Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ang Larawan (Loy Arcenas, Metro Manila Film Festival 2017 Best Picture)

Ang Larawan is a thing of beauty. Lavished with care by a group of passionate artists, the film exudes an aura of grace and poise. There's nothing artsy-fartsy with this film. All elements are of the right amount. The cinematography emits a force field-type of mist that seemingly protects the Marasigan siblings from a fast-changing world.

Candida and Paula Marasigan, both middle-aged spinsters, are experiencing a crisis. Bills are piling up because they have not received their monthly allowances from elder siblings. A boarder, Tony Javier, suggests a solution to their monetary problem.

Tony convinces the sisters to part with the recent masterwork of their father, Don Lorenzo Marasigan. He has an American buyer ready to purchase the painting for a handsome price of $10,000 or roughly PHP 20,000. That is huge money back then in the 1930s. Rebuffed by Candida, Tony works out a scheme to get his hands on the painting.

Ang Larawan will be compared not only to the different adaptations of Nick Joaquin's play A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino but also to Arcenas' standout debut film Niño. The latter is a Citizen Kane-like story of the decline of a once-mighty and illustrious oligarch family, the Lopez-Aranzas.

The Marasigans, like the Lopez-Aranzas, used to hold weekly parties attended by aristocrats, artists, and statesmen. However, the throngs of guests slowly dwindle as years go by.

Now, when visitors drop by at the Marasigan house, their purpose is to see the lone existing masterpiece of Juan Luna's contemporary. The other remaining paintings of Don Marasigan are exhibited in museums outside the Philippines. A visiting Senator asks Paula to convince her elder sister Candida to donate the painting to the government. In return, a trust fund will be created for the two sisters. Once again, Candida rejects the offer of their family friend.

A memorable funny segment for me is when Paula asks Candida if she is crying. The reply by Candida is perfect comedic timing.

Arcenas combines the different ways adaptations depict the painting. In theater plays, the portrait is hung on an imaginary 'fourth wall.' In the film by Lamberto Avellana, the details of the painting are clearly shown. The Avellana painting shows a young man carrying an old man on his back. The burning city of Troy is shown behind them. The piercing, sad eyes of the two persons have the power to unsettle the viewer.

In Ang Larawan, the painting is barely seen but the painting layout is similar to the one shown in the Avellana film version. I expect the eyes of the two persons to have similar unnerving effect of racking up guilt.

What I like about this Arcenas adaptation is its focus on conscience pricking. Paula and Candida associate themselves with the young man in the painting. They were the reason behind the accident involving their father. They are now responsible for their bed-ridden father. He is their cross to bear.

Manolo and Pepang, elder siblings of Paula and Candida, plan to sell their house. The house reminds them of their wanton spending and disregard for the welfare of the spinsters and their father.

The film also pricks the conscience of moviegoers. The film asks: Do we still remember and follow the good traditions of old? Do we still sing and dance? Or, have we imprisoned and dampened our passion for poetry, singing, dancing, and the visual arts?

Ang Larawan, along with Disney's Coco, are glorious reminders of the importance of family and getting in touch with the past. Both films depict perfectly Nick Joaquin's vocation of remembering and singing. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Birdshot (Mikhail Red, Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2017)

Image result for birdshot poster

I missed out on this film during the opening night of Cinemalaya 2017. I wasn't worried though about not having a chance to see the film. With the production group TBA supporting the film, it was bound to have multiple screenings in different venues.

I caught up with Birdshot on a rainy evening, a day after the nation breezed through with Ninoy Aquino Day. Putting it simply, Birdshot is one of the best films of 2017. 

Birdshot is a mature, majestic exploration of violence and police corruption in the Philippines. From the onset, Birdshot seems to be set in Marcos Martial Law era. The police wear khaki uniforms similar to constabulary uniforms. The telephone being used has a rotating dial. However, in a police precinct, a poster of the Philippine National Police (PNP) is prominently captured in a shot suggesting that the film is not set in a certain era. PNP was founded in 1991 as a result of the merger of Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police.

The bloody incidents in the movie refer to events after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution. Maya's fatal shooting of a haribon was based on the killing of a Philippine eagle by a farmer in 2008.

The gist of the movie focuses on a more gruesome crime. Police are investigating the disappearance of a busload of passengers. This mysterious incident refers to three events that bloodstained the reign of the Aquinos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. 

In January 1987, barely a year after the ascension of Cory Aquino to the presidency, legions of farmers asking for government action on land reform trooped to Mendiola. They were met with a hail of bullets from the police. At least 13 protesters died in the aftermath of the violent dispersal. While other rich families lost their lands to agrarian reform, the Aquinos are able to maintain control of Hacienda Luisita because of the Stock Distribution Option scheme.

In August 2010, barely two months after Benigno Aquino III assumed into office, a busload of tourists was commandeered by a dismissed policeman. The latter shot to death 8 passengers, all of them Chinese tourists. In the movie, an Eduardo Aquino was connected with the hijacked bus.

The third event is the Maguindanao massacre of 2009. A convoy of vehicles were ordered to stop at a checkpoint manned by armed renegades in Maguindanao. 57 passengers, including 25 media people, were then killed and haphazardly buried along with the vehicles.

In Birdshot, the highly memorable, final shot of the burial place inside the Davao eagle sanctuary recalls horrific incidents in the Philippines. Prominent among the bodies is that of a half-buried corpse with a hand held up as if surrendering or meekly pleading for mercy. As I'm writing this, I imagine it to be extra-judicial killing victim Kian delos Santos begging the police to have mercy. 

Tama na po. May test pa po ako bukas!

The haphazard burial of the bodies recalls the Manila Film Center accident in 1981. Scores of workers were buried in an avalanche of quick-drying cement. There were stories of breathing workers buried alive because the Center was being rushed for the opening night of the Manila International Film Festival. A worker or two might have raised their hands trying to wave off the incoming rush of cold cement.

To the millenials, the final shot vividly recalls the Maguindanao massacre. 

More importantly, the final shot also recalls extra-judicial killings in Davao. In 2009, Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Leila de Lima, investigating the so-called Davao Death Squad, dug up human bones from a 'mass grave' in Davao City. 

The perpetrators of these incidents tried to cover up their crimes in different ways. Bodies were buried in cement or mass graves. Maya's father buried the shotgun in their yard. On the other hand, big shots bully their critics or subordinates into submission. Policeman Domingo (Arnold Reyes) transmogrified into a brutal police monster after receiving overt threats.

Birdshot reminds people that covering up a crime will do them no good. Ultimately someone, a courageous media reporter, a dedicated police investigator, or a persistent human rights activist, will unearth the truth and expose their shortcomings. Maya's father Diego underwent torture and died.

Birdshot suggests that police corruption and brutality did not end with the lifting of Marcos Martial law. Abuses by PNP personnel exist until today. Human rights activists should not turn a blind eye on these abuses.

Courageous human rights activists are a rare species like the Philippine eagle. With their sharp eyes, they keenly monitor the happenings around the country. They remain focused and determined in pointing out abuses of the police and the military. They should not be mindlessly shot down or threaten with death. They should be protected.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

100 Tula Para Kay Stella (Jason Paul Laxamana, Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2017)

POEM # 143
Diretso, kaliwa o kanan
Ano'ng tatahaking lansangan?
Tanong ng bida sa kawalan
O Fidel Lansangan
Right path na ba yan?

     POEM # 333
Stella Puno ang ngalan
Punung-puno ng paandar
Gustong maging star
Nabingwit ni photocopier man

POEM # 1505
Pelikulang tumatabo sa takilya
Ikinatuwa ni Bela
Nawa'y ibang pelikula
Okay din sana 
Yehey! Isisigaw nila

POEM # 2017
Paalala ni Rio Alma
Tangkilikin at ibunyi ng taas noo
Pista ng Pelikulang Filipino
Opo. Filipino po ang tama

POEM # 1024
Mga tulang sinulat
Alay sa rakista
Ready na akong magtapat
Aray! May iba na siyang sinta!

Photo courtesy of 100 Tula Para Kay Stella FB page

Friday, August 18, 2017

Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember (Khavn, 2016)

Image result for alipato poster khavn

Khavn is a prolific filmmaker notorious for his provocative, disgusting, highly kinetic oeuvres. I've seen a handful of these films and I'm not a fan of them. Khavn must be happy. I've read somewhere that a film of Khavn was awarded a Special Mention prize in an international film festival and Khavn was dejected. He said his purpose was to offend or shock people. He didn't expect the jury to love or like his film. The title of that film is Alipato.

Hey, Khavn. I loved Alipato, too. I'm also a fan of two earlier works Paalam Aking Bulalakaw and Pahinga.

Alipato is a scary, damning take on what happens if the present drug war does not succeed. Alipato shows Mondomanila denizens being plagued by a gang composed of kids. The film suggests that all adult criminals must have been salvaged or rubbed out so children are left to take over as gang members in Mondomanila, circa 2025.

The drug war of the present administration is bound to fail because of wrong focus. The emphasis should be on eliminating poverty and reducing income inequality. As long as they experience hunger, several poor people will be tempted to enter the illicit drug trade. Getting rid of adult pushers permanently will only pave the way for hungry, angry young teens to take their place.

The head of the nefarious Kostka gang is a teenager. Along with his troop of mostly pre-teen kids, they wreak havoc and chaos. One by one, the members are introduced to the audience via profile cards with their names, favorite things, and major achievements. They are then seen slashing open the throats of jeepney commuters.

A monumental gun battle with the police left the gang in disarray. Gravestones are flashed on screen to update audience on who died. In just one day, more than a dozen people died in that fateful battle. The onscreen figure though is still below the daily killings we've seen the past few days. 32 people in Bulacan and 25 people in Manila have perished in the hands of the police within a 48-hour period in August 2017.

The young Kostka gang leader escaped the clutches of death but was imprisoned for more than 20 years after a failed bank robbery. The jail sentence storyline is a joy to watch because of its animated segment and stop-motion sequences. Khavn and Rox Lee collaborated on this wonderful animated segment showing the brutality experienced by the leader at the hands of fellow prisoners.

Dido de la Paz portrays the newly-freed, grizzled, senior citizen leader of the gang. Surviving gang members pester the leader for a share of the bounty. Soon after, gang members are targeted by a mysterious entity.

De la Paz is the undisputed revelation of Cinemalaya 2017. He won the Best Supporting Actor Award for his portrayal of an old-school poet in the film Respeto. He played a big role in Alipato. During a post-screening forum at Cinemalaya, he shared that he was shocked to see himself onscreen having sex with a naked pregnant woman. He vowed never to do anything of that sort again.

The pregnant woman was the third one selected for the film. A member of the casting crew mentioned that they had a hard time selecting people to act for the film. They have to spend late nights to spot and convince the dregs of humanity to join them.

The best scene in the film is the parade of weirdos and low-lifers at the start of the film. With a bouncy music as accompaniment, the procession is led by a man dressed in papal regalia.

So, this is what Mario Vargas Llosa's Canudos look like if put on film. The freaks, midgets, scoundrels, prostitutes, and outcasts converge in Mondomanila, the Canudos of the Philippines.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Kiko Boksingero (Thop Nazareno, Cinemalaya 2017)

Compared to its batchmates, the film Kiko Boksingero is short and lean but packs a powerful, engaging story. With a running time of 76 minutes, this little film gem manages to squeeze in ample amounts of important life lessons and heartwarming moments. The wonderful musical score by Pepe Manikan is soothing and calming.

A fifth-grade schooler, Francis 'Kiko' Arenas (Noel Comia Jr.), is bullied by two noxious classmates. He tries to avoid trouble to the extent that he sometimes shuns going to the toilet to evade his classmates. After school, he hangs out regularly in a vacant place and tries to pound a punching bag.

The audience may think Kiko is just venting out his anger in this unoccupied house. His real motive, though, is to get a glimpse and probably touch base with his father. Soon after, the father comes home to initiate the sale of the house.

Kiko has fond memory of visiting his grandmother in that place when he was younger. He savors stories told by the elder. These stories triggered the boy's fixation with boxing. He idolizes his absentee father George, a former boxer who've faced Manny Pacquiao in the ring. The boy's favorite tumbler has a boxing design. His room is filled with boxing knick-knacks and mementos. He religiously cleans the boxing equipment of his father in the vacant place.

George (Yul Servo) belatedly knew about his son's existence. He tries his best to make up for lost time. He imparts basic boxing fundamentals to the boy. He advises Kiko to use his boxing skills only for self-defense.

A memorable father-and-son segment deals with the circumcision of Kiko. George unleashes his boyish charm at the clinic. Film producer Sarah Pagcaliwagan Brakensiek nearly steals the scene with her portrayal of a smitten nurse assistant. There's a marked change with the boy after being circumcised. He learns to do household chores on his own. Most important of all, he gains confidence and walks proudly along the school corridors. His upright stance is like those of a proud sunflower shining brightly in a field.

Kiko Boksingero also deals with the importance of rising up after every fall or knockout. The abrupt departure of his father is like a sneaky hook landing solidly on Kiko's face. On the route going home, the devastated boy stops and tears can be seen flowing down his face. A familiar figure, his nanny (Yayo Aguila), immediately gives him a consoling hug. The camera then zooms out to reveal a beautiful shot of the two, feeling the warmth of each other's familial love, holding fort and oblivious to the cool breeze of a Baguio evening. The prominent, comforting light seems to emanate from the two instead of coming directly from the street lamp.

Yayo Aguila won the best supporting actress award from Cinemalaya for her likable portrayal as the nanny. She said that the film project is close to her heart because it is about family.

One by one, family members of Kiko slowly drift away. His aunt, main financial benefactor of Kiko, is having second thoughts on getting the boy to live with her in the United States. His carefree father left him cold with nary a message. Kiko manages to withstand these debacles with the help of his nanny.

Diday is more than a doting nanny to Kiko. She is a 'nanay' who cares and truly loves the boy. She and Kiko are family.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Kita Kita (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2017)

I'm ecstatic over the box-office bonanza take of this film. Filmmaker Sigrid Andrea Bernardo continues to amaze audiences with her unique, character-driven love stories such as Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita and Lorna. Kita Kita is the latest delightful out-of-the-box concoction of Bernardo.

Kita Kita stars the unlikely couple of morena beauty Alessandra de Rossi and comedian Empoy Marquez. Empoy has a face that, okay, I'll just describe it as nondescript and unremarkable. 

I have a hunch that moviegoers, upon learning of the odd pairing, immediately think of Alessandra's character as either crazy or a visually-challenged lady. They guessed right because she is both. But, these traits do not define Lea. It is only in the second half of the film that her foremost trait shone brightly.

The first half of the film shows a blind Lea (Alessandra) travelling across the different tourist spots in Sapporo, Japan. Her main companion is Tonyo (Empoy), a Filipino tourist who befriended her. Initially, the kilig/hugot scenes are not that different from other romantic films. The couple, here and there, gets to know each other better. Seen from the point of view of Tonyo, the segment is entertaining and hilarious. However, as the same kilig/hugot scenes are replayed from the point of view of Lea, the whole bittersweet segment turns special and highly memorable.

All throughout these scenes, the audience admires the craziness and braveness of Lea for trusting Tonyo as travel buddy. She may have been brokenhearted but she sure is stubborn and crazy to let a mere acquaintance accompany her. The visually-challenged lady even allows Tonyo inside her residence!

There's a crucial scene inside the home of Lea. We see Lea running her hand along the face of Empoy. Unknown to the audience, the moment she felt the moustache of Tonyo, she 'knows' who he is. This is confirmed by the heart-breaking moment when she sees her 'friend' for the first time across the street. There wasn't a tinge of surprise, disappointment, or horror upon seeing Empoy. She has a joyous smile plastered on her face. He is what she expected to see all along.

I don't know if Bernardo meant for the film to be a homage to Charlie Chaplin's legendary film City Lights. The latter tells the story of a mustachioed tramp helping a blind girl. The heart-breaking finale shows the girl recovering her sight and sees her benefactor for the first time. The ending shot closes on the face of the Tramp. He tries hard to put on a smile, which may or may not have been reciprocated.

Kita Kita eliminates any uncertainty by showing Tonyo reciprocating Lea's smile. It is just too bad that his deep love for Lea led to his 'blindness.' Film character Tonyo falls prey to the 'Love is Blind' device utilized by rom-com filmmakers. This story device has male lovers meeting untimely deaths after failing to see vehicles coming their way. Makers of these films should put up road signs that read 'Bawal tumawid ang umiibig. Nakamamatay.'

Lea must have known who her travel buddy was but it was only after reading the letter of Tonyo that she sees the big picture. Along with Lea, the audience gets to see the big picture. Kindness and goodness go a long, long, long way in helping people see clearly the beauty of the world.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Bliss (Jerrold Tarog, 2017)

Bliss is a true sleeper. It is a satirical, horrifying take on obsession and predation in local cinema. Filmmaker Jerrold Tarog churns out a fantastic, exceptional movie that shook the bejesuses out of a lethargic local film industry.  

Bliss is a homage to the Stephen King chiller Misery. The nail-biting suspense book was adapted faithfully into an amazing Hollywood film. Misery dealt with a best-selling male author who figured in a road accident which left him crippled. He could have died if not for the intervention of a witness. The female witness, a nurse, happens to be a passionate fan of the author's books featuring the character Misery. The author experiences tender care, and later on, horror and misery at the hands of the nurse.

Bliss also deals with a celebrity (Iza Calzado) who've had the misfortune of crossing paths with a crazed fan. The actress, crippled because of a freak accident during shooting, is left to recuperate in a humongous house with only a nurse as constant companion. The beautiful actress experiences nightmares at the hands of the nurse.

A memorable nightmare scene shows the paranoiac star fleeing from a horde of monsters who want a piece of her. These legions of monsters symbolize the rabid fans who gobbled up every piece of info about their idols. These type of fans yearn for close contact with their favorite celebrities. They hold vigil during midnight shooting sessions. They outmaneuver bodyguards and security people in their desire to have selfies with their idols. A lucky few get to kiss their idols.

The hospital scenes at the end of the film are deeply shocking for some viewers. Those viewers will realize that they share a thing with the nurse. They, too, want a piece of the star. It is not that they want to experience a blissful albeit criminal, full-contact, close encounter with the actress. It is just that they wish to see their beauteous idol in full naked glory. Calzado joins Maria Isabel Lopez, Angeli Bayani, and Sue Prado, on the list of celebrities who've done full frontal nudity on films.

There's another meaning to the word Bliss aside from rapturous joy. Bliss refers to the multi-storied housing project of the Marcoses. In the film, the spooky, dimly-lit residences in Sikatuna are home to a sexual predator. This female pedophile eventually lures a girl to a world of blissful nightmares. The girl morphs into a sex pervert herself.

The Sikatuna Bliss segment of the film gives the chills that linger. There are indeed real-life perverts preying on children. Just recently, a priest is being probed for possible trafficking of a minor. 

Top-tier celebrities may have better lighted, well-secured homes but it doesn't mean that they are shielded from parasitic people. The philandering husband of the celebrity takes opportunity of her imbalanced state of mind by leeching money. The filmmaker exploits news on the aftermath of the freak shooting accident to spruce up publicity for his movie. The mother of the celebrity convinces her burnt-out daughter to continue acting because of the financial windfall associated with her showbiz career.

Tarog is a top-notch filmmaker who makes films, first and foremost, for the Filipinos. Unlike the obsessed filmmaker character in Bliss, he isn't fixated with winning international film festival recognition and awards. Tarog, though, has amassed varied honors since his debut in 2007. Bliss is up there with his very best films including Sana Dati and Heneral Luna.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Toto (John Paul Su, Metro Manila Film Festival New Wave 2015)

The dark comedy film Toto tackles two major preoccupations of middle-class Filipinos. The first one is love of movies and celebrities. Toto (Sid Lucero) is a hotel room service attendant who idolizes Tom Cruise. He dons sunglasses although not the pricey Ray-Ban Wayfarer ones. He engages in a side job peddling bootleg DVD copies of movies. Alas, his knowledge of movies is limited to the Hollywood blockbusters and star-studded films he sees from these pirated DVDs. He fails to identify the movie source of the dialogue, 'We're no longer in Kansas' or the dog character Toto.

The second and major topic of the film is Filipinos' obsession and lingering dream to work abroad, specifically the United States of America (US). Countless Filipinos still cling to the notion of earning big bucks in the US. Toto concocts different ways of getting the elusive visa. For every denied visa application, he waits for months before employing his latest ploy.

A hysterically funny scene shows Toto raising hackles over the people hired to serve as his family for a visa application appearance. He rues the pedestrian, tacky looks of his alleged mother and sister. Worse he even compares them to prostitutes from Ermita. His remark about prostitutes came back to haunt him later in the film as he gets outed as a prostitute catering to gays.

Toto may be an impostor but he has huge compassion for his cancer-stricken mother (Bibeth Orteza). He buys a wig for his bald-headed mother. Toto's big heart and gritty determination causes the merciful universe to bring him one last hope of nabbing a US visa.

The film Toto assembles a fine cast of actors. Even the foreign actors gave notable performances. Sid Lucero is a versatile actor able to handle dramatic and comedic roles. He channels his father, Mark Gil, in the bedroom scene showing him in briefs. Mara Lopez continues to sizzle in every role she dabbles in. Rafael Roco Jr. does a first in this film with his head full of long hair. The novelty is not merely being long haired of Roco but having a fuller, hairier head than his lady partner (Bibeth Orteza). Liza Dino portrays a chameleon-like femme fatale giving Toto a dose of his own medicine.

There are several wonderful detours from the main topic. They add dramatic contrast to the mostly comedic visa forays of Toto. The bromance twist is a major surprise. It answers my major lingering question at that point of the movie: Why is someone getting out of his way to help Toto get his visa?

Another emotional side trip is Toto's visit to his mother. I can't recall any of her lines but I still vividly remember her receding hairline. Bibeth Orteza evokes sympathy as a bald-headed cancer victim.

Enough with sad memories. Let's go out with a laugh.

Here's a joke for Toto and other avid Filipino moviegoers:

Q: What Tom Cruise movie best describes Roco?
A: Top Gun. (Top Gone).

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Tu Pug Imatuy (Arbi Barbarona, Sinag Maynila Film Festival 2017 Best Picture)

Mere months after the lumad film Baboy Halas won a major award at the Cinema One Originals Film Festival, another film on peaceful lumads, Tu Pug Imatuy, won the top prize at the 2017 Sinag Maynila Film Festival.

Tu Pug Imatuy (Right to Kill) benefits from Arnel Mardoquio's story of a lumad couple abducted and used by the military to serve as trackers. The husband is gentle and mild. He stands helplessly in the middle of a river as the soldiers leeringly strip off the blouse of his wife. The shivering husband meekly accepts the situation as his naked wife resolutely clamps down her emotions.

After a humiliating parade through the jungle, the wife grabs a rare opportunity to escape. Assigned to cook dinner, she puts in some sleep-inducing herbs in the meals that she is preparing. The soldiers order the unknowing husband to take a bite size portion of the meal as a precaution against poisoning. The meal isn't poisoned but mixed with a potion. Soon, the soldiers are dozing off along with the husband.

The wife silently motions the other abductees to escape. She then drags her mildly-sedated husband away from the camp. The heavy load puts a dent on the wife's escape plan. It didn't take long before the enraged soldiers, roused from stupor, caught up with the couple. The husband is killed while the wife continues to elude the soldiers.

The two films, Baboy Halas and Tu Pug Imatuy, highlight the peaceful and pacifist nature of lumads. The wife in Tu Pug Imatuy didn't kill the soldiers even when she has the chance to do it at the camp. Not a single one of the fleeing abductees took hold of a firearm. They could have at least disarm the unconscious soldiers but even holding such weapons seems to be a big No-No for them. It is as if lumads are averse to weapons of violence and destruction.

Now that she is being pursued, the wife has no choice but to use her guile and lures the soldiers to their deaths inside a large camouflaged animal trap. The lumads' jungle skills and ability to use herbal potions help them survive natural or man-made hazards. In Baboy Halas, lumads implore the help of spirits in their endeavors. Maybe the spirit of the trap helped the wife eradicate evil persons in her midst.

A powerful image from Tu Pug Imatuy is that of a yellow construction vehicle abandoned in a muddy road. It is an ominous sign of violence to come. Ever since the incident of Maguindanao Massacre, yellow bulldozers or trucks of similar ilk have been associated with violence. This time, the violence is not political in nature but mining-related. Mining companies are using military soldiers to harass anti-mining lumads.

Children are the worst-hit victims of militarization in Mindanao. They are deprived of education and sometimes, their permanent homes. The children and their parents endure countless evacuations because of conflicts. Some children even lose a parent or two.

A heartbreaking scene from the film shows two children waiting overnight for their parents to fetch them. The rain failed to budge them from their position in the mountains. What future awaits them if both parents fail to come? 

Stories about lumads will have to be told as long as violent, greedy people intrude into their peaceful, serene communities in Mindanao.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Kristo (HF Yambao, Sinag Maynila Film Festival 2017)

The film Kristo starts with a Brillante Mendoza-style of seamlessly embedding film actors into crowded actual event. Indie film regular Kristoffer King portrays a bet collector named Boy who joins a parade of bloodied flagellants during the season of Lent. Footage of him walking the streets of Pampanga and carrying the cross is followed by actual footage of the nailing of Ruben Enaje to the cross. Enaje is a regular fixture of Holy Week crucifixions. He strives to do a yearly Kristo (crucified Jesus Christ) as gratitude for surviving a building fall.

Boy Saging (Kristoffer King) is also called a kristo, a slang for a bet collector at cockpits. According to a University of the Philippines study by Mary Ann Alabanza,, a kristo is liken to Jesus Christ. Both take on the role of mediator. A kristo mediates between the bettors and the managers. Another possibility for the origin of the term may be the hand movements of bet collectors resemble generic hand poses of Jesus Christ statues.

The mohawked Boy works hard and does his best to grant requests of loved ones. With his windfall of bet commissions, he buys a second-hand laptop for his daughter. There is a tendency for Boy to act as a ‘one-day millionaire’ because of such huge windfalls. There is also the danger of overspending and being overly generous. But, a bigger problem is the temptation to put large amounts of money to a cockfight bet. When Boy ends up losing his budget for the celebration party of his daughter, he humbly asks for a loan from his boss. The boss (Julio Diaz) castigates him for acting like a rich bettor.

The best, meaty film segments show various activities inside the cockpit area. They may probably answer all the questions one may have about kristos and the cockfighting business. The film takes the entire gamut from setting up of matches up to the rehabilitation of winning cocks. If you've been wondering what happens to the dead chickens, the film takes the viewers to a place where losing chickens are dumped over a boiling vat and stripped of feathers. Dejected owners are consoled with the thought of having chicken for dinner.

There are scenes that may be puzzling for some viewers. These scenes show Boy eyeing an envelope full of bundled money bills. Is he planning to run away with the money? No, he is calculating new odds that will entice more bettors to part with their money.The concept of restructuring odds is a difficult one to put into film but director HF Yambao nail it.

The boss (Diaz) has great trust in his kristo, Boy. The latter is a good kristo who knows how to set up a fair fight, how to calculate odds, and memorize numerous bet transactions. If the bet is too large, he reiterates the bet with the boss as his witness. There is a wonderful segment showing what happens when a kristo becomes a Judas. A new kristo refuses to pay Boy and states that Boy is the one who owes him. The verbal confrontation escalates into a fist fight. The action scene recalls the in-your-face fisticuffs helmed by Mendoza for the film Tirador.

The boss reconciles with the devious kristo. He reminds the truant kristo that scalawags like him have no place in a cockfighting arena. Every bet collector should honor every bet transaction and should act like a saint or like Jesus Christ.

Some cockfighting aficionados take their faith and religious experience to the extreme. I've heard stories of people trying to feed their cocks with the Blessed host. Are the stories some sort of urban legends? I like to believe that is there some truth in these stories. Desperate gamblers will do dastardly things to earn money.

Kristo is one of the best films I've seen so far in this Year of the Rooster. A suggested companion film is Briccio Santos’ Damortis, which deals with a Christ-like healer who succumbed to cockfighting and alcoholism. Both films have strong, vivid images of Lenten activities. Kristo also comes close to matching Damortis’ varied, powerful images of how people use their hands. Enaje allows nails to pierce his hands, while Boy uses his hands to punch a cockpit arena swindler.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

I'm Drunk, I Love You (JP Habac, 2017)

Graduate na tayo... Graduate na ako!

Within a span of a day, a spunky female college student gets to experience 2 graduations. The first one has her in a dress with a Sablay sash on. The second one has her in a ... Wait. Hold on. Have you seen this wonderful film?

I'm Drunk, I Love You (IDILY) is a heady movie riped for word of mouth referrals and recommendations. It is more heart-tugging and delectable than the viral ad videos for a spicy chicken sandwich or burger sandwich. The film is a special brew of Camp Sawi, Starting Over Again, and Dagitab. Add in a potent dose of Before Sunrise and you have a hugot movie for keeps.

This month of March will have its fair share of commencement exercises. Graduates will savor the challenge of new beginnings and new adventures.

Social work major Carson (Maja Salvador) will graduate within 2 days. She wholeheartedly accepts the invitation of her friend Dio (Paolo Avelino) to accompany him to a music festival in La Union. Carson had been holding a torch for schoolmate Dio for seven long years. This weekend trip will probably be her last chance to step up on her relationship with Dio. Unknown to her, Dio will meet up with his ex-girlfriend Pathy (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) in the northern province. Sigh... The synopsis suggests a bummer of a weekend for Carson or is there still hope?

A notable segment from IDILY shows Carson waking up to the gorgeous sight of Dio's face. She then wipes out her saliva after savoring the scenery.

The young actors are all good. There is another young actor, Dominic Roco, in the cast. Initially, I thought Roco will figure in a love triangle with the two lead actors. Well, his character, Jason Ty, did figure in a troika but with a different couple he met at the beach. An important scene shows Jason Ty ruing saying I love you during a drinking spree. 

I love you....

Those three little words are easy to say but difficult to express. Several people including Jason Ty needs to take alcohol drinks to be able to blurt it out to their loved ones. Other people, such as Carson, hesitate because they fear rejection or possible end to whatever relationships they have with their loved ones.

An insightful segment shows Carson discussing Dio's song dedication. She had bittersweet recollection of the words blurted out by Dio. The three little words - I love you - were indeed thrown her way. The problem is, as Carson succintly puts it, Dio appended the word - 'tol - to the three words.

I love you, 'tol!

Being friendzoned is difficult enough but being familyzoned?!? Carson is in a bind. Graduation is just around the corner. Will she keep her feelings to herself? Seven years is a long time to keep bottled-up passion for a person. In seven years, a medical student transforms into a doctor. In seven years, a fresh graduate can rise to become a young manager for a multinational company.

The final scene shows the two lead characters celebrating their graduation. In a film teeming with brainy dialogues by Giancarlo Abrahan, the most memorable line for me is the one uttered by Carson near the end. 

Graduate na ako!

The evolution of the UP Diliman student Carson is a joy to watch. She graduated alright after seven long years. More importantly, she stepped up in the field of love. With sheer willpower, she goes beyond romantic love. She is now experiencing the wonders of agape love.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saving Sally (Avid Liongoren, Metro Manila Film Festival 2016)


Saving Sally is a fantastical film that rightly benefited from the revamped selection process of the Metro Manila Film Festival. Although it is an animated film, it is not an outright film treat for the whole family. The story targets mostly teenagers.

The lead male character, Marty, is like a Pokemon Go trainer able to see monsters. Other human beings don’t see the ogres and creatures. Only the comic book geek Marty can see them. Several of the monsters are humans while others maybe mere figments of the young artist’s imagination.

The world inhabited by Marty (Enzo Marcos) is in muted colors. If there is one major complaint I can think about the film then it will be the lack of vibrant colors. The bland colors may be reflective of Marty’s life but I think it is more a reflection of the film’s financial difficulties. The filmmakers may have been forced to scrimp on low-end cameras just to keep the production afloat. One thing’s for sure, though. They patiently labored for more than 10 years to bring the film to fruition.

The simple yet effective special effects are non-intrusive. The audience will agreeably believe a world where monsters co-exist with humans. A memorable, magical moment was conjured with a sprightly Sally’s unleashing of her mechanical appendage ala Inspector Gadget. Right off the bat, Sally becomes a cool character.

There are other cool moments in the film. In a film teeming with samples of varied visual art formats, the simple ones hold their own against complex formats in telling a story. The charming pop-up Book of Happy is indeed a book filled with wonder and joy. The production design is a mix of Seussical whimsy and Tim Burtonesque wackiness. The smorgasbord of visual formats and mediums work because they visualize the changing mood of Marty.

The lanky Marty is in love with Sally (Rhian Ramos). But he feels like being trapped in a war zone. The truth is he is friendzoned and cannot slay the monstrous fear of rejection. Sally asked him a comic book question: 'Why do people never notice that the geek is the same person as the hunky hero?' Well, he answered that it is because no one cares for the nerdy people. Yes, no one pays attention to average-looking geeks like him. However, just like superhero comic books, there's a hero inside Marty after all.

The film’s witty word puns, and irreverent characters with dickheads seem to come straight from the fertile mind of wordsmith Joey de Leon, the pages of Jingle magazine, and the pen of Roxlee. Little details such as a funny company signboard leave a smile on my face. Sandara is the name of the park frequented by the two youngsters. The park design is similar to that of the park featured in the film 5
00 Days of Summer. This may be a homage because I do recall seeing the word Summer up in the screen.

I like it that the filmmakers didn’t dumb down their target audience. Teenagers can learn a thing or two on how the young characters deal with their problems. Bullying, premarital sex, physical abuse, and first love jitters are just some of the issues tackled by the film. Sally’s determination to leave her problems behind and take flight resulted in her ultimate project.

Saving Sally is a blast! No other Filipino film feature is like it. The film transports the audience into different worlds and teleports them back to their homes with adorable family scenes. I loved the scene wherein the mother of Marty feigns sleep on the sala set because she wants to hear fresh, first-hand account of Marty's activities. Such heartwarming, lovely scenes serve as counterpoint to the gloomy touches of the film. The end credits feature a more colorful and more animated way of showing love filled life of Marty.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Kabisera (Arturo San Agustin & Real Florido, Metro Manila Film Festival 2016)

Kabisera could have been a major contender. The Nora Aunor film should have come out a-blazing with rapid fire punches. Alas, it lacks the bite of Oro to truly leave a mark as a strong political commentary. It came out limping and half-hearted in highlighting its message of justice for victims of extra-judicial killings.

Mercy De Dios (Nora Aunor) is an observant wife who is suspicious of her husband’s cash transactions. She thinks something is fishy. The audience, too, has an inkling that the husband is up to no good.

The surprise killing of the husband (Ricky Davao) by armed men comes as a shock because we aren’t sure if the husband is really a criminal. This ambivalence of the film towards the true nature of the husband weakens the flow of the story. It is neither here nor there.

The film seems to point out that it doesn’t matter if the husband is really a criminal or not. The real message is the police have no right to kill a person who surrenders peacefully. However, the message would have been more forceful if the film showed the husband involved in criminal activities.

I wholeheartedly agree with the film’s message. Persons of interest, druggies, and criminals must be given their due process in court. They should not be killed cold-bloodedly. If the killers are protected and allowed to go free, then it wouldn’t take long before they indulge in other dastardly deeds such as kidnap-for-ransom.

With the death of her husband, Mercy goes the legal route in search of justice. The film conclusion takes the safe path.

Kabisera missed the chance to become this generation’s Sister Stella L. I was expecting Mercy to break the fourth wall and address the issue of extra-judicial killings head-on. It would have been brave to hear a wife castigate the administration and the police over their ruthless drive to exterminate druggies and criminals. It would have been great to see her eyes speak volume about the wanton killing of thousands of Filipinos.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Honor Thy Father (Erik Matti, Metro Manila Film Festival 2015)

Honor Thy Father, Erik Matti’s riveting follow-up to his critically-acclaimed film OTJ, takes a look at how a multi-million investment scam drove a father named Edgar to desperate measures. The father (John Lloyd Cruz) attempts to shield his family from belligerent investors. His journey to the mountains and his tunneling through a ditch reflect the roller-coaster ride of emotions he is experiencing.

Scriptwriter Michiko Yamamoto subtly compares the money-making ruckus of a religious group with the sleazy operations of big-time scammers. Both operations employ slick people with gift of gab. Their judicious choice of words lures wealthy people to part with huge amount of money. On a regular service day, Edgar and family’s cash donation to the Church of Yeshua is in the ballpark of six figures. This is mere peanuts though when compared to the million peso donation made by Edgar’s father-in-law.

The public acknowledgment of donors serves as a magnet for investors. The family easily convinces a handful of couples to become investors with their stories of huge returns. Troubles befall the family after the mysterious death of their patriarch.

The mother of Edgar, Nanang (Perla Bautista), is a crucial and powerful character. She manages to hold together her sons into a well-oiled cohesive group. They could have titled this film ‘Honor Thy Mother’ and it still would be somewhat apt. Her word is still obeyed by all her sons. Her decision to help Edgar sets in motion a notable heist scene.

Honor Thy Father shows Matti's adeptness in handling different genres like Mike de Leon. Unlike de Leon who subverts and deconstructs the film genre he dabbled into, Matti offers solid, technically-proficient, well-directed genre films. With Honor Thy Father, Matti mixes a relevant drama story with bits and pieces of the heist genre and the Taken-type of actioner. He has notable genre entries such as the fantasy-adventure film Exodus, superhero flick Gagamboy, horror movie Pa-siyam, and also an art film in The Arrival.

The gritty performance of a deglamorized, skinhead John Lloyd Cruz won for him the Urian Best Actor Award. He has appeared in an indie film (Cinemalaya 2007’s Still Life) a long time ago but Honor Thy Father is a major acting breakthrough for the matinee idol. He must have enjoyed appearing in indie films that he agreed to do roles in two Lav Diaz films, Hele Sa Hiw
agang Hapis and Ang Babaeng Humayo. The latter film shows Cruz as a transgender with a death wish. His performance in the Venice Film Festival Best Picture winner will probably bring him more awards this year.

Matti won back-to-back directing awards at the Metro Manila Film Festival. He jumped back into the horror-suspense genre and came out a big winner with Seklusyon. John Lloyd Cruz was one of the jurors at the recently concluded Metro Manila Film Festival 2016.

Monday, January 09, 2017

2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten (Petersen Vargas, Cinema One Originals 2016 Best Picture)

Kapampangan films are on a roll. Ari won the best indie film at the Metro Manila Film Festival 2015. Mercury Is Mine nabbed the Special Jury Prize at Cinemalaya 2016. 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten was selected as grand winner at the Cinema One Originals 2016.

A major force behind the awakening of the Kapampangan cinema movement is filmmaker/scriptwriter Jason Paul Laxamana. He was creative consultant for the drama film Ari. He directed and scripted the dark comedy Mercury Is Mine. He wrote the screenplay for the film 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten. All three films advocate the perpetuation of the Kapampangan language despite its weaknesses and quirkness.

Laxamana also organizes the CineKabalen: Kapampangan Film Festival, which features works done by local filmmakers in Pampanga. Petersen Vargas is just one of the filmmakers supported, and probably mentored, by Laxamana.

2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten, Vargas’ debut feature-length film, takes a look at a romantic newbie in Pampanga. An intelligent high school boy sees his bland school routine come to life with the arrival of two Filipino-American brothers. The older new kid, Magnus, becomes his classmate. He gets close to the two brothers after Magnus asks him to be his tutor in Mathematics and other subjects.

The boy becomes a regular fixture at Magnus’ house. He meets the boys’ mother. He sleeps over on some days. Everything seems to be going fine until the boy begins to fall in love.

2 Cool 2 Be 4g
otten is the latest in the growing list of LGBT films shown in the Philippines.  What makes the film stand out is the boy could have been a girl character and the story will still flow with a few bumps. The boy just happens to fall in love with someone of the same gender.

The film tackles issues besetting residents of Pampanga. Vestiges of colonialism continue to put a vise-like grip on the people. Students are forced to speak in English. The siblings prefer to live with their absentee American father rather than stay with their prostitute mother. The boy is enamored with a white-skin guy.

Pampanga officials try to deodorize the legacy of prostitution by building tourist spots. However, the putrid stench of the past is difficult to ignore. Notable recent films dealing with prostitution in Pampanga are the Cinemalaya film I America and Louie Ignacio’s Area. The latter film deals with the fate of two major places of prostitution. The Fields used to be the place horny American Marines go to. Young, pretty girls serviced legions of American soldiers. On the other hand, the Area is the place where mature and has-been prostitutes linger. These days, a dozen casas still stand to cater to Filipino clients in Area.

The prostitute mother in 2 Co
ol 2 Be 4gotten used to be from the Fields. She is lucky to get monthly allowance from her American lover. Her two sons, awash with money, are bored with school and lack the drive to excel.

A memorable scene shows the prostitute mother chancing upon a former colleague. The latter is smartly dressed and adorned with jewelry. However, the colleague is sporting a black eye. Her Caucasian husband appears and bossily breaks up the short meeting between the ladies. This is like the situation of the Philippines with colonial and neocolonial powers. These powerful countries exploit, abuse, and encroach on our land and resources. Past local officials, though, put up with such abuses. They focus instead on the financial and economic benefits of such relationships with major powers.

2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten has similarities with Vargas’ short film Lisyun Qng Geografia. Both films deal with a gay high school student.  The varied landscapes of Pampanga bear witness to the joys and hurts of these young gays. I love an idea from the short film that suggests we leave a bit of our hearts in places where we loved. Every time we go back to those special places, the pieces of hearts exude warmth from wonderful memories of love. Pampanga, as seen from these notable films, is peppered with places teeming with pieces of hearts.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Oro (Alvin Yapan, Metro Manila Film Festival 2016)


In this latest film of Alvin Yapan, there are no clearcut heroes. There are no outright villains, either. However, due to a minor direction lapse the people behind the film are being called names and ostracized as villains.

It was shocking to see a dog being prepared to be roasted or boiled. From my recollection, there seems to be no footage of the dog being whacked or killed. But, there on the big screen we can clearly see a skinned dead dog prepped up and ready to be cooked.

There are a hundred and one ways to simulate the process of preparing a dog meat dish or portraying the food traditions of small-scale miners. Sadly, the filmmakers didn’t try any of it. On the other hand, there’s no good reason for the gory sight of a dead dog.

It is a pity that the dog killing controversy tarnishes the luster of Oro’s brilliance. The film has the eye of Badil for small island economics, politics, and social interaction. It boasts of an ensemble acting that is second to none. I’m all praise for Irma Adlawan‘s award-winning performance as a long-tenured kapitana. I admire the film’s courage to pinpoint the mastermind behind the killings of 4 small-scale miners in Camarines Sur.

A current lawmaker from the province decries the film’s portrayal of the kapitana as a heroine. My reading of the kapitana is different from that of the lawmaker.

The thing I like most about the film Oro is its multi-faceted treatment of the kapitana character. She is not a goody-two-shoes character in my opinion. She is a traditional greedy politician holding on to power for two decades. She wields a vise-like grip on the mining industry in her community. Her handling of her workers is akin to that of a feudal system. She eliminates competitors via unfounded rumors. When she gets kicked out from the mining industry, she uses social media to gain sympathy.

The kapitana portrays herself as a benevolent benefactor. The reality is the workers are so poor that they are dependent on her. With her wealth and power, the kapitana should have built several alternative livelihood projects for the workers and residents.

The shrewd kapitana is similar to film producers kicked out from the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). These film producers and supporters decry the non-inclusion of their films by harping on its effect on their alleged beneficiaries. They bewail the fact that organizations such as Mowelfund will no longer receive huge windfall from festival proceeds. They utilize the social media in voicing out their disappointment to the revamped selection process.

During their decade-long monopolization of the MMFF, these star-producers didn’t pursue alternative stories and characters that enrich the lives of viewers. As the Cinemalaya 2016 teaser aptly pointed out, the aging film stars continue to appear in recycled stories. The only difference is that the leading ladies are getting younger. Some star-producers are so greedy they allow themselves to be used for product placements in their films. Just like kapitana, they share a minuscule, teeny-amount of windfall from their profits in order to project a philanthropic image.

Oro has the bravery and guts to bring out in the open an issue involving a powerful clan of lawmakers. Alas, with all the idiotic lies told by the film stakeholders regarding the dog killing incident, several viewers may see the film as a figment of the filmmakers’ wild imagination.