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Thursday, September 21, 2017

The world of Amalanhig: The Vampire Chronicle is populated by morons

There's a sequence at the end of Jun Posadas' Amalanhig: The Vampire Chronicle (yeah there's apparently only one chronicle) that doubles as a music video for the band The Late Isabel. It has nothing to do with the film and involves Jerico Estregan fighting a maggot-eating creature while upside down. It has absolutely nothing to do with the movie. It's also not directed by Posadas, and to be perfectly honest I wish that other guy had directed Amalanhig instead, because Amalanhig is the most moronic horror movie of 2017.

Now I know a lot of horror movies are based on stupid people making stupid decisions, but this movie takes the cake. In fact, it takes all the cakes. I don't think there are any more cakes left in the bakery. 

For their research project, a bunch of students investigate the Amalanhig and a spate of mysterious deaths. The evidence for this? A bloody notebook in the possession of Jerico Estregan. Apparently his relative is in the police force or something. Who willingly gives up a bloody piece of evidence from an unsolved case to a bunch of millennials? An idiot, that's who. But he or she is just one of many idiots in this film. That also raises a few more questions. What course are these students taking? Journalism? Biology? Why are they so determined to pass this damn course?

The relentless persistence of these kids is quite outstanding. They are so dedicated to passing their research project on time that they willfully ignore multiple warnings from various people NOT to go on with the investigation, including legendary actress Lilia Cuntapay (sadly, this was her last film before she died last year.) If Lilia Cuntapay is telling you not to go to a creepy place, you fucking listen. 

But because these kids have the collective IQ of a paramecium, they trudge on through the forest and meet an old guy who practices pagan magic and his English speaking old sidekick. This sidekick speaks to them in English apparently for comedic reasons, the same way Dolphy used it back in the day. I am okay with this concept, because at least things aren't boring. Also, old shaman magic guy possesses a magic whip that makes lightsaber sounds. One wonders if they paid Lucasfilm for the royalties.

So most of the movie consists of these two old guys trying to convince this group of young idiots to abandon their search for the Amalanhig. They almost succeed at one point, but then the van stops. Jerico Estregan tries to convince the others to stay because of reasons. They are eventually convinced when one of the other members starts giving a lecture on the pathophysiology, epidemiology and spread of the Human Vampirism Virus. This virus is never brought up again and it's made increasingly clear that it has absolutely nothing to do with the magical origins of the Amalanhig, but since these characters are complete simpletons, this somehow convinces them to pursue their research project anyway.

They are later trapped by this creepy cult, perhaps under threat of death and bodily harm. They are asked why they are so persistent in trying to find out what the Amalanhig's all about. Their response crushed me:

"Gusto lang po naming pumasa sa research namin"
(we just want to pass our research)
- a complete moron

Predictably, most of them die in the end because they are too stupid to live. Miraculously, however, two of them survive. What do they do afterwards? Do they go to the police and report what happened? Do they become vampire hunters? Did they pass their goddamn research paper? Nope. They make out on the beach, complete with slurping sounds. Tsup, tsup, tsup.

Amalanhig: The Vampire Chronicle is excrement for idiots. Its characters do not have the brain power to function as normal human beings. While it has some okay special effects, it's muddled behind very poor filmmaking.

And, by the way:


There's no reason to watch the film anymore. You're welcome.

Cinelokal | I Found My Heart in Santa Fe botches its romance

Viktor (Will Devaughn) comes to scenic and sunny Bantayan Island for a vacation. While there, he meets Jennifer (Roxanne Barcelo), whose family owns a beachside inn. As one might guess from the title, a relationship begins to form.

I Found My Heart in Santa Fe is Cinelokal's first new title (meaning it hasn't been shown anywhere else.) It touts itself as a romantic comedy set in a beautiful exotic location. Unfortunately only one of those statements holds true, because the film is neither funny nor romantic.

As stated in the first paragraph, a relationship does begin to form between Viktor and Jennifer, but a good chunk of the film (more than an hour) has Jennifer acting hostile towards poor Viktor for no apparent reason. In-story Viktor is a pretty chill guy and has done the woman no wrong, making her actions unnecessarily mean towards the poor chap. It turns out she hates him by association: her former lover (also a foreigner) bailed at her wedding, but we don't know that until more than an hour has passed, and by then her character was extremely grating. Perhaps she's just supposed to be coy or something, but Barcelo isn't exactly the best actress to pull it off. When we get a genuine moment between the two, there's only like 20 minutes left in the film, and by then there's no chemistry and no time to build a proper relationship. This is a travesty considering Devaughn and Barcelo are a real life couple and the film could have built on that. Instead the film is content with showing us cringey scenes and histrionics that have zero charm.

That said, Bantayan Island (and Santa Fe by extension) is quite gorgeous. The film makes it a point to show us that there are many fun activities to be had in the island: going to the beach, drinking the night away, running a triathlon, spending some time near a waterfall. I actually want to visit the island after having seen the film. It's more convenient (and entertaining) to just ignore the romance and take in the sights and scenery.

The film decides to engage in histrionics and contrivances instead of engaging in any meaningful drama. A dramatic turn near the end brings more questions than answers (in fact, the whole scene does not have more than a few lines of dialogue, though one can imply what is happening) and its impact on Jennifer's character is annoying rather than dramatic, complete with an exasperated, tone-deaf "sulat nanaman!?"

Forget the tepid romance, but remember the place. If you're a beach person and want to go somewhere nice and relatively quiet, Bantayan Island's a great choice. Enjoy yourself. Life's short, you know?

Cinelokal screens at selected SM cinemas, with new films out every Friday. Visit the Cinelokal Facebook page for more details.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Loving in Tandem is a study of the selfish and the selfless

At a certain point near the end of Loving in Tandem, there is a scene that both makes and breaks the film for me: Shine (Maymay Entrata) admits to Luke (Edward Barber) that she has done something wrong to him. The act is both selfish and selfless: she does it partly out of a need for Luke, yet at the same time she does it for the sake of Luke's mother. It's a scene that proved to be so frustrating and morally complex that it was initially hard to get behind it, and indeed my initial take on the film was that I didn't like it. Since then, I've been thinking about the film and my thoughts on the film are far more ambivalent than they were initially.

The scene that follows this is my favorite in the film, with Luke explaining to Shine that she's trapped in a prison: a prison comprised of people who want her to do what they want. Here, Luke becomes the most reasonable character in the film and he makes a valid point. And it isn't limited to Shine, either: the film is full of people who act both in selfless and selfish ways, people who try to project their own hopes and dreams onto people usually without consulting them first. Whether it be an irresponsible husband unable to properly support his family, or a mother's wish to limit her son's education just so he can stay in with her, or a thief that steals someone's entire life savings for the sake of a loved one, this film is full of such characters. Even the central love team is not immune to this: all throughout the film, we hear side comments goading the central couple to hook up, even if we are unsure of their real thoughts and feelings: people projecting their hopes towards something else. Thanks to the film's remaining ties to formula, the love proves fruitful, but something about that notion disturbs me even after watching the film.

This distinction provides a morally complex landscape that is anomalous compared to the usual sugary sweet Star Cinema production. In this case, crime is motivated not by simple notions of greed or malice, but by need. It's something that proves to be rooted in social realities, and this I appreciate about the film. On the other hand, there are some character decisions that I just can't get behind, which prove to be off putting.

Since I've lived under a rock for the past five years I only realized after the fact that the film is composed of alumni from the latest (and longest season) of Pinoy Big Brother. Fans will find a lot to enjoy from the movie. To its credit, it's pretty funny and entertaining. Sure, there's a bunch of cliches in the standard Star Cinema formula, but one doesn't go to McDonalds for filet mignon. The central loveteam of Entrata and Barbers is an interesting one. Entrata in particular is a promising actress, whose inclusion in the love team challenges traditional love team aesthetics in a refreshing way.

For all its charm, the film does suffer from various flaws, mainly in the characterization and the way the story is structured, and this really hampered my overall enjoyment of the film. Sometimes the film is simply structured badly Certain sideplots are red herrings or meet dead ends, with some plotlines just ending with no resolution. A central conflict regarding Luke isn't fully addressed at the end, though one can imply from the ending during the credits*. We no longer hear about the criminal syndicate, nor do we get closure regarding Shine's outstanding debt towards Luke. Thanks also to the film spending a good half of the running time on that conflict, it operates doubletime during the second half trying to establish its romance, leading to a romance that feels underdeveloped.

Ultimately, despite my many misgivings, I do appreciate the film for what it tries to do to escape its genre trappings. If you can get past its many flaws, Loving in Tandem is actually quite an entertaining experience. It shows us how love can make us act in selfless and selfish ways, and how relationships are not always black and white.

* SPOILER It's kind of a shame to let a US college scholarship-eligible student stay a mere highschool graduate after all is said and done, and this bothered me a lot, though one can assume that Luke pursued a college education here in the Philippines instead.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

DAD: Durugin ang Droga is a hilarious piece of shit that transcends common sense

DAD: Durugin ang Droga, the latest film by auteur and comedian Dinky Doo Clarion, ends with Duterte saying "My Gahd, I hate drugs" followed by what seems like Dinky Doo and the cast and crew of the film going around to promote their anti-drug advocacy. I hope that advocacy doesn't include promoting this "film" because it's... just... I'm actually speechless. I don't even know where to start.

Made with the quality of a Z-grade made for TV movie, Durugin ang Droga is a drama about a family torn apart by drugs. Well, technically only one person in the family is harmed by drugs, but whatever. It's also hilarious for all the wrong reasons. The dad (Allen Dizon) is involved with a bunch of shady drug dealers, leading to him getting a stroke. We now have to deal with Allen Dizon doing this weird paralyzed face for the next hour. This leads to his wife chugging the ol' bottle of booze and his son being rebellious or something. (The son also smokes some weed with his friends, but nothing really happens with that story arc, so I guess drugs aren't that bad after all! Drugs - 1, Family - 0.)

The film fails in almost all of its technical aspects, and it's clear these guys aren't even trying. Several scenes are clearly dubbed after the fact, with no effort taken to sync lips or whatever. Two characters have scenes where they sing in a lounge, where it's made explicitly clear that what they are singing and the song that we hear are not the same thing. Lateral tracking shots end awkwardly because the dolly or whatever they mounted the camera on bumps into a nearby table. I would say that the writing sounds like something a third grader would think up, but to be honest that would be insulting to third graders everywhere. The editing is also atrocious, with random scenes appearing from out of nowhere without explanation. The most egregious example is when, in the middle of the family's struggle, the film cuts to a random scene about two women being picked up by a shady looking bald guy. There's no context to this scene at all, and we have no idea who the hell these people are and why they're important to the story.

I don't have to tell you the film is terrible. But it is very funny. In fact, I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't enjoy it. I give up. Sometimes I wonder why I'm doing this to myself. Maybe I'm a masochist. Maybe I have issues or something.

Including myself, there were only four people in the theater when I watched this, and at least two of us spent the majority of the film just laughing at it. Consider these gems:
  • In one scene, Allen Dizon makes out with this drug dealer lady in the car. She takes off her dress and the scene blurs out to the next day. Allen Dizon then spots THE WOMAN'S DRESS inside the car, implying that she went home in her underwear. He tosses the dress to the side and it somehow later magically appears outside the car, where Allen Dizon's househelp see the dress and parade it around.
  • Another scene is shot at a pool party, where two people are rapping for some reason. They also never show the entire pool, which makes me wonder if they only had the budget to rent that small portion of the pool.
  • Another scene is supposed to take place in a nightclub, but there are usually no more than three people there. In one scene in particular, there's only drug dealer lady and exactly one DJ. One very sad, lonely DJ.
  • The police get involved eventually. Head Police Guy Jeric Raval (his name in the trailer is spelled "Jaric Raval") wears nothing but a jacket. His fellow police men are similarly dressed, but Jeffrey Santos (who supposedly plays an ATTORNEY) is decked out like a fucking navy seal, complete with body armor and modded-out carbine with laser sight. WTF?
  • In one scene where Allen Dizon's son Jonathan is smoking weed with some friends, one of his friends looks directly at the camera and does a Gollum impression, because why the fuck not.
  • In one scene, Drug Lord guy hires Potential Mole to kill his wife Drug Dealer Lady. Potential Mole almost has the job done but he is incapacitated. Drug Lord is confronted by Drug Dealer Lady, and Drug Lord weasels out of it saying that he knew Potential Mole would never have the balls to kill her! Game of Thrones Drugs much?
  • Jonathan goes home with a bunch of friends. Drunk Mom appears and does not say anything but she kinda gives him the eye a couple times before walking away.
  • And finally, the greatest flashback scene in cinematic history: Influential Congressman is trapped by "Jaric Raval" and his heavily armed lawyer. We then flash back to 20 years in the past, where everyone is being played by the same actors, but wearing hip 90's wear (Allen Dizon even walks in wearing a bandana!) YOUNG!Influential Congressman even wears a cap with "1996" on it, just to hammer down the point. Congressman wears the 1996 cap in a rape scene later on just to differentiate him from another guy in another rape scene because the two scenes are shot very similarly.
Alejandro Jodorowsky once said that his films such as El Topo and the like were created to give the viewer the experience of taking drugs without actually taking them. In many ways, this film seems to do the same thing.

Cinelokal | Puti explores how we lose something vital when we compromise our art

The premise of Mike Alcazaren's film Puti is intriguing: a skilled counterfeit painter, Amir (Ian Veneracion) loses his color vision thanks to an accident. As he convalesces, he starts to see strange and weird things.

Amir's struggle reflects an age-old struggle between art and commercialism. He has created fantastic original works, but they have not sold very well. His skill at counterfeiting brings him loads of cash, but as a consequence +he doesn't care for the art itself, painting his forgeries upside down to focus on the technical details of the artwork instead of looking at the bigger picture.

This struggle is externalized when Amir loses his vision and starts to hallucinate. The loss of color vision is Amir compromising his art for the sake of money, seeing the world in the black-and-white terms of cold hard cash. He approaches his art with the cold detachment of a machine, yet the humanity of the art he is trying to produce (macabre or not) tries to creep back: tales of gruesome mutilation, or tales of tender lullabies.

Amir's relationships with the people in his life are also explored in the film. Some perhaps act as surrogates for his dead wife, and it's clear he is trying to fill the void that she left. This internal discussion really doesn't kick into gear until later into the story, almost as an afterthought, though little bits of it exist in the earlier parts of the film.

In the end, the film follows the general psychological thriller plot conventions. In the past 5 years there have been two local films that share the same structure (not to mention numerous foreign films), and after seeing Amir's accident I had a sense of how the movie would end. I had hoped I would be proven wrong, but I was proven right, and plot twists no longer feel like plot twists if one is ready for them. I have not seen the original Cinefilipino cut so I can't judge how the film has changed since then, but a nice scene at the end leaves things open ended and mysterious enough that it ultimately pays off.

Puti plays a precarious balancing act between being too abstract and being not abstract enough. While I think it mostly succeeds and delivers in the first half, the second half is a bit more clunky, the film trying to fit the pieces together when it doesn't have to.

Cinelokal screens at selected SM cinemas, with new films out every Friday. Visit the Cinelokal Facebook page for more details.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Beguiled is an artfully done film about women in cages

There's a striking visual motif that pops up every so often in Sofia Coppola's film The Beguiled: a shot of sunlight filtering through the trees. It evokes a feeling of emotions struggling to break the surface, whether it be desire or a longing for freedom. The film's main characters, teachers and students in a remote seminary in the American South during the Civil War, are relatively sheltered from the war's effects, but the sounds of distant fire serve as a grim reminder of how trapped they are.

And the main characters of the film are for all intents and purposes trapped in a cage of their own, and this resonates on many levels: on the surface they are surrounded by the stark reality of the Civil War. At the same time, their true natures are hidden behind facades of civility and decorum. Removed from the concerns of the war, their small boarding house serves as an oasis, isolated from the rest of the world. Yet as women, they are still bound by tradition and the societal norms of the day. With war representing the affairs of men, they are literally and figuratively surrounded by men, unable to escape their influence.

This is exacerbated by the arrival of Corporal McBurney, who proves to be a disruptive influence on the group. You can see it by how the camera travels over his body near the beginning of the film. Some of this attraction is overt; some of it is hidden behind pregnant stares. In this regard, A stellar cast is needed, and Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman all deliver.

Upon comparing this to the 1971 Don Siegel adaptation, the film remarkably captures the essence of the source material, while expanding the women's perspective. One thing I noted was the omission of a slave character that existed in the 1971 adaptation. Personally, it would have been nice conceptually to include the character in the film. While Coppola has no obligation to be historically accurate with her films (one look at Marie Antoinette and one realizes she isn't as heavily concerned with accuracy) it's understandable given her desire to streamline the plot.

The Beguiled is visually lush, layered by a keen arthouse sensibility , Its final sequence is ambivalent, underscoring a desire for empowerment and independence, but reminding us at the same time that then and even today, women occupy gilded cages.

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Live Action JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is a run of the mill anime adaptation

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is a voluminous work spanning thirty years of manga, anime, video games and more, covering decades of in-universe time. While its popularity is limited overseas (most people will probably recognize the series from the memes it produces,) it has a dedicated following to this day.

The 2017 Live-Action adaptation of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is directed by prolific director Takashi Miike. On paper, this would seem like a sweet deal: Miike is known for crazy, over the top films, and JoJo's a series known for its flamboyant badassery. However, some of Miike's recent films are films such as Terra Formars that are more safe than anything else. Unfortunately, this film seems to fit in that category.

The film adapts the first part of the Diamond is Unbreakable story arc, which originally ran in the mid nineties. An anime adaptation of that arc recently aired last year, so it's an understandable place to start. The story follows Josuke Higashikata, a teenager with a crazy hairdo and a heart of gold. Josuke has a special power called a Stand that allows him to fight and heal others. This puts him at odds with mysterious individuals that seek to create new Stand users in the relatively peaceful city of Morioh.

The fights are relatively fun, with strategy often winning the day against brute force. The movie, however, doesn't completely capture the craziness of the series and it can be quite dull in some places. This works as a setup for later films, but that has the unfortunate effect of ending just when things start to get interesting. Instead of embracing the over-the-top-ness of the series, the movie takes a step back and keeps things unremarkable.

The performances are okay, and it's a joy to see character actor Jun Kunimura in any role. The rest of the cast are okay, but many are underutilized thanks to the way the story is set up.

As a fan, I'm willing to stick with this movie series to see what happens next. Judging from the original title, sequels are being planned. That said, at this point the anime is a much better alternative and this live action movie series will probably appeal only to fans.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Tokyo Ghoul's moral landscape is complex and fascinating

In the world of Tokyo Ghoul, humans are not at the top of the food chain: creatures called Ghouls, who take human form, serve as predators. All other kinds of food repel them; humans are their sole source of nutrition and their only means of survival.

I have not read the original Tokyo Ghoul manga, and I have only seen a few episodes of the anime, so I cannot comment on how good the live action Tokyo Ghoul is as an adaptation. (The movie adapts the first 8 or so episodes of the anime). That said, as a standalone movie, Tokyo Ghoul is quite entertaining, tackling topics that are relevant in today's world.

We view the movie through the eyes of Kaneki (Masataka Kubota), who becomes a human-ghoul hybrid after a series of very unfortunate events. Confused at his new nature as a ghoul, he finds refuge in a community of ghouls that seek to coexist with humanity (or at least make as small an impact as possible.)

Tokyo Ghoul depicts a community demonized by the actions of some of its members. On one side, the CCG (the film's main anti-Ghoul faction) aims to eradicate any ghoul, good or not. Their sense of justice is absolutist and uncompromising, and for a while it feels justified why they are doing this, considering the number of people killed by the Ghouls. On the other hand, Ghouls aren't all murderous hunters treating humans as food; while some Ghouls certainly fit the bill as dangerous predators, others do not wish to harm humans and want to live their lives in peace. Their appetite for humanity is something innate within them, but they try to control these impulses for the sake of fitting into society. Tokyo Ghoul refuses to paint either side as black or white, and I found this moral ambiguity fascinating.

Kaneki sees this morally ambiguous landscape and sees that something is terribly wrong and must be changed, that neither side is completely right or wrong.

The film drags in some places, but is generally well-paced. The two leads, Masataka Kubota and Fumika Shimizu are great in their respective roles; Shimizu in particular uses her experience from tokusatsu productions to give a great performance as Touka. I'm guessing some story elements are vaguely explained due to the nature of the film as an adaptation, but I'm not really in a position to say so. The blood and gore is pretty satisfying, though the CGI is iffy in some places.

Even if you haven't seen the original anime or manga, Tokyo Ghoul is a pretty fun watch. Hopefully a live action sequel is in the works, as I don't mind diving headlong into this world's universe again.

Fangirl Fanboy is pretty much by the numbers

The super-popular Koreanovela "Program for Love" is being remade into Tagalog. Ollie (Julian Trono) tries to audition for the main role. In the process he meets Aimee (Ella Cruz) who dubbed the voice of the main character of the original Program for Love. It turns out that Aimee has had a crush on Ollie for a while now. Sparks fly, people fall in love, etc etc etc.

Fangirl Fanboy is as run of the mill as teen romantic films go. If there were a checklist of things that romantic comedies usually do, this film would probably score pretty well. There's the requisite love team, the romantic rival, a medical condition (that surprisingly doesn't really amount to anything), an exotic location, and some dramatic fluff near the end to complicate things. 

The film is at least watchable. The two leads are ok and the film is very light. There's no doubt fans of this duo will probably be in for an okay time. The first part of the film tackles a few interesting things about dreams vs. reality and the nature of true love.

That said, the film is pretty unremarkable. The script is rather erratic, often unable to explain certain plot points. For example, I assumed that Ollie was a washed up actor, but that isn't well explored. Nowhere in the film was it stated that Aimee's parents had any problem with her dubbing, but that is suddenly brought up in the last third of the film as if it were a big deal. It also turns out that her dubbing was a part time thing, while I had assumed it was her main gig. Ollie's obsession with the original maid from Program for Love is hinted at, but it doesn't really pan out. Many subplots are thrown away by the conclusion of the film: Ollie's problem with his family, his career prospects and so on.

I find it hard to recommend this film if you are not a fan of the two actors involved. While it's watchable, it pales in comparison to other contemporary rom coms that try to play with genre tropes. Ultimately, Fangirl Fanboy disappears into the crowd.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Love You to the Stars and Back is a lovely film about wounded people and bonding over farts

On the surface, Antoinette Jadaone's Love You to the Stars and Back resembles her sleeper hit film That Thing Called Tadhana: both are romantic comedy-road movie hybrids about a couple with chemistry that go up a mountain (or two). But this film takes this into interesting directions, creating something lovely in the process.

Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto, fresh from their MMFF hit Vince and Kath and James, play Caloy and Mika. Caloy is a lively young man with a debilitating illness; Mika is a girl who is still in the process of grieving over her deceased mother and  has trouble accepting her new stepmom into her life.

The film suits the road movie structure well: it serves to highlight the emotional journeys of Caloy and Mika as they struggle with their own problems. Jadaone has used this type of movie in some of her best films, such as the aforementioned Tadhana and the lesser known Relaks, It's Just Pag-ibig. There's also a plot element that raises interesting questions about the gigantic financial burden of healthcare, though for the sake of focus the director prevents it from taking over the rest of the film.

The film primarily works because of its two lead actors: Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto are amazing together. Garcia in particular is phenomenal - it's hard to imagine audiences won't empathize with his character in some fashion. The most powerful scenes in the movie (especially one that takes place on a bridge) shine through thanks to Garcia and Barretto's performances. Jadaone wisely builds the relationship of the two leads by relying on small moments that build up into something more profound, instead of fake grand gestures and manufactured scenes. It makes the eventual romance  flow better and feel more natural.

As with many road movies, the destination isn't as important as the journey, and Love You to the Stars and Back is all about the journey towards love. It's all about how we, wounds and all, find shelter in each other, even if those wounds don't heal easily. It's about how love means we don't have to carry our burdens alone. As a movie, while it stays within the conventions of what you'd expect in a Star Cinema romantic comedy, it does those things exceedingly well. It hits every emotional beat and lives in every moment; it expresses itself with a directorial voice that is experienced and confident. And for me it solidifies Garcia and Barretto's position as a force to be reckoned with as far as love teams go.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The 2017 Death Note Completely Misses the Point of Death Note

I've always been a fan of Death Note, but the announcement of a Western remake of the series had me a bit worried. Any anime remake in the west always has me worried. There's always something that's lost in translation from east to west. I came into this Netflix original movie thinking, "what exactly did I like about the original Death Note, and will it translate here?" I didn't mind storyline changes as long as the work captured what I liked about the original series.

I've boiled it down to two things: 1) the characters and 2) the cat and mouse mindgames. After watching the film it's safe to say that this remake completely misses the point of both.

First off, the characters. The Death Note remake tells the story of Light Turner, a teenager who gains the possession of a magical notebook that can kill. This version of Light is someone who has experienced injustice from society - he's a loser through and through. He uses the Death Note to impress a girl, Mia Sutton (this film's version of Misa Amane/Kiyomi Takada.) And that's kind of the biggest problem with this version of Light: he's become a boring, run of the mill protagonist. The audience HAS to cheer for him because he's such an underdog. In the manga and anime, Light is a super-intelligent, elite student. People don't beat him up and bully him, they adore and revere him; he uses the Death Note not just out of a sense of righteousness, but out of a god complex - he literally thinks he is a god. Making Light a run of the mill protagonist takes away a whole meta-layer of meaning from the film's themes of righteousness and the people who we trust to dispense that justice.

This film's version of L, on the other hand, is still eccentric and a peculiar person, but the script's characterization sucks the charm right out of him. In many ways original L was a mirror to the character of Light - he possesses the same level of intelligence but society views both characters in different ways. In this film, that aspect to both characters is lost. L acts scared and nervous when L should be calm and collected. L isn't even that clever in this iteration. While it's a valid way to take the character, it's just not as interesting.

If anyone should have taken the role of Light, it should be the character of Mia - she's far more proactive with her usage of the Death Note and she overall makes for a more interesting character compared to the boring Light. The film predictably pushes her to the periphery of the story. The only shining spot in the entire movie is Willem Dafoe, who plays the part of the Shinigami Ryuk. I think there's never been a more perfect casting choice in the history of anime adaptations. Again, like Mia, Ryuk is pushed to the side to give way to the more boring characters.

The second thing I liked about the original Death Note is the psychological warfare that occurs between its two characters. Personally this is one of the biggest reasons why the original series is entertaining. There were plans within plans, clever strategies and moments of extreme one-upsmanship. This is a series that can make a simple tennis match or even eating potato chips epic. Guess what, aside from a short thing near the end there's nothing like that here. Without the psychological warfare there was literally nothing left for me to latch on.

Adam Wingard is known for directing horror movies, and it seems he was going for a specific kind of aesthetic with this one, with more gore, sometimes lush colors and an eighties-inspired soundtrack. That aesthetic hardly fits this story, either, as it feels more like the deformed love child of Final Destination and 13 Reasons Why than a Death Note adaptation.

The 2017 Death Note remake is another example of a remake that thoroughly and deeply misunderstands its source material. Even if you have not watched an episode of the anime or read a chapter of the manga, it comes off as a forgettable, boring pseudo horror flick. My expectations coming in were low, but the film shattered those expectations in a bad way - the film was a complete waste of my time.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Mumon: The Land of Stealth or, Don't Judge a Ninja by his (stealthy) Cover

Yoshihiro Nakamura's follow-up to his film The Magnificent Nine (featured in Eiga Sai 2017) is far more action packed than its jidai-geki brother. Based on a novel by Ryo Wada, it's the story of Mumon, the most skilled Iga ninja out there. He's also very lazy, selfish and money-minded, doing work only for the right price. You can't exactly blame him: he's the product of a culture of mercenaries. In the world of Mumon, the Iga Ninja are avaricious thugs who no longer value human life; when they are surrounded by all sides by the forces of Nobunaga Oda, conflict brews between the factions of ninja and samurai.

When I saw the trailers for this movie, I was expecting something along the lines of a bloody action film with cool badass ninja techniques and Samurai skill, but Mumon subverted my expectations. The film can be considered a companion piece to The Magnificent Nine in the ways it deconstructs and critiques capitalism and materialistic attitudes in contemporary Japanese society. While The Magnificent Nine shows us what can happen to a society that is grounded in both capitalism and humanism, emphasizing the collective good over the sake of any single person, Mumon shows us what happens with a capitalist society that is greed-driven and self centered.

The samurai aren't any less honorable either, as they engage in the murder and conquest of territories not their own, where allegiances to lords are flimsy and political marriages are the norm. For most of the movie, it's hard to root for any one faction, as each one possesses their own pros and cons, a sea of shades of grey. The politicking is quite fascinating, however, with both sides deceiving each other in grand schemes geared towards their own goals. At the very least, it was a blast to just go along for the ride.

The film, however, suffers from an inconsistent tone. It shifts between deadpan comedy during one moment to very serious drama during the next. While Nakamura manages to pull it off with The Magnificent Nine, it's much less effective here.

Fans of Arashi member Satoshi Ohno will no doubt enjoy the film, and he's pretty good as Mumon. The rest of the cast are quite capable as well, with notable performances by Yusuke Iseya, Jun Kunimura (whose minor role resonated throughout the film) and Satomi Ishihara.

Mumon: The Land of Stealth feels a bit off, but the end product is intriguing, and a far cry from anything I'd expected. If you liked The Magnificent Nine, I think it's worth checking out.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Woke Up Like This is quite rough around the edges, but still kinda funny

Sabrina and Nando (Lovi Poe and Vhong Navarro, respectively) aren't what you would call model citizens: the former is vain and inconsiderate, the latter is self-centered. Thanks to a mysterious old man (Lou Veloso) and a magical chicken, the two of them switch bodies.

I'll be the first to admit Woke Up Like This isn't particularly deep or anything like that. It's very much a mainstream comedy. But the flavor of this particular comedy comes from Joel Ferrer, who directed Baka Siguro Yata, which was (and still is) my favorite local comedy of 2015. While in this film the comedic timing isn't exactly there and a number of jokes don't land, I think the film's generally enjoyable.

Like how Baka Siguro Yata shared similar elements with the film Knocked Up, this film shares some similarities with movies like The Hot Chick and Freaky Friday. The bodyswap plot device is used as a means for the two characters to discover themselves and be better people. (Thankfully, no comets are involved.) The film in that regard is pretty simplistic, though this simplicity isn't detrimental to the  overall experience.

The major surprise for me in this film has to be Lovi Poe. She has a lot of funny scenes that work compared to her co-star, and she definitely looks like she's having fun acting as Vhong's character in her body. There are even a few meta jokes in the film where she channels her dad FPJ.

If you're familiar with Joel Ferrer's brand of comedy, the funny scenes in his films can range from something silly to something completely absurd. For example, a character near the end of the film has a right hand  that seems to be possessed by a malicious sock puppet. In this case, the jokes can either be really hilarious or they can fall flat. Maybe it's the script, maybe it's something else.

If you have nothing to do and you want a decent laugh, I think this film isn't a bad choice. I certainly got my fill of laughs. But to be perfectly honest, compared to the rest of Ferrer's output, I wouldn't rank this at the top.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino | Patay na si Hesus and Bisaya Humor


One of the most pleasant box office surprises in this year's Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino is the comedy film Patay na si Hesus. The film drew widespread support from audiences, and is one of the festival's top grossing films. I wasn't mincing words when I said the film was the funniest film of 2016.  There's a certain kind of quality to the humor that is far reaching and universal. Some even refer to it as "Bisaya humor."

So what is Bisaya humor? How is it different from Tagalog humor? Is there something in the use of words, the tone, the irreverence of the subject matter?

I decided to ask a few Bisaya friends to find out. Here's what they said:
(paraphrased and translated) There's a certain quality in the Bisaya language that makes jokes funnier. The joke may lose its punch when translated to a more neutral sounding language like Tagalog or English. "Ga-yaya ra man ka uy!" when said out loud has more of an impact compared to "you're a slowpoke!"
 Another one said:
(paraphrased and translated) I wouldn't know if it's really unique to Bisaya culture, but these are jokes that we tell among ourselves.
And another:
(paraphrased and translated) There is a lot of humor that is lost in translation [from Bisaya to Tagalog.] There's a certain mocking (but not mean) quality to it. There could be experiences that relate only to Vis-Min audiences. to  For example: the joke "Ah, Tagalog pala ka," when translated into other languages, isn't as funny [because it hinges on certain assumptions on how Bisaya people speak a language that is not native to them.] I know a lot of people involved in the movie, so it's like seeing my college friends interact.
And:
(paraphrased and translated) I'm not sure  there is a distinct humor unique to Bisaya, (like British humor - or humour) or if it's something that's borne from the coincidence that a lot of Bisaya directors happen to be hilarious.
And finally:

"Alam mo sa tingin ko mga natural na cholokoy lang talaga ang mga  Bisaya."

***

Okay, so we have their point of view on the subject. Personally I think there's merit to the notion that there's a distinct variety of humor with a certain Bisaya flavor.

In local media, Bisaya people have been stereotypically depicted as "indays" -  housekeepers or clueless probinsyano/probinsyana, and for the longest time I've found that stereotype problematic. (Another PPP film, Salvage, partly addresses this during its dizzying climax.) In Patay na si Hesus, we laugh and cry with the characters, not at them. We feel their struggles and empathize with them. They're people just like you and me.

The film is the latest in a long and rich tradition of Bisaya comedies, whether on TV or elsewhere. Ask a Bisdak if they've seen shows like Si Goot Da Wanderpol or Manok ni San Pedro or Boyoyoy da Wonder Boy and there will probably be a look of nostalgia on their faces. The medium of Radio is probably more influential than TV, because it's said that radio was more far reaching than regional TV in those places back in the day.

With the resurgence of regional cinema, movies from Visayas and Mindanao are growing ever more prominent. They showcase movies where Bisaya and Mindanaoans can see themselves as themselves, and not as some outsider's conception of who they are. With it is the uplifting of a regional cultural consciousness.

I hardly bandy around the phrase "must watch," but if you haven't watched Patay na si Hesus yet, there's still today, so watch it while you can!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Happy Birthday, FPJ: A look at the restored Isusumbong Kita sa Tatay Ko

Today (August 20) would have marked Fernando Poe Jr.'s 78's birthday. The Filipino action legend has found his way into Filipino pop culture and the hearts of millions of Filipinos with his trademark swagger and charisma, and people fondly remember the man even today.

Isusumbong Kita sa Tatay Ko pairs FPJ with Judy Ann Santos. FPJ has had a number of leading ladies, ranging from sexy stars like Amanda Page to actresses like Sharon Cuneta. When Isusumbong Kita Sa Tatay Ko came out, Judy Ann was the queen of soap dramas, starring in such series as Mara Clara and Esperanza.

The movie follows a simple father-daughter story, where FPJ is a tough guy mechanic with a heart of gold, and Judy Ann is his plucky, rambunctious daughter Joey. Things come to a head when Joey catches the eye of bratty kid Archie (Kier Legaspi). The movie has its share of twists and turns, with a major dramatic turn near the end that I think is done pretty well (it almost comes as an afterthought, which magnifies the shock value).

The movie has its share of trademark FPJ action: you really haven't seen an FPJ movie without seeing him get into a fistfight with some thugs, with him doing the trademark FPJ flurry of punches to the gut at the end. But there's a lot of other things for fans to love, too: there are multiple musical sequences (most notably a rendition of Awitin Mo, Isasayaw Ko) and lots of comedy, too.

The restoration job is quite good, though some restored scenes are better than others. The soundtrack sounds like it was remastered, and that's pretty impressive as well.

A crowd pleaser through and through, there's a lot of nostalgia and heart in Isusumbong Kita sa Tatay Ko. It's quite sad if you think about the fact that this is one of FPJ's final movies before his untimely death only four years later. But I think the legendary actor has left enough of a legacy that fans new and old will remember him for many years to come.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino | 100 Tula Para Kay Stella brings back lonely, painful memories

Fidel (JC Santos) falls in love with Stella (Bela Padilla) after meeting her during a freshman party. Over the next four or so years of his life he falls in love even deeper with this woman. He makes 100 poems about her, representing the words he wants to express but cannot say out loud.

100 Tula Para Kay Stella is about a kind of love that isn't covered either in local cinema that often, if at all. It's the love that springs from someone pining for someone else over long stretches of time, the affection growing year after year. It's the kind of love that eludes resolution because communicating that love is difficult (if not impossible) for the persons involved and it feels one-sided, even though that may hardly be the case. It's the kind of love that's easy to misunderstand, and telling a story based on this kind of affection is difficult. In this case, however, 100 Tula Para Kay Stella pulls it off effectively.

The movie avoids idealizing Stella as some kind of perfect girl that changes Fidel's life for the better. To scriptwriter and director Jason Laxamana's credit, he frames Stella as merely human, bound by her own frailties and screw-ups. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Fidel's poems are juxtaposed with a montage of Stella making one wrong life decision after another, reality countering her idealized image.

Though this depiction of love is relatively uncommon, I think stories like the one in 100 Tula Para Kay Stella resonate with people in very personal ways, because this story happens everywhere, to everyone. Personally speaking, this movie reflects the story of my life. Way back in 2003, I too was a shy, awkward young man. I grew infatuated with a girl, and she encouraged me to write. This blog would probably not exist if not for her goading me into writing stuff. I too decided to write my own set of short stories for her before she left, cringey stories that won't win me any Palanca awards, but stories I still think are heartfelt. I'm sure that many people in the audience had similar stories of their own, too.

100 Tula Para Kay Stella is heartfelt and earnest, probably one of my favorite Laxamana films since Magkakabaung. It's a movie about how we can create amazing things and change ourselves for love,  and how love can be expressed in different ways. It offers another perspective on the myriad ways we fall in love, and says how that love comes with its own share of melancholy and heartbreak.

***

100 Tula Para Kay Stella is accompanied by the short film Farewell, which begins with the words "Sorry, Ma." Despite being five minutes max it is quite affecting, and it veers into something unexpected at the end. It's probably one of my favorite PPP shorts so far.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino | Salvage works best when it subverts its genre

Sherad Anthony Sanchez's Salvage begins with images of manufactured reality: a staged recreation by media, a commercial featuring "genuine" versus "fake" soap. There's a notion of reality and unreality that pervades the film from beginning to end, and Salvage plays with this in interesting ways. We are repeatedly made to question the truth or untruth of what is unfolding around us. In today's world, we experience this struggle between real and unreal daily in the form of fake news or propaganda.

Salvage masquerades under the guise of a found footage film; it's about a team of reporters investigating a series of murders linked to aswang. But as they trudge deeper into the forests of Cagayan de Oro, the movie begins to evolve, and the film begins to leave its genre trappings.

Salvage's images evoke both emotions and memories. A clear and palpable sense of dread watches over the film like a ghoulish spectre. Images both gruesome and surreal evoke the film's many themes: the troubled and acrimonious relationship between journalists and the military, the increasing militarization of the provinces, stark memories of the Maguindanao massacre, even a lingering condescension by the imperialist capital towards what they view as their backwards neighbors to the south. These images challenge what we usually expect from these types of films: instead of recreating these emotions and memories with something grounded in reality, Salvage's images are fantastical and bizarre.

Salvage may sometimes be bogged down by the genre it is trying to escape, the film often finding a reason for one of the characters to keep the camera rolling to maintain the film's identity as a found footage film. The characters are also not averse to behaving in line with established horror tropes, at least in the first half.

But everything changes in the last 15-20 minutes of the film. The line between reality and unreality completely disappears, and the film's subversiveness reaches its limit. Filled with images from a fever dream, Salvage's final sequence is one of the most haunting cinematic sequences in recent memory.

A challenging, imaginative film, Salvage works best when it subverts its genre. It may be held down by genre constraints, at least for the first half, but by the end it manages to become something far more profound.

***

Salvage should be accompanied by a short film, but to be honest I was late and didn't catch the short, if there was one. Maybe next time.

EDIT: after rewatching Salvage yesterday (Aug 21) I manged to catch the short film attached to the film, Shaded. It's a nice companion piece to Salvage, considering its themes. It's also pretty straightforward. The character at the end oversold it a bit at the end, I think.

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino | Revisiting Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B

(Read my previous review of the film here. This may contain a few spoilers, so I recommend watching the film first. I think it's worth it.)

I really liked Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B when it first came out last year. Not only was it one of the most visually striking movies of last year, had I made a top 20 list of my favorite local films for last year, this film would probably be on that list. I then decided to watch Jewel and Rico's journey together again for the PPP and see how it holds up after all this time.

The version of the film for this year's festival has been re-edited in parts. In particular, the transformation scene in the climax seems to have been re-edited, perhaps to accommodate a lower rating. The film flows better than what I remembered, though aside from some of the sensual scenes I honestly do not remember any major changes from the first time I saw the film. In any case, I still enjoyed the film, and it holds up very well on second viewing.

One thing I noticed as I rewatched the film is that I saw it less as a romance and more as a horror film with romantic undertones, which helped me appreciate the film more. Like Cruz's first film Sleepless, this film is about two lonely beings finding solace in each other's company. The romance is kind of a bonus. They both struggle with the prospect of living life alone: Jewel with her probably hundred-year existence as an other, Rico and his life with his grandmother and his recent heartbreak.

The chemistry between the two seems strange, and it should be: Jewel is a nigh-immortal creature of the night, who views the other either as prey or as a curiosity. Rico, on the other hand, is confused by Jewel's seeming rejection of his affection, not knowing that for Jewel, bloodlust and desire are tightly intertwined.  It's not so much love that brings the two of them together, it's the crippling fear of being alone. And their decision towards the end is an affirmation of that need to be together with someone else, no matter the cost.

A skillful blend of horror and romance, there's nothing like this film out there. Catch it in theaters while you can.

***

Accompanying Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B is the film Dorothy, whose premise I'd rather have you figure out for yourself instead. While I'm sure the film means well, the film rubbed me the wrong way for some reason. I ultimately found it cloying and manipulative. 

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino | Triptiko's stories are varied and strange

Triptiko (Triptych) refers to any work divided into three parts. This film's three parts are composed of stories that are quite strange, in some cases even creepy and terrifying. While the three parts of Triptiko offer varying levels of quality, the three stories together struggle to form a thematic whole. To be fair, each story has something really good going for it, or features a fantastic performance from one or more of the actors involved.

The first story, Swerte, is my favorite of the bunch. It focuses on a series of unfortunate events befalling Jake (Albie Casino) as he gets into a very unlucky situation. The tension in this segment ramps up continuously from start to finish. The standout performance in the entire film belongs to Jerald Napoles. Known for playing lighthearted or comedic roles, Napoles shows in this segment that he can be menacing and crazy too. 

The second story, Hinog, feels like a cross between an episode of Shake Rattle and Roll and The Twilight Zone. It has elements of body horror as well, which for a contemporary local movie is quite a novelty. Joseph Marco was pretty good here in my opinion. In this case, the story resolves itself too quickly for my taste, the film spending too much time building up the main dilemma, then spending only a short flashback scene and a few lines of dialogue to wrap up and resolve the plot.

The last story, Musikerong John, is very different in tone compared to the previous two segments. While the previous two segments are similar in tone and even share characters, this story can be regarded as standalone. While I draw positive comparisons to this film and the Michel Gondry short film Interior Design (where Ayako Fujitani turns into a chair), the end product feels lacking, the story trailing off in unsatisfying ways. Kean Cipriano and Kylie Padilla were both great in this segment, but the material just wasn't enough for the both of them.

Triptiko's stories can be fun at times, and there are elements in all three stories that I like, but ultimately the film is a giant mixed bag. Your mileage may vary in this case.

***

Accompanying Triptiko is the short film Fat You, about an overweight girl coming to terms with her self-image. There's a 1st person point of view sequence at the start that I particularly like (and could be expanded into a short film of its own) but it decides to veer into more conventional storytelling territory.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino | AWOL is the kind of action film you'd enjoy on a drunken night with friends

After a successful mission to kill the terrorist Al Sajid (complete with misspelled subtitles that look like "aloha snackbar"), super duper ultra expert sniper Lt. Ibarra (Gerald Anderson) celebrates his team's victory with some lechon. Lechon of DEATH, that is. Now on the run from unknown enemies, Ibarra goes AWOL to find out who wants him dead and why... and kill dozens of people in the process.

AWOL is the kind of movie my father used to rent on VHS back when VHS was a thing: a trashy bloodbath fueled by testosterone-laden machismo. If you don't really think of any moral implications while you're watching the film, there are parts of AWOL that are actually quite enjoyable. This is because Ibarra dispatches his enemies with the gusto of a five cent Death Wish Charles Bronson, though not quite as brutal. 

The film justifies the killing by painting the bad guys as drug lords, which is the go-to thing to do to vilify someone these days, I guess. Then again, the characterizations of these people are mostly black and white. The gunplay was decently executed in parts, and those particular scenes made me feel like I was playing Call of Duty or Counterstrike.* This all leads to a fearsome confrontation with the mastermind behind the whole thing. This confrontation turns into a contest where Ibarra and that character both try to be the guy who says "putangina mo" to the other guy with the most verve.

AWOL isn't a good film by any means, but I found it hard to hate on the film. It's the kind of film that you'd watch (and forget) while on a provincial bus or a ferry. It's the kind of film that you'd enjoy while smashed-out-of-your-mind drunk with friends. I'd say I enjoyed this film more than last week's Double Barrel. But to be perfectly honest, once you think about the film, not only is it morally dubious, it all falls apart quite easily.

*(The graphics and reload animations were nice and there was little to no lag; 10/10 -IGN)

***

Accompanying AWOL is the short film Rosa Forgets, starring Mimi Juareza of Quick Change fame. It's about a transgender woman who has developed dementia and has forgotten the fact that she has transitioned. After explaining the premise through dialogue, the movie just ends, albeit on a tender note. While nice, the core ideas could have been expanded a little further, even as a short film.

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino | Bar Boys is school days nostalgia the film

Four young men eagerly await the entrance exam results for a law school of their choice. Each one has their respective reasons for going into law school and becoming a lawyer. Three pass and one doesn't, kicking off the story of Kip Oebanda's Bar Boys. 

Based on numerous law school experiences, the film tries to capture the struggles of law school life. Studying to be a lawyer is a brutal process which requires constant study and memorization. Every waking hour is dedicated to pass classes, which leads to graduation, which leads to passing the dreaded bar exam. To an outsider, the stakes may not be so high, but to these students, it is everything, and one feels these stakes as one sympathizes with the characters in question.

Of course, that's not all there is to it; there are other problems, both extracurricular or otherwise, that serve as obstacles for the average law student: fraternities, terror professors, family strife, economic problems, even problems with balancing school and social life. Although my own professional field (medicine) has nothing to do with law, it's just as grueling an ordeal and many school experiences share the same problems, so I identified with the problems the students faced in this film, and I think many people will find something to connect with in this film. It's similar to the 2007 Aureus Solito film Pisay, where the diverse cast of characters are tracked from their freshman year to their senior year.

The film concentrates on the students' problems, but neglects the story arc of Kean Cipriano's character, who did not get into law school and pursued a different career instead. It would have been nice to see the contrast between Kean's character and the rest of the Bar Boys, and delve into problems created by social pressure to get into law school. Unfortunately, that isn't explored in the film too deeply and his character kind of fades into the background as the film focuses on the remaining three characters.

Bar Boys is enjoyable and a bit nostalgic as well. It's filled with fun and warmhearted moments of love and friendship. While it works for the most part, I feel the concepts that it introduced can be expanded into a short series, as it is quite challenging to insert the entirety of the school experience in a couple of hours.

***

Accompanying Bar Boys is a short film from Sine Kabataan whose name I can't remember. (I think there's a short film attached to all of the films of the PPP.) In this case, it's a film about a guy enjoying fun times with his barkada. But nothing is as it seems. It ends in an interesting place, and it tackles a subject that is relevant even today.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino | Thoughts and Prior Reviews


Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP) begins tomorrow! For one week, watch locally made films (and ONLY locally made films) in cinemas! I've already watched a number of these films in other festivals, so I'll put links to the ones I've already watched. For the films I have watched, some words of speculation.

FILMS I HAVE ALREADY SEEN

I've already seen Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B during the 2016 QCinema film festival. Reception to the film has been a bit mixed, but personally speaking, I really enjoyed this movie. It's about a guy forming a relationship with a flesh eating manananggal. The film looks absolutely gorgeous; if you saw how nice Sleepless and Can We Still Be Friends looked, you'll be in for a treat here. (Personally if I had a cool romantic movie idea, I'd want Prime Cruz and co. to shoot it because I love their aesthetic.) One more thing for people who've watched the film already: this movie has been re-edited and remastered for the PPP, so I might go revisit this film and re-review it when it comes out tomorrow.

Birdshot was the Cinemalaya 2017 opening film, and I still think it's one of the best local movies of the year. Everything about it is a technical accomplishment, and I will be revisiting this film because I felt I missed out on a lot of things the first time I saw it. A solid recommendation from me.

Hamog was featured in the 2015 Cinema One Originals festival. It's a pretty interesting tale about "batang hamog." It's one of Ralston Jover's stronger works in my opinion and the performances by the young actors (especially Teri Malvar) are all excellent.

Paglipay is one of two entries from last year's ToFarm Film Festival that has found its way to the PPP. Paglipay is a really sweet romance between an Aeta and a college student. The romantic story may be simple, but the film finds ways of letting the romance grow in ways other contemporary romantic films fail to do.

Patay na si Hesus was also featured in last year's QCinema Film Festival. It's no stretch to call it 2016's funniest local film. It's since been re-edited and remastered since it screened last year. I've seen this re-edit and it fixes all of the issues I had with the film when I saw it the first time around.

There's a strange kind of charm to Pauwi Na that made me like it more than I expected. It's also a roadtrip movie like Patay na si Hesus, but there's a bit more drama to the proceedings. It's quirky and sometimes weird at times, too.

Star na si Van Damme Stallone is a relatively light drama-comedy about a mom raising a child with Down's syndrome, but the film is still full of very powerful moments. It features a really great performance from Candy Pangilinan. In addition, it's very pragmatic and respectful towards its subject matter, and that matters to me a lot.

FILMS I HAVE NOT SEEN YET

AWOL is an action film by Enzo Williams, who directed the MMFF Bonifacio film a few years back, which was ok, and last year's the Escort, which was not ok. We'll have to see what's in store this time.

Bar Boys is by Kip Oebanda, who has worked for a number of films, including Shift, one of my favorite films of 2013, and assistant director for Jet Leyco's Bukas na Lang Sapagkat Gabi na. He's also one of the Cinemalaya 2018 directors. The previews look promising, if anything else.

Sherad Sanchez's Salvage was featured in 2015's Cinema One Originals festival, but I didn't get to see it. He's directed slower pieces like Imburnal. The description of Salvage makes it like some sort of horror found footage film, but I think it's far more than that, so this should prove interesting.

100 Tula Para Kay Stella is a romantic movie by Jason Laxamana. Laxamana is probably one of the country's most prolific local directors right now, and his movies are usually conceptually rich, with varying results execution-wise. Either way, he has a knack of making movies that local audiences appreciate, so this might be an audience favorite.

Triptiko is a collection of stories directed by Mico Michelena, who is better known as a cinematographer. This is the film about which I know the least, so I might take a look at this one first.

See you all at the movies tomorrow, and support your favorite films at Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Cinemalaya 2017 Closing Thoughts


Another year, another Cinemalaya done. This year probably isn't going to be hailed as a landmark year for the film fest or anything like that, but the lineup has a few really impressive offerings that make it a Cinemalaya worth seeing.

Cinemalaya and the Cinema of Change

The local independent film landscape has changed drastically. Cinemalaya is now the old stalwart of indie film fests. Many filmmakers have flocked over to fests like Cinema One Originals and QCinema, who have helped make some very interesting films in the past 2 or so years. The Cinemalaya foundation gives filmmakers a grant of 750,000 pesos, and limits their overall budget to something like 3.5 million. I can't tell you if more money necessarily correlates to a better film; there's no empirical proof of that. I can tell you that a couple of films (such as Sa Gabing Nananahimik ang mga Kuliglig) did some amazing things with that miniscule budget, and some filmmakers would probably be undeterred by this notion anyway.

Our country has changed as well in the past year - we have entered an era of impunity, of false news, of fanaticism and misplaced nationalism. We have made an entire segment of the population into boogeymen. And like all forms of art, the cinema of today reflects the zeitgeist in varied and interesting ways. In depicting this change, the movies featured here (and elsewhere) also highlight the sobering fact that many things still remain the same: the widening gap between rich and poor, the lack of justice for the poor and marginalized, the incompetence and corruption in government.

The Emergence of Discourse

Art exists as a means by which we wrestle with our societal problems, to find solutions to change society for the better, and in the themes of the many films in this year's festival, we get just that: neocolonialism, changing definitions of masculinity, the inhumanity of bureaucratic social systems, the unchanging cycle of violence and impunity, the importance of education as a universal right, the concept of otherness, the gnawing societal frustration that leads to vigilantism and lawlessness.

On the flipside, there are also lighthearted films that seek to entertain, or to tell a compelling, personal story. I think these films are just as valid and are part of the discourse as well.

The emergence of social media and the internet has led to a widespread democratization of film appreciation and film criticism. When I started blogging about films (and other stuff) in 2005, there were only a handful of us blogging about Philippine Cinema, and my contemporaries at the time were far better than I am to be honest. 12 years later, anyone with internet access has an opinion about films. Sites like Twitter and Facebook serve as outlets for cinephiles for their film opinions, while longer pieces stay with blogs like this one. I'm also happy to have met a lot of these people in real life during this particular festival; these are people that have never seen in person, but I have read their works for years. It was a joy talking about the films we watched, even though our opinions were wildly divergent. I guess that's where the fun really is; you can't really have proper discourse if you're not talking to someone else. Right?

More than ten years watching this festival and I know I'm getting older. I'm not the avid festival goer that I was five years ago who would go every single day and watch every single film. But this festival will always have a special place in my heart. The crowds may have thinned, the food stalls may not be as numerous, but I'll keep coming as long as I can.

...and I'll always have Gardenia. Because Gardenia is life.

THIS IS NOT A SPONSORED POST LOL

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cinemalaya 2017 Quickies: CFI films, Please Remember Me, Pastor

We begin this short entry with the films of this year's Cinemalaya Institute. The institute holds classes for filmmakers of every stripe in such fields as directing, cinematography and so on. This year's batch of offerings wasn't as extensive compared to the last time I saw the CFI in 2015; in fact the screening was barely an hour long. Apparently there were less classes this year compared to last year.

We were shown entries from the cinematography and directing classes. For the latter, directors had to shoot a scene in black and white telling a simple, character driven story.

I wont go over all the individual films, but my personal favorites include 3:15, about a security guard and a mysterious tenant, Takas, which is exactly what it says on the title, and Kinsenas Katapusan, which manages to fit in a classic assassin's story in 10 minutes or less. The films feature relatively well known actors and actresses and looking at the production credits, the films also had crew from the TV and film industry, so the films themselves have an impressive amount of technical support.

I'll be looking forward to the CFI next year. Hopefully the volume of entries will be more substantial.

The last Asia Visions film for this year's Cinemalaya is the documentary Please Remember Me by Zhao Qing. It's a very simple and sweet story about an elderly couple based in Shanghai. The husband, Feng, has taken care of his wife Lou for many years. Lou has Alzheimer's disease, and over time it has led her to forget most of the people around her.

Feng's increasing age has made him unable to properly take care of his wife, and this has led him to consider intermittent stays in nursing homes. Throughout the film we see the couple struggle to fit into their new lifestyle, as Lou's condition slowly deteriorates.

But the film isn't dreary or depressing. Instead, the film is filled with happy moments. Feng and Lou are the sweetest old couple one can find, and their interactions are both warm and fuzzy and heartbreaking at the same time. This is a couple that knows they are in the twilight of their lives and have decided to make the best of it. I personally could not wish for anything more from a partner.

We also see a glimpse of how the elderly are cared for in mainland China. With a population poised to move from an industrialist state with a rapidly growing population to something more like Japan, populations are sure to get older over time.

Please Remember Me is a documentary in its purest form: no pretensions, no twists or gimmicks, just a heartfelt personal story of two people that is relateable and endearing.

Cinemalaya 2017 ends with Adolfo Alix's latest film, Pastor. The film reunites Phillip Salvador and Gina Alajar, who have starred together in such landmark films as Lino Brocka's Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (1984). It took a long time to get off the ground, predating Alix's earlier films such as Ang Alamat ni China Doll (2013).

Pastor draws inspiration from the Story of Job, where a man's faith is tested again and again by God. It draws inspiration from other biblical stories as well - the prodigal son, the temptation of Jesus in the desert, the story of Lot and his wife. Its interpretation of personal change and the uncertainty of personal redemption is obvious, especially within its final few frames.

There's a certain clever metafictional conceit in having Salvador in this role. Salvador is best known as an action star, the guns blazing, kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out type. The opening and ending scenes serve as glimpses of that previous life. (Whether it also reflects a yearning for that previous life is up to your interpretation.) Far removed from his action movie days, Salvador is now a Born Again Christian. In many ways, his journey reflects the journey of the pastor character in this film.

That said, the film suffers from a plethora of story problems. The film doesn't quite know if it wants to be a faith based film or a film that seeks to doubt that faith. Many scenes feel awkward or unintentionally hilarious - a certain police raid scene ends up extremely rough in its execution. And some scenes end up stretching my disbelief too much, as a moviegoer and as a medical professional.

Like the titular pastor's faith, Pastor the film is extremely conflicted. While it has moments of greatness, it's bogged down by weird storytelling decisions.

***

next up: Cinemalaya winners and Closing Thoughts.