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Shake Rattle & Roll XV (2014)
An incredibly crappy and misconceived three-part scarefest where logic goes out the window and actors ham it up relentlessly
SHAKE RATTLE ROLL XV is an incredibly crappy and misconceived three-part scarefest that has everything money can buy, but too many scenes are contrived to the point of blankness, the actors seem to be doing a school play and 3 separate scripts can't stand much scrutiny (or shaking, rolling and rattling). The first episode, AHAS, directed by Dondon Santos, is a farce (delving on the actual myth about a woman with a twin snake, both of them scions of a famous supermall). Alice Dixson accepts the thanklessly brief mother role who gives birth to the twins; in real life, rumors abounded at one time that Ms Dixson was a near-victim of the snake-man of the said mall. Ariel Rivera plays Ms Dixson's wife, JC De Veyra plays the love interest who is actually seeking vengeance for the unexplained disappearance of then-girlfriend Solenn Heussaff, Lou Veloso plays a terrified janitor, Mosang a saleslady who cunningly lures people into the secret basement where the snake-human lives, and Melai Cantiveros and Jason Francisco, seemingly a package deal, play a hapless shoplifter-turned victim and a bewildered security guard, respectively. In the titular role is Erich Gonzales, one of the shrillest actresses in Philippine cinema. Copying shamelessly the snake-woman CG (Medusa) from the Hollywood blockbuster WRATH OF THE TITANS (2010), this episode has Gonzales playing pouty twins, one a human back from abroad who doesn't know her twin sister is alive, the other, a bloodthirsty creature who devours people and likes asking men if she's beautiful (before angrily devouring them). John Lapus adds zest to the proceedings, supervising the fashion shows. The second episode, ULAM, from Jerrold Tarog, plays like a filmed play with a bizarre theme. Dennis Trillo and Carla Abellana play a couple who begin alienating each other and their kid as they transfer to the ancestral house of Dennis' grandparents (resented by Carla). Chanda Romero plays housekeeper Aling Lina while the child, Julie, is played by Kryshee Frencheska Grengria. I don't think I'm spoiling much when I say the dishes that are being prepared for the couple are poisoned and slowly turn them into ravenous monsters. Critic Oggs Cruz seems to like this episode the most, encouraging viewers to watch the movie if only for this episode. Some may find it stagy, bizarre and pretentious, but beneath the murky plot lies a gem of a performance from Ms Chanda Romero, who has reasons of her own for trying to serve the kind of dishes she is serving. Trillo often goes through the paces, while Abellana pouts and sulks -- leaving, believe it or not, the most earnest acting to be done by child actress Grengria, as she witnesses with her innocent mind the unraveling of a marriage (her parents'). Ms Perla Bautista is wasted in the role of the severe grandmother, a token role in such horror movies as this. Again, John Lapus amusingly pops up again as Iggy Moda, Carla's friend. Tarrog directed the 2011 ASWANG with Lovi Poe, which I really like, a different take on the aswang mythos. With ULAM, he does succeed against two crummy episodes, especially with Ms Romero. The third episode from Perci Intalan, FLIGHT 666, is the campiest of all; Intalan's formula seems to be, assemble an eclectic cast of characters, put them on a plane, add a hijacker, but also add a woman who gives birth to a baby ghoul who wants to devour everyone. Alas, even the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray, and Intalan commits his first error by his choice of actors. To wit: Lovi Poe and Nathalie Hart (who?) as flight attendants, Matteo Guidicelli as a doctor who had a past with Lovi, Daniel Matsunaga as a pilot, Khalil Ramos as a self- absorbed cutie who spurns the pathetic advances of Kiray Celis, Yael Yuzon as a rock star full of himself, IC Mendoza as Kiray's pouty gay friend, Sue Prado as a sleepy passenger, Betong Sumaya and Bentong as father-and-son passengers with a funny twang. Amusingly added to the fray is Joy Viado as a modern-day Doña Victorina who locks herself up in the lavatory, but lusty sugar mama Arlene Muhlach is already in there with her hunky boyfriend (John Spainhour). Amusing to some, annoying to others is Kim Atienza, basically playing himself, a walking encyclopedia of trivia and facts. Intalan may have been served well by the supporting cast, but Lovi Poe (playing timid and meek) and Matteo Guidicelli (playing timid and meek) simply don't lead a movie about a hijacked plane! Thankfully, Bernard Palanca is onboard to menace the passengers but someday Palanca will most certainly ham it up, in the grand Christopher de Leon manner. We have to thank our lucky stars he still has the Armando Goyena touch, and attacks any roles well (Goyena is his real-life grandfather). Most ridiculous of all is the baby ghoul (with a backstory of the girl getting impregnated by an "elemento"), and everything goes to hell from here on. Intalan's work is hard to fathom (Note his 2014 Nora Aunor movie, DEMENTIA, with viewers scratching their heads about the plot and Aunor's performance). The musical scoring (by Cesar Francis Concio for AHAS, by Jerrold Tarog for ULAM, and by Von de Guzman for FLIGHT 666), are one of the 3-part movie's meager assets. Macky Galvez's cinematography renders many scenes eerie in ULAM. But all actors have to pay their dues, and the actors here have to pay their dues to Mother Lily, so I have to excuse them for their hammy, crummy performances. After all, I enjoyed SCREAM and its three sequels (but SCREAM is far superior to this thin, uneven scarefest). As if to press a point (that, after this stupid movie, Intalan will still direct, or rather, all three directors will still be around), John Lapus has a surprise ending appearance, gleeful that he survived the three horror situations. Alas, faster that you can spell Daniel Matsunaga, there surely will be a 16th movie.
Sequel to landmark horror film degenerates into high camp, but it's all rollicking fun with delicious performances from Elizabeth Oropesa and Lotlot de Leon
KUBOT: THE ASWANG CHRONICLES (a few spoilers!!!) is rollicking fun, and outright silly. But you knew that with Joey Marquez, Jun Sabayton, Ramon Bautista and Bogart the Explorer in the cast. Erik Matti's sequel to his groundbreaking TIKTIK CHRONICLES (2012), which boasted of different special effects never before seen, finds Makoy on a rickety jeepney ride with his wife Sonia and baby in tow. They encounter Veron (Elizabeth Oropesa) and her hag sidekicks, with truly frightening hairdos, and goes right out and eats Makoy's wife and walks away with the baby (all this time, Makoy's right hand is pinned in the overturned vehicle). Two years later, Makoy, grieving for his dead wife and baby, jaded and tired of it all (he had to slay innumerable ghouls in the first movie), settles in with his sister Nieves (Lotlot de Leon) and Nestor (Joey Marquez). However, when an upstart, Dom (KC Montero) invades the city with his horde of ghouls, infecting humans through contaminated hotdogs (yes, hotdogs), Nestor and Nieves urge Makoy, who now sports a gadget- laden mechanical right arm, to stand up and fight, if only to avenge the death of his family. With returning cast members Ramon Bautista (as Bart) and Marquez, KUBOT: THE ASWANG CHRONICLES, benefits from the addition of new cast members Oropesa, Isabelle Diaz Daza (as a "closet" aswang/lady doctor), and gamely surprises the audience with thrills, scares, and funny characters. The great special effects are moodily photographed by Shing Fung Cheung, while the music of Erwin Romulo jars the senses (sometimes it sounds like technoremix, sometimes like Argentine tango) and prods the story along. Lotlot de Leon won as Best Supporting Actress in the MMFF derby -- but how good her performance here is a matter of opinion, for from her first scene to the last, she camps it up with relish (and high camp/outright silliness shouldn't nab acting awards for any artist). Sometimes you feel you want her character to be killed off, but hey, she already did that in FENG SHUI (2004). Nevertheless, de Leon's busybody character is likable, funny, comical, and some rather witty lines are delivered by de Leon with panache. Diaz Daza proves she's no lightweight in the acting department, except for a bizarre, grimace-inducing scene when she and Dingdong Dantes are cornered by a horde of ghouls. From a roller-coaster ride of dazzling special effects, comedic touches and real thrills, the film degenerates into high camp and corn, like a beautiful but tawdry ship running aground. Even child stars Alonzo Muhlach and Mona Louise Rey have token appearances as aswang children, and this early they're seemingly taught to ham it up. Emerging unscathed from it all is Ms Elizabeth Oropesa, who, with very good makeup, is chilling and menacing as a queen ghoul who seeks revenge on Makoy. Young musical stars Julie Anne San Jose and Abra, providing James Bond gadgetry for Makoy, have almost thankless roles, but Ms Rina Reyes, sexy star of the late 1980s-1990s and granddaughter of movie queen Paraluman, is a welcome sight as a good Samaritan. Issa Litton, Dido de la Paz, Pao Gamboa and Nicco Manalo appear in solid supporting roles. For his part, Dingdong Dantes, aping some mannerisms from certain Tom Cruise/Keanu Reeves action movies, acts bored in his first few scenes. He only jacks everything up by the climactic showdown, and even then, everything else is swallowed by the humongous special effects already. KUBOT: THE ASWANG CHRONICLES, directed by Erik Matti, feels like a Filipino version of a Hollywood summer blockbuster with the title, say, TRANSFORMERS (directed by Michael Bay in 2007) -- all razzle dazzle but can't be scrutinized closely. Let's wait and see if Matti (who apprenticed under Peque Gallaga and has made sharp films like DOS EKIS (2001), PROSTI (2002), and PA-SIYAM (2004) and the fantastic indie sleeper hit/multiawarded film last year, ON THE JOB), and Dantes can come up with something new for the Part Three -- given that Marian Rivera makes a delicious cameo appearance at film's end. So far, among the eight MMFF movies, this ranks high up there with the BONIFACIO/Robin Padilla and the George Estregan Jr movies.
Bonifacio: Ang unang pangulo (2014)
Glossy biopic has no happy ending but film has polish and style.
A sweeping chronicle of the life of Andres Bonifacio, this ambitious biopic skips any elongated childhood segment (except for a young Andres watching from a crowd the garrote deaths of the three martyr priests, Fathers Gómez, Burgos and Zamora) and presents to us, without further ado, an idealistic Filipino who came to be called the "Father of the Philippine Revolution." Born in November 1863, Bonifacio led the movement called "Katipunan" (where he was called "Supremo" or supreme leader) and also a founding member of Dr José Rizal's "La Liga Filipina," an organization calling for political reforms from the Spanish colonial regime. There may be dispute about certain statements the movie makes, but Williams doesn't care and sturdily paints a narrative arc that jumps back and forth from the 1890s to the present day, where students Daniel Padilla, Anne Curtis-Smith and RJ Padilla spend time in the Museum of Philippine Political History and discuss the life of Bonifacio -- while the observant museum curator (Eddie Garcia) listens on and gives them his two cents' worth on the hero. The movie skips the first wife (who died of leprosy) and goes straight to the well-known (second) wife, Gregoria de Jesus, 18-years-old at the time of Andres' courtship. Vina Morales gives a spirited performance as Oryang, as the movie shows Oryang ready to lay her life for country, held in check only by the worried Andres. (Later, which the movie barely tackles, Oryang would be the founder and vice-president of the women's chapter of the Katipunan). Robin Padilla, despite his habitual swagger and sometimes self-conscious mugging, tries for an earnest performance of Bonifacio, making us root for the character despite the blatant future failure (of an expected leadership) staring him in the face. Williams' movie makes no bones about who the enemies are; two, in particular. The Spanish colonizers, and a rather traitorous Emilio Aguinaldo (Jun Nayra) and his underlings (Mon Confiado, et al). The movie is engrossing, if you can overlook Padilla's shticks and swagger, but certain key roles are frustratingly brief (Joem Bascon as Emilio Jacinto, Junjun Quintana and Cholo Barretto and Procopio Bonifacio and Ciriaco Bonifacio, Ping Medina as Diwa, Isabel Oli as Nonay, Lou Veloso as Tatang), while the cameo roles are amusing (Isko Moreno as Burgos, Rommel Padilla, Daniel Padilla's father, as Gómez, Dennis Marasigan as Zamora). Richard Quan lends solid support as Plata, who falls in love with Andres' sister Nonay. Shining in his brief role as Dr José Rizal is Jericho Rosales, but this very famous hero disappears all too soon from the movie (maybe just as well, for Rizal and his life has been tackled, examined and chronicled to death, excuse the pun). Also, teen sensation Daniel Padilla, arguably one of the hottest young stars today, feels like an afterthought (as does Ms Jasmine Curtis- Smith); perhaps the planned Gregorio del Pilar biopic will give the young Padilla a better spotlight). The overall respectful tenor of this glossy biography film, scripted by Williams, Carlo Obispo and Keiko Aquino, makes it work as a political biopic. This particular biography has no happy ending, for sadly, Bonifacio was betrayed and ganged upon. Carlo Mendoza (MMFF winner) moodily photographs the film, with beautiful shots of Pagsanjan and the houses of Las Casas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan. This film also also won Best Festival Sound Engineer, Best Musical Scoring by Juan De Guzman and Best Original Theme Song by Von De Guzman (as well as the MMFF FPJ Memorial Award for Film Excellence, the Youth Choice Award and the Gatpuno Antonio Villegas Cultural Award). (During the Float Parade, this film also won Best Float). Let's leave the historical quibbles and disputes to people like Ambeth Ocampo, Guillermo Gómez Rivera and other historians; just enjoy Williams and Padilla's joint effort (they plan to also make a movie about Gregorio del Pilar). Kudos, Robin and Enzo!
Deramas film is sheer froth and nonsense
THE AMAZING PRAYBEYT BENJAMIN
This film takes off where the highly successful Part One ended, with the flamboyant and heroic Benjamin Santos VIII given honors by his state and country. Beneath the crude jokes, half-hearted gags and ridiculous plot, one can glean lessons about humility, pride, honor and a sense of family values. But I'm just being kind, because from start to finish, BENJAMIN unashamedly wallows in frothy nonsense, with four surprise guest appearances thrown in to dazzle the undazzled viewer. The authentic comic mettle one got from earlier Deramas vehicles has diminished, and Deramas can now only produce sheer nonsense, replete with product placements, "in" jokes that fall flat, and the aforementioned guest appearances. When one is bombarded midway in the movie with song-and-dance numbers (which includes the really unfunny Atak Arana as a househelper), a video game segment (don't ask) and a flash mob dance, one begins to confirm Deramas' considerable directorial talents spiraling downhill. If this is Filipino comedy (and, let me underscore, all the Vice Ganda movies make a killing at the tills), I'd rather watch indie films ad nauseum (indie film DED NA SI LOLO, in comparison, is a lot funnier, with nonstop gags and absolutely sidesplitting comic scenes).
Keeping straight faces amidst all the insane proceedings is 85-year-old Eddie Garcia, who made beautifully dramatic movies in 1950s like SIETE INFANTES DE LARA (1950), EL INDIO (1953), CONTRAVIDA, LUPANG KAYUMANGGI and WALDAS (all in 1955), MGA LIGAW NA BULAKLAK (1957) and ANINO NI BATHALA (1958) (Sidenote: Garcia is the most awarded person in the long history of the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) Awards. He garnered 6 Best Supporting Actor wins, 5 Best Actor wins and 5 Best Director wins, 3 Hall of Fame Awards and 1 Lifetime Achievement Award. He was awarded his first FAMAS Award in 1957 and his last FAMAS, a Hall of Fame for Best Actor, in 2003.); also, Malou de Guzman, who by now has mastered the art of keeping a straight face with all her fantasy teleserye work behind her; Al Tantay, who was a matinée idol in the 1970s; Lollie P. Mara, a Zamboangueña who always plays aristocratic roles -- she refreshingly goes loose here, especially the scene where she's really hungry and would like to start eating food at a party. Others look bored (like Kean Cipriano, DJ Durano, Boom Labrusca and comedienne Rubi Rubi. But throughout the movie, as if to compete with the inanities arrayed for Vice Ganda to do, Tom Rodríguez mugs with a capital M. He plays the villain, Janjaranjan, flanked by several heartthrob goons including Boom Labrusca. Meanwhile, Alex Gonzaga is shrill, Ricky Rivero milks a few chuckles from some key scenes, and most surprisingly of all, Richard Yap shows skill for comedy (I always found his acting in the TV soap "PLEASE BE CAREFUL WITH MY HEART wooden, monotonous). His comic repartee (as a grouchy general tasked to supervise Benjamin for a bodyguard mission) was good and refreshing. Alas, Bimby Yap, son of Kris Aquino, hardly exerts himself in his second movie role. Like mother, like son. He even dresses up in drag! Bimby Yap, cute as he is, simply plays himself, a spoiled brat. I'm not a Vice Ganda fan, and every year, his comic skills run out of steam (for me), so reluctantly watching PRAYBEYT BENJAMIN 2 only reiterated my perception of Vice Ganda movies wallowing in absurd plots, unfunny gags and thin humor. This is perhaps part of the ramifications of appearing in a daily noontime show and having to churn out gags ad nauseum. Sadly, the ending has the fourth surprise star appearance (of a male teen heartthrob), paving the way for a Part Three. Not very amazing.
Feng Shui 2 (2014)
10 things you'll love about this film -- you'll love to offer a copy of the script and set it on fire at the altar of a Taoist Temple.
These are the 10 things that will have you raving... raving drunk! 10. The chance to see Carmi Martin act deliciously drunk – and, spoilers here, the drinks are not alcoholic, but rather, household poisons! 9. The chance to see the pretty Ms Cherry Pie Picache digging for treasure in her backyard – complete with a yaya. Ms Picache successfully unearths a gold-gilded plate, several trinkets, and, alas, a bomb that explodes, depriving us of the you-thought-she-had-one-fantastic-acting- scene golden moment. One is slightly reminded of the poor Ms Delia Razón, wheelchair-bound, pushed to her death into the swimming pool by an evil Anne Curtis (IKA-13 KAPITULO, 2000). 8. The chance to see Chinatown hunks Randy See and Kurt Ong play non-roles, in their valiant to attempt to become the next big Coco Martin, I mean, star. Joining the fray is actor Martin Escudero, who showed great comedic skill in ZOMBADINGS. Alas, he also thinks it's a comedy scene when Coco Martin hollers for him to row the boat nearer and hurry up, so that they can chase after mob boss Paolo (Teodoro Baldomaro). The grit and angst in Coco Martin's face is rewarded by a giggly performance by Escudero as he obediently rows the boat towards Martin. 7. The chance to marvel at theater stalwarts Bart Guingona (as Kris Aquino's real estate boss) and Jenine Desiderio (returning from the 2004 movie, a woman who comes into brief possession of the bagua and jumps to her death) – marvelously deadpan in their scenes (Guingona in his complimentary and fawning speech to Kris, Desiderio in her look-of- abject-terror moment before the death-fall). How can one keep a straight face in a Kris Aquino movie? These two can. (Martin Escudero and Diana Zubiri must have valiantly tried, and failed). 6. The chance to have "the living daylights frightened out of you" when you hear the tiny patter of feet, of Lotus Feet. (This clever gimmick worked in the 2004 movie; today it will increasingly annoy you when it is repeated over and over. And over. And over. And over.) 5. The chance to watch Diana Zubiri as a pouty henchwoman who loses her cellular phone with credit cards – and promptly has the two youths who return it (Martin Escudero and Randy See) beaten up, and alas, killed, by her goons. Zubiri can play villainess in the brilliant Kris Aquino manner. 4. The chance to grimace and gasp as action star Ian Veneracion, who never dies in any of his movies, plays a goody-goody-two-shoes/love interest of Kris Aquino here, and foolishly drives into a street full of bums, hustlers, roundabouts and vagabonds, fatally running over one of the aforementioned. Alas, for the first time in Philippine cinema, handsome, baby-faced Ian Veneracion gets mugged, beaten up and killed! 3. The chance to scrutinize Kris Aquino's immaculate alabaster skin, free of blemishes that afflict ordinary mortals. Even in horror moments, there seems to be a translucent glow to Aquino's skin (while other mere mortals in the movie blanch, looked flushed, or are terrorized scarlet), but she's not playing a zombie here, so
. 2. The chance to see 78-year-old actor Joonee Gamboa perform, for the 100th time, a wise man/sage/know-it-all/white-haired mystic/backstory narrator/the-boy-who-cried-wolf
his trembly voice never losing its serious dramatic tenor, Gamboa perorates about the ramifications of possessing and owning the bagua, garnering a bored look from Ms Cherry Pie Picache, an I'm-about-to-cry/I'm-about-to-die look from Mr Coco Martin, and an I-appeared-in-several-Carlo-J.-Caparas-movies-so-I-know- how-to-react-to-this-kind-of-moment look of anguish from a properly distressed Ms Kris Aquino. 1. The chance to see if the twist ending paves the way for a much- desired Part Three. (I won't kiss and tell, go find out for yourself!). FENG SHUI 2 is the sequel to Kris Aquino's highly successful horror film, FENG SHUI (2004). Returning characters include Joonee Gamboa as Hsui Liao, Emil Sandoval as Evart Mendoza, Cherry Pie Picache as Lily Mendoza, and in flashbacks, Jay Manalo as Inton Ramirez, Ilonah Jean as Thelma, Mon Confiado as Raul.
Esprit De Corps (2014)
Kanakan Balintagos resurfaces with an age-old question of sexual identity in a military setting
ESPRIT DE CORPS is a must-see film -- if you get past the provocative posters and the homoerotic angles. Directed by the fantastic young personality formerly known as Aureus Solito, who shot to fame with the success of his indie ANG PAGDADALAGA NI MAXIMO OLIVEROS (2005, with 28 nominations from various bodies and 23 awards), Kanakan Balintagos examines life in the barracks while throwing in a whole lot of metaphysical and rhetorical questions.
Lt Mac Favila (JC Santos) is every cadet's idol -- he's the epitome of machisimo, and many cadets aspire for his position. Especially two young friends -- Private Abel Sarmiento (Sandino Martin, Best Actor awardee at the recent Cinema One Originals filmfest awards) and Private Cain Fujioka (Lharby Policarpio, a precious find). But beneath Favila's macho bluster is a façade -- and this façade, as it slowly unravels through flashbacks and fast- forwards, strips all three men down to their bare essentials.
The first 10-minute interrogation scene by Favila (of Sarmiento), very hardline and almost cruel, ends abruptly with an odd embrace -- but you foresaw that with the kinds of movie posters the film had.
What makes a man? What lessens a man? What defines masculinity? What makes a man macho? Can a man surmount a sordid childhood past and come out a winner, or pathetic loser? Why do we hide beneath veneers of machisimo, bluster and braggadocio? Two male friends from childhood -- how do you toe the line between friendliness and intimacy? A victim of sexual predation -- will he repeat the vicious cycle with newer victims, instead of examining and solving his problem?
These are all questions that Balintagos takes time addressing and seemingly answering, with a poem about "The Kiss" figuring significantly in a subplot. However, some interesting characters disappear all too soon (like the "coño" cadet everyone makes fun of). Suffice it to say this film awakens many questions among the audiences (gay or not) -- and the particular day that I watched, the last day actually, at Fairview Terraces, a female country-bumpkin type kept a running commentary (and extremely loud expressions of disgust at the male love scenes) with every scene, oblivious to the shusshing of the other irked audience members.
The three leads, relative newcomers, are well matched. (At the 2014 Cinema One Originals awards, Martin nabbed the Best Actor trophy, while Balintagos won as Best Director and production designer Endi Balbuena also won). The seduction scenes are tense and very loaded. Balintagos stages most of the film like it was a theater piece, which may or may not work for some viewers. For me, the tension, the staginess, the talkiness and the sleaziness (of some characters) all worked equally. Even the jerkiness of the sex scene between Policarpio and Santos had some quaint, if queer, charm to it. Whether a priest from your childhood molested you, or the much-revered Lt. blackmails you into sex, Balintagos underscores the accepted actuation that something in your past will determine who you are in the present, and how you deal with others. The conundrum of the film, and the lead characters, is whether there is redemption for the tainted men.
The three leads really impress, given that Policarpio makes his film debut while his costars have very few film credits -- Martin appeared earlier this year in UNFRIEND and DAGITAB, and Santos appeared in the 2008 indie JAY (starring the "prince of indie films," Coco Martin, with Baron Geisler) and this year's THE JANITOR (starring Dennis Trillo, Derek Ramsay, Richard Gomez). Presumably all three are "straight," and Balintagos masterfully directs them with very intricate character arcs, especially concerning sexual identity. Balintagos may or may not have undergone military training, but the way he wrote the screenplay, with a commandant figuring largely in the backstory of Favila (Commandant Abanilla is played with gusto by an amusing Garry Lim, while Sue Prado has a small scene, all too brief, as a nymph at film's end, one more bizarre touch from Balintagos), the questions of sexual confusion, experimentation and liberation surface yet again and one definitely leaves the theater with a rattled mind. Kudos, Kanakan Balintagos!
Esoterika: Maynila (2014)
Elwood Perez comes up with a brazen directorial comeback
Deep in the heart of Manila, a graphic arts novelist, Mario/Galogo, begins to examine his life, which is at a crossroads. Elwood Perez has directed a film that is all at once jarring, charming, bizarre, campy, laced with shticks and conceits, full of wry humor, but fascinating and riveting. The major characters are played by newcomers and the support by non-marquee names, with Perez deigning to cast some familiar names in key roles.
Ronnie Liang is like one of those handsome 1920s Hollywood stars – beautiful, glamorous, a fine specimen women would rave about (until such actors spoke, with the coming of the "talkie" movies). Immediately bombarding us with a bizarre opening scene, Mario, a cook in a Chinese restaurant, sautées pig's brains into an omelet. His girlfriend (the only real girl in his romantic life) visits him, voices her disgust at such culinary fare, and proceeds to have hot sex with him. Although I had an inkling that Liang would bare skin, I had no idea he would be given a lot of sexy scenes! But... that is the Elwood Perez touch!
Donato (Federico Olbés) is an old-wealth art collector who has somehow squandered his fortunes but enjoys a (very tenuous) relationship with Raul, a young, handsome artist. Donato and Raul seem to be working a "con" on rich matrons, producers, promoters and gallery owners.
Raul (Vince Tañada) is handsome, ambitious, compulsive, conflicted, and, later, a forlorn has-been and a full-blown junkie. He feels his life has been dissipated, ruined, by being Donato's kept boy.
Mona (Adelle Aura) is the widow of the wealthy Conrado Soriano. And Mona is ripe for the picking as Donato/Raul/Mario work their "con" on her, jointly and separately. Mona's identity, revealed slowly by the film, is akin to Jaye Davidson's "Dil" in THE CRYING GAME (1993).
Solita (Solita del Sol) is a beautiful trans-gender (very timely of Perez to have written such a character, given the controversial Jennifer Laude murder) whom our hero meets on a train ride. Del Sol has a very surprising "exposure" scene as Mario keeps stalking her and fantasizing about marriage with "her."
OJ Mariano plays Solita's "husband."
Guillermo Gómez plays a priest who gives advice to Mario -- advice on same-sex marriage, as the naïve Mario cannot distinguish between real women and trans-gender women.
Cecile Guidote-Alvarez plays Mario's "grandmother," and their meeting scene is bizarre yet touching.
Ms Boots Anson-Roa plays, amusingly, a socialite named "Gilda" who accepts Mona Soriano into her inner circle. Her flair for comedy is a hidden gem.
Tesa Martinez and Carlos Celdran play themselves, with the bizarre touch of vampire fangs. The symbolism of vampirism and homosexuality/bisexuality (as Tesa dn Carlos threaten to consume the hapless Mario) is obvious and very ripe quite easy to form the idea that "it" swallows you whole; the idea that it will infect you like a contagious disorder; the idea that (pardon my French) gay sex drains a man of energy.
Jessica Zafra plays herself in a very amusing cameo, dispensing advice during a book-signing at Solidaridad Bookshop, with chagrin and befuddlement, to the up-and-coming novelist Mario. Garrulous Tessa Prieto-Valdes plays herself in a ho-hum cameo. (The art event with Tessa and Ms Boots Anson-Roa is peppered with socialites' faces).
Snooky Serna, Lance Raymundo, Jon Hall, Wig Tysmans, Justin de Leon, Jordan Ladra, Cindy Liper and a host of indie talents are peppered throughout the film.
As the lives of the first girlfriend, of Mona, Solita, two brothers (who are "cousins" of Mario) intersect Mario's, Manila is presented in all its glory and, for lack of a better word, grime. Manila is all at once exciting, colorful, beauteous, dangerous, glamorous, pathetic, seedy, slick, hellish, yet a paradise for others... The very paradox of Manila underscores the dichotomy of the character that is Mario (will he tread this path? that path? will he follow in Raul's careless footsteps? will he allow Donato to run, and possibly ruin, his life?), and Elwood very interestingly contrasts Mario with Raul. Physically, both men are handsome but Liang is taller than Tañada. The latter's face is like the way my favorite author Ian Fleming described his creation, James Bond: hard, chiseled face, cruel mouth, etc. And the camera loves Ronnie! In his odd, bizarre scenes, in his steamy scenes, in his comic scenes, Ronnie Liang is made love to not just by a host of oddball characters but also by the obsessive lens.
Alas, being surrounded by theater and veteran actors, Liang's voice- over narration leaves a lot to be desired; it belies his strength as a natural singer (but poor speaker). It came across as too singsong- y, almost Forrest Gump-like. Perez must have like the mere innocence of his voice. (Fantasy: Had Perez made this in the 1970s/1980s, he would have ostensibly cast Alfie Anido, Miguel Rodríguez or even Maja Salvador's father, Ross Rival). There's still time for the hunky Liang to harness his acting chops, but he looks the part and acts the part (but work on your elocution and diction, man!).
ESOTERIKA: MANILA examines Metro Manila campily (for it is a campy place), and what makes it tick. The dichotomy between Mario and Raul seem to underscore the theory that it's really just one person -- Elwood himself, who based this on his actual personal experiences, especially when he was penning the 1989 film BAGWIS. Leave it to the naughty minds to imagine what really happened in Elwood's youth, but Perez is one filmmaker who can shoot sexy scenes without resorting to tackiness, vulgarity or gratuitousness. We should really thank Perez for making such a brazen film, for tackling such a brazen subject matter (and there really are very few non-indie movies that tackle LGBT themes). I heartily applaud Perez for his latest oeuvre, a film so brazen, bizarre, charming, campy, garrulous and definitely entertaining!
The Trial (2014)
A lackluster lead hero sinks this pretentious courtroom drama
THE TRIAL, directed by Chito Roño and top-billed by John Lloyd Cruz, Richard Gómez and Gretchen Barretto, is glossy schmaltz disguised as an out-of-the-box courtroom thriller (as intimated by the title itself). In the first place, the courtroom scenes take place in the, as they use in basketball parlance, "last ten minutes;" secondly, John Lloyd's character AND characterization are both hard to, well, understand, like, or root for.
I don't think I'm spoiling anything major by stating the premise: "developmentally-challenged" (Gretchen's character uses this quantification) gardener Ronald Jimenez (Cruz) finds himself unwittingly at the center of an odd rape case, by his friend and perceived sweetheart, Bessie Buenaventura (Jessy Mendiola), a young schoolteacher so behind in her lesson plans (go figure). Reluctantly at first, psychologist Amanda Bien (Barretto) studies the case, including our mentally slow hero, but her motivations are all too obvious when we quickly find out her son Martin (Enrique Gil) has just passed away and she's still deep in mourning. Estranged husband Julian Bien (Gómez), a lawyer, also reluctantly accepts the case of defending Ronald.
Enough said. Suffice it to say that things crawl quite slowly, even as Ronald finds himself charged with rape because of a cellular-phone sex scandal (featuring him and Bessie). Cruz, an otherwise excellent dramatic actor, is given a meaty role, that of a Forrest Gump-like young man. Attempts by director Roño to bring the viewers down to the nitty- gritty of the world of autism is for nil, especially when Cruz bungles it up by (a) acting not like Forrest Gump or "Budoy" (a TV character successfully essayed by the younger Gerald Anderson) but like HIMSELF; and (b) mystically narrating the events at film's prologue and film's end with analogies in gardening and flowers -- as if to underscore the schizophrenic tenor of the film. Only his porn addiction has any semblance of an autistic character, especially with a baffling "near-rape" encounter with a bewildered but soon-enlightened Amanda. All other times, Cruz never convinces the audience of his mental illness, especially with stilted dialogue that insists he has some screws loose. Why Cruz chose to under-perform this way is a puzzle to me.
Thankfully, Sylvia Sanchez and Vince de Jesus (as Ronald's star- crossed gay parents) deliciously chew the scenery, especially with Ms Sanchez's breakdown scene opposite Richard Gómez). As if to make up for the atrocious under-performance of Cruz, Roño peppers his film with terrific character actors aplenty, including Mon Confiado and Joy Viado (as the Bien Family's oddly-matched house helpers), Isay Alvarez as a tart-tongued attorney representing Vivian Velez and Jessy Mendiola, and Angie Ferro, in her limited scenes, as formidable Judge Feliciana Nieves, with many drag queens playing solid support to Vince de Jesus' transvestite role. Others like Ate Gay and Malou Crisologo have thankless roles. Backstory flashbacks help slightly but the general pace is really boring, and the slow burn whets one's appetite for the seemingly inevitable courtroom scenes, which, when arrive, are somewhat a waste (save for Isay Alvarez).
Vivian Velez is fine; Barretto has improved vastly; even Gómez is given very good scenes. Roño and scriptwriters Ricardo Lee, Kriz G. Gazmen and Enrico Santos, with the pretentious did-the-autistic-hero- rape-the-girl-or-not premise, also bafflingly reduces the role of Mendiola almost to cinders, and Mendiola, not a superior actress at all (as my reviews of THE REUNION and CALL CENTER GIRL state explicitly), can only fumble with this performance. Her aunt (Velez) doesn't understand her and practically sees her as a slut -- and so does the viewer, frankly, which should not be the idea. Enrique Gil's character is interestingly written (he feeds poor children but his mother has no time, nor emotional connection, to him, and these resentments and slights pile up, leading to a shouting match with Gretchen). My only problem with the young actors today is the Xian Lim syndrome -- you break down emotionally in a very feminine way. Can't Xian Lim, Enrique Gil, James Reid and Daniel Padilla (my God, in his emotional-wallop scenes, his voice has to break? Okay, okay, he's in the puberty stages), and to a certain extent, even Coco Martin and Piolo Pascual... can't they break down like the younger Ronaldo Valdez, or Eddie Garcia, Vic Vargas, or even Joseph Estrada?
In fairness to the script, there's a cinematic gimmick that does work nicely -- the scene where Sanchez describes her son and family to Gómez in the living room, while Gretchen and John Lloyd also converse in his room. With a hero you can't really root for, with a rape victim so obscurely written and portrayed, with a meandering, rather than penetrating, pacing, THE TRIAL will really try your patience.
Is there hope for Roño's next film, FENG SHUI 2 (an entry to the usual Christmas film festival)? Guess who stars in it: Kris Aquino and Coco Martin. Enough said.
Pauleen Luna stars in harmless sugary fluff that could have been written more sharply
Literature professor/writer-director Alvin Yapan's career is an intriguing read; sometimes he hit's the bull's-eye, sometimes his films are merely strung-along vignettes that feel uneven and underwritten (he is, after all, known for short stories, not novels). In ANG PANGGAGAHASA KAY FE (2011, starring the luminous Irma Adlawan), Yapan was in his element, going for the jugular as well as framing a neatly written, if jarring script that straddled the sociocultural and supernatural. Adlawan simply carried the whole movie. In ANG SAYAW NG DALAWANG KALIWANG PAA (2011), Yapan, incredibly, draws out three understated performances from Jean Garcia, Paulo Avelino and Rocco Nacino. All three have shone in the hands of other masterful directors; Yapan seems to have tamped down character development, making for a slow-burn movie and nauseatingly limpid lead characters. In GAYUMA (2011), Yapan floundered again, banking on a thin script and the subpar thespic skills of Mercedes Cabral (improving with every film, but oddly and tediously hammy in TV soaps, like MAGDALENA and CASSANDRA: WARRIOR ANGEL). In DEBOSYON (2013), sharply written this time, his principals, Paulo Avelino and Mara Lopez, are visibly overwhelmed by the plot; Avelino's brilliance manages to shine through in certain key scenes but he holds back in others.
In GAYDAR, Yapan may be said to mislead the "gay market" with the very title. Okay, I will spoil the main premise, but this is a romantic comedy of mistaken assumptions and, at its very core, a subdued love triangle. Tom Rodriguez's character, Richard Samaniego, is NOT gay (although he tells Tina he likes Regine Velasquez songs; Rafael Rosell's character, Nick, is NOT gay either (although everybody else, including the clueless Tina, think so). But the supporting cast (except for a surprise turn by Nico Antonio, too bizarre to be described here) is, well, adequately "bakla." Tina (Pauleen Luna) works for a PR company that sells cosmetics, and all the women (and maybe most of the men) are "babaeng bakla." Even Pauleen Luna's character is not fully developed; a seemingly rich brat who works simply to show up her parents. She has a car, but won't hire a driver. It falls upon her (seemingly effeminate) BFF (Rosell) to fetch her to and fro, riding FX vehicles. During one such ride, Luna meets the handsome Ricky (Benedict Campos), but because of her fairytale expectations, fails to read the signs (he's trying to tell her he's gay, and that he just wants her friendship) and suffers a heartbreak. What happens next, and how Tom Rodriguez (as a cabdriver whose real identity and social standing is a mystery he likes to keep undisclosed) figures in the life of Luna (and of Rosell, as well), should have made for an engaging comedy of manners/comedy of errors. Alas, like Avelino and Nacino underplaying in ANG SAYAW NG DALAWANG KALIWANG PAA, the two hunks of GAYDAR are BOTH misleadingly effeminate and fatally sedate. Rodriguez, in particular, relies too much on his look-at-my-cute-dimples looks and milks it every time (looks alone can't carry a movie, man, you have to act!). Rosell fares better, but why his character takes a long time to profess his love for (okay, I'm spoiling the whole plot) Luna is an even bigger puzzle than why Yapan wrote GAYDAR in the first place. The ending, involving a mock abduction, is ludicrous. On paper it may have read "cute" and endearing, but directorially, it's simply not well staged. (Alvin, it would have made for better viewing if one of the two men were really gay, or if Rosell and Rodriguez shared just even a brief kiss (or embrace) that could later on be explained away. Just for cheap thrills. As it is, it falls on supporting actor Benedict Campos to be that kind of foil, and he does turn in a good performance). Most of all, the whole movie banks on Luna's charm, glamour (she is dressed beautifully all the time) and pizzaz to carry things along. It would have worked, but only up to a point. Such a whiny brattinella gets exhausting and tedious after a while, and only her utter cluelessness (with guys in general) add spark to Yapan's intended black humor. Madeleine Nicolas (as Rosell's inquisitive, worried mother), indie stalwart Johnron Tañada (as a passerby, dealing with a wife and a gay sponsor), indie stalwart Jeff Luna, Olive Nieto and theater name Dennis Marasigan lend fine support. Dexter de la Peña and Jan Tristan Pandy's cinematography and music by Denise Santos are pluses (but that blind singing group, interrupting/highlighting Tina's heartbreaks, is simply NOT funny, amusing, or appealing). Was Yapan just inserting a pop-culture gimmick here? Maybe split-screen, for most of the movie, would have helped. I hope Yapan's next work (MGA ANINO NG KAHAPON), starring TJ Trinidad, Carlo Cruz and Agot Isidro, will be sharper and tighter. (Yapan currently chairs the Department of Filipino of the Ateneo de Manila University where he teaches Philippine literature and post-colonialism for which he holds a doctoral degree). I will always watch Alvin Yapan's works; I know he will get sharper and smoother.
Call Center Girl (2013)
Pokwang capably carries the whole movie
CALL CENTER GIRL, directed by Don Cuaresma and topbilled by Pokwang, is funny in spots and heartwarming in others. Mainly it coasts along on the sheer charm of its lead star (whose star somewhat dimmed for a while or so). Early on, Pokwang (a mother of three and wife to Jestoni Alarcon, who had to work abroad to augment the family income) rues that her "absenteeism" has caused a rift between her and the youngest, Jessy Mendiola, a rift that will simmer and boil until things explode. Alarcon's untimely demise sets things in motion as Pokwang (Terry) tries to redeem her standing with her daughter. Pokwang's infectious charm and brand of humor propel the movie forward and many of the scenes are outright funny (the other costarring comics mostly play it straight, or with deadpan faces while delivering zingers). As Pokwang jockeys herself into her daughter's workplace (specifically, an underperforming BPO team led by an ornery Enchong Dee), one can simply predict the rest of the movie. (One can even sense that the cat-and-mouse bickering between Mendiola and Dee will end in a tentative romance). Dee's demoralized call center team gets a boost (in more ways than one) when Pokwang turns everything upside down. A beach outing will define the dynamics between Pokwang and her resentful daughter, and between Pokwang and Dee (who has issues with his mother, who abandoned him early on). Curiously, Dee actually nailed the job that Mendiola covets dearly. Whether in the gags galore (and there are plenty!) or in the weepy parts, Pokwang is always spot-on, especially with her feeble initial attempts at call-center accents and diction. Pokwang may remind veteran viewers of a comedienne in the 1950s, Menggay, who had exactly the same roles Pokwang has landed. Endearing yet comical at the same time, Alarcon's character has been cremated and Pokwang lugs around the urn containing his ashes even at the beach outing. Alarcon's brief scenes, early in the movie, shows his gift for comedy. The largely veteran cast compensate for the inadequacies of Jessy Mendiola as an actress; the seemingly sportsmanlike attempt of Enchong Dee to pay court to a girl with a "harana" (serenade) may amuse some but annoy others. His singing voice won't win competitions (why do the three TV networks force many of its young hunks (and lasses) to sing?). Don Cuaresma (mainly noted as a director of TV soaps, although in 2006 he megged a John Lloyd Cruz-Bea Alonzo-Anne Curtis movie, ALL ABOUT LOVE) stages most of the scenes neatly, the jokes hit their mark, and this comedy is literally overflowing with talent (who have little screen time, but appreciated by this critic): Ogie Diaz (as Pokwang's nagging brother), K Brosas and John Lapus as Pokwang (and Mendiola's) workmates at the BPO, and Chokoleit (as a job-hirer who takes pity on Pokwang), Pooh, Rufa Mi and Jason Gainza in very brief roles. Arron Villaflor and Dianne Medina play the two other children, while Ejay Falcon plays a secretly married lout (who wants to swindle Mendiola out of her well-earned dollars) and Alex Castro plays a handsome, seemingly manly workmate whose sexuality may be in question (several times, he bumps into Enchong Dee intimately). Cameos by Camille Prats, Thou Reyes and Janice de Belen (as Enchong's mom) make the film even busier than it is, wittily written by Enrico Santos, Kriz G. Gazmen and Hyro Aguinaldo. Pokwang's solo movie, A MOTHER'S STORY, was a box-office failure (and must have hurt her deeeply). I hope CALL CENTER GIRL fares better: Pokwang and her antics are worth anyone's time (and movie ticket), and she deserves just a little more time as a bona fide movie star
Status: It's Complicated! (2013)
Eugene Domingo steals scenes from her four costars in witty movie
STATUS: IT'S COMPLICATED is directed with flair and written wittily by Chris Martinez, that genius behind such campy comedies like HERE COMES THE BRIDE (2010) and TEMPTATION ISLAND (2011), and the musical extravaganza I DO BIDOO BIDOO (2012). (As a writer, Martinez has sharp observations and musings, seen in films he authored like BRIDAL SHOWER (2004), BIKINI OPEN (2005), SUKOB (2006), CAREGIVER (2008), 100 (2008) and KIMMY DORA: KAMBAL SA KIYEME (2009), and of course, the hilarious ANG BABAE SA SEPTIC TANK (2011) ).
Attractively cast (Maja Salvador, Jake Cuenca, Paulo Avelino, Solenn Heussaff and Ms Eugene Domingo), it's a collage of engaging performances, witty repartee and plush production design (Boracay is still breathtaking). However, Martinez' principals produce varied results: Domingo, apparently also his friend, mugs deliciously; Avelino tries to deadpan as a hunky ugly-duckling; Cuenca and Salvador try to outtalk each other, so their one-liners and kilometric dialogue have to be written with zing and panache (but sometimes it flounders); Solenn Heussaff proves she's more than eye candy for any movie (or TV soap). Distractions like insipid lines and face-the-camera-as-you-quip gimmicks mar the otherwise zany proceedings. One begins to get the point, about the battle of the sexes and the fallacy of double standards, but when the conversational streams get muddled, boredom sets in. Comical touches (like a self-absorbed, self-photographing patient in a clinic, officemates cheering Solenn and Paulo's torrid embrace from behind a glass window, "compromising positions" involving a drunken Cuenca) pepper the film, but the sermonizing generalizations of the three girls are too much and too meandering. When the switcheroo finally happens (for Jake Cuenca and Paulo Avelino to change places and lifestyles), the film has almost run out of steam, saved only by the last-minute cameo appearance by the classy Lovi Poe. Needless to say, Domingo steals all the scenes she's in. Nobody can debate the box-office potentials of her Metro Manila Film Fest (Christmas) entry, the third KIMMY DORA movie. Good supporting cast includes Madeleine Nicolas (as Paulo's yaya), Mark Topacio, Bea Saw, Angela Canapi, Clarence Delgado (the rather healthily plump boy who lives with the two male leads) and the outrageous Jelson Bay (a diminutive comedian that reminded me of Chokoleit, with impossible one-liners culled from his favorite Danny Zialcita-type movies). Overall, amusingly written and directed, wacky and pleasant to the eyes (and funny bone).
A bit of nepotism hurts a movie's realism and pathos
ESKAPO - the daring exploits of media mogul's scion Geny Lopez, Jr and political scion Serge Osmeña III during the Martial Law Years (September 17/21 1972 until it was lifted in January 17, 1981). Alas, even with the estimable writer Pete Lacaba penning the screenplay (with co-writer Roy Iglesias), the film's potential is trapped by its origins: ABS CBN's Star Cinema (owned and run by the Lopezes) produced the film. Hence, despite ESKAPO's depiction of the horrors of Martial Law, the opportunity for pathos and empathy is squandered, especially when the dialogue belabors the obvious and the characterizations are really one-note, despite their being based on real-life personalities. However, Chito Roño, as he is wont to do, fills everything with tension, the pace never lags, and the famous 1977 escape scene is particularly nail-biting and gripping. Richard Gómez (as Osmeña) and Christopher de Leon (as Lopez) give empathic and brisk portrayals, despite being limited by a boxed-in script as it were, while Dina Bonnevie (as Chita Lopez), Mark Anthony Fernandez (young Gabby Lopez) and Eric Fructuoso (Raffy Lopez) shine in supporting roles. Armando Goyena is perfect as Don Eugenio Lopez, billionaire emperor of a powerful conglomerate suddenly oppressed by the Marcos dictatorship. In key roles, Ricky Davao, Bert Vivar and Miguel Faustmann enhance their limited screen time. As tract, ESKAPO works on some levels, but the history lesson would seem one-sided. As entertainment, ESKAPO definitely works, just skim over the lulls and dead spots and be gripped by the climactic titular scene.
TUHOG is a riveting parable on Life and its vagaries.
TUHOG is a breath of fresh air from the usual saccharine romcoms and turgid melodramas Star Cinema churns out every so often. Directed by Veronica Velasco (who made such a lasting impression on me with her MALING AKALA in 2007, starring Victor Basa and Jodi Sta Maria, and the terrific LAST SUPPER NO. 3 in 2009, featuring Jun Paras) from a script by Velasco and Jinky Laurel, TUHOG is actually a parable, although the corny tagline "Sino ang dapat mabuhay?" is too much of a tease-on, as the character who DOES deserve to live actually lets go (No spoilers).
I don't want to litter my review with too many spoilers, but suffice it to say that TUHOG, in Velasco's unique style, is actually a series of interconnected vignettes, dealing with the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of life for three major characters. The first segment concerns male menopausal Tonio Sicat (Leo Martinez), his group of card-playing friends (Bodjie Pascua, Jon Achaval, Menggie Cobarrubias), and his dreams of baking or owing a bakeshop. Solid mixture of family drama (wife Carla Martinez, daughter Nikki Valdez, son-in-law Manuel Chua, son Nico Antonio), witty one-liners and an elderly man's frustrations. Despite the family's discouragement and the initial setbacks, Tonio Sicat obstinately holds on to his freshly realized dream of a pan de sal bakery.
Second segment zeroes in on bus conductor Fiesta Dacanay (Eugene Domingo), a no-nonsense, almost shrewish cipher of a woman, and newbie bus driver Nato Timbancaya (Jake Cuenca)'s efforts to adjust. In one scene, Fiesta nonchalantly punches Cuenca unconscious! Fiesta's standoffish exterior is actually a facade, as she cares for a drunkard of a father (Noel Trinidad). Erratic episode examines the milieu of the streets, an odd coupling, and the tragedy wrought on by alcoholism (it is NOT only Fiesta's father who has a problem with the bottle). Scenes of the tomboyish Fiesta putting on a dress and heels, and clumsily slicing a pizza in probably her first decent restaurant, garnered the loudest laughter from the movie audience.
Third segment is the slightest, centering on teenage hormones and the antics of a libidinous young guy, Carlos (Enchong Dee) as he alternates between "doing" it with his less-than-honest girlfriend Angel (Empress Schuck), and preserving his chastity for marriage. Not helping matters any are Caloy's equally lusty friends Mark (Rodjun Cruz) and Wayne (Joe Vargas) -- and the classroom tease (Beauty Gonzales) who helps Caloy get revenge on Angel's indiscretions.
The movie becomes a parable with the enigmatic appearance of a vagabond kid (Makisig Morales) who predicts death and doom for the characters he crosses paths with, and who glues together the trio as well, as fate conspires to bring them together for the titular bus accident.
Comic support is lent aplenty in the three segments; the card-playing barkada of Mr Tonio, as well as the protestations of his close-knit family; the love-and-hate relationship blossoming between Fiesta and Nato; and the voyeuristic antics of Caloy's friends-roommates. Alas, toilet humor finds its way in (not the usual case in Veronica Velasco's previous films), and you have to see it to believe it. Clue: the most drastic concerns Enchong Dee, a shaking double-decker bed, and porn on his cellular phone.
Dee's earnest performance and the sensitive handling of teenage heartache make up for the thin and obvious plot, while Domingo and Martinez more than capably overcome the condensation of their characters' limited backstory screen time. As the operating doctors discuss the possible things to do, the trio reflect on their lives, their decisions, their failures and their destinies. The supporting cast are uniformly brilliant, especially Carla Martinez and Noel Trinidad. Cuenca more than holds his own against the comic and dramatic skills of Domingo, although this odd coupling takes a predictable turn that feels like a cop out when Fiesta learns of Nato's real family status.
The conceit of the titular bus accident is novel but timely, and Velasco even uses the recognizable, but infamous Commonwealth Avenue ("killer highway") to drive home the point of life's fickle-mindedness. One minute you're alive, the next minute you could be a cold cadaver lying in a morgue. So what have you done? Can you die now, knowing that life will go on for the ones you leave behind? Can you let go?
TUHOG is a parable, a dark comedy, and a movie ripe with powerfully subtle performances -- see it now!
A gay man is at a crossroads in his life, and the titular venue (a park) serves as his rumination point, especially when he is held at gunpoint (or knifepoint)
In the main setting (Quezon City Memorial Circle, a park), with Martial Law (1972-1981) serving as the socio-cultural-political milieu in which assorted characters's lives intersect. The main character is Cris (Archie de Calma), the glue that gels the movie (and the various personas) together. He intones: "Isang tagalabas na di makapasok sa bilog." (An outsider peering in, that cannot enter the Circle). His homely appearance and 'natural' acting compensate for the flaws of the movie and script, major of which are the meandering narrative, choppy editing (by Pablo himself), thin dialogue (worsened by characters prone to exposition) and the self-conscious acting of some of the bit actors. Another irritant is the snooty office girl's superciliousness, and how she deals with her date (a health center guy with an Australian accent) is cruel, as she shamelessly mugs call-center agents, with an affected twang. Also laughable is Chamyto Aguedan (a chubby mestizo, obviously gay actor), who, as Justin, a student, manages to work tricks along the Circle. However, Aguedan does have some witty one-liners and even breaks into song, if incongruously, beside a sleeping hunk. Holding fort are some established names like Jan Marini (as Karina), Ara Mina (as Cris' sister), Gerard Pizzaras (as a stick-up guy), as well as promising lookers like Christopher Cañizares (he would later appear in Jonison Fontanos' HUGOT (2008) and Fontanos' PARISUKAT (2010)), Reiven Bulado (Hari ng Negros 2004) and theater-trained Dax Alejandro (as Deo, in love with Karina). Even the Australian-accented Pinoy actor, Apollo Jones, shows promise, although he's too lanky for matinée idol material.
Crisaldo Pablo laces his movies with insight and ruminations, but too many insights and too many viewpoints mar an otherwise slice-of-life, metaphysically-inclined film. Vanity also plays a part as when the audience is shown the boarding room where the main character, Cris, rooms with three assorted oddballs: the meek and single Rod (Rudolph Segundo), the flamboyant Miguel (Aguedan) and the call center agent jealously touchy about his DVD porn collection, Justin (Justin Justiniani). Along the wall is a poster of a Crisaldo Pablo film, BATHHOUSE, with two or three males torsos in underwear.
As the assorted characters go on with their lives, Cris is held up at the Circle (by hunky Pizzaras) and his life flashes before him, and that's the whole movie. Some characters are too sleazy for words, some characters are too laughably contrived, but some characterizations work nominally. Lead star Archie de Calma takes some getting used to at first, but as he lets the role subsume him and he allows the storyline to speak for itself, one roots for his character and hopes he gets out of the rut he's stuck in. As for the other characters, who cares?
A boring day in the lives of a sex-starved wife and a roving-eye "swinging" husband
LALAMUNAN (2008) - A wife (Hazel Cabrera) finds her husband's savage bedroom style unsettling (and she starts to wonder if he's cheating on her), and when this causes her to teeter into the brink of neurosis, she is "saved" by her male psychiatrist friends (Rico Barrera)... with whom she begins an affair.
But not in retaliation. In fact, this hapless sexpot's only reaction to her hubby's betrayal (she catches him in flagrante delicto with the family driver (Ran Domingo)...) is to whine and run away in disgust and distress. But bizarrely feels remorse when the suddenly-arrived doctor accosts the dying husband (whose wounds were actually inflicted, also bizarrely, by the driver-lover).
Other characters flit in and out randomly (a best friend to the wife, the clinic receptionist, some masseurs, et al), but alas, poorly fleshed out. As if writer-director Jigs Recto just wanted the scenes to be busy and bustling with activity. Forget character development (of the minor roles). This is Recto's second directorial effort (currently, he has directed his 6th movie).
Barrera's strong presence, as Andrei, is a nice contrast to Herrera's potent sexuality in the role of the bisexual husband, Devon (where did they get these names?) -- which is amusingly deflected by Ran Domingo as the prerequisite beefcake here! (Usually Herrera IS the beefcake, foil to a lead actor). While the scenes of Barrera trying to diagnose and resolve Cabrera's anxieties are laughable, Barrera is a solid actor and deserves worthier material. Even Herrera has proved his mettle on TV soaps (even if, often, he has to take his shirt off).
Alas, Cabrera fails to hold her own against the three hunks; unsure of her footing in most scenes, often vapid (even with her clothes off!).
No deep meanings or symbolisms here, not even a minimal effort to channel Stanley and Stella (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE). Too bad, when the leading lady role is rife with potential, a veritable goldmine for a superior actress (neurosis, histrionics, sexual decadence). Just a boring day in the lives of marrieds, and their sexual quirks and peccadilloes. The title is the vernacular word for "throat," but why would one digest, or ingest, such boring marital melodrama?
Paraiso finds good starring vehicle from auteur filmmaker Alix
Immoral (2008) - Can a man have it two ways, his wife in one room, his boyfriend in another? Can a woman stomach the fact that she has to share her husband, not with a female rival, but with a kindhearted gay guy? Can a gay guy shoulder both a struggling male lover and the clingy wife?
To complicate matters, a sports bag full of cash becomes another bone of contention among the tortuous trio. (Paraiso plays a taxi driver, and the bagful of money landed on his lap). Adolfo Alix, he who gave us DONSOL (2006), NARS (2007), BATANES (2007), ROMEO AT JULIET (2010) and the ROtterdam International Film Festival Big Screen Award-nominee MATERial DOLOROSA (2012), audaciously twists the common cinematic love triangle, with unusually competent non-marquee actors.
To be sure, Alix has worked with the best of them (Angel Aquino, Sid Lucero, Jacyln Jose, Mark Gil and Bembol Roco for densely (2006), Jaclyn Jose, Jennyln Mercado, Agot Isidro, Coco Martin, Joseph Bitangcol and Jon Avila for NARS (2007), Iza Calzado, Coco Martin, Julio Diaz and international Taiwanese star Ken Zhu for botanist (2007), Anita Linda, Perla Bautista, Ricky Davao, German Moreno and Iza Calzado for ADELA (2008), Rosanna Roces for AURORA (2009), Piolo Pascual, Rosanna Roces, Anita Linda, Alessandra De Rossi, Baron Geisler and Marissa Delgado for MANILA (2009), that incomparable women-in-prison film, PRESA (2010), with Tetchie Agbayani, Perla Bautista, Anita Linda, Liza Lorena, Rosanna Roces, and Daria Ramirez, and Zanjoe Marudo, Luis Alandy and Asian star Ananda Everingham in KALAYAAN (2012).
But Alix is truly an indie actor's dream director (wit, Jiro Manio and the then-unknown Coco Martin in TAMBOLISTA (2007), Joem Bascon and Mike Tan in BATANES, Kristoffer King in NARS, AURORA and KARERA (2009), Jason Abalos and Arnold Reyes in ADELA, Victor Basa and Paolo Rivero in ROMEO AT JULIET, Ina Feleo in PRESA, Rustica Carpio and Evelyn Vargas in CHASSIS (2010), and Rocky Salumbides for KALAYAAN. His most recent film, MATER DOLOROSA, assembled big names such as Gina Alajar, Alessandra de Rossi, Rosanna Roces, Carlo Aquino, Cogie Domingo and Phillip Salvador, peppered with indie stalwarts Joem Bascon, Alwyn Uytingco, Kristoffer King, Felix Roco and Evelyn Vargas.
Here in Immoral, Paolo Paraiso (28) and Arnold Reyes (35) are equally matched, and it helps that both are hunks, and sensitive performers. Katherine Luna's acting style harks back to the heyday of a young Rosanna Roces, except when she loses herself with hysterics.
The conundrum of a bisexual triangle is tackled head-on, fearlessly and surefootedly, by Alix (his films DAYBREAK (2008) with Coco Martin and Paolo Rivero, and MULI (2010) with Sid Lucero and Cogie Domingo, were daring chronicles of homosexual love), and he pulls out all the stops. This is nominally Paraiso's starring vehicle, and just about time! How the cinematographer (Albert Banzon) lovingly photographs his subject, from head to toe, from torso to obliques. You truly understand why a man and a woman are playing tug-of-war over this Adonis.
Best scene in the movie: when Paraiso "magnanimously" divides his time between Ms Luna one moment, and then with Reyes the next.
Second best: when the two men make love, when they kiss. Alix helms this really tastefully - in the hands of a lesser mortal, it would be gratuitously soft-core porn.
Scene that falters: when the otherwise reliable Luna (cast by Alix previously in MANILA) gives way to histrionics, precisely when the two hunks go for restrained yet effective acting. Nevertheless, Luna was nominated by Gawad Urian Awards for best supporting actress 2009.
Support is lent by Perla Bautista, Kristoffer King, Angeli Bayani, Adriana Agcaoili, Cherrie Madrigal and Edgar Allan Guzman, and they all serve Alix well.
Ambiguous ending seems deliberate, but with a visionary like Alix, to leave a story hanging is to force one's self to question his/her principles, motivations, desires and actuations in life. Indeed, we all have our opinions of what we would do with a bagful of money that fell into our hands (or into our cab). Moreover, just like his two films dealing honestly and sophisticatedly with gay love, you never get the feeling of condescencion or mockery with Alix's take on bisexuality and bed-sharing. It is what it is.
Cris Pablo gives us another thoughtful foray into the lives of "show people"
SHOWBOYZ (2009), directed by the prolific indie auteur Crisaldo Pablo, chronicles the lives of transvestite performers, male striptease dancers ("macho dancers" in Filipino lingo) and the people they meet.
Toffee Calma sorts of anchors the film, playing Jemenai, a beauteous (I never thought I'd use this adjective to describe a male person!) transvestite performer
Kristoffer King plays his/her erstwhile boyfriend, a washed-up male stripper who encounters two things in his life that are totally extremes in a man's existence. (1) He suffers, or seemingly suffers, from an ED problem (erectile dysfunction), despite the amorous advances of the flamboyant Jemenai. (2) He falls in love with the new boy in the bar (part janitor, part housekeeper, part everything else you could think of), played by Topher Barretto. King's character is named "Krys," Barretto's character is named "Topher;" either you think Pablo had ran out of names for his screenplay, or he was going for "Method" here by blurring the lines between actor and real persona. Either way, these actors don't have much name recall except for avid film buffs, so the moviegoers are compelled to listen to the whole tale at face value -- hook line and sinker.
Throw in for good measure other cross-dressing performers (Archie de Calma, Lex Bonife) and a slew of nubile hunks gyrating on-stage (Seff Posadas, Tammy Ballesteros, John Miller, Chito Gapas, etc.) and you have a mixed bag of melodrama (not so well-staged), striptease scenes (admittedly well-staged), catfights (colorfully staged) and love scenes (voyeuristically staged). All the world's a stage, and more so, the world of "showboyz."
Calma, who has been a competent and handsome actor in several sexy movies since the 1990s, has come out, with lesser publicity and fanfare, like BB Gandanghari. But where Gandanghari was a lackluster macho actor before coming out to audiences and completely prettifying herself, Calma, oddly, goes the opposite route. He was natural in his movies before as a man, now he mugs his way through as a woman, or, to be exact, as a drag queen. In his crying scenes where he bemoans Khrys's betrayal, nothing rings or feels true. How can it be, that I'm more convinced (and affected) by his love scenes with a costar - woman or man - than when he interacts with them, dolled up like a Brazilian samba dancer? Interestingly, his character's name, Jemenai (a play on Gemini, the zodiac sign with dual nature), serves as a stark metaphor for the conflict within a person - what he appears to be, and what he really is, or what he desires to have (but can't have), and what he has to accept.
Kristoffer King (a "fellow prince of indie movies" as Coco Martin, but failing to make it big into mainstream, unlike the latter) can do this role by now, asleep. Barretto is still raw, but under Pablo you could glimpse the makings of a good actor. The supporting cast enhance the movie well.
Jeyow Evangelista lends evocative cinematographic magic, intercutting scenes of vivid stage color against the dizzying and uncertain darkness of dim disco lighting, scenes of daylight, nature and happiness against nighttime, artifice and deception.
"Ginising mo lahat sa akin," (You've awaked everything in me), intones Khrys to Topher during an intimate scene. Indeed, this film (which I found more compelling than others of its ilk) awakens the moviegoer to a whole new (really, not so new) world of men, she-men, and the paths they take. The film eschews gratuitous nude scenes but instead imbues every scene with depth and pathos, as only Pablo can. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, the directorial vision would be hazy or painted in too broad strokes, the acting horrible, and the love scenes/strip scenes uncomfortably campy. The love triangle (between the transvestite performer Jemenai, her estranged boyfriend Khrys and the guy they both find themselves smitten with) can also be a metaphor for the triangular states we find ourselves in: in love, out of love, and the grey shades in between.
I expect more sensible fare from Queeriosity Video Project, the company that produced this. Beneath the low budget veneer lies a gem of a film.
Life Everlasting (1971)
A Gothic romance with a sterling cast
LIFE EVERLASTING (1971) is a haunting film from Mar S. Torres.
Rosemarie Sonora, the mother of Sheryl Cruz (and the sister of Susan Roces), plays a dual role, the dead Nilda and the very much alive Cynthia. Ricky Belmonte, Sonora's real-life husband (from 1970-1986), plays Dante Rivera (I wonder whether actor Dante Rivero found this character name, his namesake, amusing or irritating), who falls in love with the corpse and confuses the pretty Cynthia for the ghost who appears to him in his dreaming and waking states.
The other characters (Pepito Rodriguez, Marifi, Alicia Alonso, a very young Rudy Fernandez, etc.) do nothing much except fret over and discuss Dante's seeming craziness. The ghostly scenes where Nilda actually has conversations with Dante is truly one for the books, evoking the creepy atmosphere of an earlier film, MARUJA (1967), which starred Sonora's sister Susan Roces. I don't know how often ghost movies were made during the three golden ages of Filipino cinema, but it was a treat for me to catch this small gem on TV. Ricky Belmonte (December 24, 1947 – October 3, 2001) is in his prime here.
Some earlier horror movies that were stylishly directed and truly scared the moviegoer include the very early ANG MULTO SA LIBINGAN (1931), with Jose Padilla, Jr; ANG SAWA SA LUMANG SIMBORYO (1952) with Jose Padilla, Jr, Anita Linda and Rita Gomez; MULTO SA OPERA (1954), with Leopoldo Salcedo, Nina Navarro and Elvira Reyes; HIWAGA SA BALETE DRIVE (1954) with Oscar Moreno and Rosita Noble; KULAY DUGO ANG GABI (1964) with Amalia Fuentes as a thirsty bloodsucking femme fatale; and DALAWANG DAIGDIG NA CARLOTA (1970), again with Amalia Fuentes in dual roles. The moody cinematography and eerie music of these classic horror films, directed on a low budget but with panache and elán, are a class of their own, and LIFE EVERLASTING fits right into this class. Ms Sonora makes for a lovely ghost!
Gloria Romero charms her clumsy way into married life with the dashing Juancho Gutierrez
HANI-HANIMUN (1961) from Sampaguita Pictures is entertaining fluff about the travails of a hapless couple (Gloria Romero, Juancho Gutierrez) who elope and try to keep up house. From the opening credits where dashing Juancho (Gutierrez) buys flowers for Gloria (Romero), and upon his visit to the Immaculate Dormitory for Girls is mobbed by Romero's nosy and mischievous dorm-mates, to the trying-for-domesticated-life slapstick between the lovers, Tony Cayado's direction aims to make us laugh, chuckle, wince, shed tears, and rejoice at the happy ending (a prerequisite for Sampaguita Pictures stock).
Comic relief is amply provided by Dolphy, Panchito, and Bella Flores, while Lillian Laing adds to the already whimsical vignettes of married life. Dolphy and Panchito's scenes as gluttons are simply hilarious -- despite Romero's initial culinary failures.
The lines are blurred between make-believe and real life, because the lead stars act childlike and childishly, just as children would pretend to husband-and-wife in their games. Some of the classic scenes include Romero (only 28 when she made this rom-com, while Gutierrez was 29) trying to learn how to cook, and Dolphy earnestly answering the obstetrician's questions addressed to Romero.
All's well that ends well, and Romero and Gutierrez pick up valuable lessons about marriage, parenthood, responsibility, family ties and friendship. Romero surprised audiences with this change-of-pace role, heretofore playing virtuous maidens and prim-and-proper convent-bred colegialas. That the lead stars married in real life (1960) endeared them to audiences, and their occasional love-team made money (although Romero was really paired cinematically with Luis Gonzales, making some 30 films with him).
Tatlong ilaw sa dambana (1958)
Three-hankie weeper with Rosa Mia as the self-sacrificing mother of three daughters
One mother, ready to sacrifice everything for her children. Three daughters, one recently arrived from the Americas, discovering to her chagrin that her good intentions for her mother have been thwarted by the selfishness and pretentious ambitions of her two younger sisters. Two husbands with no idea that they have married ladies beneath their station.
Such are the vicissitudes of family life depicted in TATLONG ILAW SA DAMBANA (1958), a three-hankie tearjerker of a movie that, save for the outdated thespic antics of Rosa Mia in some key scenes, boasts of terrific and sincere performances from everyone involved.
Of the three female stars, Lolita Rodriguez as the recently arrived sister who discover her mother has been neglected by the two other siblings, to the point of an abysmal existence, tugs at your heartstrings the most, especially in a country familiar with the "OFW family set-up." (You send money to your siblings at home, especially instructing them to take care of Mom, only to find out they've been doing the opposite when you come home unexpectedly).
Barbara Perez and Daisy Romualdez give sincerely felt performances, as sisters who selfishly squander their elder sister's love (and money, wired home) on the finer things in life, reveling in the glorified existence of rich married life, in the interim relegating their mother to a pitiful existence (practically living as housekeeper for them).
Rod Navarro and Greg Martin lend solid support as unwitting husbands (who finally learn the truth, and willingly accept the mother into their lives), while Rosa Mia, whose character is the fulcrum of the whole dramatic essay, sometimes goes over the top with her characterization. The scenes where the husbands, each in different situations, catch a wife talking to a 'strange woman,' and Rosa Mia is about to speak (and reveal herself), but changes her mind and resigns herself to such denigrations/deprivations, just shouts HAMMY. Her other scenes ring true, resonating with audiences, and on the whole, Rosa Mia runs circles around her costars.
You have to watch the movies of the 2nd Golden Age of Filipino Cinema and appreciate the context they fit in; taken at face value, such cruelty from the two sisters (embarrassment at having a dirt-poor mother) would raise howls of protest from today's generations, what with the success stories of rags-to-riches personalities like 'Manny Pacquiao and Oprah Winfrey, who show that what one needs to do when you become rich and famous IS to take good care of your parent(s).
Otherwise, Jose de Villa has given us a solid family film about hubris and self-sacrifice that will have you shedding copious tears with its happy ending. Kudos to the cast and crew.
Carell surprises, Carrey his usual manic self, Arkin and Gandolfini lend solid support while Buscemi is simply tremendous in film about magic and magicians
Steve Carell is Burt Wonderstone, who was bullied as a kid but found refuge in the world of magic. He cherishes a onetime birthday gift from his absentee mother, a Magic Kit by Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin).
Steve Buscemi is Anton Marvelton, a gangly, girly-looking, sickly kid who became Burt's best friend, confidante, ally, and when Burt Wonderstone eventually became a world-class magician, his assistant and partner.
James Gandolfini is hotelier Doug, a self-absorbed, profits-oriented businessman who can't even remember his kid's age (10) but promises to grant the kid's birthday wish -- a magic act by the incredible Burt Wonderstone (one of Doug's clients). Alas, Wonderstone's star is waning, eclipsed annoyingly by street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), whose brand of magic would be right home on those dime-a-dozen reality TV shows featuring obscure magicians suddenly rising to fame with less-than-orthodox gimmickry.
It doesn't help that Wonderstone has an ego the size of a Harry Houdini human aquarium (I'm mixing metaphors here, or do I say, legendary objects), and he's quite used to luxurious hotel rooms with the help obsequiously catering to his every whim; international fans filling his Las Vegas act with thunderous applause; women succumbing to his (vapid) charm and ending up on his rather gigantic bed.
Enter the beautiful Jane (Olivia Wilde), who has been a staff for 10 years on the classic Wonderstone/Marvelton act, and is suddenly thrust (unwantedly) into the limelight to replace the umpteenth female assistant quitting in frustration and tears (the female assistant in magic shows is always sawed in half, remember?). As Jane tries to unravel the goodness behind Wonderstone's veneer of heartless, crudeness and self-centeredness, and fix his estranged friendship and partnership with Anton, Wonderstone has to dig deep within himself to find something magical, something new, to win his audiences back. And he finds unlikely assistance from his childhood idol, Rance Holloway (a crotchety Alan Arkin, Oscar Best Supporting Actor winner for 2006' LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, and whom my friend Ednah suspects had his face done, or lifted)... in, of all places, a home for the Las Vegas "aged" (showbiz veterans, Elvis impersonators, magic-act has-beens, striptease ladies who have aged, etc.).
I've always avoided Steve Carell, for I don't enjoy much his brand of comedy. I find it a mixed bag of hamminess, unfunny slapstick, and gross humor (witness 2005's THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN) although his tango scene with a plus-size woman in GET SMART (2008, costarring Anne Hathaway) had me in stitches. However, Carell works his magic on me with THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE, for, pitted beside a comic fireball like Jim Carrey, he avoids mugging or overacting but instead goes for natural comedy. Carell's scenes with Buscemi (an underrated actor if ever there was one; William H. Macy is another one I can think of) are perfect, with each actor generously playing off each other and giving the spotlight to the other. When Wonderstone undergoes metanioa, it is such a magical thing for the moviegoer. For people who encounter something or someone that causes them to change into better persons become magically inspiring, right?
Carell's scenes with the beauteous Olivia Wilde also feel natural, as he is initially a rude and crude womanizer who hits on her (she rejects his advances, wisely), and later apologizes for his crass behavior. With lesser starlets Carell might have played it campily (as he did brazenly in THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN or EVAN ALMIGHTY (2007), the film that boosted him to stardom), but having acted Oscar winners like Juliette Binoche in DAN IN REAL LIFE (2007) and Meryl Streep AND Tommy Lee Jones in HOPE SPRINGS (2012), Carell has suddenly minimized what needs minimizing, and from film's start to finish you genuinely care what happens to Burt Wonderstone. We applaud happily when he (and Anton, and Jane) come up with the best magical tour-de-force ever (and I won't SPOIL that for would-be moviegoers) for the cinematic conclusion.
Written by John Francis Daley, Chad Kultgen, Tyler Mitchell and Jonathan M. Goldstein, with a screenplay by Daley and Goldstein, THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE is a magical mix of magicians' lives, friendship and romance, and character relationships. In the way THE PRESTIGE (2006) with Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival magicians and SCOOP (2006) with Woody Allen (as a magician revealing the identity of a murderer) showed the spectacle and fable of magic tricks and wondrous gimmicks, THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE is also laden with razzle-dazzle magic truly fit for a Las Vegas show, indeed. Kudos to production designer production design Keith P. Cunningham (art director for TRAFFIC, OCEAN'S ELEVEN, SIGNS, SOLARIS, VAN HELSING, 2009's STAR TREK, ANGELS & DEMONS, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, BRIDESMAIDS), as well as the great musical scoring by Lyle Workman (THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, SUPERBAD, YES MAN, American REUNION, 21 AND OVER).
Matthew Clark (Emmy nominee for a 2006 episode for his work on the TV show "30 ROCK") photographs the film beautifully, for a movie about magic and magicians need more razzle-dazzle than is usual. The film is also edited magically (excuse the pun) by Lee Haxall (MEET THE FOCKERS, BEERFEST, THE LOVE GURU, CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE, THE CHANGE-UP).
Carell surprises, Carrey is his usual manic self (you truly hate his character, but he gets his just desserts at the ending), Wilde is beautiful, Gandolfini and Arkin shine in their key roles, and Buscemi is simply terrific (why don't somebody give this guy his own movie!). Jay Mohr (the guy from that parrot movie, PAULIE, became fat!) has a brief but memorable role. David Copperfield has a welcome cameo.
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE revives the art of classical magic tricks, while at the same time giving the nod to the new breed of magicians. A film that won't bore you!
Apartment 1303 3D (2012)
Limpid clone of Japanese horror film saved by De Mornay's performance
The Hollywood remake of APARTMENT 1303 (2007), a Japanese horror film making the lists of favorite J-horror cinema, but for the life of me, I can't understand why some Japanese directors are stuck into cloning/replicating the hugely successful RINGU (1998, directed by Hideo Nakata). The 2007 Japanese film was penned by three people, Kei Ôishi , Ataru Oikawa and Takamasa Sato, and was directed by Oikawa -- with the by-now familiar tale of a haunted house, a mother and daughter's complex and murderous relationship, and a vengeful ghost wreaking havoc with the new tenants' lives.
Michael Taverna directs the Hollywood remake (produced by Monte Cristo International Entertainment, which was also behind the original), with a limited story arc and almost cardboard characters to work on.
(SPOILERS) Creepy atmosphere is established, and the audience (Westerns just love Asian horror films!) feels the mounting terror (that it has come to expect after an explosion of J-horror products like RINGU, THE GRUDGE, DARK WATER, ONE MISSED CALL), but the actual apparitions are scarce, as opposed to a lot of 'exposition' and conversational folderol, and the stubborn, sometimes stupid behavior of the three lead actresses are as mind-boggling as the existence of a matricidal ghost.
Julienne Michelle is Janet Slate, a rebellious teenager who moves out of her mother (and sister)'s house and rents an apartment that immediately gives her the creeps (why do heroines of ghost movies insist on staying in a house, even after strange and frightful encounters?). Janet is the latest victim to fall prey to a 'curse' that claims the lives of female tenants. Michelle and Mischa Barton (as elder sister Lana, a role that seemingly channels the Vera Miles role in Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece, PSYCHO) make do with the thinly-written characters, but Rebecca De Mornay (my favorite actress since 1991), as their seemingly spaced-out rocker (!) mother, steals every scene she's in. De Mornay's rocker attire reminds me of her turn as a singer in THE SLUGGER'S WIFE (1985), and I think those are her real vocals on APARTMENT 1303's soundtrack. Her performance as a self-absorbed, often drunk mother who would rather play the guitar and sing, is bulls-eye.
Corey Sevier (playing Mark) is a sensitive and handsome leading man; the 29-year-old Canadian had a shot at stardom as "Apollo" in 2011's IMMORTALS and a lead role in AWAKEN (2012) but has been acting since 1993. This guy will go places.
Writer-director Taverna and Kei Ôishi, as screenwriters, take the Japanese script almost at face value (merely changing the characters' names) and hardly improves on it, but what seminally worked for Japanese (and Asian) audiences is hard to replicate with Hollywood remakes (wit, THE RING with Oscar nominee Naomi Watts), and once again, we come up with a clone of a genuinely scary yet unoriginal Japanese cinematic work.
De rigeur characters are typically written in: a strange and perverted landlord, a sinister young-girl neighbor who speaks cryptically about dead tenants, the boyfriend who may or may not believe (in this case, Sevier is actually an undercover cop, and has a sizzling love scene with Michelle before the poor girl gets bumped off), and the detective cop (John Diehl) bugging the surviving sister.
But who am I to argue? I find myself watching both original Japanese-horror films and the Hollywood versions. By far, THE GRUDGE (2004), with Sarah Michelle Gellar, is better that the rest.
My Neighbor's Wife (2011)
Jun Lana's 6th film, a wife-swapping melodrama, falters by the third act
'Jun Lana' (qv)'s 6th directorial work, MY NEIGHBOR'S WIFE (2011), is a marital melodrama that starts earnestly enough, has weepy parts in the middle, but doesn't know how to wrap things up in the finale.
Bullet ('Jake Cuenca' (qv)) and Jasmine ('Carla Abellana' (qv)) are seemingly happily married, and their bar business is doing great. Bullet's best friend Aaron ('Dennis Trillo' (qv)) and his wife Cielo ('Lovi Poe' (qv)) don't enjoy the same successful existence, but Aaron is a loyal and hardworking husband. A simple problem reverberates and becomes a mountain of lies, secrets and, ultimately, revenge.
Without spoiling key plots (although one can predict the wife-swapping factor from the title, and poster, alone), suffice it to say that Lana then douses the film in a bowl of pathos, as the four main characters hurt, recriminate, retaliate, reconcile, and try to fix their lives and relationships. Happily, Lana and cast avoid the histrionics (which sometimes Poe and Abellana are prone to, in their TV soaps) one has come to associate with such dramatic fare.
What puzzles me is the indeterminate time Lana (and co-writer 'Denoy Punio' (qv)) spends on Aaron's character. Understandably, his character is the more interesting of the men, since in the beginning he was an faithful husband looking for that one great successful venture that would seal things nicely. As he gradually becomes obsessed with Jasmine, the character of Bullet takes to the sidelines.
Additionally, the two leading men are given flesh-baring scenes, to add to the merry mix of pent-up emotions and betrayals.
Alas, Lana fails to wrap things up nicely, and the ending, at the airport, is just too glib and too pat for words. But the cast is to be commended, and the music of 'Jesse Lucas (I)' enhances the viewer's enjoyment of this wife-swapping melodrama.
Ric Rodrigo hustles his way into women's heart, finds true love at the end
'Olive La Torre' (qv) can craft women's films well, but GIGOLO (1956), based on the 1955-1956 comics serial penned by the prolific 'Francisco V. Coching' (qv) has a man as the central character - a hustler, at that.
Virgilio Labrador ('Ric Rodrigo' (qv)) has made women swoon and his latest victim, Doña Consuelo ('Paraluman (I)' (qv)), has killed herself after discovering his duplicitous crime. Gil relies on his sidekick Bugart ('Dolphy' (qv)) to aid in conning women, even their landlady...
Enter the suicide victim's daughter, the beautiful Carina ('Barbara Perez' (qv)), who has vowed to avenge her mother's death. But who seduces whom? Will Carina learn to forgive this rogue of a man that has stolen her heart? Will Gil ever change his hustling ways? Will love triumph in the end?
With a slightly tenuous premise that would have rendered the whole film ludicrous with lesser actors, La Torre megs GIGOLO well, giving the sole spotlight to the dashing Rodrigo, but allowing dramatic highlights for costar Barbara Perez as well. The machinations of Gil, aided by the comical yet dastardly Bugart, ensnare women in succession, the current one being Alicia ('Bella Flores' (qv)). In a clichéd subplot, Alicia's own husband, Don Martin, is also enjoying the feminine delights of another woman. Thus, Don Martin is blackmailed by the oily and suave Frankie ('Eddie Garcia (I)' (qv)), gigolo material to rival Gil.
Where Coching fleshed out Filipino quirks in illustrated pages and delved into the human psyche, La Torre himself paints a canvas of conflicted characters that find redemption in the end. GIGOLO is especially brazen, for tackling such subject matter on film. Filipinos in the 1950s would ostensibly speak in hushed tones about such a 'profession.' Today, with the fluctuating boom of ballroom dancing in the country, and with the advent of the Internet, such terms as "gigolo," "callboy," and "dance instructor" will just elicit giggles of curiosity. In the party scene where Perez, having been announced as the future bride of Rodrigo, exposes Rodrigo for what he is, aided by an incriminating piece of evidence (a photo album, with all his women victims), the partygoers are scandalized, and Rodrigo slithers away in sheer embarrassment. I just can't figure out why the gigolo would keep a photographic compilation of his victims! To gloat? To reminisce? Did he feel, after all, anything for any of the ladies?
The cast fares well, Perez is a radiant leading lady, but this is Rodrigo's show and he gives an indelible performance, plumbing an emotional mine of greed, cunning, machismo, recklessness and, by film's end, a change of heart. La Torre (and Coching's story) especially scores well by having the two leads, seemingly having parted ways for good, reunite in a church, of all places. The movie thus reiterates that faith in one's self can redeem you, even as you think you have been drowning in the deepest, darkest and lowest of places.
Tanikalang apoy (1959)
A harridan mother terrorizes her hapless family to the very end
TANIKALANG APOY (1959), directed by Jose de Villa from Pablo S. Gómez's story, is like a movie or play straight out of Garcia Lorca, Dostoyevsky and Tennessee Williams combined. The opening scene is grand theater, with a harridan of a mother, the haughty and manipulative Doña Roberta de Rioblanca ('Etang Discher' (qv), terrorizing her household - adult children and housekeepers alike.
'Rita Gomez (I)' (qv) plays Ester, married to Rodel Rioblanco ('Eddie Arenas' (qv)), never imagining the tortuous and agonizing existence one would have under Doña Roberta's iron hand. In one scene, the cruel mother whips her daughter Roda ('Lolita Rodriguez' (qv)) 10 times, just because Roda went through Ester's toiletries enviously. All these lashes, as the other hapless family members (and Ester, who tries to intervene), are forced to watch.
Rebecca, the eldest ('Paraluman (I)' (qv)), whose love for the hunky gardener (played with relish by 'Van De Leon' (qv) in a brief cameo) was discovered by the waspish mother and resulted in the poor guy's death, has gone mentally unbalanced. By film's denouement, Rebecca does something ghastly that claims everybody's life (except for the leads, Ester and Rodel).
Roda ('Lolita Rodriguez' (qv)) has turned to alcohol and/or morphine; at one point, she inveigles her secret lover ('Carlos Salazar (I) (qv)) to burglarize her own mother's home. (This burglary attempt is intercepted by Ester, but when mother and two sons walk in on Ester seemingly being embraced by a strange man, she is chained in a room as punishment!)
The other son, practically emasculated, is Rodrigo ('Eddie Garcia (I)' (qv)), who has to hire ladies of leisure ('Bella Flores' (qv), perfect in her brief scene) to release some pent up emotions in this terrorized household.
As the mother continues manipulating and bamboozling her adult children into submission and meek passivity, Ester stands up to her and leaves the family roost she has, in the first place, unwittingly and hesitantly joined. Her being pregnant does nothing to convince Rodel to run after her or defend her name, but only after the film's climax (the house is set to fire) do we see Rodel apologize to Ester and a tearful reunion ensues.
The whole cast give sterling performances, limning neurotic characters to the hilt and pent-up emotions boiling just beneath the surface, but for today's young generation raised on Internet, Facebook, children's rights and what-have-you, the social mores and family ties depicted in the film may be laughable, obsolete and crude, and 'Etang Discher' (qv)'s harridan mother may be incongruous, if not impossible. Nevertheless, Pablo Gomez was a masterful chronicler of the Filipino human psychology, and TANIKALANG APOY is one such essay.