Friday, October 26, 2012

Blood of the Vampires (Gerardo de Leon, 1966)

I would have loved to see the original version of this film, which is also known as Curse of the Vampires and Ibulong Mo Sa Hangin. But with the sad state of the Philippines' film preservation efforts decades ago, I'll take whatever version is out there. At least the film didn't disintegrate like Daigdig Ng Mga Api, which is allegedly the masterpiece of maestro director Gerardo de Leon. 

The horror film's English-dubbed version, which I've seen, is from a video transfer. Blood of the Vampires is the video release title although I think Curse of the Vampires, its international release title, is the better and more appropriate English title. 

The Escudero family is under the spell of a curse. Every family member, excluding the patriarch, will become vampires. The matriarch, long thought to be dead by her two children, wakes up every night thirsting for human blood. A near death experience convinces the Don to modify his last will. In the event of his death, the evil-possessed mansion will be razed down to the ground!

There are some gaping holes in the plot. What triggered the intense hatred of Daniel for Eduardo? Who or what killed the matriarch? How was she killed? These gaps lead me to believe that the running time of about 80 minutes is a truncated one.

The dubbing is another matter. There's no dialogue that connects to the original title, Ibulong Mo Sa Hangin. In what context was the title line uttered? Was it uttered at all? The English dialogues don't amplify enough why Amalia Fuentes won the Best Actress award from the FAMAS group. The make-up though was a knockout. The transfiguration of the evil Leonore to the good beautiful lady is a stunning one. I can't help but noticed the resemblance between Amalia Fuentes and Hilda Koronel. 

The film Blood of the Vampires is unfairly lumped along with so-called B-movies of our national artists, Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero. It is more than a mere horror chiller. The script, by Ben Feleo and Pierre L. Salas, alludes to the Philippines' colonial relationship to Spain. The Spanish mestizo Eduardo Escudero (Eddie Garcia) commands utmost obedience from his indio wife-slave. The blood-thirsty Escuderos, bearers of the shields, are vanquished not by sunlight but by a cataclysmic fire. The resource-sucking Spanish colonizers, caught up in a sweeping conflagration of war among nations, eventually succumbs to the United States of America. 

The odd mix of disparate elements make the movie a unique viewing experience. The mise-en-scene reminds me of Francisco Coching's detailed illustrations. The use of authentic dungeons, and eerie lighting effects add a creepy feel to the proceedings. There's also a tinge of incest in the affairs of the Escuderos. The English dubbing, though, sticks out like a festering wound. I almost forgot the reprehensible use of black-faced servants. Why the need to portray them as blacks? 

A recent news article has a Japanese web site ruing the loss of a Filipino-made film titled Batman Fights Dracula. If the film is as good as the Dolphy starrer James Batman, then indeed it is a quite a tragedy. Film buffs are left with no recourse but to look forlornly at the poster. Meanwhile, they can check out James Batman and Blood of the Vampires. The latter may not be a top-rate de Leon film but it is good enough to earn a slot in movie scare-athon plans this Halloween break. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Harana (Benito Bautista, 2012)

Ang dalagang Pilipina, parang tala sa umaga
Kung tanawin ay nakaliligaya
May ningning na tangi at dakilang ganda
- Jose Corazon de Jesus

Documentary films are getting noticed here in the Philippines and the rest of the world. The absorbing Senna, about the three-time Formula One champion Ayrton Senna, was a box-office hit in the United Kingdom. It was shown locally during Cine Europa Film Festival 2012. Give Up Tomorrow created quite a loud buzz at this year's Cinemalaya Film Festival that it got a theatrical run in October 2012.

Benito Bautista's Harana also made an impression during the Cinemalaya festival. Audiences, primed up by exposure to Youtube videos and concert/music films such as This Is It and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, gravitated towards this film because it is stuffed with wonderful harana songs such as Dalagang Pilipina, Iniibig Kita, and Aking Bituin (O Ilaw). But, those songs are only as good as the ones singing them.  

The documentary takes a look at balikbayan Florante Aguilar's search for the best of these haranistas. Aguilar, a classical guitarist oozing with musical chops just like his tukayos Freddie Aguilar and Florante, finds these masters of the lost art of serenade out in the field, along the river, and on the streets. 

Every musical performance by the Harana Kings, composed of Aguilar, tricycle driver Felipe Alonzo, farmer Celestino Aniel, and fisherman Romeo Bergunio, is pure delight. There's a sincere feel to their direct, romantic declarations of love. You'll believe every word emanating from their hearts. Bereft of money to come in flashy cars or to buy expensive gifts, the three proletarian vocalists have only love to offer. They express this love with the help of a sturdy guitar.

If music be the food of love, play on 
- William Shakespeare

There's a memorable segment in this lovely documentary. A young man named Bryan is heads over heels over a schoolmate. The girl seems to be in a relationship but he is adamant to profess his love. He seeks the help of a few surviving practitioners of harana, an old-school courtship ritual. The serenade pushes through, and there's a fantastic medium shot of a giddy Bryan. With soothing romantic lyrics in the air, his beaming face is full of bliss as he eyes the girl of his dreams. And the reaction of the girl? Let's just say that she is not used to getting this profuse attention showered on her. But, one thing's for certain, she won't forget this harana night and the Rapunzel feeling of being desired. Ang haba-haba ng buhok niya. Parang Rapunzel.

Our elders may be onto something with harana. They know the power of harana songs to tame any lady. With glorious voices emanating from outside the house, no woman can resist taking a peek by the window.

Buksan ang bintana
at ako'y dungawin
Nang mapagtanto mo
ang tunay kong pagdaing

After viewing this documentary, I visited the web site of Aguilar. I've learned valuable things about a proper harana song. Not every local love song out there is a harana song. There's a certain beat and structure of a harana song. The lyrics should also be reflective of the act of serenading. I'm glad that at least three previously unreleased harana songs were given valuable screen time in the doc. Even better, these songs were eventually recorded by the Harana Kings. Iniibig Kita has the potential to become a hit in the hands of a popular singer. 

The documentary Harana has a strong middle portion. However, the book ends are not that good. The start showed various places but did not linger enough to show their relevance. I wasn't thrilled with the American Idol-style of showing horrendous performances. The time given to these performers should have been used in educating viewers about the differences of a harana song from a kundiman song. The end was not that elating, either. The stagy parting among the vocalists was not dramatic enough. The ending sort of rambled on and on. A concert scene or a recording session scene could have been perfect ending.

In the end, the emotional performances of the Harana Kings will remain with you. If you can't get enough of them, then grab a copy of the soundtrack, which is sadly the last album together of Alonzo, Bergunio, and  Celestino Aniel. The latter died in September 2012.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Give Up Tomorrow (Michael Collins, 2011)

For many of us who've closely monitored the Chiong sisters' rape-slay case in the 1990s, this documentary will shock and infuriate you. In just a matter of 95 minutes, the total running time of the doc, I've changed my stand that Francisco Juan Paco Larrañaga was guilty. All those years, I was led to believe that he participated in the murders of Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong. I was wrong. Maybe you'll get to the same conclusion that Paco is innocent after viewing the must-see documentary by Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco.

Media played a big part in brainwashing my mind. It kept repeating lies such as Paco being an admirer of one of the sisters, and that he was one of those who threw a corpse down a cliff in Cebu in July 1997. The articles were accompanied with nonflattering pictures of the teenager and his 6 other co-accused. The documentary showed a newspaper clipping with a photo of Paco, which eerily recalls a close-up shot of a doomed chubby soldier in the film Full Metal Jacket. Paco was heavily demonized in words and pictures by the press back then.

It had been 16 years since he was arrested and incarcerated, but Paco remains adamant of his innocence. There are dozens of witnesses willing to testify that he was in Manila on the day of the abduction. Constant acknowledgement of the truth keeps the young man in good spirits. He will not give up unlike the aforementioned young soldier who blasted his brains out.

“If you wanna give up, give up tomorrow. Today, do what you can to survive.” 

Paco's survival mantra is fantastic advice to anyone facing adversities. But then, aren't most of the impoverished Filipinos already practicing that tactic of living one day at a time? 

Another important lesson from the documentary is to take with a grain of salt every news stories and sensational headlines. With the coming national elections next year, we need to be more critical of stories coming out from news media groups and the grapevine.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pridyider (Rico Maria Ilarde, 2012)

Wow! If the cooooool trailer whetted your appetite, then check out the coooooler film in its entirety. 

The ravishing Tina Benitez (Andi Eigenmann) is a balikbayan planning to establish a restaurant and iron out chinks from her mysterious past. She has been away for two decades. With great haste, she spruces up the old family house into a serviceable one. House lights are working. The humongous refrigerator is humming and, yikes!, still observing surreptitiously not unlike the demented Hal computer from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Pridyider is based on a classic Shake Rattle & Roll episode directed by Ishmael Bernal. The premise of that short feature is that the refrigerator imbibes and acts out the evil thoughts of the house residents. The fridge becomes, among other things, a filthy pig, a lustful voyeur, and a vengeful killer.

Ilarde's pridyider (refrigerator) is way more malevolent. It is a cursed portal to an infernal pit for lust/food gluttons. The film seems to target late night snacking (in the dining room and the bed room). Among the recent additions to the hell hole are two women who steal and feed on the love of another woman's husband, a stray black cat, and an obese thief who partakes of food in the ref. Tina finds a way to rid the refrigerator of the curse. With the help of her childhood friend, she descends courageously to the pit and plants an anti-curse bomb.

Andi Eigenmann can give Solenn Heussaff a run for her money for meaty action/adventure roles. The former gave a surprising strong performance as Tina, a rashly daring woman in her mid-twenties. A flashback reveals how she took on bullies during her early grade school years. This kick-ass attitude served her well in her encounters with a mysterious figure and supernatural beings. I loved that she doesn't hesitate to confront stalkers. The way she handles the knife shows that she is her mother's daughter.

The film Pridyider is a lavish, sumptuous buffet of delicious performances, visual treats, and hearty chuckles. Ilarde outdid himself with this tongue-in-cheek chiller. Tiktik, watch out because this movie has a firm hold, tentacles and all, on the 'best horror film of the year' tag.

Graceland (Ron Morales, 2012)

There's no Elvis Presley in here, but the film sure rocks!

Blending political scandals, social issues, and Akira Kurosawa's High and Low, the taut suspense thriller Graceland holds the audience in a vise-like grip. A poor chauffeur named Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) witnesses a kidnapping gone wrong. His little girl Elvie was abducted wrongly because she was wearing the school uniform of the real target, Sophia, her playmate and daughter of a big-time, wealthy politician. But, upon orders of the kidnappers, the hapless father tells the rich parents that Sophia had been kidnapped with a ransom of two million pesos.

Reyes does a wonderful job of portraying a father trying his utmost best to save his daughter. Marlon Villar is at a loss on whether to tell the truth about the real fate of Sophia to her parents. However, he has to consider first the safe return of his own daughter, Elvie. Marlon  must lie and act as if Sophia was alive and the one being held in captive.

A determined police investigator squeezes details from Marlon. But, he can't get any headway because Elvie supports the story of her father. Lies and lies are piling up like uncollected trash at a garbage dump.

The stinky story all started from the dirty deeds of congressman Manuel Chango, a pervert who devours preteen girls. The wasted look of the young prostitute at the cab unnerves you. There's a Travis Brickle and Howard Beale-like anger boiling in you. You can't take it anymore. 

Pu----I--N'yo... The grandma's cussing relieves you of pent-up anger. All the director need to do after that scene is to ensure that the bastards get what they deserve.

Director Morales had a sure hand in this film project. He delicately tackled child prostitution. There's irony as two fathers try to save their daughters while the prostitutes, almost the same age as their kids, were treated like commodities by both fathers. The pacing and plot twists are that of a gripping, white-knuckle thriller. The inclusion of the shoplifting segment is a stroke of genius. Sophia, aping the behavior of her dad, corrupts her friend into doing a crime. The distinction between high and low classes gets blurred as seen in the mixed-up clothes of the girls. The monstrous political corruption, if left unchecked, will devour all of us.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Working Girls (Ishmael Bernal, 1984)

In 1984, the big guns of local cinema exploited the loosening hold of the Board of Censors, a fascistic arm of the Marcos regime. Their movies begin hinting of the burgeoning yellow movement. Lino Brocka collaborated with Pete Lacaba on their long-delayed film project, Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim, which dealt with striking factory workers. Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L. broke the fourth wall with an enlightened nun exhorting the people to go out on the streets and fight for their rights and freedom.

Ishmael Bernal’s Working Girls has a trio of small scenes that may be seen as a nod to the yellow fever engulfing the country. A friend of a sexy lady shopping for clothes gently approves of her color choice (yellow), which he says is just right for the times. The second scene shows another character alighting from a tricycle. Prominently plastered in the vehicle’s windshield is a yellow sticker with the words ‘Hindi Ka Nag-Iisa,’ a slogan coined by people seeking justice for the death of former Senator Ninoy Aquino. The third scene shows a secretary stripping pages from a telephone directory. The yellow pages will be shredded and used as rally confetti. Those scenes may be too tame compared to the heavily politicized scenes and in-your-face rally footages featured in the films of Brocka and de Leon.

However, the hilarious, blockbuster hit Working Girls is notable for espousing the idea that a woman can go places where no woman has gone before. The new Filipina can rise to become a chairperson of a large bank or even assume the leadership of our country. What a man can do, a woman can also do. As the film shows, women can do it better.

The stunning and sensuous women of Working Girls are all denizens of Makati’s central business district. Carla Asuncion, Isabel, and Suzanne work for Premium Bank. Amanda de Luna, Ann Concio, and Rose belong to a professional management company. Nimfa is a jewelry seller plying her wares to employees of the two offices. Most of them are assertive and know what they want. They achieve their goals with dogged determination and lots of cunning.

The film is recommended to people thinking of getting a job in Makati. It basically says 'no weaklings' allowed here. The searing portrayal of office politics is still spot on even today. Transport fare for airconditioned buses and dollar exchange rates may have changed but the dreams, needs, and idiosyncracies of Makati-based female workers haven't changed. Seductive secretaries prey on top male executives, who gamely go along for the ride. These powerful executives utilize their money to hide problems such as unwanted pregnancies and affairs with subordinates. Married women are not immune from these playboys. Sometimes, lack of appreciation from husbands lead these married women to have affairs.

Office gossip is not entirely a women's pastime and social weapon. Jealous and envious men also indulge in gossips and backstabbing. A jilted suitor of Isabel connives with his friends to spread unsavory rumors about Isabel. The pregnant girl, given advice by her boss Carla, eventually learns to fight back. Her restaurant vengeance act draws applause from fellow women employees.

Carla Asuncion has a hard time getting her objections taken seriously by the male-dominated board of Premium Bank. The male directors laugh at her female intuition. She gets downright dirty in getting evidence to support her objections. In the end, she has the last laugh as she gets promoted as chairwoman of the bank. It is interesting to note that Carla Asuncion's initials are C.A., which can be an allusion to Corazon Aquino.

Some viewers back then must have begun entertaining the possibility of Cory Aquino's ascension as the country's president. It is not an 'Impossible Dream,' as what Nimfa is humming at the start of the film. There is no such thing as an unbeatable foe. The Filipino people can win if they join forces to fight the enemy. The 1984 films of Brocka, de Leon, and Bernal show that they were lots of people (eg. striking workers, enlightened nuns, Makati girls) fighting the system. Two years later, they did win by kicking out the Marcos regime in the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.


Originally posted in ‘The Persistence of Vision’ blog at

Re-posted in remembrance of the martyrs of Martial Law

Bayan Ko: Kapit Sa Patalim (Lino Brocka, 1984)

Scriptwriter Pete Lacaba shared several anecdotes about Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim during the film’s October 2008 screening at the Dekada Cinemanila. The script for the brilliant film was the first one he showed to Lino Brocka after getting out of prison in the late 1970s. The two decided it was not the right time to rock the boat. Martial law was still enforced. They settled on making the less controversial Jaguar.

After gaining some clout with the Cannes Festival participation of Jaguar, the duo hooked up with Toni Gonzales of Malaya Films to pursue the filming of Bayan Ko. Originally, the film was titled Kapit sa Patalim. But, with the increase in number of political rallies and demonstrations against President Ferdinand Marcos, the song Bayan Ko gained prominence. The filmmakers decided to use it as main title of their new film.

Ibon mang may layang lumipad,
Kulungin mo at pumipiglas,
Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag
Ang di magnasang makaalpas!
- Bayan Ko -

Brocka utilized amazing footages of actual opposition rallies. The rallies were huge and the participants were really brave and passionate. Majority of the exuberant demonstrators were wearing yellow T-shirts with portraits of Ninoy. There were no traces of fear in their faces. As the Bayan Ko lyrics state, a subjugated bird will try its best to break free. The key word is 'pumipiglas' and not 'umiiyak.'

The censors’ board eventually banned the public exhibition of Bayan Ko. The board used the flimsy excuse of nudity by Claudia Zobel to give the film an X rating.

With the help of some foreign supporters, the film was smuggled out of the country. It soon earned wide critical acclaim overseas. It was chosen to compete for the Palme d’Or. It was selected as most outstanding film at the British Film Institute Award.

More than two decades have passed but the film still evokes strong reaction from the audience. I was floored by the film’s strong statement against the regime of Marcos. Labor problems, health insurance woes, and the Ninoy Aquino assassination were the major issues brought out in the open by the film. 

Many of us can relate to the pharmacy scene wherein Turing Manalastas (Philip Salvador) bought only half of the prescribed medicines because of high prices. His pregnant wife is confined at the hospital. Faced with sky-high expenses, Turing takes part in a robbery.

This is a top-tier Brocka film.  It is better than the dated Brocka-Lacaba film, Jaguar. The dialogues are somewhat stilted in the latter film. Another good Brocka film that is anti-Marcos is Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak, which shows a Marcos-like couple wrecking havoc on a town they are governing.

* Originally posted in a Xanga blog

Re-posted in memory of the martyrs of Martial Law

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Forum on Mike de Leon's Sister Stella L.

Cine Adarna, UP Diliman, Quezon City (March 20, 2009) – Award-winning actress Vilma Santos and showbiz colleagues shared precious stories at a forum dealing with Mike de Leon's Sister Stella L. The reunion was part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the film.

The seven forum panelists were Vilma, actress Laurice Guillen, scriptwriter Pete Lacaba, production designer Cesar Hernando, producer Mother Lily Monteverde, film critic Mario Hernando, and film academician Roland Tolentino.

Mother Lily and Vilma narrated that they cried during the first showing day of the film in 1984. The film suffered a severe box-office beating by Sharon Cuneta's movie Bukas Luluhod ang mga Tala. The film of the Star for All Seasons was groveling in the dust.

But 25 years later, Vilma's film is still the talk of the town and is rightly recognized as one of the best Filipino films of the 20th century. Roland Tolentino enumerated the three major reasons why the film is a gem of Philippine cinema. He noted the excellent acting by Vilma and the rest of the cast. Laurice Guillen remarked that she had to let go of her stage mannerisms in order to properly portray a nun. It remains a milestone in her acting career. A somewhat embarrassed Vilma admitted that she was clueless on the film’s message during the course of the shooting.

Tolentino also highlighted the social realism of the film. Labor problems, persecution of media, and harassment of nuns were effectively portrayed in the film. A forum listener, Sister Rosario Battung, confirmed that her colleagues were stalked by military men during the Marcos regime. They were constantly harassed by the police and soldiers. A Kilusang Mayo Uno member said the film was always one of the films viewed at picket lines. Pete Lacaba butted in to say that hopefully the DVD copy was an original one. He also noted that media persecution got worse during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Radio commentators and print journalists were being killed.

The last one mentioned by Tolentino was the Brechtian ending. Sister Stella L was directly speaking to the audience. She was exhorting the people to take a stand against human rights abuses. Cesar Hernando confirmed that there was a different ending shown at the Venice Film Festival. The festival version showed the monologue by Sister Stella L. It was then followed by a shot of multitudes attending a huge anti-Marcos rally. The courageous film was instructing people to join anti-Marcos rallies!!!

Mario Hernando said the likes of Sister Stella L may never be produced again. It was made during a time of intense patriotism among the Filipinos. Nowadays, love for country among Filipinos ranks way below love for family, love for career, and love for box-office money. Mother Lily shrugged off from doing more relevant films due to the film’s poor showing at the box office. It was a surprise then to hear Mother Lily saying that she plans to do another Sister Stella L during the forum. I had a blast seeing the eyes of the usually stoic Tolentino nearly pop out.

Lacaba touched on the genesis of the script. Mon Isberto wrote a script on nuns involved in agrarian reform. The script metamorphosed into a Lacaba story dealing with an activist nun in the city. During pre-production, Lacaba begged off from editing the script. He was then working on the Kapit sa Patalim script. De Leon and Jose Almojuela were the ones who pruned Lacaba's script. Ellen Ongkeko added some dialogues.

De Leon and his crew had an easy time shooting the film. Cesar Hernando said it was one of the easiest shoots of a de Leon film. The real reason may have been the professionalism and efficiency of the film crew. Vilma shared the story of how the crew worked into the night preparing for the next day’s shooting. She loves to work with de Leon again. She hopes de Leon will make more films. That is also the fervent wish of countless local film buffs.

Film trivia:

Sangandaan - Film producer Marichu Vera Perez found the original title of the film to be too serious and suggested Sister Stella L as title

Sister Stella L - During research, Pete Lacaba interviewed several Stella Maris nuns. He decided to use Stella as the activist nuns' first name. The shortened surname was cribbed from Sophia Loren's film Lady L

Republic Oil Factory - the setting for the fictional factory is a true factory owned by producer Mother Lily Monteverde

Kung hindi tayo kikilos, sino ang kikilos? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa? - The immortal lines were coined by Ditto Sarmiento, editor-in-chief of The Collegian

*Originally posted in ‘The Persistence of Vision’ blog at

Re-posted in remembrance of the martyrs of Martial Law 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mga Dayo (Julius Sotomayor Cena, Cinemalaya 2012 New Breed Finalist)

Mga Dayo is the first full-length Cinemalaya feature filmed entirely abroad. Set in the United States island territory of Guam, the film takes a look at three Filipinas with varying immigration statuses during Thanksgiving Day. Just like the two states outside mainland USA, Guam is populated with lots of Filipinos. More than one fourth of the territory’s population is made up of Filipinos.

Local newspaper photographer Alexandria 'Alex' Caballero (Sue Prado) is on pins and needles on her wedding day. She has contracted her Guam-born friend for an arranged marriage that shall hasten her obtaining a green card. Her friends, VIP guests, and sponsors are calming her nerves. The picturesque, ocean-view setting is breathtaking. The lovely sunset gives out a nice flattering hue that is perfect for photography buffs like her. The only thing missing is the groom.

The story of journalist Miriam Cruz Sanchez (Janela Buhain) is a little muddled due to the limited time allotted to her tale. She seems to be nearing the end of an arranged marriage agreement. She gets the elusive green card alright but at a price. However, the official synopsis from the Cinemalaya program says otherwise. She's getting a divorce after long years of marriage with a foreigner. Whatever the reason, she ends up wasted. There's a fellow Filipino, though, to comfort her.

Ella Regalado (Olga Natividad) is getting ticked off with Filipinos. She had recently been promoted as supervisor of a hotel. She struggles to rein in Filipino subordinates who don’t follow instructions. She had a run in with a Filipino acquaintance over some money owed to her. But, after hearing that the guy will be sending money to his family in the Philippines, the anger in her subsided. She no longer pursued the issue. Despite being an American citizen, she is still very much a Filipino at heart.

The highlight of the film is Ella's breakdown at a hotel room. After seeing the extent of the room's pigsty-like surroundings, she cussed out at them, the Americans. Her reaction shows that she still has this feeling of 'otherness.' She is a true American in the way she handles her work but she is not yet an American at heart.

I loved that Mga Dayo, despite having alien settings, have characters that are truly Filipino in values and behavior. Director Cena, himself an immigrant worker, shares what it is to be a resident alien. Most Filipino workers endure alienation, homesickness, and backbreaking work just to make their family members happy. Ella bought a ticket for her octogenarian mom because she wants her to see the United States. Ella's Guam-born daughter doesn't share her joy over the elder's impending visit. The young one must not have been brought up the Filipino way.

Filipinos' pursuit of the American dream has its share of bumpy roads and do not always have a happy ending. Alex and Miriam may be down at the moment but they will move on just like any resilient Filipino workers. They have a brood of Filipino friends helping them to get back on their feet. Ella has her family to feed and that keeps her focused on her work.

Director Cena's gem of a film shows that faith, family, friends, a Filipino upbringing, and a forgiving heart are things that immigrant workers, make that all Filipinos, should be thankful for. This abundance of blessings is enough to counter rough trials in our lives.


Sunday, September 09, 2012

Bwakaw (Jun Lana, Cinemalaya 2012 Directors Showcase NETPAC Award Winner)

Happy Grandparents' Day to our beloved elders!

Indie filmmakers have given voice to various issues affecting senior citizens. Abandonment, senility, and lack of a companion are some of the issues predominant in those films dealing with the elderly. Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals have championed several of these multi-awarded films including Diablo, Layang Bilanggo, and Six Degrees of Separation From Lilia Cuntapay. One of the very best stories is by a Palanca hall-of-famer, Jun Lana.

Lana's excellent film Bwakaw tells the story of Rene, an elderly gay diabetic trying to get to grips with the serious illness of his dog, Bwakaw. The mongrel has been his faithful and sole companion the last few years. The woman he'd loved before forbade him to visit her. Who else can Rene turn to for companionship if the dog dies?

Rene (Eddie Garcia) is different from the screaming faggots and outlandish gays portrayed by Dolphy, Roderick Paulate, and Joey de Leon. Rene doesn’t put on garish make-ups, wear women’s clothes, or don skimpy two-piece bikini. I cringe when people say that Facifica Falayfay is one of the best characters played by Dolphy. Facifica is a hideous character who lies about the identity of the harana serenaders and initiates cat fights. It's no wonder then that his family tries to reform him. There's a positive thing about the film Facifica Falayfay, though. It served as inspiration for Auraeus Solito's Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, as seen in the beauty contest segment and the brood of tough goons. The difference however is gay teen Maximo is accepted and loved dearly by his family. 

Rene has more of an affinity with the closet gay Don Benito in Tubog sa Ginto. Eddie Garcia plays them both so they are masculine in appearance. The wondrous thing about the award-winning performances of Garcia is he didn't overplay the characters, both of which are hard to portray. Don Benito hides his homosexuality from his family to the extent that he hires a voluptuous secretary to mask his affair with a leech of a lover.

On the other hand, Rene is a straight guy, or used to be one, until he reached senior citizenry. He realized too late that he is really gay. He used to have a girlfriend named Alicia. But, despite fifteen years of being a couple, they didn't get married. No reason was given for the break-up, although the rainbow of gayness must have hovered over his clouded mind back then.

The most moving scenes in the film are the ones featuring Rene and Alicia. A heart-tugging scene shows elderly Alicia (Armida Siguion-Reyna), in a rare moment of coherence, pleading for Rene not to visit her anymore at the retirement home. She wants Rene to remember her as she is now, a woman who've regained her precious memories of the first and only boyfriend in her life. There's no tinge of regret or anger over her fate. Her loving act of saying goodbye relieved Rene somewhat of the heavy cross of guilt for the perceived pain he might have inflicted on Alicia. 

The heavy drama is balanced with rollicking funny scenes, especially those inspired by Soxie Topacio's Ded Na Si Lolo. Rene has been considered  'dead' for a long time because of his preoccupation with the past, perceived sins, and regrets. He has made up a will and packed up his things into balikbayan boxes. His decrepit house is bare with only the boxes lining up the walls. He is just waiting for his death and has even experienced sleeping in his coffin, which he bought at a summer sale. But, two deaths later, and Rene is now unpacking things. His house undergoes a makeover. He starts to live and the last scene shows him going on a trip.

Director Jun Lana crafted a film so good that if only the late comedy king Dolphy had a film like this in his oeuvre, then there's a higher chance of him being hailed as a National Artist for Film. Bwakaw has a well-written gay character in Rene. The latter is also one of the more memorable elderly characters alongside Dolphy's character Gregory in Omeng Satanasia

How about Eddie Garcia as nominee for the National Artist for Film? Well, let's just respect the selection process and be thankful that we've been blessed to have seen and enjoyed the films of the late Dolphy and veteran actor Eddie Garcia. I can't wait to see what other film projects are in store for Garcia and other venerable acting legends.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

I Do Bidoo Bidoo: Heto nApo Sila (Chris Martinez, 2012)

'Tawa kami ng tawa... Kumakanta rin kami...'

Those were the words of my elder sister. She seldom sees local films, err any films, in cinemas. The rare times that she did, I think my recommendations played a major factor. Last year, at my urging, she watched and enjoyed the Chris Martinez-penned film Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank. She shared an amusing incident while queuing for the next film screening. She was bewildered to see viewers coming out of the cinema with their food untouched. 

Buckets of popcorn were still full to the brim and hotdog sandwiches were left uneaten. It was only after seeing the early scenes that she found out the reason behind the mystery. Viewers lost their appetite after seeing a street dog sniffed a child's poop. That was some kind of baptism of fire for indie film newbies. I hoped they didn't lose their appetite for more indie films.

Last weekend, my Ate had another memorable moviegoing experience. She had a ball and proudly told me that she sang along to the Apo songs featured in the charming musical, I Do Bidoo Bidoo, directed and scripted by Martinez. Again, she forked out some dough for a cinema ticket because of my recommendation.

Why the films of Martinez? First reason is his films easily get theater playdates. Second reason is the freshness of film concepts and approaches despite the ubiquitous presence of Eugene Domingo. Third reason is those films are truly entertaining and can be enjoyed by casual viewers and cineastes alike.

Viewing I Do Bidoo Bidoo is akin to listening to any of the two Apo tribute albums. There are high moments that are spread out unevenly. There are also the expected fillers and downers. 

After the third (or fourth?) song was featured in the film, I was raving over the cleverness of the concept. It was amazing hearing the Apo songs push forward the narrative. Syotang Pa-Class is a perfect introduction to the world of the high-maintenance girlfriend, Tracy Fuentebella. The differences in class status will lead to the break-up of the young couple. An angry and angsty Rock Polotan instigated a flash mob and shaked off his love and employment problems to the tune of Blue Jeans

I loved the flash mob choreography and the basketball court segment. The latter is quite impressive because an errant bouncing ball can ruin the whole sequence. The dancers must have practiced a lot.

Everyone persevered in making the film a success. Eugene Domingo did several passable dancing and singing sequences. She, however, brought the house down with her strip tease tango with Ogie Alcasid. I will have a hard time listening to Di Na Natuto again without bursting into a wide grin. In a movie with several nice surprises, that scene was a nightmarish, wickedly-funny curve-ball. The three members of the Apo Hiking Society made a cameo appearance during the christening of Rosie's apo.

Those are nice surprises all right but then there are the downers. Tippy Dos Santos should have been given an English song to sing. She obviously struggles with Filipino songs. But then, we can forget about it and say that she is merely being true to her character. I was also hoping for a Busby Berkeley-inspired dance number but there was none. Kaleidoscopic images could have been yummy eye candy to a perky Apo song.

The biggest disappointment is the uneven quality of the film prints. I wasn't expecting an MGM/Technicolor treatment. I'm just dismayed with several blurred scenes. I know it isn't a theater problem because my elder sister also noticed some hazy parts in another cinema. 

What's next on my elder sister's movie list? I've persuaded her to check out the excellent film Bwakaw. Obviously, she is not yet ready for a Brillante Mendoza movie. But, if she asks for more, then I'll probably recommend Captive if it turns out to be good. If not, then there are other good films to watch this week...

There's Give Up Tomorrow at UP Cine Adarna; Bakal Boys and Kano at Shangri-La; and yes, I Do Bidoo Bidoo... The latter is worth watching again and again. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Oros (Paul Sta. Ana, Cinemalaya 2012 New Breed Finalist)

It is with amusement that I read articles and comments about the Manila scenes from the disappointing film Bourne Legacy. Several people harped over the impoverished, ‘stinky’ images of the city. However, I didn’t find anything ugly and demeaning at all. Well, the foreign movie is quite talky, but noisy and busy Manila is just like what locals (and tourists) see everyday. The horrendous traffic is replicated throughout the day in various parts of Metro Manila. What surprised me were the gorgeous nighttime aerial shots of Manila. There’s still nothing as seductive and alluring as the city after dark.

Meanwhile, Paul Sta. Ana’s Oros treads the darker, gritty side of Manila. In the claws of the funeral lights, a group of gamblers play the sakla, an illegal cards game. Compassionate local officials turn a blind eye if the sakla is done during wakes. The huge amount of money earned from the players can be of big help to the surviving family members. The lure of big bucks naturally attracts shady characters.

Makoy (Kristofer King) is having a hard time convincing his younger brother Abet (Kristoffer Martin) to help him manage his sakla operations. Business is booming and he needs all the hands he can find to man the games. He just ignores the entry of a saklaan competitor by reasoning that there are lots of dead people to be shared by two groups.

Indeed, Makoy easily buys an unclaimed corpse from a funeral parlor and uses it for his fake wakes. He then cooks up a background story that the ‘surviving family’ can tell to nosey neighbors and authorities. The film is a handy blueprint for those planning to enter the lucrative sakla business. All the things you need to know are there. Vivid details like the need to apply formalin to the corpse and the collection of protection money are shown.

Paul Sta. Ana did wonders with a well-researched story on the world of sakla. He is so confident with his material that he didn’t flinch from using clichéd poverty porn images. His first scene mockingly apes the beginning of Ang Babae sa Septic Tank, a successful film that pilloried makers of ‘poverty porn’ movies. He then goes on to pay homage or simply refers to other notable films and directors. There’s humor as a man fails miserably in doing a Gloc 9 rap song. The off-key singing segues to Abel doing a passable rap like the young gangsta rappers of Tribu. A stinky turd scene recalls scenes from the films of Jeffrey Jeturian. There’s just a slight misstep in the Kubrador/Tirador scene. Abel outruns a man without experiencing any trouble with his pair of slippers. Maybe, the slippers get to be a perfect fit when the user is running scared instead of walking leisurely.

Kristofer King won the Best Actor award for his convincing role as a small-time hands-on businessman. The way he delivers his lines especially the throwaway lines is so natural. His Makoy is hard on irresponsible employees but has a soft spot for family members. King and Kristoffer Martin came up with memorable characters that are a perfect fit for the movie’s version of Manila. They seem to be real-life denizens of the city’s edgier side. In the end, the strong performances and the nitty-gritty details of the saklaan business stays with you and not the so-called poverty porn images. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ang Mga Kidnaper Ni Ronnie Lazaro (Sigfreid Barros Sanchez, Sineng Pambansa 2012 Best Picture)

Soliman Cruz. Dwight Gaston. Hector Macaso. Raul Morit.

Any of the names ring a bell? Those are names of character actors, who are regular fixtures in indie films. But, sadly, very few viewers know their faces. They are just like Lilia Cuntapay, that is, way before she became an award-winning star in a Cinema One Originals film. You need to describe their characters before a fellow viewer can identify them.

Soliman Cruz is the calm funeral manager in Bwakaw. Yes, the 'mabuhay po kayo' guy. Raul Morit is the creepy taxi driver in The Animals. Siya iyung balbas-saradong rapist-killer. See? These guys appear for mere seconds or minutes but they can leave a big impression on viewers.

They have done a variety of marked roles in local films. Criminal. Good guy. Crooked cop. Barkada. Add two more roles to that list.

Kidnapper. Filmmaker.

The four usual suspects are joined in by Noni Buencamino, and Epy Quizon as filmmakers/kidnappers in Sigfreid Barros Sanchez’s laugh-a-thon Ang Mga Kidnaper ni Ronnie Lazaro. The six filmmakers are so desperate to cast the elusive Ronnie Lazaro in an indie film that they are forced to abduct him.

If you’re wondering about the overall feel of this film, then think of The King of Comedy. Whether it is Martin Scorsese’s black comedy or the late Dolphy that crops up in your mind, you’re partly right because both, amazingly, figure prominently in the film. Unknown actors are given the chance to shine and entertain viewers and, in the end, be at par with legendary comics.

Locally-made action films get mostly skewered in this film. Action films ceased to become a box-office draw after audiences got tired of familiar plots and over-the-top set pieces bordering on ridiculousness. Star complex and its sky-high effect on talent fees and production costs further doomed the action film.

Much hyped-about saviors but ultimately lame action films such as Ishmael and Hitman came into my mind when the ‘film within a film’ is being played out. The lengthy kilometric exchange of words by the bida and kontrabida is played for comic purposes. The use of biblical scriptures and the ubiquitous bodega hideout also get their fair share of laughs. There’s the hilarious nod to Lito Lapid’s amazing splitting of bullet wizardry. 

The laughs come freely because of the extraordinary rapport of the seven actors. The give-and-take and impeccable timing of the actors put the spotlight on the jokes. No one tries to upstage their fellow actors. Ronnie Lazaro was on the verge of breaking out into laughter several times in the movie. He can’t help it because his poker-faced colleagues are truly funny. They are so good that the ensemble cast was awarded the Best Actor(s) award at the Sineng Pambansa 2012. The film nabbed the Best Picture award.

Ang Mga Kidnaper ni Ronnie Lazaro doesn’t only entertain viewers but also points out several problems (and solutions) in the film industry. Producers of action films should try to inject new things and concepts. Scenema Concepts International did right with Manila Kingpin but did wrong with Tikoy Aguiluz. Technically proficient filmmakers need to focus more on improving their story-telling skills and not rely solely on flashy, slick editing and gorgeous cinematography. Passion and determination can overcome yearly script rejections, which Sanchez endured with Cinemalaya organizers.

Director Sanchez, during the Luzon premiere of the film, said the hilarious film was his tribute to the comedy king, Rodolfo Dolphy Vera Quizon. It was something that he is so proud of that he regrets not being able to show to the late actor. Those were big words which he was able to back up. The film delivered torrential hearty laughter just like the old Dolphy movies I used to watch on Channel 9 and at Galaxy and Odeon theaters in Avenida. I ambled out of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Little Theatre with a joyous smile and singing ‘hey, hey, hey…hey, hey, hey.’

One more time, let’s sing… ‘And here’s to you, Dolphy Quizon…’

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Recuerdo of Two Sundays and Two Roads that Lead to the Sea (Romy Vitug, Emmanuel Torres, & Bibsy Carballo, 1969)

Paraphrasing Forrest Gump, a Cinemalaya festival pass is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

There were lots of good treats at the recent fest. After all, it is already the eighth edition of the film competition. So, quality is quite high and cineastes had a hard time selecting a standout from a bountiful harvest of good, new films. But, sadly, there exists a Cinemalaya finalist that is so badly written that it stands out for its mediocrity. Instead of inspiring viewers, the film manages to make the audience squirm due to its heavy-handed handling of President Manuel Quezon’s legacy. If the best film I’ve seen starred Ronnie Lazaro (Ang Mga Kidnaper ni Ronnie Lazaro), then the worst film also featured Ronnie Lazaro (Ang Katiwala). Rare is an awful film that manages to get a foothold in the Cinemalaya competition.

Rarer is this cinematic gem that Nick Deocampo rightly described as a classic. Recuerdo of Two Sundays and Two Roads that Lead to the Sea is the film find of the last two years. Forgotten for more than four decades, the film was rediscovered in New York City. If you’ve seen Kamera Obskura, then you’ll recall the joy of film archivists who stumbled over a rare Filipino silent film. That incandescent joy is the same thing I saw in the beaming face of Deocampo. He is obviously happy to share the film to an audience who haven’t had a clue on what the film is.

Producer and editor Bibsy Carballo gave us a few tidbits on the genesis of the documentary film. Cinematographer Romy Vitug scraped up short ends of films for a side project. He spent his Sundays shooting film footages in a Navotas cemetery. Poet Emmanuel Torres came in later to write the narration, which was recorded by Ray Pedroche.

The visual virtuosity of Vitug is in full force in this black & white documentary about four funerals and a feasting. There’s an unforgettable image of moving shadows cast by jeepneys on a wall. The elegiac shadows seem to depict burning, floating coffins at sea. Then, there’s the image of crushing waves knocking on the edges of the cemetery. The sumptuous, seductive cinematography is complemented by Torres’ succinct observations.

Another poetic image is that of a poor father cuddling the coffin of his child on the way to the cemetery. Unlike Pol of Sta. Niña he is determined to decently bury the kid. The spare funeral is in stark contrast with the lavish funerals captured on the documentary. The rich families are able to hire a band and feed countless people. From birth to death, food figures prominently in these significant events.

A Filipino funeral rite depicted in the film is still being done today. Kids are being passed over the coffin to keep them from being haunted by the dead.

The documentary is one of two short films that still haunt me with great images about mortality and mourning. The other is Richard Legaspi’s moving short film Manenaya. The latter is a nice companion piece to Lav Diaz's Melancholia. Both deal with the massive cross borne by kin of desaparecidos.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Posas (Lawrence Fajardo, Cinemalaya 2012 Directors Showcase Best Picture)

Those damned discs almost ruined the film for me. It is a good thing that the film has the midas touch of its producer and creative/script consultant.

An early scene shows a shady character (Art Acuña) waiting for someone. A guy, along with his kid, comes in and gives the man a wad of money and at least three amaray cases of DVDs. I’ve made a mental note of those DVDs because they seem valuable. I’m not even sure if they are DVDs. It might be CDs or Blu-Ray discs in them. All I know are those discs are important because of the way they are presented onscreen.

Lawrence Fajardo’s Posas then proceeds to tell a straightforward account of the experiences of a beauteous call center agent, Ma. Grace Rosuello (Bangs Garcia). She seeks the help of the police after a man took off with her cell phone. Partnering with a policeman, she scours the nooks and cranny of Quiapo in search of the snatcher. Grace eventually points out the culprit to the policeman.

The film takes on a different texture and pace as the high-gear chase is on. The drug enhanced-like texture conveys the snatcher's adrenaline rush. From the streets up to the fire escape exits and down once again to the streets, the action feels like it blazed through from the Bourne Legacy shoot. It is a well-directed set-piece showing a veteran snatcher's mastery of his surroundings. It took the help of a second policeman to nab the pesky parkour enthusiast.

The film slows down to a documentary-like feel after the arrest of the shifty-eyed kid, Jestoni Biag (Nico Antonio). We get to peep into what goes on inside a police station. This should have been an ordinary criminal case. But, with shady characters in the police force, Rosuello's search for justice turns into a hellish nightmare for Biag. Red tape, graphic police brutality, excruciatingly long wait for justice, and the perversion of justice are shown in full glory. Posas joins Last Supper No. 3 and Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon in the list of notable films dealing with corruption in the police and judiciary ranks and the Filipinos' long wait for justice.

The midas touch of producer Josabeth Alonso is still there. In two years of Cinemalaya competitions, she has garnered three best picture awards for the films Bisperas, Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank, and now, with Posas. The latter's winning of the Best Picture award might have been the most cherished by Alonso because of her involvement as the film's creative consultant. From the arrest up to the eventual fate of Biag, the film is full of eye-opening legal details that only a person privy to criminal cases and police bureaucracy can provide. 

Now, what about the DVDs? As the film went on, I thought that they will have some connection with the main concern of Rosuello. She desperately wants to get back her stolen cellphone because a scandalous sex video of hers is in it. The movie in my mind went overboard when the phone's SIM card was missing. But, all for naught. The real film ended without tackling sex videos. (Sayang. Bangs Garcia sana iyun, eh.So, what was the point of showing the cases of DVDs? 

If you're fortunate enough to have ignored them at the start, then you've had a better viewing experience than me. Despite the minor quirk about the errant DVDs, the lean and mean Posas is the best Fajardo film yet.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Ang Nawawala (Marie Jamora, Cinemalaya 2012 New Breed Finalist)

Of all the finalists in the New Breed category of Cinemalaya, Ang Nawawala is the one that can be called a comic book. It is colorful and has lots of issues. There's a feeling of deja vu with every major plot twists. Haven't we seen those things before in Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals films?

However, the film by Marie Jamora packs a mean wallop of an ending. She made good on what a character said, 'Everything will be alright in the end.' The main characters, or make that the engaging lead actors especially Dominic Roco and Annicka Dolonius, help us get through all those bouts with deja vu.

Gibson Bonifacio (Dominic Roco) just came back from a three-year study/rehabilitation abroad. His mother is aghast to learn that he still do not speak despite the long absence. This extreme reticence is the result of a traumatic past. He communicates mostly through Iphone notes and picture postcards.

Okay, let's get this thing straighten out. He moves around here and abroad so he must somehow speak, right? The first time we see him speak is with a sibling. Hmm, that looks similar to a Cinema One Originals film of Sam Milby. Then, we get to see glimpses of Cinemalaya films like Dinig Sana Kita, and Rakenrol. The latter is the peg of Jamora for the randy jokes and energetic concert scenes. There's even a poster of the Hapipaks group from Rakenrol on a concert site.

We also see several Mike de Leon posters on Gibson's room. Is there a connection with Gibson's behavior? The kid is reticent and not a recluse... Ohh. There's the connection. Both men are with movie cameras. 

Jamora's life turn around when she was given a Video 8 by her father. It's been a circuitous journey for her filmmaking life. Home movies. Music videos. Commercials. And, back to her grand home movie, Ang Nawawala. Included in the cast is her real sister. Found in Gibson's room, which is likely the director's', are DVDs such as Basquiat, and graphic novels such as Elmer, a chicken who ironically speaks.  

Show-offy filmmakers turn me off. But, Jamora is a unique case. She is not showing off. She is sharing her world to us and I'm glad she did. Her film Ang Nawawala and Gino Santos' film The Animals are a refreshing whiff of air in an indie scene polluted with poverty porn films. Their surprisingly-good stories about upper middle class kids resonated well with the mostly young Cinemalaya crowd. Ang Nawawala even won the Audience Choice's award in the New Breed category. 

While it may have some issues, there are certain positive things cited by fans of Ang Nawawala.  Some admired the young actors. Others loved the soundtrack. The best of them is the satisfying, fireworks-in-the-sky ending. No more explanation is needed. The heart-tugging ending should be experienced than retold. My lips are sealed but my heart is bursting with gladness.