Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review of LOVE YOU TO THE STARS AND BACK: Celestial Chemistry

August 31, 2017

I am not really a fan of romantic movies, particularly mainstream ones. However, this one is different because it is written and directed by Antoinette Jadaone. She was the creative force behind "That Thing Called Tadhana" (2014) (MY REVIEW),  "English Only Please" (2014) (MY REVIEW) and "#Walang Forever" (2015) (MY REVIEW), all of which I liked. I thought it was safe to assume that she will come up with something I would like. 

This latest one features the young love team of Julia Barretto and Joshua Garcia which first came out in a Metro Manila Filmfest 2016 film called "Vince and Kath and James", which I unfortunately never got to see. Their performances in that film, which was one of the box-office hits of the controversial MMFF last year, were widely praised. I wanted to see these two up and coming stars in action.

A distraught Mika (Julia Barretto) drove away from her house going to Batangas because his widower dad (Ariel Rivera) announced that his girlfriend Sheryl (Maricar Reyes) is pregnant. A cheerful Caloy (Joshua Garcia) rode his bike from their place in Lemery going towards the house of his rich estranged father to reconnect with him. While taking a bathroom break very coincidentally in the middle of the same remote grassy field, the two meet in less than ideal circumstances. 

Caloy injured his left foot, so Mika felt compelled to drive him to his destination. As would be expected, the two share their stories with each other during their long drive. Caloy revealed he was suffering from leukemia, and his family (mom Cherry Pie Picache and brother Edgar Allan Guzman) is selling everything to raise the money for a bone marrow transplant. Mika confessed that she wanted to do something her late mother (Carmina Villaroel) used to talk about -- go climb up Mt. Milagros in order to invite aliens to come and abduct her.

Movies about attractive young people in love but stricken with cancer belong to a familiar genre of its own. This was the plot of such famous films over the years like "Love Story" (1970), "Dying Young" (1991), "Sweet November" (2001), "A Walk to Remember" (2002), and of course the most recent one "The Fault in Our Stars" (2014) (MY REVIEW). A story about pristine innocent young love tragically interrupted by death by cancer is simply unmatched for be able to jerk tears out of even for the most jaded eyes.

Jadaone added a lot of little side stories to give this classic central plot her own spin. There was a major detour about how the two got their pet chicken Goldie and how that name came about. There was another detour about how the two helped a teenage girl Rhonabelle make her Junior-Senior prom a memorable one. Family issues on both sides also take up a significant amount of time, as these two kids are acting this way because of how their families, especially their fathers, were.

AC most bizarre plot point though was the alien angle. It sounded awkward when Mika first mentioned it, and more so when she began reciting her alien call chant. It was very foolish to drive around in circles in a dark forest looking for aliens, believing that wearing clothes inside out can help you find your way. Later on when you see how high up on top of a towering rock (another breathtaking view reminiscent of Kiltepan in "Tadhana") that alien contact spot was, it became rather absurd that they were actually planning to climb up in the dead of the night. 

Any which illogical ways the story went though, there is no denying that Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto make a very charming pair. Their bubbly vibrant personalities made all their whole road trip worth watching despite the many branches it took. Not even toilet humor nor overt melodrama nor disgusting puke could faze their winning chemistry. 

This Joshua Garcia really knows how to turn on the charm with the ladies. Comparisons to a young John Lloyd Cruz are not exaggerated. There were some angles when he did look like Cruz. Julia Barretto can really play it spirited and feisty. Comparisons to her aunt Claudine Barretto in her prime are also well-deserved. She did not falter and held her own during that major dramatic scene of Garcia on the bridge. 

Jadaone can really create uniquely Pinoy situations to generate romantic thrills in her mostly millennial audience. The OPM ballad "Torete" may be more than 15 years old already, but it was used to great effect here to enhance the mood. Because of its easy emotional connection with its demographic, I think it is safe to predict that this will follow the recent box office success of romantic films like "Kita Kita" and "100 Tula ni Stella." As fresh actor pairings are the craze now, the "love team" factor may works against Garcia and Barretto, but it really should not in this case. 8/10. 

Review of DARK TOWER: Slinging and Shining

August 30, 2017

American author Stephen King considered "The Dark Tower," his series of eight dark fantasy-Western books, as his masterpiece. The first book of this series "The Gunslinger" was published in 1982. The last installment "The Wind Through the Keyhole" was published only last 2012. The main story revolved around Roland Deschain, the last living Gunslingers in a line akin to that of King Arthur in their world, and his quest for the Dark Tower, the fabled center of their universe. 

This new movie is supposed to be a sequel to these books. At the helm is Nikolaj Arcel, the Danish director behind the beautiful "A Royal Affair" (2012) (MY REVIEW). This is Arcel's first Hollywood project. A film version of the books have long been planned by A-list directors such as J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard as early as 10 years ago, but never materialized till now. I had never read these books at all, so I have no idea what to expect. I will not be able to comment on how faithful this film version will be to the books. 

Jake Chambers was an 11-year old boy from New York City disturbed by very realistic nightmares about a post-apocalyptic world, a Man in Black, a Gunslinger and a very tall dark-colored tower. When a couple of staff of an asylum his parents contacted came to their apartment to pick him up for rehab, Jake recognized them as the monsters who wore fake human skin he sees in his vivid dreams. 

As he was escaping from his captors, Jake somehow gets sucked into a portal that brought him right into the parallel world see sees in his dreams. There he meets the Gunslinger Roland Deschain who tells him about the Man in Black Walter, who had been abducting children with psychic powers (called "shine") in attempts to destroy the Dark Tower that kept their world safe. Unknown to him, Jake had a "shine" so powerful that Walter wants to get him very badly. Roland, though, was not going to let that happen.

Right from the start, I felt that the casting of Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers was a misfire. He did not have the "it" factor that could make me root for him. Unlike the books, Jake Chambers was the central character of this film, not Roland Deschain. There was a big load on Taylor's young shoulders, but he felt lacking in charisma.

Another bit of miscasting is that of Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black. I never really considered McConaughey as a good actor, until he surprised me in "Dallas Buyers Club" (2014) (MY REVIEW) and won his Best Actor Oscar for it. He had a stint of good projects after that, like "Interstellar" (MY REVIEW) and "Kubo" (MY REVIEW). However here, he seemed to have teetered off his pedestal again this time with his unconvincing and shallow portrayal of the main villain in this story. I thought the cheesy way he acted in the final battle scenes is Razzie material.

On the other hand, I thought the color-blind casting of Idris Elba as the Gunslinger Roland was genius. With his all-out passion and intensity, Elba brought into Roland a unique strength of character and sense of purpose. If not for Elba, this film would have been so much more unremarkable. Elba's very sincere portrayal made some details, like Deschain's ability to hit his target even when it is already out of sight look incredible, instead of absurd. I liked the cool ways he was reloading his revolver. I also liked his comical comments about modern things, like a cola drink or the hotdog.

Despite my complaints above about the acting (with the notable exception of Idris Elba), the film as a whole still managed to be quite engaging, especially if you knew nothing about the books. Despite a puzzling start, given the bizarre nature of Jake's nightmares, you will eventually get into the groove of it and be entertained. Yes, there are some very convenient contrivances to advance the story, but not too many. This felt like a spaghetti western of sorts with a futuristic twist which fortunately had Idris Elba there as the lone cowboy to save its day. 6/10. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Review of THE EMOJI MOVIE: Merely Meh

August 28, 2017

The films produced by Sony Pictures Animations never really came up to the quality of Disney-Pixar or Dreamworks in terms of artwork nor story. Their first output was "Open Season" (2006). Their biggest hit in the box office was "The Smurfs" (2011) which grossed $563.7 million. Their other noted films were "Surf's Up" (2007), "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" (2009) and "Hotel Transylvania" (2012). None of these films are considered classics by a long shot. I am not really expecting too much from this latest release of theirs.

This film is set inside the Emoji app loaded in the cellphone of a high school teenager named Alex. Rules say that Emojis should only have one face to be consistent with the message the sender wanted to convey. However, there is this emoji named Gene, who was supposed to be the "Meh" emoji. However, he was able to express several other emoji faces, and he cannot control this ability yet. 

On his first day at work, Gene was so flustered when Alex chose to send him as a text to his crush Addie during a boring history class. Instead of "Meh", Gene was sent out as mixed-up confused face. The maniacal leader of the text center Smiler wanted to delete Gene as a malfunctioning emoji. However, along with his friend Hi-5, Gene sought out a code-breaker emoji named Jailbreak to fix his glitch. He needed to be fixed before Alex had his phone rebooted by the phone repair shop the next day.

The backlash against this movie was so extreme, I was really expecting the worst. The story of the outcast trying to prove himself worthy is very old, and this is yet another rehash of this trope. Setting the adventure within the apps of a mobile phone (Candy Crush, Just Dance, Instagram, Spotify, Dropbox) was interesting enough, though we had seen something like this set in the world of arcade games in Disney's "Wreck-It-Ralph" (2012)

There was one character who had a look that I considered cute, and that was the open palm hand emoji called Hi-5. In terms of voice work, the consistently delightful James Corden gave Hi-5's a friendly, fuzzy and funny personality that lit up his scenes. Any scene with Hi-5 I enjoyed. There was a point midway in the film I thought Hi-5 might be a goner. Good thing the filmmakers had the sense to realize how losing him can cause the whole film to implode.

The names in the rest of the cast list voicing the various emojis were very impressive, namely T. J. Miller (as Gene), Anna Faris (as Jailbreak), Maya Rudolph (as Smiler), Steven Wright (as Mel Meh), Jennifer Coolidge (as Mary Meh), Christina Aguilera (as the girl in the Just Dance app), SofĂ­a Vergara (as Flamenco dancer), Sean Hayes (as Devil emoji). However,  the unremarkable voice work felt like they could have been done by anyone. Most disappointing that they had Patrick Stewart voice the Poop emoji, yet have nothing memorable at all for him to say. 

This shallow film is strictly for the kids, though I am not sure they would like it that much because of the so-so, even ugly, characters. Some of the technical stuff about apps and phones utilized in the script felt forced, not ingenious. To be fair, I do not think it is the complete trash that various critics made it out to be. Knowing some of the apps cited can be funny, but these moments are not too many, and nothing was really LOL funny. 

It was so appropriate that the lead character had to be a "Meh" emoji. Most of the artwork and voice work, most everything about it in fact, just felt so "Meh." 4/10. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Review of BUSHWICK: Secession Scenarios

August 25, 2017

This is a low-profile motion picture released in local theaters without much prior advertisements. Bushwick is a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York City. I did not know that prior to watching this. I thought it was the name of the hero character, especially with that cheesy local subtitle "The Last Man Standing" under the main title during the opening credits. 

Lucy, a civil engineering graduate student, took the subway with her boyfriend Jose to go visit her grandmother's house in Bushwick. However, when they alighted on Church St. Station, they became aware that something majorly wrong and violent was going on topside when they saw the station deserted and a burning man came running down the stairs. 

Circumstances left Lucy alone to navigate through the streets of Brooklyn which had been turned into a veritable war zone with soldiers on the streets and on rooftops shooting indiscriminately at anyone passing by. Along her way, Lucy met Stupe, an ex-Marine who said he needed to go to Hoboken to be with his family. Together they learned they had to make it to the demilitarized zone in Cleveland Park to escape all the violence.

Lucy was supposed to be a totally clueless girl with no survival skills to speak of. Her being cute and white will play a role somewhere in the plot. With such a role description, Brittany Snow fits into the role, no doubt, as far as looking and acting like a fish out of water. But I thought she was not convincing enough during the church scene when she was supposed to motivate people into action. She did not project that strong of a presence to do so.

Dave Bautista, now that is a strong presence, even when he was not saying anything. He was credible as a lowly janitor named Stupe, who turned out to be an ex-Marine medic with all his ever-ready bag of medical instruments and supplies. Of course, he is a marksman, and also had the skills for hand to hand combat, able to lift and flip over full-grown men. If I were trapped in that situation, I'd like to be with this guy too. 

The duo would encounter a few remarkable characters along the way. They go to pick up Lucy's sister Belinda (Angelic Zambrana). She is so stoned and spaced out with her joints and bongs, I wonder why they had to include her there in the story at all. In another building, they meet Ma (Myra Lucretia Taylor), a stereotypical obese African-American mother, who can hold her gangster sons in tow and cook a mean stew at the same time. These strange characters do serve as humorous relief from the tense situations.

The script by Nick Damici and Graham Reznick was actually very interesting in its envisioning the scenario of a second US Civil War which ensues when Texas and its neighboring states attempt to secede from the union. This kind of tense political situation may seem far-fetched in the US now. Elsewhere in the world though, this exact case of rebellion, taking over, and hapless residents running for their lives is very relevant. It actually hit closer to home than I'd ever imagine.

The directorial duo Cary Murnion and Jonathan Miliott definitely brought us right into the thick of the action. The first thing I noticed about this film is the camera just following all the action up the stairs, through windows and doors, seemingly in one continuous take. I noted less than five clear cutaways to change the scene during the compact 90 minute running time.  The dynamism of the camera movement, tightening in and pulling out while following the characters everywhere they went made it very tense and exciting to watch. You will never guess how it would end. 7/10. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review of THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD: The Calculated and the Crazy

August 24, 2017

Ryan Reynolds was so bad as "Green Lantern" (2011) that he became one of my least favored Hollywood actors since then. However, he redeemed himself pretty well as "Deadpool" (2016), so I guess he is an actor who is only as good as his director or script. While we are waiting for the next Deadpool film set for release next year, Reynolds is back with another fast-talking violent action-comedy combo film. 

Vladislav Dukhovich is the megalomaniac dictator of Belarus who is now facing trial for genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. In Manchester, England, it was known that an incarcerated hitman Darius Kincaid possessed vital evidence to convict Dukhovich. So, Interpol assigned their agent Amelia Roussel to escort Kincaid to give his key testimony. 

When their group was ambushed en route by Dukhovich minions, Rousell and Kincaid were able to escape. Not knowing who to trust, Roussel contacts her ex-boyfriend, disgraced bodyguard Michael Bryce to be the one to bring Kincaid safely to court before the announced deadline. Turns out the two men hate each other's guts because of the many times their paths crossed before in previous jobs.

Ryan Reynolds stars as Michael Bryce, a bodyguard who is very calculated and fastidious in the discharge of his duty. Obsessed with planning ahead and double checking all details, his motto is "Boring is better." His professional reputation sunk to low depths after an important client got killed, and this likewise affected his personal life with agent Roussel. This type of failed flawed sad-sack character really suits Reynolds' personality.

The ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson stars as Darius Kincaid, a badass assassin who had a notoriety for being "unkillable." In stark contrast with Bryce, Kincaid was rash, reckless impetuous. He lived for the moment, and believed he is the better person for killing bad people unlike Bryce who protected them. As he was as Jules Winnfield in "Pulp Fiction" (1994), Jackson can do this outlandish role blindfolded and tied behind his back, and still be quite credible about it.

The banter between Reynolds and Jackson, dripping with sarcasm and profanity, is such a fun riot. The comic chemistry between these two guys was really so good. You'd be awed with all their impossible but nevertheless breathtaking action scenes together, especially that one with them running all over the streets and canals of Amsterdam while being chased by the Belorussians and Interpol. The more quiet moments between them talking about life and love also had its own charm.

Selma Hayek in a special role as Kincaid's similarly violent wife Sonia really ripped through her scenes with impressive comic timing. That flashback scene about the night Darius met Sonia was so bloody, sexy and funny. Elodie Yung as Amelia Roussel is a pretty sight, but she was not given much to do even if it felt like she had more screen time than Hayek. Gary Oldman is Gary Oldman, he simply disappears into any character he played, this time as the hateful Dukhovich. 

The central topic of a megalomaniac president who believes he can do whatever he will with his countrymen may hit close to home for certain politically-inclined viewers. Anyhow, the way director Patrick Hughes did the action scenes were really over-the-top crazy with incredibly frenetic execution.  That, along with the charismatic partnership of Reynolds and Jackson, made this film very entertaining and fun to watch. 7/10. 

Review of ANNABELLE: CREATION: Demon in Doll

August 24, 2017

The horror film franchise family for the film "The Conjuring" (2013) is growing fast. This film "Annabelle: Creation" is already the fourth in the series, and is a prequel of the first "Annabelle" (2014). I actually liked the first film, and it was interesting how it was able to spin off its side characters into their own series. The demon doll Annabelle is just the first one. The demon nun Valak, whom we met in "Conjuring 2" (2016), will have her own solo film as well in 2018.

In 1943, doll maker Samuel Mullins made limited edition hand-made dolls. He gave the first one to his daughter Annabelle, who unfortunately did not live too long. 12 years later, the Mullins decided to open their big house to a group of six orphan girls and their guardian Sister Charlotte. One of the girls, Janice, had a gimp leg because of polio. Her limited mobility and weakness made her an easy target for the demon in Annabelle's doll who was in search of a human host.

Of the girls who played the orphans, two stood out and were given a different room from the other older girls. These were 15 year old Talitha Bateman, who played the crippled Janice, and 11-year old Lulu Wilson, who played Janice's best friend Linda. Bateman had the challenge of playing a character who could not resist nor fight the demon's call. Wilson's scene at the well was scary despite being a variant of old cliches. 

Anthony LaPaglia who played Mr. Mullins was the gruff unfriendly type of old man, made me wonder why they even offered their place to the orphans if he behaved like this. Miranda Otto who played Esther Mullin hid her graciousness from the girls for most of the film because of her mysterious illness that left her weak and bedridden. She had a bell to call for help, and of course this bell would also be an instrument for horror. Her cruel death scene defined the word ghastly.

Latino actress Stephanie Sigman was first known to me as one of the sexy ladies in the last James Bond film "Spectre" (2015). Here she played Sister Charlotte, who had an interesting past experience in an abbey of cloistered nuns in Romania. Does this sound like a clue for a coming film about a certain notorious nun? Do stay for the extra scene at the end of the closing credits to confirm this suspicion.

The production design of that Mullins house was a collection of various horror devices such as a chair lift, a scarecrow, a very deep well, a dumbwaiter, a porcelain face mask, and of course, the main star -- the ugly and ever-creepy Annabelle doll with those crazy dilated eyes. If "The Conjuring" had the sinister "Hide and Clap" game, this one had a similiarly unsettling "Hiding with Notes" game. 

This film really had a lot of effective jump scares that really gave me a good jolt out of my comfy theater chair. The theater I watched this in was equipped with Atmos sound system which really made the horror score and sound effects all the more eerie and startling. The sound effects that accompanied those creaking house parts and breaking body parts made chills run up and down my spine. 

This was one good horror flick. This was great fun to just curl up and have a good time scaring yourself. 7/10.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review of SALVAGE: Chills Caught by Camera

August 22, 2017

"Salvage" had its premiere two years ago at the Cinema One Originals filmfest 2015 November 14, 2015. This was a special screening only and not part of the competition that year, so probably not too many people got to see it. To be honest, I did not know about this film until now that it is finally having its commercial run during this first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. I hear positive reviews on how strange a film it was.  Luckily I was able to catch it today on PPP's final day.

A group of TV reporters are in the village of San Vicente near Cagayan de Oro City, investigating a series of murders that locals are attributing to an "aswang" monster. The crew consisted of five people: Bong (the on-cam reporter), Melay (the segment director), Neil (the cameraman), Barbie (the makeup artist) and Manny (the driver). 

While looking for a certain Ka Ernie in Sitio Papaya, their multicab makes a wrong term that led them off the main road into a remote area in the jungle. Suddenly there was a military checkpoint that loomed into view manned by soldiers who wanted them to alight from their vehicle. Once they did, without any warning, the five team members were plunged into a vivid living nightmare from which their very survival was unsure. 

From the start, we get the vibe that the camera recording the events of this film was being carried by the cameraman Neil. We see the camera focusing and defocusing, white balancing, trying out various filters. Then we would be subjected to a usually shaky camera, with the picture pixelating and colors desaturating a lot, while the person holding the camera is walking, running, hiding. When the camera falls to the floor, the frame is sideways or even upside-down. This very unstable camerawork by Malay Javier can be vertiginous to those vulnerable to motion sickness.

The visual attack of this film is frenetic. Perhaps I had not seen enough Filipino horror films, but I could call this the most bizarre film I had ever watched on the big screen. I like Pinoy horror movies and I've seen a number of them, but nothing had images as disturbing as those in this film. All the darkness, movement and camera glitches made ordinary things look scarier than they really were. Just goes to show what an overactive imagination could make you see. The jeep getaway scene, the neck slitting scene, the giant snake scene, the fallen angel scene were all very memorably unsettling. The editing of this film by Lawrence Ang had been cited by the Young Critics Circle that year, and that was clearly deserved.

Then there is the amazing sound. This film is an achievement is sound effects mixing. There is very little dialogue in this film. For the most part, the sense of urgency and excitement is carried by the cacophony of sounds that pervade the soundtrack. People would be moaning, gasping, panting, yelling, screaming. Nature sounds also abound, like shrubbery shaking, insects chirping, bats, birds and beasts calling, hale falling, thunder rumbling. Add to that mix, bells and ringtones to further enhance the eerie tone.

The ensemble acting by Jessy Mendiola (as Melay), JC de Vera (as Neil), Joel Saracho (as Bong), Karl Medina (as Manny) and Barbie Capacio (as Barbie). I had never seen Jessy Mendiola in such an intense role and performance. Barbie Capacio could be very annoying at first, but during those endless chase scene, it was his distinctly shrill shrieking that created an atmosphere of more suspense. It was these two characters who were onscreen the longest, as the male characters fell in and out of the action for longer stretches of time.

Sherad Anthony Sanchez had won awards in international filmfest for films like "Ang Huling Balyan ng Buhi'" (2006) and "Imburnal" (2008). This is the first film by Sanchez that I had seen and I found it audacious and stimulating. But this type of indie-style raw, bizarre horror may not exactly be for viewers who expect clean, logical, mainstream-style horror. I am not sure if all his disturbing imagery actually represent anything in reality. Why were soldiers the bad guys here? Who were those two creepy boys who kept pointing out where Melay and crew are hiding? Who were those little girls in their Santacruzan finest at the torture arena? 

This type of found-footage horror had been done many times before in foreign films since "The Blair Witch Project" (1999) made it a horror trend for years that followed. This is the only local found-footage horror film that I remember seeing There were scenes where you do not know who was holding the camera.  There were parts of the film where it can feel like it was going nowhere. All the bewilderment and confusion is clearly part of Sanchez' main point. "Salvage" is not only a simple horror movie. It is in fact a visually and aurally perplexing experience of the otherworldly and bizarre. 8/10. 

Review of HAMOG: Unsavory Urchins

August 22, 2017

Of all the participating films in the first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino this year, this one is one of the older ones. "Hamog" debuted in the Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival back in 2015. I did not see it back then, honestly because the topic about street kids did not immediately appeal to me so I prioritized to watch others. And then the acclaim and the series of awards followed, so now I was curious to see what it was all about. 

It won four festival prizes then, including the Special Jury Prize, as well as for Best Actress (Therese Malvar), Supporting Actor (Bon Andrew Lentejas) and Editing (Charliebebs Gohetia). In the Moscow International Film Festival 2016, it won the Silver St. George prize for Best Actress for Therese Malvar. Shanghai International Film Festival 2016, the film won the Golden Goblet for Outstanding Artistic Achievement for director Ralston Jover.

Under the Guadalupe Bridge beside the Pasig River, a gang of four street kids live inside a discarded drainage cylinder pipe. 13 year old Rashid is a Muslim boy who would rather sleep in the streets than stay at home with his father and his many wives. 8 year old Momoy is his usual partner in crime. While the younger kids distract the victim,15 year old Jinky and her 16 year old boyfriend Tisoy perpetrate the theft. 

The two-pronged plot of the film stems from an incident when they attempt to steal from Danny whose taxi was stalled in traffic. All the boys were able to get away with the loot, but Danny was able to catch Jinky. The first half follows Rashid and Moy, an episode marked with an accidental tragedy and its aftermath. The second half follows Jinky and Danny, an episode marked with abuse and perversity.

As could be expected from a film about hardened street kids, this was quite the depressing affair. No hope for joy nor redemption can be gleaned from the stories. We admire Rashid for his sense of responsibility about little Moy, even if they were not blood relatives, but it was apparent that his life is already condemned in misery. How about Jinky? What do you think will happen to her after that last scene of hers? The last we saw Tisoy, he was being conscripted into an Akyat-Bahay robbery gang. Again, another hopeless case. 

All the kid actors played their respective roles with realistic stench and grit. I know Zaijian Jaranilla's talents from his days as Santino on TV, and he can still deliver as a young teenager now. Bon Andrew Lentejas was a very natural as Moy. In fact, he looked like he was not acting at all. The jurors decided to reward his efforts despite his abbreviated screen time. Samuel Quintana played Tisoy, even if he did not look Tisoy at all. Compared to his fellow young actors, he came across as stiff and amateurish. His scene with "Supergirl" (Kyline Alcantara) was absurd.

As Jinky, Therese (aka Teri) Malvar had the toughest, scariest role to play, and she nailed it. That heart-rending scene of Jinky in front of her mentally- and emotionally- unstable mother (who was curiously not credited, but I later found out to be Cherry Malvar, Teri Malvar's mother in real life!) was her best scene for me. But all throughout her ordeal with her victim-turned-"guardian" Danny, I was on the edge of my seat about what was going to happen to her. I did not know that DSWD youth centers worked that way, that they would just let delinquent female street children leave with an unknown man -- a truly nightmarish scenario if indeed this happens in real life. 

With his on-point portrayal of the polygamous father Abdul in this film, I could say that Lou Veloso can really portray any role realistically. Their father-son relationship and Rashid's past sins could be spun off for another episode of this drama for a future film. Ruby Ruiz played the ONLY positive adult character I remember in this film, a Barangay Kapitana who helped Rashid out in his mission of mercy.

This was the first time I had seen theater actor and singer OJ Mariano in a film, and it was so unlike his stage persona that it had to be a dark negative film like this. Anna Luna (a ray of sunshine in films like "Paglipay," "Bar Boys" and yes, even "Requited") played a sadistic schizophrenic sexual deviant here -- most times bitchy, then one time inexplicably kind. Mike Liwag's third-wheel character Bernard was not clearly explained, but I think his sleazy behavior already spoke for itself. 

Awards and favorable recommendations notwithstanding, sad hopeless movies like this are not exactly my cup of tea. I do agree with the accolades received by the young cast. However, the stories told were either too mundane (Rashid's) or too weird (Jinky's) to draw my interest into it. This is not something I would highly recommend. But then again, that is just me. To each his own, I guess. 5/10. 

Review of STAR NA SI VAN DAMME STALLONE: Heartwarming and Healing

August 22, 2017

This film about a simple Filipino family and how they coped with the daily challenge of having a child with Down Syndrome was first shown during the 2016 CineFilipino film festival. It won 3rd Best Picture (behind "Ned's Project" and "Sakaling Hindi Makarating"). Lead actress Candy Pangilinan won Best Actress (in a tie with Angeli Bayani for "Ned's Project"), while child actor Isaac Aguirre won Best Supporting Actor. It is currently being shown as part of the first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

It is New Year's Eve and Nadia Zamora just gave birth to a child with Down's Syndrome. She thought it was the end of her world. Upon her acceptance of her blessing, Nadia named him after her two favorite action stars. Growing up with his patient older brother Tano, Vanvan went to school in the class of his cheerful godmother Ms. Cecille Mariquit as his teacher. He was also loved and defended by his pretty classmate Jessica, on whom Tano had a crush. After having a part in a fun, well-received school play, Vanvan decided he wanted to become an actor. Nadia and the whole family supported his one dream.

I know Candy Pangilinan more as a funny comedienne. She played it serious here and came up with an affecting (and award-winning) performance as Vanvan's "ermat" (or mother) Nadia. In the course of this challenging role, Pangilinan skillfully tread the delicate line between personal despair and unconditional maternal love. Her moment of epiphany and acceptance came after a very tense scene of extreme mental torment from which she fortunately snapped out of in time. Her restraint did her very well here.

We see the challenge of how an older brother would deal with a special younger brother. Instead of just going to school and playing with friends, Tano would have to help take care of Vanvan, and protect him from bullies in the neighborhood. He also had to contend with their mother's impatience and demands, which can be too much for a young boy to understand and accept. Kid Tano was played with impressive sensitivity by Isaac Aguirre, who certainly deserved the award he won. Adult Tano was played by Acey Aguilar, but his role was largely in the background by then.

The other supportive people around Vanvan were played with sincerity by their respective actors: Sarah Brakensiek as friendly Ms. Mariquit, Junyka Sigrid Santarin (who was so good on stage in "The Nether") as outspoken Kid Jessica. Mara Marasigan as Adult Jessica, Erlinda Villalobos as Vanvan's grandmother Ditas and Ebong Joson as Vanvan's long-estranged father Jim who wanted to make up for lost time. Vanvan's favorite actress on TV is Jasmine Curtis Smith, do you think he will get to see her in person?

The title role of Van Damme Stallone at different ages was played by young people with Down's syndrome. Edelmira Mattea Curativo was the baby Vanvan and Jeremiel Austria was the Toddler Vanvan. The main featured actors were Jadford Dilanco who played the Kid Vanvan, while Paolo Pingol who played the adult Vanvan. 

With these delightful actors, director Randolph Longjas (with a script by Alpha Habon) was able to show how a child with Down's Syndrome could be a source of joy and comfort for his family. Every scene with Vanvan (at all ages) inexplicably filled me up with both heartbreaking and heartwarming emotion. Even a simple quiet scene of Vanvan struggling to button down his shirt and eventually succeeding could make you shed happy tears. Do not leave right away after the end credits roll, as there is one more touching scene to remember Vanvan by. Sentimental yes, but never melodramatic. 9/10. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review of BAR BOYS: Learning about Law and Life

August 20, 2017

For many non-lawyers, the process of educating a lawyer is a hallowed mystery. With the quality of various lawyers we read about in the daily newspapers or observe in action on televised trials and investigations, we wonder:  How is someone who is expected to uphold the laws and protect human rights molded into being? How can we be assured that they will always remain true to the nobility of their calling? 

"Bar Boys" follows a group of friends who pass the entrance exam of a prestigious (but unnamed) law school. Torran Garcia (Rocco Nacino) is a cool and (over-)confident student, possessing a sharp tongue and photographic memory. Chris Carlson (Enzo Pineda) is a rich Amboy with a distant yet demanding father, who was also a lawyer. Erik Vicencio (Carlo Aquino) is a son of a elderly security guard whose biggest dream is for his son to become a lawyer, whatever it takes. 

Because of the multiple foci in its story, writer-director Kip Oebanda developed the story of the boys in an series of episodes, either together in school; or individually in their own homes. These episodes were mostly told with a naughty sense of humor, but some were very serious with pretty heavy dramatic situations. 

The school episodes told about the terrifying or hilarious idiosyncrasies of various professors they encounter. Two of them stood out. Atty. Victor Cruz (Sebastian Castro) is a not-so-discreet young gay professor who wore a shirt with banana designs on day one, but dead serious with his grades. Atty. Hernandez (Odette Khan) is an intimidating senior professor with glowering eyes who won't accept anything less than the absolute precise answer. This may count as one of the best roles I've seen Ms. Khan do in her whole career.

Of the three, it was Torran who joined a frat, so we also got a glimpse into that controversial topic. The story took a dark turn when Torran had a run-in with their brutal Lord Master (Vance Larena) during a sadistic hazing ceremony. I had an idea what may have happened, but I felt the outcome of this subplot was not shown or told too clearly. No positives of joining frats were shown to balance out the negatives.

Torran is part of a very big middle-class family led by his very loud and funny mother, and of course, nobody plays quirky better than Mailes Kanapi. How his family welcomed Torran when he came home after learning his bar result is one of my favorite scenes. In another scene, Torran got picked up by the beautiful law student Alice (Hazel Faith dela Cruz) he was trying to pick up at the frat party. It was too bad that that one-night-stand sequence would be the only appearance of dela Cruz for the whole film. 

A-student Chris is carrying on a relationship with an English-challenged direct salesgirl Rachel (another vivacious turn by Anna Luna after "Requited" and "Paglipay") for five long years, a matter which he kept secret from his father Atty. Maurice Carlson (Pontri Bernardo). Erik may come from a poor family, but he has a close, loving, supportive relationship with his parents Renato (Rener Concepcion) and Linda (Irene Celebre). Their father-son relationship was a most touching aspect of the story.

They had a fourth guy in their DOTA-playing gang, Josh Zuniga (played by Kean Cipriano) who would rather be a model/actor than be a lawyer. Despite sharing one fourth of the poster, Cipriano's scenes were very minimal compared to the other three, and he was there mainly for comic relief with his immature shenanigans.

If you want to study in law school, you should watch this first before you apply. Will you be ready to photocopy thick tomes for required readings, and actually commit them to memory? Will you be ready to handle spontaneous recitation sessions right on the first day of class? Will you be ready to argue with the answers of your classmates and rate their performance? Will you be ready to sacrifice all your interpersonal relationships at least until you graduate and pass the bar? This film tells you what to expect, and warns you ahead of time. 

You may wish that instead of hypothetical cases, they would debate on current issues of national interest about lawyers, but things did not go that way. The treatment of its interesting topic may have been fun, light-hearted and optimistic, however I thought the true essence of law school is captured with respect and sincerity. 7/10. 

Review of AWOL: Grievances and Guns

August 20, 2017

Honestly I chose to watch this entry of the currently-running first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino mainly because of its running time. It was getting late and I needed to go home. This feature length film only lasts for only a brisk hour and 15 minutes. This is the best film to catch if you are in a hurry and short on time (like me). 

At first I was apprehensive to catch this film because of poor initial reviews. It did not seem wise to pay a hefty regular price for a ticket ( I do not have free passes nor do I know how to score such passes) and see a short 75-minute movie with bad reviews. However, time constraints and curiosity still got the better for me, and so I decided to still go see and judge this film for myself. 

Lt. Abel Ibarra led a group of Army Rangers to attack and secure the headquarters of Muslim terrorist Habib al Sajid in the jungles of Sulu. His mission was an explosive success that resulted in the death of their subject. However, back in Manila a few months later, this same troop of Rangers were the target of a sneaky bomb attack during a baptismal party. As the only survivor of that fatal incident. Lt. Ibarra took it upon himself to seek revenge for the deaths of his men, even if it meant going AWOL.

I have to commend Skylight Films and Cine Bro for trying to resurrect the long dormant action genre in local cinema. Gone are the days when films of actors like Fernando Poe Jr., Joseph Estrada, Ramon Revilla, Rudy Fernandez, Lito Lapid, Bong Revilla, Robin Padilla and the like ruled the box office. Nowadays, local viewers could only get their adrenaline fix by watching Coco Martin on TV's "Ang Probinsyano."

"AWOL" seems to get inspiration from various Hollywood B-tier action flicks, such as those starring Jean Claude Van Damme or Jason Statham or present-day Bruce Willis. This was a variation of any of those one-man-army type revenge action plots.  Looking at it that way, you really do not expect too much artistry in films like this at all. Just kill, kill, kill.  

Gerald Anderson Is effective in the lead role of Abel, be it as a topnotch sharpshooter, an officer and a family man. He played this character really seriously and I thought he really inhabited it with a palpable intensity. He had an action star screen presence and skills.

Raymond Bagatsing (as Habib Al-Sajid), Harold Baldonado (as Russo), Dido de la Paz (as Delgado), Bernard Palanca (as Victor), and Bembol Roco (as Armando Santillan) played his enemies in various degrees of one-dimensional crazy. Lawrence Pineda (as Army Maj. Daguman) and Richard Quan (as Police Capt. Carlos) portrayed their roles in a way that made their characters look dubious and suspicious. 

The most remarkable villain of them all was a sinister female minion named Rosa, played by fitness trainer Reema Chanco-Waldie. Her scenes as a gun-slinging "nurse" and sharpshooting long-distance sniper were totally bad-ass. While all the other villains never really gave Abel much of a fight, this Amazon actually got a bullet into him.

There are multiple bad guys and terrorists killed, these scenes looking like various military-themed first-person shooter video games. Perfect head shots all the time! Action fans watch films like this for the gunfights, bombs and fistfights, and director Enzo Williams delivered in that sense, with clean cinematography and crisp sound effects mixing. 

"AWOL" could have gone beyond the by-the-numbers series of killings and delved deeper into complex issues about the culture of violence gripping our society these days, but it did not. This film's seemingly supportive statement about going above the law, vigilantism and extrajudicial killings is controversial. But then again, its aim may just be all about glorifying the heroism of our soldiers by way of exciting surface-level thrilling action. Maybe, we should just leave it at that, and not try to limn any intended underlying message at all.  6/10.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Review of BIRDSHOT: Corrupted by Critical Circumstance

August 19, 2017

Last November 2016, "Birdshot," a film by 24-year old director Mikhail Red, won Best Picture at the Asian Future Film Competition in the same 29th Tokyo International Film Festival where "Die Beautiful" won its Audience Choice and Best Actor. It was also the Opening Film of this year's Cinemalaya Filmfest. It finally gets its commercial run as part of the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino this week.

In a dusty unnamed rural town, there were two crimes committed. First there was a bus en route that mysteriously disappeared along with all the passengers on board.  Second, an endangered haribon (Philippine Eagle) was shot and killed. As their work on the first case seemed to be leading nowhere, senior police officer Mendoza and his new partner Domingo were also dispatched to investigate a cornfield caretaker Diego Mariano and his 14-year old daughter Maya, suspects of the second case.

This film did not hide its sentiments about the police. Arnold Reyes convincingly played the rookie Domingo, who devolved from a happy family with a garden of orchids into a heartless brutal executioner within the course of this film. It could have been rather abrupt, but Reyes' tortured transformation was disturbing to watch unfold. John Arcilla can play shady characters like Mendoza blindfolded. His sneer, his voice, chilling to the core. Dido dela Paz only had one scene as their chief of police, but he was downright fearsome and sinister.

Veteran character actor Ku Aquino and newcomer Mary Joy Apostol played the father and daughter caught up in the wave of violence. Diego was a tragic father figure, willing to take the fall for his daughter, and grizzled Aquino bravely took all his blows. Maya came of age in the most harrowing circumstances, and Apostol took the bull by the horns in her feature film debut, using her open innocent face to its full advantage.

On the negative side, I thought it was very odd how a father, jaded as he was, never told his daughter directly that it was illegal to shoot down a haribon despite having the eagle sanctuary right next door to their farm all those years. This was a rather shaky key plot point upon which the whole film stood with instability.

This was a film that comments on current Filipino society where police brutality is committed with seeming impunity. It shows how the spirit and morality of even the most upright man or idealistic youth can so easily be broken and corrupted by fear and insecurity. Common themes of several local indie films for sure, but this one was told in a novel style. While the chance encounter may have felt forced, the final scene of the whole film may have been hauntingly shot as a tableau of victimhood. 

From an opening scene showing Diego teaching his daughter Maya how to shoot ducks with a shotgun, you already knew that "Birdshot" was going to be about violence and its hold on people. With grand visuals by cinematographer Mycko David and an unsettling pace set by writer and director Mikhail Red, violence (to both men and beasts) would pervade and consume the rest of this film up to the end, taking us, its riveted captive audience, along on its heart-stopping and heart-breaking ride. 8/10.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review of 100 TULA PARA KAY STELLA: Heavy Hearts

August 17, 2017

Of all the films in the current first edition of the nationwide Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the one participating film that is bound to attract the most viewers would probably be this "teen" romance. For this festival, this film is the only one that fits in that genre that many mainstream Filipino moviegoers can't seem to get tired of, despite having a new one almost every week. So far, in the mall I was in this afternoon, this was the only film with a long line that formed outside it.

The year was 2004. Fidel Lansangan and Stella Puno met as 17 year old freshman BA Psych students at the Pampanga Agricultural College. They hit it off as friends even if their personalities seemed worlds apart. Fidel is a nerdy, grade-conscious honor student who had a speech impediment and a love for poetry. Stella is a tough, confident rocker chick who wore black lipstick and would rather sing with her band than study.

Shy Fidel started a series of love poems dedicated to Stella, but he never had the guts to let her read them. On the other hand, Stella was going through a series of boyfriends in her quest to snag a recording contract. When Fidel finally wrote his 100th poem to Stella, will he finally be able to give her his poems and tell her how he felt for her in the past four years?

Those who were expecting a lighthearted funny romp will be up for a surprise. I found this film very heavy to watch. With the talent of lead stars JC Santos and Bela Padilla in portraying the lead pair of Fidel and Stella, the audience can definitely feel the frustration and hurt of both characters. For me, it was not easy to bear all this pained emotion for the whole 2 hours running time. 

I felt that it was a bit difficult to accept JC and Bela as 17 year olds as they unmistakably looked more mature than the real teenagers with them in the classrooms or parties. Since they did look mature, it was hard to believe that they would do things that were so immature. I think it could have been better to have cast actual teens (I do not think there is a shortage) in these roles so that all the angst did not feel too awkward. 

I felt somehow that this whole plot was a gender-switched version of the recent romantic hit indie "I'm Drunk I Love You." The characters in both films were both college students. They both liked to sing. There were key scenes of drunken weakness set in a motel bedroom in both films, though with different outcomes. A line delivered by Fidel during that scene actually elicited a spontaneous round of applause from the youthful crowd during the screening I caught, certainly a rare occurrence.

Among the supporting characters. it was Ana Abad Santos who makes a strong impression as Fidel's English teacher Ms. Bardozo. She had one scene where she breaks down after reading Fidel's poetry that was so touching. J.C. Parker tended to be hysterical Prince Stefan played Chuck, Fidel's gay beat-boxer roommate at his dorm at the Phil. Republic University, who recruited Fidel to join the Young Performers Club. He could have toned down his florid portrayal a couple of notches. 

I wish the role of Danica, Fidel and Stella's jealous blockmate, could have been played better by Mayton Eugenio. She could not project this emotion of jealousy well even if we can all feel it in the situation. I could also say the same for Caleb Santos in the role of Von, Danica's poor cousin who ran the photocopy machine in the library. To be fair, with his fair skin and mestizo features, I felt he was totally miscast for this key role. 

You have to admire the production designer for trying to be meticulous about the props, since this film was set more than a decade ago. I am not really sure if local bands still really released albums in cassette tapes in those years, although it was said that Stella thought CD's were easily damaged, hence her preference for cassettes. The repeated mention of Friendster may sound strange to the teenage crowd watching.

Overall, this film, as written and directed by Jason Paul Laxamana, might connect better with millennial viewers than Gen X'ers. The actors did their best to portray their characters despite some irrational acts and decisions they were making. I personally could identify and empathize with Fidel's character, so I thought Stella was really one very strange girl, the way she was written.  Fortunately, the way Bela Padilla played her unlikable character, it was not easy to bear a grudge on her. 6/10.

Review of PAGLIPAY: An Aeta's Awakening

August 16, 2017

"Paglipay" ("Crossing") is one of the most acclaimed local films of 2016. It was first shown during the first To Farm Filmfest, in which it won Best Picture and Best Director, as well as Best Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography and People's Choice. Gawad Urian cited it with 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, two Supporting Actresses, Screenplay, Cinematography, and others. I finally got to see it during the first day of the the first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, where it was one of the twelve chosen films.

Atan Dimaya is a 19-year old Aeta boy who helped his father in their slash-and-burn farming livelihood. He was going to marry his childhood friend Ani. According to Ani's parents, he was supposed to prepare a dowry (or "bandi") that included two pigs, furniture, farm tools and P20,000 cash. Atan had to go down to town to sell banana hearts and cassava, as well as find various farming jobs, in order to raise the hefty monetary requirement. 

While in town, he meets Rain, a student from UP Manila who was in their town to conduct interviews with Aetas about the phenomenon of "pilaok," or intermarriages among the "kulot" (or curly-haired Aetas) and the "unat" (or straight-haired lowlanders). In his close interaction with the charming Rain, who was confiding in him her romantic woes with her boyfriend, Atan could not help but develop a big crush on her.

Being a real Aeta, Garry Cabalic was a very natural actor as he took on the lead role of Atan. His inexperience in acting is quite evident in several scenes, but that was actually part of his charm. The honesty and sincerity of his subdued performance effectively drew me into the simple story of the film. These were also the very factors that won him the awards, despite his being a neophyte amateur actor. The same is true with the even rawer Aeta actress Joan de la Cruz, who played Ani.

Anna Luna is really a charmer. I had just seen her in films like "Requited" and "Baconaua" during the last Cinemalaya films, and she really radiated warmth in those cold melancholic films. In this film as the friendly Rain, you can really see and feel why Atan was so attracted to her. Luna's highlight was that scene where Rain had a tearful breakdown while singing videoke. Luna made you feel her character's emotional vulnerability.

Even if its topic may not really appeal to a mainstream audience, this film is a great example why indie films are so interesting for me. It showed the lifestyle of the Aetas in these modern times, which I honestly do not really know about. It featured real Aetas in its cast to make it authentic, and in lead roles to boot. They spoke in their own tribal language. They prayed to their own gods like Apo Namalyari. They had their own style of slash-and-burn farming. They had their own practices regarding marriage. 

This film also shows us the close interaction of the "kulot" and the "unat" particularly in business. Since the Aetas have been forced off their mountains during the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, there had been more intermarriages between Aetas and lowlanders. In this film, Atan's older brother Iko was married to Lota (Natasha Cabrera), an "unat". The youngest daughter of Atan's employer Lando (Joel Saracho) married an Aeta boy. Interesting also that bit about the local legend about an encounter of an Aeta hunter named Djadig and the Virgin Mary (whom they called Apo Apang).

There are moments of modern-day humor care of Rain's best friend Cai (played by Manel Sevidal) and her obsession with posting and keeping updated on social media. There was also the cameo appearance of a popular young actor towards the end that gave those who did not know about his participation in the film (like me) a pleasant surprise. 

Despite the dry vegetation of the mountains and the bleak lahar landscape, the cinematography by Albert Banzon was breathtaking. The sun was used to highlight the drama and emotion of many scenes. The best photographed scene for me was that beautiful one that showing Atan running across the field, taken from an overhead view. On the other end, an intimate scene of an Aeta woman actually giving birth at home was also shot with a great eye.

During the 95-minute running of this film, writer-director-editor Zig Dulay immersed us into the day to day lives of the Aetas in the mountains of Zambales. He also injects an urgent message against the mining industry and how it was destroying the habitat and lifestyle of the Aetas. That final scene of the mountain being ravaged by mining equipment in the background was unsettling. You can feel Dulay's concern and respect for this indigenous people, whose culture and current condition he is preserving on film and sharing with the world. 8/10. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review of PATAY NA SI HESUS: Insane, Irreverent, Incisive

August 13, 2017

"Patay Na Si Hesus" was first an entry to the QCinema filmfest 2016. It won two awards: the Audience Choice Award and the Gender Sensitive Film award. I never got to see it then. However last August 12, on the penultimate day of the Cinemalaya 2017, I got lucky to finally be able to see it then. This coming week (Linggo ng Wika), it will be shown nationwide as one of the 12 films in the first edition of the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

This Cebuano dark comedy is about a mother Maria Fatima (Iyay for short) who got her three adult kids together on a long drive from Cebu to Dumaguete to attend the funeral of their long-estranged father Hesus. The eldest child Hubert has Down's syndrome. The middle child Judith Marie is a lesbian/trans man named Jude. The youngest child Jay is jobless bum who had not passed his board exams yet. With their cute dog Hudas and crazy aunt Lucy, Iyay's family squeezed into their trusty minivan for one roadtrip of a lifetime.

Jaclyn Jose had just won Best Actress in Cannes for the intense drama "Ma' Rosa" just before starring in this wacky film as Iyay. I had always seen Ms. Jose in serious dramas, so her astutely sharp comic timing displayed in this film was a delightful discovery. I remember how there was buzz for her to win Best Actress at QCinema last year, and now I see clearly why. Her Iyay was a strong survivor of circumstance, but sense of humor never left her. Iyay's scene in front of Hesus' coffin is so screwy embarrassing, we all felt the shame. 

Chai Fonacier attacked the role of Jude with such honesty. (I saw her in the Cinemalaya favorite "Respeto" just before this, and am now a fan of her work.) It was interesting to know that Melde Montanez, who delivered most of looniest gags as the irrepressible Jay (including one nasty one about a certain bodily fluid), was only in his first major outing as an actor. Vincent Viado was adorable in his portrayal of their Kuya Bert, proving that Down syndrome is no hindrance to be an actor.

Mailes Kanapi had always been known for her weirdo roles, but this turn as the unhinged nun Lucy takes the cake as her most daringly outrageous of all the roles I had seen her in. Ok, this was toilet humor taken to the max, but only Ms. Kanapi can deliver those insane lines so naturally, and then still top that afterwards with what is probably the boldest oblational scene of physical comedy on local cinema. 

Written by Patrick Tabada and directed by Victor Villanueva, this film is a roller coaster ride full of the irreverent and idiotic yet tempered with depth and heart. It was clear why this was an audience favorite. It highlights close family ties that all Filipinos can identify with and consider precious. There are so many small jokes between the big ones, spoken or visual, that usually hit the target, as can be evidenced by the loud laughter of the viewers. 

As the title suggests, religion is a butt of some jokes, which may be considered offensive by some conservative audiences. That said, the humor is good-natured and pleasant, well.. most of the time. By the time it reaches that hilarious ending when we see the family with the funeral cortege passing by, we will all be laughing out loud. It is an indelible classically absurd silly image to remember this film by for years to come. 9/10.