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.