Friday, September 26, 2014

Bwaya (Francis Xavier Pasion, Cinemalaya 2014 Best Picture Winner)


The deceptively sleek, powerful film Bwaya highlights a more fearsome predator than the 20-foot-long saltwater crocodile Lolong. Heart-wrenching story deals with a fatal crocodile attack on a girl at a marshland in Agusan del Sur. 

Director Francis Xavier Pasion returns with the caustic bite of his award-winning Cinemalaya film Jay. He sets the cross-hairs once again on slimy media people and, uumm, exploitative filmmakers. This time around, the family of the victim runs afoul of people who filches a huge sum of contributed money. The amount is miniscule when compared to the pork barrel funds stashed away by lawmakers but it is a significant bonanza to a destitute family.

Angeli Bayani gives a dazzling performance as the poor mother of the dead girl. A memorable poignant segment shows the mother failing to identify, and unable to get hold of her daughter's art drawing. She is illiterate hence her failure to decipher the names on the drawings. There is bitter laughter when her request to take home the drawing is shot down by a student.

The mother, obviously reeling from trauma, attempts to continue her daughter's school project which is a requirement for graduation. The school project, a paper-beaded curtain, ironically resembles a massive crocodile's sharp, angled bony plates. When the curtain sways with the wind, it looks like a crocodile bobbing in and out of the water.

The film's visual flourishes continue with shots of slender boats making their way through the narrow water paths. The main leads, Bayani and Karl Medina, make it seem so easy to traverse the marshland.

Bwaya brilliantly likens the plight of the grieving mother to the quandary of endangered crocodiles. All of them suffer because their respective territories are being encroached upon. The aquatic reptiles have seen their habitats diminish because of intrusion by humans. Their eggs are being poached for commercial gain or worse, destroyed. The mother's loss of a child is made worse by snooty media people and greedy authorities.

The ending of Bwaya suggests a solution to their plight.

Leave them alone.

I'm glad though that Pasion didn't heed it, else we would have been deprived of this wonderful, award-winning film.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Dagitab (Giancarlo Abrahan, Cinemalaya 2014)


Dagitab sizzles like a crispy, tasty lechon roasted on an open coal fire.

The initial insightful scene has a professor fanning herself during an open-air, summer graduation ceremony at the country's national university. Adding to her discomfort is a lightning rally staged by graduating students. The last scene of the film shows the female professor out in the open field once more. This time, she has simmered down. Alas, her marriage has lost its fire, too. What remains are flickering embers of love as suggested by fireflies hovering over the professor and her husband.

The burnt-out feelings of the middle-age couple are depicted in a scene showing them touching hot things such as microwaved food. The wife is having hot flashes and the husband is yearning for passionate embrace of a lost lover. The heat must be unbearable because we see them in various states of undress.

One of the best scenes has the female professor and a young male writing fellow lying down on a beach. Both are smiling and obviously having a good time. The poetic top-down shot shows them lapping up gentle waves of ocean water. The wave base intersects the seafloor creating bubbly water that licks and caresses their feet, legs, buttocks, bodies, arms, and tresses. The white bubbles contrast beautifully with the blackish sand. Little did the female professor know that she will soon drown in an ocean of lies.

Another memorable scene has the husband encountering his lost lover in the boondocks. The activist lover, Lorena (Max Eigenmann), is seen as a diwata. I have never seen a diwata on movies as seductively enchanting as Eigenmann, daughter of the late actor Mark Gil. Stunning screen presence by the young Eigenmann lends support to the diwata's hypnotic grip on the husband. He eventually decides to settle in the boondocks.

Director Giancarlo Abrahan has created a loving ode to his alma mater, the University of the Philippines (UP). It is quite daring for him to undertake this ambitious project about two UP professors who've lived, studied, and taught for decades at the Diliman campus. He overcame the difficulty of depicting the school's idiosyncrasies and tradition of excellence. It probably helped that most members of the production crew also come from UP.

The UP Diliman scenes eschew famous places such as the Oblation and the Carillon Plaza. Instead, the filmmakers highlighted ordinary places and happenings at the campus such as jogging along the acacia-lined avenues, and holding sit-down lectures at the Faculty Hall. If you're a member of the alumni community or a student, then watching this film is as satisfying as the Maroons' first win at the UAAP in two seasons. Yes, it is worth lighting up a gigantic bonfire.

I've barely scratched the surface of this excellent film, whose title Dagitab means 'sparks.' There are lots of surprises in store for the viewers. Among the top reasons for watching the film are the sumptuous, electrifying performances of the two leads, Eula Valdes and Nonie Buencamino. The duo remind me of the middle-age couple featured in Before Midnight. When they talk and connect, the screen sizzles and sparkles.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Cine Europa 17 screening schedule at Shang Cineplex (11-21 September 2014)


It's an early Christmas gift for cinephiles. Coming on the heels of the Chinese Film Festival at SM Cinemas, Cine Europa 2014 will conquer Mandaluyong City and eight other cities all over the Philippines. 

Of special interest to Filipinos is the United Kingdom film Metro Manila. A mix of Lino Brocka and Raymond Red films, Metro Manila is also a knockout, white-knuckle thriller. It was UK's entry to the Oscars.

True-blue Filipino films are also slated including Magnifico, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, and Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan.


The hugely popular international film festival then rolls over to Baguio and Iloilo in September 2014. Cebu, Leyte, Tacloban, and Davao host the fest in October 2014. The last pair of cities, Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro, get their Cine Europa fix in November 2014.

                                                                              Schedule source: http://www.bmeia.gv.at/fileadmin/user_upload/bmeia/bilder/Botschaften/Manila/Cine_Europa_17_Manila_Flyer_final__3_.pdf

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cinemalaya X Goes UP




Cinemalaya X goes to Cine Adarna, UP Diliman. Not all the competition films will be shown, but the ones that do matter will have screens there.

Here are the notable films:

Bwaya -  The film highlights a more fearsome predator than the 20-foot-long saltwater crocodile Lolong. Heart-wrenching story deals with a crocodile attack on a girl at a marshland in Agusan del Sur. Director Francis Xavier Pasion returns with the caustic bite of his award-winning film Jay


Dagitab - Smoldering look at the dying embers of a marriage between professors at the country's national university. Watching the film is as satisfying as the Maroons' first win at the UAAP in two seasons. Sparks? More like bonfire.


The Janitor - Just ignore the lame title for this is an engrossing film about a suspended cop tasked to wipe out criminals. Bristling with energy, The Janitor was a crowd favorite at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Janitor (Michael Tuviera, Cinemalaya 2014)


A beauteous St. Paul University coed was chatting with her schoolmate inside the orange shuttle jeepney. They were wondering about the significance of the film's title: The Janitor. I bet several other Cinemalaya fans were as bewildered as the duo.

Here's my advice to moviegoers: just ignore the lame title for this is an engrossing film about a suspended cop tasked to wipe out criminals. Bristling with energy, The Janitor was a crowd favorite at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It stars Dennis Trillo, Richard Gomez, and Derek Ramsay.

Crisanto Espina (Dennis Trillo) is a regular church goer. But, he is no saint. He salvages hardened criminals. There are lots of labels that can fit his dirty job including The Equalizer, The Punisher, The Hitman, The Killer, The Salvager, The Executioner, and The Assassin.

Now, why did the filmmakers settle on a wimpy label, The Janitor? Director Mike Tuviera provided the answer during the film premiere. He introduced Trillo as 'ang taga-linis ng mga masasama.'

Crisanto sure cleaned up the whole gang involved in a hideous bank robbery massacre in Laguna. Each hit by Crisanto is preceded by a turn of the wheel of torture. The gritty torture scenes provide us with the name of a suspect and his crimes. Armed with precious information on the criminals, the audience roots for Crisanto to succeed in his stylishly-choreographed killings.

One of the best scenes shows Crisanto running after a big catch during a drug raid. He easily hurdles the curved concrete staircase. The camera follows Crisanto every step of the way giving the audience an adrenaline rush of the exhilarating chase.

There are a couple of things in the film that should have been executed better. I'm disappointed with the bank interiors. A pair of toilets next to the workstations gives new meaning to deposits and withdrawals. Maybe the point of the filmmakers is to highlight the poor security features of the bank.

The police checkpoint hit is lame. Isn't it a bit odd for a top police officer to loiter around in a deserted police checkpoint at nighttime? Not a fan of The Godfather, eh?

I wonder why the Paulinian student missed the significance of the ending of The Janitor. Crisanto is seen sweeping the floor of debris. Included among the dirty things are pictures of the criminals.

If the character and actuations of Crisanto are the basis of the title, then a more accurate title should be The Door Mat. The fearless assassin is no match to a long-time nemesis. He gets beaten up always. This wonderful plotline gives the film extra emotional heft and one more reason to see this box-office hit.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Memories of Overdevelopment (Kidlat Tahimik, Cinemalaya 2014 Cut)


Memories of Overdevelopment is a cinematic journey like no other. It is part history lesson, part home video, part tribute to Yoyoy Villame, and part appreciation of the arts and culture of northern Philippines. This delightful film, 35 years in the making, is the nth iteration of Kidlat Tahimik's chronicles of the adventures of Enrique, a Malay slave who circumnavigated the world. The slave's name may not be that familiar but his master, Ferdinand Magellan, is a household name among Filipinos.

I was elated when I heard the first strains of the Yoyoy Villame ditty, Magellan. Middle-aged viewers like me had fond memories of that song about the demise of the Portuguese explorer. The compilation album containing that song along with Mag-exercise Tayo was played to death in our household during visits of my late grandfather. Lolo Jose was a huge, huge fan of Villame. I think he'll agree with the proposal to make Villame a National Artist.

There is a national artist featured in the film. National Artist Ben Cabrera and his museum are bastions of art in Baguio City. Kidlat Tahimik and his equally artistic sons show off their art installations. Every destination set upon by Enrique and present-day balikbayan counterpart, also named Enrique, is blessed with impressive art pieces. The whole film is a showcase of Filipino pride.

Memories of Overdevelopment (Unang Balikbayan) is an entertaining, indio-genius film. From yoyo to Yoyoy, the film handles Filipino things in a playful, catchy, jocular manner. My favorite scene shows Enrique unleashing a yoyo to kill a pig. The scene is fiercely independent and brave for using a cheap-looking plastic pig in lieu of a real pig. The amazing thing is the scene worked wonders for me. It drove home the major points that the yoyo is originally a weapon and that budgetary constraint is no obstacle to story telling. Besides, no animal was hurt at all.



Kidlat Tahimik espouses the idea that every Filipino has a story to tell. We just need to harness our own imagination. In August 2014, Kidlat Tahimik was honored by the Cinemalaya group for his role in the 'development and propagation of Philippine independent cinema.' Among those who followed his found-footage and video diary style of filmmaking are John Torres and Roxlee. He is very much at home sharing his experiences and indigenous concepts to aspiring filmmakers, who calls him kuya.



Uppermost photo taken by filmmaker H. Calderon

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sundalong Kanin (Janice O'Hara, Cinemalaya 2014)



One of the more interesting screenplays at the 10th edition of Cinemalaya, Sundalong Kanin is marred by bouts of haphazard filmmaking. The thrilling adventures and misadventures of a quartet of rural boys during the Second World War captivates the attention of the audience. Then, just when things get exciting, the audience members are bombarded with inept dramatic scenes and lame action set pieces.

A pet peeve of mine is seeing a breathing 'dead man' in films. Sundalong Kanin is the latest one to show a corpse with a heaving stomach. Filmmakers can easily change camera angles to hide moving stomachs but they continue to show the full body. Maybe they saw it done in Tokyo Story and decided to do it, too. I'll turn a blind eye if their films are as excellent as Tokyo Story.

The execution segment in Sundalong Kanin loses its impact because of poor blocking of the crowd scenes. The long shots are okay but the shoving and jostling scenes are jarringly dull. I also dislike some parts of the nighttime chase. The weak lighting presents the kids as being unconcern about exposure to enemies.

A memorable scene shows two vagrant kids stealing mouthfuls of rice. A rice soldier valiantly tries to stop them but fails. It shows how nimble and brittle the bravery of the frail, puny rice soldiers. 


A rash of abusive acts by enemies will turn the innocent children into raging animals. Think of the Lord of the Flies meets Oro, Plata, Mata. The scene showing a kid poking a gun on the head of another boy is a nod to an iconic scene featuring Joel Torre in Oro, Plata, Mata. 

Sundalong Kanin also has a few nods to the film Seven Samurai. The cutting of a girl's hair to make her look like a boy is from the Japanese film. Both films end with a shot of mounds of graves. The little boy giving a snappy salute is a nice touch by the Sundalong Kanin team. He has finally learned his lesson although he still needs to bulk up. Cinemalaya 2014 Special Awardee Kidlat Tahimik will probably advise him to 'eat samurais' - 'eat some more rice.'