Saturday, October 22, 2016

Purgatoryo (Derick Cabrido, Qcinema 2016)

Cut from the same cloth as the vastly underrated Cinemalaya film Oros, Purgatoryo takes another look at the use of unclaimed corpses for illegal gambling operations. Recent news about corpses piling up at funeral homes in Quezon City left me wondering whether illegal gamblers are ecstatic over the vast supply of corpses.

The film starts with a police officer hauling a bloodied corpse over to a funeral parlor managed by Violet (Bernardo Bernardo). The corpse is given a thorough cleaning and prepped up to look presentable. It will be the object of a faux wake by gambling operators. The elaborate set-up involves hiring people to act as grieving family members.

Card games sakla and sapaw are illegal although local police turn a blind eye over games played during wakes for humanitarian reason. Financial proceeds from the card games are a huge boon to destitute surviving family members.

If Oros amazingly shares the nitty-gritty details of a sakla operation, then Purgatoryo exposes nightmarish shenanigans at a funeral home involved in illegal gambling. A worker at Funeraria Jimenez rues having to work on the day of his romantic date with his girlfriend. He convinces the girl to have their tryst at the funeral parlor. The couple eventually make out inside the morgue. The horny male, left unsatisfied by his lover, turns his lustful eye on a naked dead woman.

I'm deeply impressed with the necrophilia scene from a filmmaking viewpoint. Is that a true female human being? I'm not sure if the naked woman is really a human being. It doesn't move at all just like a true corpse. In stark contrast, the initial scene involving the male corpse shows the actor breathing.

Indie filmmakers who insist on having lengthy shots of dead bodies almost always botch their scenes because eventually the stomachs begin to rise. When they check their rushes on small monitors, they won't see such movement but when projected on mammoth screens the slightest of movement is easily seen. What filmmaker Roderick Cabrido does with the female corpse is truly amazing. I’m stunned by it.

The film Purgatoryo is the second collaboration between Cabrido and scriptwriter Denise O'Hara. Their first film was the fantastic Kinaray-a tale Tuos. This time around, they are joined by fellow Cinemalaya regular Joseph Laban, who is also an Atenean just like Oros director Paul Sta. Ana. The two Ateneans have their own inside jokes. A criminal, a person of interest, or a crazed guy dons an Ateneo get-up or jacket in their films.

I described the film Purgatoryo as some sort of sequel to Oros because of their many similarities. Both films deal with the same subject. Both films star Kristoffer King. And, I believe, both films also share some film locations (Santa Ana location?). Even the lighting looks familiar.

The film has a few aces on its own though. The necrophilia scene is a tough act to follow. I also admire the embalming scene shot from the point-of-view of the corpse. The corpse is liken to a spirit who is being held in purgatory. It needs to be cleaned up and purified in order to get to the next level. The spirit benefits from prayers while the corpse needs the expertise of the funeral home employees. But, with a sexual pervert on the loose, corpses in the funeral home are likely to experience hell on earth.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mercury Is Mine (Jason Paul Laxamana, #Cinemalaya2016)

There is much to like about the film but an equal amount of bizarre things tarnish the luster of the award-winning Cinemalaya film.

The dark comedy Mercury Is Mine deals succinctly with the colonial mentality of Filipinos. The fortunes of a middle-aged cook Carmen Batac (Pokwang) begin to rise after taking in an American teenager Mercury (Bret Jackson) as temporary help. The American boy attracts hordes of customers smitten with his good looks. Carmen's roadside eatery begins to flourish and becomes a regular stopover for trekkers and fortune hunters going to Mt. Arayat.

The filmmakers suggest that Carmen is like a small-scale miner who struck gold after using mercury. But, mercury can be fatal if handled improperly.

An early film segment shows Mercury's true colors. He is not as pure as his white skin. He is a cold-blooded killer. Running away from patricide, he ends up in the eatery of Carmen.

The famed hospitality of Filipinos is shown through Carmen's decision to let Mercury stay. Carmen shows no hesitation in letting in the white boy. The whiteness of Mercury's skin clouds the minds of those he encounters. Carmen never doubted Mercury even after learning of the murder of his father.

This early in the film, I've lost my empathy for the male lead. Mercury is a killer. On the other hand, Carmen may be a bad girl who preys on the needy but she may still have a pure heart. However, as the film progress on, the dark side of Carmen's character comes to the fore. The two leads are so vicious they deserve one another.

Mercury Is Mine is spot on with its treatment of how Filipinos behave with Caucasians in their midst. However, the lead characters are extreme turn-offs. Imagine an absentee mother letting her daughter get impregnated by an American teenager. I didn't care anymore where the story went after that incident.

Pokwang's delivery of her one-liners brought the house down. Carmen's innocent guess on the origin of Mercury's name is a winner.

Prior to my viewing of Mercury Is Mine, I caught up with the Metro Manila Film Festival New Wave Best Picture Ari at Cinemalaya 2016. It is a Kapampangan film dealing with a famed poet. The film, with ample creative support from Jason Paul Laxamana, highlighted some of the main criticisms against the Kapampangan language. One of these quirks is the interchange of Fs with Ps.

I had a hearty laugh then after hearing Carmen say 'Let's fuck' when what she meant was 'Let's pack.' Local tidbits such as this, along with the delicious dishes, give the film a unique Kapampangan flavor.

The gold hoard of Mercury left me puzzled. Are they real? If it is real, then why didn't Mercury raise hell to recover them?

My guess is that the gold nuggets are fake. The last scene bolsters my hypothesis that the nuggets are fake. The final shot shows Carmen still cooking in her roadside eatery. Nothing has changed. Usually, when a character comes upon a fortune in the latter part of a film, the audience sees the result of this windfall in a succeeding scene showing a new house or a new car. In the case of Carmen, she is still stuck in her eatery.

I like to think that Carmen gave away those gold pieces but it is not within her character. That storyline is about as false as the gold hair wig of Carmen. Yes, there's no use changing her personality. She is, as she said early in the film, 'a bad girl.'


Sunday, September 04, 2016

Camp Sawi (Irene Villamor, 2016)

Love means never having to say you're sawi

Sorry! I can't help it. The above hugot line is not from the film. But, it is a major lesson one can glean from the film.

Camp Sawi deals with five women grappling with the pain of being heart-broken. All of them cannot handle the hurt so they join a camp designed to ease their loneliness and depression.

The film begins inside an impressive and probably expensive condo unit of Bridgette (Bela Padilla). It is the regular trysting place for her and her boyfriend, Chris. The visits though begin to taper off. One day, he no longer answers Bridgette's calls and text messages.

The abruptness of Chris' absence affected Bridgette's performance at work. She starts to look for options to heal her broken heart. She chances upon the website of Camp Sawi and laughs at the crazy idea behind the resort. But, the more she peruse the website, the more it becomes attractive. She eventually fills up the online registration form.

Camp Sawi is an island resort catering to love victims. Bridgette finds that she is not the only woman left by her man. Joan's case is heartrending. On the day she accepted the wedding proposal of her beau, a fatal accident happened. If you're a regular moviegoer then you probably have an idea on what caused the death of her boyfriend. It is death through vehicular accident once again.

Clarisse (Andi Eigenmann) and her lover is still seeing one another. However, the relationship is a cul-de-sac because Clarisse is a mistress. After every date, she experiences the pain of seeing her lover go back to his family. Among the resort guests, she is the only one who knows the first thing she will do after her stay at Camp Sawi. She will let go of her lover completely.

Rock band singer Gwen (Arci Muñoz) is smarting from her break-up with a fellow band member. The guy writes a break-up song and sings it to her face-to-face. A fellow musician at the camp heals her heart and transforms her into a sultry crooner.

Teenager Jessica (Yassi Pressman) does her best to get noticed by a good-looking basketball player. Her stalking ways lead to her discovery of the guy's true sexuality. Her mother convinced her to join the camp so she can get over the fact that her crush is gay.

Camp Sawi is not only for the distaff side. Every one who wants to move on is invited to move in. The peak season is during the love month of February.

The genesis behind the resort is not clear. The camp master and owner (Sam Milby) says he wants to help people. But, the way I see it, he is also looking for the woman of his dreams. There is a rule prohibiting guests from falling in love during their stay. Camp master, though, can easily find a way to contact guests outside because of his access to their files.

A Philippine Daily Inquirer column by Michael Tan on extreme sorrow helped me see that the five women are not broken-hearted. Their hearts are complete and intact. Love is still residing there. They only need to tap into their hearts to release joy that will suppress the loneliness they feel inside.

The pain felt by the women emanates from the liver. The Malay root word of Pighati and Dalamhati is hati, meaning liver. Luwalhati means being outside the realm of pighati.

The film Camp Sawi enlightens in an entertaining way. Extreme depression can only be vanquished by love and joy. The film's message is supported by an astonishing transformation of a drunkard Gwen into a vampy singer Love Joy. Musical interludes serve as major points in the evolution of Love Joy.

The brutally frank break-up song devastates a vulnerable Gwen. Then, the videoke sing along lifts up the hopes of Gwen. Finally, the torch song by Love Joy smolders and sizzles. She is so attractively hot even the camp master cannot help but invite her for dinner.

The other girls also learn to flush out negative emotions. Jessica may have lost a crush but she gains a BFF in return. Will she be able to make a man out of her BFF? Only time can tell.

Someday, Bridgette and Gwen may follow in the footsteps of Joan. The latter may not be as pretty and sexy as her fellow camp mates but she beat them all by getting married first. Maybe she is more beautiful inside than the others.

The trick then for singles is to be full of love and good vibrations in order to attract positive things. Love Joy seems to be in the right path. Go girl! Ituloy mo lang.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hiblang Abo (Ralston Jover, #Cinemalaya2016)

'We live in a home for the aged.'

My uncle shared a funny experience of his balikbayan wife and her three equally married sisters in a restaurant. All four women showed their senior citizen cards to avail of discounts. The waiter noticed that all four cards bear the same address in Manila but the surnames are all different. My aunt broke the ice by joking that all of them are staying in a home for the aged instead of saying that they really live in their old ancestral house.

Jokes and laughter.

That's how we usually deal with the subject of home for the aged. It seldom crops up in family discussions. From a cultural viewpoint, home for the aged is taboo subject. Resident elders at homes for the aged are seen as being abandoned and rejected by their uncaring, heartless family members. Or, from another view, the elders deserved to be there because they have done bad things that caused their estrangement from their families.

Either way, the elders are separated from their family members. Loneliness is the main problem of these residents.

Hiblang Abo deals with four abandoned elders in an institution. Huse, Sotero, Blas, and Pedro are residents of Bahay ni Juan. They are the Fab Four in that community of senior citizens. They are the most popular able-bodied residents. They are the ones always interviewed by visiting college students.

An amusing scene shows Pedro (Nanding Josef) running away from a nosey student. He is shocked to hear personal queries from the female youngster. The elderly group do talk about racy stuff but only among themselves.

Huse (Lou Veloso) is the romantic idol of his three companions. He is paired with Rosa, a fellow resident. The group had a big laugh over Rosa's pilfering of shorts of Huse.

The towering Blas (Leo Rialp) is admired for his bombastic speeches. He is a former union leader fighting for improved working conditions and expanded benefits for employees.

Sotero (Jun Urbano) longs to see his daughter. He packs his belongings and acts as if leaving the place. His three roommates ignore him and urge him to go to bed.

Sotero later realizes that they have a fairly good life there after all. They eat three times a day. They have a decent room to sleep in. They have regular medical check-ups and free doctor consultations.

Of course, there are some things they carp about. Blas finds the food bland. He also gets annoyed with Sotero's alleged sightings of his daughter. 

With lots of idle time, several residents daydream or reminisce about the past. Pedro recollects negative experiences such as his time as a vagabond. Huse hates waiting the most. He is resigned to face death.

They are at their happiest when they receive visitors. They get to talk to other people besides their friends. They value visits from students and researchers. But, the only regular visitor to the institution is death.

The film Hiblang Abo is an almost solid adaptation of Rene Villanueva's award-winning play of the same name. Most of the dialogues are retained in the film. However, there are artistic inputs by the filmmakers that radically alter the play's focus on alienation and resignation to death.

The film's emphasis on deception and lying by the residents effectively cut my empathetic connection with the elders. Why will I feel pity for liars? During the medical consultation scene, the resident doctor states that the elders are liars. That crucial line about liars is a new addition and was never uttered in the play.

A flashback scene reveals that Huse is not the gigolo he is bruited to be. He is a homosexual abandoned by his family, and later by his lover. Is he feigning interest in Rosa to hide his past? This duplicity by Huse, a new addition for the film as well, affected my reading of his narration. I'm no longer sure what is true in the things he says.

The best film scene for me shows the elders in their brightly lit room. The sound of a switch being turned off bridges the room scene to a shot of the Bahay ni Juan building at nighttime. The split-second transition mirrors the fleeting lives of the residents. Within a span of three days, three deaths occur in the institution.

The last scene shows a lone elder in the room. It is just a matter of days or probably hours before the show curtain falls on him, too.

Hiblang Abo was shot at the Anawim Home for the Aged in Rizal. An earlier film, Layang Bilanggo, dealing also with the abandoned elderly, was shot in the same compound at Rizal. Both films boast of wonderful performances by their elderly cast. Pen Medina won as Best Actor at the Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival. The four leads of Hiblang Abo shared the Best Supporting Actor award at the Cinemalaya 2016 Film Festival.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dagsin (Atom Magadia, #Cinemalaya2016)

The film title Dagsin, meaning gravity, refers to what is probably the main thing keeping a crippled judge alive. Justino Razon (Tommy Abuel) starts the Holy Week by courting death through Russian roulette. He loads one bullet into a chamber of a revolver and then spins the cylinder. He points the gun at his head and pulls the trigger. If he survives, he gets to live another day in paradise.

Unknown to him, gravity pulls the odds in favor of a Russian roulette player because a loaded chamber is heavier and likely to end up on the bottom after every spin.

The Russian roulette scene, along with the trailer and poster, supports my initial perception of the film as a melodramatic, courtroom drama. Thankfully, an early droll scene quashes that false concept of mine.

The bathroom scene with a caregiver trying to bathe the judge is an eye-opener. It humanizes the overbearing judge by showing his discomfort, his sense of humor, and his dependence on other people. This scene and another bathroom scene of Justino explaining the reason why he survived countless atrocities are my favorite Tommy Abuel moments. Abuel lends his character a sense of gravitas. It helps that Abuel is a lawyer in real life.

Lotlot de Leon gives ample support to Abuel with her character Mercy. An adopted daughter of the judge, Mercy is the sole living family member of Justino. While cleaning the room of her late mother, Corazon, she uncovers a box of diary journals. The diaries soon become constant reading materials for Corazon's husband, Justino.

The journals of Corazon trigger sweet and horrifying memories. The happy moments show the young sweethearts during the halcyon days before World War II. The film then plunges into the darkest episodes of our country's history.

Justino endured the gruelling Death March and escaped the clutches of death from an ambush during Martial Law. The atrocities he'd seen and experienced shook his belief in God. Decades later, with the death of his wife Corazon, he becomes suicidal and plays GOD (game of destiny) each day.

Dagsin gets away with the verbal joustings of the judge because of the excellent performance of Abuel. His character Justino Razon is up there with other memorable Cinemalaya characters such as Rene in Bwakaw and the eponymous character in Jay.

First-time director Atom Magadia and his wife colloborated on the film. They included things they love on the film. A poem by Magadia was supplied with a lovely melody and ended up becoming the harana song. But, some things are completely out of place such as the pictures of Gloria Romero on Corazon's bedroom. Romero was still of grade school age in 1941.

There are also scenes that clutter the mind of viewers. From a journal entry dated 1956, a flashback shows Corazon and Justino eating ice cream. Corazon then hinted of having children after seeing a child by the ice cream cart. I ended up wondering throughout the film how they ended up childless.

I thought something happened to Corazon during her imprisonment during World War II, but then the Japanese official blew his brains out. Also, the 1956 flashback clearly show a jolly and healthy Corazon daydreaming of raising up a family.

The Martial Law imprisonment of Corazon was another red herring. Nothing traumatic actually happened to Corazon. The closest thing to a traumatic event is the last grave sin committed by her husband, Justino.

A G-word helped Justino survived a hellish Holy Week. Game of destiny is not it. Gravity is also not that G-word although Justino's heavy body dragged the ceiling fan downwards.

Surrounded by religious and prayerful people with names such as Corazon de Jesus Bishop, Mercy Razon, and Grace Santos, Justino is saved by God. The character names are an overkill but the idea that a merciful God answers constant prayers is a nice touch by the Magadia couple.

The last scene shows a smiling, cheerful Justino sunning himself in the garden. His heavy, guilty heart is probably a thing of the past.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Pamilya Ordinaryo (Eduardo Roy Jr., #Cinemalaya2016 Best Picture)

I envy those who viewed Pamilya Ordinaryo without having seen the trailer or teaser. I was there at opening night of the Cinemalaya 2016 and was aghast to see the film's teaser that effectively spoil my first viewing experience of the film. The omnibus trailer also laid out in the open the crucial plot of the baby being stolen. The Cinemalaya schedule brochure has a better, spoiler-free synopsis.

Another thing which ruined my first viewing of the film was a lengthy out-of-sync audio problem. The film was probably the first to finish production shoot and should have had an easy time during the post-production stage. But, how come the glitch was left undetected until the film's initial screening and gala premiere at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP)? Well, I hope the T-shirts worn by the crew was not an apology. 'Taga-Indie' lang kasi ang nag-check? Or, maybe the CCP staff is the one at fault.

A second viewing of the film was better and what I thought was a spoiler is not at all the surprise twist of the whole film. I'll share the twist on the latter part of this piece in order not to pre-empt first-time viewers.

Pamilya Ordinaryo shows why Eduardo Roy Jr. reigns supreme as the best Bing Lao disciple of his generation. The gritty film, dedicated to the late Lao disciple Francis Pasion, shows how two teenage parents survive on the streets of Manila. They mainly squat on the compound of the Metropolitan Theater. They snatch and steal things from other people. In extreme cases where they need money badly, they will engage in prostitution.

We've seen this squalid life, petty crimes to raise money, and grimy environment in countless indie films including Ma' Rosa, but Roy's controlled direction sets the film apart.

The use of a CCTV footage at the start of the film Pamilya Ordinaryo is a great move. It forces the audience to watch attentively. Usually, we associate CCTV footages with crimes, criminals, persons of interest, and accidents. Sure enough, the CCTV footage from the film captures a child being hit by a wayward car.

Subsequent CCTV footages pack a wallop especially the footage showing Jane Ordinaryo (Hasmine Killip) coming out of the interrogation room of a police precinct. This time we don't see a crime being committed but based on Jane's actuations we can infer that she just went through a horrible debasing from an abusive cop.

A crucial counterpoint to the despicable cop is a female stranger (Ruby Ruiz) who assertively helped the young couple in their quest to find their missing baby. The good Samaritan even handed out some money as a further help. One line from her still echoes in my mind: '
Hindi porke ganyan ang suot nila hindi na sila dapat tulungan.' It recalls a Ramon Magsaysay dictum which I'm paraphrasing: 'Those who have less in life should have more in justice.'

Most dialogue in the film serves a purpose. A throw-away line about seeping lactation leads to the heartbreaking breast-feeding scene at the police precinct. Even Jane's bra serves a purpose by alluding to the miserable state of the youngster. She is so poor that she can't buy a new bra. The regular bra can no longer contain her bigger, lactating breasts.

During my commutes to the CCP for Cinemalaya 2016 cinemarathons, I always pass by Quiapo, Lawton, and Metropolitan Theater in Manila. I've seen countless homeless people shivering from the torrential monsoon rains during the whole week. One night, the rain was so terrible it flooded the whole area of Metropolitan Theater, parts of Quiapo, and España. I waded through the floods. This is the milieu walked on by Aries and Jane. The whole vicinity is not fit to live in especially for youngsters caring for a month-old baby.

Roy and his crew have an uncanny knack of making the most of their locales. Bahay Bata seems to be a difficult shoot because the crew had to deal with hundreds of patients who've just given birth at the Fabella Hospital. But, I think Pamilya Ordinaryo is a more challenging shoot because of external shots. What makes the shoot even more toxic was the fact that Roy and crew have to finish shooting before Killip flies off to London, England. A huge dose of good luck with the El Niño weather and they somehow managed to get all the shots they needed.

Hasmine Killip and Ronwaldo Martin as Aries bring to life the street dwellers I see on my daily trips to CCP. They look like real denizens of the concrete jungle that is Manila. I was not distracted by Martin's squeaky voice as I found it to be fitting for a teenage, unschooled hustler. Killip is a natural as a young distraught mother. Her acting highlights vary from a simple selfie moment to a breakdown on the street.

There is a baby thief in the film alright. It is okay to spread that fact. The surprise twist in the film is similar to the twist of neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief. Baby thief Ertha is not the only one.

The redemptive act of the young couple at the end was lapped up by the CCP audience I was with. The audience know that there is hope for these petty criminals. There are probably loads of goodness still left in them.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Kusina (David R. Corpuz & Cenon Obispo Palomares, #Cinemalaya2016)

Kusina is an ambitious film that ably soars because of Judy Ann Santos' delicious performance.

Filmmakers David Corpuz & Cenon Palomares took a big risk by setting nearly all the scenes in a kitchen (a made-up one at that). The first few segments had me distracted by all that faux walls, and artificial sunlight. There are even scenes when it is difficult to ascertain the time. But, taking note of the film title, I came to grasp the reason behind the enigmatic production design.

The film Kusina situates the altruistic Juanita (Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo) in a room where she can serve others and where she has some control of. Her kitchen is a magical place with perpetual sunlight on one side and night time on another side. The concept of time means nothing to a selfless woman intent on caring for her family. It is not simply a matter of serving quick meal but of giving tender loving care through meticulously cooked dishes.

Juanita's kitchen is where an abundance of sumptuous food emanates and multiplies. There is a scene wherein Alejandro nibbles from a piece of rice cake and when he leaves, the plate miraculously shows another piece of rice cake. The more Juanita shares of her food, the more it multiplies. She may not be religious, but she is truly blessed by a gracious God as befitting her name.

The single parent Juanita makes use of her culinary skills to shoulder ever-rising expenses. She makes snacks that the children vend. In extreme cases of financial hardship, a friend or someone else chips in to help. She eats her pride sometimes because of her deep love for her children.

Juanita's kitchen has a wide array of appliances, cooking items, and food ingredients. There are also several herbal plants including one that can cure ear infection. But, what is a kitchen without the ubiquitous fly?

Alejandro is like a fly who've been smitten by the delicious food cooked by Juanita. He flits in and out of her kitchen. Just when Peles had grown tired of her sinigang, Alejandro pines for the sourness of sinigang. Alejandro also finds Juanita to be highly desirable. In Filipino, 'May asim pa si Juanita.'

A peculiar medium shot from the film shows Alejandro wearing a blue polo shirt. Prominent on his shoulder is a fly that doggedly stays on during the lengthy shot. Alejandro is that irritating fly who obstinately loves and continues to cling onto Juanita even during her middle-aged years. The audience lapped up Juanita's line about being desired through the years. Alas, Juanita swats away Alejandro's offer for them to live together.

Most characters in the film have their favorite food. Juanita adores adobo. But, she rarely shares her favorite food to her family. Juanita prioritizes the favorite recipes of her family members. She eventually gets to serve adobo to her family and friends in a heavenly banquet scene that will make you crave for yummy Filipino food. Make sure to watch the film on a full stomach.

This year, I'm fortunate to have seen two notable stagey films, Kusina and Anino sa Likod ng Buwan. Both films, with screenplays by Palanca winning writers, feature well-written female characters and both are set mostly in a large room.

Both films showcase sizzling performances from their female leads, Judy Ann Santos and LJ Reyes. Santos' breakdown is simply breathtaking while Reyes' love scene is mesmerizing. Both films star Luis Alandy as the lover. I have seen Dogville but I can't recall a plotline from it nor remember acting highlights. I'm not interested in watching it again but the two Filipino films I will gladly view again or if ever, watch their theatre play adaptations.