Sunday, August 29, 2021

Amazon Prime: Review of ANNETTE: Narcissistic Negativity

August 29, 2021



Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) was a standup comedian with an abrasive sense of humor, mooning his audience at the end of his every show. Anne Defraxnous (Marion Cotillard) was an opera singer with an ethereal soprano voice and stage presence, a picture of grace onstage and off. The odd couple soon got married and had a baby girl whom they named Annette. However, the trajectory of their respective careers soon began to diverge, leading to dire consequences.

"Annette" was a simple love story of a celebrity couple which did not have a happy ending, written by Ron and Russell Mael, septuagenarian musician brothers who call themselves the Sparks. Of course, they were also responsible for the musical score and the songs in this movie. Their songs were actually catchy in their odd cadence and repetitiveness of lines. There was this one song that really stood out for me -- "We Love Each Other So Much" which was played over a particularly steamy sex scene. 

Adam Driver was a force of nature here with a powerful performance as the narcissistic Henry, a very unlikable character with absolutely no redeeming factors. Marion Cotillard did all she can with her role, the gentle Anne being a rather one-dimensional character. It was remarkable to learn afterwards that both Driver and Cotillard did their own singing. Simon Helberg (of "Big Bang Theory") had an interesting supporting role as Anne's nameless accompanist, who later became a conductor. 

I first knew of director Leos Carax via his film "Holy Motors" (2013), a weird film which I totally did not understand the point. When I heard that he would be opening the Cannes Film Festival this year with a musical starring big name actors, I was very curious to see what he was going to do. As it turned out, this film had a very clear point. The surreal imagery and storytelling style, from his introductory spiel to an extra scene over the closing credits, had Carax's signature bizarreness, which worked well with the Sparks music.

The use of a wooden marionette to portray the baby and toddler Annette was definitely a strange decision which looked more creepy than cute. However, there was a twist at the end in the portrayal of Annette that made this decision logical and meaningful to the story. The remarkable cinematography and the whimsical production design worked best in the fantasy scenes. However, as a whole, there was this uncomfortable feeling of negativeness about the story of this film that makes it not for everybody. 7/10. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

SINE HALAGA 2021: Ranking the 12 Participating Shorts

August 28, 2021

Sine Halaga is a new film festival that premiered last August 25, 2021, available free via online streaming on its Vimeo site. It is a project of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Negros Cultural Foundation that seeks to explore Filipino values through stories and characters written and directed by Filipino filmmakers. 

It seeks to be an educational resource for tackling core Filipino values, both personal (such as self, life and purpose, resilience, happiness) and social (such as good governance, love for country, honesty and integrity), as determined from the two-year research conducted by two members of the film festival's jury, Arvin Villalon and Jose Soliman, Jr.

Here is my ranking of the 12 short films participating in this festival, in the order which I liked them on my first watch:


1. SA BALAY NI PAPANG (In My Father's House)

Director: Kurt Soberano

Running Time: 35 minutes

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. The subject of this loving tribute Peque Gallaga was also seen as a young man (Chuck Sibug) and an older man (Ricky Gallaga). Film lovers will enjoy the recreation of the shooting, as well as the clips of, the epic film "Oro."  9/10. 

Values: Self, Happiness, Fellowship, Family, Education, Basic Needs, Livelihood, Loyalty, Life and Purpose, Culture Arts and Science, Traditional Heritage 


2. DANDANSOY 

Director: Arden Rod Condez

Running Time: 26 minutes

Since her daughter did not accept her birthright, Lola Acay (Adela Luciano-Berboso in a remarkable introductory performance) decided its time for her die. She asked a teenage internet cafe gamer (Jansen Magpusao of "John Denver Trending" fame) to accompany her to travel from their place in Antique to Payaw in Negros, where there was a mystical river where women like her can turn into ashes and disappear. Thematically, it dealt compassionately with an aswang, a much-feared monster of Filipino folklore. Technically, it had three scenes with cleanly executed special effects to convey its supernatural premise. 8/10. 

Values: Creativity, Fellowship, Happiness, Environment, Life and Purpose, Self, Cultural Arts and Science 


3. BLACK RAINBOW

Director: Zig Dulay

Running Time: 20 minutes

Itan (Ron King) is a 12-year old Sambal Aeta boy who wanted to be a lawyer when he grew up in order to fight against the businessmen who were after their ancestral lands. Unfortunately, his father Norman (Norman King) thought finishing Grade 6 was already good enough for him. His teacher tipped him about an examination which could earn him a scholarship he needed. This short film tackled the difficulty of education among indigenous people, while highlighting their religious beliefs and family dynamics. Those acting lessons Itan got from his sister Aya (Shella Mae Romualdo) were delightful. The overall message was moving and inspirational. 7/10. 

Values: Education, Family, Basic Needs, Self, Livelihood, Peace and Progress, Loyalty, Integrity, Life and Purpose, Human Rights, Love of Country, Cultural Arts and Sciences, Good Government, Happiness


4. HADLOK (Scared)

Director: Ralston Jover

Running Time: 25 minutes

Capiz craftsman Hernan Fernandez (Lester Llansang) was left to take care of his two daughters Lenlen and Thalia in Roxas City, while his wife Alyssa working abroad in Saudi. One day, he got into a heated property dispute with his hot-headed neighbor Obet Sanchez regarding the common pathway to their houses. The aswang is really a popular character of local folklore as it is involved here again, in a young girl's nightmares as well as a dance number in school. Having a pregnant sister-in-law Bles about to give birth anytime adds more suspense. Hernan's mad wrath was vivified by the red filter used in tense scenes. Rated SPG. 7/10. 

Values: Human Rights, Creativity, Self, Family, Cultural Arts and Science, Livelihood, Traditional Heritage


5. BAKIT AKO SINUSUNDAN NG BUWAN? (Moon Under My Feet)

Director: Richard Soriano Legaspi

Running Time: 27 minutes

Lino (Jemuel Salumba) returns home suddenly to his mother (Maria Riya Miranda) after serving his prison term. When he left to work abroad, he was not in good terms with his stepfather who lost their 10 hectares of land because of gambling debts. After settling down, he went to see his former girlfriend Lena (Ahlex Leyva), who had already married his best friend. This short film was marked by beautiful wide shots of the rural landscape. That one scene of Lino shouting in anguish with a dramatically cloud-covered Mt. Arayat in the background was especially breath-taking. The twist at the ending was well-executed. 7/10.

Values: Family, Self, Livelihood, Life and Purpose


6. LORNA

Director: Noel Escondo

Running Time: 19 minutes

Lorna (Angeli Bayani) was the wife of a poor fisherman Jose (Bong Cabrera). Life for them was very difficult with the daily fish catch dwindling in the face of competition from bigger ships. They had 2 kids, one going to school and the other an infant, and the list at the store is getting longer everyday. When an unexpected tragedy happened, Lorna needed to do what she had never done before. The story may be very familiar, but with Angeli Bayani (the best-known actress in this festival) in the lead role, we know we are getting a topnotch acting performance, perfect for its pitch for female empowerment. 6/10.

Values: Integrity, Family, Life and Purpose, Fellowship, Self, Livelihood, Basic Needs 


7. MASALIMUOT YA TIYAGEW ED DAYAT (Summer Blues)

Director: Jan Carlo Natividad

Running Time: 25 minutes

Federico (Kych Minemoto) met up with his childhood friend Luis (Zeiah Mejia) at the Tondaligan Beach in Dagupan, Pangasinan. Luis who left to go study in Manila 7 years ago and this was the first time they are getting together again after a long time. From the very start, there was already a thick atmosphere of homo-eroticism from the way director Jan Carlo Natividad moved his camera around his two lead actors, with extreme close-ups of their bodies. The climax led the film into a much different direction than the one being built up, executed very well with a brave performance by Minemoto. The underlying LGBT theme may be uncomfortable to watch for younger kids. Rated SPG. 6/10.

Values: Self, Happiness, Fellowship


8. MINA'S FAMILY HISTORY

Director: Christopher Gozum

Running Time: 38 minutes

Mina (Lean Emgil-Galsim) was a top student in a Pangasinan school who was victimized with a video scandal following a drunken birthday party. This caused her to suffer a nervous breakdown so bad it necessitated her mother OFW mother Rita (Gilconida Ambat-Vandoorn) to come home to tend for her. Mina began to witness supernatural phenomena because she needed to accept her calling to be a traditional healer. This short film gave off strong Lav Diaz vibes for me, with its odd sequence of events, lengthy tracking shots and its glossy black and white photography. Rated SPG. 6/10.

Values: Family, Faith, Health, Identity, Peace and Progress, Environment, Love of Country, Cultural Arts and Science


9. UGBOS KA BAYABAS (Tender Leaves of Guava)

Director: Manie Magbanua, Jr.

Running Time: 17 minutes

Kadoy (Jason Louis Mioten) is a 9-year old boy from Antique whose father has decided that he should be circumcised during Holy Week this year. This short film had excellent production values, particularly its cinematography of the provincial landscape with the rolling clouds. However, at its core, it was yet another film that revolved about the traditional circumcision rites held every Holy Week at the river. A favorite scene would be that set at the sari-sari store where adults humorously discussed this coming-of-age practice for boys in the presence of a girl Suping (Angelica Sta. Romana) who was being teased with Kadoy. 5/10.

Values: Happiness, Fellowship, Life and Purpose, Identity, Health, Faith, Cultural Arts and Science, Environment, Family


10. SALOG NING DIKLOM (Black River)

Director: Jordan dela Cruz

Running Time: 17 minutes

Luckless fisherman Simon Biraga (Marc Felix) was very distraught over the disappearance of his wife Lilia Biraga (Julie Ciron). The story was may be a common topic, but Bicolano director Jordan de la Cruz decided to use less conventional devices to tell it. It was not told in linear fashion, sometimes in illogical sequence, which may throw some viewers off.  We see Simon posting posters of the missing Lilia on the wall in one scene, then we see him tearing them down in the next. Most of the scenes were taken in extreme closeups which further enhanced the mental health angle of this disturbing piece. Rated SPG. 5/10. 

Values: Self, Faith, Good Government, Cultural Arts and Science, Fellowship


11. 13 FEET

Director: Carlo Obispo

Running Time: 10 minutes

Fitness coach Peter Pulido (Anjo Resurreccion) gained viral attention after he rescued a girl from drowning 13 feet deep in the ocean in Pangasinan. Back in Manila, he began to note some scaly skin forming under his ear which doctors dismissed as stress. However, by the end, the progressive skin lesions turned out to be something totally different. This very short film was mostly confined within the walls of Peter's posh condo along EDSA, with the cityscape very much part of the scenic backdrop. The surprising ending made up for all the tedious talking that came before. 3/10. 

Values: Heath, Environment


12. LOOKING FOR RAFFLESIAS AND OTHER FLEETING THINGS

Directed by: James Allen Fajardo

Running Time: 20 minutes

Young boy Gubat (Reynald Raissel Santos) was ostracized in his town, being rumored to be the son of the "tikbalang" feared to be responsible for the murders of a number of townspeople. That was all I understood of the film. When it came to the part when Gubat met this mysterious English-speaking man Darren (Kevin Andrews) in the woods, I do not know what this film was trying to say anymore. Who was this Darren guy anyway? Why was he there looking for the rafflesias, and why did he behave with so much violence towards Gubat?  It made absolutely no sense for me. 1/10.

Values: Self, Faith, Peace and Progress, Environment, Fellowship, Cultural Arts and Science

KTX: Review of LOVE AND PAIN IN BETWEEN REFRAINS: Muffled Melodrama

 August 28, 2021



Musician Noel (Oliver Aquino) and pre-school teacher Adelle (Elora Espano) are expecting a baby. However, instead of being happy, Adele lived under a cloud of gloom. It would be revealed that Noel is an abusive husband. However, despite the entreaties of her concerned mother (Suzette Doctolero), Adelle persisted to stay with him because she believed Noel loved her and that their child-to-be will need him as a father. 

This was a quiet, contemplative film with very little dialogue (and muffled sound), very low-key. The way the scenes were composed had impact because of the slow pace and serene mood that would be punctuated by an episode of violence. A blissful scene of the couple singing a love song together steadily degenerated into marital rape. A dinner scene with Noel's parents (Richard Quan and Annelle Durano) soon escalated into a revealing confrontation.

Writer-director Joselito Altarejos departs from his usual LGBT fare to tackle a straight relationship. While there were still scenes of a sexual nature that he is known for, but nothing too graphic this time. He did not tell the evolution of Noel and Adelle's tory in a linear manner. He started with the current chill off and worked his way back and forth in time to let the viewer to logically piece the puzzle of the story together as it worked up to its unjustifiable end.

I had only seen Oliver Aquino in other Alterejos films before like "Kasal" (2014) and "Jino to Mari" (2019). Even if his sad eyes give him that vulnerable look, this does not save him from being a completely despicable character here. Elora Espano does her martyr's best here, saying the same masochistic lines we have heard before. But the revelation for me is that beautiful singing voice of hers, which she should share more.

This movie was not meant to be comfortable to watch. Spousal abuse never is. There was really no way to tell such a painful story of cruelty in a way that could be easier to see. Altarejos makes an effort here to soften the blow somewhat, with more implied than actual violence. Watching those long moments of tense silence between Noel and Adelle actually felt like being given the silent treatment vicariously. 5/10. 


Vivamax: Review of TAYA: Gambling on a Girl

August 28, 2021



Sixto Corpuz (Sean De Guzman) could not seem to graduate from his journalism course. In his search for interesting ideas for his thesis film, he stumbled into the world of online “ending” gaming where women were offered as prizes alongside other items. Betting on his favorite number 69, he won on his first try. For his prize, he was sent a woman named Nanette (AJ Raval) for a night of wild, peanut butter-flavored sex. When she accepted to meet him outside the game context, Sixto promised to take her away from the syndicate that held her captive.

Writer-director Roman Perez, Jr. created a novel seedy scenario of online decadence as a backdrop for his erotic drama. "Ending" was an illegal form of street gambling where people bet on a winning number based on the combination of the last two digits of the final scores of the televised PBA basketball game that night. With the PBA not as popular as before, word about "ending" had also declined, until recently when Facebook pages promoting an online form of "ending" began to proliferate about five years ago. 

Perez embellished these online "ending" games to create a more sinister world around which his story would revolve. In his version, winners did not only bet on cash and gadgets, but also more dangerous items such as guns, drugs or women. The syndicate depicted in the film had recruiters in the field like the mohawked loudmouth Lepot (Pio Balbuena), who answered to a Team Leader (Joel Garcia), who ultimately reported to their big boss Boss Paps (Soliman Cruz), who just had to speak with a thick Chinese accent.

Sean de Guzman made his debut only this year as the star of Joel Lamangan's "Anak ng Macho Dancer." In the following months, he had been in a series of sexy dramas all featuring him in various states of undress. In his last film "Nerisa", he was paired with nymphet du jour AJ Raval, who herself had been in a series of sexy films herself since she debuted in Darryl Yap's "Porn Star" early this year. Both of them showed marked improvement in their onscreen acting skills here in "Taya," but there is still room for more subtlety and nuance.

Raul Morit played Sixto's uncle Abner, owner of the 69 Video-Photo Repair Shop, where Sixto lived in Manila. Mon Confiado played Sixto's thesis adviser Mr. Agulto, who was also under fire from the long-haired Dean (Raffy Tejada) for being unproductive lately. The other daring new actresses de Guzman got to cavort with here included Jela Cuenca (as Winona, the elusive girl of his x-rated dreams) and Angeli Khang (as Nieves, his long-time admirer who suddenly made her move in the last 20 minutes of the film). 

The cinematography had a hint of a bluish filter to enhance the sordid atmosphere of the whole film. The pulsating hiphop musical soundtrack and the dimly-lit bedrooms fit right in to complete the sleazy mood. One may say that the ending was inevitable, as with all previous films about the idealistic young man who wanted to rescue his girl out of her hell (shades of Lino Brocka's "Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag"). However, the concluding sequence conceived by Perez juxtaposing trippy fantasy and brutal reality gave the film a strong final impact. 6/10. 


Saturday, August 21, 2021

Netflix: Review of SWEET GIRL: Tricky Twist

August 21, 2021



Ray Cooper's wife Amanda had cancer and was dependent on a certain generic chemotherapeutic drug for her survival. One day, BioPrime, a major pharmaceutical company, pulled this cheaper medicine out of the market in favor of their more expensive one. On a live radio program, Ray threatened to kill the unscrupulous CEO if ever his wife died. Following Amanda's death, Ray went on his promised warpath of revenge against the men he held responsible. Their young daughter Rachel went tagging along by his side. 

The movie was in the a very typical revenge action flick trope featuring the aggrieved hero going on a killing rampage against all the bad people that caused his misery. We've seen the likes of Charles Bronson, Mel Gibson, Liam Neeson, Keanu Reeves and several other action heroes through the years exacting their own brands of violent revenge for harm that had befallen their beloved family members. While the formula is followed faithfully as prescribed, the difference lay in the personality of the hero and his preferred style of justice. 

Charismatic actor Jason Momoa would of course fit the action hero bill based on his imposing physical appearance alone. The former Khal Drogo (on "Game of Thrones") had already proven his chops as an action film hero most emphatically as Aquaman in the DCEU. But this time, in his latest film "Sweet Girl," his character Ray was only a regular guy with no superpowers. But with his gruff and tough exterior, when Ray Cooper stared down his wife's apologetic doctor on the staircase, we all felt how the poor guy's knees bucked. 

It quickly got to a point when all of Ray Cooper's fights were all looking very generic and tiresome already. There was only the constant presence of Ray's teenage daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced, noted for playing Dora the Explorer recently) witnessing all the killings her father did that kept things different. At the 1 hour point, you will look at your watch and wonder why the film needed 50 more minutes to finish, when everything seems all cut and dry. Then with 30 minutes to go, it threw us that unbelievable curve ball we never saw coming. 

You will feel that final half-hour was the director Brian Andrew Mendoza trying his darnedest best to convince us that what just happened could actually happen as they would like us to accept. But no, nothing of that could fly even if we suspended our disbelief. It was already hard enough believing the way things were going on in the first version, then it turned around suddenly to make us believe an alternative version of the story where things actually happened in another decidedly more impossible way. 5/10. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Netflix: Review of A FAR AWAY LAND: Predictable Plot in a Picturesque Place

August 19, 2021



A Filipino reporter Nico Mendoza (Paolo Contis) is making a documentary about successful Filipinas in the Arctic Circle. He went to the Faroe Islands to shoot an interview with Filipina Mahjoy Garðalið (pronounced as "Garaloy") who operated a successful food catering business there. He learned about her work schedule, her way of life, and her family life with her Faroese husband Sigmund and her daughter Lena. 

After bringing us to Iceland in "Through Night and Day" (2018) and Greenland in "Nuuk" (2019), globe-trotting writer-director Veronica B. Velasco brings us to an even more unfamiliar Arctic locale this time -- the small volcanic archipelago called the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory located between Iceland and Norway in the North Atlantic Ocean. According to this film, there are around 300 Filipinos living there now, mostly mail-order brides. 

The story is quite predictable from the get-go. From their first scene together, it was pretty obvious that Nico was going to fall in love with Mahjoy. However, Velasco tried her best to spice things up by bringing us around to see a place we would probably never see ourselves. While we marvel at the natural scenic beauty of mountains, waterfalls and ocean, she also introduced us to the exotic food items there, like the fermented meat or the fatty cheese. 

Paolo Contis and Yen Santos had a familiar handle on their characters . Contis was a natural at being a charming rascal, and Santos, a hardworking homemaker. Despite the simplicity of the plot, it was up to their chemistry to keep the audience interested. While there was a cute scene like when Mahjoy received surprises from the Philippines, there was also a scene which was totally uncomfortable to watch given that Mahjoy was a married woman. 

It was unfortunate that the picturesque Faroe Islands and the Faroese people had to be the backdrop such an unimaginative story of forbidden love (yet again!). It was even a story that did not exactly put our Filipina compatriots there in a good light, despite the admirable initial premise of celebrating a Filipina's success in a faraway country.  The scene at the airport practically summarized everything that was wrong with the reckless story. 4/10. 


Sunday, August 15, 2021

AppleTV: Review of CODA: Defining Deaf Dynamics

August 15, 2021



The title "CODA" is an acronym that stood for "Child of Deaf Adults." These children faced a special set of challenges in their lives because of a sense of responsibility expected of them to help their parents in their daily living. This perception would usually lead these children to deny their own dreams and aspirations in order to stay and be useful to the family. This coming-of-age, comedy-drama and part-musical film by writer-director Sian Heder was based on French film "La Famille Bélier" (2014), inspired by German film "Beyond Silence" (1996).

Frank and Jackie Rossi were born deaf and only communicated by sign language. They had two children: Leo was also culturally deaf like them, and Ruby who had normal hearing. Ruby had always taken on the role as the family's interpreter for their fishing business. However, in senior high, Ruby decided to join the choir to get closer to her crush Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). When he heard Ruby's beautiful singing voice, the choir teacher Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) convinced her to try out for the Berklee College of Music.  

19 year-old film, television and theater actress Emilia Jones was in perfect voice and form in the lead role of Ruby. She was able to portray the full the gamut of complex emotions this troubled character, trying to balance her loyalty and commitment to her family and the rare opportunity for her to achieve her dream of becoming a singer. Add to that the pressures of a teenager from a blue-collar, disabled family in high school, with an uncertain budding romance to boot. Jones' singing voice was effortlessly pleasing as it was powerful.

It was remarkable that all the deaf characters in the Rossi family were all portrayed by deaf actors: Oscar winner Marlee Matlin as the mother Jackie; Troy Kotsur as the father Frank and Daniel Durant as the brother Leo. Their participation gave a sense of authenticity in this film's portrayal of the family and social life of culturally deaf people and the challenges they faced while dealing with their hearing neighbors. All three of them deserve to be cited for awards, especially Kotsur with his rawness of his performance with a healthy dose of humor. 

Heder effectively shared the difficulties experienced by being the only deaf family in a hearing community. As fishermen, Frank and Leo who challenged the local fishing board and their exorbitant fees, and got into trouble with inspectors and the coast guard as a result of their disability. This was actually the more interesting aspect of the film for me, but these were ultimately just glossed over in favor of Ruby's more predictable story arc. However, the final 15 minutes or so contained the film's most heartwarming moments as our parting gift. 7/10. 


Netflix: Review of BECKETT: Traumatized Tourist

August 15, 2021




Beckett (John David Washington) was just a regular American tourist vacationing in Greece with his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander). One night, his car slid off a remote countryside road and crashed into a house at the bottom of the hill. After Beckett woke up at the hospital, he returned to the site of the accident to contemplate the whole tragic accident. However, he was approached by Greek goons who wanted to shoot him down. Running for his life, Beckett had to find his way back to Athens to reach the safety of the US Embassy.  

Beckett's story had a familiar Hitchcockian vibe of a wrong man being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Every step of the way, the audience was brought into the dangerous predicament in which Beckett was caught in. To make things worse, his physical injuries, the language barrier and his unfamiliarity with public transport made his sticky situation even more difficult. The screenplay by Kevin A. Rice placed Beckett in a series of tough spots on which he had only his wits and stamina to extricate himself from them. 

We do not get too much background as to who Beckett was back in the US, so we do not know what he was capable of doing. The introductory scenes of Beckett and April did not really reveal much about them at all despite taking quite some valuable time at the start. In fact, it turns out that it did not really need to be an Oscar-winner like Alicia Vikander that had to be cast in that ultimately inconsequential role.  The role of April could have been played by any random actress and it would not have mattered. 

John David Washington is a very difficult actor to figure out. He had been in a couple of very big films like "Blackkklansman" and "Tenet," where his rather dry performances as an actor were "saved" by the high concepts of these two acclaimed films. In this lower-brow, less complicated film, Washington was carrying the film squarely on his shoulders, but he did not feel right for the role. From the get go, he did not click with Vikander as a couple. Even when he was on the run for his life, he never projected fear or urgency convincingly.

With all the political intrigue and double-crossing, the story probably sounded exciting on paper. However, Italian director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino could not seem to get the suspense thriller aspect of his film going right. The pace actually lagged several times in Act 2, making the momentum of Beckett's escape back to Athens seem sputtering, instead of gripping. The misbegotten ending sequence in the parking building that had Beckett making an incredible death-defying stunt did not help because it was too unbelievable. 5/10. 


Thursday, August 12, 2021

Vivamax: Review of IKAW AT AKO AT ANG ENDING: Romance on the Run

 August 11, 2021



Martin (Jerald Napoles) just stole a bag full of cash from his employer and was on the run. He decided to hide from his pursuers in a resort way up north in Ilocos Norte. Upon checked in, Martin's attention was immediately caught by Mylene (Kim Molina), one of the housekeepers there. The two immediately hit it off with each other, and shared their life stories as they get more intimately acquainted. However, it soon became evident that their time in their corner of paradise was about to end so they had to get going and move on. 

The story is a variation of the familiar "you and me against the world" type of love story. They met each other when they were at a critical crossroads in their respective lives that did not exactly make romance a feasible option for either one of them. However, as they say, love will find a way. Martin and Mylene both wanted to turn their backs on their broken old lives. Fate intervened for them to meet and made it possible for them to hope for a new life together, even when dire circumstances were not exactly in their favor. 

Real-life lovers Kim Molina and Jerald Napoles just headlined the film "Ang Babaeng Walang Pakiramdam," a bittersweet romcom which was just recently released two months ago. It was the powerful chemistry of Molina and Napoles together that saved that film from the ignominy of ridiculing the hyponasal vocal quality of people with cleft palates.  Here, the two of them are back together again, this time in a much grittier romantic drama, and that electric chemistry is still very much there to buoy things up from their characters' miseries.

Writer-director Irene Emma Villamor first drew my admiration for her cinematic talents in 2018, when she had two excellent films that year, foreign city-based romances both -- "Meet Me in St. Gallen" and "Sid and Aya: Not a Love Story." Both were in the list of my Top 20 best Filipino films that year, the latter in the Top 5. In 2019, she had "Ulan," and in 2020, "Of Vodkas, Beers and Regrets," both of them also had Villamor's signature poignancy and intelligence in the screenplays that she translated so well into memorable cinematic images.

Compared to her former works, "Ikaw at Ako at ang Ending" had a decidedly more indie vibe, stripped down to the most basic production values. The screenplay had melodramatic turns, yes, but the the Molina-Napoles partnership did not allow their characters to wallow in them, fighting through all the way. As Mylene and Martin drove along the scenic winding Patapat Viaduct road to the tune of "Hatid" by The Juans, Villamor and Kim-Je team had weaved a local Covid times Bonnie and Clyde tale we can all root for. 7/10.

Monday, August 9, 2021

CINEMALAYA 2021: RANKING ALL 13 SHORT FILMS IN COMPETITION

August 8, 2021

1. "Crossing" (SET A)

Directed by: Marc Misa

Running Time: 7:45 minutes

One night of desperate need, Gabriel (Nino Mendoza) got on a bus planning to hold the passengers up for instant cash. However, fate had other things in store for him on this fateful ride. By this time, I had already watched all 13 of the short films in competition and I am declaring this one to be the best one in my book. Director Marc Misa kept the pace tight and the atmosphere tense, right up to that suspenseful final decision at the end -- simple, direct, no nonsense. It also had topnotch technical work by cinematographer/ editor Edsel Abesamis and sound/ music by scriptwriter LC de Leon to enhance the uneasy feeling of claustrophobia. 9/10. 


2. "The Dust In Your Place" (SET B)

Directed by David Olson

Running Time: 20 minutes

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. The intelligently-written script of Joem Antonio was the centerpiece of this talky but thought-provoking two-hander film a platonic relationship between a man and woman. The actors Gabunada and Mogg really worked out the challenging emotions of their respective characters so well, imbuing the piece with their electric tension and chemistry, even if their conversations went on a bit long. 8/10.


3. "Ang Mga Nawalang Pag-asa at Panlasa" (The Lost Hopes of Flavors) (SET B)

Directed by Kevin Jay Ayson

Running Time: 19:57 minutes

This documentary short introduced us to the small food entrepreneurs all over the province of Ilocos Norte, how this pandemic had affected them adversely, and how some young people are now helping to revive their businesses. How the various food items were so proudly and passionately described by their respective cooks and presented by Ayson made them all look very appetizing. As an advocacy piece, this film definitely achieves its aim to promote the unique cuisine of Ilocos Norte not only locally, but all over the world. 8/10. 


4. "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi" (SET A)

Directed by: Shiri De Leon

Running Time: 20 minutes

Lola Mayumi (Ruby Ruiz), famous in their small town for being a devout old maid, accepted a dare from her friends to hire a male prostitute (Julian Roxas) and finally lose her precious virginity. Ruby Ruiz was delightful playing Mayumi oh so coy and innocent, excited yet very nervous for what was going to transpire. She was also right at home also when the story took a more dramatic turn. Julian Roxas held his own beside Ruiz, playing the psychologically-attuned call boy. The cold ending was a bit of a letdown after all the interaction that went on between the two characters, but I guess that was how motel meetings like this really go.  7/10. 


5. "Out of Body" (SET A)

Directed by: Enrico Po

Running Time: 14:53 minutes

On the first day of her commercial shoot, the way things were going on at the warehouse location scared new model Elle Vicente (Kelley Day) out of her wits. This film had the best-looking production values of all the entries, very slick-looking. Beauty queen Kelley Day gave a good debut acting effort as Elle. The supporting cast of theater actors (Nelsito Gomez, Joel Saracho, Tarek El Tayech and Dylan Ray Talon) went full on with the creepy vibes. It was just too bad that the ending left more to be desired after all that excellent build up of suspense and tension.  The subliminal commentary about the local film industry is chilling. 7/10. 


6. "An Sadit Na Planeta" (The Little Planet) (SET A)

Directed by Arjanmar H. Rebeta

Running Time: 12 minutes

On his birthday, a young man named Arjan found himself transported to a small planet called Planet 1, on which a disembodied voice calling himself 1 would engage him in conversations. This experimental short film was shot entirely with a 360 Camera which gave it an entirely unique look, as can be seen on its attractive poster. This was practically one-man work of art by Arjanmar Rebeta, who wore different hats in this project, as producer, director, writer, cinematographer, musical scorer, editor, sound designer and actor. It had a motivational message of self-help, but this may or may not come across clearly depending on the viewer. 7/10. 


7. "Beauty Queen" (SET B)

Directed by Myra Aquino

Running Time: 17:58 minutes

This Kapampangan short film was a true-to-life dramatization of the life of Remedios Gomez (Carina Febie Agustin), a local beauty queen in Pampanga who joined the Huks campaign in the mountains during World War 2, She was being assigned to join the nurses to take care of the wounded in the campsite, but she longed to join the men in actual combat. This was a well-shot (cinematography by Tey Clamor, editing by Law Fajardo) tribute to a previously unheralded heroine, a woman before her time with her signature combination of femininity and valor. While Agustin gave it a neophyte's best effort, a more experienced actress could have given the character of Gomez a little more fleshing out. 7/10.


8. "Ate O.G." (SET B)

Directed by Kevin Mayuga

Running Time: 16:57 minutes

This short film was about a household helper Ate (Merle Cahilig) left in the house during the pandemic to serve two lazy teenagers (Kara and Keenan Mayuga). Director Kevin Mayuga captured Ate's depressing humdrum existence very well as it built up to the moment when she found something in the boy's closet which would later elevate her mood, and the mood of the whole household. I do not like films like this that promote how certain illicit substances would seemingly make people happy, but Cahilig's portrayal of Ate's carefree feelings in the second half of the film was delightfully infectious. 6/10


9. "Kids on Fire" (SET B)

Directed by Kyle Nieva

Running Time: 19 minutes

This short film was a black comedy split into 10 "chapters." It was about a young boy J.C. (Alexis Negrite) who was on a religious retreat with his classmates along with his teachers. The story went from comical (with J.C. thinking that his fantasies about Sister Evelyn ample cleavage can cause earthquakes); to downright disturbing (when Sister Evelyn asked J.C. to act out his fantasies in front of her). Mystica was amusing as the effervescently campy Sister Evelyn, but was that uncomfortably sensitive scene of hers in chapter 9 even legal at all? Negrite looks like he is still very much a minor! 6/10.


10. "Kawatan sa Salog" (A Toy in the River) (SET A)

Directed by Alphie Velasco

Running Time: 18:36 minutes

This Bicolano magical realism short film about Santi (Kyle Kaizer Almenanza) who drowned after trying to fish a toy his father (Marc Felix) threw into the river. From there, Santi was transported to an island of lost regretful souls, where he was guided by an old woman (Lui Manansala).  The idea was interesting but something was lost in the execution of that ending sequence. I felt they could have taken more time to flesh that part out some more. Young Almenanza gave a good performance in the lead role of Santi, having good chemistry with veteran actress Manansala. 6/10.


11. "Namnama En Lolang" (Grandmother's Hope) (SET B)

Directed by: Jonnie Lyn P. Dasalla

Running Time: 5 minutes

This very short film of just about five minutes was about a mother living in Baguio City talking to her son Landon, who was apparently away from home. Via her calming voice over in Ilocano heard over scenes of her daily routine, she talked about her current lifestyle during the pandemic while taking care of his son, her grandson Eli. The twist of where Landon and his wife Grace were revealed dramatically in the final scene. Director Jonni Lyn Dasalla's approach for that touching scene was very subtle, and her message was very timely and heartfelt. 5/10.


12. "Maski Papano" (I Mask Go On) (SET A)

Directed by: Che Tagyamon and Glenn Barit

Running Time: 5 minutes

This is a whimsical stop-motion animation featuring a small wooden articulated mannequin dressed up in discarded face masks. He was going around town feeling miserable about his useless life, until he met other masked figurines like him who felt the same way. The story is timely, being about mental issues experienced by many people during this pandemic. The use of animation to tell the story earned it additional points for originality and effort. However, despite this gimmicky approach, it could have been better if the storytelling could have delved a little deeper on the issues involved.  5/10. 


13. "Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things" (SET A)

Directed by: James Fajardo

Running Time: 20 minutes

Young boy Gubat (Reynald Raissel Santos) was ostracized in his town, being rumored to be the son of the "tikbalang" feared to be responsible for the murders of a number of townspeople. That was all I understood of the film. When Gubat met this mysterious English-speaking man Darren (Kevin Andrews), I do not know what this film was trying to say anymore. Who was this Darren guy anyway, why was he there looking for the rafflesias, and why did he behave with so much violence towards Gubat?  It made absolutely no sense for me. 1/10.


Sunday, August 8, 2021

CINEMALAYA 2021: Reviews of COMPETITION SHORTS SET A

August 8, 2021

1."Maski Papano" (I Mask Go On) 

Directed by: Che Tagyamon and Glenn Barit

Running Time: 5 minutes

This is a whimsical stop-motion animation featuring a small wooden articulated mannequin dressed up in discarded face masks. He was going around town feeling miserable about his useless life, until he met other masked figurines like him who felt the same way. The story is timely, being about mental issues experienced by many people during this pandemic. The use of animation to tell the story earned it additional points for originality and effort. However, despite this gimmicky approach, it could have been better if the storytelling could have delved a little deeper on the issues involved.  5/10. 


2. "Crossing" 

Directed by: Marc Misa

Running Time: 7:45 minutes

One night of desperate need, Gabriel (Nino Mendoza) got on a bus planning to hold the passengers up for instant cash. However, fate had other things in store for him on this fateful ride. By this time, I had already watched all 13 of the short films in competition and I am declaring this one to be the best one in my book. Director Marc Misa kept the pace tight and the atmosphere tense, right up to that suspenseful final decision at the end -- simple, direct, no nonsense. It also had topnotch technical work by cinematographer/ editor Edsel Abesamis and sound/ music by scriptwriter LC de Leon to enhance the uneasy feeling of claustrophobia. 9/10. 


3. "Kawatan sa Salog" (A Toy in the River) 

Directed by Alphie Velasco

Running Time: 18:36 minutes

This Bicolano magical realism short film about Santi (Kyle Kaizer Almenanza) who drowned after trying to fish a toy his father (Marc Felix) threw into the river. From there, Santi was transported to an island of lost regretful souls, where he was guided by an old woman (Lui Manansala).  The idea was interesting but something was lost in the execution of that ending sequence. I felt they could have taken more time to flesh that part out some more. Young Almenanza gave a good performance in the lead role of Santi, having good chemistry with veteran actress Manansala. 6/10.


4. "An Sadit Na Planeta" (The Little Planet) 

Directed by Arjanmar H. Rebeta

Running Time: 12 minutes

On his birthday, a young man named Arjan found himself transported to a small planet called Planet 1, on which a disembodied voice calling himself 1 would engage him in conversations. This experimental short film was shot entirely with a 360 Camera which gave it an entirely unique look, as can be seen on its attractive poster. This was practically one-man work of art by Arjanmar Rebeta, who wore different hats in this project, as producer, director, writer, cinematographer, musical scorer, editor and sound designer. It had a motivational message of self-help, but this may or may not come across clearly depending on the viewer. 7/10. 


5. "Looking for Rafflesias and Other Fleeting Things" 

Directed by: James Fajardo

Running Time: 20 minutes

Young boy Gubat (Reynald Raissel Santos) was ostracized in his town, being rumored to be the son of the "tikbalang" feared to be responsible for the murders of a number of townspeople. That was all I understood of the film. When Gubat met this mysterious English-speaking man Darren (Kevin Andrews), I do not know what this film was trying to say anymore. Who was this Darren guy anyway, why was he there looking for the rafflesias, and why did he behave with so much violence towards Gubat? It made absolutely no sense for me. 1/10.


6. "Out of Body" 

Directed by: Enrico Po

Running Time: 14:53 minutes

During the first day of their commercial shoot, new model Elle Vicente (Kelley Day) was told that the concept of the whole project had been revised. However, the way things were going on at that shoot scared the nervous Elle out of her wits. This film had the best-looking production values of all the entries, very slick-looking. Beauty queen Kelley Day gave a good debut acting effort as Elle. The supporting cast of theater actors (Nelsito Gomez, Joel Saracho, Tarek El Tayech and Dylan Ray Talon) went full on with the creepy vibes. It was just too bad that the ending left more to be desired after all that excellent build up of suspense and tension.  The subliminal commentary about the local film industry is chilling. 7/10. 


7. "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Lola Mayumi" 

Directed by: Shiri De Leon

Running Time: 20 minutes

Lola Mayumi (Ruby Ruiz), famous in their small town for being a devout old maid, accepted a dare from her friends to hire a male prostitute (Julian Roxas) and finally lose her precious virginity. Ruby Ruiz was delightful playing Mayumi oh so coy and innocent, excited yet scared for what was going to transpire. She was also right at home also when the story took a more dramatic turn. Julian Roxas held his own beside Ruiz, playing the psychologically-attuned call boy. The cold ending was a bit of a letdown after all the interaction that went on between the two characters, but I guess that was how meetings like this really go.  7/10. 


CINEMALAYA 2021: Reviews of COMPETITION SHORTS SET B

August 8, 2021


1. "Namnama En Lolang" (Grandmother's Hope)

Directed by: Jonnie Lyn P. Dasalla

Running Time: 5 minutes

This very short film of just about five minutes was about a mother living in Baguio City talking to her son Landon, who was apparently away from home. Via her calming voice over in Ilocano heard over scenes of her daily routine, she talked about her current lifestyle during the pandemic while taking care of his son, her grandson Eli. The twist of where Landon and his wife Grace were revealed dramatically in the final scene. Director Jonni Lyn Dasalla's approach for that touching scene was very subtle, and her message was very timely and heartfelt. 5/10.


2. "Kids on Fire" 

Directed by Kyle Nieva

Running Time: 19 minutes

This short film was a black comedy split into 10 "chapters." It was about a young boy J.C. (Alexis Negrite) who was on a religious retreat with his classmates along with his teachers. The story went from comical (with J.C. thinking that his fantasies about Sister Evelyn ample cleavage can cause earthquakes); to downright disturbing (when Sister Evelyn asked J.C. to act out his fantasies in front of her). Mystica was amusing as the effervescent Sister Evelyn, but was that uncomfortably sensitive scene of hers in chapter 9 even legal at all? Negrite looks like he is still very much a minor! 6/10.


3. "Beauty Queen" 

Directed by Myra Aquino

Running Time: 17:58 minutes

This Kapampangan short film was a true-to-life dramatization of the life of Remedios Gomez (Carina Febie Agustin), a local beauty queen in Pampanga who joined the Huks campaign in the mountains during World War 2, She was being assigned to join the nurses to take care of the wounded in the campsite, but she longed to join the men in actual combat. This was a well-shot (cinematography by Tey Clamor, editing by Law Fajardo) tribute to a previously unheralded heroine, a woman before her time with her signature combination of femininity and valor. While Agustin gave it a neophyte's best effort, a more experienced actress could have given the character of Gomez a little more fleshing out. 7/10.


4. "Ate O.G." 

Directed by Kevin Mayuga

Running Time: 16:57 minutes

This short film was about a household helper Ate (Merle Cahilig) left in the house during the pandemic to serve two lazy teenagers (Kara and Keenan Mayuga). Director Kevin Mayuga captured Ate's depressing humdrum existence very well as it built up to the moment when she found something in the boy's closet which would later elevate her mood, and the mood of the whole household. I do not like these films that promote how certain substances would seemingly make people happy, but Cahilig's portrayal of Ate's carefree feelings in the second half of the film was delightfully infectious. 6/10



5. "The Dust In Your Place" 

Directed by David Olson

Running Time: 20 minutes

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. The intelligently-written script of Joem Antonio was the centerpiece of this talky but thought-provoking two-hander film a platonic relationship between a man and woman. The actors Gabunada and Mogg really worked out the challenging emotions of their respective characters so well, imbuing the piece with their electric tension and chemistry, even if their conversations went on a bit long. 8/10.

 


6. "Ang Mga Nawalang Pag-asa at Panlasa" (The Lost Hopes of Flavors) 

Directed by Kevin Jay Ayson

Running Time: 19:57 minutes

This documentary short introduced us to the small food entrepreneurs all over the province of Ilocos Norte, how this pandemic had affected them adversely, and how some young people are now helping to revive their businesses. How the various food items were so proudly and passionately described by their respective cooks and presented by Ayson made them all look very appetizing. As an advocacy piece, this film definitely achieves its aim to promote the unique cuisine of Ilocos Norte not only locally, but all over the world. 8/10. 


Saturday, August 7, 2021

Netflix: Review of VIVO: Kinetic Kinkajou

August 7, 2021




Elderly musician Andres Hernandez earned a living playing music with his cute pet kinkajou named Vivo at the park in Havana. One day, a famous singer Marta Sandoval invited Andres to join her onstage in her concert in Miami. Andres had loved Marta when they were partners in music before, but Andres had not been able to confess his feelings of love for her before she left for the US to pursue her singing career. 

When Andres could not make the trip, Vivo decided to bring the song Andres wrote for Marta to her, with the help of Andres' grand-niece from Key West, Gabi. Gabi was a feisty 10-year old little girl with purple hair who marched to the beat of her own drum, much to the distress of her concerned mother Rosa. When Gabi understood Vivo's mission, she brought him and the song to Miami in time so Marta could somehow get perform it.

This new Sony Animations film played heavily on the musical stylings of Havana, Cuba to its highly fantastical story of undeclared love and unflinching loyalty. You can hear Lin Manuel Miranda sprightly tenor vocals clearly from the syncopated "Hamilton"-like beats of the opening songs "One of a Kind" featuring the rich baritone singing voice of Cuban bandleader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez. Aside from his distinctive rapping, Miranda would also belt out a ballad "One More Song."

Miranda's earworm-y song "Keep the Beat" featured the idiosyncratic high-pitched vocals of Ynairaly Simo as Gabi. Her unique singing voice will take some time to get used to as it can be too energetic for comfort, especially in her solo "My Own Drum". It was so heart-warming to hear the earthy vocals of 80s pop star Gloria Estefan again singing as Marta. Her highlight is her rendition of "Inside Your Heart," the love song Andres wrote for Marta. 

While the idea of using a kinkajou as a central character was cute, the film awkwardly used the environmental advocacy of the girl scouts as a main area of conflict. The main story of a child going against the wishes of a parent is already a very common theme in these kids films. The "fun" misadventures of Gabi and Vivo en route to Miami -- biking high-speed on an expressway, trying to jump across an opening drawbridge, riding a makeshift raft through the Everglades swamp with all the alligators and snakes -- may be too scary for small kids. 8/10. 


Friday, August 6, 2021

Vivamax: Review of REVIRGINIZED: Revitalizing Realizations

August 6, 2021


Carmela (Sharon Cuneta) was undergoing an annulment case from her husband of 36 years. To escape from her misery, she joined her goddaughter Chesca (Abby Bautista) and her wacky friends Jen (Rose Van Ginkel), Liz (Marion Aunor) and Beverly (Jobelyn Manuel) on their way to "Stranded," three nights of drunken abandon at the beach. When they learn of Carmela's problem, the girls made it their project to make her recover her youthful verve or "revirginized", especially when she was smitten by tattoo artist Morph (Marco Gumabao). 

The trailer of this new Sharon Cuneta film gained millions of views, especially for those shocking scenes of prim and proper Ate Shawie uttering profanity and graphic sexual terms. Yes, admittedly that aspect of the film is undeniably attention-getting, and really a great marketing strategy, as evidenced by the advanced ticket sales. There was not much more of that cute vulgarity from Cuneta anymore -- what you see in the trailer was it already. However, there was so much more substance for audiences to savor in the rest of the film. 

Megastar Sharon Cuneta definitely grabbed this greasy bull of a character by the horns full on. Now that you've seen this film with her as Carmela, she was so right for the role such that it would be difficult to imagine any other actress in this role. She gamely fulfilled all the required shenanigans expected from a Darryl Yap heroine, and her goody-two-shoes reputation made the comedy all the more precious. Her cutest sequence for me would be that one she was talking to the baby tortoise as Morph caught her in a most mortifying situation.

As Morph, Marco Gumabao also gave this role all his carefree charm, especially in his passionate scenes of life-coaching and motivation. Odd couple as it may sound on paper, he and Cuneta did have screen chemistry, so you would actually root for Morph and Carmela to hook up as couple. We see several famous names in the opening credits, but they were in short, practically cameo roles. Albert Martinez, Cristina Gonzales, Ogie Diaz and Rosanna Roces were only seen in the opening sequence, and Kylie Versoza was at the very end. 

As shown in the trailer, there were several scenes of rave party on a beach with supposed teenagers (they look more like millennials) engaging in various activities of hedonistic inebriation. While chaotic and nihilistic events like these really happen, these scenes just went on a bit too long, too noisy for me. The young people here were shown to be rude and obscene, not exactly the company I'd imagine my Gen Z kids to be with. To be fair, Yap tried to balance this mischief with some responsible behavior the morning after.

Darryl Yap had been known for the controversies surrounding his brazen films rather than for his writing or directing. This time, I felt he had outdone himself with this screenplay that tackling such serious themes of teenage pregnancy, rocky marriage and deep regrets with sensible language that speaks clearly to his middle-aged audience, and meaningful metaphors of pawikan and butterflies to make his point. Credits also to the production team for using three vintage Volkswagen vehicles and Dorina Pineda's "Bituing Walang Ningning" circa 1987 hair and dress for some amusing nostalgia. 7/10.