Friday, December 29, 2017

Present Confusion 2017 Rundown Part 2 - Philippine Cinema Odds, Ends, and Unfavorites

I ran out of captions lol
A yearly recap, as I've come to learn, consists of so much more than just a list of the year's favorite films. And I say favorites because people are varied and so are experiences, so instead of insisting on the "best" I say my favorites instead. (It's easier that way.) And reducing the entirety of a year to a small list of 10-15 films lacks nuance, as some films may not be overall as great, but had something in it that made me take notice anyway.

John Tawasil's
Special Citations for Philippine Film in 2017

Most Pleasant Surprise: Throwback Today (Dir. Joseph Teoxon, 2017)
I was ready to dismiss this film outright when I saw it at Cinema One Originals, and that was wrong of me. I've learned never to judge a film by its cover and leave all expectations at the door. This film and its permutations of fate and taking control of one's destiny doesn't feel as epic as I thought it would have, but it still ultimately works.

Favorite Local Horror Film [not in the top 15]: Hinog (Second Part of Triptiko; Dir. Mico Michelena, 2017)
Triptiko as a whole is pretty hit and miss, but in terms of what it does with the body horror genre, Hinog, the movie's second part, is pretty great stuff. It features great visual effects, and it has a fun little story that reminds me of the Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

Funniest Comedy (Unintentional): Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa (Dir. Perry Escano, 2017)
It's still not a good movie by any means, but have you ever seen a movie that gets everything so wrong, the result is hilarious? I'm not going to recommend this to anyone, but my reviews really haven't been about recommendations.

Funniest Comedy (Intentional): Si Chedeng at si Apple (Dir. Tabada/Red, 2017)
I'm not including Patay na si Hesus because that was 2016's funniest comedy. This time around, the funny Bisdak road trip takes a different approach, empowering two women relegated to the sidelines for far too long, and the result is pretty wild.
Runner-up: Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha (Dir. Mes De Guzman, 2017)

Best Film Festival Sponsor: Gardenia
When that Gardenia truck parked at the CCP during the last half of Cinemalaya 13, I felt like a giant thorn had been plucked out of my chest. A true patron of the cinematic arts eats a loaf of bread during a film festival. There is no alternative.

Favorite Restored Film: Moral (Dir. Marilou Diaz-Abaya, 1982)
To say that Moral was ahead of its time is an understatement; this is a fabulous film about womanhood set in a time when people still didn't know what that word fully meant.

Creepiest Male Romcom Lead: Joma (Jericho Rosales) from Luck at First Sight (Dir. Dan Villegas, 2017)
Sure, we had our share of stalkery types this year, but for what those guys were worth, they had good intentions. Joma is the embodiment of the creepiest guy you could ever get as a romantic partner: emotionally manipulative to a fault and addicted to gambling, all buried under pretty boy looks and charm. So not only will he take advantage of you emotionally, he'll also do it financially. At least he (spoiler alert) gets it together in the end.

Most Candy Coated Example of Cheating: Can't Help Falling In Love (Dir. Mae Cruz-Alviar, 2017)
If the person you're cheating with is your movie love team partner, does that justify the cheating? 

Most Explosive Food: Exploding Lechon, Awol (Dir. Enzo Williams, 2017)
I'm not talking about explosive diarrhea here. Absurd as the premise may be, an exploding roasted pig becomes the impetus for the tepid action movie that is AWOL, and that's something.

Craziest Thing Done to an Animal on Film: The Goat in Ladyfish (Dir. Jason Orfalas, 2017)
Dry humping a goat is one thing, actually humping a goat and streaming it online is a completely different thing. You see nothing of the actual humping but it's implied, letting one's imagination run wild. Now that's filmmaking.

Most unfortunate geologic formation in Philippine Cinema: The rock in Requited (Dir. Nerissa Picadizo, 2017)
No pile of rocks deserves a facial. Sadface.

I was considering including a list of favorite performances for the year, but that would take up most of the space of this article, since much of Philippine Cinema is defined by its actors and actresses. Notable performances include Maja Salvador for I'm Drunk I Love You, Dexter Doria (and the entire cast, for that matter) for Paki, Dido Dela Paz for Respeto, Jally Nae Gibaliga for The Chanters, Eula Valdez for Neomanila, Joshua Garcia for Love you to the Stars and Back, Joanna Ampil for Ang Larawan, and Jojit Lorenzo and Agot Isidro for Changing Partners (to name a few.)

Favorite Short Films:

This year was not a good year for me and short films, as I did not manage to watch a lot, even in major film festivals. But here are a few I really liked, in rough order:

Babylon (Dir. Keith Deligero) is a trippy, wild and out of this world film that explores rebellion and tyranny and micro-sizes it, putting the action in the context of a small town. What transpires is just as absurd as if it had been a president and not a baranggay chairman who was assassinated. It's thoroughly engaging and inventive fare.

Si Astri Maka Si Tambulah (Dir. Xeph Suarez) is QCinema's best short film. It successfully captures how hard some people have it in terms of their sexual identity just because they're different than everyone else, AND it relates this experience through a cultural lens that honestly hasn't been explored yet. 

Kun di' Man (Dir. Phyllis Grande) is a very sweet film that won me over from the very beginning, because I'm a sucker for old love. It's as simple as that.

In his Island (Sa Saiyang Isla; Dir. Christian Candelaria) is an excellent film that manages to discuss so many important issues, while still staying within the boundaries of the short film medium. And it does so without bloating the film or its content. That in itself is amazing, considering that this short is a thesis film by a first time filmmaker.


Now that we've gone through my favorites, It's now time for some of the worst this year. While some of the films on this list have their share of fans, to me they represent some of the worst (and sometimes most hilarious) cinematic experiences of my year. From films that just stopped trying, to films that mean well but lose something in their execution, everything is in the following list. Watching bad movies is hard, guys. 

The Portrait of the Film Reviewer as a Filipino (Tawasil, 2017)

John Tawasil's
Unfavorite Local Films of 2017
Yes, unfavorite is a word, I don't make shit up like "dramaturg" or whatever the fuck that is

Special Citation: Joel Lamangan (Bes and the Beshies, Foolish Love, This Time I'll Be Sweeter)
Seriously, is this guy even trying anymore? Sometimes I wonder if I'm missing something, but I feel like his films are just lazy attempts nowadays. Other directors have been more prolific with a far better output. His films may not be the worst, but they are still quite disappointing.

10. Double Barrel (MASTER DIRECTOR Toto Natividad, 2017)
This film is relatively low on the list (which is a good thing) because I don't really know what it's trying to say. It's a particularly trashy example of the movies exploring the current state of the Drug War (there are many on this list) and this by far is the tamest. It's barely watchable, but even then the ending leaves a lot to be desired.

9. Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa (Dir. Perry Escano, 2017)
I don't hate this film. No, really. The fact of the matter is, I kinda enjoyed it, which is why the film is still pretty low on this list. But it's a wholly misguided attempt to promote its (VERY relevant) advocacy. In particular, the way it genericizes Muslims and indigenous peoples just doesn't fly with me. Couple that with absurd plot developments and one of the most unforgettably insane character deaths in local cinema and what you have is a bad film that means well.

8. Requited (Dir. Nerissa Picadizo, 2017)
This film is my least favorite Cinemalaya experience this year. Its toxic romance is insufferable from beginning to end, it has annoying characters (not the fault of the actors) and its major dramatic twist elicited chuckles and groans instead of gasps. At least I got a bar of soap for my trouble.

7. Baklad (Dir. Topel Lee, 2017)
Horny Fish Boys is the sleaziest film of the year, and remember this is a year where we had a movie where we had people livestreaming bestiality. But that in itself isn't enough to merit an inclusion on this list; more than the nauseating sleaze, the film feels very unfinished. It's as if after making 2/3 of a film the crew rushed this thing to meet a deadline.

6. The Barker (Dir. Dennis Padilla, 2017) 
Speaking of unfinished films, have you ever had a moment where you can't finish a film properly, so you decide to just half-ass the thing by shoehorning in a dance scene at the end? That's how I felt when I watched this film. It feels like a cheap attempt to cash in on Kita Kita and that feels so wrong.

5. Amalanhig The Vampire Chronicle (Dir. Jun Posadas, 2017)
Characters making stupid decisions is a trait possessed by  a lot of horror films, especially of the slasher variety. But Amalanhig takes that notion up to infinity. These are the most determined characters in any film I have ever seen. Had I just a fraction of the academic knuckleheadedness of these kids in real life, I probably would ironically have won the Nobel Prize by now. Then again, these characters are morons, so I don't think I'd go very far if I shared their traits.

4. Higanti (Dir. Rommel Ricafort, 2017)
Higanti proves that you shouldn't judge a movie by its title to notable extremes: for a movie literally titled "Revenge" there isn't a lot of revenge going on in this film. Its biggest sin, however, is not the fact that it's misleading, it's simply boring to watch.

3. Across the Crescent Moon (Dir. Baby Nebrida, 2017)
This award-winning film (I'm not kidding) likes a lot of things. For example, it likes repetition, since it repeats the same statistics twice in a row during a narration segment. It also says something about how human trafficking is bad, while having a character berate a human trafficking victim for not being lucid enough at the same time. It has exciting chase sequences where a boat runs out of fuel mid-chase. And allow me to apologize to my parents once again for not bringing down any Human Trafficking syndicates to date, as an unmarriageable son, I shall commit Seppuku once this year is over.

I've eschewed the usual movie poster for a flashback to my actual reaction to the next film.
2. DAD: Durugin Ang Droga (Dir. Dinky Doo Clarion, 2017)
I really don't know where to start describing this film. Whenever I see legitimate film critics from other countries say so and so is the worst film of 2017, I laugh, because I know they are wrong, and I think to myself, bitch, you haven't seen Durugin ang Droga. Borne out of our current political quagmire, Durugin ang Droga is the kind of film that tries to espouse some kind of moralistic message about how drugs are bad. I kinda feel sorry for every aspiring filmmaker with a good story and untapped talent who will never get to make their story into film, while people like Dinky Doo excrete turds like this and release them willy nilly in cinemas. The world is not fair. The only reason this is in second place is because of its singular gift to Filipino cinema, a flashback scene so epic that it defies human logic and common sense.

me, after watching the #1 film on this shitlist
1. Kamandag ng Droga (Dir. Carlo J. Caparas, 2017)
I think, in the future, whenever people look back at 2017, they will note the beginning of a new era, an era started by this masterpiece of shit by 2016 FAMAS Director Par Excellance Carlo J. Caparas. Films will be categorized into pre-Kamandag and post-Kamandag movies, and retrospectives will be carried out in hallowed halls. Maybe. Even without the overt politicizing, Kamandag ng Droga is Caparas at his most exploitative: basking in the crime itself, the sleaze, the heinousness, the devastation it brings, relegating victims to undignified cinematic deaths, granting them no respect. All this, hidden under the pretense of concern, itself a veneer of condescension. But then, I remember, this is nothing new: I remember watching Caparas' Vizconde Massacre 2 back in the day and wondering why a sequel had to be made, and indeed the proof is in the pudding. While Lauro Vizconde appears in the film to thank Caparas for his effort, it's ultimately a misguided attempt: it merely revisits the crime over and over, inflicting repeated trauma on the family members left behind, exploiting the poor ghosts of the Vizcondes for entertainment and curiosity, usyoso at its most extreme. That's the kind of movie Caparas tends to make, and it doesn't get any worse than Kamandag ng Droga.

Perhaps I've not made myself clear enough. Suppose, in a fit of artistic inspiration, our 2016 FAMAS Director Par Excellance decides to take an actual shit on camera, it might be preferable to this film.


The final part of this year's roundup is Present Confusion's World Cinema Favorites list of 2017. Stay tuned.

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