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