rotban

Thursday, December 31, 2015

MMFF 2015: All You Need Is Pag-ibig, Beauty and the Bestie

Time for me to end my short journey into MMFF. I really wanted to back away from seeing this film because I'm not a fan of Kris Aquino. But I braved the storm because I genuinely appreciate the films of Antoinette Jadaone.

All You Need Is Pag-ibig is composed of several interconnected stories about falling in love, falling back in love, falling out of love and everything in between. On the whole, the stories mostly work together. Individually, some stories work well even as standalone shorts; the rest seem peripheral or underdeveloped.

The Kris subplot, about a person hosting a love advice program, is the weakest of all the subplots. It mostly serves as a bridge to the rest of the stories. Thankfully, her screen time in the film is limited. A short scene with Derek is all that exists of their short interaction, which by the end of their arc feels incomplete.

Pokwang's segment, about a housewife seeking to reconnect with her estranged husband, has the most interesting concept, if only because it's not the usual rom com situation. Its core message is that love for the lovelorn exists in corners we often overlook, and it exists to contrast the rest of the lighter love stories in the film.

Ian Veneracion and Jodi Sta. Maria's segment, a light romantic story about an office worker who falls in love with her boss, can exist as a standalone feature. It was kind of surprising seeing Sta. Maria in an older role but it works.

Xian Lim and Kim Chiu are the major loveteam in this movie, and as such they have a lot of screen time together. Their segment is partly love story, part millennial rumination on failed dreams and aspirations. The segment is not as solid as the previous one, despite some decent chemistry between the two.

Nova Villa and Ronaldo Valdez's segment, about an elderly couple that is slowly getting out of touch, is one of my favorites, if only because I am ridiculously biased towards old love. It's an aspect of love that has been discussed sparingly but has been gaining ground in local cinema with features like 1st Ko Si 3rd, (which also stars Villa, and is ostensibly the better, more realized film) Lorna and certain segments of Anatomiya ng Pag-ibig. It's still the movie that packs the most emotional heft, and ends up being one of the best of the segments on display.

Overall the film is beautifully shot. Of particular note are the drone shots taken outside high rise buildings. Despite its multiple stories, they are successfully intertwined, and I feel it is more cohesive and aware of its identity compared to its romcom counterpart Walang Forever. Even if the film is unabashedly tailored for the MMFF, Jadaone utilizes her creative talents to make the film an enjoyable exploration of love. It's evidence that you can make a smart yet lighthearted commercial film without compromising quality. Of course it's suited for those seeking lighter fare; people who want heavier stuff might want to find their kicks elsewhere.

Beauty in the Bestie's concept is absurd from the getgo, involving secret agents, dopplegangers and (of course) a beauty pageant. It parodies everything mercilessly, and it repeatedly breaks the fourth wall without prejudice. From the concept alone, it's the epitome of brainless fun. And, to people who like Vice Ganda's particular brand of insult comedy, they will most likely find themselves enjoying it.

The most surprising thing about the movie is the fact that it boasts a solid array of action sequences. One particular sequence felt reminiscent of similar scenes in Hindi action mass entertainer Singham (also known as the manliest movie of 2011) and RED, where Singham likely got the inspiration. Coco Martin's secret agent character and Vice Ganda's unlikely heroine drift in cars, have shootouts with Asian gangsters, and commit death defying stunts in helicopters. Middling to awful CGI notwithstanding, this film probably has the best action scenes in the festival.

It's all silliness, and not to be taken seriously. Wenn Deramas reminds me of Hong Kong Director Wong Jing, whose equally silly (if not sillier) films are tailored to Hong Kong audiences. Their collective filmographies are mostly shallow (but fun) fluff that people seem to want. It's not my cup of tea, but my philosophy is mainly walang basagan ng trip so watch what you want to watch. There's also some blatant commercialism in the form of product placement, but it's not as gratituous, and I could really only cite two blatant instances.

Of course there's the requisite love team in the form of James Reid and Nadine Lustre (Lord knows what happened to the sequel to Talk Back and You're Dead). I was not too keen on Nadine previously but she's great in this movie. James Reid is of course James Reid, although a few of his courtship tactics would be kind of creepy had someone else been in his shoes. Their presence in the film is far more peripheral than other MMFF offerings with loveteams.

Beauty and the Bestie is inconsequential fluff. People who like this kind of thing will be entertained, while other moviegoers (such as myself) will find it more of an acquired taste.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

MMFF 2015: My Bebe Love #KiligPaMore

I had nothing to do, and I guess it would be unfair to ignore the highest grossing movie in the festival so far, so I watched My Bebe Love today. While I'm not a fan of the Aldub loveteam, I'm amazed at the extent and speed of its popularity throughout many sectors of Philippine society.

As far as the movie goes, it's a finely honed product designed to rein in as many fans and moviegoers as possible during the holiday season, and optimize profits. The way it caters to its target audience is an art all unto itself, and to be honest the only relevant comparison I can make with this film is to the latest Star Wars flick. While the new Star Wars banked on nostalgia, this movie banks on the capacity of their stars to elicit humor and that warm and fuzzy feeling called kilig. It targets families out on vacation during the holiday season, who will undoubtedly bring their kids. And family snacks are made even better by going on a short trip to Goldilocks! Grab one of their packs of fun sized Polvoron in Classic and Chocolate flavors. Share with your parents and siblings! Besides, even if you're not a polvoron kinda guy you can't go wrong, Liza Soberano likes 'em, and anyone who dislikes Liza is most probably a sad, lonely dickface.

The Kalyeserye featuring Aldub makes heavy usage of the split screen. In the kalyeserye, split screens were used to keep them apart not only physically but in the sense of framing. Even without the splitscreen, the people who made the kalyeserye framed Alden and Maine in such a way that they were separate from each other, like in that Kalyeserye episode where they were supposed to meet but were separated by a wall. It increases the tension, (in fact, weeks passed before the two even got to meet face to face) and it makes the payoff all the more rewarding. Joey Reyes uses the split screen in this movie to similar effect at the start, with a few interesting uses, such as Vic Sotto seemingly talking to Ai Ai via split screen, when he is actually talking to Maine hidden by the split screen effect. Unfortunately the split screen is eventually abandoned save for a few scenes where it is necessary, such as in phone conversations that are made even lengthier using the Talk N' Text Alden and Maine Loads Promo. 30 Pesos will give you free texts to all networks for five days, while 15 Pesos will give you unlimited calls for one day ! Amazing value! Text either MAINE30 to 3545 or ALDEN15 to 4547! Avail now!

That said, Aldub's exposure is limited, and we get to see less of them during the film's second half, where the film's focus shifts to Vic and AiAi instead. To be honest, these two have more chemistry in this film than our loveteam, if only because Alden and Maine were given limited material for this movie in the first place, and Vic/AiAi are seasoned actors and know their stuff. It's more adult comedy than the Aldub part, which is as white as a dirty sheet cleaned with NEW AND IMPROVED Tide, which is now 5 pesos per sachet. Can you effing believe it!? 5 pesos for cleanliness!? Some of the jokes are obviously adult jokes that are aimed for the elderly audience members (senior citizens comprising a large chunk of the Aldub fanbase) and will most likely fly over the heads of the children who will wonder what Vic and AiAi did in that resort inn in Zambales one drunken night. And what better way to enjoy and get wasted than a cold refreshing case of San Miguel Beer! Just buy 3 bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen & qualify to play the Pilsen Time Pachinco where you can get the chance to win the limited edition San Miguel Pale Pilsen Beer Mug! Holy fucking shit that's an awesome mug.

The film's main strength is also its biggest weakness: in playing it safe, it ends up just being okay at best. It's lighthearted and will not offend, but I don't know if I can remember the film six months down the line. Out of any of the scenes in this film, nothing really sticks to me as memorable. It's okayness is more refined than 2013's My Little Bossings, and My Bebe Love is a far better film than that one. In being a safe, relatively wholesome film (disregarding the whole drunken sex thing) it sets out and does EXACTLY what it set out to do. And in that sense, the film is a success. The only casualty, unfortunately, is ambition. But at least after the film you can watch something else, or maybe go home and surf the internet using PLDT MyDSL, where you can watch whatever you want at the click of a mouse. They're coming up with faster internet speeds, so you can (legally) stream films with ease.

Some highlights include a surprise appearance by the rest of the Dabarkads, a sudden appearance by Aegis (who makes everything better by default) and a cameo appearance by Lilia Cuntapay, whose character could have stronger bones if she drank more Bear Brand Adult Plus, with extra calcium to help slow down osteoporosis. Believe me, I'm kinda a legit doctor, osteoporosis sucks.

I don't hate My Bebe Love. I don't think it's bad - it's at best harmless fluff for me. It's very safe, and very much a movie equivalent of a trip to your local McDonalds, where you can eat their new Chicken Fillet Ala King for 59 pesos! That's practically a steal. Or maybe avail of a Happy Meal and score some cool toys. I bought some Happy Meals for Mario toys once. Those were fun times.

That's the thing, I guess. I want a better star vehicle for Aldub where they can show their talents properly. I want a smarter, funnier comedy with clever situational comedic moments (and looking at my favorite film list for the year, there IS such a movie.) I want to laugh, be entertained AND think (sometimes at the same time.) I don't want to be complacent with the same kinds of movies I see every year, I don't want to be safe with my movies all the time, and I don't want to be treated as a target consumer, but as a partner, sharing the art that is cinema with my fellow moviegoers.

There's something else about the film that I could talk about, but I kinda forgot about it. It's probably in this review somewhere. I guess I could eat some Brand's Essence of Chicken (with Cordyceps!) to enhance my memory. Maybe someday I can remember.
Just buy 3 bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen & qualify to play the Pilsen Time Pachinco where you can get the chance to win the limited edition San Miguel Pale Pilsen Beer Mug! - See more at: http://sanmiguelpalepilsen.com.ph/san-miguel-pale-pilsen-beer-mug-promo/#sthash.AwwU9VbU.dpuf
Just buy 3 bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen & qualify to play the Pilsen Time Pachinco where you can get the chance to win the limited edition San Miguel Pale Pilsen Beer Mug! - See more at: http://sanmiguelpalepilsen.com.ph/san-miguel-pale-pilsen-beer-mug-promo/#sthash.AwwU9VbU.dpuf
Just buy 3 bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen & qualify to play the Pilsen Time Pachinco where you can get the chance to win the limited edition San Miguel Pale Pilsen Beer Mug! - See more at: http://sanmiguelpalepilsen.com.ph/san-miguel-pale-pilsen-beer-mug-promo/#sthash.AwwU9VbU.dpuf

Monday, December 28, 2015

Present Confusion Awards 2015


It's the end of the yeaaaaaar! 2015 was a very interesting time for movies, with strong offerings from world cinema. Hollywood continued its trend of releasing franchise films that earned them decent bucks, but the industry overall in a slump. It took freaking Star Wars, the first new movie from the franchise in 10 years, to pull them out of that slump.

As for local cinema, well. This was certainly an interesting year. One notable absence from this year was the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, whose full length section took a 1 year hiatus to focus on developing the feature film participants for the festival's 2016 edition. The festival seems to have learned some lessons from the problems of previous editions. We'll see how this plays out.

In its place, the two most high profile film fests to take its place were the Cinema One Originals film festival and the QCinema International Film Festival. Both had really strong lineups for their competition films, and festival programmers brought over some of the best in world cinema, including a 3D screening of Gaspar Noe's Love(!) Joining them were the first edition of Sinag Maynila, the World Premieres Film Festival and the New Wave section of the MMFF, which was the little mini-festival that could.

There were some landmark moments this year that stood out for me: A large number of local releases inundated our theaters during the months of September and October, including religious biopic Felix Manalo, Nora Aunor starrer Taklub, and runaway box office phenomenon Heneral Luna, whose streak at the box office and positive response from both critics and audiences alike hints that sometimes a film really needs time to find its audience. At its peak, there was a time at my local cinema where all the films that were showing were local films. I haven't seen that kind of lineup in a long time.

Mainstream commercial films were also hugely successful in 2015, including Etiquette for Mistresses, Ex With Benefits and the massively successful A Second Chance, which may be the largest grossing Filipino film of all time. The recent controversial events with the MMFF, however, put a bit of a damper on what was a very positive year. The story is still developing. My thoughts on that are in the previous post.


With that said, here are my completely subjective, somewhat arbitrary  

Present Confusion Awards 2015.

Top Ten Favorite Filipino Films in 2015 (in no particular order)


1. Imbisibol (dir. Lawrence Fajardo) - this strongly acted drama about a group of illegal immigrants in Japan's Fukuoka Prefecture got me with its dark atmosphere and tone, as well as its amazing final few frames.


2. That Thing Called Tadhana (dir. Antoinette Jadaone) - I didn't manage to see this film during its initial run in the 2014 edition of the Cinema One Originals Film Festival, so I watched it during its very successful commercial run this year. While probably one of the lightest films in this list, it oozes with charm, and it did help pioneer kilig's emo twin brother, hugot.



3. Manang Biring (dir. Carl Joseph Papa) - a triumph of storytelling complemented with animation, this film treads new ground (at least locally) in creating a unique narrative. Its depiction of a woman's fight against cancer is dealt with dignity (despite being a black comedy in many parts.)


4. Bambanti (dir. Zig Dulay) - This social realist drama is a telling look into our society and the hypocrisies that are closely tied into it. Alessandra de Rossi's performance makes the film work well.





5. Heneral Luna (dir. Jerrold Tarog) - a historical biopic unlike any other, fictionalized in some places but done to serve a greater message. If not for its quality, it's important in the sense that it helped start a conversation about ourselves, our past, present and future history, and our local film industry in general.


6. Baka Siguro Yata (dir. Joel Ferrer) - a Filipino comedy I genuinely like. I honestly enjoyed this almost as much as Star Wars. No kidding. It's thanks to good comedic timing from the lead actor, a witty script and a decent story (that shares similarities with Knocked Up, but with a very Filipino flavor to it.)


7. Apocalypse Child (dir. Mario Cornejo) - Immediately after I saw this film, I knew I had to process it a bit first. In hindsight, I think that this solidly directed character study is one of the best things to come out of QCinema.






8. Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo (dir. Mihk Vergara) - somehow I felt that the director/screenwriter and I had similar vibes, since the references and the way the film was made really resonates with me. It's nostalgic, dynamic and fun at the same time.



9. Ari: My Life With A King (dir. Carlo Encisco Catu) - if it were up to me, I would give this film MMFF's special Cultural Award. It is poetic, elegiac in a sense, lamenting the slow death of our regional languages and culture.


10. Honor Thy Father (dir. Erik Matti) - I have seen this film three times now, and while I admit it does have flaws, to me it is remarkable simply because it doesn't fuck around. A solidly directed story filled with tension and anger, multifaceted characters, amazing acting performances and a relevant message are more than enough to merit its inclusion in this list.

Alternate/Runner-up Films


1. Water Lemon (dir. Lem Lorca) - Deeply affecting character study. Lorca's best so far.
2. Miss Bulalacao (dir. Ara Chawdhury) - Storytelling and ideas with panache. Brave and bold regional cinema.
3. Sleepless (dir. Prime Cruz) - In some aspects, superior to its predecessor That Thing Called Tadhana, but flawed in other aspects. Still very good.
4. Tandem (dir. King Palisoc) - Noir in a quickly developing noir genre established by films like On The Job. One of Nico Antonio's best performances.
5. Anino Sa Likod Ng Buwan (dir. Jun Lana) - While I think it is not as strong as his previous two films Bwakaw and Barber's Tales, this is still a capable film that will keep you guessing until its final gunshot.

Films that I Didn't Completely Watch So I Couldn't Include Them In Any Lists Award
1. Matangtubig (dir. Jet Leyco) - If I had watched this film completely, I think it has a strong chance of being in at least the alternate lineup.

Top 4 Non-2015 Local Films 
1. Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria (dir. Remton Zuasola) - a remarkable achievement of logistics, storytelling and filmmaking.
2. Iskalawags (dir. Keith Deligero) - nostalgic, but in a wistful sort of way. A chronicle of the loss of childhood innocence in a small town.
3. Lorna (dir. Sigrid Andrea Bernardo) - A sort of companion piece to recent films like 1st Ko Si 3rd. A very personal film from the director, and one that is bolstered by a terrific lead performance.
4. Barber's Tales (dir. Jun Lana) - A very capable exploration of politics, gender or otherwise, in a small town setting. Like Lorna (above), it is enhanced by the performance of its lead, Eugene Domingo.

Basagan ng Bote Award - Apocalypse Child
Dissonant but Weirdly Appropriate Award - Macarena, (Toto)
Most PG-13 Rape Scene Award - Angela Markado
National Artist for Ridiculousness Award - Angela Markado

***

Most Enjoyable Franchise Popcorn Movie Award 
Star Wars: The Force Awakens - It's Fucking Star Wars.

Most Badass Action Spectacle Award
Mad Max: Fury Road - this would have won the award above if not for Fucking Star Wars

Favorite Documentary of the Year
The God of Ramen - this portrait of a simple man's decades-long devotion to being the best damn Ramen cook around is genuinely affecting.

Favorite Indian Mass Entertainer
Rabhasa - local critics called the story a bit cliche. Since I'm new to Telugu cinema, this somewhat convoluted story was fun to unravel.

***

I want to watch more Asian Films next year. I've been stockpiling my stash. I need to watch a couple (or ten) sooner or later, and new releases will keep adding on to that. And I have a ton of unfinished reviews or whatever you call these things (whoops, TFA Spoiler Review where are you). Whatever. Happy New Year. I'm going to sleep.

p.s. in the spirit of fairness I'm going to try to watch the rest of the MMFF entries. Emphasis on try (depending on schedule).

Sunday, December 27, 2015

MMFF 2015: Walang Forever, #MMFF2015Scandal

Walang Forever begins with a juxtaposition of reel and real life scenes, so much so that there's a sense of self awareness to the whole thing. That's because our protagonist, Mia (Jennylyn Mercado) is a writer of a string of successful romcoms. She uses her romantic experiences as templates for her films. But now, after splitting with boyfriend Ethan (Jericho Rosales,) she's kind of in a slump.

The chemistry between the two leads works well in this setting, and they carry much of the movie. I don't know how JM de Guzman would have handled Ethan, but Jericho Rosales shines in this one, especially during the last act. The film had some funny moments, but the comedy is relatively subdued compared to last year's English Only, Please.

There's a small plot element that I wish had been developed further: since our protagonist is a writer for romcoms (is any of this based on real life?) we get a look into how kilig moments are made in board rooms and writers' conferences, where people maximize and/or optimize the emotional impact of characters, scenes and so on. In a way, it's a look at the process of the commoditization of feels.

The structure of the film is very similar to the structure of Korean romantic comedies in the early to mid 2000s - after a very light first half, the tone shifts sharply into dramatic territory during the second half. If you've spent the last hour or so investing in these characters, you're in a good place. If not, you're most likely going to have problems with the way the film develops. The central conceit of the second half of the film comes as a surprise, and its resolution feels like a retread of the kinds of films Walang Forever draws as inspiration. While it is good for eliciting emotions, the last half is formula through and through. What saves it from feeling too familiar is its self awareness. The film knows it's in a kilig/hugot romantic movie and just runs with it.

Walang Forever is decent popcorn fun, with great performances by both leads. Its uneven tone, formulaic final act and conclusion and toned down humor are flaws, but the film knows this and gives us what it can offer.

***
I vote that the poop emoji become the new mascot for the festival.

So thanks to some schedules clearing up, I was planning to watch the rest of the MMFF movies. However, after recent events, I'm having second thoughts about covering this festival. For some reason I hoped that maybe this year, this festival would try to move away from its usual fare and honor good, higher quality films. In the end, everything was mired in politics and capitalism - ticket swapping incidents for the two most popular movies in the slate, pulling movies out of cinemas in favor of other fare, and now this midnight disqualification. This politicization of art for the sake of money is heinous, but given the history of scandals in the MMFF, this is the same shit all over again.

From a purely business standpoint, it looks like a good decision. Moviegoers consist of families on vacation, who will likely take their kids with them, and for the past few decades the aim has been to release cheaply made, forgettable commercial films to entertain as many people as anyone can in a short time. This practice has gone on for decades, and it has been ingrained in us for so long that these kinds of films are the ones we should expect in December that we pass it on from one generation to the next. Now the moviegoing kids of our generation will expect the same thing next year, and the year after that.

The system is clearly broken, but the attitudes of audiences need to change too. If we begin to show audiences high quality movies, people might just realize, hey, I can settle for more. Nasaan ang feel good vibes sa Insiang o Kisapmata? Nasaan ang kababawan at komersyalismo sa Himala? Pinanood naman ng tao yun diba? Kahit na may kasabay silang pelikulang patawa o pampasaya rin? Heneral Luna is an example of a movie where audiences warmed up to it over time, and through word of mouth. As for MMFF entries, English Only Please also had extended runs due to positive response. People have to be given time to appreciate the movies they want to watch. But if you take the them out early, you don't get that time. I know theaters that pulled movies out after just one day, despite what looks like decent box office collections. To me, that's blatantly unfair to the movies in question. I actually don't mind the usual light romcom or horror fare, but for God's sake PLEASE give me an alternative and give me the chance to see it.

Anyway, when all this brouhaha has settled down, a proper investigation is done and due process has been given to the producers, I'll go back to watching the rest of the MMFF. Awards Night is tonight. Let's see what happens.

Or, you know, I could just go back and watch Star Wars another five times. It's still up on IMAX, and at least that's a capitalist machine I enjoy.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

MMFF 2015: Haunted Mansion, Honor Thy Father, Buy Now, Die Later, Nilalang


It's MMFF season again folks. The quality of the films this year range from ok to brilliant. Without further ado...

Haunted Mansion is the year's usual MMFF horror fare from Regal Films. A number of students go on a school sponsored retreat to a creepy mansion. As with any cliche high school horror movie, the tropes are in full force: there's the requisite bitch squad, the jocks, the neutral guy, the best friend, the awkward but kindhearted heroine. As they learn about the mansion's haunted past, weird things begin to happen.

The movie's twist is rather obvious. Our characters run around and make stupid decisions that will cost them dearly. On the other hand, lots of horror movies are predicated on stupid decisions, so it's not uncommon. The characters are mostly unlikeable, and since many die, you don't really get to invest yourself with them. We barely get to understand the main character, Ella, until around halfway into the film.

The film is nicely shot in some parts, and the visual effects for some of the ghosts prove effective (the black smoke effect was really nice). The makeup and prosthetics are not bad at all, although the witch-like profile for the main ghost was not really my cup of tea. I did like the farmer who was charred all over with some smouldering parts on his body.

It tries to get you with jump scares, but I really didn't feel anything while watching this film. As a horror movie, Haunted Mansion isn't scary. If you're looking for some popcorn fun for your kids, hey, why not.

Honor Thy Father pleasantly surprised me, and my expectations going in were high.  It's one of the best Filipino films of the year, and one of the best MMFF films since the eighties.

Compared to Matti's earlier On The Job, Honor Thy Father is a thriller through and through, but in this case, the tension builds up deliberately, slowly. John Lloyd Cruz (whose performance in this film defines careers) watches stoically at the events surrounding his family as the fire inside him burns 'till it gets white hot.

And there is much reason to be angry: I am impressed at how angry this film made me. It exposes hypocrisies in ourselves and in society in general, pointing out that nothing is sacred in the face of money, that the world is dog-eat-dog and to survive, you have to be at the top of the chain. The film expresses this in both subtle and overt ways; the former, during a shot of children fighting for a piece of fried chicken, the latter, during shameful displays of materialism and wealth in the face of the 'divine.' Veneers of decorum and and niceties overlay our social structures, but when you peel back that layer, you can only see the ugly side of human nature underneath.

The film also pushes the notion that blood is thicker than water: when society and religion fail him, our main character relies on the only bond that works - family. In many ways, the film's title can be a reference not only to the prayer, but in the literal sense, as John Lloyd's character faces his family (and his past) as he seeks them for help. His closest bonds are to his daughter and to his wife (whom he supports despite her major failings.)

When this tension explodes in the film's climactic act, the anger pays off - the denouement proves cathartic. Solidly constructed and directed, expertly acted and overall well made, Honor Thy Father is simply a great film. It's a film that hearkens back to the day when MMFF films were good. And it is a movie that simply gives no fucks.

Part horror, part comedy, Buy Now, Die Later is relatively light compared to Haunted Mansion,, but I think this film is far more competent.

The film is composed of several parallel storylines that intersect. They are also based on the five senses, a theme that will gain significance later on. Each of the characters involved deal with a mysterious store and an equally mysterious salesman (TJ Trinidad) who sells his clients various objects with a Twilight Zone flavored twist. Overall the story is decent, but the individual parts are more of a mixed bag.

The first storyline with Vhong Navarro is decent enough, but I feel that it mainly sets up the rest of the other parts. The central conceit for the particular story is clever, though. The second storyline was a bit unbearable mainly because the main character for this story is very obnoxious. As with the first part, it serves more as a bridge for the next three stories.

The third and fourth stories, starring Rayver Cruz and John Lapus were my favorite of the bunch. Rayver's part subverts expectations, while John Lapus' part supplies most of the comedic parts of the film. The last part of the film adds another victim and ties it all together for a showdown with our main antagonist.

The makeup and effects are okay. The makeup for the creature looks nice, but I wonder how the second, outer mouth moves, if at all.In any case, if you're looking for this year's MMFF horror entry, this one isn't a bad choice.

And finally we have Nilalang, starring the lovely Maria Ozawa. I can safely say that it's her best non AV film yet (given that Invitation Only was just ok, her V-cinema releases are entertaining but forgettable, and let's just forget about her Indonesian works.)

The film looks really good. Much of the film is beautifully shot. A lot of work was put into the special effects, and while the monsters were not covered in prosthetics, sometimes less is more.

That said, the story of Nilalang, a slightly confusing tale about warring clans and spirits that switch bodies and random haunted Sitios outta nowhere, is paper thin. The events tying the film together are quite loose, as they function merely to send people from point A to point B. There seems to be past history between Cesar Montano and Maria Ozawa's character, but that isn't explored. The movie could have played on the dynamic of Montano, Ozawa and Meg Imperial's character, but aside from one or two short scenes we get nothing. The film inserts some love scenes which serve little to no purpose, other than to show its target demographic some skin. (There's a shower scene too, but it only has Cesar Montano in it. Aw.)

The action scenes are ok. Ironically, the best action scene is at the very end, involving a criminal using parkour to get through a busy street. I wish we had more of that guy in the film. Nilalang is a package wrapped in layers of good production design, cinematography and visual effects. However, if you unwrap all of that, there really isn't anything inside the package.

Friday, December 18, 2015

MMFF New Wave 2015 Festival Report


MMFF, that most wonderful time of the cinematic year, is almost upon us. But before that, the New Wave section, which is really shaping up to be a major player among other big independent film fests. So, in one fell swoop, I watched all of the films in competition, both short and full length. So how were they? Let's find out.

***

First up is Toto, which is about a guy determined to make it to the US at any cost. This includes propositioning random Americans (male or female) for marriage, hiring people to pose as his fake family and so on and so forth. It's partly due to his late father's own failed ambition but it's mostly for the sake of his family. Leaving the country for somewhere else is an option that many of us dream of, regardless of social stratum. It's partly because life here is perceived to be so terrible that leaving the country seems enticing to many. But the movie is not dreary, it instead finds moments of levity in the situations it creates. One may interpret the ending as having us, the helpless natives having foreigners as our saviors, but I think the point is that we reach our dreams and help our family through dogged perseverance and a sense of what's right. 

The film also has the weirdest usage of Macarena in any movie I've ever seen.

***

For a story about a boy and his dad, Turo Turo lays on the drama really thick. The film seems to remind us every so often how poor and miserable the characters are. The scale of the drama feels so forced at times as we watch our main protagonist fail badly in any situation he faces. The execution of the story is also lacking -  we see establishing shots recycled (twice), sound cutting off at weird parts, Arabs that don't look like Arabs, doctors wearing lab coats for med techs (unless that was not an "RMT" I saw) and other doctors misidentifying blood cancers as "infections." 

Yet there's a weird kind of infectious optimism in the film, brought on mainly by the kid. His effusive, sometimes annoying enthusiasm rubs off a little on you,  even though it doesn't fit in the otherwise dreary atmosphere of this movie. His one scene with the teacher when she gives him old books looks like it was genuine drama in a work whose drama feels manufactured. I get the lessons it tries to impart, but in the end the execution failed the finished product.

***

Our fellow Kapampangan filmmakers give us Ari, a heartfelt love letter to the Kapampangan language and to Kapampangan poetry. It begins when Jaypee, a teenage boy, fetches an aging poet named Conrado, for an award ceremony. He grows interested in the old man and his poetry, partly because he is trying to impress a girl with it. Conrado, crowned the "King" of Kapampangan poetry, is eloquent; his words emerge effortlessly. Rhythm, rhyme and verse flow through his veins. He engages in impromptu poetry, in Crissotan, the Kapampangan version of Balagtasan, which is (for our younger, non Filipino readers) a sort of rap battle through poetry.

Yet Conrado and his fellow poets are aging, and no one seems to be there to replace him. Even in his own hometown he is but a curiosity; it is made evident during a picture taking scene where visually and figuratively he is relegated to the background, and his subsequent speech is ignored or tolerated by the audience. Our appreciation of men and women in the arts and culture pales to our appreciation of men and women boasting other, flashier, more materialistic achievements.

The film also asks us to love and learn our own regional language. With 7,107 islands (give or take) our linguistic culture is rich and full of nuance that cannot be seen in conventional, 'vanilla' Tagalog, but homogenization and a lack of appreciation is slowly killing the diversity in our languages. Perhaps through a revitalization of regional arts and cinema which is happening all over the Philippines, maybe we can help reclaim the parts of our multifaceted culture that are in danger of fading.

***

Speaking or regional languages, there were no subtitles for Mandirigma, but luckily most of it was in Tagalog, and the rest was in Tausug, which I can understand. After last year's fictionalized version of the Maguindanao massacre in Maratabat, Arlyn dela Cruz makes a movie about our military's exploits fighting against bandits and terrorists in the south.

Aside from being a showcase of the Marines, there really isn't much of a story to tell. Bad guys do something bad, good guys regroup, good guys kick bad guy's asses, repeat. The bandits are given some sort of depth, portraying some of the overzealous ones as either skewing religious interpretation into extremism, or making a quick buck for their own needs by kidnapping and other illegal activities. (As an aside, I also noticed that there were some minor mistakes on the depiction of prayer, and this was for a Muslim on the soldier's side.)


In the end, unlike Maratabat, the social repercussions of the conflict are not explored. There is one scene near the end that hints at the possibility of understanding between the two sides, but there are no concrete answers. I guess, like with what happened with the Maguindanao Massacre and Maratabat's open ending, there are no clear answers to such a complex problem.

***

And last but not the least for the Full Length Features, we have King Palisoc's Tandem, about a team of two brothers who conduct robberies via riding-in-tandem. It's well shot, the story moves along at a good pace, and we have a dark, gritty thriller where the true enemy of all involved is a festering culture of corruption that eats away at us, one unethical act at a time. 

Nico Antonio and JM de Guzman give great performances as the two brothers. As the younger brother de Guzman gives an air of naivete and rebelliousness towards his older brother, who is haunted by his past decisions but is forced into this cycle of crime, corruption and violence to support his wife and unborn child.

The film does a good job of building suspense as the relationship of the two brothers is tested to the breaking point. In the end we're just hamsters running on stationary wheels running endlessly in place. Breaking the wheel, while being the most obvious solution, proves much harder than in theory.

***

The shorts program is divided into animation films and the HOOQ Short Films, which are live action shorts. To give very short impressions of the films in question:

The animated entries begin with Alamat ng Giraffe, which is a short joke in animation form. The animation technique is the focus instead. I'd like to see a BTS of this one.

Buttons is the kind of short that gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling. It's not bad; compared to the others it sits in the middle of the pack.

Geo is the sole 3D CG animated film of the lot, and is about a kid with a hyperactive imagination. Kudos to the mom for putting up with the kid - I'd have given him a German suplex or something if I were in her shoes. I guess that's the point of the short.

little lights is the best looking animated short of the lot. The visuals look like very stylized paintings. It's worth seeing even just for the visuals alone, but its story about a smart little firefly is worth watching too.

The Seed is a story about an old man, a dog, and an anniversary. It's very touching and I noticed a few moist eyes in the audience. The character designs and overall animation style is reminiscent of watercolor painted comics. The one sole gripe I had was that most of the score consists of one track of music that seems to loop over and over.

The HOOQ short films begin with Daisy, which is a sci-fi story with a slightly retro feel to it via the music and production design. The ending is clever and the central conceit, insidious.

Ding Mangasyas (Tough Guys) is cute in the sort of way girls think their hardass boyfriend/male relative is cute when he tears up when he sees his sister/daughter get married. Only with less sisters, more brothers and no marriages. Joking aside, it's a very simple yet effective short.

Lapis is the one short that really lingered in my mind after the program was done. It laments the slow death of artists via technological obsolescence. I'd rather have old and new coexisting together, but oftentimes we see the latest technological innovation forcing the previous generation to adapt or die.

Momento is just really freaking sad. Its a testament to old, enduring love, even during the darkest tragedy.

Mumu deals with the fear of being typecast. It does so via a slightly scary, yet funny story. Also, many of us (myself included) have felt that feeling of being left behind by our peers, pressured to keep up somehow, and the film talks about that a bit too. In the end, it's accepting our own past and moving forward at our own steady pace that we grow personally.

***

That ends the MMFF New Wave section for this year. There are some standouts and some not so good films, but I believe with the reduced ticket prices (and student discounts) it's definitely worth it. Besides, by the end of the week we'd have seen Star Wars already, so why not take a gander at a few of these films? You might find something you like. I'd recommend Ari, Tandem, and maybe Toto. If you want something lighter, the short films are a good choice.

See you 'round Christmas for the MMFF proper. I won't see all of the films on their lineup, but I am sure I will see at least 2-3 films by the end of the year. Also I owe you a Star Wars Spoiler Review, so that's coming out by Monday.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

THIS REVIEW DOES NOT HAVE ANY MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS. IF YOU WANT TO KEEP CLEAR ANYWAY GO AHEAD, BROWSE 9GAG OR SOMETHING. A SPOILER FILLED REVIEW WILL COME OUT ON THE 20th OR THEREABOUTS.

Coming out of the theater, my initial reaction to watching The Force Awakens was one of pure joy. It's the same kind of exhilarating feeling that I had when watching the original trilogy for the first time. Now that I've though about it a bit more, I think despite its flaws it's a solid film on par with some of the other films in the original trilogy.

It's Like A Poem, It Rhymes

The Force Awakens borrows a lot of plot elements from other films in the series, but manages to keep things mostly fresh. In a way, the Hero's Journey begins again, as it did with Anakin in Episode 1 and Luke in Episode IV. And looking at this movie in that way, we can see that the three films have definite similarities. In some places the throwbacks may be a little too strong, but I feel it's not enough to be as derivative as, say, Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness. And even if it was, even Episode IV borrowed heavily from The Hidden Fortress, and it didn't make A New Hope any less of a movie.

As with the 2009 reboot of Star Trek, Abrams peppers the films with references and nostalgia tailored for the fans. His calculated balance of CGI effects and practical effects is a far cry from the sterile rooms and locales of the prequel trilogy and more reminiscent of the original trilogy's galactic civilization spanning thousands of years. Nods such as certain creatures or lines of dialog (as well as the Wilhelm scream present in all six previous installments) are present here as well. The film was definitely made with an attention to detail, a sense of exuberance in the filmmaking and a heartfelt sense of respect to the fans.

His greatest asset in the production of this film may be co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Kasdan settles in comfortably with characters he knows well, and through great performances by all of the cast, they bring us back to a place where it feels like we are with old friends once again. Gone are the overtly political discussions, fart jokes and lame pickup lines about the coarseness of sand. Instead, we get the wittiness and playful banter that made the protagonists shine in earlier films.

In a way the film recaptures the spirit of the old serials that inspired Lucas' Star Wars efforts; it feels like a part of an ongoing narrative with multiple plot threads that will hopefully be continued in future installments. It's peppered with characters old and new, some of whom we will see in a different light down the road. And at its core it's always been a story of good vs. evil, which is story-wise the simplest story ever.

Characters, Characters, Characters

The new characters shine in the Force Awakens, and Abrams really did a good job bringing out their conflicts and personal journeys onto the screen. Many will say that Daisy Ridley's Rey is in line with Luke's archetype, but I find that the film focuses on the stories of three characters, each embodying a facet of the personality of Luke and Anakin (the previous two heroes on a journey). Much like Spock and Kirk's story arcs formed the crux of '09 Trek, I think The Force Awakens focuses on three particular character arcs:

Rey is a fish out of water, ripped from her boring but quiet life on Jakku and thrust into a much bigger world. We share her fascination as we see new locales and meet interesting and legendary personalities. She's also a tinkerer, something we also find with Anakin during his journey and his fascination for making machines, droids and podracers.

Finn (played by John Boyega) embodies the spirit of doing what is right; despite circumstances going against him. He embodies a rebellious spirit we saw with Han, Luke and Leia in the first trilogy. His concerns are self serving at first, but his character grows over the course of the film. His role will only grow in the films to come. Some character angles seem a bit awkward or forced, but hopefully the next few films will sort it out.

And Kylo Ren represents one drenched in the power of the Dark Side of the Force. He lashes out with rage and hatred, embodying the purest principles of the darkness. And in a way he's very much a fan of the dark side, with obsession bordering on worship, yet compounded with fear and apprehension. His character is anything but one dimensional.

Unfortunately, the character centric story leaves the other plot moments dry. The Force Awakens draws from the exciting final act of A New Hope as inspiration for its own final act, but it feels perfunctory and it lacks the insane tension from that movie. Its centered, smaller focus pushes a lot of the stories coming from the bigger picture about the First Order or the Resistance out of the way. At its heart, however, characters have always been the emotional core of the Star Wars series, and not wild spaceship dogfights and magical laser sword wielding wizards and aliens and pew pew pew.

Strong With the Force

There's no doubt that with Star Wars the global cultural phenomenon that it is today, it's taken a life of its own as a brand, what with the gobs of merchandise that Lucasfilm (and now Disney) pushes on us and our kids year after year. It's of course more than the tons of plastic crap or DVDs or what have you. It's an important part of our collective childhoods, a source of nostalgia and wonder we will pass from one generation to another. Beyond its status as a multimedia product, based on my previous three essays (see the Countdown to The Force Awakens posts) I'd like to believe we the fans have partly taken ownership of it as well. 

One thing you may hear or read from many positive reviews about this film is that it "feels right" and it "feels like Star Wars." In almost all the ways that matter, that is very much the truth. Abrams' biggest success in making this new Star Wars film is the fact that he made it feel like the Star Wars we love. That it is a perfectly good and serviceable movie is icing on the cake. It reminds me of the time when people rejected New Coke just because it had rebranded itself as something succeeding the old and beloved Coca Cola.

Star Wars The Force Awakens is not groundbreaking cinema. It's honestly a good film, but whether it will stick in our minds like the original films did is still up in the air. It probably won't revolutionize anything. But you know, that's okay. What it probably set out to do is restore faith in a brand that has been tarnished in the eyes of the fans that felt betrayed over six years of disappointing films - and I think in all honesty it succeeded. In the business of making movies, it's a wise decision. I do hope that for the next movie they try creatively experimenting with form and story. In any case, it's going to be one hell of a wait for the next one.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Countdown to the Force Awakens: Star Wars Trilogy Despecialized Edition


I'm going to see The Force Awakens later today. But before that, I did a little backtracking and watched the original trilogy, but not in the normal fashion.

I remember watching a copy of the first edition of Star Wars in the early eighties on Betamax. That was quite an experience for me (of course, being a young kid helped a bit). Ever since then (and ever since viewing the Special Editions an endless number of times) I've been trying to watch the original series of films. Up until a few years ago the only versions of the film available were Laserdisc transfers of the film as well as a 2006 DVD bonus release. The quality of the films are standard definition and there's a lot of detail lost, a far cry from the Blu Ray versions of the Special Editions.

Remember in the last piece that fans have gone as far as to edit or alter the movies? Enter the Despecialized Editions. This is a fan driven project to restore the original theatrical versions of the movies in HD. It's a huge gray area as far as legality is concerned, but it's also preservation of cultural heritagee.

The restoration job upscales footage, color corrects, rotoscopes and removes all the special effects included for the Special Edition of the movie, and the final product is amazing. Their sources include Laserdisc transfers of the film, the Blu-ray release, and even several rare prints of the original 1977 film. See for yourself in the video below:


As far as the movies are concerned, they are still a great way to spend 6 hours or so of your time, and a great way to relive the original trilogy before watching The Force Awakens.

The restoration project is still ongoing; Episode IV is now at version 2.5, Episode V at version 2.0, and Episode VI at version 1.0.

So I'm all set. Watch out in a few hours as the review embargo is lifted just as I watch the seventh film in the Star Wars saga. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Countdown to the Force Awakens: The People vs. George Lucas

One day left till I see The Force Awakens. The world premiere will happen between now and tomorrow, and the public will see the movie for the first time. So all in all, fun times.

It's been three years since Star Wars and George Lucas parted ways. It kinda feels like a messy divorce, and I've heard the parting was a difficult decision for Lucas. Ever since the Phantom Menace came out around 16 years ago, the relationship between Lucas and the Star Wars fanbase hasn't been completely hunky dory.

That said, the 2010 documentary The People vs. George Lucas is NOT an attack piece on the famous director. Instead, it's more of a love letter to a man who revolutionized modern day blockbuster cinema.

The movie is filled with snippets from Lucas' own life and early filmmaking career (including clips from his experimental films) and accounts from fans of Lucas' Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. At the same time, it's filled with numerous fan films paying homage to both franchises. There's something about the films that stirred the creative juices of all these people. And with Lucas being an independent director by heart, he managed to inspire a whole generation of new filmmakers, independent or not. Many clips are from the amazing fan-made mashup Star Wars Uncut, which recreates the entire original trilogy scene by scene, running the gamut of techniques to tell the story - stop motion animation, CGI, live action animation and so on.

It also asks a very relevant question considering today's remix culture - with Star Wars the massive and unique cultural phenomenon that it is, who takes ownership? A major point of contention between Lucas and the fans is the reluctance to release the original theatrical cuts of the trilogy (a DVD version was eventually released in 2006, but an official HD version of the original cuts have yet to be released.) The fans have even gone far enough to re-edit the prequel trilogy to suit their expectations. 

Arguments are brought up on both sides, considering both the historical value of the original work, and the creator's right to modify the work as he sees fit. Ironically, Lucas campaigned against the colorization of films, citing the historical importance of black and white films. But sometimes, as one of the talking heads says in the docu, sometimes a creator has to say 'the work is finished, it belongs to the ages.'

While geek fandoms are phenomena that are quite prevalent today, Star Wars is one of the biggest and most dedicated. It's an interesting take on the relationship between fan and creator that is unique to Lucas' franchises.

Up next (and finally,) the best way to view the original films in HD.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Countdown to the Force Awakens: Empire of Dreams


The latest entry in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, screens Wednesday here in the Philippines and we're going to be all on that. I'm honestly more of a Trek guy but one of the very first posts on this blog was about Episode III, so that's ten years of (non) waiting for this film. (Did 2005 me enjoy Episode III? It appears I did.)

Before we get into the meat of the matter, let's talk about documentaries and media featuring the trilogy we have all come to know and love (and the other trilogy that we didn't love as much.)

Empire of Dreams is a documentary about the original Star Wars trilogy. It has a ton of behind the scenes stuff regarding the creation of the first three films of the trilogy. Most of the running time is devoted to setting up the first film in the saga, A New Hope (known to most as simply 'Star Wars.') In a way, Star Wars is pretty much an independent film. It was made by a young director new to the scene, and it was made with almost total creative control, limited only by budget and time constraints. Yet it was a troubled production right from the start, as few people believed in the film and its success, and numerous troubles popped up even right at the first day of shooting.

You can see in the film how Hollywood shaped Lucas into a filmmaker who was fiercely protective of his work, leaving the Hollywood studio system and becoming his own studio so that he could create what he wanted. Restrictive union regulations, executive  meddling with his previous feature films and a clash of old filmmaking traditions and new helped force him to this parting of ways, and the financial success of Star Wars and the subsequent films in the original trilogy made this possible.

Yet the Original Trilogy is not Lucas' vision alone; he was supported by many people who helped create his saga. The incredible folks at ILM (who pioneered a lot of science fiction special effects for the next 4+ decades), screenwriters such as Lawrence Kasdan and directors such as Irvin Kershner helped shaped the trilogy through their collaborative work to what it is today.

Other highlights include screen tests for actors auditioning for the trilogy, which includes Kurt Russell (!) and numerous test and alternate shots. The film is narrated by Robert Clotworthy, aka Jim Raynor from the Starcraft video game series.

If you're looking at one of the most comprehensive documentaries of the saga's creation, this is it.

Up next: Lucas and his oft-divided fanbase.

Short Reviews December 2015: Anino sa Likod ng Buwan, Kakabakaba Ka Ba, Creed

Anino sa Likod ng Buwan starts innocuously with a conversation between a refugee couple and a soldier. The film quality simulates analog video, grainy and sometimes distorted. It is the nineties, and the conflict between the government and communist insurgents rages in the provinces. The couple are among the many refugees caught in the crossfire, while the soldier has become a close friend to them. Over the course of the next two hours, layers of deception are peeled off from all three characters, exposing their own personal shadows.

The presentation of the material is more similar to theater, with all of the action done in one long unbroken take (although the cuts could have been hidden by some clever transitions.) It's a treatment that was done before with movies like Remton Zuasola's Swap. The treatment does affect the realism of the movie's tone, but it does help concentrate on the character study that unfolds.

The movie tackles the often vicious cycle of violence between the military and the rebels. The military are seen as cruel oppressors by the populace and the rebels, which fuels the rebel's own acts of retaliation. The ideological reasons for both the communists and the military are not delved into or mentioned, instead the film explores the extent someone will go to compromise their own beliefs for their own selfish desires.

The film's final shot is a literal gunshot to the camera, ending our voyeuristic window into these characters' lives. If you persevere through the slow first half, the second half is compelling cinema.

I was lucky enough to be able to see the premiere screening of Mike de Leon's Kakabakaba Ka Ba? restored and remastered in glorious HD. I've been used to seeing de Leon's usual grim and socially relevant work, so seeing this movie, which is a madcap comedy-musical, was a pleasant surprise.

The plot seems tame at first but it gets crazier and crazier by the minute. It has yakuza, chinese gangsters, missing tapes and a love story in the middle. It's loud, wacky and many of the jokes are funny.

This is also a movie that is very much a work of its time. Along with the technology of its day, such as rotary telephones and cassette tapes and recorders. At the same time, it has many of the marks of culture during the early eighties and the late seventies, such as the death throes of disco, recreational drug use and psychedelia. For its time, the movie was pretty subversive. Some elements in the film are unlikely to be reproducible now. The caricatured presentation of the Japanese and Chinese antagonists, for example, would be unacceptable by our overly politically correct standards.

While it functions mostly as a comedy, there's a subtle jab at the church as the film reaches its climax where fake members of the clergy plot to take over the Philippines through an insidious distribution method. And jabs aside, the climax is simply amazing in terms of both choreography and audacity, culminating in an experience that has never been replicated in recent cinematic memory.

In terms of preservation the restoration job is pretty solid. The upscaled picture looks really good with some shots retaining their crispness. There was one very short moment during a split screen scene where I saw an artifact but it couldn't have been more than a few frames. The climax looks gorgeous in HD and compared to versions of the climax on TV or Youtube the difference is lightyears away.

I'm glad work like this is being done to restore our past films. I only hope that efforts like this to restore gems from the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema and other lost films continue.

And finally, we turn back to Hollywood and one of 2015's most pleasant surprises. A Rocky movie, of all things.

Creed mirrors the plot of the original 1976 Rocky, although this time, the late Apollo Creed's son Adonis takes up professional boxing and seeks the tutelage of a retired Rocky Balboa. Like the original film, boxing is at the periphery of the story; the film focuses more on the protagonist's journey to find himself.

In many respects, Creed is also a film about finding family. Adonis looks for the father figure he never had, and Rocky has pretty much lost all the family he has: his brother, wife and trainer are all dead, and for all intents and purposes, he has no family left. Both find the comfort and guidance they need from each other, creating an unconventional father-son relationship.

Michael B. Fox, who also appeared in Coogan's 2013 debut Fruitvale Station, blows it out of the water as Adonis, who struggles to move out of his father's shadow. His chemistry with Sylvester Stallone (who brings out one of his strongest performances since Rocky)  is palpable, and their shared trials feel emotional and real. This is their movie, and their duo makes it succeed.

The movie is beautifully shot. The one big highlight is Adonis' first professionally sanctioned fight, with a combination of closeups and a 'referee's eye view' vantage point done in one long take that is simply breathtaking. It's similar to the camerawork done in a similar scene in Paul Soriano's Kid Kulafu and it's a step up from the cinematographic work from the previous Rocky films.

While it mostly captures the spirit of the original film, Creed pays homage to all of the previous Rocky films, even the sillier entries of the series (let us not forget Apollo dies in Rocky IV, the one with the Russian and the robot) as well as the poorly regarded Rocky V.

In the end, Creed isn't about the destination, but the journey. Life may be a series of knockdowns, but it's way easier if you know you have someone by your side. It's a lesson that was imparted to us in the first film, and it's a lesson this movie takes to heart.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Angela Markado

The female-led revenge flick is a genre that has been around for a while now. It's been used as a meditation on the nature of vengeance (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, 2005 and Lady Snowblood, 1973, among others), used by directors such as Truffaut (The Bride Wore Black, 1968) to create a morally ambigious filmic landscape, as well as just being rip-roaring rampages of revenge (Kill Bill, 2003).

There's even a whole subgenre that which entails rape as part of the reasons for revenge, which includes the I Spit on Your Grave series. Its either an idea of women fighting back against a male dominated society or a male power fantasy depending on who you ask.

Based on a comic  series by Carlo J. Caparas, Angela Markado (2015) follows the formula of these films but ends up tripping on its own inadequacies and failing so spectacularly in every aspect of its creation that it's actually a marvel to see. It's made even worse by the fact that there is a perfectly good adaptation of the original source material by none other than Lino Brocka, starring Hilda Koronel; if you can find this version on the internet or on TV, stop reading this right now. Go ahead and watch that instead.

My reaction to the film is perhaps best personified when Sabel, daughter of one of the ranch hands in the film, rolls her eyes. Although in my case, if it were possible, my eyes would roll all the way to the back of my head. Bad CGI cityscapes, editing that was done to made the show feel like a bad SOCO episode, and random establishing shots are just the tip of the iceberg. One particular scene that stood out was a horse dragging scene that is obviously covered up by (bad) CGI and editing to hide the fact that without the post production work, it was 1) ridiculously fake and 2) poorly shot in the first place, and to top it all off, the end product doesn't even work, giving new meaning to 'we'll fix it in post prod.' Even candy coated poop is still poop.

I hold the belief that if one is going to make one of these kinds of movies, one mustn't hold back. The original film adaptation, through its sudden brutality, made us care for the character and her desire for revenge. In this case, the movie begins in medias res, and the brutal act feels hammy and very PG-13. I've seen school plays more graphic than this to be honest. In creating deaths through revenge, one could either make the deaths cathartic or make them reflect on our own thirst and/or satisfaction for vengeance. None of the death scenes for the five men are in any way imaginative; they consist mostly of Angela stabbing someone repeatedly. The movie tries to ruminate the repercussions of what Angela has done in the end, but it feels tacked on and the arguments it tries to make are not compelling. 

The greatest tragedy of this movie is the fact that looking at the people involved, there is a relative abundance of talent. Maybe someone or something brought out the worst in them to create this perfect storm of badness. In closing, this film has earned a unique distinction as one of this year's worst, here or abroad.

Friday, December 04, 2015

A Second Chance

A Second Chance opens fresh off the heels of its predecessor One More Chance, where our two leads are heading towards a happily ever after. It's filmed in bright colors; a montage of happy events turns out to be a wedding video. It's giddy and full of the naivete of love, the ultimate distillation of sappiness. Soon after, the palette changes to something more grounded and dreary. Seven years have passed, and in the next two hours or so we will see this naivete crushed by the realities of married life.

There's something interesting about how two people who are completely different build a relationship and eventually, a family. It's easy to fall in love, but it's difficult to stay in love. Many old couples stay together for convenience or for the sake of each other or because of children. Marriages are seldom cakewalks, and the movie does a decent job portraying this.

It also helps that despite its mainstream sensibilities, it doesn't coddle the audience with the notion that these two are perfect, faultless characters.  While I sympathized with Popoy's character in One More Chance, within the confines of married life his flaws take center stage. He becomes suffocating, employing poor managerial skills and being too ambitious for his own good. His fairytale aspirations might have borne fruit anywhere else, but the filmmakers put a stop to his exuberance and bring him down to earth. In this film he is manipulative, passive-aggressive and even a bit egotistical.

Popoy is trapped within the ideals of an antiquated view of marriage, where the man is the sole breadwinner, and any challenge to that status is an affront to his manhood. It takes a number of problems to show that 1) times are changing and 2) you can't run a marriage alone , something that is emphasized with the engineer-architect metaphor in this film. His eagerness to build a family (in Popoy's case, mostly over a pipe dream) and leave it up all to chance is a pitfall, a trap in an socioeconomic environment that leaves no margin for mistakes. And in my personal experience, it is a pitfall many find themselves trapped in. And ironically, with this attitude is a reluctance for change; symbolically represented by his anger at Basha reworking their old home and buying new things.

The tables are turned as the character focus moves to Basha, but this isn't as fully fleshed out as the earlier scenes. It's material worth a whole new movie, so its exclusion is not as important to the overall arc of the story, which focuses on Popoy.

The couple's marital strife stems from a fundamental lack of communication and trust, something that was clearly evident in One More Chance. The film manages to avoid the cliche of making the source of their strife a third party. It is only through establishing clear lines of communication and a bond of trust that the relationship changes (either negatively or positively) in a meaningful way.

Pragmatism replaces idealism and austerity replaces exuberance, a sign of a maturing relationship where temperance and an ability to compromise becomes the priority for both husband and wife. At the same time, it still holds out some notion of idealism (with regards to Popoy's "Project X"), but it is a notion that is now firmly grounded in reality.

And yet, the film is a tribute to the tenacity of love. This is not a movie where love clicks into place, where two people are meant to be with each other. This is not a movie with are bells and whistles in every cute scene, where kilig is pathologic and everything is right with the world. It's a movie where love struggles on despite two people being grossly incompatible with each other, where their flaws stand out instead of their virtues. 

It stands in stark contrast with the standard romantic movie formula and movies that portray the excitement of inexperienced love. Borrowing the movie's own words, if the standard romantic movie was a relationship at its best, this is a relationship at its worst. Isn't that deserving of love as well?