Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ang Babae Sa Likod Ng Mambabatok (Lauren Sevilla Faustino, Sineng Pambansa 2012)

The Philippine Daily Inquirer has been an ardent supporter of independent filmmakers and excellent local films for years. This year, it stepped up by organizing the first Inquirer Indie Bravo! Film Festival at Greenbelt 3, Makati City. For three days in early December, the festival held free public screenings of documentaries and short films, several of them award-winners.

Among the precious gems shown is Lauren Sevilla Faustino's Ang Babae sa Likod ng Mambabatok (The Woman Behind the Tattoo Artist). The documentary deals with a legendary, nonagenarian tattoo artist named Fang Od. Clients and tourists endure an arduous journey to seek the services of the famed tattoo artist in the highlands of Kalinga.

Seeing her in action makes for an uneasy moment. Fang Od creates batok (tattoo design) with a crude, traditional implement. A firm tapping of the two-inch pointed implement pierces the skin just enough for it to take in the ink. Every sharp thumping sound makes me squirm in my seat. That must be really painful. The amazing thing is once the ink are wiped off from the skin, we see the design in perfect symmetry and alignment. Fang Od's steady arms and eyesight are still in tip-top condition despite her old age.

Fang Od shares that in her tribe, a tattooed woman is highly desirable. (She used to have at least 36 suitors). A woman without a tattoo is not beautiful. We then see various tattoos on the body of Fang Od. There is a reptile design here and a design copied from Chinese porcelain there. Nearly all of the designs are perfectly aligned. However, there are a couple of tattoos that seem amateurish. The story behind those seemingly out-of-place tattoos outshine all of the romantic stories and plotlines conceived by the Star Cinema writing factory so far.

In response to a query on why she remained single all her life, she tells of someone outside her tribe who captured her heart. But, her father objected to her being married to an outsider. The young man then said to her, 'since we cannot be together, I'll tattoo my name on your forearm so you cannot forget me.' He did tattoo his name. Every day since, Fang Od sees his crudely tattooed name on her forearm and remembers him. Awwwww... Heartbreaking kilig stuff.

Thank you to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Raul C. Pangalangan, Bianca Kasilag, and co.), MyCinema, and the Film Development Council of the Philippines for sharing the engrossing documentary to the public on December 9, 2013. My mother and sister loved this documentary along with feature film Transit and the documentary film Ang Pagbabalik ng Bituin. Those films brought us, the audience, on a trip across the Philippines and beyond (Israel).

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Boy Golden (Chito Roño, Metro Manila Film Festival 2013)

Dashing through windows and essaying the signature dance moves of Elvis Presley, there had never been a group of hoodlums as elegant, acrobatic, and stylishly elusive as the Bahala Na Gang members led by Arturo Porcuna aka Boy Golden. But, all of them are upstaged by a smoldering, vengeful, good-looking killer.

The rip-roaring action film Boy Golden is based on the colorful, treachery-riddled life of Porcuna (Jeorge ER Estregan), a notorious gangster in the early 1960s. The pre-credit segment showed him mowing down enemies while a rollicking Elvis Presley song blares from the jukebox. He escapes unscathed and quickly merges with the shadows of the night. He meets shadowy characters out there in the dark.

I'm not happy with the way femme fatale Marla Dee (KC Concepcion) was introduced. She is barely recognizable from the dimly lit nightclub room. The filmmakers should have shown her with exceptional dancing skills. As it is, when she flexes her breathtaking fighting skills, it comes as a big surprise. How the hell did she come up with those phenomenal athletic moves? Okay, she's a dancer. But, she should have been shown doing a nifty move here and a powerful gymnast step there.

Marla Dee is a dancer out for revenge. In one surprising scene, she guts out an obese, fake attorney. That was a bit surprising for me because of the actress who played her. KC Concepcion sheds off her cute image and comes onscreen as a sultry lady oozing with raging sex appeal. Marla Dee is like a Hulk whose chest gets bigger because of anger. She is seen desperately trying to conceal her bulging mammary glands a couple of times. She bangs her head countless times on the staircase but she ends up alive and brandishing a fiercer, smoldering personality.

There are other wonderful surprises out there for moviegoers mostly involving the Bahala Na Gang members. You'll likely be amused with their confrontation with the henchmen of a crooked general. Then, there's the shoot-out segment that channels Gene Kelly, West Side Story, Chinese acrobats, and Dragon dance.

Year 2013 will likely be cited as the year good local action films sprung to life. The film OTJ blazed the screens in major cities around the world. Meanwhile, Kung-Fu Divas mixed a potent brew of humor and action. I've heard some good notes for Iskalawags.

Boy Golden is not a perfect film. Filmmakers could have trimmed down its running time. They could have made Razon a more monstrous villain or cast a more suitable actor for that role. However, Boy Golden's awesome action segments, beautifully choreographed by veteran foreign stunt directors, are a rarity in local films. It is not KC Concepcion's cleavage that I will remember about her but Marla Dee's fight with a lady assassin. 

Marla Dee is a kick-ass character you won't likely forget. The high octane action set-pieces and a strong lady character are elements that make Boy Golden a top-notch action film. Next on my action film viewing list is 10,000 Hours, winner of the Best Picture award in this year's edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Metro Manila Film Festival Parade of Stars (December 22, 2013)

10,000 HOURS








Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Prologo sa Ang Dakilang Desaparecido (Lav Diaz, 2013)

Lav Diaz's films are noted for their high contrast black and white images. But, I was still surprised with the extreme depth of contrast exhibited in the short film Prologo sa Ang Dakilang Desaparecido. It was like seeing a 3D film. I was waiting for the majestic, sauntering white horse to evict the minion of Emilio Aguinaldo and jump through the screen. 

Take a look at the picture above. It feels like raindrops or a falling leaf will penetrate your computer screen any moment now. Lav's elegant, deep focus images should be seen and experienced in movie theaters. Just avoid the front-row seats or you'll end up blinded like deer caught in blazing headlights.

The English title, Prologue to The Great Desaparecido, reveals the short film to be a teaser to an important film The Great Desaparecido. It is important because the desaparecido referred to is none other than Andres Bonifacio, who was born on the 30th of November 150 years ago.

It is heart-wrenching seeing Gregoria de Jesus scour the boondocks for the remains of her husband. She endured humiliation and possibly rape in order to save her husband but they killed him just the same. The skies burst open as if sympathizing with her. The lush, ambient sounds of the raindrops are starkly contrasted by the piercing silent grief of the Lakambini of the Katipunan. She doggedly looks on for the burial site. It is painful to watch, but you just can't take your eyes off the screen because of the chiaroscuro imagery and the glorious soundscape.

The short film made me shout out the lyrics of a Rock Supremo song by Radioactive Sago Project: 'Hoy Emilio, nasaan ang mga buto?' We might as well change the lyrics to 'Hoy Palparan, nasaan ang mga iskolars?' and 'Hoy Ampatuan, nasaan ang 58th victim?'

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (Mario O'Hara, Cinemalaya 2010)

Among the films featured at the 6th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, this historical film is one of the most important. A faithful retelling of one of our history’s sourest incidents, in which a hero orders the death of another hero, the film is a lemon juice distilled painfully on Filipinos’ open, gaping wound.

As the film credits roll on, excerpts of various komedya plays are presented. We then see Andres Bonifacio (Alfred Vargas) playing a prince searching for the Ibong Adarna, an elusive bird with healing powers. Among the audience member is his lover, Gregoria de Jesus (Danielle Castaño). The next few scenes show the depth of the couple's love for one another. A bawling Gregoria is briefly detained after the arrest of her husband, Andres Bonifacio.

The trial of Bonifacio is dragging in most parts. The repeated questioning of the prisoners takes its toll on viewers' patience. Director O'Hara should have shortened the segment by showing successively similar responses to a single question. Limited budget obviously played a role in his inability to reconstruct the events narrated by the witnesses. The theatrical elements of the trial are a perfect fit for the moro-moro proceedings. At the start of the trial, the inept lawyer tasked to defend Bonifacio is already asking for forgiveness for his client's wrongdoings.

Angelina Kanapi steals the film with her portrayal of the Ibong Adarna and narrator. Instead of lulling the viewers to sleep, she is the one that energizes the whole film with her strong screen presence. Donning a semi-kalbo haircut and made up in white make-up, she eerily recalls Death in Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal. When she wears a red and yellow dress and performs a dance, I can't help but see it as a dance of death by Spain. The colonizing country can then be seen as the one responsible for Andres Bonifacio's death.

I love the music score for this film. The hymn Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan was played in the background during the execution of Bonifacio. The lyrics refer to the fight against the Spaniards. Again, the film seems to suggest that Spain was mainly responsible for the death of Bonifacio. The lovely kundiman Jocelynang Baliwag was given prominence in the early part of the film. It was the song sung by Gregoria and the captured soldiers of the Magdiwang faction. In the guise of a courtship song, the lyrics pertain to love for the motherland. Another song that serves as an outlet for nationalism is the song Sa Dalampasigan. It pays tribute to martyrs who served as inspiration of the Philippine Revolution.

It’s always a pleasure seeing O’Hara conjure wildly creative films like Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio. Marvel at how he showed the horrors, the bombings, and the killings during the revolution using minimal money. Heck, save for the interminable trial scenes, I was mesmerized with the film’s inventiveness and Filipino-ness. The band playing komedya music; poem readings; the folk dance pandanggo sa ilaw; all these things, and more, magically transported me to the late 19th century Philippines. O’Hara’s film reminds me of Raya Martin’s A Short Film About Indio Nacional. The latter is similarly structured in framing the revolution within the popular mediums of entertainment in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Even though Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio failed to received an award from the five-man jury at Cinemalaya 2010, it is a must-see film for Filipinos. It may spur them, as I did, to learn more about our heroes and history. If you’d enjoyed the film, then you’ll probably relish O’Hara’s offbeat masterpiece Sisa. A film that can only come from the wonderful imaginings of the veteran director, the movie suggests Sisa is the voluptuous morena lover of Jose Rizal.

Original online posting in July 2010

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Andrew Leavold's forum on Pinoy Grindhouse movies (or, the story of his search for Weng-Weng)

Blood (red, green, and splattered all over). Boobies (perky, taut, and free from silicone implants). Bullets (and bamboo spears and lots of bombings).

These are the elements of the B-movies, which were the focus of Andrew Leavold’s November 4, 2010 lecture at UP Videotheque. Popular fare in drive-in theaters, these movies also end up as the second, lesser film in a twin-bill offering. Ranging from horror films, women-in-prison dramas, post-apocalyptic revenge flicks, they have been described as trash, crass, and low class. But, to those hordes of people who grew up watching them in Betamax or VHS tapes, these films have been wonderful guilty pleasures. Judging from the audience response to a preview of Mark Hartley's documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed, a new generation of moviegoers is ready to partake of the sumptuous silliness of Philippine-made grindhouse movies.

Some of the more memorable cheesy exploitation films were made and produced in our country. Quentin Tarantino remarked that the Philippines is unique in being a filmmaking country with two distinct industries. There is a film industry that caters to local audiences. LVN Films, Regal Films, and Star Cinema belong to this group. There is another film industry that caters exclusively to international viewers. This segment is responsible for the Roger Corman-produced horror films, Eddie Romero's Blood Island trilogy, and the Chuck Norris actioners.

Leavold spoke of how Filipino visionaries and businessmen such as Conrado ‘Boy’ Puzon, Bobby Suarez, and Cirio Santiago dabbled into this goldmine of exporting films. Puzon bought local films for a pittance. He refurbished and dubbed them into foreign languages. He made lots of money selling them to video and film distributors all over the world. The Anthony Alonzo-starrer W is War made it to Europe. An IMDB reviewer described the film as ‘one of the bizarre masterpieces’ from Europe. Suarez initially started dubbing Chinese films into English. He then made a couple of films such as Cleopatra Wong and The One-Armed Executioner, both of which penetrated the almost-impregnable North American market.

Cirio Santiago is a name I grew up with. As a teenager I used to borrow tapes from the neighborhood Betamax rental store twice a month. There came a time when I have watched all the famous films (read: award-winners and commercial hits). I started venturing out with unknown titles. One of those obscure titles I saw was Cirio Santiago’s Stryker.

Theatrically released in the Philippines as Battle Truck, Stryker tells the story of a loner in a post-apocalyptic world. Good guys and bad guys fight it out over scarce water. They ride in armored-clad cars, gas-guzzling motorcycles, and a heavily-fortified truck. It had been years since that fateful viewing but I still remember the midget pissing on the lead character’s face, the scantily-clad girls, and the truck magically evading all sorts of obstacles (Shoot the wheels! Shoot the wheels! Aah, idiots). I didn’t know then that it was a rip-off of Road Warrior. I was just a high school kid having lots of fun watching it. My enjoyment of the film was amplified because the film was made in the Philippines. Wow! I became more proud because the international film was directed by a Pinoy filmmaker. Little did I know that those exported films will reach, and profoundly affect, other kids like Quentin Tarantino, who ended up as an ardent fan.

On the other side of the world, an Australian boy in Bahrain makes do with pirated tapes of films. He encounters some outlandish films with actors of unknown nationality. They don’t look like Chinese and they neither resemble Mexicans. A close encounter with a 2.9 feet midget named Weng-Weng sets the young Leavold to begin probing the origin of those films. Having identified them to be Philippine-made, he scours for more of those weirdly-attractive films. The decades-long passion for Pinoy B-movies resulted in a documentary, a doctoral thesis, and a humongous, to-die-for collection of 700 tapes/videos of obscure Philippine-made films.

Leavold is an engaging speaker with lots of stories to tell. He narrates how Cirio Santiago would usually bring a jeepney at Malate and hauls aboard a troop of almost drunk, sleepy Caucasians willing to join the day’s shoot. He also speaks of how marketing savvy people pushed up the name of local actor/s to top billing even if he/she appears only for a few minutes in the international film.

Leavold’s inexhaustible love and respect for those Pinoy B-movies has a magical way of rubbing on to his listeners. A UP Film graduate complained that she had a hard time getting access to those B-movies. Leavold then spoke of a magical place where nearly all the rare stuff that film buffs want to view is available. Quiapo is the place where he finally got a copy of Romero's The Ravagers. The pretty graduate then remarked that she may have to break her vow of not buying pirated DVDs. Those B-movies seem to be so irresistibly fun.

A Caucasian friend of Leavold told of how scared he was during their sojourn to Quiapo. On the day major western countries issued travel advisories, there they were in crowded Quiapo. He kept hearing 'Americans, Americans' in the utterances of the people. He might have been a new visitor who mistook the people's hospitality and over-eagerness to help for hostile acts. What about Leavold? Well, he didn't mention any untoward incidents. He just mentioned that he wants to learn Filipino in order to better understand the films of Chiquito. In fact, he will return to the Philippines in 2011 to shoot an action film with the members of what he affectionately calls the goon community of local cinema.

In 2007, Quentin Tarantino brought his stash of Pinoy B-films for screening at the Cinemanila festival. He also rode a pedicab in going to Malacañang Palace. In 2010, Andrew Leavold braved the throng in Quiapo to get his loot of priceless pirated DVDs. If these distinguished people were willing to risk their limbs just to put the spotlight on Pinoy B-movies, then those films must have been worth viewing.

Haven't seen a B-movie? Take the plunge and explore the fascinating flipside of Philippine cinema. The films are outrageously funny and adventurous, and just like comfort food, they are nice to devour once in a while.

Original online posting in November 2010

Update: Andrew Leavold's documentary The Search for Weng Weng premieres tomorrow, November 29, 2013 at UP Film Institute's Cine Adarna.

I've seen the Cinemalaya cut of the documentary and it is way, way better than the stodgy Machete Maidens Unleashed documentary. The Search for Weng Weng chronicles the huge Australian's obsession with the Filipino midget actor Weng-Weng. 

It eschews the boring heads-only interviews and takes the viewers across the Philippine island of Luzon. I had a big laugh over the filmmakers' misadventures at the lavish dinner by Imelda Marcos. I was intrigued with reports about Weng-Weng's magnetic charm with women. Ultimately, it made me search out for the Weng-Weng movies. I bet you will, too.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Blue Bustamante (Miko Livelo, Cinema One Originals 2013)

Steve, Mark, Big Bert, Little John, Jamie.

If you are familiar with the names above, then you're probably a fan of Voltes V, an ultraelectromagnetic popular mecha anime in the 1980s. That period was blissful years for me and my siblings. All five of us got no worries in the world then. However, several kids were not as lucky.

Blue Bustamante deals with a boy bullied by a classmate. His father just left for Japan. He seeks shelter and comfort in a Japanese superhero television serial Force Five. His idol among the heroes is Blue Force. Unknown to him, Blue Force will eventually be played by his father, George Bustamante.

How his father end up into the shoes of Blue Force is a wonderful plot device. It shows the extent Filipino parents go through to feed their children and send them to good schools. Long before they were called Bagong Bayani or New Heroes, scores of intrepid parents left for greener pastures abroad during Martial Law. They get out of their comfort zone and suit up different costumes. They solve problems on their own.

George Bustamante (Joem Bascon) does not want his wife to know about his unexpected unemployment. The 'kapit sa patalim' situation forces him to shed his blue uniform and don a new costume complete with a bladed weapon. He takes up the offer of his friend to work as a stuntman for the Force Five show. He ignores the pain and bruises he gets from the show's kinetic action segments. He is flabbergasted to learn that his son idolizes the costumed hero that he plays. Even from afar, he gets to inspire his son to team up with the bullied ones and fight off evil doers.

Blue Bustamante takes me back to my teen years. That era saw the reign of the Sony Betamax and Nintendo Family Computer machines. There was no Facebook then. Overseas Filipino professionals had a difficult time battling homesickness. I wrote countless letters to my father, an accountant assigned to countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. I relayed to him the results of the Philippine Basketball Association games. I shared the achievements of my siblings. I always sneak in a postscript to my notes. The letters from home eased the loneliness of my father. He complimented and praised my writing for being organized. That was a big boost to me then. 

June (Dimples Romana), wife of George Bustamante, uses the postcript in her letters to unleash her cariño brutal. She reminds him not to have affairs with other women. Her concern is not without basis because George has a good heart and good-looking as well. There's a hilarious scene showing male friend Ramon ogling over George's body. I also loved the diner chat between George and a cute Japanese girl.

The film do not show all Filipinos abroad as outright heroes. Ramon (Jun Sabayton) works in Japan because he refuses to care for his grandmother back home. But, he treats George as a brother. The mustachioed duo reminds me of my relatives in Saudi Arabia. If there is a sequel then let them work in Saudi Arabia.

Blue Bustamante is a nostalgic treat for the Voltes V generation. It will bring back wonderful memories of playing with a gigantic robot toy, and Super Mario Bros. on the Family Computer. It will make you yearn for the old Japanese shows. Several of my younger male office mates always relate how they anticipate watching the show Shaider. They had a kick peeking on the underwear of Annie. 

I had never seen an episode of Shaider but our family dog is named Shaider. Just goes to show how my siblings and I embraced Japanese pop culture. As I'm writing this, my mother unearthed my kuya's precious highly-detailed Gundam robot toy in mint condition. Pardon me, but I'll end this piece and take a look at that ultrafantastic toy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kung Fu Divas (Onat Diaz, 2013)

The kick-ass trailer of Kung Fu Divas is such a doozy that those who have seen it must be the ones responsible for the film's strong legs at the box-office. They came in droves bringing along a partner or their families in tow. The word of mouth campaigning is still ongoing through its last week.

It's been awhile since I heard kids and their parents laughing simultaneously during a movie screening. I also had a grand time. The kooky premise of a beauty contest and the rare pairing of two comedians from rival television networks are a match in heaven.

Of all the celebrities I've seen in person, Marian Rivera is unforgettable. She stands out for her radiant charm and stunning beauty. Add to that a curvaceous body, a flawless complexion, a sweet smile and... there goes my boxers. The breathtaking Marian is a true makalaglag briefs lady.

It is no wonder then that Marian Rivera's character Samantha is expected to romp off with the Hiyas ng Dalampasigan beauty contest trophy. There's a wickedly funny scene showing the contestants withdrawing one by one from the race after seeing the beauteous Samantha enter the contest.

There's one other scene that I still relish because of Marian's comic presence. Watch out when she is being led to the soundproofed pedicab. She is so much into the music that she makes a nifty, charming shoulder move. I loved that she plays the scene with a Buster Keaton face and the comic timing of Charlie Chaplin.

Meanwhile, Charlotte (Ai-Ai de las Alas), a regular contestant for more than a decade, gives Samantha a good fight. Charlotte comes from a family of beauty queens and feels this year is her time to reign as queen. Indeed destiny is stamped firmly on her chin, errr, on her back.

Kung Fu Divas is a rarity. This entertaining example of beauty contest-themed comedy/adventure comes only once in a blue moon. Nay, make it once in a total eclipse of a blue moon. The last film I recall of this type is Joey Gosiengfiao's classic Temptation Island. The cult classic chronicles the interaction of four bitchy beauty queens stranded on an island. Kung Fu Divas cribbed the beauty contest flyer invite scene from the 1980 film.

It is interesting to note that Marian Rivera starred in a bland remake of Temptation Island. I was disappointed when she failed to bag the coveted role of Suzanne Reyes, which was essayed by Lovi Poe. Lovi was good but Marian seems to be a better deadpan comic.

A recent local film was also inspired by Temptation Island. Momzillas features two women fighting over a man. They get stranded on an island and forced to work together in order to survive. Sounds like Kung Fu Divas? Even though it featured Maricel Soriano and Eugene Domingo, Momzillas isn't spunky and hilarious enough to compete with Kung Fu Divas.

Kung Fu Divas is a refreshing comedy to watch unlike the stale Momzillas. It takes us to exotic places via the wonders of a green screen. The visual comic touches are unique such as the talent showdown of the two rivals. The film is not perfect though. I'm not satisfied with the ending. It misses out on the 'beauty within' concept. Or, maybe it did not miss out? No matter how hard I try, I can't recall how Charlotte ended up as a queen. Well, I still remember the funny stuff and that's more than enough to make my day.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Metro Manila (Sean Ellis, 2012)

The vision of Lino Brocka is heavily felt in the early parts of the British film Metro Manila. We see traces of Brocka's city of Manila. It is still pretty much the same through the years. Its neon lights continue to lure rural dwellers onto its hellish pit.

The start of the suspenseful film shows farmer Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal) and his family embarking on a long trip to the city. Oscar, just like Julio Madiaga, gets his first job loading rocks. He also gets exploited by heartless contractors.

The claws of the ruthless and nefarious also nabs Oscar's wife Mai (Althea Vega). She ends up, just like Ligaya Paraiso, in the red light district. The owner of the bar she works for is named Sir Chua, which is a nod to Chua Tek, the husband of Ligaya Paraiso in Brocka's Manila: In the Claws of the Neon.

Other Brocka characters, imageries, and dialogues referred to are the security guard (Jaguar),  the Black Nazarene procession (Bona), and the 'kapit sa patalim' dialogue (Bayan Ko).

Ishmael Bernal's Manila by Night is referred to in the balcony scene with Daniel Ong (John Arcilla) showing Oscar a majestic view of the city after dark. But, it is those two other Manila films, namely Brocka's Manila and Raymond Red's Manila Skies, that are the ones given nods by the British film. Put in Red's Cannes winning short film Anino in there, too. The short feature is Red's own tribute to Brocka's Manila. 

Metro Manila, though, is not a mishmash of Filipino films. If the film's vision of Manila is familiar it is because the city has not changed much. Local and foreign filmmakers, young and old alike, will see the obvious traffic, clutter, shanties, and shadowy characters of Manila. Bourne Legacy has them. Metro Manila has them, too, and more.

It is the inside stories that differentiate one film from another. Metro Manila puts the viewer inside an armored van driven by Oscar Ramirez. His string of bad luck ended when he gets hired to drive the vehicle. The training segment has a wonderful scene with Ong playing an opera piece sung by Maria Callas. He says it soothes his soul, and also the viewer's mind as well. It is a welcome respite from the deluge of ills and evil deeds befalling the family. It gets too heavy and draining to watch after a while.

Farmer Oscar Ramirez belatedly realizes that although life in the picturesque Banaue highlands is hard, it is heaven compared to infernal Metro Manila. Will the family savor heaven once again?

The film Metro Manila is a suffocating slow burn in the early parts but once it gets going, it is an enthralling thriller. Just like the epic boxing match Thrilla in Manila, you never know who will win. 

The clear winners, though, are the main actors. The fantastic John Arcilla is more memorable here than his stint as a security guard in Bourne Legacy. Jake Macapagal is perfectly cast as as a caring father and husband, Oscar Ramirez. 

One thing that played a big factor in their engaging performances is that they were given a free hand to translate the English dialogues on their own. Hence, there is no awkward moment when they are talking. I like to think that Oscar's bar joke is a creation of a Filipino. If it isn't then the scriptwriters truly has a feel for Filipino humor. Maybe they can do a comedy about Filipinos as well?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Badil (Chito Roño, Sineng Pambansa 2013)

Chito Roño as of late has been busy churning out horror films. So when I read that his Sineng Pambansa project was titled Badil, I thought it was another chiller. I have no idea what the title means but it seems like a name for a monster.

There is monstrosity alright in this spectacular film but not in the supernatural or paranormal sense. There is horror in there, too. But this time it is political in nature.

Badil is Chito Roño's update on political realities he expertly touched on in the films Dekada 70 and Eskapo. While the latter two films are set during the Martial Law regime of President Ferdinand Marcos, Badil is set in contemporary times in an unnamed island.

Upon hearing the word 'dynamite' from a character onboard a boat, I thought the issue is dynamite fishing. However, the main film topic is more tragic and devastating than that. Badil brilliantly shows how love for money subverts elections in the country. Vote buying is so entrenched in a fishing community that almost every resident there is on the take. Registered voters sell their souls to the highest bidder.

Money is a major reason why candidates win in elections. It is also money that keep them firmly in their positions. In Badil, the minions of a challenger attempt to dislodge a moneyed local official by fortifying their stronghold. They keep track of strangers who may convince residents to turn around. The election race is so tight that a mere family of turncoats can be the 'dynamite' that can wreck havoc on the challenger's dream of winning.

Another local term used by the residents is 'ink stain.' Originally referring to the ink used by menacing cephalopods, it is used to describe voters who have had their fingernails stained by indelible ink. Supporters of the seated official realize that if they cannot convince the clannish residents to vote for their bet, they can at least coerce registered voters not to exercise their right of suffrage with a generous amount of bribe. Registered voters can always say that they did not vote for the opposition.

Also keeping with fishing parlance, the film features a case of 'sleeping with the fishes.' Another one has been caught up in the tentacles of the Leviathan called election violence. The supporters of the challenger cannot match the moolah of the local official. Hence, they resort to desperate measures by bringing in political assassins.

Why do politicians and candidates kill for public positions?

According to a Philippine Daily Inquirer article, the Philippine National Police recorded 177-election related incidents from January this year to September 22. From these incidents, 96 candidates and officials have died.

How do candidates recoup the tremendous amount of money that they have spent during campaign period?

Comelec is pursuing cases of vote-buying and excess advertising spending by politicians.

The likely answer to those questions is in the news. 

Pork barrel. President Benigno Aquino III refuses to heed his bosses' clamor for the abolition of legislators' pork barrel. Why? Because he doesn't want the legislators to target his own pork barrel. There goes the so-called checks and balance in our government. There goes the taxpayers' money.

Sineng Pambansa 2013 sked at Shang Cineplex

Top picks:

Worth your while:

  • Sonata
    • admired the nods to Hollywood classic films and actors such as Greta Garbo
  • Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle 
    • succumbed to the poetry and beauty of spoken Tagalog 
    • loved the performances by Ellen Adarna and Arnold Reyes
  • Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap?  
    • fascinating end-frame 
    • the backstory, though, could have been better 
    • I still prefer Brillante Mendoza's Lola over this film

Guilty pleasure:

Bahay ng Lagim


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sana Dati (Jerrold Tarog, Cinemalaya 2013 Best Picture Winner)

How to describe the film? Well, Sana Dati is Before Sunset...wedding. It is Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising. It is 'Here's looking at you, kid' and 'Play it, Sam.'

In one short description, Sana Dati is talky, heartbreaking, 
classic story-telling, and must-see 'Takas tayo' romantic movie of the year.

'Nuff said.

Ang Kwento ni Mabuti (Mes de Guzman, CineFilipino 2013 Best Picture Winner)

Everybody it seems has a favorite acting highlight of Nora Aunor in Ang Kwento ni MabutiThe veteran actress squeezes pure acting juice from her bag of tricks. She plays a well-loved healer named Mabuti. There is the scene showing Mabuti bewildered with the contents of a heavy burden of a bag. Another memorable scene shows her stealthily entering the house and promptly hiding her bag on an old trunk. Both scenes are dazzling, delicious displays of thespic excellence. 

The little moments though are the ones I treasure. Try to watch Mabuti's facial gestures after every healing session. A dog-eater of a neighbor gets his comeuppance from aggressive canines. The neighbor seeks the help of Mabuti every time he gets bitten. We see Mabuti with her charming smile after every session. There's a big change however with her reaction after treating the neighbor's snake bite. The smile is not as sunny as ever. It must have something to do with her being whisked off her ride and the need to pay fare once more.

Another crucial scene is Mabuti's partaking of the yummy Ilocano delicacy called tupig. She munches them quickly and yearns for some more. She doesn't grab one right away. She waits for the owner to look her way before asking for another piece. This segment sets up beautifully to Mabuti getting hold of a treasure. She seeks to dispatch of the money because it is not hers. 

What would Jesus do? What would you do if you get a windfall of money? Mabuti is put in a dilemma because the money can save her mortgaged land. In the end, she adheres to the basic rule of returning back things to the rightful owner.

Director Mes de Guzman is on a roll. Every film festival entry of his either wins the Best Picture award or nabs him the Best Director award. For the CineFilipino film Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, he gets both awards along with the Best Screenplay award. His stories capture vividly the rural scene in Nueva Vizcaya. The improvised home water system segment is a beauty. The army of insects shoo Mabuti away from going the wrong path. Then, there are those maddening landslides, jueteng, and verdant scenery. I relate deeply with the provincial values of his characters. 

Nora Aunor may not be a Miss World winner or a CineFilipino Best Actress winner, but she brought life to a beautiful winning character. Mabuti is goodness personified. She refuses to accept donations from patients. She shares her snack with a hot-headed bus driver. She radiates with the glow of inner beauty. It is interesting to note that her mother's advice is similar to what the mother of Miss World Megan Young aptly said, 'you can never go wrong with goodness.' Indeed, the kindness and honesty of Mabuti is worth emulating.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bizarre CineFilipino incident at Lucky Chinatown, Manila

A strange thing happened during my CineFilipino foray at Lucky Chinatown yesterday morning (19-September). 

I was at the counter to buy ticket for the 10:15 am screening of The Guerrilla is a Poet. I was dumbfounded when the girl said that she will only sell tickets if there are three other patrons. A man behind me reiterated his intention to buy a ticket. I learned later that he was told to buy three tickets in order for the screening to push through. It is a good thing he held his ground. So, there we were, waiting for two more patrons.

A lady, who'd came all over from Alabang, approached the booth and tried to buy a ticket for The Guerrilla is a Poet screening. The counter girl hesitated a bit. I butted in to say that since there are three willing viewers then maybe they can finally sell tickets. The counter girl talked to someone and came back later to sell us the tickets.

During my whole stay there in the vicinity of the ticket booth, I'd overheard films not pushing through because only one or two people expressed interest to buy tickets. The policy of the Lucky Chinatown cineplex group it seems is to push through with screenings only if there are a handful of potential viewers. But, I hope that they do not apply that policy to festival films.

What I had experienced is in stark contrast to SM Cinema group's handling of the Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival. Despite marketing complaints, the group is to be commended for its simultaneous screenings of festival films nationwide for a period of one week. Even the group's plush cinemas participated in the festival. When I tried to buy a ticket at SM Aura's Directors Club cinema, the counter girl immediately assisted me right away. There is no more checking if there are other viewers interested to buy tickets. The screening will definitely push through even if it was only me watching the film.

If the CineFilipino film festival has the tagline 'Kuwento ang Hari,' then the Lucky Chinatown cineplex group's tagline should be 'Kuwarta ang Hari.'

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Otso (Elwood Perez, Sineng Pambansa 2013)

Don't judge a film by its poster.

I'd shied away from viewing the film Otso because of its theatre poster. No, it's not the one above. The poster I'm talking about has a picture of about four nude hunks in lieu of Sabina's picture. The beefcake picture seems to suggest that it is a gay film. Well, it isn't a gay film. It is, how do I put it, an artistic meditation on truth and perception.

A balikbayan scriptwriter named Lex is enamored with old Manila. He treads the cobblestones, rides the calesa, and admires the statue of Laong Laan. The picturesque beauty of Intramuros soon gives way to images of a chaotic, cluttered city caught up in electioneering frenzy. 

Lex rents an apartment and starts to work on a commissioned screenplay. One day, he sees a pretty co-tenant. He follows her and sees her wearing a necklace. The piece's prominent design is that of an infinity symbol. From that point on, his creative juice explodes. What follows is a Kaufman-ian glimpse into the maddening scriptwriting process. An eternity of cascading images, characters, and storylines collide with one another and metamorphose into an impishly script.

A character from the film advises Lex to show his script to Brillante Mendoza. I think Lav Diaz is the better option for him because topics such as truth, artists, and art are major concerns of most Diaz films. But, Otso is unlike any Lav Diaz film. It is sui generis. What film can combine diverse characters and issues such as Anita Linda (playing herself), a pair of porn stars, a fresh, young scriptwriter, and the issue of pork barrel and pull it off?

The fun part is trying to figure out who's who and what's what after the denouement.

I'd finished watching all of the major new films included in the Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival. Otso and Chito Roño's impeccable political film Badil are my top picks. If you can only view one film today (17-Sep), then make it Otso. There's a chance that Badil may get an extended run.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

CineFilipino Film Festival schedule at Shang Cineplex, Shangri-La Plaza

 September 21, 2013 (Saturday)
  • 10:30AM SHORTS 2
    KATHANG ISIP by Jo Paulo Madarang
    PRINCESS URDUJA by Tiffanie Ang
    LIGAW by Pam Reyes
    LOGARITMO by Kim Ocariza
    WORLD IPIS by Kristin Joyce P. Barrameda, Joana Carla Ubaldo
  •  12:00PM MGA ALAALA NG TAG-ULAN by Ato Bautista
  •  2:30PM THE GUERRILLA IS A POET by Sari and Kiri Dalena
  •  7:30PM ANG KWENTO NI MABUTI by Mes De Guzman
  •  10:00PM PUTI by Mike Alcazaren

 September 22, 2013 (Sunday)
  •  10:30AM SHORTS 1
    ALKANSIYA by Joan Cajes
    SANGANDAAN by Jose Ibarra Guballa, Benjo Ferrer III
    LAST CALL by Khalil Bañares
    ONANG by JE Tiglao
  •  12:00PM BINGOLERAS by Ron Bryant
  •  2:30PM ANG HULING CHA-CHA NI ANITA by Sigrid Andrea Bernardo
  •  7:30PM ANG TURKEY MAN AY PABO RIN by Randolph Longjas
  •  10:00PM THE MUSES by Janice Perez 

Bahay ng Lagim (Celso Ad Castillo, Sineng Pambansa 2013)

Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival is an excellent showcase of the filmmaking skills of 12 acclaimed directors. I've seen eight films and majority of them are movies worth seeing again. Even the clunkers have their unique assets and possibly have their own legion of backers.

The sleeper hit of the festival is the special entry Bahay ng Lagim by horror master Celso Ad. Castillo. It is a super-duper chiller to the core. A young lady named Fatima (Karel Marquez) has recurring nightmares of a girl asking for help. But, when these pleas begin to bug her even during waking hours, she seeks the help of a healer, Sister Sophia (Bing Loyzaga).

The whole segment leading to the delicious, wonderful credits is high-level suspense. When the names of the cast appear onscreen, I had a gleeful smile while being at the same time shivering from the chills. There I am slinking in my seat with my head down because I had a feeling someone possessed will sneak up on unsuspecting people. The fear factor won't ebb down for another 45 minutes. 

Sister Sophia's fight with the beast is another highlight of the film. Who says you cannot teach old directors new tricks? The hideous monster magically comes alive via computer graphics.

I was wary when I learned that the horror film was being prepared for the fest without the guidance of Castillo. The late director was supposed to create a new film specifically for the festival but he died of heart attack in November 2012.

Followers of the late director decided to spruce up an unreleased film, Bahay ng Lagim. They did an amazing job. The film is a masterpiece of Castillo and a worthy inclusion to the All Masters Edition of Sineng Pambansa.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival 2013 theatrical schedule for all malls

Sineng Pambansa is here... there... and everywhere.

Forget the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). Sineng Pambansa is the real national film festival. SM cinemas from all over the country are screening 10 new works by accomplished local directors from September 11-17, 2013. Admission price is only PHP 101. Yes, we can watch more films that are hopefully of better substance than the stale MMFF fare we get every year.

Here are the major new films and their running times:

Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle  (1:53) - Gil Portes
Ano ang Kulay ng Mga Nakalimutang Pangarap? (1:32) - Jose Javier Reyes
Badil - Chito Roño
Bamboo Flowers (2:12) - Maryo delos Reyes
Eman - Tikoy Aguiluz 

Lauriana (1:58) - Mel Chionglo
Lihis (1:38) - Joel Lamangan
Otso (1:23) - Elwood Perez
Sonata (1:47) - Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes 

Tinik - Romy Suzara

Updated (11-Sep)

As of tonight, only seven films are showing at SM Megamall. I have no idea what happened to the films Badil, Eman, and Tinik.  

I'm happy with what I have seen so far. These two films, Sonata and Ang Tag-Araw ni Twinkle, are better than most of the films featured at Cinemalaya 2013's Directors Showcase.

Sonata is an ode to films, opera, and Negros Occidental. Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle highlights the allure and beauty of spoken Tagalog.

Searching for the Sineng Pambansa theatrical schedule for all SM malls? Click here

I've pasted below the cineplexes that can accommodate the full slate of ten films. Sadly, all of them are in Metro Manila. (Are there cineplexes with at least 10 theaters outside Metro Manila?)

SM Fairview
Day 1 to 7
Screen 1 - Otso
Screen 2 - Lauriana
Screen 3 - Sonata
Screen 4 - Lihis
Screen 5 - Eman
Screen 6 – Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle
Screen 7 - Tinik
Screen 8 – Bamboo Flowers
Screen 9 – Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap?
Screen 10 - Badil
Screen 11 – Bahay ng Lagim/The Gospel According to Celso Kid
Screen 12 - Salvi

SM Manila
Day 1 to 7
Screen 1 – Bamboo Flowers
Screen 2 – Otso
Screen 3 - Sonata
Screen 4 – Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle
Screen 5 - Lihis
Screen 6 - Tinik
Screen 7 - Badil
Screen 8 - Lauriana
Screen 9 - Eman
Screen 10 - Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap?
Screen 11 – Bahay ng Lagim/The Gospel According to Celso Kid
Screen 12 - Salvi

SM Megamall
Day 1 to 7
Screen 1 - Sonata
Screen 2 – Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle
Screen 3 - Lihis
Screen 4 - Lauriana
Screen 5 – Bamboo Flowers
Screen 6 - Badil
Screen 7 - Eman
Screen 8 - Otso
Screen 9 - Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap?
Screen 10 - Tinik
Screen 11 - Bahay ng Lagim/The Gospel According to Celso Kid
Screen 12 - Salvi

SM North Edsa
Day 1 to 7
Screen 1 – Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap?
Screen 2 - Lihis
Screen 3 – Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle
Screen 4 – Bamboo Flowers
Screen 5 - Eman
Screen 6 - Lauriana
Screen 7 - Tinik
Screen 8 - Otso
Screen 9 - Badil
Screen 10 - Sonata
Screen 11 - Bahay ng Lagim/The Gospel According to Celso Kid 

SM Sta Mesa
Day 1 to 7
Screen 1 - Sonata
Screen 2 - Otso
Screen 3 - Lihis
Screen 4 - Lauriana
Screen 5 – Bamboo Flowers
Screen 6 – Ang Tag-araw ni Twinkle
Screen 7 – Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap?
Screen 8 - Eman
Screen 9 - Tinik
Screen 10 - Badil

Note: The rest of the cineplexes will change their slate of films every day to enable them to feature all 10 new films.

Click here for theater schedules

in Marikina, South Mall, Mall of Asia, San Lazaro, Bacoor, Cebu, Consolacion, Iloilo, Davao, Lanang Premier, Pampanga, Clark, San Fernando, Olongapo, Baguio, Calamba, San Pablo, Sta. Rosa, SM Lucena, SM Naga, Aura Premier, Podium, General Santos, Cagayan de Oro, Dasmariñas, Bacolod, Taytay, Tarlac, Baliwag, Marilao, Batangas, Lipa, Rosales, Muntinlupa, Novaliches, Sucat, Bicutan, Valenzuela, Masinag, Molino, and Rosario. 

Phew! That is a total of 46 malls. Here's hoping there are new masterpieces showing out there alongside the classics Maynila Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag and Genghis Khan.

All Masters Edition? Let's wait and see...

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Cine Europa 16 Movie Schedule (Shang Cineplex)

The first movie festival/competition on screens this month is the 16th edition of Cine Europa at Shangri-La Plaza. All screenings are free to the public.

Three fantastic Filipino films are also included in the festival, which runs from September 5 to 15, 2013. Newly restored classic films Genghis Khan and Oro Plata Mata will be screened at 2 pm and 4 pm respectively on Sunday, 8th of September. The Cinemalaya 2013 opening film Jazz In Love will have 2 pm and 4 pm screenings on Saturday, 14th of September.


While queuing up at Shang Cineplex yesterday, 5th of September, I'd overheard two youngsters talking with a middle-aged woman. They were discussing animatedly the last film Barbara. It seems that they could have enjoyed the German film more if only there were more subtitles. I was puzzled with their discussion.

One minute into the next screening, I knew what they were talking about. The movie is zoomed in therefore eliminating letterbox bars and half of the valuable subtitles. I complained to the security personnel about the missing subtitles. He said it had something to do with the DVDs they had received. I explained to him that the DVD is not the culprit. They just need to fix the image height projection. He relayed my suggestion to the usher. When I returned to my seat after two minutes or so, the problem was already fixed.

It is already the 16th edition of Cine Europa and yet, some staff at Shang Cineplex are clueless about subtitling problems. I laud Shang Cineplex for hosting international film festivals. Most of the foreign films screened are for free. But, free viewing doesn't mean accepting whatever is shown onscreen. I pity those who persevered watching the film Barbara with at least half of every line of dialogue missing.

I hope the Shang Cineplex people have smarted up because I will definitely come back for more screenings. I enjoyed the film I saw yesterday titled Almanya: Willkommen in Deutschland. I'm hoping to see a gem or two during the festival's 11-day run.

screening sked,

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

OTJ: On The Job (Erik Matti, 2013)

Corrupt lawmakers. Diligent NBI agents. Enigmatic sunglass-clad lady. Making a killing at a pork house.

Eerily reminiscent of current headlines, OTJ unveils a corruption scandal so deep and wide it creeps up onto the country's highest level of government. But, your definition of a government may soon change with this film. A shadowy figure arrogantly boasts 'We are the ones running the government. We are the government.'

There are lots of things to admire with OTJ (aka On The Job). Among the top reasons is the excellent acting of the ensemble led by Joel Torre, who plays a fatherly, grizzled mentor to a would-be-assassin. It is heartbreaking to see him cooped up once more in the tinted vehicle. Just when freedom is at hand for Tatang Mario (Torre), the shadowy figures tighten their noose on his neck. They truly have a hold on nearly every one. Those who escaped their clutches and managed to return back to the straight path are soon dispatched with impunity.

Then, there's the bravura opening act set during the Feast of Saint John the Baptist. The assassination scene plunges us into the world of inmates who are released for days to work as hired killers. Years ago, a Cinema One Originals film Layang Bilanggo barely scratched the prisoners-as-assassins concept. OTJ, with a screenplay by Erik Matti and Michiko Yamamoto, presents a meatier take on the hired killing business. Just like the intern Daniel (Gerald Anderson), we get an immersion into the whole, icky pit of political killings. 

In the end, there will be two types of people crawling away from the pit. One set gets gobbled up by all the muck. Their mindset is corruption will stay and might as well dip their dirty fingers on the pot.

The other group is determined to eradicate corruption. These are the people who are willing to sacrifice their marriage and even their lives for change. Stepping out from the shadows, they stand proud on the streets and defiantly raise dirty fingers up in the air. They are not afraid to mess things up.

OTJ is one, big dirty finger pointed towards all corrupt politicians. It is also an entertaining film with amazing action set-pieces.

There is a minor quirk with the film, though. The flag is hanged improperly at the police station. The blue side of the vertical flag should be to the left side of the observer.

Director Matti is a favorite of cinephiles for his visually and stylistic takes on genre films (e.g. Pa-Siyam, Exodus) and unique art films such as a favorite of mine The Arrival. He teamed up with Dondon Monteverde to form Reality Entertainment Inc. With OTJ and Before Midnight, the duo is responsible for bringing to the screens two of the best films I’ve seen this year. With their track record, they can count on me to check out their future projects such as Kung Fu Divas.