Monday, September 30, 2019

Recap of INTERNAL MEDICINE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 of SLMC-GC: Artful Advocacies

September 30, 2019

For the artistic program of the St. Luke's Medical Center Global City Dept. of Medicine celebration of Medicine Week this year, overall chairperson Dr. Ian Homer Cua (GI) decided to hold an "Internal Medicine Film Festival" for the first time. Consultants and residents of Internal Medicine and its various subspecialties served as the writers and actors of all these films. There was only one director for all the films in competition, Emir Kahn Bautista, who is noted for his wedding photos and videos. 

In ceremonies held at the Henry Sy Auditorium at the fifth floor of the SLMC-BGC, the film fest was formally inaugurated today at 12 noon when the bell was rung by Dr. Cua, Dr. Michael Villa (Endocrine, Chair of the Dept. of Medicine, SLMC-BGC), Dr. Deborah David-Ona (Cardio, VP for Medical Practice Group and Assistant Chief Medical Officer, SLMC-BGC) and Dr. Gina Nazareth (Nephro, current Phil. College of Physicians President). The emcees of the event were Dr. Vimar Luz (Nephro) and Dr. Helen Ong-Garcia (Cardio). 

IMFF Board of Jurors in the deliberation room
(Standing L-R: Yap, Hawson, Lo, Tobiano;
Seated L-R: Pascual, Cua, Sineneng, Arayata and Doctolero)

Judging will be based on message, originality, screenplay and acting. The members of the Board of Jurors: Marivin Arayata (GMA VP for Entertainment TV), Suzette Doctolero (GMA creative director), Pinky Pe Tobiano (philanthropist, chemist, businesswoman and consumer safety advocate), Ricardo Lo (showbiz writer Phil. Star), Keren Pascual (writer and PR maven), Darryl Yap (who just made his debut as a feature film director in the box office hit "#Jowable") and yours truly, Fred Hawson. The chairman of the Board of Jurors is Jerry Sineneng, veteran director of various films (like "Maybe This Time") and TV shows (like "Kadenang Ginto").

During this premiere showing event, after each film, the group representative called in some speakers to further talk about their respective advocacies. The most impactful speakers were those from the Mental Health group. Ms. Sheila Suntay is a mother who just lost her son to suicide last year. Since then, she had made it her mission to speak to groups of parents to be more sensitive to the mental condition of their kids. Actress Ms. Claudine Barretto also gave a brief talk about her bout with depression and battered wife syndrome.

The event is a fund-raiser for the benefit of SLMC GC Social Service patients and research activities of the Dept. of Medicine. Tickets cost P200 each to view all four films. There will be additional screenings on Oct 1 and 2, at 5:00-6:30 PM, and at 6:30-8:00 PM

The four short films in competition were:


Written by: Dr. Vimar Luz
Blue Team
Advocacy: HIV-AIDS

Because of some suspicious findings in her blood and xray, Nicole Concepcion (Dr. Carmela Vistal) was requested by her doctor to have an HIV test. While her best friend Luis (Dr. Jolly Santos) remained very supportive, her husband Manuel (Dr. Rod Castro) was nowhere to be found. 

The three lead actors really poured on the heavy drama in their portrayal of three individuals caught up in the HIV web -- the promiscuous partner, the unsuspecting victim and the supportive friend -- with a twist. A fourth character was Nicole's imperious mother Felicity Alicante played with scene-stealing aplomb by cardiologist Dr. Mylene Cornel. Cameos by some big-shot consultants as a series of anonymous gay partners of one of the characters definitely surprised and amused those in the audience who recognized them. 



Written by: RT Tipones, MD
Advocacy: Mental Health
Green Team

An aloof young lady doctor named Alex, cannot seem to get her miserable mind straight. Instead, over the days, she would drop her stuffed toys one by one out of the window down to the street below. One day, she just threw her last toy out. What's next? 

Of all the films in competition, this was the one that looked the most technically polished. From the very first scene of Alex walking towards the edge of a skyscraper rooftop, you would be impressed with the cinematography. The editing of scenes that flitted between reality and pathologic fantasy was also very clean. Dr. Marian Dimabuyu's face effectively projected the mental confusion of her character Alex. The performance of writer Dr. RT Tipones as Alex's spurned suitor Francis was remarkable, especially in the surprise epilogue.



Written by: Eibbron Lu, MD
Advocacy: Illicit Drug Use
Yellow Team

The husband was a drug addict and wife-abuser. His wife eventually could not take all the beating and left him, taking their son Angel with her. On that one day that Angel visited his father, the police also decided to come to arrest him and his gang.

This film attempted to create the grit of those anti-drug films produced over the past two years as a result of the government's drug war -- bleak and no redemption. Pulmonologist Dr. Ronald Reodica was frighteningly intense as the abusive husband and father. Endocrinologist Dr. Joy Fontanilla nailed a most realistic performer as the aggrieved wife and mother. Cardiologist Dr. George Cordova played a tough-as-nails policeman, but also had a tender scene reminiscing about a bitter past tragedy. Unusual for a medical advocacy film though, it never touched the medical aspects of drug abuse, only the social aspects.



Written by: Minnie San Juan, MD
Advocacy: Obesity
Red Team

Jennifer was a morbidly obese woman who had a constant craving for sweets. When it came to exercise, she would rather conveniently forget about it. However, one night just as she was about to go to a date, fate had other plans for her.

Of the four entries in this filmfest, this was the one with lightest, comic vibe, which made it stand out. This was practically a one-woman show for IM resident Dr. Marga Laconico as Jennifer, who huffed and puffed practically throughout the whole duration of the film in a cumbersome fat suit (which probably made her lose weight in real life). A very natural actress, Dr. Laconico had a strong and winsome screen presence which made us all root for her character to overcome her food addiction and weight problems, and become healthier and happier. 


Winners for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress will be announced on Friday, October 5, 2019 during the Awards Night. The Audience Choice award, based on ticket votes in the respective drop boxes for each of the four films after the screening, will be also be announced. 




     2nd Best Picture: Miss Concepcion
     3rd Best Picture: My Romantic Baboy






Best Picture: Miss Concepcion
Best Actor: Dr. Ronald Reodica (Anghel sa Alapaap)
Best Actress: Dr. Joy Fontanilla (Anghel sa Alapaap)
Best Supporting Actor: Dr. Jolly Santos ( Miss Concepcion)
Best Supporting Actress: Dr. Mylene Coronel (Miss Concepcion)

YouTube: Review of 12 DAYS TO DESTINY: Bonding over Balut

September 29, 2019

Robert S. Tan of Blade Auto Center began his movie-producing endeavors last year with the film "Dito Lang Ako" (MY REVIEW). This was an inter-generational love story which was prominently set in the premises of a Blade Auto Center branch. This year, perhaps because of the financial challenge of releasing a film in theaters, Blade decided that their second feature film "12 Days to Destiny" will be released for the public to watch for free on YouTube instead. This week it just breached 1M views. 

Daniel (Akihiro Blanco), a salesman in a Blade store, was also a student in Engineering. One day, pretty Camille (Mary Joy Apostol) came in the store looking for made-to-order seat covers, and Daniel assisted her with the transaction. While snacking on balut and other encounters in and out of the store, Daniel and Camille get closer together. However, to complicate matters, a guy named T always called Camille, while Daniel's ex-girlfriend Cat made an unexpected comeback. 

The whole movie (LINK) was only 56 minutes long, an easy watch. The boy-meets-girl plot is simple and familiar. The cinematography was quite basic, with mostly regular camera angles, with occasional use of drones for overhead shots. The editing was also basic, and the transition of scenes were rather in choppy episodes. The musical soundtrack consisted of some upbeat romantic songs of the acoustic styles which are very typical among rom-com films about the millennial set currently. 

However, despite all of that simplicity, this movie does not fail to deliver on its main purposes for being made. First, it worked as an advertisement for Blade Auto Center., as the main setting and employer of the lead character. It showcased the wide array of car parts and accessories Blade carried, as well as personalized service Blade provides its customers. It also showed that there is close camaraderie among the boss and employees in their company, which be useful in staff recruitment.

As a rom-com, there was very good chemistry between the two main actors, as well as earnest performances as individuals for both of them. Akihiro Blanco played up his wholesome boy-next-door charms. Mary Joy Apostol, in a wide departure from her acclaimed debut film "Birdshot" (Mikhail Red, 2016), proved that she can also play it cute and light. As couple, the two can generate romantic thrills, even if you are just watching this from the limited screen of your smart phone.

This short movie written and directed by CJ Santos provides a quick fix for your rom-com cravings -- cute, cheesy, shallow and amusing -- just as rom-com junkies like it. Because of the success of this first feature in #BladeStories on YouTube, Blade is planning to complete a trilogy about Daniel and Camille's love story.  5/10.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Review of #JOWABLE: Distressingly Desperate

September 28, 2019

Mid last year, there was a video that spread on social media entitled "#Jowable" (LINK) by filmmaker Darryl Yap. In this 6-minute clip, a young woman entered a church drunk, and started to question God why she had no boyfriend since birth when it seemed clear that she was "jowable" (or "good girlfriend material" in street lingo). This year, Yap himself expanded on that premise and made it into a full-length film.

Ever since she was a little girl, Elsa Mangahas (Kim Molina) already dreamed of having a boyfriend with whom she can share her lunch with. However, even as she became an adult now, she never had a boyfriend her whole life and she was very miserable for it. 

Her close friends, Karissa (Cai Cortez), Facundo (Chad Kinis) and Nuna (Jobelyn Manuel, the girl in the original video), her classmates since grade school and now co-workers in an events company, all had their partners in life already. Even her mother Liberty (Kakai Bautista) had a boyfriend, this current one Dmitri (Fabio Ide) was her 16th. 

Everything built up to that moment when a very drunk Elsa argued, challenged and bargained with God in the church (the very scene we had seen before in Yap's initial short film). Will Elsa's empty love life change after her major cathartic session with God?

Kim Molina is fresh off her raunchy iWant feature "Momol Nights" which also depicted a sort of similar dilemma for her character. This stage actress and singer whom I first knew playing the lead roles in musicals like "Rak of Aegis" and "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" is now a full-fledged movie, and a sex-comedy princess at that. Molina is one of those rare actresses who can pull off those naughty lines in such a cute tongue-in-cheek manner so that it does not come off as totally offensive, even for conservative viewers. 

Kakai Bautista who played Elsa's ex-prostitute mother, who had a revolving door of hunky boyfriends. Bautista played it so cheap and trashy here, but can't not love her despite these traits. That mother-daughter breakdown scene together was fully of tearful dialogue, but it was simply too hilarious not to laugh out loud. 

Another notable scene was that inebriated conversation of Elsa with Sister Katrina during a field trip, which was chockful of sexual double-entendres, shocking coming from a nun. However, with the way Candy Pangilinan played the tactlessly frank nun, the scene turned out delightful and funny despite the inherent wrongness of it all. 

There was a character of the strict Ms. Soledad Manalili (played by Suzette Ranillo) who caught the third-grader Elsa kissing the anatomy model in school nicknamed Tommy. Because of her dedication to her profession, Ms. Manalili never got married and instead just had her cross-stitching and pack of shih-tzus. With this character, the film made a detour of sorts to pay tribute to teachers. It was sentimental yes, but felt off-tangent. 

The original short video by Yap was very popular among the millennial set for its extreme ranting soliloquy about having no boyfriend, in a church of all places. However, it was also criticized for its use of profane language inappropriate for the sacred setting. But it was exactly this shocking disrespectful nature that led to its viral status, which now led to this feature film. The film had more such scenes with similar-style writing by Yap throughout its choppy run -- very irreverent and uncouth, yet with sincere insights if you listen closely. 6/10. 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Review of DOWNTON ABBEY: Anxious Aristocrats

September 27, 2010

I had long heard of "Downton Abbey," but I never had the chance to watch even a single episode of this beloved British TV series which aired from 2010 to 2015. When announcements of a movie version came out, I wanted to go watch it because I liked these British aristocratic period drama movies, like those much-missed Merchant-Ivory films of the late 80s and 90s. However, I was apprehensive that I may not be able to follow the story if it referred to past story lines or characters. 

It was 1927. The Crawley family along with whole Downton Abbey household was thrown into excitement when a letter arrived announcing that King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) were visiting their estate as part of the royal tour around the country. Among the masters, there was the issue of Dowager Countess of Grantham Violet Crawley and her falling out with her cousin Lady Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton), who was coming as the Queen's lady-in-waiting. Among the servants, there was a turf war between the proud Downton Abbey staff and the arrogant royal staff members with fancy titles who were boxing them out of serving the royal guests.

Even if I knew nothing about any of the Downton Abbey characters, I can see why they had legions of devoted fans. These characters, both masters and servants alike, were all very personable and likable. Even if I had never met them before, their personalities were so distinct, it was as if I already knew them already.

The Crawley family was led by the Dowager Countess of Grantham Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith). Her witty zingers were delightful, and, with Smith's revered stature, may just earn her an Oscar nomination. Her son Robert (Hugh Bonneville) was the Earl of Grantham. His wife was Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), and they had two adult daughters Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Edith (Laura Carmichael) and their husbands Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) and Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton) respectively. 

There was also Tom Branson (Allen Leech), Robert's widower son-in-law and former chauffeur. Of this set, it was Branson who figured in three significant side stories, one about an assassination attempt, another about a contemplated separation, and a third about a clueless heiress.

Their household staff was led by Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) who was reinstated as head butler for this movie, and his wife, the former Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) was head housekeeper. John Bates (Brendan Coyle) was Sir Robert's valet and his wife Anna (Joanne Froggatt), now Lady Mary's personal maid. Their bickering with Mr. Wilson (David Haig), the Royal Page of the Backstairs; Mrs. Webb (Richenda Carey), the Queen's Royal Dresser and Monsieur Courbet (Phillipe Spall), the royal chef, provided much of the comedy in the film. 

Thomas Barrow (Robert James Collier) was the butler, but for this movie was given his own individual side plot about his being a closeted gay man. 

The film reminded me a lot of "Gosford Park" (Robert Altman, 2001) where the contrasting stories of the rich lords were being told in parallel with those of their servants. Both screenplays were written by the same person, Julian Fellowes. He actually won an Oscar for his original screenplay of "Gosford Park." He expanded this idea to create "Downton Abbey" the TV series, and now this film. 

The pace of the story telling by American director Michael Engler was at just the right clip as would be expected of a multi-threaded tale about British gentry, their genteel lifestyles and idiosyncratic foibles. The flow of the film was quite steady and even (which others may call "stuffy"), with a just a couple of detours out of the estate for some excitement (which I found somewhat off-tangent). 

Being of a decidedly dry manner of speech and wry sense of humor, this type of film is an acquired taste and would probably appeal more to the baby boomers and Generation X.  The Anglophile in me enjoyed it a lot, even without seeing the original series. 8/10. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Review of HUSTLERS: Victimized by Vamps

September 26, 2019

In 2007, Asian-American beauty Dorothy worked at a strip club as the exotic Destiny. However, she felt she was not making enough money to support her and her grandmother. She was stunned by the alluring pole-dancing style of the Latina star dancer Ramona, who consistently took home a sizable amount worth of tips. Ramona generously shared the secrets of her trade to Destiny, and they became very close friends and popular dance partners at the club. 

Then the 2008 Wall Street crash happened, and the strip club closed down along with the investment firms.  The girls needed to find another lucrative way to make a buck. But this time out of financial desperation, they had to go beyond mere stripping. Ramona initiated a plan of drugging their client just enough to fork over their credit card and give them their passwords so the girls can bleed the men dry. 

I was very surprised how daring Constance Wu was as an actress for accepting a role like this. I first knew her as the mother in the TV show "Fresh Off the Boat" (2015 to present). Then just last year, she became a bonafide movie star when she starred in the major box office hit "Crazy Rich Asians" (2018). This year, she totally went against her usual wholesome mode to play a stripper -- wearing heavy make-up, two-piece bikinis, gaudy accessories and performing lap dances for her clients. 

Even if technically Wu played the lead role in this film, she was overshadowed by the gorgeous Jennifer Lopez, who definitely stole the whole film away by totally owning the role of strip goddess, Ramona. Her very first dance routine on the pole was mesmerizing, you just can't take your eyes off her as she slinked her flexible body around with such elegant pizzazz. When Ramona was teaching Destiny the basic pole moves, JLo again was very captivating with her graceful strength and sexy skills.

Now as far as JLo's sure-thing Oscar nomination in the Supporting Actress category, the buzz is really loud I won't be surprised if it comes to pass come awards season. She is perfectly cast in that role -- her face, her body, her dancing -- all looked so right. The dramatic performance per se was not exactly spectacular enough to get excited about, but JLo's portrayal of Ramona is eye-catching and memorable nonetheless. 

The main story of "Hustlers" went beyond that its male counterpart "Magic Mike" when the girls actually ventured into the world of crime. Ramona and Destiny were said to be making so much money in 2007 ("even more than a brain surgeon makes" according to her narration), one presumed they could already live off those earnings. I guess they just splurged to glamour stuff and never thought to save up. I didn't see Dorothy as that type of person, so I do not buy this this unfortunate turn of events at all. This is not women-empowering at all. 5/10. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Review of AD ASTRA: Facing Father and Future

September 24, 2019

This is one of those films where the elegant title and poster alone already had me sold that I should go watch this movie. I only had the general idea that this was going to be set in space. I like this genre of motion picture, as films like "Gravity," "The Martian" and "Interstellar" all made it to the top of my yearend lists. I purposely never watched any trailer nor read any article about it, so that I can go in unaware of what the story was all about. 

This film was set in the "near future" -- when humans can live and populate settlements on the moon and Mars. Astronaut Capt. Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) was sent to Mars to participate in the search for his long-lost father H. Clifford McBride. The elder McBride was the leader of the Lima Project, which aimed to search for intelligent life forms in outer space. Now, it was believed that this Lima Project, marooned in Neptune for 16 years now, was the cause of deadly power surges happening across the solar system.  

The quietly dignified performance of Brad Pitt in the lead role merits a thumbs up for me. The acting was so restrained that he did not feel like he was acting. He was really that very cool and collected guy whose heart rate never went over 80 bpm. He managed to still be very believable as a person, even if he's had some pretty incredible luck that had flawed scientific basis. I felt sincerity in the way he was narrating his story and sharing the lessons he had learned from tragedies he met all along the way. 

Tommy Lee Jones played Capt. Roy's lost father who may or may not be alive, who may or may not be a hero. Ruth Nega played Helen Lantos, director of the underground facility in Mars. This once Oscar nominee (for "Loving") had an interesting character key in Roy's discovery of the truth. Liv Tyler (whom I did not recognize) played Roy's estranged wife Eve, frustrated with how he spent more time at work than on her. Donald Sutherland played Clifford's old friend Col. Pruitt, whose part could have been edited out with no consequence.

I cannot ignore some obvious scientific impossibilities in the film. I believe that science fiction should still somehow obey scientific laws. How can a human stowaway survive if he was still climbing up the ship right beside the rocket boosters all fired up at launch time? A person was working on a station beyond the atmosphere and fell all the way down to earth, but he survived thanks to a parachute within his space suit? Can an explosion in Neptune really launch a spaceship low in fuel all the way back to Earth?

Under all of the dazzling cinematography (by Hoyte van Hoytema), thoughtful musical score (by Max Richter) and spectacular outer space special effects and , writer-director James Gray was actually just telling a story about a son's valiant effort to reconnect with his estranged father. In this case though, this particular son's efforts bring him all the way to the icy-rocky rings of Neptune where his father's space station had been stalled all these years. I must admit the simplicity of the core story was a bit of a letdown for me, even if they sugarcoat generously with sentimental life philosophies. 7/10.

Review of RAMBO: LAST BLOOD: Rabid Revenge

September 24, 2019

Rambo is an iconic film character portrayed by Sylvester Stallone in the film "First Blood" (Ted Kotcheff, 1982). He was an American soldier who trained in the US Army Special Forces. He became a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, but he was able to escape. Back in the US, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and became a homeless drifter. There he caught the attention and ire of yokel authorities, which caused Rambo use his combat skills to retaliate.

For that auspicious film film, Rambo became a film franchise spawning a number of sequels (in 1985, 1988 and 2008). This current film "Rambo: Last Blood" (in a rather cheesy reference to the title of the original film) is the fifth of the series. 

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is now back working in his father's horse ranch in Arizona, where he lived with housekeeper Maria Beltran (Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal). Against everyone's advice, Gabrielle went off by herself across the border to Mexico to locate and confront her estranged father Miguel. 

Unfortunately, after being rejected by her father, she was abducted for human trafficking by the mericless Martinez brothers (Sergio Peris-Mencheta as Hugo, and Óscar Jaenada as Victor) and their gang. When Rambo got wind of this news from Mexican journalist Carmen (Paz Vega), he stopped at nothing to get Gabrielle back.

This Rambo barely had anything to do with his experiences in Southeast Asia at all, maybe except for his background in guerrilla warfare. At least the first sequels still had scenes in Vietnam (in "Rambo 2"), Thailand (in "Rambo 3") and Myanmar (in "Rambo 4"). But this current one just shuttled back and forth from Arizona to Mexico in a by-numbers generic rescue-revenge story we had already seen countless times in forgettable B-grade action films, several of which actually starred Stallone. 

At the start, Stallone's Rambo had already mellowed down with age and contentment. However, when someone he valued got into danger, he just had to go out there in Mexico's wild wild west, and rescue her all by himself. Stallone can practically do these projects blindfolded already. He's got his droopy sad eyes going during the quiet dramatic scenes of loss, and his angry game face during the violent action scenes. Stallone was the only non-Latino in this film, and with all those Mexicans he massacred single-handedly, this could be seen as a strong political statement for those with a certain mindset.

After the slow build-up, the much-awaited "Rambo-style" action scenes only began in the last 20 minutes of the film. And wow, did Stallone and director Adrian Grunberg go all the way out for them! His trusty survival knives would not be missing in action as they (along with various other traditional or improvised weapons) were used numerous times to impale, maim, dismember, behead and eviscerate various human targets. Fiery explosive booby traps and a labyrinth of caves under his father's ranch were also there to rack the excitement level up several notches. 

While some may decry this part over being too over-the-top with slasher-type gore, they can definitely satiate the bloodlust of Rambo's rabid fans. 4/10.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

PPP 2019: Review of WATCH ME KILL: Ultimate Unraveling

September 20, 2019

Ruthless assassin Luciana was hired by crime lord Franco (Jay Manalo) to kill an old man (Rodolfo Muyuela) who found a valuable diamond. After finishing him off and securing the gem, Luciana also took home with her the young girl Lourdes who was riding the old man's jeep. One day, Franco suspected Luciana of double-crossing him and ordered his men to execute her. Luciana was not going to be that easy to kill.

This film had just won three awards in the recently concluded Pista ng Peilikulang Pilipino 2019. Its biggest prize is that of Best Director for Tyrone Acierto. Being a US-educated and US-based filmmaker, Acierto was able to recruit American film colleagues to work with him in "Watch Me Kill." Two of them (Marcin Ski and Colorado Rutledge) likewise went home with awards for Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing respectively. 

It was interesting to see how their American sensibilities told a Filipino story. The entire sequence of that old man and his search for that diamond in a desolate location played like an American Western in its look and feel. That vibe continued when Luciana went on a killing spree on that dusty desert road. Even the music in those scenes sounded like the score heard in Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns.

By playing a ruthless assassin in "Watch Me Kill," Jean Garcia adds action star to her diverse resume as an actress. She was a cool and calculated killer. However, when Lourdes came into the picture, Luciana could not seem to just abandon the young girl. She was also haunted by her traumatic past which molded her into the hardened woman she was now, and this sort of character drama is right down Garcia's alley. 

Fresh from her Cinemalaya film "Children of the River," child actress Junyka Santarin got to showcase more of her thespic skills as Lourdes. The presence of this girl radically affected Luciana and her spare lifestyle, and it was up to Santarin to show us why Luciana was so drawn to her. The background and behavior of Lourdes was the biggest question mark in the film and the polarizing answer would not be forthcoming until the very end. 

Acierto won a Best Director prize for his first feature film "The Grave Bandits" in the Metro Manila Filmfest New Breed category back in 2012. "Watch Me Kill" is his second feature film, and again he won Best Director, a perfect two for two record, a director to look out for in the future. However, I was not surprised that it did not win Best Picture. While the technical aspects of this film were unquestionably topnotch, there were still some puzzling aspects of Luciana's unraveling which could have been better told or developed or cleared up. 7/10.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

PPP 2019: Review of I'M ELLENYA L.: Viral Vindication

September 19, 2019

As there were three movies about senior citizens in this year's Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino this year ("Lola Igna," "Circa" and "Pagbalik"), there were also three movies about young people ("LSS," "G!" and this one). 

Ellenya L. (Maris Racal) is a pretty and perky 22 year old young woman who is obsessed with her social media popularity. She could not hold a day job, and instead would rather spent her days whipping up fresh content for her Instagram account. While her father Toots (Gio Alvarez) over-indulged his daughter's whims, her strict Grandma Madz (Nova Villa) constantly kept her grounded with her lectures.

At first, things were simpler, with her childhood best friend and neighbor Stephen (Inigo Pascual) patiently helping her with her photos and vlogs. One day, when Ellenya met popular online guru Kyle Quintos (Pat Sugui), he gave her a big break to be a model for an event. Without giving the offer a second thought, Ellenya agreed right away, knowing this was her big break to become the viral influencer she aspired to be.

I knew Maris Racal and Inigo Pascual as TV personalities, but this is the first feature film I had seen them in. Racal as the vivacious Ellenya embodied the current generation of spirited millennials many of whom have the dream of being social media celebrities. On the other hand, Pascual as the protective Stephen balanced Ellenya's reckless daring with his cautious sensibility. They looked good together and had great chemistry as a couple (but of course they did not know it yet at first).

90s teen idol Gio Alvarez, now a hefty 40-something, played Ellenya's delightfully supportive musician father. The jurors awarded Alvarez the Best Supporting Actor award for his breezy performance, his very first acting award ever. Veteran actress Nova Villa played yet another cantankerous grandmother, as she has been usually typecast in playing (as she did in "Miss Granny"). I felt her words of wisdom during Ellenya's crying scene could have been worded better to make for a more poignant effect. 

Pat Sugui and Kat Galang played Kyle and Gerrie, celebrity social media managers whom Ellenya idolized. There were several celebrity cameos to catch to add to the viewing fun. Sue Ramirez played herself as the number one celebrity vlogger client of Kyle. There was a group of "tribesmen" who performed during the main event, and these were actually Joross Gamboa, Ketchup Eusebio, Antonio Aquitania and Vandolph Quizon. 

By keeping everything fun, light and entertaining, director Boy 2 Quizon created an effective cautionary tale about over-obsession with social media among the millennial generation and younger. The climax was a bit too graphic and over-the-top, but if the filmmakers were aiming for a big shock, then they definitely achieved it, and explosively so! Call it disgusting or disturbing, in any case it made a solid memorable impact. That is how a message should be delivered for it to catch the attention of its target audience and make a major impression on them. 7/10. 

PPP 2019: Review of VERDICT: Vivid Vérité

September 18, 2019

The Venice Film Festival 2019 ran from August 27 - September 7, 2019. "Verdict" from the Philippines, by first-time director Raymund Ribay Gutierrez, was the only entry in the official selection from Southeast Asia. It also won the Special Jury Prize in the Horizon Section (which ran parallel to the main section competing for the Golden Lion, which won by Todd Phillips' "Joker" this year). 

One night, while Joy and daughter Angel were enjoying a piece of cake, her petty crook husband Dante came home drunk and angry. In no time, he was brutally beating Joy up for no apparent reason. Severely injured, she quickly grabbed Angel and ran off to the safety of the nearby police outpost. From there, this film then followed Joy's quest for justice, step by step in detail, from Dante's arrest all the way to criminal court. 

Watching this film was not easy. Director Raymund Gutierrez's camera was constantly in motion and very shaky. The focus was very tight, with everything shot very up-close, we can practically see every pore on the actors' faces. Immediately, this cinematographic style called to mind that of acclaimed Filipino director Brillante Mendoza. 

As the credits rolled at the end, Mr. Mendoza's name was actually executive producer. It came as no surprise upon later research that Gutierrez learned his directorial ropes under Mendoza. Even the style of acting from his actors was Mendoza-esque -- very gritty and realistic, as if there was no acting at all. 

This role of Joy should be the most intense role Max Eigenmann ever had in her career. Her scenes with the swollen face were painful to watch, it was so ironic the indignities she had to undergo from the various authorities while in that damaged physical situation. She had a scene where the camera was following her as she was walking out on the streets, a scene that called to mind Jaclyn Jose's Cannes-winning final walk in Mendoza's "Ma'Rosa." (I was half-expecting Joy to stop and eat a stick of fish balls herself, which of course she didn't.)

Kristoffer King was a terrifying presence as pathological abuser and liar Dante. King had been mentored by Brillante Mendoza practically his whole career and he is indeed a master of not acting, and just being the character. Here, King's Dante reeked of evil even by just his mere look. Unease was felt even during his quiet moments with his innocent daughter Joy or with his ever-supportive mother (Dolly de Leon).  King's passing last February 23, 2019 marked the loss of one talented young character actor. This was his final feature film role.

As a Filipino, watching this procedural film will make you fraught with frustration at the quality of the justice system expected to uphold our rights and keep us secure. If you are poor, even if you had been so obviously wronged, everyone who was supposed to help you seemed so inefficient and cold -- the barangay officials, the police, the medics, the fiscals, or even the judge. Sadly, you just take it as it is. You simply can't do anything about it. This Santos v Santos case was filed in urban Mandaluyong, and it went like this. How much worse could we expect in rural courts?

The grueling pace of the film felt real time, as slowly as these cases would take in actuality. That immersive nature was why it packed such a mean punch to our guts. 8/10. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

PPP 2019: Review of LOLA IGNA: Cantankerous Centenarian

September 17, 2019

When I first saw the trailer of "Lola Igna" about an ill-mannered, foul-mouthed old woman, I did not think I would like it at all. However, it was directed by Eduardo Roy, Jr., an up and coming name in indie film directing for critically acclaimed films like "Pamilya Ordinaryo" and "F#*@bois." Furthermore, it took home four major awards during the awards night last Sunday, including Best Picture, Screenplay, Musical Score and Actress (for Angie Ferro). Needless to say, it is a must-watch.

Lola Igna (Angie Ferro) is Ignacia Rivera. She is now 118 years old. She lived alone in the hut where she lived with her late husband Carias. Her granddaughter Nida (Maria Isabel Lopez), grandson-in-law Eddie (Jojo Riguerra) and great-grandchild Bok (Royce Cabrera) looked out for her needs. Formerly a busy midwife, Lola's daily routine now merely included going out to the rice fields to scare birds away by shaking a system of ropes with tin cans.

One day, Mayor Gustavo (Soliman Cruz) of her remote agricultural community decided to nominate Lola for the title of "Oldest Living Grandmother" at the "Amazing People of the World" awards. This created a media frenzy which resulted in tourists visiting Lola Igna's house to visit her and take selfies with her, unwanted attention that she detested. One of those city folk who visited Lola was a young man named Tim (Yves Flores), who turned out to be the son of her long-estranged granddaughter Ana (Meryl Soriano).

Completely owning the title character in her first leading role after 60 years in show business, Angie Ferro will grow on you as Lola Igna. Her Lola won't be easy to like at first with her frank cantankerous nature. However, after getting to know her more during the film through the eyes of Tim, her latter scenes will bring you to tears. By the end, you will eventually love this woman as if she was your very own great-grandmother. Yves Flores as Tim also grew a lot in the duration of his bonding with his dear Lola-lola whom he never even knew before. Flores effectively created a character we can all identify with as he brought us along on Tim's arc.

Maria Isabel Lopez and Meryll Soriano may feel miscast as sisters since they are 25 years apart in real life. Casting Jojo Riguerra as Lopez's husband made me imagine a convoluted May-December, sister rivalry story line (which did not materialize). Anyhow, after a while, the casting choices did not matter as everyone gelled together as a screen family. Even the minor characters in the community made their mark, like Peewee O'Hara as the store owner Senya, Joel Saracho as the faith healer Rene, and especially Armand Reyes as the elderly bachelor Gusting.

What we see in the trailer and read in the synopsis is really just the tip of a delightful iceberg. The film began very slowly, familiarizing us with Lola Igna's daily routine upon waking up, from her chamber pot ritual to her fly-infested breakfast. However, once the main story got underway, there was so much more to tell than just Lola's life story. Aside from the evocative drama within her family, the film also comments on rural politics, folk superstitious beliefs, as well as on social media phenomena. It was like an update on "Himala," but lighter, peppered with a generous sense of humor. 

And just when you guess the story is already bound to go one way, writer-director Eduardo Roy, Jr. throws you another curve ball. This bittersweet film is beautiful cinematic storytelling. 8/10.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

PPP 2019: Joint Review of OPEN and CUDDLE WEATHER: Lusting for Life

September 15, 2019

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2019 has 10 films showing (7 official entries and 3 films in the Sandaan Showcase), running from September 13 to 19, 2019. I was only able to watch my first films today, the day of the awards night. I just went to watch what was available during the time I went to the mall this afternoon, and it just so happened to be these two films. Both of them had been rated B by the CEB so it should be okay. Then again, all the PPP official entries had at least been rated a B, so that pretty much evened things out. 

Based on the posters and trailers, these two films dealt with sexual relationships, and should seem to be for mature audiences only. It was surprising to note that they were both been generously rated as R-13 by the MTRCB. (Then again, the MTRCB also rated a film about transgenders trying to get women pregnant as PG!) Now that I have watched both these films, I conclude they should have been rated higher R-16 or even R-18. 



Director: Andoy Ranay
Production: T-Rex Entertainment and Black Sheep

Ethan (JC Santos) and Rome (Arci Munoz) had been in a romantic relationship for 14 years and had been living in together for a long time. Everyone around them, especially Rome herself, wondered why Ethan never proposed marriage after all this time. Instead, when he felt that their relationship was already going stale, Ethan suggested to Rome that they should make their relationship an open one, like the one his good friend Archie (Vance Larena) with his fiancee Monique (Ivana Alawi). 

It was hard to watch a person as self-centered and cruel as Ethan exists, manipulating the woman he supposedly loved to agree to an open relationship in the guise of injecting excitement into their union, when in fact it was only to legitimize his ulterior motive of having a sexual affair with his ultra-sexy senior co-worker Erika (played by a very game Ina Raymundo). As if she was not already foolish enough to be forced to agree to this questionable arrangement, Rome actually also forced herself to have sex with a random guy Sam ( a sneaky Micah Munoz) whom she met in a dance club. Did she really have to?

This film depicted a liberal type of modern relationship that allowed extraneous sexual affairs as long as both parties consented to it. I would think that that topic alone should already merit an R-18 rating. Are present morality codes already so lax and permissive so as to allow children as young as 13 to watch a film like this? The character of JC Santos was a very detestable person, and he deserved only one kind of ending. However, director Andoy Ranay took his sweet sadistic time getting to that inevitable conclusion with such a deliberately glacial pace of storytelling. It was truly unbearable to endure that toxicity so long, despite its attractive lead stars. 3/10.



Director: Rod Marmol
Production: Project 8 corner San Joaquin Projects, Inc. and Regal Entertainment

Adela (Sue Ramirez) decided to go into a life of prostitution to help her mother get through their poverty. After 9 years of turning tricks, now earning a minimum of P10K per customer. Just when Adela decided she wanted to turn a new leaf in life, she met a newbie on the prostitution block Ram (RK Bagatsing), who called her his Sempai (or "mentor") and she allowed him to live in her condo as a cuddle buddy (with strict rules) and helped his get started towards a more lucrative career in the sex trade. 

Believe it or not, this a rom-com about prostitutes and their sordid lives, with various scenes of kinky sex (thankfully non-explicit) and a generous helping of sexually-charged language, gets rated a R-13. Times have indeed changed, and it seems that these matters are already allowable for early teens to go watch onscreen. Even if Sue Ramirez and RK Bagatsing were delightful to watch in their characters, it was impossible to ignore the fact that they were portraying hookers who ply sex for money, and thus was not fit for 13 year olds to watch, whatever MTRCB says. 

It is however wise that director Rod Marmol decides to pursue the story as a light-hearted romantic comedy about whores with a heart of gold. The saving grace of this film is really the performances and chemistry of Sue Ramirez (who bravely played against type in this one) and RK Bagatsing who both managed to come across as charming and likable. Alecks Bovick was also good as Adela's mother, while Dexter Doria and Dolly de Leon were funny as Ram's rich matron customers. Nino Muhlach played one of Adela's loyal customers while Mark Anthony Fernandez played a man from Adela's past. Overall, despite the lurid world it depicted and familiar topic, this turned out be to be quite a pleasant watch, thanks to its appealing lead stars. 6/10. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Review of IT CHAPTER 2: Confounding Climax

September 13, 2019

"It" (2017) (MY REVIEW) was a topnotch horror film, one of the best films based on a Stephen King novel. That film recounted the harrowing experiences of a gang of Derry, Maine teenagers called "The Losers Club" terrorized by the evil carnivorous clown Pennywise. At the end of that film, they pledged with each other that if ever the evil of Pennywise came back to Derry, they will reunite and fight It together again.

This sequel happened 27 years after the events of the first film. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) remained in Derry to keep watch for Pennywise's return. When such a case came up, he immediately called in his friends, now all working faraway, to come home as they promised. While Stanley (Andy Bean) opted for another way out, everyone else came back all with fuzzy memories about what happened in their past. Mike instructed each one of them to get an artifact from their past in order to use in an old Native American ritual to finish It off once and for all. 

The actors playing the Losers Club as adults carried on the look and behavior of their respective child characters, and this was the best aspect of the film. This was so good when scenes alternated between the adult and child characters, so you can sense the continuity best. James McAvoy was still the stuttering leader Bill (Jaeden Martell) was. Jessica Chastain maintained the mystery that was Beverly (Sophia Lillis). Bill Hader was still the bespectacled smart aleck Richie (Finn Wolfhard) was. James Ransone was still the nervous and excitable Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). Hunky Jay Ryan looked nothing like overweight Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), but we've seen big transformations like this in our own reunions. 

The scenes where the Losers Club were all together as a group were so much better than those scenes where each character was facing various incarnations of It individually. This middle section where they were gathering their tokens from the past each had their own sense of nostalgia, jump scares, ugly monsters and all, but ultimately these scenes did not really contribute much to the main story. In fact, all those scenes could be edited out and the ending would not be affected. Even the scenes involving psychopath Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) could be edited out without affecting the story.

Bill Skargaard was still so creepy good and sinister as Pennywise. However, the CGI of that overlong climax was too over-the-top that it actually reduced the sense of horror for me. I actually cringed at that "major" moment when the Losers were gaining the upper hand against the ultimate Pennywise spider monster. It might have been the way it was written in the book, but it felt corny as the big finale of an epic tale. I wonder if the repeated digs against Bill Denbrough (who was a best-selling mystery novelist who was notorious for his bad endings) was an inside joke about the rather lame ending of this two-episode story. "It Chapter 1" was much better than this "Chapter 2".  6/10. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019


September 1, 2019


Written and directed by Gene Stupnitsky

Max (Jacob Trembley), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) are the Beanbag Boys, sixth graders and best friends. Max was invited by the cool kids to attend a party where he thinks he could get to kiss his crush. 

However, that same day, Max lost his father's camera drone to a couple of older girls. So the three friends cut school and  try to get the drone back before his father got home, leading them into a series of crazy misadventures that included running across a freeway to buying party drugs from a frat house. 

This was a typical crude raunchy teen comedy, but only this one involved pre-teens which upped the scandal level by a hundred percent more.The basic story of "Good Boys" is actually somewhat like "Superbad" where three friends faced misadventures while they were trying to buy liquor for a party with hot girls.  Seth Rogen, who played a cop in "Superbad," was involved as a producer here. 

I cannot deny that there were silly dumb scenes which made me chuckle, but it was quite unsettling to see sixth graders discuss sex, buy mollies or utter profanity. Even if 12 year old Jacob Tremblay is the veteran among the three (having appeared in acclaimed films like "Room" and "Wonder"), I thought the other two child actors made the stronger impressions. My favorite kid was Keith L. Williams, whose Lucas balanced the morality scale a bit with his sensibility and uprightness. 5/10.



Written and directed by Claudia Myers

When her mother passed away, middle child Holly Jederman (Olivia Thirlby) seemed to have turned invisible from her family and from everyone else. As she owned her invisibility, she became a tabloid photographer because she could stalk celebrities and take pictures of their indiscretions. 

One day, a bouncer of a club actually saw her trying to follow clients, and threw her out. She discovered that the bouncer was Shayne Blackwell (Alan Ritchton), an MMA athlete whose life and career she ruined by one of her scandal photos. 

You need to suspend disbelief while watching this film because for someone who was supposed to be invisible, you can see her right there with her clothes and all. But once you got the drift of what this film was trying to say, this was actually a very thoughtful piece about social withdrawal and loneliness, albeit with a glacial pace. Everyone who had felt being ignored can relate. 

Thirby's scenes with Jim Gaffigan, who played Holly's father Paul, were very moving in execution. One of the notable casting surprises here was Megan Fox, back after a three-year hiatus since she played April O'Neil in the Ninja Turtles films. She played Juliana, an ex-girlfriend who was getting back into Shayne's life the same time Holly came in. 4/10. 



Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

It was the wedding day of Grace, who was marrying into the family of Daniel of the very wealthy Le Domas board-game and sporting goods empire. The newlyweds were just about to enjoy their honeymoon, when they were summoned to the game room for a wedding day tradition their family had been observing for generations. 

In this game, the one who was just married into the family (in this case, Grace) should draw a card out of a mysterious box, then play the game indicated on the card with the family. Grace picked the card which said "Hide and Seek," but the game was definitely not the simple childhood game she was expecting to play. 

I am not a fan of gore, but this movie was a lot of fun. Once the wedding ceremony was over, and the game was afoot, the nail-biting suspense was relentless and blood was splattering all over the place. This one is definitely not for the faint of heart. Dark and violent as it may be, the concept was hilarious and the filmmakers were doing it all tongue-in-cheek which was the right decision. I sensed a lot of Tarantino-esque influence in the execution of those deadly confrontation scenes, right down to that glorious bloodbath of a Grand Guignol ending. 

Samara Weaving as the never-say-die bride Grace was an awesome badass. Always good to see 80s sweetheart Andie MacDowell as she played Becky, Grace's new mother-in-law. Nicky Guadagni was a fearsome vision as the grim-faced ax-wielding Aunt Helene.  8/10.