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.