Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Manny (Leon Gast & Ryan Moore, 2014)

The gorgeous looking documentary Manny contains a generous sampling of stunning knockouts by Manny Pacquiao from his Blow by Blow years to his reign as world champion in eight weight classes. Watching those clips on a high definition digital theater screen is worth the price of an admission ticket.

The knockouts are seen from different angles. Some are in slow motion that capture perfectly the power of the punches by Pacquiao. A solid right mashed Miguel Cotto's face like it was a mere pizza dough with a smattering of bloody red catsup. Then, there is the wicked one-punch knockout of Ricky Hatton. That knockout was the most vicious I've seen in a Pacquiao boxing fight until...the gruesome knockout that stunned the whole country in December 2012.

It is heartbreaking seeing Pacquiao slumped face down inside the ring. The bated breaths of Filipino viewers are captured in still shots. A concerned judge (or is that a ringside broadcaster) seems to be praying over the prostrated Filipino boxer. It will take a handful of minutes before Pacquiao regained consciousness.

Juan Manuel Márquez's stoppage of Pacquiao in that December 2012 match is the second consecutive loss of Pacquiao. He lost a controversial split decision to Timothy Bradley earlier in 2012.

Those defeats give life to this documentary. The filmmakers were at a loss on how to put into context the legendary status of a future hall of famer. They showed Pacquiao's triumph from poverty. Since then, it was all glory and triumph. His unbeaten run of matches in the 2000s is admirable but lacks conflict needed for engrossing storytelling. He lost an election run in 2007 but it is not bad enough to dent his superman invincibility. There must be a kryptonite out there that will bring Pacquiao to normal human levels.

The documentary cites Jinkee Pacquiao's absence from her husband as the kryptonite that led to his defeat at the hands of Bradley. However,Winnie Monsod identified clearly different things vying for Pacquiao's attention. These include his showbiz rackets, fondness for gambling, affairs with other women, and serving constituents from Sarangani province.

Some critics cite his renewed religiosity as the kryptonite that dampened his killer instinct in the ring. But, Pacquiao has always been religious. It is not something he puts on for the world to see. His mother used to herd them together to pray the rosary over empty stomachs. He is always seen wearing the rosary after big fights.

Whatever felled our boxing hero, he stands tall once again. He turned back the clock to give a masterful boxing performance against Brandon Rios. His triumph was a big boost to the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. If he can rise from severe losses, they can also rise from major setbacks. That ending will suffice for now as we await the next fight of Emmanuel 'Manny' Pacquiao.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Lav Diaz, Cinemanila 2013)

Ilocos Norte is the birthplace of President Ferdinand Marcos, the disgraced dictator whose legacy of corruption and abuses continue to affect the lives of Filipinos. The betrayal of two Ilocanos led to his ouster. Ilocos Norte is also home to the parents of Antonio Luna, a temperamental revolutionary general killed by forces of President Emilio Aguinaldo. The accumulated acts of corruption, abuses, and treachery by our national leaders have forever seared the Filipino identity. We have become a nation of betraying Judases.

Fabian Viduya (Sid Lucero) shares a few common traits with fellow Ilocanos, Marcos and Luna. He is a brilliant law student on par with a young, bar topnotcher Marcos. He is also a revolutionary with the brute rage of a Hulk. But he is more than a Hulk,  he is a Bressonian superman. He feels that being an intellectual superior binds him to no law. He acts rashly on his outrageous proposals. He guts out evil beings and destroys dysfunctional institutions.

Meanwhile, Eliza Atillano (Angeli Bayani) gets discombobulated with wordy laws. She agreed to her husband pleading guilty without understanding the consequences of such action. She sells vegetables and pawns her things in order to feed her two children and a sister.

The husband, Joaquin Atillano (Archie Alemania), is falsely accused of killing a much-hated money lender. His one bout of angry outburst was used as evidence of his deep hatred for Magda. He languishes in jail and yearns for a rare visit by Eliza. He dreams constantly of his family.

One dream of his eerily reminds me of  a major tragedy that befell our country within the last 12 months. The drone-cam shot of the village makes me recall the aerial shot of a devastated Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan struck the city. The village is dreary and devoid of life. The dreams or nightmares are portent of tragic events that will befall the saintly Atillano family.

The bus tragedy scene prefigures the GV Florida bus crash that took the life of comedian Arvin Tado Jimenez. Days before his death, Tado allegedly posted on his Instagram a photo with the caption: 'North or South...Cemetery?' He died alright in the northern part of Luzon.

North Cemetery?

Ilocos Norte sure looks like a cemetery with Fabian on the loose. Directly or indirectly, he causes lots of deaths in this film. He is mad north-northwest. But, he can be compassionate at times. He hates families being torn apart because of absentee parents so he tries his best to help the hardworking Eliza. He dares his friends to take up the cause of an innocent Joaquin.

Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan is a rare colored epic film by Lav Diaz. Eschewing intense chiaroscuro images, he partners with veteran cinematographer Larry Manda to come up with dazzling images of a serene, picturesque, sometimes hellish Ilocos Norte. Take a look at the picture above and you'll see that Diaz repeated the burning scenes from the Russian film Mirror and his own film Hesus, Rebolusyunaryo. The cliff scene recalls the Nora Aunor and baby scene from Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos. Staring down at the abyss, both mothers contemplate doing away with their children and betraying their own calling.

A huge chunk of the film's 10 million peso budget must have been allotted to procuring the cameras befitting the vision of Diaz. The images are so crisp and clear that sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed an errant prop during Wakwak's Christmas carolling scene. The prison cell has a February calendar hanging on its steel bars. There are also unintentional chuckles heard during Magda's cellphone scene.

The viewer friendly Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan shows Diaz at his storytelling best. Every scene and segment are necessary. Every discussion, even the initial nose-bleed-inducing intellectual discourse at a restaurant grill, is relevant. Unlike his longer epics which contains a few wayward discussions, Norte is edited compactly with a running time of about 4 hours. This makes it the perfect Diaz film to recommend to newbies. Kudos also to co-writer Rody Vera.

Is Norte, The End of History the best local film of 2013? 

I don't know. I took a Yolanda-induced break from cinema viewings during the Cinema One festival run. I boycotted Cinemanila because of its maddening, fucked-up way of scheduling screenings. What I do know is I will watch Norte again on an Ayala cinema later this month. It is that good!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Transit (Hannah Espia, Cinemalaya 2013 Best Picture)

I had seen Transit four times and each time I marvel at the elegance of the film. It sparkles like a pearl. There is a certain sheen that I seldom see from local indie films. The actors are classy and superb. The gorgeous location is refreshingly different and nice.

Transit is predominantly set in Israel. It deals with a Filipino family grappling to terms with a new residency law. The members decide to hide a young boy for a year in order for him to gain residency status. As it is, the boy is what you call a TNT (Tago ng Tago), a term referring to illegal aliens hiding from immigration officials.

The film's conceit is hiding bits and pieces of information. It then uses a unique editing style to unveil chunks of crucial information. As the pieces get connected, the true picture gets bigger and clearer.

But, just like a jigsaw puzzle, there are discernible breaks and cracks on the picture. The storytelling is not linear. Tales of the family members are presented in sometimes repetitive manner. Viewing the tales is akin to eating the same cake with different toppings five times. Viewers' enjoyment of the film will depend on whether the toppings are yummy and memorable enough.

In a film forum I've attended, the filmmakers shared juicy morsels about the film. The production group was lucky to find a building rented out by Filipinos. That building served as the main apartment in the film. Hidden away from our sights is the fact that the building was home to several families and teeming with tenants. Another stroke of luck was they chanced upon a responding fire truck near their set-up. The chaos on the streets add some tension during the scene showing the grandmother and boy's risky excursion outside.

I learned about the importance of the uncircumcised young boy's recitation of the Torah. The boy's action is a valiant attempt to show to the authorities that he is an adult. Not only can he recite Torah passages, he can speak Hebrew fluently. I also loved the boy's efforts to be invisible using a head scarf.

The head scarf though makes me wonder about the Muslim community in Israel. Maybe the scarves' power of invisibility works only for Muslims. I didn't see them at all.

Director Peque Gallaga defended the selection of Transit as the country's film entry to the Oscars. The committee members chose Transit because it projected what the Filipinos want the world to see. The Filipino parents' struggle to feed their families and the sacrifices they go through are vividly presented in Transit. It is worthwhile to note that two other Oscar hopefuls, Metro Manila and Ilo-Ilo, also dealt with sacrificial love for the Filipino family. Among the trio, I was rooting for Ilo-Ilo.

The film Transit is critical of the Filipino government and Filipinos. It unleashes a few topics cloaked by a head scarf. Why do thousands of Filipinos need to go abroad to find jobs? Why do they resolutely break the law in order to remain together abroad? 

This blog entry shares a Filipino trait with Transit. Both have a difficult time saying goodbye. My mind is like a carousel full of ideas to write about. Round and round and round it goes...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lilet (Gerardo de Leon, 1971)

In response to the proliferation of soft porn movies, director Gerardo de Leon came out with a bold, shocking film titled Lilet in 1971. His film was rewarded with a plethora of awards from FAMAS including the Best Picture and Best Director awards.

The titular character, Lilet (Celia Rodriguez), goes home after seven years of absence. She has scarce memory at all of the sprawling mansion and its residents. Her father (Vic Silayan) rues her return. She later learns that she is not the only one who came back. Almost every night, she encounters a wandering ghost calling out her name.

Lilet, Lilet...

There are a handful of memorable hair-raising scenes in this movie. The lights and sound effects during the piano and sewing machine scenes amplify the chills meter. The appearance of the ghost is unexpected and terrifying. I admire the perfect blocking of characters in these scenes.

I also loved the breakdown of Lilet at the gate. Nobody screams as good as Celia Rodriguez in local horror films. Lilet is shown banging at the gates. Even though Lilet has been released from jail, she feels imprisoned in the house.

Slowly, Lilet remembers her childhood days. A doctor, who nearly ran her over, helps her break free from her dark past.

More than a horror/suspense film, Lilet is an elegant romantic movie. Doctor Efren Leynes (Ronaldo Valdez) admirably stands by with his lady love. The poetic doctor sees something beautiful in Lilet despite her chequered past. 

What the two lovers uncover is a scandalous secret so stinky and taboo it rarely pops up in local movies. The steamy goings-on at the mansion are so disgusting that Lilet and Efren left in a hurry.

The film Lilet is a fun, enthralling viewing experience. The visuals are exactly what you expect from a maestro. Religious statues spring to life in this film. The thrills and surprises are delightful. A major surprise is seeing a vampishly wicked Paraluman! 

Haven't figure out the family secret? Three clues: Silayan, blink, carnal.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Babagwa (Jason Paul Laxamana, Cinemalaya 2013)

A dominant theme of Cinemalaya 2013 films is lies and duplicity. With giveaway titles such as Instant Mommy, Liars, and Quick Change, one can guess that the films dealt with various types of charlatans. The Best Picture winners, Transit and Sana Dati, had their own share of impersonators.

The engrossing film Babagwa unleashes a slicker, slimier breed of impersonators. Greg and Marney are catfishes. The term catfish refers to a person who pretends to be someone else via social media.

Greg (Alex Medina) is a Facebook scammer fleecing unsuspecting lovers. Using the personality of a dashing fashion model, he sweet-talks his victims into sending money to an account managed by Marney. Once the money is deposited, the catfishes break their links with victims. Problem arise when Greg falls in love with his latest victim, a beautiful matron.

                           Kapag ang puso'y nadurog, mahirap na siyang buuin muli

Audiences lapped up the cheesy romantic lines mouthed by the heartbroken woman, Daisy (Alma Concepcion). Greg has his conscience shaken up. He falls head over heels with Daisy. He does the unexpected by baring his true self to Daisy. The blurry camshot image of a remorseful, whiskered Greg has been etched in my mind as a definitive image of a repugnant catfish. Greg left everything behind and ventured towards the abode of Daisy.

Early this year, I chanced upon an episode of the MTV show titled Catfish. The hosts raised a red flag when they discovered that the telephone number used by a Caucasian lover is registered in the name of an Afro-American. Could it be that the latter is using a Caucasian personality to lure a white girlfriend? How come the white boy didn't eyeball the girl even once during the eight years or so of online relationship? Is he hiding something? There is so much suspense when the girl went to the boy's house. There is happy ending, too. The boy is really what the girl fell in love with online. No duplicity at all for the boy.

The ending of Babagwa, though, is anti-climactic. Daisy is too nice and too pretty to be true. There's a gut feeling that she is not what she is online. The little suspense left is anticipating what she is in real life.

I've encountered several viewers raising the question of why Greg was fooled by an impostor. Well, one plausible reason is Greg is really in love. Just like his victims who shelled out money, Greg threw caution to the wind and placed his bet on Daisy. All of them are hoping for the best romantic outcome but not all will have a fairy tale ending.

For those curious about Greg's fate, the English title of the film, The Spider's Lair, gives us a hint. Smacked in the middle of the film's end credits is an image of a shackled, incapacitated Greg. The World Wide Web-based scammer is trapped in a hellish, sinister web of lies. There are available space left for other scammers including Pogi, Tanda, and Sexy. I hope they get caught, too.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Biyaya ng Lupa (Manuel Silos, 1959)

Biyaya ng Lupa is my favorite local film and my pick for the best Filipino film of the twentieth century. Fifty years ago, this excellent LVN production premiered in theaters as a Christmas presentation. It was the third film of Rosa Rosal and Tony Santos to gain critical acclaim. The duo was earlier paired in the neorealist Anak Dalita and the sea adventure film Badjao.

There are lots of things to like in this agrarian melodrama. The film features Rosa Rosal at her best. The direction and screenplay are top-notch. The pacing is fast. And, the ensemble acting is one of the best I've seen in local cinema.

When I told my mother that I adore Rosa Rosal's performance in this movie, she countered that movie fans hated Rosal way back then. The sexy actress portrayed contravida roles so convincingly that she incurred the wrath of moviegoers. It is a good thing that the LVN head honcho gave her lead roles in the studio’s prestige movies. These roles showed her acting skills to the fullest. Biyaya ng Lupa nearly gave her the Best Actress Award at the Asian Film Festival. The film remains her favorite among all of her movies.

Rosa Rosal portrayed Maria, a provincial lass blissfully married to Jose (Tony Santos). They plant lansones seedlings all over their sprawling lot. They foresee the orchard as key to a bountiful future. Years later, the couple is blessed with children. Director Manuel Silos tracked the expansion of the family by showing the growth of the lansones from a mere seedling to a sapling until it grew into a mature tree. This brilliant device was a marked improvement over the stale ripping of calendar pages to show passage of time.

I love the briskness of the film. It felt like an adventure movie. The spare editing tells the story efficiently by eliminating dull moments. The anxiety and excitement of expectant father Jose is captured in a thrilling manner. We see him running from one house to another. The rapid editing and lively music played a big part in making the scene effective.

The screenplay by Celso Al. Carunungan is chockfull of references to Biblical characters. The presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary is felt throughout the film. The matriarch is named Maria. Several interior scenes show the family's altar with the statue of the Blessed Virgin. Jose narrates the legend of the lansones. It was said that the fruit was poisonous. It took a Marian intercession to make the fruit edible.

The death of Maria’s daughter Carmen is only the beginning of a series of trials, not unlike those of Job. One after another the problems come cascading like a deluge. The flowering lansones trees fall prey to a typhoon. Maria’s teenaged daughter Angelita is raped by Bruno, a neighborhood toughie. 

A vengeful Jose seeks out Bruno but is killed in return. Maria's son Arturo, lured by a city slicker, asks to advance his inheritance. The prodigal son, destitute and cheated out of his money, later comes home asking for forgiveness. Maria faced all these trials head on.

The direction by Silos is truly excellent although there are a few minor things that are dated or simply out-of-place. The kissing scenes are more correctly called sniffing scenes. Yes, the lead actors sniff one another in lieu of a buss. It is not as bad as what you think but it can elicit a chuckle or two. 

I’ve seen this film countless times but I still discern something new with every viewing. The latest thing I’ve unraveled is not a good one, though. It concerns a scene involving a repentant Miguel (Leroy Salvador). Holding a cross, the deaf-mute utters a prayer asking for forgiveness after a brutal beating of Bruno. Although it is true to the film’s Christian framework, the turnabout is so sudden. The scene also straddles the line of cloyingness. Other scenes involving Miguel are better. There's a certain charm during his courtship of Gloria. The hilarious scenes eclipse any scenes cooked up for movies about deaf-mute people.

Other memorable scenes include the young boy Lito showing off, and eating from, a cluster of sweet-looking lansones. This scene, often cut from cable showing, is so mouthwatering you'll hanker for a bunch of lansones. Then there's the scene showing a carabao putting on a harness onto its back. The classic ending shows a triumphant Maria caressing a plow and grabbing a handful of soil. All those years of waiting and praying for a bountiful harvest have finally bore fruit.

It is a perfect ending to a superb film screaming for a Criterion-like DVD or BluRay release. Okay, I'll settle for a local DVD release. Will somebody please release the film on digital video?

Original online posting in December 2009

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Dinig Sana Kita (Mike Sandejas, Cinemalaya 2009)

Mike Sandejas' crowd-pleasing offering is a combination of his award-winning debut film Tulad Ng Dati and Peque Gallaga's tween romances, Baby Love and Agaton & Mindy. It won the Best Musical Score Award and the Audience Choice Award at the Cinemalaya 2009 competition.

Dinig Sana Kita starts with a rock concert featuring Niña (Zoe Sandejas) and her band. Trouble erupts and the young female rocker finds herself getting dragged to the police precinct. This is not the first time she gets involved in altercations, hence, her parents and school administrators decide to send her off to a camp in Baguio City to cool off. The camp is for deaf and hearing kids. In Baby Love, the cadets’ camp was also set in Baguio City.

Director Sandejas remarked that he got the idea of a camp for deaf people and hearing people from a friend. Inspired with the concept, he decided to make a script and entered it at the Cinemalaya competition. When he started shooting the film, the production in Baguio became a real life camp. He noted that the kids remained friends even after the shooting, and they still communicate with one other through online chat and Facebook.

The importance of communication is highlighted throughout the movie. People who are deaf are just like foreigners who can't converse with locals. They need to be creative in order to speak to other people. Francisco ‘Kiko’ Reyes (Romalito Mallari) is a deaf dancer who meets Niña at the camp. He always brings a small notebook and a whiteboard pentel just in case he wants to speak to someone who can't understand sign language. He even gives Niña his cell phone number in a scene which always gets laughter from audiences. The laughter subsides when the moviegoers realize that, yes, they can communicate via short messaging service.

In the course of the film, we learn the reason why Niña rebels. She hates talking with her mother, who seems to have done something terribly bad. She only wants to talk with her father. But, her father ignores her attempts to bond with him. With every rejection, the young rock musician increases the volume of her iPod. She drowns herself in a cacophony of loud music and throbbing drum beats. Slowly, her disabuse of hearing takes its toll.

The film has uncanny similarities with the visually-enticing Agaton & Mindy. Both films deal with mothers from hell. Both films feature male dancers who were abandoned as a child. And, the best thing of them all, they showcase passionate dance presentations. The Ugoy Ng Duyan dance is exquisitely good. Discovering how the hearing-impaired Kiko learned to dance to the soothing music of Ugoy Ng Duyan is worth the price of admission ticket. One can feel his intense longing to feel the embrace of his mother. The embracing sound of the music is a pale alternative to an actual hug from his mother. It should be noted that Rome Mallari was really an abandoned baby. He hopes the film will get him closer to his father.

Dinig Sana Kita ended with a rock concert featuring Sugarfree. From start to finish, Sandejas has it all covered: good music, superb dancing, delicious bits of comedy, okay performances (especially Mallari's), and a happy ending for the young couple. It is no wonder then that the film won the most number of votes from Cinemalaya Cinco audiences, which are mostly made up of young moviegoers.

Original online posting in 2009