Friday, August 30, 2013

RON RON RON ROOOOOOOOOON: Mahjong Anime

I'm not a gambling man. I've never done it and I have no plans on doing it anytime soon. What I am interested in, however, is watching other people do it. Also, the game mechanics are really interesting. While not the most popular subject for a sports anime, the Chinese game of mahjong has been the subject of at least three anime, notably its Japanese variant, otherwise known as "Riichi Mahjong."

I've seen four anime about Mahjong so far and they are quite interesting to watch, even if you don't know the rules. I only have a passing familiarity with the rules, and I have only the slightest inkling on how to score. Once you build your knowledge of your game, I find that rewatching the series brings about its own rewards.

Without further ado, my rundown of Mahjong Anime.


Gambling Legend Tetsuya
Luck: 3
Skill: 4
Strategy: 2
Cheating: Over 9000

More like Cheating Legend Tetsuya. Set in post-war Japan, Tetsuya is a hustler who is skilled at mahjong. One day, he gets swindled by this creepy old guy who cheats like a bastard. He later befriends the guy and learns the skills to be the top in Japan.

While not really as luck or skill (at least, non cheating) oriented as the rest of the anime on this list, Gambling Legend Tetsuya is a fun watch. The character designs and animation are really cheap and reeks of the early 2000s, when this anime was produced. It's a short series at 20 episodes. If you're interested in lots of cheating methods in mahjong, this series is for you. Plus points also goes to the fact that the guy who voices Itachi from Naruto voices the main character.



Saki and Saki: Achiga-hen
Luck: 5
Skill: 4
Strategy: 3
Adorableness: Over 9000

Take a cute girl anime, make it about mahjong, give the girls super special powers, and insert lots of yuri subtext, and you have Saki. The girls in Saki are all skilled high school mahjong players who usually have a cool power related to some aspect of mahjong. For example, the titular character, Saki, ends her hands by Rinshan Kaihou, completing a mahjong hand after drawing a tile after a kan. (It makes sense if you know the rules, but again, just imagine that it's hard to do something like that consistently in a normal game).

Dragonball Z-ish battle auras abound and lots of supernatural elements are present in this anime, and not a lot is devoted to strategy. Saki devotes itself more towards the luck aspect of mahjong, and no one ever cheats (are those supernatural powers cheating? I don't know). Saki consists of one 25 episode season, with a new season in production. A side story, entitled Saki: Achiga-hen, explores the plot of Saki from the perspective of another competing school.


 
Akagi
Luck: 4
Skill: 5
Strategy: 5
Badass: Over 9000

Akagi is my favorite of the mahjong anime featured so far. Also set in post war Japan, Akagi Shigeru is a legendary figure in mahjong, who completely destroys his opponents by using a mixture of luck, brazen determination and ridiculously complicated psychological tactics. Akagi's mahjong is flow based and is dependent on the enemy's psyche and state of mind, and it's compelling television.

The character designs are ridiculous, but with Fukumoto's works it serves as an acquired taste. I guess one of Akagi's flaws is that the man is invincible, that he can't be beat. But for some reason, I find myself rewatching this anime series often. Also, the series doesn't give a conclusive ending; even after 26 episodes, the match Akagi was in does not end with that episode and continues in the manga for almost ten years (!)

 

The Legend of Koizumi
Luck: Pineapple
Skill: Carburator
Strategy: Seattle
Ridiculousness: (@_$)

World leaders (ACTUAL WORLD LEADERS), Hitler and Chairman Mao play insane Mahjong. Also, badass mahjong Pope:
for God so loved the world, he gave us the pope... to kick ass


There really isn't anything more I can say.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Trekstravaganza: Movie Edition


(Yeah, we didn't really manage to get to TOS Season 2, but what the heck. Season 1 had a lot of memorable episodes. I guess I'll have to post that season 2 Trekstravaganza then... one day)

Star Trek Movies! Nothing beats sitting back, relaxing, and watching a movie you've probably seen hundreds of times already. I remember being 3 and hearing about Star Trek IV premiering. I was in the best place to watch it too... in San Francisco, where all the space whales were at. I really don't remember if I went there with my aunt or not, but...]

For more on the pictures that grace this post, take a look at the Star Trek Reel Rewind series: http://cromeyellow.com/?tag=reel-rewind
And:
http://rodolforever.deviantart.com/art/Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-371459964

Capsule Reviews, Engage!


Star Trek: The Motion Picture
 
The motion picture had Isaac Asimov as science consultant, experienced director Robert Wise at the director's helm, and the original cast all back for what should have been a balls out crazy Star Trek Adventure. What came out at first was a chore to watch: it was basically reaction shot: the movie. When Wise had a director's cut released a few years ago, it was a bit better. And the director's commentary helped a lot.

This movie is about a massive... thing called V'ger headed on a direct course towards earth. The United Federation of Planets calls on Admiral James T. Kirk, badass extraordinaire, to reassemble his old crew and go kick some ass.

I was astounded by the scale of V'ger, and I never really understood what it looked like with all the clouds and everything.

 


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

I really have nothing more to say about this film. This is the greatest Star Trek film of all time, and one of the best Sci-fi films. It's Horatio Hornblower in space! Also, it's a film about growing old and Kirk having a midlife crisis. He was banging alien chicks and random Enterprise crew members, debating computers to oblivion and punching Gorn in the face. Now, he's beginning to develop that beer belly, he's relegated to a desk job and things aren't as hotly exciting as they used to be. His past then punches him in the face in the form of Khan. But Kirk doesn't take punches sitting down, no sir.

I did notice that Kirk and Khan are having the fight of their lives but they never physically come face to face (Space Seed showed us that it was a bad idea.) There was originally a scene where they would engage in a fist fight but it was scrapped.

 
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

The Search for Spock is, at best, a film trapped in between two really good films. It almost feels like filler, in a way. But nothing capitulates the spirit of this movie better than one exchange near the end of the film:

Sarek: "Kirk, I thank you. What you've done is - "
Kirk: "What I've done, I had to do."
Sarek: "But at what cost? Your ship. Your son."
Kirk: "If I hadn't tried, the cost would have been my soul."

You could say that it kinda ruins all the things Wrath of Khan established (that everyone has to face a no win situation) but that's up to your personal taste. The best scene here was when Kirk kicked Doctor Brown in the face. Also that scene where the Enterprise leaves Spacedock and the Excelsior sputters like a limp balloon.


 

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
 
Space Whaaaaaaaaaaaales! Star Trek takes a lighter, slightly comedic turn in this movie. But it was fun! That scene in the hospital where Bones gives this old lady a pill that makes her regrow her kidneys is awesome and a bit funny at the same time.

Once again, gigantic probes speaking in Humpback threaten earth, and it's up to Kirk and company in a Klingon Bird of Prey to save the day. I wonder if the Treaty of Algeron also applies to Klingon cloaking devices...

Our crew now starts to get used to the Earth of the late 20th century with boomboxes and nuclear wessels and "double-dumbass-on-you."

The first time I saw the Enterprise-A bridge, I thought it was sparkling white. The effect was almost reminiscent of the time I saw the Alternate Enterprise bridge in the 2009 movie. But upon rewatching the movie, I see my memory has been playing tricks on me.


Star Trek V: The Final Frontier 
I'll confess this: I liked The Final Frontier. I read the novelization first, that really fleshes out a lot of things about the characters, especially the three hostages on Nimbus III and the Star Trek Trinity (Kirk, Spock and McCoy). It's Shatner's film, and it shows. The El Capitan scene for example figures in a lot of his Shatnerverse novels. I guess the whole thing influenced my viewing(s) of the film and I didn't hate it as much.

Kirk then finds the ultimate guy to debate with, after being tired of debating with computers: god himself. And he kicks divine ass by asking just one question. "What does God need with a starship?" Old floaty head then gets exposed like the charlatan that he is and gets fucked by Spock in a Klingon Bird of Prey. That sentence didn't make a lot of sense, did it?

I wonder what a Shatner Director's cut would have looked like. Based on his description in Star Trek Movie Memories, it would have had rock monsters, angels and crazy shit. That would probably have been insane.



Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Man, the Nick Meyer Trek films are really a cut above the rest. Klingons become Space Russians (after the fall of Communism). Shakespeare references abound. And one of the most suspenseful space battles in the six Trek films so far is basically Chang taking potshots at Enterprise and Excelsior. It is glorious.

I've almost memorized all the lines by heart. Christopher Plummer is badass. Plus Worf drops by for a cameo! It's a fitting end to the TOS films and I really couldn't ask for anything more. I can't believe Gene Roddenberry wanted to do the JFK assassination thing instead of this film.

 





Star Trek: Generations

Generations has a lot of things on its back. You have a film where Kirk dies... how the hell do you do something like that? I really don't know how, and I bet the writers of this film had a hard time too (they even had Kirk shot in the back in an early edition of the film.) It also killed off Picard's family (as seen in Family, one of the best episodes of TNG.) It also has Data finally getting emotions! It's a very ambitious film and in that respect, one understands why it wasn't as good - it tried to do something with too much.

There were a lot of fun moments in the film, and thanks to a bit of spy work a small Bird of Prey manages to destroy a Galaxy-Class Starship... which is kind of a bummer. Kirk's death was really sad, but I would have preferred to have him fade away and live a normal life somewhere... like in the Shatnerverse novels. They're really nice to read, although they're not compatible with the continuity of the series and films that have come since then.

 
 
Star Trek: First Contact

First Contact is a great film. It has Borg, and it has Picard going all Die Hard on them instead of being diplomatic like he usually is. I guess that's out of character, but hey, why the hell not. (Apparently some people aren't too cool with this.) Although he did manage to get some emotional closure after "Family," something as traumatic as Borg Assimilation never does leave someone's psyche that easily.

The Dixon hill reference was nice, and the cameos by Neelix's actor and the EMH are nice additions (some cross publicity for Voyager ain't bad.) Having Reg Barclay there was also cool (I didn't notice him until after seeing the film a couple more times.)

This movie also introduces a number of new ship classes, like the Akira and Steamrunner classes. They're destroyed by the Borg Cube, of course, but they still looked great before they blew up.



Star Trek: Insurrection

Insurrection was an indication that the TNG movies were starting to lose their steam. This movie felt like a TNG two parter or a made for TV movie. Again Picard goes all gung ho and blasts his way to free the Baku from being oppressed. Riker pilots the Enterprise with an Atari 2600 joystick and Geordi gains sight for the first time.

There was an interesting movie idea after Insurrection came out where Patrick Stewart and co. were thinking of a movie where the Enterprise would rebel against a corrupt Federation. That would have been a pretty good idea for a movie, but instead, they made...

 




Star Trek: Nemesis
 
...sigh. I wanted to like this film, but you know that this movie is like someone took the script for Wrath of Khan, photocopied it, and they deleted all of the names and replaced them with TNG members. Data sacrifices himself for this one, and his loss is not as heavily felt as Spock's sacrifice in Wrath of Khan. The Enterprise faces off against a really powerful Reman/Romulan ship, but the Romulans as villains didn't seem that fleshed out. Shinzon as a character also felt kinda flat, even though Tom Hardy is an awesome actor. And did he really have to be bald!? I guess the connection wouldn't have been as obvious. I think the whole Picard clone thing was ridiculous in the first place.



Star Trek (2009)

It's fun, but it's riddled with a ton of plot holes. I'd recommend reading the comics/novelization to get the full experience of the film. It's a nice film that manages to respect the continuity of the original (by presenting itself as an alternate continuity) and launch itself as a new thing.

 










Star Trek Into Darkness

It's also fun, but it has more plotholes from the first, and in retrospect, it wasn't as good as I'd thought. This is the SECOND film that borrows from Wrath of Khan. Come on, guys, that was a good film, but please don't keep on cannibalizing it for the sake of making new films.






That's it for now. Hopefully before the 23rd century really comes along, I'll be able to post that TOS season 2 Trekstravaganza.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

RED quickie: Gal Basara


I just want to get it out of the way that I think the RED cable channel is awesome. Chinese, Korean and Japanese films all in one cable channel, 24/7? fuck yeah.

I was watching RED when I saw this film called Samurai Angel Wars (the Japanese Title is Gal Basara: Sengoku Jidai wa Kengai Desu), and it intrigued me. Were the Samurai Angels fighting with each other? Immediately this vision of winged sexy warriors battling it out with katanas sprung into my mind.

However, it's nothing like that; it's a character drama about these five people who went back into the Sengoku period and meet Nobunaga. Nothing REALLY happens, which is kind of disappointing, and you feel that the plot isn't written as cohesively (or as coherently) as it should. You also feel the movie could have focused more on the adorable actresses cast for the sake of adorableness, like Moe Arai or former SKE48 member Shiori Ogiso. But nope, they're nothing more than supporting characters.

There's another minor role filled in by SKE48 member Yuria Kizaki, and Mariko Shinoda comes out of nowhere singing Doraemon.

I guess there is some character development in the end but it isn't enough. I guess this is one of the rare times that you wish the movie really had been about winged sexy angel samurai instead of a grounded character drama with fantasy elements.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cinemalaya Backlogs: ICU Bed #7 (2005)

I managed to dig up this gem from the very first Cinemalaya festival: way back when there were no "established directors" and everything went down only in CCP. Today we talk about one of the more well known films of this festival: ICU Bed #7, directed and written by Rica Arevalo.

Joseph (Eddie Garcia) is a cantankerous old man who drinks, smokes and gambles. His extended family consists of his two daughters Beth and Cely, and their respective families. One day Joseph gets really sick and gets admitted to the ICU. Thanks to this, all of the emotional baggage the family has been holding in begins to unravel. Thankfully, it happens to everyone's benefit.

ICU Bed #7 is a simple family drama that doesn't try to overdo itself with the material it's given. It could have been made into a statement about right-to-life. It isn't. It could have been made into this statement about DNR or end of life treatment. It isn't. It's a simple drama where one major shakeup in the structure of the family affects everyone else.

Eddie Garcia has the role of the loveable old asshole down pat. He's really good at making his characters likeable even if they aren't the best of people. I'd have wanted a more solid conclusion to his character arc, but the movie seems to say, the more people change, the more they stay the same. Irma Adlawan and Angel Aquino portray Joseph's two daughters, and they are also quite good. Each daughter has their own issues to iron out with their own family members and with Joseph.

For an independent film made in the Philippines in 2005, the production values are decent. It's a far cry production wise compared to more recent productions, but for the time, this would be considered par for the course. The story goes on a lot of threads, but not all of them are completely resolved by the end - which is, I guess the point. Life goes on.

I'd say give it a try. In particular, I can't get enough of Eddie Garcia, the man's a great actor.

When I Traveled Down the Sumida River and Saw 200 Posts

Eight years ago, when I started writing this blog, I had no idea this blog could reach 200 posts. Hell, I had no idea I could reach 10 posts without me getting bored as hell of the whole thing and ragequitting less than a month in.

But, you know, I hung in there. In those 8 years, I reviewed over 9000 movies*, had filmmakers post on my blog, and talked about taking a shit, painting, Cynthia Luster, and obscure fighting games. I predicted Gokaiger five years before it was aired in Japan.

*not actual number

In celebration of getting 200 posts, I've changed the site layout into something a bit more modern. It's still basically the same old shit, so don't expect too much. I've also decided to talk about a bunch of random topics, in the spirit of some of my old posts.

Verse 1. WTF ARE PEOPLE SEARCHING FOR IN THIS SITE?

A quick look at the site statistics turns this up:

10. Supaidaman - the granddaddy of Super Sentai, even before it was called Super Sentai.Sure there was Goranger, but many of the tropes used in Super Sentai/Power Rangers came from Supaidaman.
9. and 7. Gravure Idols - I'd love to be the next gravure picture gallery site, but I don't really have a lot of those here.
8. and 4. Something about Japanese Medical Dramas - ever since I posted about them, there have been a few new good ones. I think Jin is a classic, and I think Doctors is pretty good too.
1. Big Booty Pics - WELL.

Verse 2: Cinemalaya wrap up

It's now a yearly tradition for this site to churn out at least one review of a Cinemalaya Film. You may have noticed the Review Aggregators at the right hand side of the page, which tracks down all of the reviews I've done so far, and all of the reviews I plan to do.

As for this year, a friend and I have made a little table highlighting the various aspects of this year's festival:


Instant MommyDebosyonEkstraPurok 7PornoAmor Y MuerteDiplomat Hotel
Nico Antonio is in it+++
Anita Linda is in it+
Behind-the-scenes/camera++++
BOOBS+/2+++++++
Multiple stories+
Non-Tagalog language+++
Social network/Online communication+
OFW flavor+
Excessive cussing++
Fapping++

BabagwaSana DatiRekorderDavid F.LiarsNuwebeQuick ChangeTransit
Nico Antonio is in it+
Anita Linda is in it++
Behind-the-scenes/camera++
BOOBS++++++, none of them female
Multiple stories++
Non-Tagalog language+++
Social network/Online communication+
OFW flavor1/++ish++
Excessive cussing++++
Fapping++++
this must be the Fappingest Cinemalaya year since its founding. Seriously.





Credit for this table also goes to my friend, who I will call by the pseudonym "Papa P."

To its credit, however, the festival doesn't have a single movie that looks like it could be included in the "Shet ang Hirap Hirap Ko" film festival. That's a good thing.

I have nothing more to say, really. Here's to a billion more posts. The previous sentence would probably be ironic if I didn't write again after this, so I promise, at least one more post after this one.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Descent into Madness: Tatlong Baraha

For my 199th post, we go from cinematic excellence in Philippine film, to something quite the opposite.

When we look back at the storied saga of Philippine cinema, there are shining gems worthy of praise, bursting with technical expertise and buoyed by top-notch acting.

This is not one of those films.

The 2006 film Tatlong Baraha is a film made for that year's Metro Manila Film Festival. Once the glory of the film industry, churning out some of the local medium's most memorable films (Burlesk Queen, Himala, Ganito kami noon...), the festival has, as of late, produced some of the most inane commercial fare ever produced by any filmmaking nation ever.

I'm not saying, however, that the festival hasn't produced any really good films in recent years (Thy Womb being a particularly good example) but the batting average has been a bit low.

Tatlong Baraha was originally a comic about these three dudes that were really good at using a particular weapon. It was made into a film in 1961 starring Fernando Poe Jr. and later as a western-style movie starring the Lapid brothers. You can watch the whole thing in Youtube, it's an interesting watch.

Tatlong Baraha begins with a completely out of place scene where Bearwin Meily is being chased by security guards in a casino. He gets caught and throws a card at the screen. Let's get it out of the way and tell all of you guys that Bearwin's character is like the Jar-jar Binks of this movie: he's annoying, completely unfunny, and completely unnecessary. I mean, I like the guy as a magician and all, but COME ON.

We then see the Tatlong Baraha foil a bank robbery by swooping in and kicking ass. The action and effects are quite nice if it were a movie made in Tamil Nadu... in 1996.

We then cut to Bearwin again, doing an old man voice, talking to some kids. If he were supposed to be old, why not wear an old man costume? Instead, he does this impression of Master Jeremiah from the Filipino dub of Yu Yu Hakusho which turns out to be completely annoying. He then tells us about how these heroes got their powers.

We cut to the Spanish colonial times, where Lito Lapid is a normal indio, Mark Lapid is a complete nut who runs around like an idiot, and Maynard Lapid is the Hunchback of Notre Dame. They are all oppressed by this army dude (Monsour del Rosario, who is the best thing to happen in this movie) who basically exists to run around and kill people.

After they get thrown into a ditch and shit, this mysterious robed guy comes along, opens his (contemporary English) bible and lightning strikes these three individuals, giving them the power to overthrow the corrupt Spanish regime.

One popular (infamous?) scene has the three protagonists using an electric ceiling fan and a fusebox to kick Spaniard ass. Yep. They actually used this. In the late 1800s.

ANYWAY, we go back to present times and we see the MODERN Tatlong Baraha, who are NOT the original Tatlong Baraha, but are emphasized to be just as good and as handsome as the original three. Yes, the handsome thing is in dialogue.

Now, Lito Lapid is like some dude, Mark Lapid works in a mental institution (HA!) and Maynard Lapid is an altar boy. We are led to believe that something happened to these three that led to them to become the heroes of legend. Monsour does this prayer to this evil guy to give him power and he transforms into a Klingon.

With this transformation, zombies and vampire things attack a bunch of girl scouts (including a young Kathryn Bernardo) and are saved by the Tatlong Baraha. So Monsour and a band of clowns or guys in clown costumes escalate their atrocities and kidnap a bunch of children and the new Tatlong Baraha are tasked to save them.

If the last two paragraphs made any sense, you are a genius.

The incoherence of this film is astounding. Perhaps it is secretly brilliant in that in its complete lack of plot, it's ironically a satire of horrible, plotless movies. At least it didn't sell out and do product placement.

Anyway, the good guys save the day and kill Monsour using the power of prayer (YUUUUUUUUUUP) and an attack that I remembered seeing from Setzer in Final Fantasy VI.

The Tatlong Baraha are heroes that hunt down corruption. Thank goodness they hunt down creatures of the night and fictional people, because if they hunted down actual corrupt guys, well, they might end up hunting themselves. haha.

ha.

ha.....

Friday, August 09, 2013

Confessions: Master of Puppets

Confessions begins with a brilliant half hour sequence and (obviously enough,) a confession: teacher Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) is stepping down from her position as teacher. The rest of the sequence then details the circumstances leading to her decision, and the impact it has on her middle school class.

That's as far as I'll go regarding the plot of Confessions (Kokuhaku), Tetsuya Nakashima's award winning film. Having previously directed such films as the frenetic Kamikaze Girls (2004) and the fascinating Memories of Matsuko (2006), Nakashima uses his visual flair and storytelling skills in this adaptation of Kanae Minato's novel of the same name.

It's best to go into the film with no preconceptions of the plot, because the gradual way the plot unravels with every 'confession' is part of the movie's charm. The aforementioned opening sequence draws you in, and that's just the beginning of the whole thing. The rest of the movie deals with the consequences of Moriguchi's resignation and the culmination of the plot established so far, full of explosions and slow motion shots.

While Takako Matsu deserves most of the acting kudos for this film, most of the supporting cast, especially the child actors, deserve praise.

One probable nitpick against the movie would be that it makes things too stylized; in effect, the MTV-like style robbing the movie of its emotional heft. I wonder if the overall message and impact of the film would be different or as effective had it been presented in a more toned down, subdued manner.

Confessions reflects an ever growing divide and a sense of disconnection between Japan's adults and youth, though in this case viewers may have to wade through lots of visual and aural flair to get to the meat of the matter.

Cinemalaya 2011 Backlogs: Bahay Bata, Gayuma, Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington

Bahay Bata

The debate about reproductive health is raging across the Philippines. On one side, proponents of a Reproductive Health Bill that gives more choices to women on the family that they should eventually raise. On the other hand, moral pundits and opponents of the bill view it as something that will degrade the nation's moral fiber. At times I see large posters emblazoned across the facades of churches proudly proclaiming their opposition, choosing 'life.'

I am a doctor by profession, and I have worked in government hospitals much like the one featured in Bahay Bata. Fabella Hospital is one of the largest, if not the largest maternity hospital in the Philippines. But do not think that because it is the largest such hospital in the country means that it is an exception to the rule; on the contrary,you can see this sight all over the Philippines: hospitals cramped with expecting mothers, often squeezed four or more into a bed, incubators filled with premature infants, long queues and an understaffed facility being drained by the temptation of opportunities elsewhere.

The movie weaves in between several plot elements focusing on a different character each time. There is no single main plot thread in the movie, instead it explores several threads at once to form a general picture. I found it quite surprising that several moviegoers were surprised at the stories being presented by the movie. Speaking from experience, most of it is based on truth: the mother giving birth to her thirteenth child, refusing birth control, the young teenage mothers who have a proclivity to sex and immature relationships at such an early age, the babies abandoned by mothers who choose to let their children live a better life elsewhere instead of one in abject poverty. There is little dramatization going on here. You can see it in any government hospital at any given day. The mothers and their children become numbers - the hospital, a veritable factory of 'life.'

There is no bias in this film - it is merely a picture of what really is. It does not try to make a statement other than the truth. We are an immature society, ill-equipped to face these problems. Personally, life is a wonderful thing, but living beyond your bounds is an irrational, illogical idea. It's idiotic to the core and fueled only by ignorance.

Technically the film is sound. A few plot threads are left hanging in the end, however, but I have a feeling that the film only aims to give us a small slice of life. Whatever happens to the characters afterwards the film leaves to your imagination.

Do yourself a favor and watch this film. Know that the facts presented here are true, and think long and hard to yourself the next time you see one of these debates on TV or in the papers. Know, because knowledge is power. I guess that's one of the aims of social realism as well. heh. 8 babies over 10.

Gayuma (NETPAC Premiere)

An interesting film comes in the way of Alvin Yapan's Gayuma. He was also the guy who directed Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa, which I particularly liked. Having attended the premiere, it was my good luck to hear the director's thoughts on the film. It is wildly different from his Cinemalaya entry, and at the same time, it is one of his most 'personal' films. Created with just a staff of ten people and filmed over a few days, Gayuma is a story of a young man adopted by a church. He is in love with a local woman (portrayed by Mercedes Cabral) who just happens to be engaged to some other man. While taking part in an exorcism of a Sto. Nino, the statue, or rather, the spirit inhabiting the statue gives him a chance to act on his dilemma: create a powerful gayuma, or love potion, that will make the woman love him.

The film mixes several concepts of mysticism and magic realism that permeates Philippine folklore, one that has elements of Christianity and old pagan beliefs. There are some special effects, which are cheap but quite well done. (I have no idea how they did some of the effects, which I guess is a definite plus.)

The film takes place in Bicol, the director's home province, and most of the dialogue in the Bicolano dialect. Even the credits are in Bicolano, which I thought was a nice touch.

With such a limited crew, the soundtrack comes as one of the film's main strengths. As in his other film, this movie features a very wonderful song entitled Pagsamba (Worship) that figures in the film's emotional climax. It brings together all of the elements of the film wonderfully.

Visually the film is a treat (if you know what I mean lol), although a major problem is the camera shaking especially during the last third of the film, even during shots that are apparently supposed to be still. Sometimes it shakes too much to the point that it caused headaches for some members of the audience.

Despite the technical limitations of the film, it's quite decent and a good watch. I give it 7 dancing statues over 10.

Closing Film - Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington

It was with distinct pleasure that I saw this film, probably screened publicly for the first time, as the closing film of this year's film festival. (It was a double bill with Rakenrol, but I didn't get to see that one, unfortunately.)

And what can I say? This film has ray guns, gay zombies, macho dancing ghosts and what have you. Writing something about this film would be as cumbersome as writing something about Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl or something. (Tee Hee.) Seriously, the film's title says it all. If this film was titled as such and it was actually about the life and times of four public accountants in 1960's Manila, I would have thrown a fit in the cinema and stalked off.

I'd want to write something about culture or how gays are integrated into Philippine society or something like that, but I'll leave it to some arty farty film critic to talk about it. Yeah. Suck on that.

Yes! Culture!

The production crew of this film were in a sense 'graduates' of this film festival. I'm glad to note that after the festival is over, hard working members of the film industry continue to make classy, original works like this. Hopefully some of that rubs off on the mainstream (not that mainstream Philippine movies are bad, mind you. Some are actually good or at least decent.)

Seriously guys, when it comes out, just watch it. It's hilarious and I hope it gets a commercial release. 9 gay zombies out of 10.

CULTURE!!!

Cinemalaya 2011 Backlogs: Cinemalaya 2011: NONO (NETPAC Premiere)

You've probably heard of Milo Tolentino's films in my previous reviews. Basically the same thing runs through all his films. They involve kids as non actors, there's poverty, the script is actually invariably funny, and they're all SHORT FILMS. (I also noticed that I used the word 'invariably' in my review of his other film. See?) I bought the ticket to this film by chance and found that the director was in fact Milo Tolentino, and this was a full length film. The question now is, can he still do the same formula with his previous films with a longer running time?

Toto is a boy with a cleft lip, leading to a speech impediment. But the boy is otherwise clever and at least decent academically. He runs afoul of Badong the class bully, and goes on adventures throughout the cramped streets of... wherever... with his friend Ogoy. Both kids have their own issues in life, which the film explores.

Toto wants to join the singing performance of the class, but his teacher lets him sit by the sidelines because she fears it would lead to the child becoming ridiculed. But the boy is determined, and is supported by his mother, a Japayuki hoping to get into a job as a cultural dancer abroad. A number of circumstances, both fortunate and unfortunate, leads him into determinedly wanting to perform in the declamation contest in the hopes of performing at the school's Filipino Language Week celebration.

In my experience, kids with disabilities approach life with two mindsets: think that the world is made for them, and that they should be accomodated due to their status, or they think that the world doesn't really give a damn, and that they should accomodate themselves to the world. Toto is guided by his mother to do what he wants, if he wants it, which I think is the right thing.

The plot sometimes bogs down in the middle parts, but it's relieved by well timed moments of comedy. The kids were well chosen, but making kids read lines ala Little Rascals sometimes breaks the realism a bit and makes the acting fall flat for some. I can't blame anyone for it, though.

All in all the film is decent enough that it doesn't get boring, and at the end it has a few touching moments that really round out the film as a whole. 7 broken airplanes out of 10.

Cinemalaya 2011 Backlogs: Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank

note: these were reviews of 2011 Cinemalaya films that I thought had been published way back. But for some reason, they weren't published. So here they are in all their glory:

If you don't want to read a whole wall of text, scroll to the last line.

Scene 69. Interior. Night. Condominium unit of yours truly. Establishing shots of a small cramped room with books and dvds everywhere. With hesitation his hands start to hover above the keyboard and they start moving, and the narration begins...

I've been watching indie films every year at the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. With this year coming to a close this will have been my sixth year watching the best of Philippine Cinema in general.

And, with that viewing experience, if there's one thing Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank tells me, it's that after this time the industry is beginning to become self aware and laugh at its own flaws.

And I quote from Wiktionary (because I'm lazy) :

satire: A literary technique of writing or art which principally ridicules its subject often as an intended means of provoking or preventing change. Humour is often used to aid this.

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank is satire in the purest sense of that definition. With a title that is a homage to Mario O'Hara's Babae Sa Breakwater, a film that is itself something that reintroduced the world to Philippine Cinema, it becomes a living reflection of what independent cinema is today. It takes a look at three filmmakers wanting to make their own award winning masterpiece. Their script is simple - containing material I see in every Cinemalaya: scenes of squalor, social realism sometimes distored as if a caricature, twist endings that you can see miles away - all things that wow international audiences and film festivals the world over.

The movie cleverly chronicles the characters' thought processes in shaping what would eventually become the final product. In essence it's a film about making films just as much as 8 1/2 or the Man from La Mancha was, and it gives us a glimpse at the very process of filmmaking.

Behind all of the laughs that the movie provides, it shows us a sort of creative stagnation that threatens the spirit of independence and creativity that is the trademark of indie cinema. When spurred by international acclaim, filmmakers may be tempted to copy that success by using the same concepts. By doing that, the same ideas are repeated over and over again. Instead of something new, you get a bunch of clones preaching only slightly different things. Think about it every time you see a new independently made film. The spirit of freedom of creative control is hindered by something else - the 'winning' formula. It goes not only for films like this but in mainstream ones as well.

And mainstream cinema is something this movie portrays as well. A little vignette in the middle of the film shows the rampant commercialism in some mainstream productions, blatant plugs that actually exist (and this is supposed to be a parody!) for the sake for some random product. It's funny, but at the same time it's actually quite disturbing, though you don't notice because you're laughing too much.

And that's where the satire of this film shines. Independent cinema is the ultimate free expression of creativity - one unhindered by sponsors and fatcats in suits. If the flow of ideas is slowed down by an influx of imitations, then what happens to that creativity?

Cutting to the chase, it's technically sound, cleverly scripted, brilliantly hilarious, and you must absolutely watch it. 10 greasy pedophiles over 10.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Cinemalaya 2013: Babagwa, Nuwebe

just before the awards ceremony, two photo finish reviews!


New Breed: Babagwa

Greg (Alex Medina) is a failed model turned internet scammer. Using fake identities created on Facebook, Greg scams many wealthy  and not so wealthy targets with his charm. His handler(Joey Paras) mentors him and guides him from target to target. However, one day, he falls in love with his target, a rich old maid (Alma Concepcion) who he befriends...

I know a lot of internet scammers; mostly of  the type called a 419 scam. Thankfully I was wise to discover the nature of these scams before I encountered them, but many are not so lucky.

I was intrigued by the lengths they will go to make the money and gain your trust. (There's also a community dedicated to 'baiting' these scammers and wasting their time instead of having them prey on some unsuspecting victim.) And you may be surprised how willingly the targets give much, if not all of their hard earned money to these people, who take everything and run, never to be seen again.

Babagwa plays on this idea and runs with it. As one watches the movie, one wonders where the titular spider's lair really is (or, for that matter, what it truly means in this context.) We see how trust is gained through flattery and conversational skills, through misdirection and trickery, through charisma and charm. It's almost an art form. These fake personas manifest themselves in the film as alternate scenes and even as hallucinations for the guilty.

The characters in Babagwa, as evil as their actions may be, are not clearly painted black or white as far as their motivations go. Each character has their own issues in life to straighten out. The money only serves to help them achieve that goal.

Alex Medina is great as Greg, whose frustrations ooze out the screen. Much of the acting props, however, go to Joey Paras who plays his handler. Joey Paras' character cares for his family, who is about to be evicted, but when it comes to business, he is a viper, ready to strike out and take from the rich to supplement himself. Someone give this person an award, it is long overdue. Technically, the film looks and sounds great, and I have no complaints.

The fantastic ending sequence of the film may be obvious to some, but it still teaches us that everything has a price.

8 Facebook friends over 10.


New Breed: Nuwebe


Watch this first.
http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/video/121448/frontrow/the-story-of-a-ten-year-old-mother-in-ang-pinakabata

With that out of the way, we come back to this film. Nuwebe is a dramatization of the events referred to in the above video. Mixed with the film is a completely unnecessary sideplot involving supernatural elements that never pans out.

Of course, the rape and improbable impregnation of a child really shakes up the dynamics of a family, if not outright destroys them. There's a lot of story potential to be had in this film. In the end, it doesn't work as well as I'd hoped.

I felt the movie could have been trimmed down to focus more on the act and the aftermath of the act itself. The first third of the movie seemed like padding sometimes, with a few exceptions, mainly relating to character development. Once the proverbial shit hits the fan, the entire family structure unravels. Some of the revelations of the mother are especially telling.

Nuwebe has a great cast and great actors, especially the child actors that act beyond their age. But the excessively dramatic monologues I attribute more to a script problem that tries to emulate the above video a bit too much. Ever see a 9 year old from  the mountains speak cono? Me neither. People were unfortunately laughing at the cinema at moments that are supposed to be dramatic.

Visually the film is a treat. There are lush vistas of the countryside and it follows in most scenes in the village. The music is also decent to good.

Unfortunately, the film sputters to an end, at the point where it should be at its strongest. At times I thought the story would probably be better served as a documentary, or at least, in the style that we see in the last third of the film.

6 underaged moms out of 10.

Cinemalaya 2013: Transit, Porno, Diplomat Hotel, David F., Shorts B

four full length films, and five shorts.

New Breed: Transit

A few years ago, Israel started implementing a very controversial policy that deports the children of migrant workers born in the country. These children speak Hebrew, the older ones go to  Israeli schools, and by any other set of criteria they are citizens of the country. And yet, Israel deports them. Some are still in hiding.

Transit depicts the lives of five people living in Israel. Moises (Ping Medina) takes care of an elderly Israeli, while taking care of his son, Joshua (Marc Justine Alvarez.) Joshua doesn't fit the criteria to stay in Israel, and has to hide constantly from immigration authorities. Their neighbors are Janet (Irma Adlawan), a Filipina worker whose visa has expired, and her daughter Yael (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), who is a child of two cultures, unable to fit comfortably in either. Also, Tina (Mercedes Cabral) is new to working in Israel, but fate is not kind to her...

Transit's narrative switches between the experiences of each character as they happen in parallel, much like the structure of director Hannah Espia's previous Cinemalaya effort, Ruweda. Each story adds perspective to the entirety of the narrative. While the overall effect still works, a lot of repetitive scenes can be removed or shown in a different perspective, instead of replaying the same exact scenes.

This is a minor nitpick, however, as the rest of the film is amazingly done. Great camerawork, a good soundtrack and a solid ensemble cast make this movie a top contender. Irma Adlawan is breathtaking as a mother whose daughter is her life, Ping Medina breathes life to a father who has everything to lose, Mercedes Cabral does the best with the short time the film gives her, Marc Alvarez gives the film its charm, and Jasmine Curtis-Smith's subdued yet effective performance is spellbinding.

While not steeped in symbolism, the film's straightforwardness and conceptual simplicity works to its favor. It's one of the festival's best films, and definitely is a film that needs to be watched.

8.5 grains of sand over 10.

A few articles on Israel's deportation of the children of Migrant Workers:
http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/israel-starts-deporting-children-of-some-foreign-workers

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/07/03/israel-s-forgotten-deportees.html

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/02/world/la-fg-israel-foreign-workers-20100802


Director's Showcase: Porno


note: this review contains a lot of spoilers. For a short summary, skip to the last paragraph.

Porno begins with a surreal, voyeauristic sequence that feels like roleplay. We are not sure of the nature of the relationship of the two participants. There is an artifice to the whole charade.  Male dominates against female. Then suddenly, the roles are reversed - and things soon escalate quickly.

This sets the tone for the rest of Porno, Adolfo Alix's latest entry to Cinemalaya's Director's Showcase.

Porno is composed of three loosely connected stories: Yul Servo is an assassin fresh off his latest assignment; he spends a momentary respite with his hooker girlfriend (Rosanna Roces) before going back to jail; Carlo Aquino dubs amateur porn and takes advantage of women in his spare time; and Angel Aquino is a male to female transexual who tries to reconnect with her old life.

And in these three vignettes we see a reflection of the titular Porno: after all, Pornography is an artifice based on a very intimate and real act. We see this in the fake moans supplied by Carlo Aquino's character and his fellow dubbers, and his messages to extort naked pictures from the women he woos. Yul Servo's character has a relationship with a hooker and his police handler, either of whom may or may not be real. As for Angel Aquino's character, she has to decide which facet of herself is real and which is the illusion.

For all the sex that goes on in this movie, it never serves as titillation. Sex becomes a means of relief; it becomes a means of respite from the reality of the world. It becomes a means of escape from a reality the characters (and perhaps, also we) are too hesitant to confront.

Like last year's Kalayaan, this movie has mysterious elements that could either be explained as actual supernatural events or mere manifestations of the characters' psyche. The movie never explains it; we are left to make our own interpretation. Through these elements, each character gets their answer, their enlightenment through violence, through guilt, or through a mirror into one's soul.

The acting is okay, but I am still undecided if Angel Aquino plays a transsexual too well (because Angel Aquino is a beautiful woman) or not as well as one could (also, because Angel Aquino is a beautiful woman.) Seeing Rosanna Roces in the buff again is kind of unsettling.

Technically, the production design, scoring and technical aspects of the film are polished and well executed. Some have noted that the ending is too abrupt and in a sense, I agree; I probably would have hoped for something to tie the three threads together at the end.

Porno is an intriguing film, but it's a film not easily understood. It's a film that lends itself to discussion, which is ok by me.

7.5 porn DVDs over 10.


New Breed: The Diplomat Hotel

This movie generated a lot of buzz. It was touted by some as a horror film, a kind rarely seen in this festival. It starred Gretchen Barreto. It had this goth looking lady.

So is it good?

Gretchen Baretto's character is in the dumps after a botched hostage situation and time inside a mental institution. To save her career, she takes a team to the Diplomat Hotel, a creepy abandoned place with a storied past. As the night goes deeper, each character's psyche unravels, threatening everybody's lives. And as for the hotel? Something lurks in the darkness...

While the supernatural aspect of the hotel threatens to claim the characters, it is the characters' own darkness that consumes them. So the film has some psychological thriller elements mixed in too.


This film is not bad, but the problem is it's nothing new. If there was a checklist of horror movie tropes and cliches somewhere, this movie would probably have all of them checked. The film seems derivative of other works, and the derivation is not necessarily as good as the original material, either. Sudden jump cuts, little visual cues at the corner of one's eye, long haired ghouls, use of darkness, they're all in some other (usually Asian) horror movie.

To its credit, the soundtrack is great, and manages to deliver the scares very effectively. As for the acting, it ranges from really good (Art Acuna is the cameraman?) to so-so. Then there's Gretchen Baretto, whose face seems to stay static, regardless of lines spouted. Honestly, those lips and cheekbones scare me as much as any legitimate scare in the film.


The crowd went along with the scares and enjoyed the movie, so I don't doubt that this will get a wider release. But in the context of the festival, it really doesn't shape up as well compared to the other entries.

6 haunted hotels over 10.


note: eagle eyes may notice a plant/vine/whatever move by itself during one scene - one of the times where I was truly creeped out by the film. Also, eagle eyes may also notice that when you have an establishing shot of the setting, you would probably want to clean the lens/window of the car housing the camera first.


New Breed: David F.


America may have a major influence on Philippine history throughout most of the 20th century, but the role of African Americans during this tumultuous century is not well known.

David F. is composed of three stories of people (presumably in the second part) named David F. The first one is a black soldier who joins the Filipino Insurgency during the Filipino American War, The second is the child of a half Filipino, half Black woman during the waning years of WWII, and the third is an entertainer working the bar scene in Olongapo and Angeles City.

Like us Filipinos, our African American brothers have a long history trying to find (or perhaps reclaim) their identity. The third David is trying to find his place as well: he does not know his father, presumably a serviceman who spent time in the US bases in the late seventies or eighties. The first David has no place back home in America, where he faces a life of slavery; he has no place with his fellow Americans, who treat him no better than dogs; and he finds solace with Filipinos who acknowledge him.

However, while some Filipinos accept the titular Davids in their respective times, some (if not many) Filipinos do just the opposite. The first David is a target of an assassination and is treated as an outsider; the second David is rejected by his own father thanks to his skin; and the third David is marginalized, his performance/act is characterized by making fun of his skin, and there is a sense of otherness in his interactions with others.


It's a facet of Filipino culture that we see everyday: we see foreigners as "others," and we tend to ridicule or make fun of then. How many times did we compare someone to, say, Whitney Tyson so as to call them ugly? How many times have we aspired to improve our skin by applying whitening lotion?

While the three stories have a similar theme, they don't seem to form anything cohesive. They could easily work as three separate movies. Compared with the other movies in the festival, who work with multiple stories or plotlines, it falls a bit short.

But each individual segment works. The strongest segment is the third one, followed by the first one. The second segment is the weakest, due partly to the fact that the main character is mute, and there isn't a lot of room to build and develop the characters anyway.

The American actors are surprisingly good, or at least decent, especially the first David. There's nothing notable about the technical aspects of the film, but it is more or less sound.

David F. is a film that probably could have been pruned down to concentrate on a more definite theme. As it stands, the movie tends to meander and lose focus midway with multiple threads that intersect quite loosely.

7 brothas over 10.



WE WANT SHORT SHORTS SHORT SHORTS REVIEWS


SHORTS B

The Houseband's Wife - production values aren't high, but very well written and witty. 4.5/5

Katapusang Labok
- too slice of lifey? The message of the film seemed to be shoehorned into the last few minutes. Something about saving the seas? 3/5

Pukpok - You had me at Filma Santos. Not the best, but I had fun. Definite crowd pleaser. 4.5/5

Sa Wakas - funny, despite the dark undertone. Of course, the dark undertone catches up after a while. As a note, medical establishments have to admit these kinds of patients regardless of the situation. Yes, they may have to file a police report, but still they have to treat the patient nevertheless. Otherwise, refusing treatment (especially emergency treatment) is, IIRC, illegal. 3.5/5

Onang
- well, that escalated quickly. Best cinematography work, probably in the whole festival. 4/5

Friday, August 02, 2013

Cinemalaya 2013: Ekstra

As of late, local movies are starting to recognize the most unsung of film heroes, the bit player. We saw one particular bit player get her chance in the spotlight in 2011's Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay. This year, Jeffrey Jeturian's Ekstra delves a bit more into the trials bit players and aspiring actors have to endure.

Loida (Vilma Santos) is one such bit player. She is a single mother who has taken care of her daughter single handedly since childhood. She is also a veteran "Ekstra," who usually serves as a member of the crowd or a character in the background. She dreams of performing with well known actors and actresses (among others, Piolo Pascual and Marian Rivera as themselves).

But life is not so simple for Loida and her ilk. Her working conditions are harsh: one quickly sees that these bit players are at the bottom of the food chain. Often they are treated as no more than disposable props, a glorified kind of living set decoration. Waking up at unholy hours, working nonstop in hellish conditions, and frequent verbal abuse is the norm. Yet Loida always takes it in stride, optimistic to the end.

Despite a plethora of lighthearted scenes (and shoutouts to Vilma Santos' films and film career) the underlying tone of the film is surprisingly dark. We see the struggle of these people vying to be noticed and seen; the allure of stardom almost, but not quite, within their reach.

Vilma Santos proves her chops as one of the country's most accomplished actresses (and as her fanbase declares, the "Star for All Seasons.") She nails her role perfectly, and we feel her pain alongside her. There is a bit of irony at work as well to the mere fact that a person of Vilma's acting stature is playing a lowly bit player.

The film shines thanks to a well written script that never sounds forced or artificial. Technically the film is polished and edited well.

Loida seems to break the fourth wall at the end of the film, probing us, asking us, the audience, to look at her, to recognize her plight. And I hope that through this film, more than a few people do look and listen, and recognize the achievements of these unsung heroes.

8 extras over 10.

Cinemalaya 2013: Amor Y Muerte (SPECIAL GUEST REVIEW)

And now, a special guest review of the Cinemalaya 2013 film Amor Y Muerte by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson:





Thank you for your time.

Cinemalaya 2013: Rekorder, Sana Dati

New Breed: Rekorder (Mikhail Red)

The camera has come a long way from its humble beginnings more than a century ago. In my childhood the home video camera was a rarity, and when my cousin and I managed to get our hands on a Video 8, we went wild and made all sorts of films.

Now, anyone can buy a camera cheap, and all of the new cellphone models have cameras built in. The advancement of data storage technology means that we can literally store almost all of our moments as pictures and data. While in the past the moviemakers were a breed of their own, now anyone can make their own personal film.

Rekorder is an interesting film which delves into morality at its most superficial levels, but in a deeper sense, it also tackles concepts on moviemaking as a whole, and how we perceive the concept of a movie in general.

Maven (Ronnie Quizon) is a former cameraman who now makes a living recording movies in the cinema illegally. His methods are outdated (he uses an old Video 8 Handycam, meaning he uses tapes rather than data cards) and his way of living is under threat as well - torrents have largely made his DVD trade obsolete, or at least on the verge of obsolescence.

Maven finds the contrived world of the movies boring (he falls asleep while he records the films) and prefers to take video of the world around him. At night, he looks at his old tapes and relives a past that continues to haunt him.

I won't spoil the rest of the movie for you, but Maven finds himself in a dilemma that tests his sense of morality and his ideals.

The concept of "moviemaking" in Maven's world is much like ours: we use our cameras to capture life around us in a voyeuristic fashion. We use it to capture moments in life around us, as placeholders of our memories. We have things like instagram where even the most mundane of our experiences are committed to film; pictures of a sidewalk or today's lunch, without much of the emotion behind it, teem in today's society.

And with all the good things, we have the bad. Film captures all of the ugly moments of life as well. Just look at the evening news and one can see grisly images of death on film, despair on camera, fruits of suffering, laced with schadenfreude, ripe for the picking.


Rekorder challenges us to use film as a medium for change. The medium of film has a power that can topple nations, bring down presidents, or bring people to justice. It holds truth for us to examine, and the film exhibits that truth to us in detail, for everyone to see. Film can be a tool that can make a difference, and I think that's an important point the film tries to raise.

Rekorder also tackles piracy and the fact that while many movies are made for business, moviemaking is still an artform and is made for the enjoyment of all. I'm interested to see a similar or alternative viewpoint in Jon Red's Pirata, also showing in Cinemalaya screens.

While paced a bit too long, I really have no other technical complaints. The film works well with good production design and a score that keeps the tension going.

All in all, it's a worthwhile watch, and a probable contender for best in festival. Recommended.

8 pirated DVDs out of 10.


Director's Showcase: Sana Dati


I was intrigued by the premise of this film when I saw the trailers. Many of my friends and former classmates are getting married these days so the notion of this film being set during oa wedding raised my eyebrows.

Full Disclosure: I no longer believe in weddings. I no longer believe in true love. I no longer believe in starting a family or having kids or having any kind of meaningful romantic relationships with anyone. I guess I no longer believe in a lot of things.

Full Disclosure: I loved this film.

I admit I have not seen the previous two installments of Jerrold Tarog's Camera Trilogy, of which this film is the third and final part. But if this film is any indication, I'm sold.

Sana Dati is set during Andrea's (Lovi Poe) wedding to her politician fiancee Robert. During the hectic preparations, however, Dennis, (Paulo Avelino) the wedding videographer, comes in and Andrea starts remembering a romance that haunts her to this day.

The movie then intercuts between the past and present and explores the nature of that relationship and her relationship to Robert. The chemistry (or lack thereof) between Lovi Poe and her male leads is spot on, and you really get to feel for the characters and the situation they've been in.

At its core, Sana Dati's story is one we've seen a lot of times before (like several Korean romantic films) but it handles the subject matter in an interesting way that mainstream productions, with their deus ex machinas and their overly sappy moments, rarely do. With witty conversations, decent to great acting, and scenes that evoke honest emotion, you invest in the characters and maybe even relate to their situation.

Technically, the film is polished. Music and Cinematography are excellent. Up Dharma Down contributes their song "Indak" as the ending theme and I honestly can't think of a better song to end the movie.

There are other reasons for loving others, not just from our gut. And the flow of love's river might not always go in the direction we want. We can stay stubborn and happy, or we can move on. It's an interesting conundrum that many of us encounter during the course of our lives.

This is a great movie, and one of the most technically sound. I recommend it.

8.5 pairs of blue shoes out of 10.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Cinemalaya 2013: Quick Change

Eduardo Roy's Cinemalaya entry begins with a blatantly illegal cosmetic surgery procedure, followed by segueing into a rendition of "Paru-parong Bukid" (Butterfly from the field), a sequence that perfectly reflects what this movie is about.

Dorina believes, as the film's synopsis tells us, she is a lady incarcerated inside a male body. She performs the same kind of illegal cosmetic surgery on a number of clients, and she's considered one of the best. At the same time, she tries to live a normal life with partner Uno and nephew Hiro.

However, like the fleeting nature of the 'beauty' her treatments provide, this family life is slowly put out of balance.

In the Philippines, transsexuals have formed their own distinct culture. While they are, to an extent, accepted in our society,  discrimination and a sense of 'otherness' seems to be the prevailing notion.

In many Barangays there are beauty pageants featuring transsexuals who, in some cases, look even better than some women, and that may tie into one of the major themes of the film. It is perhaps something in the pursuit of their own identity that links into these individuals' need to be beautiful, an addiction to beauty, so to say. I think it transcends mere vanity, in that people like Dorina and her clients see beauty as one measure of being accepted in a society that tends to marginalize them.

The acting is spot on. Dorina (Mimi Juareza) gives a noteworthy performance, giving her character pathos, making us truly feel for the character. One scene near the end of the film, teased in the movie's poster and trailer, is particularly powerful. The supporting characters also deliver, especially the actress who plays Mamu, Dorina's mentor and supplier in the illegal cosmetic surgery business.

While filled with lighthearted moments, the underlying tone of the movie is dark, and that is seen in the film's excellent cinematography, score and production design. A saturated brownish tint envelops every shot, and I personally like the effect. The soundtrack is equally ominous and atmospheric. There were some sound issues regarding syncing of voices, although I am not sure if that is due to a technical problem in the theater or a genuine production error.

Quick Change is an interesting film, something that hasn't been seen often in Cinemalaya (or other Philippine fests for that matter.) If you're open minded and not bothered by the subject matter it's probably one film you cannot miss.

7.5 injections over 10.

nitpicks: I guess it could be explained as the child picking up Nihongo from his aunt, or Dorina having previously worked in Japan, but Dorina's Japanese is far superior to the little boy's. Also these people were injecting stuff without even cleaning the injection site... as a medical worker, this far bothered me more than anything else in the film.