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.