Thursday, December 30, 2021

KTX: Review of THE WOMEN OF TONTA CLUB: Madcap Moments with Matrons

December 30, 2021

Marlyn Yambao (Nova Villa) was the president of the Tonta Club, a socio-civic organization for women. Her two close friends Aida Macalipay (Tetchie Agbayani) and Lani Quintos (Tina Paner) were usually supportive of Marlyn's projects, despite her odd, eccentric ways. However, time came when Marlyn said and did mean things to both Aida and Lani that breached the trust they had as friends, this led to a major falling out among them. 

This film is the first project of the Kapitana Entertainment Media under entrepreneur, cookbook author and award-winning baker Rossana Hwang, who now adds film producer to her long list of business ventures. Ms. Hwang was totally hands-on on her first film, coming up with the story and even co-wrote the script with Norman Boquiren, who already had one screenplay under his belt before this with "Sol Searching" (Roman Perez, Jr., 2018).

Since it is a maiden venture by a neophyte independent producer, we tend to forgive the rather low production values of the final film. We will also understand the necessity for repeated in-your-face product placements (mainly by major sponsors Chooks to Go, Hotel 101 and Intellicare). A pink box of goodies from Hwang's very own bakery Pink Mixer made an appearance in one scene. These little details can actually be quite funny to spot.

The three main actresses Villa, Agbayani and Paner had to carry the film on their shoulders as most of the other cast members were non-actors. Each one was made to do silly, immature, petty things that, while amusing, can sometimes come off as annoying. However, their chemistry as best friends was not always convincing which can be distracting. A flashback about Aida and her husband Basilio (a ponytailed Efren Reyes Jr) was not really needed. 

Ms. Hwang probably wanted to have their own version of "The Golden Girls," tackling the friendship and misadventures of middle-aged to young-senior women friends. They did, and that wedding party scene with the rainbow-colored gowns was hilarious. However, the script made Marlyn really blurt out some pretty hurtful words against her friends. We can only rely on the goodwill of Nova Villa the actress so as not to take Marlyn's curt behavior too seriously.

Director Xion Lim had been directing films and TV series under his own production company Oxim for about 15 years now. However, he is still quite basic in his camera angles and blocking, and the storytelling can be somewhat clumsy and felt over-long. Lim even graced the screen in one scene as the Mayor whom the matrons swamped with selfie requests. All this awkwardness added somehow added comical value to this quaint film. 

My Yearend Roundup: The BEST FOREIGN FILMS of 2021 That I Have Seen

December 29, 2021

There had been so much cinematic content available on various international streaming sites like Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, MUBI, iQiYi, Viu, plus local streaming sites, like KTX, Upsteam, Vivamax. This November 15, movie houses have resumed their operations with films like "Dune" and "A Quiet Place 2" as the first offerings. Finally, we can once again see Hollywood blockbusters the way they were meant to be seen.  

I think I may have watched the most number of feature films this year 2021 more than any other year in the past. I have logged about 350 films on my Letterboxd account for 2021. This number includes world cinema classic films that I only had the chance to see this year, like "La Dolce Vita" (Fellini 1960), "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (Demy 1964), "Night of the Living Dead" (Romero, 1968) and "Evolution of a Filipino Family (Diaz, 2004), all thanks to Mubi. 

Because of this, I thought it best to divide my yearend best-of-films list into three: English language and non-English foreign films in this post, and Filipino films in a separate post. Not included in this list are films which have not been streamed or screened in this country yet (without need for VPN). This includes Oscar-bait films, like "West Side Story," "Belfast," "Foreign Dispatch," "Licorice Plaza," and the final blockbuster of the year, "Spider-Man: No Way Home," the screening of which was notoriously delayed to January 8, 2022. 


20. ANNETTE by Leos Carax (My Full Review)

19. THE HARDER THEY FALL by The Bullitts (My Full Review)

18. ENCANTO by Byron Howard and Jared Bush (My Full Review)

17. CODA by Sian Heder (My Full Review)

16. BEING THE RICARDOS by Aaron Sorkin (My Full Review)

15. ETERNALS by Chloe Zhao (My Full Review)

14. VIVO by Kirk DeMicco (My Full Review)

13. BLACK WIDOW by Cate Shortland (My Full Review)

12. THE SUICIDE SQUAD by James Gunn (My Full Review)

11. NOBODY by Ilya Naishuller (My Full Review)

10. SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS by Destin Daniel Cretton (My Full Review)

Shang-chi (Simu Liu) made a living parking cars with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) in San Francisco. One day, Shang-chi was confronted by bad guys on a bus, who wanted to get the pendant his late mother gave him. Suspecting his father was behind this ambush, this led Shang-chi to go to Macau to warn his sister Xialing (Meng'er Zhang), who was running a underground fight club there. 

9. SPENCER by Pablo Larrain (My Full Review)

It was 1991. The royal family were gathered in Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk to spend the Christmas holidays. Because her marriage to Charles had already been long strained at that point, Diana was not in a hurry to be with everybody else. Seeing herself as Anne Boleyn and bothered that her sons were going to be taught how to shoot down pheasants, how will this stressful weekend turn out for the distressed princess?

8. THE MITCHELLS AND THE MACHINE by Michael Rianda (My Full Review)

Rick Mitchell was worried that his eldest daughter Katie may not succeed in her plan to be a filmmaker -- an issue that caused an uneasy tension between the two. When Katie was accepted to her dream film school in California, Rick, hoping for some last-minute family bonding, decided to drive Katie all the way there in their beat up old car, with her mother Linda, younger brother Aaron and their pet pug Monchi tagging along on a wild road trip.

7. IN THE HEIGHTS by Jon M. Chu (My Full Review)

A young man named Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) owned a little bodega in the poor, Hispanic Washington Heights district of New York City, selling coffee, drinks and lottery tickets. But he thought he had not made much in his life so far, and longed to follow his dream to return back to his homeland, the Dominican Republic. The story of how Usnavi got his unique name will have a scene of its own, as he tells the story to a group of little kids.

6. NO TIME TO DIE by Cary Joji Fukunaga (My Full Review)

James Bond (Daniel Craig) had parted in bad terms with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) after an attempt was made on his life by Spectre agents while they were in Italy. Five years later, Bond, now retired from MI6 and working with the CIA, got involved with the case of a kidnapped scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik), who had developed a deadly DNA-based nanobot-technology transdermal poison called Herakles. 

5. THE POWER OF THE DOG by Jane Campion (My Full Review)

Set in Montana in 1925, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) Burbank were a pair of wealthy brothers who ran a sprawling cattle ranch. The two brothers were polar opposites in demeanor. While Phil was arrogant, boisterous and insensitive, his brother George was cool, refined and composed. Phil did not care about his level of education or his wealth, preferring with work with cattle than with people of his social class. 

by Adam McKay (My Full Review)

Michigan State University Astronomy grad student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovered an new comet hurtling towards Earth. Her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo di Caprio), calculated that the mountain-sized comet will hit the Pacific Ocean about six months and cause a catastrophe that would destroy the entire planet. However, when they tried to inform US President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), they just got the runaround. 

3. ZACK SNYDER'S JUSTICE LEAGUE by Zack Snyder (My Full Review)

This new version of "Justice League" is no longer about the story or the acting (since most already watched the 2017 cut), but about the storytelling style. The longer setup of scenes in this cut of course led to a more logical progression of the various individual threads of each hero. Whedon limited the story when he decided to make Steppenwolf the only villain in his cut, but it turned out that Snyder had bigger plans for the DC Expanded Universe given all those exhilarating future films promised by that substantially abundant epilogue.

2. TICK, TICK... BOOM! by Lin-Manuel Miranda (My Full Review)

Jonathan Larson is turning 30 years old in a few days but he is still waiting tables at a diner. He had been writing his musical "Superbia" for eight years, and was about to present his songs in a workshop, but he still lacked a key song in the second act. His girlfriend Susan, a frustrated dancer, had serious intentions of accepting a teaching job outside the city. His best friend since childhood Michael had become a successful advertising executive. 

1. DUNE by Denis Villeneuve (My Full Review)

In the year 10191, the Emperor had assigned Duke Leto of House Atreides of the planet Caladan to administer the desert planet of Arrakis, in place of the House Harkonnen. Arrakis was the only source of the spice melange. However lately, the native people of Arrakis, the blue-eyed Fremen, were beginning to assert their rights. His son Paul had been having visions of Arrakis, the bloody conflicts they will face, and the Freman girl he will meet. 

Denis Villeneuve had imbued his vision of "Dune" with gorgeous-looking camera work and spectacular computer-generated effects. The pace of his storytelling was deliberately slow (as he is wont to do), but the momentum did not sag. The multi-dimensional story was surprisingly easy to follow and understand, despite the inherently complicated plot with multiple planets and peoples. The acting was generally subdued and solemn across the board.


10. THE SOUL by Cheng Wei-hao (My Full Review)


8. RUROUNI KENSHIN: THE FINAL by Keishi Ohtomo (My Full Review)

8. RUROUNI KENSHIN: THE BEGINNING  by Keishi Ohtomo (My Full Review)

7. SAMJIN COMPANY ENGLISH CLASS by Lee Jong-pil (My Full Review)

6. ENDLESS RAIN by Cho Jin-mo (My Full Review)

5. BLOOD RED SKY by Peter Thorwarth (My Full Review)

Nadya (Peri Baumeister) and her child Elias (Carl Anton Koch) are boarding a plane bound to New York City. Their airplane was held hostage by hijackers who wanted to demand a hefty ransom for their freedom. At one point during the flight, crazy hijacker Eightball (Alexander Scheerer) shot Nadya several times, and was presumed dead. When that act threw the plane into utter chaos, Nadya unleashed her true nature in order to save her son and herself.

4. MEMORIA by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (My Full Review)

One early morning before dawn, Jessica (Tilda Swinton) was awakened by one loud booming sound, which apparently only she could hear. She would hear this same sound over and over again at random times of the day, and in random places around the city. With the help of a young sound engineer (Juan Pablo Urrego) and an old fisherman (Elkin Diaz), she sought for the origin of this sound.

3. WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (My Full Review)

The three episodes of this film consisted of just conversations of depth and intensity between imperfect characters. All the dramatic situations were all unfamiliar and uncomfortable (especially Episode 2, about a young woman planning to seduce and scandalize a professor), but you can't afford to miss a single word in any of the dialogues. Fascinating character studies all, each episode was interesting and provocative.

2.  DRIVE MY CAR by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (My Full Review)

Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) was invited to Hiroshima to direct a unique production of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" with a very diverse cast. Aside from Japanese actors, there was a Chinese Yelena, a Filipino Serebryakov (Perry Dizon) and a mute Sonya (using Korean sign language). An impassive woman Misaki (Toko Miura) was assigned to chauffeur him to and from the house provided to him, which was an hour away from the theater. 

1. THE HAND OF GOD by Paolo Sorrentino (My Full Review)

It was Naples, Italy in the 1980s. Fabietto (Filippo Scotti) was a sensitive young man who lived at home with his parents Saverio (Toni Servillo) and Maria Schisa (Teresa Saponangelo) and his brother Marchino (Marlon Joubert). His extended family was very close as they spent time together gossiping at the beach or watching Diego Maradona play football with home team Napoli. A sudden tragedy forced Fabietto to seek focus in his life, planning to be a filmmaker. 

This gorgeously-shot coming-of-age film written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino is said to be based on his own teenage years growing up in Naples. Sorrentino, who came into prominence in 2013, when he won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for "The Great Beauty," was an apprentice under local Napoli film director Antonio Capuano, the name of the brutally frank character (Ciro Capano) who will also initiate Fabietto into filmmaking. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

My Yearend Roundup: The 20 BEST FILIPINO FILMS of 2021 That I Have Seen

December 28, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic surged again in 2021, so for the first 10 months we can only watch Filipino films by streaming on sites like Netflix, KTX and Upstream. The new kid on the block this year is Vivamax, which certainly upped the ante by coming up with one new Filipino film every Friday. Most of them may be silly comedies or exploitative erotica, but Vivamax almost single-handedly kept the local film industry alive and going this year. 

But when the vaccinations started to be rolled out by March, the planned reopening of movie theaters finally happened in mid-November. The hybird QCinema Filmfest had several feature films shown in Gateway Cineplex, with only one new Filipino title among them. By Christmas Day, the Metro Manila Filmfest was underway, with all eight entries being shown exclusively in cinemas, albeit no big box-office names of MMFF past like Vice Ganda or Vic Sotto. 

These are Top 20 Filipino movies I had seen and written about in 2021:


20. MANG JOSE by Raynier Brizuela (My Full Review

19. THE HOUSEMAID by Roman Perez Jr. (My Full Review

18. GAMEBOYS: THE MOVIE by Ivan Andrew Payawal (My Full Review

17. TENEMENT 66 by Rae Red (My Full Review

16. NERISA by Law Fajardo (My Full Review

15. REVIRGINIZED by Darryl Yap (My Full Review)

14. IKAW AT AKO AT ANG ENDING by Irene Emma Villamor (My Full Review

13. KATIPS by Vince Tanada (My Full Review

12. RABID by Erik Matti (My Full Review

11. GENSAN PUNCH by Brillante Mendoza (My Full Review

TOP 10

10. MORE THAN BLUE by Nuel Crisostomo Naval (My Full Review

BFFs Charles Keith  or "K" (JC Santos) and Sue Anne or "Cream" (Yassi Pressman) had been living together in a platonic arrangement since high school. To try to get K to propose to her, Cream began to go out with a dentist John Luis (Diego Loyzaga). To assure himself that Cream had a good man who can take care of her when he is not in her life anymore, K even asked John's girlfriend Cathy (Ariella Arida) to help him get the two together. 

9. TAO PO by Mae Paner (My Full Review

In the first monologue, Paner was veteran photojournalist Raffy Lerma assigned to the EJK beat. The second monologue was about Rosing, a Zumba instructor whose husband Marcelo and son Jojo had both been gunned down as drug addicts. The third monologue was about a nameless policeman assigned to conduct EJKs. The fourth monologue was about Vanessa, a teenage girl who wanted to light candles for them at the gravesite of her parents. 

8. DITO AT DOON by JP Habac (My Full Review

Eight days into the quarantine, graduating education major Arlene "Len" Esguerra got into an argument with a certain Carlo "Caloy" Cabahug on social media. That night, she invited her good friends Jo (Yesh Burce) and Mark (Victor Anastacio) for an online drinking session to rant about her online experience. Mark had a friend with him that time, and by sheer coincidence, the new guy turned out to be exact Caloy whom Len was complaining about.

7. MY AMANDA by Alessandra de Rossi (My Full Review

Even if they called each other silly pet names like Fuffy and Fream, TJ (Piolo Pascual) and Amanda (Alessandra de Rossi) had a close friendship which had remained platonic for all these years. They enjoyed lazy nights just lounging together on a hammock looking up at the stars, talking about their wacky experiences together. They had their respective romantic relationships with other people, but they remained each other's constants in their lives. 

6. ARISAKA by Mikhail Red (My Full Review

Policewoman Mariano (Maja Salvador) had survived the bloody ambush of a political witness she was escorting to a press conference. Despite her injuries, she ran into the surrounding mountains to escape from her pursuers led by officer Sonny (Mon Confiado). Mariano's survival ordeal in the wilderness was alleviated by the appearance of a young indigenous girl named Nawi (Shella Ann Romualdo), whose family nursed her back to health.

5. KUN MAUPAY MAN IT PANAHON by Carlos Francisco Manatad (My Full Review

It was November of 2013. The super-typhoon Yolanda and the massive storm surge it triggered had just ravaged the city of Tacloban and left it in absolute state of mass destruction. When the worst had settled down, Miguel (Daniel Padilla) soon got reunited with his girlfriend Andrea (Rans Rifol), and later his mother Norma (Charo Santos). The three planned to catch a coming ship which will take them to Manila before a rumored next typhoon will hit. 

! by Jun Lana (My Full Review

Dharna (Christian Bables) was a friendly neighborhood beautician. One day, a leaked document showed his real name Panfilo Macaspac Jr. to be among the suspected drug addicts in the watch list of their barangay. He learned that this list will be turned over to the Phil. National Police the next day. So for the rest of that day and night, Dharna went around to various area leaders in an effort to get his name out of the dreaded list.

3. A HARD DAY by Law Fajardo (My Full Review

Detective Villon (Dingdong Dantes) car hit a man crossing the road. After taking great pains to get rid of the body of the man he accidentally killed, Villon realized that his victim was the guy involved in the big drug case they were investigating. Soon after Villon began to receive persistent phone calls from someone who had apparently witnessed what he had done and was threatening to report him to the authorities. 

2. HISTORYA NI HA by Lav Diaz (My Full Review

When his wedding plans miscarried, ventriloquist Hernando Alamada (John Lloyd Cruz)  wandered around aimlessly. Along the way, he met Joselito (Jonathan Francisco), Dahlia (Dolly de Leon) and Sister Lorenza (Mae Paner) who all wanted to go to Barrio Daang Tapak to take the boat to Isla Diwata where gold was discovered. There, they faced the restrictive rules set by the imperious village chief Among Kuyang (Teroy Guzman).

1. ON THE JOB: THE MISSING 8 by Erik Matti (My Full Review

As the elections drew close and La Paz City mayor Pedring Eusebio (Dante Rivero) geared up to run for VP, the lives of two local journalists of La Paz were about to encounter major life-altering events. They are the pro-Eusebio radio personality Sisoy Salas (John Arcilla) and the anti-Eusebio newspaper publisher Arnel Pangan (Christopher de Leon).

The film (shown locally as a 4-part series on HBO Go) was well-made and well-intentioned, indignant and earnest in its angry message and its sensational exposé on the buried issues behind the news headlines. Its very familiar tragic scenarios (based on the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre) may lessen its shock factor a bit for Filipino viewers, but it nevertheless remains a very potent viewing experience. 

** Best FILIPINO SHORT FILMS of 2021 that I have seen: 

5. THE DUST IN YOUR PLACE by David Olson (Cinemalaya 2021)

A comic strip writer Rick (Boo Gabunada) and his illustrator Claire (Chaye Mogg) take a break from their work to discuss why none of Rick's romantic relationships ever worked.

4. DANDANSOY by Arden Rod Condez (Sine Halaga 2021)

Since her daughter did not accept her unwelcome birthright, Lola Acay (Adela Luciano-Berboso in a remarkable introductory performance) decided its time for her die.

3.  CROSSING by Marc Misa (Cinemalaya 2021)

One night of desperate need, Gabriel (Nino Mendoza) got on a bus planning to hold the passengers up for instant cash. Fate had other things in store for him on this ride.

2. CITY OF FLOWERS by Xeph Suarez (QCinema 2021)

In 2013, Tausug flower farmer Nasser (Ramli T. Abdurahim) told his pregnant wife Elena (an excellent Czarina Yecla) that he had accepted an offer to attend a peace rally in Zamboanga the next day which promised a pay of P10,000 just to go and join.

1. SA BALAY NI PAPANG by Kurt Soberano (Sine Halaga 2021)

In 1982, director Peque Gallaga filmed his opus "Oro Plata Mata" in the estate where Jess' parents worked in Manapla, Negros Occidental.  This nostalgic documentary smoothly transitioned from Jess Sta. Rosalia as a young boy (Caleb Zeke Mellina), a young man (Paolo Manayon) working on the set of various Gallaga films, and a middle aged man (Mandy Alonso) teaching film classes in a Bacolod university.

Monday, December 27, 2021

MMFF 2021: Review of NELIA: Nutty Nurses

December 27, 2021

Over the last month, nurse Nelia Katigbak (Winwyn Marquez) had noticed that a series of patients have been dying in Room 009 at the Remedios Medical Center. Suspiciously, all these patients were under the care of the medical director Dr. Reynaldo Solano (Raymond Bagatsing). However, Dr. Solano would catch Nelia talking to an imaginary visitor. One accused the other of negligence and psychological instability, but who is telling the truth? 

Winwyn Marquez came across as quite stiff as Nelia. I guess she was directed to appear suspicious in all her scenes so that the viewers will not know what was going on in her head, but she could not effectively pull this off. On the other hand, Raymond Bagatsing was quite over-the-top as the simultaneously respectable yet slimy Dr. Solano. His long experience in playing these duplicitous characters came in very handy, so that it looked effortless for him.

Ali Forbes played the stereotype nymphet nurse Ana, who was always lusting over Dr. Solano or Dr. Josan (Shido Roxas). Her sex scenes do not really serve any purpose in the course of the story, only serving to titillate and nothing more. Mon Confiado played it very low-key this time around as Nelia's soldier visitor, who existence was an uncertainty. Lloyd Samartino played a General who may or may not be clueless about the mysteries in the hospital. 

While it seemed that they could've had a medical consultant on the set, there were still a number of questionable scenes. Dr. Solano specialized in Internal Medicine and Psychiatry, he was also apparently able to do surgery for kidney stones and inflamed tonsils. A patient was supposedly given a drug to stop the pulse temporarily (there is no such thing), putting her at risk of actual harm when the code team came to resuscitate and defibrillate her. 

The main premise can actually very interesting, aiming for a mind-bending mystery which will boggle the viewer up to the very end. The screenplay of Melanie Honey Quiño was executed by director Lester Dimaranan in a way that the plot was made more convoluted mainly by the purposeful insertion of several confusing scenes, which can be very exasperating when they turn out to be illogical, inconsequential, confounding or deliberately deceptive red herrings. 3/10. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Vivamax: Review of MANG JOSE: Hero for Hire

December 26, 2021

Superheroes in the Philippines have been disappearing and no one knew where they were. The only superhero left in active duty was Mang Jose (Janno Gibbs), whose power was energy absorption and redirection. However, he was notorious for being for hire, which means he charged a bill for the good deeds that he does for people. 

Super-villain King Ina (Manilyn Reynes), whose powers lay in her hallucinogenic saliva, devised a scheme giving away free milk tea which contained a chemical which will enable her to gain control of all other superheroes. Before she was captured, Tina Santos (Bing Loyzaga) was able to tell her son Tope (Mkoy Morales) to call Mang Jose for help. 

Janno Gibbs had been having a resurgence in his film career lately thanks to Viva Films. After his comeback in "Sanggano, Sanggago't Sanggwapo" (2019), he had "Pakboys Takusa" (2020), then "69 +1" (2021). Aside from his title role in this film as Mang Jose, he also has a significant supporting role in Viva's current MMFF entry "A Hard Day."  

Gibbs already has this laidback style of slapstick comedy that has long been his signature over the years. Being a superhero, the character of Mang Jose had Gibb engaging in several action fight scenes. However, he also also had plenty of dramatic scenes, as there was a complicating situation that connected him to the lives of Tina and Tope. 

The comedy was only mildly funny at best. That his manager Charlemagne (Jerald Napoles) charged people they helped for services rendered, or that King Ina's macho minion Lance (Gab Lagman) spoke in gayspeak through his Bane-like mask, got old pretty quickly. Names with vulgar meanings in the vernacular were used, like King Ina, Turborats, Barangay Salsalan or Chikinini Motel. 

As the confused young man Tope, Mikoy Morales kept up with Gibbs all the way as the straight man to his wisecracks. Manilyn Reynes was clearly enjoying her villain role, fancy headdress and costume, and those "80s dance moves King Ina was fond of, like "Body Dancer" or "Rico Mambo." Leo Martinez appears as Mang Jose's mad scientist friend Marcelo who helped them figure out the significance of the milk tea.  

The casting of Manilyn Reynes and Bing Loyzaga in supporting roles had a lot of Filipino pop culture significance. Janno-Manilyn was one of the most popular love teams in the TV variety show "That's Entertainment" during the 1980s. This marks their reunion in a feature film, albeit on opposite sides of the law. Bing Loyzaga is of course Mrs. Janno Gibbs. 

This local superhero comedy film inspired by Parokya ni Edgar's 2005 song, was written by Carl Joseph Papa and directed by Raynier Brizuela. I was thinking that with a little more budget to improve its production design and visual effects, this could have actually been a more commercially viable than most of the entries in the ongoing MMFF. 6/10. 

Vivamax: Review of EVA: Womanly Wants

December 26, 2021

Eva (Angeli Khang) worked as the housemaid of Victoria (Sab Aggabao). Eva was a pretty young girl forced to become a housemaid because of financial desperation, always fending off the unwanted advances of her male employers in the past. Victoria was a libidinous model, who frequently brought her sexy co-workers, both male and female, back to her home for nights of worldly pleasures. Eva was ripe for this novel sexual initiation. 

There was not really much plot or originality in this film directed by Jeffrey Hidalgo from a screenplay written by Dennis Marasigan. There was a only a simple basic story serving only to connect one sex scene after another, in various permutations. There were side characters of an ambulant vendor (Beverly Salviejo) who regarded her vegetables as phallic symbols, and of a maid Dinah (Veronica Reyes) having an affair with her master, both not really necessary. 

Angeli Khang, with her innocent face and delicate frame, radiated an air of helplessness and vulnerability as Eva.  She does better here than in her first starrer "Mahjong Nights" but she can be still be quite self-conscious. In her first lead role, Sab Aggabao, with her dusky exotic beauty and confident carriage, exuded power and control as Victoria. She stepped up from her debut in "Pornstar 2," not only on her capacity for baring, but also her screen presence.

Ivan Padilla played Andrew, a fellow model Victoria seduced from their photo shoot. He had a bored, disinterested look on his face the whole time, as if he did not want to be there. Marco Gomez played Lauro, the driver of Victoria's hot-headed neighbor. He seemed more eager and invested, but there was not much an actor could do with a stereotypical stud role like his. Angelica Cervantes and Quinn Carillo play other models who mess with Victoria.

This one will probably just go the way of all other Vivamax quicky erotica films this year. They may nab the #1 slot in terms of popularity on the app upon release, but eventually be forgettable and inconsequential in the long run. The way these sexy films are being churned out week after week, the fledgling nymphets have to constantly "out-bold" the degree of daring of previous ones. The situation is already getting to feel very exploitative, sad to say. 1/10.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Netflix: Review of DON'T LOOK UP: Apathy to an Apocalypse

December 25, 2021

Michigan State University Astronomy grad student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovered an new comet hurtling towards Earth. Her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo di Caprio), calculated that the mountain-sized comet will hit the Pacific Ocean about six months and cause a catastrophe that would destroy the entire planet. However, when they tried to inform US President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), they just got the runaround. 

This film was about a coming apocalyptic disaster to be caused by a comet on a collision course with the Earth, much like the story of "Deep Impact" (1998) and "Armageddon" (1998), and more recently "Greenland" (2020). However, while the previous films went for thrills, suspense and melodrama, this new film written, directed and produced by Adam McKay went for disturbing dark comedy and biting political satire against the US government. 

Adam McKay rose to fame as the head writer of "Saturday Night Live" in the 1990s, and went on to collaborate with Will Ferrell on several hit comedy films like "Anchorman" (2004). In the last decade, Mc Kay gained more serious cred as a filmmaker when "The Big Short" (2015) had 5 Oscar nods including Best Picture, winning one for Adapted Screenplay for McKay. This was followed by "Vice" (2018), which had 8 Oscar nominations, also including Best Picture. 

Aside from Di Caprio, Lawrence and Streep, there were two more Oscar winners, Cate Blanchett (as a slutty TV host) and Mark Rylance (as a smarmy telco CEO), and two Oscar nominees, Jonah Hill (as the annoying Chief of Staff) and Timothy Chalamet (as skater boy Yule). Also notable are include Rob Morgan (as a NASA official), Ron Perlman (as a Boomer general), Tyler Perry (as Blanchett's co-host) and Ariana Grande (as a pop star, of course).

McKay was harsh here in his depiction of the ineptitude of the US government, the pervasive influence of big business and artificiality of mass media. The performance of Di Caprio, as a shy middle-aged scientist thrust into the national celebrity limelight, was the glue that held this piece together. His on-air breakdown scene was a riveting tour-de-force piece of acting, while his dinner table scene brimmed with genuine emotion without the melodrama. 8/10. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Amazon Prime: Review of BEING THE RICARDOS: Loving and Living Lucy

December 23, 2021

One September night in 1953, radio personality Walter Winchell dropped a not-so-subtle blind item that Lucille Ball was a communist. The next day, the cast and crew of Ball's hit TV show "I Love Lucy" gathered at the studios to film the next episode, uncertain whether they were actually going to go on air that week. Meanwhile, Ball and her husband Cuban-born bandleader Desi Arnaz faced conflicts with co-actors, writers, management and each other.

As a fan of popular culture, I know about "I Love Lucy" but I sad to say what I know was only cursory general knowledge. I had only seen a few of the more famous episodes, notably "Vitameatavegemin" and "Lucy's Italian Movie," both of which were referred to in this biopic. In the few shows that I was able to watch, it was clear how Lucille Ball was a master of physical comedy, unafraid to make a fool out of herself to the delight of her audience.

However in this new film written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, we see Lucille Ball in a very different light when she was behind the cameras. We are shown how much of strict stickler she was about the details of her show, demanding logic even for what seemed to be minor scenes. She was arguing with writers and directors, thinking and rethinking about blocking for several days before the actual shoot. Comedy was a serious matter for her.

Another serious matter for Ball was her marriage with Arnaz. She was four years older than him, and he was frequently away from home on his concert tours. Ball always emphasized that even if she was the star of their show, the final approval of all business and artistic decision lay on Arnaz, and she made sure he felt this. She would have rejected the offer to star in this TV show as Lucy if Arnaz had not been cast as her husband, Ricky Ricardo. 

I felt that the main drawback to this film was the casting of the principal characters. Nicole Kidman was good as calculating Lucille Ball, but looked too icy to be quirky Lucy Ricardo. Javier Bardem tried too hard to be lively Arnaz, maybe because he really did not look like him. As the actors playing the Ricardos' neighbors Ethel and Fred Mertz, Nina Arianda was too young to play Vivian Vance, while JK Simmons looked too fit to be William Frawley. Anyhow, you soon get used to these actors because of their commitment to their roles. 

The documentary approach was a practical way for Sorkin to tell his story. The set design, the costumes and hairstyles successfully recreated the atmosphere of the 1940s to the 1950s. Those scenes about the script rehearsals and the filming before a live audience served to immerse the audience into the showbiz lifestyle. People who knew them will find the story about this one extraordinarily stressful week in the the life of Lucy and Desi fascinating stuff, but I'm not sure about those who don't have an idea who they are. 7/10. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

MMFF 2021: Review of KUN MAUPAY MAN IT PANAHON: Deluge of Depression

December 21, 2021

It was November of 2013. The super-typhoon Yolanda and the massive storm surge it triggered had just ravaged the city of Tacloban and left it in absolute state of mass destruction. When the worst had settled down, Miguel (Daniel Padilla) soon got reunited with his girlfriend Andrea (Rans Rifol), and later his mother Norma (Charo Santos). The three planned to catch a coming ship which will take them to Manila before a rumored next typhoon will hit. 

"Kun Maupay Man It Panahon" (Waray for "Whether the Weather is Fine"), had already made the rounds of various film festivals in Europe, Asia and the Americas since its grand premiere at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland this August 2021. It had earned the Cinema e Gioventù Prize in Locarno and the Best Director prize in London. This December, it finally makes its premiere on local soil, and as an entry of the Metro Manila Filmfest. 

While its award-winning, festival-hopping reputation may spark interest among Filipino cinephiles to go see it, this is definitely not the kind of film mainstream MMFF audiences would take to easily. In the past, the box-office of MMFF had been dominated by shallow slapstick comedies by Vice Ganda or Vic Sotto. On the other hand, "Kun Maupay" is an art film which puts value on cinematic artistry rather than popular entertainment.

This is the feature film directorial debut of Carlos Francisco Manatad. He is known as one of the most prolific film editors of the country before he began directing short films which had also been screened festivals abroad. He is from Tacloban City and he began work on this film soon after he went home to locate his family after typhoon Yolanda hit. 11 producers and a worldwide pandemic later, his passion project is finally complete and reaping critical acclaim.

Daniel Padilla as Miguel
(publicity still photo)

Daniel Padilla's Miguel was a passive fellow who mainly reacted to the orders of the two women in his life. By the final third of the film, Padilla shone brightest as an actor in those wordless scenes as Miguel was being swept up by the crowd toward the ship. The excellent blocking and composition of these scenes resulted in eloquent imagery and dramatic impact, with Padilla's expressive face front and center, doing all the work.

Newcomer Rans Rifol played Andrea as an outspoken street-smart young lady who knew what she wanted and made sure she got them. She is quite strong-willed such that she can fill the screen with tension when she was on, like the scene with the butcher and the chickens, or those snide side comments she had for Norma. Her story took a strange turns, one involving a dog with a wound on the beach and another, an extravagant musical number. 

Ms. Charo Santos took a long hiatus from films in 1999 and only made a comeback in 2016 to play the lead in Lav Diaz' "Ang Babaeng Humayo." Since then, she had only done "Eerie" (2019) and now this one. Her Norma was a woman desperate to find her missing husband Luis, even if it meant her own suffering. Her gut-wrenching scene pleading with Miguel to hurt her was her emotional highlight, even as her final scene dancing was ethereally memorable. 

Charo Santos as Norma
(publicity still photo)

Compared to the other 7 films in the festival, this was on a level of its own when it comes to artistic merit. The stark visuals of LA and Singapore-based cinematographer Lim Teck Siang and the monumental work of production designer Whammy Alcazaren and art directors Sam Manacsa and Nimrod Sarmiento, to recreate the death and destruction in Tacloban deserve accolades. The management of the crowd scenes was also remarkable.

Matinee idol Daniel Padilla has hordes of young fans, so his name alone should bring them in to watch this and be exposed to the rich, slow and often bizarre world of art house cinema. Now whether they along with the mainstream MMFF audiences could connect with the film and see it as "a tribute to the resilience, strength and perseverance of Filipinos" as the filmmakers envisioned, that still remains to be seen. It is about time. 8/10. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

MMFF 2021: Review of A HARD DAY: Perplexing Police Problems

December 20, 2021

One night, Detective Edmund Villon (Dingdong Dantes) was rushing to go to his mother's wake. At the same time, his fellow officers at the PNP Intel Dept. were being questioned by Internal Affairs so he needed to be there as well. However, when he was trying to avoid a dog on the road, Villon swerved his car only to hit a man crossing the road, killing him instantly. 

After taking great pains to get rid of the body of the man he accidentally killed, Villon realized that his victim was Apyong, the guy involved in the big drug case they were investigating. Soon after Villon began to receive persistent phone calls from someone who had apparently witnessed what he had done and was threatening to report him to the authorities. 

This story and screenplay of this film was adapted from the South Korean sleeper box-office hit film of the same name which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014. That film made the rounds of all the Korean award-giving bodies, winning several awards for its director and writer Kim Seong-hun, as well as for its two main actors Lee Sun-kyun and Cho Jin-woong. There had also been citations for its technical merits as well. 

This bountiful awards pedigree may bode good chances for awards for this Filipino remake also, and that is not an empty prediction. Director Law Fajardo hit this action thriller project out of the park with his energetic and engaging direction and editing. Cinematography by Rodolfo Aves, Jr. and musical score by Peter Legaste and Rephael Catap also deserve recognition. Both Dingdong Dantes and John Arcilla both turn in intense and committed portrayals.

With his corrupt money-making rackets, propensity for getting away with wrongdoing and foul mouth, Villon was certainly no saint. However, Dingdong Dantes and his powerful leading man aura makes Villon a sympathetic character to root for. By now there is no doubt how effective a despicable villain John Arcilla can be. Here as the despicable Lt. Ace Franco, Arcilla gleefully went for it all out with his signature evil slime dripping profusely in his every scene. 

Dantes and Arcilla were supported by a gallery of character actors who made a cohesive ensemble behind them. Villon's teammates at Intel include Al Tantay (as Chief), Janno Gibbs (as Arturo) and Garry Lim (as Elmer). Villon's family include Meg Imperial (as his sister Erica), and Lhiane Key Gimeno (as his daughter Yanni). Notable actors in minor roles include Jelson Bay (as a strict traffic officer) and Lou Veloso (as the funeral parlor manager).  

An intelligent, hard-hitting action film like "A Hard Day" is a very welcome addition to this year's MMFF, as 2021 had been dominated by silly comedy films, LGBT indie films and sexy erotic films. Fajardo's executed the car chases with very impressive driving stunts. Those raw gritty fighting scenes were well-choreographed and looked genuinely painful for Dantes and Arcilla. This surely has mainstream appeal especially for the male audience. 8/10. 


Saturday, December 18, 2021

Vivamax: Review of CRUSH KONG CURLY: Judging the Judgemental

December 18, 2021

Elle (AJ Raval) was a popular online celebrity who gained notoriety by pleasuring herself online via private live-stream website. Her next door neighbor was architect Peter (Wilbert Ross) whom she met when she accidentally crashed through the wall that separated their bedrooms. At first, ex-seminarian Peter felt that Elle's libertine activities were immoral. However, upon getting to know her more, will he change his initial impression of her? 

Ever since she was introduced in "Paglaki Ko, Gusto Ko Maging Pornstar" in January of this year, AJ Raval had been getting more and more brazen with her onscreen exhibitionism as she got more and more confident with her acting skills. In this latest project of hers, she played an online sex goddess, so she was mostly undressed in majority of her scenes, her enhanced bosom in full display, doing some lascivious acts to herself or with someone else. 

Wilbert Ross had a good onscreen presence in his first Vivamax project as Andrew E.'s sidekick in "Shoot Shoot." Unfortunately here, Ross was awkward throughout, betraying his unpreparedness to pull off a lead role of this type. Ross was also quite prudish in his sex scenes, letting his partner Raval doing all the heavy lifting.  He did not seem comfortable to be there at all, and I don't blame him as the way his character was written was totally off-putting.

The main supporting actors have been in other Vivamax productions this year. Chad Kinis and Loren Marinas played Elle's wacky housemates, with Andrew Muhlach as Peter's sidekick. Maui Taylor and Jao Mapa played Peter's problematic sister and her depraved brother-in-law. Gina Pareno played Elle's grandmother. Actually faring better than Ross in the stud department was Gab Lagman who played Elle's high school tormentor Brian.

Director GB Sampedro attempts his second film in the sexy comedy genre, but I felt his first one "Kaka" was more entertaining than this one. I see the point he and writer Conn Escobar was trying to make about being more accepting and less judgmental when it came to people whose jobs may not sit well with your sense of morality. However, Peter's twisted story was just too contrived to be logical which newbie Ross simply could not pull off. 1/10.