (or a second chance?) strikes all the right kilig chords, courtesy of the chemistry between Pepe Herrera and Vaness del Moral and Sison’s deft handling of emotions: we root for the lovers to get back together but we don’t begrudge the guy for playing hard to get either.

12 – Kaon Durian Aron Managhan (Mindanao Filmfest)

Kaon Durian

Bagane Fiola’s sexy horror about two lesbian lovers who eat Davao’s famous delicacy, come home, make love, and wake to find some company, offers a spine-tingling experience without employing cheap scares that are almost SOP in horror films these days. Fiola, through expert editing and effective mood setting, should make fellow filmmakers realize that it’s the little things that do us in.

11 – Cyber D3vil x Ahas (Cinema One Originals Film Festival)

Ahas

Speaking of effective editing and mood setting, Timmy Harn’s 90-seconder about the second coming of a monster, last seen in his Ang Pagbabalat ng Ahas (2013), evokes more emotions in viewers than most 90-minute films do. We feel curiosity (pangalawang pagkabuhay nino?), dread (snake man! red-faced, silver-toothed devil man!), nostalgia (analog video! cheesy reaction shots!), amusement (bike-riding snake man!), awe (hands-free, back-leaning, bike-riding snake man!), and, as the credits roll too soon, hunger for more.

10 – Kyel (Cinemalaya Film Festival)

Kyel

Arvin Kadiboy Belarmino’s minimalist take on a junkie who yearns to be reunited with his woman, snorts katol, chokes on his own vomit, and sees an unexpected  visitor is a thrill ride into the consciousness of a low-life. Never has an empathy-building exercise been this more heart-pounding.

9 – Pusong Bato (Cinema One Originals Film Festival)

Pusong Bato Miras

Pam Miras’ quirky love story about a man and a woman stranded in an island, filmed in hand-processed negatives, harks back to the earliest days of cinema, yet more than an exercise in technique, the film successfully melds technology with storytelling panache, reminding everyone that cinema is first and foremost a visual medium.

8 – Pusong Bato (Cinemalaya Film Festival, World Premieres Film Festival)

Pusong Bato ME

It’s hard to resist the charms of Martika Ramirez Escobar’s surrealist yarn of a woman (Cinta, played with the perfect mix of melancholy and idiosyncrasy by Mailes Kanapi) who reminisces the affections of her leading man in a late 1960s teenybopper flick. Even while the story turns into fantasy mode, Escobar’s storytelling sincerity never wavers, and the audience is rewarded with an ending that is one for the ages.

7 – Bayan ng mga Kontraktuwal (Pandayang Lino Brocka)

Kontraktwal2

While the charming Endo (Jade Castro, 2007) has been the go-to film about the country’s infamous labor law loophole (allowing capitalists to exploit the flaw by ending their workers’ contracts before the imposed sixth month to avoid regularizing them and paying them benefits), King Catoy of Pinoy Media Center’s documentary exploring real cases and small victories against big businesses is its perfect complement to fully understand how we ordinary citizens can do something to change the sickening system.

6 – My Revolutionary Mother (Singkuwento International Film Festival)

My-Revolutionary-Mother-ss1

In seeking to understand how his activist mother decided to abandon societal expectations of mothers (to do housework, to be the primary caretaker of her children) to focus on community organizing in Cebu during the Marcos years, Jethro Patalinghug not only takes us on a historical tour into his mother’s former life during Martial Law (she now lives in the US) but also makes us confront our own notions of expected gender roles vis–à–vis the need to respond to a bigger responsibility.

5 – Walay Naa Diri (Cinemalibre)

Walay Naa Diri

Jean Claire Dy’s deeply personal visual essay is a captivating introspection of her identity as a Chinese-Filipino. After her Filipino mother is rejected by the family of her Chinese father, Dy set out on a quest to find her own identity and community, secretly soaking up the Chinese language, literature, and culture on her own. Her ultimate realization – that racial and ethnic boundaries are nothing but superficial categories made up by humans’ insecurities – is one that seems commonsensical yet is still so difficult to challenge.

4 – Tami-aw (Nabunturan Indie Film Exhibition, Mindanao Film Festival)

Tamiaw

Tami-aw follows Igi, a young mother living in a Mindanao mountain barrio who sets out with her son to the town center (after a long walk down the mountain and an expensive habal-habal ride) to withdraw from an ATM her quarterly Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) allowance.  In just 10 poetic, unhurried minutes, Mary Ann Gabisan (with a script by Arbi Barbarona) shows both 4Ps critics and supporters alike how the government aid is a big help to impoverished families like hers and how, at the same time, it is ultimately insufficient to address the systemic causes of poverty in the country’s remotest regions.

3 – Man in the Cinema House (SalaMindanaw International Film Festival, CineKasimanwa)

Cinema House

Bernard Jay Mercado’s  energetic, playful film/performance art serves as both a paean to the roots of cinema and a protest against what it has become. Wearing its influences on its sleeve (Chaplin, Kubrick, Buñuel, to name a few), Mercado’s show features a young filmmaker who shoots (in both senses of the word) Jose Rizal and ends up being chased by a policeman. This is a work of art that is intended to be seen live for its theatrical elements (at one time the actors jump out of the screen and continue their performance in the theater), and while some may see it as a gimmick, the piece is a thought-provoking oeuvre that plays with viewers’ notions of spectatorship/spectacle in cinema.

2 – Ang Maangas, ang Marikit, at ang Makata (CCP Independent Film & Video Festival)

Maangas

Jose Ibarra Guballa’s homage to Western movies achieves the difficult task of balancing comedic and tragic elements in film, and a period film at that! A visiting brash soldier looks for the house of the town captain to collect debt payment and encounters the captain’s maiden daughter alone at home. The woman’s suitor, a simple farmer, later on visits her for harana, and when the captain comes home, the four of them face off in one of the most memorable scenes in Philippine cinema (short or otherwise) in 2015.

1 – Junilyn Has (Cinema One Originals Film Festival)

Junilyn4

Carlo Francisco Manatad’s darkly comic tale follows two underage bar dancers practicing a new, particularly challenging routine at home under the watchful eye of their mamasan during a forced break from work when Pope Francis visits the country and adult clubs are temporarily closed. What could have resulted as a one-joke stunt film in the hands of a less-skilled filmmaker turns out to be a nuanced exploration of a teenage girl’s gradual humiliation and ultimate retribution. An instant classic.

 
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Posted by on 10/01/2016 in Philippine Film

 

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Noy Lauzon’s Top Filipino Films of 2015

Nonoy L. Lauzon

As one looks back at the country’s films in 2015, a handful of releases may be deemed truly outstanding and noteworthy. In random or no particular order, the ten best Filipino films of 2015 are listed as follows:

Para sa Hopeless Romantic

Para-Sa-Hopeless-Romantic-poster-released-460x280Where will Philippine cinema be if not for romance as its true staple? What rice is to the Filipino food table, romance is to the silver screens nationwide.  Andoy Ranay’s adaptation of Marcelo Santos III’s novel of the same title showcases the James Reid- Nadine Lustre love team. The film turns upside down the sentiment that underlies all romance flicks with its peculiar illustration of situating the experience of love above all else. In one high moment of the film, it makes its bold assertion, albeit in deprecatory mode, that revolts and revolutions are puny compared to the pressing concerns of the heart.

Ari

AriThe unbelieving may consider the present Golden Age in Philippine cinema with the rise of the indie as a hoax. What may not be counted as fraud, on the contrary, is the flowering of cinema in the country’s regions as demonstrated by this Pampangan gem from Carlo Enciso Catu. Here’s a directorial debut that should captivate audiences everywhere for the universality it embodies pertinent to themes of life and death, love and heartbreak, tradition and modernity. It’s a different kind of coming-of-age tale; a different kind of youth flick; a different kind of family fare with a narrative flow that could only lead viewers to a heartrending experience like no other.

Balikbayan

POSTCARD_BALIKBAYAN2 - Film Development Council of the PhilippinesMore than three decades in the making, Kidlat Tahimik’s latest oeuvre has brought the director back to Berlin where he had his first taste of international triumph with his breakthrough feature in the 1970s. He is rewarded with a repeat victory that again places the country in the world map of cinema. But more than the potpourri of raves, accolades, citations and awards it has garnered, the film gains ultimate significance for the saga of nationhood it imparts beyond the terrain that the history books may allow readers to venture into. It states in a nutshell that endeavors of imagination assume precedence in the scheme of things and may be all that matters amidst the hustle and bustle of a crazy world.

Ang Kubo sa Kawayanan

An Kubo sa Kawayanan - photo by Cinemalaya WebsiteAlvin Yapan’s ode to Bicol is personified by a country maiden with a pact never to abandon her dwelling by the bamboo grove. It’s an allegory that haunts as much as taunts the fractured spirit of Filipinos in perpetual search of greener pasture, with no sense of roots and clueless of proper values for culture and heritage. The film topped the competition for Filipino New Cinema at this year’s World Premieres Film Festival Philippines. It is one of the two features for the year that hallmark Mercedes Cabral’s award-worthy turn as lead actress.

I Love You, Thank You.

ILUTYLUTYIndependent filmmaker Charliebebs Gohetia sought to make a gay film that would draw audiences not for its scenes of nudity and same-sex intimacies. It turns out that he has accomplished much more. The film is reminiscent in sense and sensibility of the acclaimed period features by James Ivory; may be said to have achieved stratospheric heights for backpack filmmaking and very much signifies a triumph of Pan-Asian cinema. It displays a knack for profundities one would never find in the usual rom-com of the local studio-production variety. (To be continued)

Anino sa Likod ng Buwan

ANinoAs, perhaps, the most productive Filipino filmmaker of the year, Jun Robles Lana is credited with three titles all produced in 2015. While he falters in two: a forgettable romantic comedy on one hand and the atrocious horror entry at the latest edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival on the other, he must otherwise be extolled and deified for the year’s possibly most compelling film. His three-character sketch transports audiences to the milieu of the country’s seat of Communist power under siege in early 1990s with heavy assault from the military at all-out war with the insurgency movement. LJ Reyes delivers first-rate performance that would forever be memorable for its electrifying impact. With sustained intensity and suspense further charged with high erotica, the film poses insights on the games and dangers not-so-common folks flirt with as the escalating stakes of combat take their toll on a hapless population.

Buy Now, Die Later

buynowdielaterNeophyte director Randolph Longjas ventures into mainstream with what turns out to be the only official selection of serious merit at the major roster of this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. Heralding postmodernity in Philippine filmmaking, the horror comedy offers clever commentary on consumerist, acquisitive and materialistic society and soars with its amalgam of Faustian anecdotes interwoven with utter inventiveness. It juggles the sinister and the morbid with the hilarious and the obscure for an antidote to local cinema always in peril of ending up moribund.

Da Dog Show

dadogshow - World Premieres Film FestivalThe Filipino penchant for spectacle is deconstructed in this offbeat family drama that director Ralston Jover culled from actual life. It sparkles with a deglamorized Mercedes Cabral in a role of a differently abled daughter of a senior citizen who trains dogs for street shows to make a living. The film has much to say about emasculated patriarchy and sheds newfangled light on Third World poverty without indulging on wallowing, self-pity and litanies expected of outdated accounts of the sordid predicament of the damned, the miserable and the proverbial earth’s wretched in this corner of the vast universe.

Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso

mga-rebeldeng-may-kaso-10783- cinepapayaRaymond Red’s period feature is one of the year’s three exceptional films that get it right in a reckoning of history as filmic subject. It inspects the bearing of the People Power uprising on another agitation of the revolutionary kind involving creative filmmaking in the country. Seemingly banal situations segue to deeper reflections and affecting reminiscences of the purer and more innocent times when aspirants still exuded idealism and had more conviction as they harbored dreams of making it in their chosen field of art.

Swap

swapCebuano filmmaker Remton Siega Zuasola’s third full-length feature (following Ang Damgo ni Eleuteriain 2010 and Soap Opera in 2014) is the country’s Kabisayaan realm’s declaration of awakened force to make its presence in national cinema fully felt. It speaks volumes on the failed nation’s crooked state of affairs and the various twisted wicked ways resorted to by the government to attain a semblance of upholding the law. In this time and age when the motivation for making film is to lure the affirmation of scouts from the international festival circuit or to hit that hundred-million-buck mark at the box office, it is simply refreshing to have another fine exemplar of regional filmmaking opting to stick to the dictum of a big-screen feature created solely for an unadulterated purpose of currency and social relevance.

(Originally published here.)

 
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Posted by on 04/01/2016 in Philippine Film

 

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Skilty Labastilla’s Top Filipino Movies of 2015

Skilty Labastilla

In 2015, even if the popular Cinemalaya Film Festival took a leave of absence, other independent film festivals, both old and new, came up with quality offerings: Sinag Maynila, World Premieres Film Festival, QCinema, Cinema One Originals, and the Metro Manila Film Festival New Wave Section, each served up at least one outstanding picture to satiate local cinema aficionados. While this proves that the country’s best films still come from its indie filmfests, the limited grants provided (normally around P3M, including counterpart funding) as well as the short time frame given to come up with finished films still restrict the scale of movies coming out of this process. To illustrate, two of the year’s most significant films: Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna and Kidlat Tahimik’s Balikbayan #1 can never emerge from these annual festivals, as the former reportedly cost P80M to make and the latter took decades to arrive at its present form.

Some of my favorite films of the year deal with negotiating the junctures of history and modernity – two are set in the past but render themes that resonate with the contemporary audience, one is set in the present but confronts both personal and historical demons, one is an elegy for a fading tradition, and another highlights the past and uses cinema to connect it to the present.

Three films tackle poverty and insurgency in the South; three more films examine the intersection of morality, religion and the family; another two dissect the vagaries of modern romance; and the last two films problematize migration (albeit in strikingly divergent ways).

Here are my 15 favorite films of 2015:

15 – Anino sa Likod ng Buwan

anino bwJun Lana’s three-hander chamber drama is admirable for featuring a complex female character (played by LJ Reyes) caught in a web of deceit of her own making. The film’s distinct visual technique (the photography is made to resemble 80s analog video) adds texture to the multi-layered narrative involving a military man who befriends a young refugee couple trapped in Marcos-era “no man’s land”, and the committed performances of Reyes, Luis Alandy, and Anthony Falcon make for a breathtaking cinematic experience.

14 – The Crescent Rising

crescentSheron Dayoc’s compelling vignettes of Muslim Mindanao offers what few other attempts at capturing on-the-ground realities of the region have failed to do, which is to allow individuals to speak about their conditions from their own perspectives yet present their narratives in visually compelling terms. The  result is a documentary that not only affords viewers a nuanced understanding of the links between self-determination and bottom-up development from the eyes of the marginalized but also one that adheres to the standards of quality cinema.

13 – Gukod sa Hapak sa Balud

Chasing-Waves-05Only a Mindanawon filmmaker could have appropriately captured the idyllic rhythm of life  in the Davao mountains the way it is portrayed in Gukod sa Hapak sa Balud (Chasing Waves). Writer-Director Charliebebs Gohetia, who hails from Davao City, involves us in the daily rituals of young boys Sipat and En-En (winsomely played by non-actors Filjun Sevilla and RJ Sasuman, respectively) as the former prepares to migrate with his family to a seaside community because they are being evicted from their land. In many ways, the film is a brilliant exercise in storytelling restraint and in allowing sound (including a diegetic AM radio melodrama of mermaid-human romance) and visuals (of majestic hinterlands) to carry the narrative through.

12 – An Kubo sa Kawayanan

kuboAlvin Yapan does not make ordinary films: he always finds new ways of visualizing his unique perspectives on things, and we should be so lucky to live in an age where, despite his round-the-clock schedule as a full-time literature professor, he is able to churn out films that excite and provoke. Testament to this is his latest, starring his muse Mercedes Cabral as an enigmatic woman who seems to be able to commune with her bamboo hut and other living things surrounding her. The film’s theme of rootedness in an age of of increasing mobility is rendered in subtle narrative and visual codes, serving a reminder to industry up-and-comers that there are always new ways to invigorate cinema.

11 – Iisa

iisaDebuting filmmaker Chuck Gutierrez does not show signs of greenness in his confident depiction of radicals suffering from the effects of a major catastrophe. Arnel Mardoquio’s script immerses viewers into the lives of several New People’s Army members grappling with the aftermath of Typhoon Pablo, and as they try to rebuild their community, previous misgivings against one another are brought to the fore. As Ross, a comrade accused of pilfering from Party coffers, Angeli Bayani once again proves that she is a national treasure by giving an understated yet devastating performance. The film is commendable for portraying a nuanced examination of leftist ideologies and for problematizing revolutionary justice. Ultimately, it is us humans, not institutions, that will find solutions to our own problems.

10 – Manang Biring

manang-biring-movie-5Carl Joseph Papa’s painstakingly crafted tribute to mothers all over is a remarkable achievement not only because it’s the first full-length rotoscope-animated film in the country but because it uses black humor – and black-and-white imagery – to create a distinctive look and mood that effectively convey its poignant story. Manang Biring’s fierce determination to ensure that her long-lost daughter has a happy Christmas, even through unconventional means, challenges our notions of maternal love, and Papa gifts us with a movie that makes us reflect on our mortality and wish that we meet our own death with such magnanimity.

9 – Imbisibol

imbisibolLawrence Fajardo’s film adaptation (and expansion) of a one-act play he directed for the 2013 Virgin Labfest about several illegal immigrants eking out a living in Japan, is a triumph in disciplined filmmaking, with Boy Yñiguez’s picturesque shots and the languid pacing that do justice to the Japanese landscapes and rhythm. The lead cast (Ces Quesada, JM de Guzman, Allen Dizon, Bernardo Bernardo) all deliver sterling performances, hooking viewers into their individual stories of hope (that their hard-earned money can make the lives of their families back home better) and desolation (constantly hiding from Japanese authorities, working two back-breaking jobs, being bullied by a fellow Pinoy in the workplace, being tagged as too old in the hospitality industry). The wintry Japan setting makes these stories all the more bleak and stifling, but the film still allows us a peek into the agency and humanity in the characters.

8 – Heneral Luna

hen luna 2Heneral Luna‘s success should not be defined by its ability to recoup its substantial production expenses even if it was not made by a major studio, nor by its wild reception among the youth, who promptly took to social media and created memes that fueled the curiosity of many more viewers, nor by its capacity to spark renewed fervor among the apolitical set. Its achievement lies on the film itself, on how Jerrold Tarog orchestrated all production elements to come up with a meticulous period film that respects viewers’ clamor for craft, as well as their intelligence. The film is a game-changer, sparking hope that future local historical movies would no longer feel like stuffy, humorless oratorical pieces.

7 – Waves

A074_C013_06095ADon Gerardo Frasco’s unflinching anatomy of the fading romance between two millennials (Baron Geisler and Ilona Struzik) in a global age allows viewers a glimpse into the lovers’ most intimate moments, and the gradual buildup of back-stories of the lovers’ characters only enriches arguments for both clashing sides. All this is juxtaposed with a backdrop of nature’s untouched beauty (the movie was shot in pristine beaches in Palawan and Cebu), telling us that our travails, no matter how earth-shattering they feel at the moment, will seem trivial over time or when viewed from the perspective of the elements, which will continue to exist long after we depart.

6 – Bambanti

bambanti---zig-dulayBambanti‘s story of a poor barrio boy (played by the precocious Micko Laurente) accused of stealing a wristwatch of the daughter of his mother’s employer could have been milked for treacly melodrama, and viewers have writer-director Zig Dulay to thank for expertly calibrating restraint and necessary emotional outbursts. Featuring a powerful performance by Alessandra de Rossi as Laurente’s mother, the film holds up a mirror to a society that readily persecutes the downtrodden despite, or precisely because of, their helplessness to fight the system.

5 – Sleepless

sleepless3
What makes Sleepless stand out from the rest of its local rom-com contemporaries is its emphatic rejection of genre clichés, with debuting director Prime Cruz and writer Jen Chuaunsu infusing a refreshing dose of realism and melancholia to the story of Gem and Barry (endearingly portrayed by Glaiza de Castro and Dominic Roco), twenty-something lonely souls who meet in a call center and find themselves hanging out with each other. The film presents a gauzy-lensed metropolis viewed mostly from high-rise buildings, capturing urban anomie among middle-class yuppies trapped in the grip of global capital. In the end, the decision of one character to leave the country to repair their broken family can also be seen as a way of bailing out of an ever-alienating system.

4 – Honor Thy Father

honor thy father2

Honor Thy Father grabs viewers by their collars from the very first frame and never lets go until the credits roll, leaving us gasping for air and holding our chests to stop our hearts from bursting out of a mix of apprehension and heartbreak. Kudos to co-writer/director Erik Matti and his cast and crew for skillfully weaving an engrossing tale involving an unraveling pyramid scam among fundamentalist Christians, with the magnificent John Lloyd Cruz at the center of it all as a man who resorts to desperate measures to save his family. It’s a testament to Matti’s controlled direction and Michiko Yamamoto’s richly detailed script that the film feels less an attack against religion per se as it is a condemnation of the abuse of people’s trust in authority.

3 – Ari: My Life with a King

MyLifeWithAKingOne of the most active blocs in Philippine regional cinema has been the Kapampangan group of filmmakers, and Carlo Enciso Catu’s beautiful ode to indigenous poetry and the dying tradition of the crissotan (the Kapampangan equivalent of the Tagalog balagtasan) provides a potent argument for the the view that the future of Philippine cinema rests with regional filmmakers.

In Ari (Kapampangan for king), Catu and writer Robby Tantingco create a quiet, heartwarming tale about a King of Poets, Conrado (charmingly played by real-life poet Francisco Guinto) who lives in a remote barrio and is called to receive an award from the town high school. Jaypee (a charismatic Ronwaldo Martin) is tasked to fetch him and over time the two develop a deep friendship. The movie portrays the growing divide between Pampanga’s selfie generation and their tottering elders who hold in their hearts a rich literary heritage that is in danger of extinction. The friendship between the two men shows that all is not lost and there is time left for the youth, not just in Pampanga but in the whole country, to embrace and take pride in their local culture.

2 – Balikbayan #1

baibayan #1I admit I spent a good amount of time trying to make sense of Kidlat Tahimik’s picaresque tale about a slave who inadvertently became the first man who circumnavigated the globe, what with the film coming off as a hodgepodge of footages of the film’s previous iteration (as Memories of Overdevelopment), travelogue, and home videos that do not necessarily coalesce into a neat  narrative package by film’s end. But, boy, what a journey this film takes its viewers!

Tahimik takes us on a ride to his quirky, whimsical world, a world that at first glimpse seems detached from that of the ordinary Filipino, yet upon closer inspection actually reflects the country’s never-ending search for a distinct identity. By zooming in on the trials and tribulations of Enrique, the slave, rather than on Magellan, his master, Tahimik imagines a world where history is written by the vanquished, not by the victors.

1 – Apocalypse Child

apocalypse child 2Director Mario Cornejo and co-writer/producer Monster Jimenez concoct a richly layered story of a typical laid-back surfer (winningly played by the perfectly cast Sid Lucero) who refuses to grow up and face his past, which involves being rumored as an illegitimate child of Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola stayed in Baler, Aurora in 1976 with his cast and crew, to shoot Apocalypse Now.

Apocalypse Child‘s seemingly personal story of ennui and redemption among millennials doubles as postcolonial critique of the American empire – American film crew member impregnates local, leaves the country, resulting child seeks father figure his whole life, finds one in a stern authoritarian figure – but does so in a hipstery, nonchalant manner that even without that subtext, it can stand alone as a thoroughly engaging work because of the way the filmmakers use all the tools at their disposal to come up with a polished product. Everything, from the performances (the ensemble work is the year’s best) to the visuals and editing, is so on point that one begs to watch it again as soon as the credits roll.

(Originally posted here.)

 
 

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No Cheap Thrill

Nonoy Lauzon

Most likely inspired by Needful Things, a Stephen King’s 1992 novel (eventually adapted into a major motion picture in the United States), Randolph Longjas’ Buy Now, Die Later emerges as one of the more palatable official entries in the mainstream slate of this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival.

Prior to his latest release, new-breed filmmaker Longjas has only one other full-length feature to his credit with the Cine Filipino 2013 title, Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin. Needless to say, the newbie director sustains the promise of his film making break with a quantum leap for a reboot and refinement of the art of omnibus cinema in a flashy elocution of hybridity that combines the disparate elements of the bizarre, the macabre and the sardonic with the usual fantasy-cum-horror-cum-suspense-cum-comedy fare.

The film with its acting ensemble can be said to have some of the
more annoying performances on the big screen for the year but not to the extent of distracting from its more meritorious attributes. It upholds radical thinking in rejecting the prevalent scheme of things that allows for the cult of celebrity, the allure of fame and preoccupations of vanity. It exposes the pretension of the capitalist system in the world and demolishes its claim to provide for every single human need. The creepy little curio shop of more than apparent horrors in the film is a metaphor as well as a device to serve as its springboard to dismiss the ideology of capitalism at large as diabolical handiwork. The movie succeeds primarily as an affront to consumerist society and an expression of outrage and disgust over people’s penchant in this age for instant gratification.

The situations that audiences are confronted with as they watch the film may seem to be mindlessly superficial as intended. But the more discerning could easily recognize the Faustian stirrings of its intertwined narratives. It is replete with moments of adroit dialogue. Particularly clever is actor John Lapus’ gay character’s scene with the proverbial neighborhood brutes where he ends up punching with a verbal castigation unparalleled in its volley of sarcasm and witticism.

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In similar light, the stage mom character of Lotlot de Leon gets a retort of comeuppance from Alex Gonzaga in her rising-star turn. All in all, the film owes its satisfactory finish with the good editing work put in it. Each of its collected tales imparting horrendous caution is rendered to respectively and effectively correspond to the five senses for just one more instance of evidence of the film’s undeniable astuteness.

One could not help but look forward to director Longjas’ next feature. After being done with belles-lettres allusions to Pygmalion with his take on interracial romance previously in Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin, he has now made a bold dig at Faust with Buy Now, Die Later – taking viewers for a ride of not necessarily cheap thrill. Beyond the rib-tickling and farcical gesticulation somewhat characteristic thus far of his individual cinema, Longjas may just prove to be the more erudite from the ranks of the country’s emergent filmmakers.

Note: This review was originally posted on Glitter.ph.

 
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Posted by on 26/12/2015 in Uncategorized

 

The Vacuous Comedy Bane: A Review of Wenn Deramas’ Wang Fam

Nonoy Lauzon

While certain quarters may not find anything wrong with it, the opposite is evidently true. Why further oppress the hapless populace?

Studio productions in the country are obviously in dire straits with costly event movies requiring even costlier returns that fail more often than not to materialize. With their producers impaired by a kind of desperation to draw huge turnout of audiences, these event movies have no option but to pander to perceive mass preference for mindless entertainment fare.

Case in point is Wenn V. Deramas’ Wang Fam. The horror-cum-family comedy feature has no aim but to elicit laughs from viewers, thinking that it is only but the right way to do them favor, in exchange for their patronage and provide, so to speak, a respite from the drudgery of their daily lives. What gets in the way of the film’s pronounced tasks to deliver the laughs, however, are lapses of logic in its storytelling and too much suspension of disbelief that it demands on the part of the viewing patrons.

When is comedy a menace to society? The sure answer is when it is made in the Philippines – what with slapstick, toilet humor, political incorrectness, cultural insensitivity as the norms then as it is now! In Wang Fam, for example, its fixation is to lampoon –instead of the powers-that-be behind the dreary existence of much of the people in the country living below the poverty line – the less privileged and the marginalized.

They are already in real life exploited with persisting social conditions. And for some reasons, they again have to be exploited in reel with the movies they are tricked to patronize as their plight and predicament turned into fodder for jokes and object of ridicule on the silver screen. This in itself is an instance of injustice and sadly, a carry-over from a mindset shaped by popular predilection for a noontime-variety-television culture that capitalizes on empty fanfare and cheap thrills just to win a gory battle of the networks.

Wang Fam is packaged as a film that puts premium on family values and solidarity. But one has grounds to suspect its actual agenda. Its interest is to keep the “disorder” of things and the status quo. By such, people are otherwise urged not to so much think and to avoid at all costs to be discerning – just so they can derive pleasure and have seemingly innocuous fun with vacuous comedies that embody everything that is wrong and twisted with the world.

(This review was originally posted on Glitter.ph.)

 
 

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