Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Sunday Beauty Queen (Baby Ruth Villarama, Metro Manila Film Festival 2016)

 
This exceptional movie was high on my list of must-watch films at the Metro Manila Film Festival 2016 (MMFF). I first learned of its miraculous entry into the festival during a film forum in November 2016. I was happy to hear the good news from moderator Ed Cabagnot. I was impressed by filmmaker Baby Ruth Villarama-Gutierrez’s previous documentary Little Azkals and looked forward to seeing her latest work.

Sunday Beauty Queen highlights the inner beauty of hardworking Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong. During Sundays, they converge in public places and indulge in their favorite activities and hobbies. The focus of the documentary is a group of domestic helpers joining and organizing beauty contests. Their imperfections, terrible grammar, and embarrassing experiences are laid out in the open. They may not have faces and bodies like those of our Miss Universe and Miss World winners but they are confidently beautiful with big, big hearts.

Filmmaker Gutierrez, whose mother is a former domestic helper, portrays such Overseas Filipino Workers as a boon not only to their families and country but also to the whole world. Fellow filmmaker Jack Soo, an employer of a domestic helper/beauty contestant, says that if the Philippine government decides to stop the influx of Filipina domestic helpers to Hong Kong, China, and other countries, the world will be in big trouble. Singapore barged into the list of Olympic gold winning countries courtesy of a young swimmer who proudly claimed to have been raised by a Filipina nanny. A Chinese ballet teacher says employing a Filipina maid is worth every dollar spent. The average monthly salary of a Filipina domestic helper is $550 dollars, which is equivalent to the salary of a junior executive in the Philippines.

The documentary will put a smile on your face just like the infectious smile of Filipino tourist Chuck Gutierrez, film editor, producer and husband of the filmmaker. No matter where they are, Filipinos will always show their sense of humor, peculiarities, and idiosyncrasies. There’s a Filipina cook in Hong Kong who takes pictures of her Pinoy food dishes neatly arrayed on a rectangular table. Her primary objective is to make her Facebook friends envious of her. Another Filipina gets the boot from her employer after breaking a curfew. She was so engrossed joining a beauty contest that she lost track of time. Or maybe she’d had enough of working for her employer. There are tales told of ruthless employers but there are also heartwarming stories about Chinese employers treating Filipina domestic helpers as part of family.

Sunday Beauty Queen is a more impressive documentary than Little Azkals. The latter took some time before it gets things rolling.
Sunday Beauty Queen plunges immediately to the lives of colorful characters. I liked it better than the three local documentaries shown at the Cinema One Originals Festival 2016.

The inclusion of Sunday Beauty Queen to the MMFF justifies the revamped selection process. I’ve seen three other entries and they are quite good. So far, there are no fillers among the entries. Bravo! Take a bow, members of the MMFF executive and selection committees.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Miss Saigon: 25th Anniversary Performance (Brett Sullivan, 2016)


Miss Saigon: 25th Anniversary Performance is a feel-good Pinoy pride movie. Composed mostly of footages taken during the 25th Anniversary Gala show of Miss Saigon, the filmed play showcases to great detail the extraordinary artistry of performers with Filipino blood.

The first highlight goes to Rachel Ann Go portraying the reigning Miss Saigon, Gigi. The song ‘The Movie in My Mind’ tells of Gigi’s dream of a better future. She is tired of servicing soldiers who screw like boys. Her highly expressive face is shown clearly in several close-up shots.

A major advantage of film is it can focus on a certain performer or give a better view of facial expression. I’ve seen the musical Miss Saigon in its Manila run at the Cultural Center of the Philippines a long time ago. I was seated way up high at the Balcony section and can barely see the faces of the performers. The visual treats that stuck with me then were the mammoth scenes such as the Helicopter evacuation scene and the fall of Saigon parade. I heard the songs but I didn’t see/feel the performances.

The filmed musical Miss Saigon, about star-crossed lovers caught up in the Vietnam war, levels the playing field. The audience gets to see the performers’ emotive faces up close. The downside to a filmed play is when the cinema audience claps in appreciation it is a one-way gesture. There’s no sharing of love.

The crowd favorite Jon Jon Briones is stunning as an opportunistic manager of a girlie bar in Vietnam. Briones, being an Oriental, fits the role of the Engineer. The Engineer’s deep yearning for the American way of life is seen during 'The American Dream’ scene. Here, Briones pants like a dog. The Engineer’s huge ambition overwhelms his small stature.

Jonathan Pryce is a good actor but the Engineer is really a Vietnamese. Well, Pryce might have put up a great performance as an Engineer that the audience simply ignored his white skin.

The US-born Fil-Am actress, Eva Noblezada, evokes empathy with her innocent, gentle voice as Kim. There's a tinge of vulnerability in her that makes men take notice and care for her.

The first Act is packed with amazing musical highlights. However, there's an early small scene that made me believe in the filmed concept. A notable scene shows a saxophone player showered with cocaine powder. As the white dust settle on the shimmery sax, the player is egged to hit the ‘high note.’ This is a case where the filmed scene is an improvement on the theatre scene. Without the white dust, the ‘high note’ phrase is a mere musical term and not a druggie term.

A major bonus of the film is a 35 minute show featuring stars of the original cast, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Bowman, and Lea Salonga.

Rachel Ann Go reprises the 'Movie in My Mind' song this time with the original Kim, Lea Salonga. She is really a fantastic singer. The filmed version of the song, while stunning, sees Rachel Ann Go singing in a mix of live performance and subsequent filmed close-up footages. Yes, there are lots of sleight of hand editing wizardry done in the filmed version. However, the gala performance of Go with Salonga shows pure Filipino singing talents at their finest. There is no take two for the two wonderful ladies.

My main complaint with the filmed version of Miss Saigon is the fuzzy texture of the film. It is not as clear as the filmed version of the 25th anniversary show of Phantom of the Opera. But, even though it is not in high definition, I'm thankful to relive the musical Miss Saigon on a theater widescreen.

Searching for a Christmas present for the theater fan? Look no further. A Blu-ray or DVD version of the filmed version of Miss Saigon is the perfect gift.
   
          

Si Magdalola At Ang Mga Gago (Jules Katanyag, Cinema One Originals 2016)

 
In the indie film scene, there are several people working behind the scenes whose presence in the credit roll marks that film to be of high quality. Of course, they do appear in some clunkers but these team players are like solid baseball pinch hitters able to help their team win big. On the top of my head, such reliable film people include producer Bianca Balbuena, producer Daphne Chiu, scriptwriter Michiko Yamamoto, editor Carlo Francisco Manatad, and script consultant Armando Lao.

Filmmaker Timmy Harn had been helping tyro filmmakers work on their dream projects for the Cinema One Originals film competition the past three years. He was a finalist during the 2013 competition with his film Ang Pagbabalat ng Ahas. In 2014 and 2015 competitions, he was assistant director to the award-winning films Violator and Manang Biring. This year, assistant director Harn kept his Midas touch by helping the film Si Magdalola At Ang Mga Gago win the Jury Prize. 


Si Magdalola At Ang Mga Gago surprisingly incorporated some concepts from films made by Harn. Reptilian behavior, horrific flaming deaths, and feisty elderly women find their way into this wonderful amalgamation of film genres.

Memorable oddball characters created by Jules Katanyag include a nubile granddaughter, an English-speaking food-sensitive villain, a pistol-packing female mayor, and the titular elderly shaman, Magda (Peewee O’Hara). They keep the story boiling because any interaction between or among themselves reek of strong sexual tension or high suspense.

Si Magdalola At Ang Mga Gago utilizes multi-screen images that seemingly blend an insect’s way of seeing with a witch’s clairvoyance. The witches can locate the whereabouts of any person. A witch easily traverses the forest like a slithery snake to put a hex on a rapist.

A hilarious scene uses the subtitle to bring on the laughs. The gang leader is more adept in mauling the English language than in gunning down the spunky Magda.

The action scenes are okay although the scenes to watch out for are the graphic drug abuse scenes. The dopey girl who've had a good time ended up in the morgue. Another scene shows a pair of thugs trying to extract information from a druggie.

Si Magdalola At Ang Mga Gago combines the lunacy of Big Time, the surprises of a Quentin Tarantino movie, and the smoldering atmosphere of Alon. It is a heady, messy, bloody but intensely riveting movie.
 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan, Pelikula ang Kailangan

To the millennials interested in learning more about the Marcoses, the 20-year reign of President Marcos, and the Martial Law era, check out the following films from a variety of directors:

1)      Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (Lino Brocka) – a desperate, laid-off worker is forced to commit a crime
2)      Dekada ’70 (Chito Roño) - a middle class family supports the idealism of a young activist
3)      Forbidden Memory (Teng Mangansakan) – survivors speak out against the perpetrators of the September 1974 massacre in Mindanao
4)      Imelda (Ramona Diaz) – a documentary on the idiosyncrasies of the wife of President Ferdinand Marcos
5)      Ka Oryang (Sari Lluch Dalena) – a female medical student decides to serve the people
6)      Mula Sa Kung Ano ang Noon (Lav Diaz) – militarization during the pre-Martial Law era
7)      Pisay
(Kanakan Balintagos) – a group of high school scholars gets caught up in the Yellow fever
8)      Sakada (Behn Cervantes) – sugarcane farmers fight for their rights
9)      Sister Stella L. (Mike de Leon) – an awakened religious sister urges the audience to go out in the streets and fight the Marcos dictatorship
10)   
Working Girls (Ishmael Bernal) – a lady boss with the initials C.A. battles male chauvinist pigs and breaks the glass ceiling

Forbidden Memory (Teng Mangansakan, Cinema One Originals 2016 Best Documentary Winner)



Recollection of atrocities during Martial Law played a big part in the build-up to the People Power Uprising in 1986. The courageous bearers of stories risked their lives to expose the violent, corrupt nature of the Marcos administration.

The wellspring of horrendous Martial Law stories has yet to dry up. With the hushed and rushed burial of President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, Martial Law victims are coming out with their stories.

Forbidden Memory documents eyewitness accounts of the gruesome massacre of more than 1,500 adult males in Palisbong, Sultan Kudarat in September 1974.

The documentary consists basically of a barrage of talking heads. However, filmmaker Teng Mangansakan alternated the interviewees. Generally, four to six persons talk about the circumstances of the incident. This editing device serves to concretize the horrendous communal experience.

It is not only one family that felt military abuse. Hundreds of families were greatly affected by the wanton criminal act of the soldiers. Women and children were put on board naval ships. The adult males were then herded and subsequently killed. Their only fault was that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Towards the end of Forbidden Memory, the issue of a Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani springs out in the open. More than three decades have passed but the anger towards the Marcos administration still seethes among the survivors. They do not want him to be buried honorably. One frail, elderly woman regretted not having been the one to kill President Marcos.

To the millennials interested in learning more about the Marcoses, the 20-year reign of President Marcos, and the Martial Law era, check out the following films from a variety of directors:

1)      Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (Lino Brocka) – a desperate, laid-off worker is forced to commit a crime
2)      Dekada ’70 (Chito Roño) - a middle class family supports the idealism of a young activist
3)      Forbidden Memory (Teng Mangansakan) – survivors speak out against the perpetrators of the September 1974 massacre in Mindanao
4)      Imelda
(Ramona Diaz) – documentary on the idiosyncrasies of the wife of President Ferdinand Marcos
5)      Ka Orya
ng (Sari Lluch Dalena) – a female medical student decides to serve the people
6)      Mula Sa Kung Ano ang Noon (Lav Diaz) – militarization during the pre-Martial Law era
7)      Pisay (Kanakan Balintagos) – a group of high school scholars gets caught up in the Yellow fever
8)      Sakada (Behn Cervantes) – sugarcane farmers fight for their rights
9)      Sister Stella L. (Mike de Leon) – an awakened religious sister urges the audience to go out in the streets and fight the Marcos dictatorship
10)   Working
Girls (Ishmael Bernal) – a lady boss with the initials C.A. battles male chauvinist pigs and breaks the glass ceiling
 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Miss Bulalacao (Ara Chawdhury, Cinema One Originals 2015)


I was elated to see the list of films slated to be screened for free at the Cinema One Originals campus tour in UP Diliman. I’ve been waiting for months to see the critically-acclaimed films, Miss Bulalacao and Hamog. Alas, the organizers scrapped the two films from the slate.

I finally caught up with the two films at the Cinema One Originals 2016 screenings at Cinematheque Centre Manila. The admission price is an affordable one hundred pesos per film. Droves of students came over to watch the Cinema One Originals films. I applaud Cinematheque Manila for fully supporting the quest of master director Lino Brocka in forming the Great Filipino Audience.

Miss Bulalacao is a well-directed, highly restraint comedy film about a teenaged drag queen who gets pregnant. How the residents of a coastal community treated the expectant gay gets most of the screen time. His stepmother lovingly protects him from nasty neighbors. His woman employer, initially repulsed by the idea of a pregnant male person, makes a 180-degree turn and becomes a firm believer of a miraculous conception.

My favorite scene starts with the woman employer convincing the pregnant Dodong to stay with them. A nosy maid listens carefully to the telephone conversation. Sensing the conversation to be going nowhere, the maid scampers away and calls upon a fellow maid to go inside the home. They eagerly wait for the final stand of the boy before going on with their errands. Their nosy behavior is done in good faith. They make sure that the things they will buy will be utilized by their expected guest. The roles of maids may be small but they were infused with truthfulness.

The observant eye of the filmmaker coupled with an ear for believable relationship dialogues make the film grounded in reality despite the fantastical tale of a pregnant male. I also loved the fact that the filmmaker did not go the slapstick route in presenting the pregnancy woes of the ostracized boy. The tears shed by the grieving boy at the end are consistent with the film’s light and serious approach to the issue of motherhood.

The climax of the film book ends the early scene of an alien visit. It clears up any lingering doubts on the veracity of the pregnancy. The film, aside from being an entertaining piece, leaves several questions that audience can ponder. These are not typical beauty contest questions but more of the X-Files type of questions: Do extra-terrestrial beings fall under the familiar gender binary of male and female? How do they exactly reproduce? Is Jesus Christ an alien?

Miss Bulalacao is indeed a winner. On the other hand, Hamog is too dark and hazy for my taste.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Damortis (Briccio Santos, 1986)


The film Damortis begins with a footage of bloodied penitents during the Lenten season. A dozen of prostrated penitents mirror the passion and sufferings of Jesus Christ. At various points of the film, the different personas and interpretations of Jesus are shown or discussed. A radio program suggests Jesus as mere human. Foremost image that emerge though is that of a healing Christ.

Miguel, an ex-seminarian, returns to his hometown of Damortis in La Union because his father recently died. During his stay in that place, he reconnects with his healing power and assumes the title of local faith healer. He rekindles his relationship with his childhood friend, Anna (Madeleine Nicolas). The two friends later married after a whirlwind courtship.


Anna assists Miguel in his healing sessions. She initiates the idea of putting up donation boxes. The windfall from clients became so big they were able to buy and transfer to a bigger house. Alas, the couple’s love for more money led to their downfall. 

Long-haired and bearded Lando, another childhood friend of Miguel, becomes his protégé. He usurps the role of foremost healer in their town after Miguel’s healing power wanes. Not content with getting Miguel’s exalted position, Lando starts to covet his long-time crush, Anna.

The personas of the major characters can be gauged by the way they use their hands. The healing hands of Miguel become accustomed to holding alcohol bottles and gamecocks. The lustful Lando mashes the breasts of his patient. An affluent Anna becomes stingy with her money when relatives ask for help. When confronted by Miguel on her tendency to spend money on material things, her initial reaction was to raise her hands and hide her earrings. She tries her best to hold on to her possessions.

Lando entices Anna to leave Damortis and live with him. He promises to shower her with wealth coming from his healing sessions. With her husband imprisoned, Anna decides to meet up with Lando.


The last image of a hand we see is that of a killing hand. The climactic scene serves as a bookend along with the initial scenes of bloodied Christ-like figures.

I always associate Briccio Santos with the film Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising. He portrayed the husband of Hilda Koronel. But he is more than an actor.

Santos did well with his stewardship of the Film Development Council of the Philippines. The annual holding of international film festivals and the creation of videotheques in major cities are just some of his accomplishments. But he is more than an administrator.

Santos is also an exceptional filmmaker and the hypnotic Damortis is proof of that. The restored film highlights the vibrancy of the color red. The scarlet color prefigures the bloody faith healing rites and the cathartic ending.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Baboy Halas: Wailings in the Forest (Bagane Fiola, QCinema 2016)


Lumads (non-Muslim indigenous peoples from Mindanao) have been on the news lately. An allegedly panicky police officer rammed a police van into a throng of indigenous peoples holding a peaceful protest at the US Embassy. He maneuvered the van in a helter skelter way and even ran over a few persons. UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan condemned the savage dispersal of the rallyists, who were hosted by UP Diliman.

Violence seems to follow lumads everywhere they go. In the hinterlands, they experience harassment from mining groups and logging companies intent on exploiting their lands. Sadly, some companies use the military to scare off lumads. Several lumad groups keep their communities off-limits to members of NPA. Still, they suffer from the war between the NPA and the military.

Lumads though are a tough breed. Their resilience and spirituality will help them survive all these ordeals.

The serenely beautiful Baboy Halas takes a glimpse into the lumads of Maharlika, Dawag, and Tabontabon, Marilog District, Davao City. The film, done in a documentary style, eschews straight-forward narrative. Even without a compelling story, I’m mesmerized with the things happening onscreen.

The award-winning lush cinematography captures the soothing verdant surroundings. There is something calming with the featured forest. It is not a foreboding one like the forest of Apocalypse Now and the jungle of Platoon. There are no man-eating carnivores or blood-sucking insects preying on humans.

The forest is a bountiful place offering sustenance and shelter for the lumads. The river flows with clean water. The sounds of birds chirping are music to the ears. A wild boar occasionally wanders into the paths of hunters. An excellent scene shows a family working together to cook a meat-based meal. All the things they need for the feast are provided by the generous forest. They just need to pray for them.

An admirable trait of lumads is their tendency to implore the help of spirits or dwellers residing in the resource they need. They may be skilled hunters but if a deer won’t pass by they will go home empty-handed. They may be adept in survival skills but if they do not have patience they will die of hypothermia.

The highlight of Baboy Halas, no, make that of the entire set of QCinema Circle Competition films, is the amazing ‘slow burn’ scene in a cave. This is something that should be seen in a darkened movie house and not described verbally. Suffice to say, it involves a hunter imploring the help of the fire dweller. He is wet from the rains and needs the warmth of a fire to help him get through the cold evening.

I have personally seen an Aeta demonstrate friction fire lighting with the use of wild bamboo sticks but this is the first time I’ve seen fire emerge from sparking rocks. No amount of CGI effects can convincingly replicate small sparks emanating from clashing rocks.


The excitement and thrill of seeing the sparks grow into a fire is palpable. Just as the hunter was humbly praying, I was also wishing for the fire to burst forth. I was feeling the shivering temperature of the movie house and was empathizing deeply with the rain-soaked hunter. When the fire did appear it was a heartwarming magical moment.

Director Fiola says the main protagonist in the film is the hunter. There is a more important character in my opinion.

The main character of the film is the old-growth forest. Forest silhouettes tell stories of their own. A zoom out shot of the forest shows how frail and vulnerable a lumad is amidst his vast surroundings.

I was elated with scenes wherein I see figures embedded in the forest. A creek scene shows a lumad standing over a rock that looks like a giant tortoise. When it didn’t move, I realized it was really just a rock. Another scene involves a lumad deep in the heart of the forest. Across the lumad is a trunk that seems to encase a human being clad in orange attire.

The forest is a visually and aurally strong character. Images can unexpectedly form from every nook and cranny. The cacophony of sounds reveals a multi-faceted character but mostly suggest a peaceful, calm personality.

The gentle forest and the lumads are basically peaceful in nature. Violence arises when outsiders push through with their racist, lustful, and greedy ways.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Patay na si Hesus (Victor Villanueva, QCinema 2016)


The rise in number of regional filmmakers has done wonders to the diversification of ideas and genres in the indie film scene. However, grant-giving bodies have mostly supported drama films. Cinemalaya’s slate for this year shows a pair of full-length film comedies. Cinema One Originals have consistently supported horror/science fiction/fantasy filmmakers but majority of the film finalists is still of the dramatic or romantic mold. Metro Manila Film Festival offers the widest selection of film genres. But, the quality of the films leaves much to be desired.

The deliciously hilarious Patay na si Hesus is a rare find.  It is a Cebuano film with tongue firmly on cheek. The icing on the cake is that it even passed the Bechtel test. I was flummoxed with this part of the citation handed out to the film. An online search on Bechtel test says that in order for a film to be a passer it must hurdle three components:  1) there must be two named female characters, 2) who talked with one another, 3) on any issue except men.

Male characters involved with females in the film are basically losers. That must be the main reason why they don’t get to be main topics of discussions. They are worthless nincompoops. The recently departed Hesus left his family for a woman. He eventually left her for another woman. Jay, second son of Hesus, refuses to attend his father's wake but eventually relents due to maternal pressure. The son, though, is also a loser.  He flunked the Engineering board exams twice and was found out to have called off his third board exam attempt.

On the other hand, the major female characters are strong, resilient, and a bit crazy.

A middle-aged mother, Iyay (Jaclyn Jose), hauls her Cebu-based family onto a multicab for an inter-island trip back to their ancestral house in Dumaguete City. Years of estrangement from her husband Hesus had deadened her emotions. Even her children are reluctant to see their late father. But, the tears eventually broke through for the dead. Tough luck for Hesus, the tears shed are not for him but for their dog named Hudas.

The dysfunctional family picked up the sister of Hesus on their way to Negros. The nun (Angelina Kanapi) provided some of the more outrageous laugh-out-loud scenes. A bad case of flatulence served as catalyst for her to throw caution to the wind. She sheds off her religious life and hitches a motorcycle ride to freedom. I also loved the hysterically funny scene wherein she showed her grief over the loss of her niece.

The very-much alive niece, Judith, is a tomboy. She copes with a domestic break-up by drinking alcohol with a group of men. The best visual gag of the film shows her raising her left arm exposing an exaggeratedly hairy armpit.

If there’s a comedy film that comes closest to the gross-out jokes and visual gags of Patay na si Hesus, it is the American film There’s Something About Mary. The sperm jokes are sick but outright comical. The dead dog jokes are wickedly humorous, too.

The laugh-a-thon film Patay na si Hesus won the Audience Choice Award and the Gender Sensitivity Award at the QCinema International Film Festival 2016.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Purgatoryo (Derick Cabrido, QCinema 2016)


Cut from the same cloth as the vastly underrated Cinemalaya film Oros, Purgatoryo takes another look at the use of unclaimed corpses for illegal gambling operations. Recent news about corpses piling up at funeral homes in Quezon City left me wondering whether illegal gamblers are ecstatic over the vast supply of corpses.

The film starts with a police officer hauling a bloodied corpse over to a funeral parlor managed by Violet (Bernardo Bernardo). The corpse is given a thorough cleaning and prepped up to look presentable. It will be the object of a faux wake by gambling operators. The elaborate set-up involves hiring people to act as grieving family members.

Card games sakla and sapaw are illegal although local police turn a blind eye over games played during wakes for humanitarian reason. Financial proceeds from the card games are a huge boon to destitute surviving family members.

If Oros amazingly shares the nitty-gritty details of a sakla operation, then Purgatoryo exposes nightmarish shenanigans at a funeral home involved in illegal gambling. A worker at Funeraria Jimenez rues having to work on the day of his romantic date with his girlfriend. He convinces the girl to have their tryst at the funeral parlor. The couple eventually make out inside the morgue. The horny male, left unsatisfied by his lover, turns his lustful eye on a naked dead woman.

I'm deeply impressed with the necrophilia scene from a filmmaking viewpoint. Is that a true female human being? I'm not sure if the naked woman is really a human being. It doesn't move at all just like a true corpse. In stark contrast, the initial scene involving the male corpse shows the actor breathing.

Indie filmmakers who insist on having lengthy shots of dead bodies almost always botch their scenes because eventually the stomachs begin to rise. When they check their rushes on small monitors, they won't see such movement but when projected on mammoth screens the slightest of movement is easily seen. What filmmaker Roderick Cabrido does with the female corpse is truly amazing. I’m stunned by it.

The film Purgatoryo is the second collaboration between Cabrido and scriptwriter Denise O'Hara. Their first film was the fantastic Kinaray-a tale Tuos. This time around, they are joined by fellow Cinemalaya regular Joseph Laban, who is also an Atenean just like Oros director Paul Sta. Ana. The two Ateneans have their own inside jokes. A criminal, a person of interest, or a crazed guy dons an Ateneo get-up or jacket in their films.

I described the film Purgatoryo as some sort of sequel to Oros because of their many similarities. Both films deal with the same subject. Both films star Kristoffer King. And, I believe, both films also share some film locations (Santa Ana location?). Even the lighting looks familiar.

The film has a few aces on its own though. The necrophilia scene is a tough act to follow. I also admire the embalming scene shot from the point-of-view of the corpse. The corpse is liken to a spirit held up in purgatory. It needs to be cleaned up and purified in order to get to the next level. The spirit benefits from prayers while the corpse needs the expertise of the funeral home employees. But, with sexual perverts on the loose, corpses at funeral homes are likely to experience hell on earth.



Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mercury Is Mine (Jason Paul Laxamana, #Cinemalaya2016)


There is much to like about the film but an equal amount of bizarre things tarnish the luster of the award-winning Cinemalaya film.

The dark comedy Mercury Is Mine deals succinctly with the colonial mentality of Filipinos. The fortunes of a middle-aged cook Carmen Batac (Pokwang) begin to rise after taking in an American teenager Mercury (Bret Jackson) as temporary help. The American boy attracts hordes of customers smitten with his good looks. Carmen's roadside eatery begins to flourish and becomes a regular stopover for trekkers and fortune hunters going to Mt. Arayat.

The filmmakers suggest that Carmen is like a small-scale miner who struck gold after using mercury. But, mercury can be fatal if handled improperly.

An early film segment shows Mercury's true colors. He is not as pure as his white skin. He is a cold-blooded killer. Running away from patricide, he ends up in the eatery of Carmen.

The famed hospitality of Filipinos is shown through Carmen's decision to let Mercury stay. Carmen shows no hesitation in letting in the white boy. The whiteness of Mercury's skin clouds the minds of those he encounters. Carmen never doubted Mercury even after learning of the murder of his father.

This early in the film, I've lost my empathy for the male lead. Mercury is a killer. On the other hand, Carmen may be a bad girl who preys on the needy but she may still have a pure heart. However, as the film progress on, the dark side of Carmen's character comes to the fore. The two leads are so vicious they deserve one another.

Mercury Is Mine is spot on with its treatment of how Filipinos behave with Caucasians in their midst. However, the lead characters are extreme turn-offs. Imagine an absentee mother letting her daughter get impregnated by an American teenager. I didn't care anymore where the story went after that incident.

Pokwang's delivery of her one-liners brought the house down. Carmen's innocent guess on the origin of Mercury's name is a winner.

Prior to my viewing of Mercury Is Mine, I caught up with the Metro Manila Film Festival New Wave Best Picture Ari at Cinemalaya 2016. It is a Kapampangan film dealing with a famed poet. The film, with ample creative support from Jason Paul Laxamana, highlighted some of the main criticisms against the Kapampangan language. One of these quirks is the interchange of Fs with Ps.

I had a hearty laugh then after hearing Carmen say 'Let's fuck' when what she meant was 'Let's pack.' Local tidbits such as this, along with the delicious dishes, give the film a unique Kapampangan flavor.

The gold hoard of Mercury left me puzzled. Are they real? If it is real, then why didn't Mercury raise hell to recover them?

My guess is that the gold nuggets are fake. The last scene bolsters my hypothesis that the nuggets are fake. The final shot shows Carmen still cooking in her roadside eatery. Nothing has changed. Usually, when a character comes upon a fortune in the latter part of a film, the audience sees the result of this windfall in a succeeding scene showing a new house or a new car. In the case of Carmen, she is still stuck in her eatery.

I like to think that Carmen gave away those gold pieces but it is not within her character. That storyline is about as false as the gold hair wig of Carmen. Yes, there's no use changing her personality. She is, as she said early in the film, 'a bad girl.'

 

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Camp Sawi (Irene Villamor, 2016)


Love means never having to say you're sawi

Sorry! I can't help it. The above hugot line is not from the film. But, it is a major lesson one can glean from the film.


Camp Sawi deals with five women grappling with the pain of being heart-broken. All of them cannot handle the hurt so they join a camp designed to ease their loneliness and depression.

The film begins inside an impressive and probably expensive condo unit of Bridgette (Bela Padilla). It is the regular trysting place for her and her boyfriend, Chris. The visits though begin to taper off. One day, he no longer answers Bridgette's calls and text messages.

The abruptness of Chris' absence affected Bridgette's performance at work. She starts to look for options to heal her broken heart. She chances upon the website of Camp Sawi and laughs at the crazy idea behind the resort. But, the more she peruse the website, the more it becomes attractive. She eventually fills up the online registration form.

Camp Sawi is an island resort catering to love victims. Bridgette finds that she is not the only woman left by her man. Joan's case is heartrending. On the day she accepted the wedding proposal of her beau, a fatal accident happened. If you're a regular moviegoer then you probably have an idea on what caused the death of her boyfriend. It is death through vehicular accident once again.

Clarisse (Andi Eigenmann) and her lover is still seeing one another. However, the relationship is a cul-de-sac because Clarisse is a mistress. After every date, she experiences the pain of seeing her lover go back to his family. Among the resort guests, she is the only one who knows the first thing she will do after her stay at Camp Sawi. She will let go of her lover completely.

Rock band singer Gwen (Arci Muñoz) is smarting from her break-up with a fellow band member. The guy writes a break-up song and sings it to her face-to-face. A fellow musician at the camp heals her heart and transforms her into a sultry crooner.

Teenager Jessica (Yassi Pressman) does her best to get noticed by a good-looking basketball player. Her stalking ways lead to her discovery of the guy's true sexuality. Her mother convinced her to join the camp so she can get over the fact that her crush is gay.

Camp Sawi is not only for the distaff side. Every one who wants to move on is invited to move in. The peak season is during the love month of February.

The genesis behind the resort is not clear. The camp master and owner (Sam Milby) says he wants to help people. But, the way I see it, he is also looking for the woman of his dreams. There is a rule prohibiting guests from falling in love during their stay. Camp master, though, can easily find a way to contact guests outside because of his access to their files.

A Philippine Daily Inquirer column by Michael Tan on extreme sorrow helped me see that the five women are not broken-hearted. Their hearts are complete and intact. Love is still residing there. They only need to tap into their hearts to release joy that will suppress the loneliness they feel inside.

The pain felt by the women emanates from the liver. The Malay root word of Pighati and Dalamhati is hati, meaning liver. Luwalhati means being outside the realm of pighati.

The film Camp Sawi enlightens in an entertaining way. Extreme depression can only be vanquished by love and joy. The film's message is supported by an astonishing transformation of a drunkard Gwen into a vampy singer Love Joy. Musical interludes serve as major points in the evolution of Love Joy.

The brutally frank break-up song devastates a vulnerable Gwen. Then, the videoke sing along lifts up the hopes of Gwen. Finally, the torch song by Love Joy smolders and sizzles. She is so attractively hot even the camp master cannot help but invite her for dinner.

The other girls also learn to flush out negative emotions. Jessica may have lost a crush but she gains a BFF in return. Will she be able to make a man out of her BFF? Only time can tell.

Someday, Bridgette and Gwen may follow in the footsteps of Joan. The latter may not be as pretty and sexy as her fellow camp mates but she beat them all by getting married first. Maybe she is more beautiful inside than the others.

The trick then for singles is to be full of love and good vibrations in order to attract positive things. Love Joy seems to be in the right path. Go girl! Ituloy mo lang.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hiblang Abo (Ralston Jover, #Cinemalaya2016)



'We live in a home for the aged.'

My uncle shared a funny experience of his balikbayan wife and her three equally married sisters in a restaurant. All four women showed their senior citizen cards to avail of discounts. The waiter noticed that all four cards bear the same address in Manila but the surnames are all different. My aunt broke the ice by joking that all of them are staying in a home for the aged instead of saying that they really live in their old ancestral house.

Jokes and laughter.

That's how we usually deal with the subject of home for the aged. It seldom crops up in family discussions. From a cultural viewpoint, home for the aged is taboo subject. Resident elders at homes for the aged are seen as being abandoned and rejected by their uncaring, heartless family members. Or, from another view, the elders deserved to be there because they have done bad things that caused their estrangement from their families.

Either way, the elders are separated from their family members. Loneliness is the main problem of these residents.

Hiblang Abo deals with four abandoned elders in an institution. Huse, Sotero, Blas, and Pedro are residents of Bahay ni Juan. They are the Fab Four in that community of senior citizens. They are the most popular able-bodied residents. They are the ones always interviewed by visiting college students.

An amusing scene shows Pedro (Nanding Josef) running away from a nosey student. He is shocked to hear personal queries from the female youngster. The elderly group do talk about racy stuff but only among themselves.

Huse (Lou Veloso) is the romantic idol of his three companions. He is paired with Rosa, a fellow resident. The group had a big laugh over Rosa's pilfering of shorts of Huse.

The towering Blas (Leo Rialp) is admired for his bombastic speeches. He is a former union leader fighting for improved working conditions and expanded benefits for employees.

Sotero (Jun Urbano) longs to see his daughter. He packs his belongings and acts as if leaving the place. His three roommates ignore him and urge him to go to bed.

Sotero later realizes that they have a fairly good life there after all. They eat three times a day. They have a decent room to sleep in. They have regular medical check-ups and free doctor consultations.


Of course, there are some things they carp about. Blas finds the food bland. He also gets annoyed with Sotero's alleged sightings of his daughter. 

With lots of idle time, several residents daydream or reminisce about the past. Pedro recollects negative experiences such as his time as a vagabond. Huse hates waiting the most. He is resigned to face death.

They are at their happiest when they receive visitors. They get to talk to other people besides their friends. They value visits from students and researchers. But, the only regular visitor to the institution is death.

The film Hiblang Abo is an almost solid adaptation of Rene Villanueva's award-winning play of the same name. Most of the dialogues are retained in the film. However, there are artistic inputs by the filmmakers that radically alter the play's focus on alienation and resignation to death.

The film's emphasis on deception and lying by the residents effectively cut my empathetic connection with the elders. Why will I feel pity for liars? During the medical consultation scene, the resident doctor states that the elders are liars. That crucial line about liars is a new addition and was never uttered in the play.

A flashback scene reveals that Huse is not the gigolo he is bruited to be. He is a homosexual abandoned by his family, and later by his lover. Is he feigning interest in Rosa to hide his past? This duplicity by Huse, a new addition for the film as well, affected my reading of his narration. I'm no longer sure what is true in the things he says.

The best film scene for me shows the elders in their brightly lit room. The sound of a switch being turned off bridges the room scene to a shot of the Bahay ni Juan building at nighttime. The split-second transition mirrors the fleeting lives of the residents. Within a span of three days, three deaths occur in the institution.

The last scene shows a lone elder in the room. It is just a matter of days or probably hours before the show curtain falls on him, too.

Hiblang Abo was shot at the Anawim Home for the Aged in Rizal. An earlier film, Layang Bilanggo, dealing also with the abandoned elderly, was shot in the same compound at Rizal. Both films boast of wonderful performances by their elderly cast. Pen Medina won as Best Actor at the Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival. The four leads of Hiblang Abo shared the Best Supporting Actor award at the Cinemalaya 2016 Film Festival.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dagsin (Atom Magadia, #Cinemalaya2016)


The film title Dagsin, meaning gravity, refers to what is probably the main thing keeping a crippled judge alive. Justino Razon (Tommy Abuel) starts the Holy Week by courting death through Russian roulette. He loads one bullet into a chamber of a revolver and then spins the cylinder. He points the gun at his head and pulls the trigger. If he survives, he gets to live another day in paradise.

Unknown to him, gravity pulls the odds in favor of a Russian roulette player because a loaded chamber is heavier and likely to end up on the bottom after every spin.

The Russian roulette scene, along with the trailer and poster, supports my initial perception of the film as a melodramatic, courtroom drama. Thankfully, an early droll scene quashes that false concept of mine.

The bathroom scene with a caregiver trying to bathe the judge is an eye-opener. It humanizes the overbearing judge by showing his discomfort, his sense of humor, and his dependence on other people. This scene and another bathroom scene of Justino explaining the reason why he survived countless atrocities are my favorite Tommy Abuel moments. Abuel lends his character a sense of gravitas. It helps that Abuel is a lawyer in real life.

Lotlot de Leon gives ample support to Abuel with her character Mercy. An adopted daughter of the judge, Mercy is the sole living family member of Justino. While cleaning the room of her late mother, Corazon, she uncovers a box of diary journals. The diaries soon become constant reading materials for Corazon's husband, Justino.

The journals of Corazon trigger sweet and horrifying memories. The happy moments show the young sweethearts during the halcyon days before World War II. The film then plunges into the darkest episodes of our country's history.

Justino endured the gruelling Death March and escaped the clutches of death from an ambush during Martial Law. The atrocities he'd seen and experienced shook his belief in God. Decades later, with the death of his wife Corazon, he becomes suicidal and plays GOD (game of destiny) each day.

Dagsin gets away with the verbal joustings of the judge because of the excellent performance of Abuel. His character Justino Razon is up there with other memorable Cinemalaya characters such as Rene in Bwakaw and the eponymous character in Jay.

First-time director Atom Magadia and his wife colloborated on the film. They included things they love on the film. A poem by Magadia was supplied with a lovely melody and ended up becoming the harana song. But, some things are completely out of place such as the pictures of Gloria Romero on Corazon's bedroom. Romero was still of grade school age in 1941.

There are also scenes that clutter the mind of viewers. From a journal entry dated 1956, a flashback shows Corazon and Justino eating ice cream. Corazon then hinted of having children after seeing a child by the ice cream cart. I ended up wondering throughout the film how they ended up childless.

I thought something happened to Corazon during her imprisonment during World War II, but then the Japanese official blew his brains out. Also, the 1956 flashback clearly show a jolly and healthy Corazon daydreaming of raising up a family.

The Martial Law imprisonment of Corazon was another red herring. Nothing traumatic actually happened to Corazon. The closest thing to a traumatic event is the last grave sin committed by her husband, Justino.

A G-word helped Justino survived a hellish Holy Week. Game of destiny is not it. Gravity is also not that G-word although Justino's heavy body dragged the ceiling fan downwards.

Surrounded by religious and prayerful people with names such as Corazon de Jesus Bishop, Mercy Razon, and Grace Santos, Justino is saved by God. The character names are an overkill but the idea that a merciful God answers constant prayers is a nice touch by the Magadia couple.

The last scene shows a smiling, cheerful Justino sunning himself in the garden. His heavy, guilty heart is probably a thing of the past.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Pamilya Ordinaryo (Eduardo Roy Jr., #Cinemalaya2016 Best Picture)


I envy those who viewed Pamilya Ordinaryo without having seen the trailer or teaser. I was there at opening night of the Cinemalaya 2016 and was aghast to see the film's teaser that effectively spoil my first viewing experience of the film. The omnibus trailer also laid out in the open the crucial plot of the baby being stolen. The Cinemalaya schedule brochure has a better, spoiler-free synopsis.

Another thing which ruined my first viewing of the film was a lengthy out-of-sync audio problem. The film was probably the first to finish production shoot and should have had an easy time during the post-production stage. But, how come the glitch was left undetected until the film's initial screening and gala premiere at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP)? Well, I hope the T-shirts worn by the crew was not an apology. 'Taga-Indie' lang kasi ang nag-check? Or, maybe the CCP staff is the one at fault.

A second viewing of the film was better and what I thought was a spoiler is not at all the surprise twist of the whole film. I'll share the twist on the latter part of this piece in order not to pre-empt first-time viewers.

Pamilya Ordinaryo shows why Eduardo Roy Jr. reigns supreme as the best Bing Lao disciple of his generation. The gritty film, dedicated to the late Lao disciple Francis Pasion, shows how two teenage parents survive on the streets of Manila. They mainly squat on the compound of the Metropolitan Theater. They snatch and steal things from other people. In extreme cases where they need money badly, they will engage in prostitution.


We've seen this squalid life, petty crimes to raise money, and grimy environment in countless indie films including Ma' Rosa, but Roy's controlled direction sets the film apart.

The use of a CCTV footage at the start of the film Pamilya Ordinaryo is a great move. It forces the audience to watch attentively. Usually, we associate CCTV footages with crimes, criminals, persons of interest, and accidents. Sure enough, the CCTV footage from the film captures a child being hit by a wayward car.

Subsequent CCTV footages pack a wallop especially the footage showing Jane Ordinaryo (Hasmine Killip) coming out of the interrogation room of a police precinct. This time we don't see a crime being committed but based on Jane's actuations we can infer that she just went through a horrible debasing from an abusive cop.

A crucial counterpoint to the despicable cop is a female stranger (Ruby Ruiz) who assertively helped the young couple in their quest to find their missing baby. The good Samaritan even handed out some money as a further help. One line from her still echoes in my mind: '
Hindi porke ganyan ang suot nila hindi na sila dapat tulungan.' It recalls a Ramon Magsaysay dictum which I'm paraphrasing: 'Those who have less in life should have more in justice.'

Most dialogue in the film serves a purpose. A throw-away line about seeping lactation leads to the heartbreaking breast-feeding scene at the police precinct. Even Jane's bra serves a purpose by alluding to the miserable state of the youngster. She is so poor that she can't buy a new bra. The regular bra can no longer contain her bigger, lactating breasts.

During my commutes to the CCP for Cinemalaya 2016 cinemarathons, I always pass by Quiapo, Lawton, and Metropolitan Theater in Manila. I've seen countless homeless people shivering from the torrential monsoon rains during the whole week. One night, the rain was so terrible it flooded the whole area of Metropolitan Theater, parts of Quiapo, and España. I waded through the floods. This is the milieu walked on by Aries and Jane. The whole vicinity is not fit to live in especially for youngsters caring for a month-old baby.

Roy and his crew have an uncanny knack of making the most of their locales. Bahay Bata seems to be a difficult shoot because the crew had to deal with hundreds of patients who've just given birth at the Fabella Hospital. But, I think Pamilya Ordinaryo is a more challenging shoot because of external shots. What makes the shoot even more toxic was the fact that Roy and crew have to finish shooting before Killip flies off to London, England. A huge dose of good luck with the El Niño weather and they somehow managed to get all the shots they needed.

Hasmine Killip and Ronwaldo Martin as Aries bring to life the street dwellers I see on my daily trips to CCP. They look like real denizens of the concrete jungle that is Manila. I was not distracted by Martin's squeaky voice as I found it to be fitting for a teenage, unschooled hustler. Killip is a natural as a young distraught mother. Her acting highlights vary from a simple selfie moment to a breakdown on the street.

There is a baby thief in the film alright. It is okay to spread that fact. The surprise twist in the film is similar to the twist of neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief. Baby thief Ertha is not the only one.

The redemptive act of the young couple at the end was lapped up by the CCP audience I was with. The audience know that there is hope for these petty criminals. There are probably loads of goodness still left in them.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Kusina (David R. Corpuz & Cenon Obispo Palomares, #Cinemalaya2016)


Kusina is an ambitious film that ably soars because of Judy Ann Santos' delicious performance.

Filmmakers David Corpuz & Cenon Palomares took a big risk by setting nearly all the scenes in a kitchen (a made-up one at that). The first few segments had me distracted by all that faux walls, and artificial sunlight. There are even scenes when it is difficult to ascertain the time. But, taking note of the film title, I came to grasp the reason behind the enigmatic production design.

The film Kusina situates the altruistic Juanita (Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo) in a room where she can serve others and where she has some control of. Her kitchen is a magical place with perpetual sunlight on one side and night time on another side. The concept of time means nothing to a selfless woman intent on caring for her family. It is not simply a matter of serving quick meal but of giving tender loving care through meticulously cooked dishes.

Juanita's kitchen is where an abundance of sumptuous food emanates and multiplies. There is a scene wherein Alejandro nibbles from a piece of rice cake and when he leaves, the plate miraculously shows another piece of rice cake. The more Juanita shares of her food, the more it multiplies. She may not be religious, but she is truly blessed by a gracious God as befitting her name.

The single parent Juanita makes use of her culinary skills to shoulder ever-rising expenses. She makes snacks that the children vend. In extreme cases of financial hardship, a friend or someone else chips in to help. She eats her pride sometimes because of her deep love for her children.

Juanita's kitchen has a wide array of appliances, cooking items, and food ingredients. There are also several herbal plants including one that can cure ear infection. But, what is a kitchen without the ubiquitous fly?

Alejandro is like a fly who've been smitten by the delicious food cooked by Juanita. He flits in and out of her kitchen. Just when Peles had grown tired of her sinigang, Alejandro pines for the sourness of sinigang. Alejandro also finds Juanita to be highly desirable. In Filipino, 'May asim pa si Juanita.'

A peculiar medium shot from the film shows Alejandro wearing a blue polo shirt. Prominent on his shoulder is a fly that doggedly stays on during the lengthy shot. Alejandro is that irritating fly who obstinately loves and continues to cling onto Juanita even during her middle-aged years. The audience lapped up Juanita's line about being desired through the years. Alas, Juanita swats away Alejandro's offer for them to live together.

Most characters in the film have their favorite food. Juanita adores adobo. But, she rarely shares her favorite food to her family. Juanita prioritizes the favorite recipes of her family members. She eventually gets to serve adobo to her family and friends in a heavenly banquet scene that will make you crave for yummy Filipino food. Make sure to watch the film on a full stomach.

This year, I'm fortunate to have seen two notable stagey films, Kusina and Anino sa Likod ng Buwan. Both films, with screenplays by Palanca winning writers, feature well-written female characters and both are set mostly in a large room.


Both films showcase sizzling performances from their female leads, Judy Ann Santos and LJ Reyes. Santos' breakdown is simply breathtaking while Reyes' love scene is mesmerizing. Both films star Luis Alandy as the lover. I have seen Dogville but I can't recall a plotline from it nor remember acting highlights. I'm not interested in watching it again but the two Filipino films I will gladly view again or if ever, watch their theatre play adaptations.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

I America (Ivan Andrew Payawal, #Cinemalaya2016)


'I'm Mara,' says a 27-year old beauteous half-American and half-Pinay model, Erica Berry (Bela Padilla). 'No, you are Clara,' interjects her friend, Carol.

Mara and Clara are characters from a popular Filipino soap-opera starring Judy Ann Santos. They were exchanged at childbirth and grew up in different circumstances. Erica is compared to Clara because she still loves her American dad despite knowing belatedly that he is not her true father.

Erica is among legions of Amerasians still searching for their true fathers. Three months before meeting Carol, Erica thought she had found her true father, John Berry. While in the process of getting a passport, she learned that her real name is Erica Marie Perry. Problem arise when John Berry goes to her Olongapo house and asks her to live with him in California. Will she continue to be a Clara and pretend to be his daughter?

My favorite Cinemalaya 2016 film is I America. It is an entertaining, insightful, and bittersweet look at dysfunctional families of adult Amerasians in Zambales. Erica and Carol were just toddlers when the Philippine Senate kicked out the Subic Bay Naval Installation in 1991. They grew up without a father figure. These two pretty Amerasians have different reactions when faced finally with their father. Erica is more forgiving of her absentee father while Carol is shocked and angry.

I admire I America for showing the bitter legacy of American military bases. Olongapo and Subic have moved on and boasts of wonderful tourist spots. But, the raging pain felt by father-less Amerasians still seethes and affects their personalities.

Not all offsprings of inter-racial couples in Zambales are bitter, though. The Olongapo-born 27-year old Filipino athlete, Eric Cray, put up a good fight in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Several statuesque Amerasians join beauty contests and become successful models and celebrities. But for every confident Eric out there, there are dozens of Erica unable to hurdle the misery and loneliness of being father-less.

Erica is a beautiful lady but looks confused and lacks confidence. A major reason is her anger towards her prostitute mother, Rose. When Rose died of liver failure, Erica whispered her last request to her dead mother during the burial. The action somewhat eased the heavy burden from Erica's chest.

An important segment shows Erica poring at the contents of a tin can. Inside the can are pieces of paper containing the names of military servicemen who have sired children in Zambales. The tin can is like a Pandora's box bearing the last hope of Amerasians wishing to connect with their fathers. Erica squashes that hope. She burns the papers to ashes. From her negative experience of meeting her father, Erica knows that bridging Amerasians to their American fathers will be futile and will only bring back evil things unleashed by Pandora.

I America, just like Mercury Is Mine, shows how Filipinos are beholden to Caucasians and anything American. Erica gushes at the awesomeness of American zoos even if she haven't seen one. Teenage boy Mercury gets an automatic slot in a reality show about cooking because he is a novelty. Both films also feature young Filipinas yearning to be impregnated by Caucasians.

I America digs deeper on the subject of colonial mentality and racism by touching on an important plotline from Cinemalaya 2013 film David F. The latter dealt with Amerasians making a living in comedy bars and clubs. The stand-up comedians belt out funny lines but deep inside feel sad and empty. If some Filipinos want to apply whitening lotion on their skin, then I won't mind. But, if some Filipinos ostracize and belittle fellow countrymen based on their dark skin, then that is a shameful thing and should be severely admonished.

If fair-skinned Erica, despite being a looker, still feels timid and incomplete, then what more the negative feelings of father-less Amerasians with Afro-American features. Dark-skinned Balot and friends mask their sad plight with lively antics and witty punchlines. They are usually relegated to the sidelines as some sort of personal assistant, event photographer, driver, and butt of jokes. A crucial scene shows a bossy director ordering Balot to serve him some refreshments. Balot assertively objects and puts the director in his place.

I America boasts of Cinemalaya 2016's funniest segment (Grace before meal) and finest Cinemalaya final line so far. But, is it the best? No. The best film by a mile is Pamilya Ordinaryo.


I like I America for tackling important issues but there's a nagging question on my head. Why did it take more than two decades before Erica gets hold of a birth certificate showing her true name? Maybe Erica never did go to school or if she did, the school may be lax in its requirements. Maybe Erica was a prostitute in her younger years.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Kid Kulafu (Paul Soriano, 2015)


While cable surfing, I chanced upon this Filipino film on Red channel. Kid Kulafu is Paul Soriano's worthy follow-up to his award-winning debut film Thelma. It tells the origins of the Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.

The selection of Buboy Villar as a young Manny Pacquiao is another casting coup by Soriano and crew. Just like what Maja Salvador did in Thelma, Villar wholeheartedly embraced his role as a phenomenal teen athlete. He looked uncannily like the Blow by Blow sensation.

A notable boxing fight sequence shows Villar unleashing fast punches from the point of view (POV) of his taller opponent. Villar is staring up at the camera and his gloved hands keeps landing on the camera. If this is a 3D film, then the audience would have staggered from countless head bobs.

I love the POV shots because they show what an opponent sees when fighting Pacquiao. It looks like the whole audience is up there supporting and backing up Pacquiao. The dazzling flashes of red that appears intermittently from both sides suggest the quickness of Pacquiao's hands.

There's a reason behind the film's insistence on using Emmanuel, the real name of Pacquiao. The biblical definition of Emmanuel is 'God with us.' An important scene shows his mother Dionisia, asking the Lord to be with Emmanuel always. He is blessed to be the first and only boxer to win world championships in eight divisions.

Pacquiao has had a love-hate relationship with his townmates in General Santos City, South Cotabato. They loved him as a boxing champion but junked him in the 2007 legislative elections. Pacquiao's decision to run again for the congressional seat but for another province (Sarangani) is somewhat similar to an incident shown in the film.

The young and raw pugilist is disheartened from being cut from the General Santos City boxing team. As fast as his boxing jab, he switches allegiance to the Digos boxing team. He helps his new team win the regional championship at the expense of his original team.

Kid Ku
lafu does a decent job of showing the circumstances of Pacquiao's rise to boxing glory. The film also shows the fickle-mindedness of Pacquiao. Now, it will no longer surprise me if Pacquiao, despite his campaign pronouncements, decides once more to don boxing gloves for a fight this year.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pauwi Na (Paolo Villaluna & Ellen Ramos, ToFarm Film Festival 2016)


ToFarm Film Festival produced a decent crop of exceptional films such as Pauwi Na and Paglipay. The organizers treated the film makers well and they reaped some good karma in return.

Pauwi Na is a surprise film entry. It barely touched on the festival theme of farmers and farming. The gist of the story is about a family of five going back to their province. It may be that the screening committee sees their story as a sentimental 'back to one's roots' tale.

The family's journey is quite a challenge because they have to ride a pedicab. The sickly father (Bembol Roco) is quite accustomed to driving a pedicab but he is no longer young. Fed up with a non-paying client and stressed by urban living, he decides to take his family back home. His main reason, though, is he wants to be buried in his hometown. That story plot is taking the 'back to roots' imagery too far.

The tragic story seldom strays into melodrama because of suave cinematic inputs of the filmmakers. The pregnant daughter-in-law Isabel (Meryll Soriano) is blind but can see and chat with Jesus Christ. She gets wisdom and sometimes crucial help from the Lord.

A hysterically funny scene shows the visually impaired Isabel crossing a busy highway. The audience knows she has a guide but her family doesn't know a thing. A shot of a huffing pregnant woman in the middle of the street is juxtaposed with a shot of anxious, deeply worried family members. This whole segment is a brilliant piece of editing.

The use of black and white sequences to portray fantasy scenes also help the film from being overly dramatic. There are two deaths in the family. One such death scene was prefigured through the use of a black and white sequence.


The final shot of the remaining family members with their 'angels' backdropped with a scenic rustic view suggests that paradise is not a province. Paradise is a place where your family is. It may be a verdant field or it may be a shanty house or it may be a pedicab. As long as two family members or more decide to stick with one another, paradise will always be in their midst. Ask Isabel, she knows.