JACQUELINE COMES HOME: THE CHIONG STORY (Ysabelle Peach, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Jacqueline Comes Home: The Chiong Story:

1. Back in October of 2012, I was able to watch this little-known documentary called Give Up Tomorrow about the controversial 1997 rape and murder case of Cebu City’s Chiong Sisters. It worked very much like a true crime drama (ala Netflix’s Making a Murderer or the Serial podcast) that presented convincing arguments on the wrongful conviction of Paco Larrañaga (and the rest of the Chiong Seven) and doubled as an exposé on the filthy Philippine justice system. Only a handful of us in that theater watched as a corrupt and broken system destroyed the life of an innocent young man.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the resurgence of this film (made free) online because of the promotions for Jacqueline Comes Home (if there was one good thing that came out of this exploitative massacre movie, it was that at least it generated renewed interest on the case and started a public outcry). GUT had a clear agenda though so I had always wondered if there were facts or details omitted to establish a more foolproof argument. The Chiongs (especially Mrs. Chiong) were also portrayed in such a bad light that it was hard for the public to sympathize with them even if they were victims themselves.

JCH really piqued my interest because this was supposed to be their version of the story and I wanted to see if they had any other pasabog up their sleeves. It was their chance to come up with a reply to GUT’s incredibly well-made presentation of evidence after solid evidence. Sadly, JCH’s version (or as the disclaimer at the start of the movie would like to call it, “loosely inspired by a retelling of a tragic story”) chose to focus on ghostly apparitions and the Lord directly communicating (ala Big Brother) to Mrs. Thelma Chiong (Alma Moreno). (No, He didn’t ask if she had reservations on the RH Law.) There wouldn’t be enough facepalm emojis to describe this tragedy.

2. I hadn’t fully recovered yet from Carlo J. Caparas’ Angela Markado and yet there I was on the very first day of screening watching an exact copycat of his notorious 90’s massacre movies this time directed by his daughter Ysabelle Peach. If you had seen all of his infamous subtitled classics from Vizconde Massacre (God, Help Us!) to The Marita Gonzaga Rape Slay (In God We Trust!), this one would be incredibly familiar. It had:

• the requisite beach scene to establish a happy family whose lives would be ruined by a senseless crime

• a group of despicable villains armed with cartoonish maniacal laughs (in this version, “Sonny” was played by Ryan Eigenmann, invoking the spirit of 90’s John Regala, and he was tasked to spout words like “pendejo!” and “hijo de puta!” out of the blue just in case people forget that he was actually playing “Paco”

• a confusing interweaving timeline

• the ghosts of the victims asking for justice (in one scene, Marijoy Chiong played by Ultimate Kakaibabe Donnalyn Bartolome stood at the foot of the ravine where she was pushed to her death as a badly-bruised ghost trying to catch a bouquet of flowers thrown by her living boyfriend, eek!)

• gratuitous rape and violence misdirected to elicit sympathy (where one of the rapists kept screaming, “Sharing is caring!”)

• and, it wouldn’t be complete without Joel Torre (as Mr. Dionisio Chiong) overacting in the worst possible way to show immense grief at the death of a loved one (see also: Lipa Massacre, Lord Deliver Us From Evil!).

3. I was surprised that Meg Imperial played the bespectacled Jacqueline Chiong since she looked more like Marijoy (and vice-versa). The latter role also required somebody who could effectively convey fear (in this version, Sonny/Paco was a stalker) and no amount of lip-quivering and nail-biting made me think for a second that Donnalyn was genuinely threatened. She even had to verbally state multiple times that she was scared (“Nakakatakot! Iba sya tumingin Ate!”). Hala paulit-ulit?

Side note: One of the most disgusting things I read online stated something like “Why would a Spanish mestizo like Paco actually court and rape an unattractive Chiong sister when he could pay to have any beautiful woman he wanted?” Seryoso?? Rape culture and victim-blaming in 2018? Yan ang kadiri!

4. Remember that indelible scene in GUT with Mrs. Chiong laughing like a mad woman while saying that she would personally kill Paco if she ever saw him? It was such a powerful image that made it even hard to reconcile with this movie’s version of a meek and God-fearing lady who spent most of her time praying in Church.

There were moments here that could have worked in the Chiongs’ favor and probably helped depict their current grieving state to the public (scammers offering to return Jacqueline, how the rest of the family members were neglected after the tragedy, etc.) but they weren’t fully explored.

Instead it focused on blatantly revising documented facts with its portrayal of Davidson Rusia (billed as Nervous Boy) being non-complicit to the crime, the gang as serial rapists, and even the sisters getting abducted in a random waiting shed as opposed to Ayala Center Cebu. It also included a lot of irrelevant scenes where Sonny/Paco’s gang had a fight with barbecue vendors, hysterical protesters showed their support to the Chiong family, Spirit Questors communicated with the dead, and the most laughable one of all, a group of random Law students discussed the case, questioned the loopholes and assumed that some of the convicts might be innocent and then concluded by saying that we needed to trust our justice system because it would ultimately do the right thing. Talaga ba?! Guys, watch Give Up Tomorrow.

5. Feeling ko mas maayos pa yung TV movie na pinalabas during the trial. Yes, the one with Jennifer Sevilla and Niño Muhlach. I wonder if it would ever be made available online.

6. So did Jacqueline Come Home? No. Neglected youngest sister and Jacqueline-lookalike Debbie did. (Kung ano man ibig sabihin nun.)

Honestly, I was very disappointed that this movie wasn’t called Jacqueline Comes Home (Jusko Lord!).

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

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I LOVE YOU, HATER (Giselle Andres, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on I Love You, Hater:

1. In the words of the great Beyoncé, “Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard. And mostly what I need from you.” (I know this was a Billy Joel original, but I’m a self-proclaimed millennial.)

Joko (Joshua Garcia) lived in his own world of lies. He fabricated a story to his family about working in New York and then he pretended to be a swishy beshie so that he could apprentice (read: be the next Darla) for Digital Empress Sasha Imperial (Kris Aquino, in her most challenging role as herself).

On the other hand, Zoey (Julia Barretto) with all of her emotional baggage that stemmed from father abandonment issues was allergic to lies. Would these two morally opposite poles attract (even with a pretend gender conflict)? We wouldn’t need an alien intervention to know the answer to this one.

In the spirit of honesty and the movie’s #SaTrueLang hashtag (wait, was that redundant?), let me say that I’m no hater, but I did not love this one at all. Similar to Giselle Andres’ last directorial effort Loving in Tandem, the weak and muddled plot could not be salvaged by the enthusiastic performances of its leads.

2. This might sound like a Julia Barretto Appreciation Post because I would be raving like a lovestruck lunatic over the next few sentences so be warned.

In last year’s Love You to the Stars and Back, I hailed her performance as the second coming of Queen Claudine Barretto. With this movie, she just officially earned her right to finally step out of her aunt’s shadow (yes, this would be the last time that I would compare her to Ate Clau).

In one scene, Zoey (who looked gorgeous with her wet, slicked back hair) attended the wedding of her half-sister where her absentee father (Ricardo Cepeda) proudly bragged about his “only daughter”. It was such a sad moment and you could see the terrible pain and humiliation in Zoey’s eyes, especially when the tears started to well up while she stormed out of the event (the succeeding scene where she sobbed in her room wasn’t even needed).

When Zoey admitted her feelings for Joko and then discovered his ruse, their confrontation scene (“Di ko alam kung bakit ako nagmahal…”) was an acting highlight for Julia. What started as an iyak-tawa delivery turned into full-blown rage and a definite nganga (did this girl really do that?) moment for me. I wonder how much of the behind the scenes issues and tension contributed to that brilliant scene. Hugot kung hugot, you go girl! Also, those seemingly naughty stares while she teased Joko were just too funny. Mahusay talaga siya dito.

(Side note: Joshua could still cry on cue, but his performance here seemed to lack the usual sensitivity and depth.)

3. Kris was surprisingly tolerable here and her supporting role was obviously stretched to ensure that she would get as much screen time as JoshLia. I guess it didn’t hurt that most of her scenes involved Sasha shooting her vlogs (for National Bookstore and iFlix, no less) so it was definitely in her wheelhouse. She also had a subplot about an Alzheimer’s-stricken father (Ronaldo Valdez, wonderful as always) and was given a couple of dramatic highlights (one closely resembled the McDo Karen ad) that probably would have been more effective if she weren’t trying so damn hard to squeeze her tearducts (as in literal na more pikit para pumatak ang luha).

If anything, I really loved her joyously colorful Happy Pride outfits. I wonder how many glitter unicorns had to die just to make them.

4. Speaking of pride, I was shocked to see an unrecognizable Mark Neumann playing one half of a gay couple (the other half was Markki Stroem). He was built up as a teen idol in Artista Academy and here he looked like a lipstick lesbian who might also own a Mio.

Why wasn’t the couple even invited when Zoey and Joko went to O Bar (billed here as Rave)? You know this was a work of fiction because in that scene where a Sarah Geronimo impersonator was performing, nobody from the crowd was doing the viral Tala dance moves.

5. Joshua must really be trying to fill the void left by John Lloyd Cruz because he had a Biogesic-like scene where he took Enervon and a few seconds later an extra was tasked to say “Ang taas ng energy mo!!”. Agad-agad??

I laughed out really loud though when promdi Joko called out the terrible food served in the wedding by saying “Hilaw nga nila sinerve yung steak eh. May dugo-dugo pa. Gross!” Nyahahaha!

6. My favorite scene was when Joko’s clan threw a surprise birthday party (complete with papier-mache lechon and cake) for Zoey. He then offered his father to dance with her and said, “Pahiram ko muna sa’yo ang tatay ko.” It was touching, heartfelt, and made me wish that Zoey had a standalone movie.

7. Burning questions:

• Why was Zoey wearing those short shorts (albeit stylish) for an important job interview?

• Would a Digital Empress really hire somebody that she met in an elevator and gave basic graphic design suggestions? More importantly, why couldn’t she afford to pay (or give a shoutout) for a decent logo design?

• Were those Instagram pictures intentionally Photoshopped to make Zoey’s father and his family look like they were levitating directly across the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

• Whenever Joko would get a hard-on, where was the actual bukol? What was he trying to cover?

• Why did Sasha give Joko some National Bookstore gift certificates and ask him to buy a new outfit? (Made out of cartolina, glitter, and glue gun?)

• When Zoey’s friend encouraged her crush on “gay” Joko by shouting “Wag matakot, maki-beki!”, was she really being a supportive friend or a staunch LGBT advocate?

• With the movie already running far too long, did we really need a recap of their sweetest moments before the climactic… hug?

8. “Kumain ka ng torta para lumaki kang borta.” And yet in my dyslexic brain it kept coming up as “Kumain ka ng borta na may malaking torta.” #SaTrueLang tayo besh.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

WALWAL (Jose Javier Reyes, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Walwal:

1. Being a certified coot (aka ‘thunder cats’) that recently turned another year older, I previously thought that the word ‘walwal’ had a dirty connotation (like it was something done in secret inside a locked bathroom that could result to hairy palms). I brushed up on my millennial-speak and it apparently meant wallowing in excesses (drinking, partying, smoking, drug use, sexual activity) until one loses his bearings and ends up living a directionless life. Now where was all of that in the movie?

I was expecting to walk out of the theater feeling traumatized and bemoaning the future of the world with the kind of self-entitled kids nowadays, but that didn’t happen. Was my Titos and Titas of Manila-certified morals supposed to get scandalized by the sight of these young boys drinking a few bottles of Red Horse beer (curiously labelled ‘I Drunk Dial A Lot’)? Yan na yung walwal? Eh wala pala kayo sa lolo ko eh…

2. Billed as this generation’s Pare Ko (a 90’s teen classic also directed by Jose Javier Reyes), this one felt very much like my lolo was educating me on the importance of using the best Instagram filter. Were millennials really this boring? What happened to those neurotic kids that swam face-first in a toilet bowl full of their own vomit in Gino Santos’ The Animals? (Now that one shocked me to my core.)

This just didn’t feel like it was telling the story of a specific generation. It was the same old cliches (lovelife problems, teenage pregnancy, another networking joke??) recycled for a new breed of young stars.

3. Through this movie, I learned that millennials were also being pressured by parents to select a college degree that had always been planned for them. When Marco (Kiko Estrada) told his mom (Cheska Diaz) that he wanted to shift to Tourism, she replied, “Tourism? Anong gusto mo mangyari? Tourist guide?”. (Hala momshie, mukhang kelangan mo rin bumalik ng college and major in sense of humor.)

In another scene, Bobby (Donny Pangilinan) told his french fries magnate father (Rolando Inocencio) that he wanted to be a filmmaker and father said, “Itigil mo na ang ilusyon mo na ikaw ang susunod na Lino Brocka!” to which he replied, “Brillante Mendoza!”. (DDS pala si Bobby.)

4. Jerome Ponce (as Intoy) was the clear standout in the young cast, a feat considering that most of his dramatic scenes were with the great Angeli Bayani (loved that Urian reference). His story about the search for his estranged father (Ricardo Cepeda) was definitely the most affecting. Sadly, he was also saddled with the worst possible dialogues:

• In a conversation with his half-brother…

Bro: “Magkakaiba ba tayo ng tatay, Kuya? Yung sa’yo stuntman, yung sa akin seaman, yung kay bunso tubero.”

Intoy: “Wag ka magpapaniwala sa chismis.”

Bro: “Kinonfirm ko kay Nanay.”

(Hala sya, confirmed na pala more tanong pa.)

• In a conversation with Bobby…

Bobby: “Bro, bakit cannot be reached ka lagi?”

Intoy: “Wala akong load eh.”

(Harujosko!)

• In a Facebook Messenger chat with his father:

Intoy (typed): “I am the son of Ramona Martinez.”

Father (typed): “How are you related to her?”

(Ay itay!!)

I also felt bad for him when his mother said: “Ang pangalan ng tatay mo ay Diosdado Pindodo. Isa yan sa dahilan bakit ko siya iniwan. Ang bantot!” I would have understood it more if she called him out for his reading slash comprehension skills.

5. Continuity alert: Dondi’s (Elmo Magalona) haircut kept changing in every scene. Also, I wonder if his really tight jeggings affected the way he spoke throughout the movie. I wasn’t surprised when his girlfriend (Jane de Leon) dumped him for a lesbian instead.

6. Since Bobby and close friend Ruby (Kisses Delavin, dressed up as budget cosplay Jolina Magdangal circa Chuva Choo Choo) were supposed to be film experts, they were required to say terms like ‘existential study of post-digital life’, ‘neorealism’, ‘Pasolini’, and ‘Franco Zeffirelli’. And yet when they played a random trivia game where they guessed the film that starred Guy Pearce and John Leguizamo, they both agreed that it was called ‘To Wong Foo, With Love Julie Newmar’. (Nope!)

Pinapainit ng mga batang ‘to ang ulo ko. Waiter, one Cali Shandy please!!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

NOTTING HILL (Roger Michell, 1999)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Notting Hill:

1. No matter how many times I tried to repress the memory, I would never forget that I once played Julia Roberts as Anna Scott for a skit about absolute love (how apt!) in a college Philosophy class. Long story short, I couldn’t make the Hugh Grant character William Thacker believable since I obviously lacked his puppy eyes and boyish charm so our group leader thought of reversing the gender roles where I ended up voicing (since I apparently wasn’t too pretty to be Anna as well) the female part.

We recreated that entire iconic bookstore scene and I delivered the “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy…” line with an awkward high pitch that sounded like Lani Mercado’s wicked witch in the Sleeping Beauty episode of Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang. Our presentation obviously bombed (all those confused looks would continue to haunt me in my dreams) and I walked out of that class feeling like Vivian in Pretty Woman getting thrown out of a posh boutique in Rodeo Drive (and since this was real life, I didn’t even get a redemption scene).

2. Julia may have won her Oscar for Erin Brockovich, but her performance here would probably be my most favorite. Sure, the woman with the (then $15M) megawatt smile was basically playing another version of her rich and famous, A-list celebrity persona, but the fact that she gamely poked fun at herself (loved it when Anna pointed at her nose and chin when asked about her cosmetic surgeries) and revealed the sadness beneath all the fame and glory was really admirable.

Her Anna character was also completely flawed (and actually bordered on being despicable with just the way he treated William) and yet I still really, really wanted to be her friend (to the point that it would also be an honor for me to have her in my loo). Her best scene was at the dinner table where everyone was trying to win that last brownie and her face displayed the longing to experience the kind of love that the mortals (er, William and his friends) had.

3. Speaking of that dinner scene, I could easily pinpoint the part where I would immediately start sobbing every single time I’d watch this film. It was when Bella (Gina McKee) explained that she deserved the last brownie for having the saddest life because she was stuck in a wheelchair and could not bear kids. This was followed by a shot of her husband Max (Tim McInnerny) silently giving her this look of genuine love. Romantic or not, we all deserved someone just like him.

(Their other scenes that made me bawl my eyes out: when he carried her upstairs for the night when William decided to sleep over at their house and when he couldn’t afford to leave her during the climactic chase scene and carried her inside the car. Hala, just thinking of these made me teary-eyed again!)

4. A lot of people would probably knock this film down for being too formulaic to a fault, but it shamelessly peddled itself as a fairy tale so I didn’t mind at all (“This is the stuff that happens in dreams, not in real life.”) A huge Hollywood star falling in love with a commoner who looked like Hugh would be the ultimate fantasy, right?

Comical meet cute, set of kooky friends (Rhys Ifans’ Spike as the standout, course), soundtrack of sappy love songs (Ronan Keating’s When You Say Nothing At All >>> Alison Krauss’ version tbh), final romantic declaration of love, all tropes utilized to maximum effect. It was surreal, but nice.

5. I had a (fortunately) short phase where I pretended to be a charming Brit ala Hugh and ended up sounding like a post-Kabbalah Madonna. I replaced my “Susmaryosep” with “Whoopsie daisy” and “Ay tae!” with “Shickity brickity”, but those didn’t stick. Foreign catchphrases and accents were never really my thing. I couldn’t even properly imitate an American accent when I worked as a call center agent that resulted to one customer referring to me as a weird Hawaiian guy.

6. Spot the cameos: Matthew Modine! Alec Baldwin! Mischa Barton! Emily Mortimer!

7. That one long take of Ain’t No Sunshine with the changing seasons was really lovely. I would one day be able to visit Portobello Road Market and that iconic blue door. Who would be willing to fund my London trip?

8. “For June who loved this garden. From Joseph who always sat beside her.”

“Some people do spend their whole lives together.” ❤️❤️❤️

9. I didn’t really need this film to make me realize that some people could influence you to do something better or be a better person even if they had hurt you, but it was nice to be reminded of this with every viewing. #whogoat

10. “The fame thing isn’t really real, you know?”

A huge star ready to give up everything for love? Your move, Bebe Idol Sarah G. Rooting for your happy fairy tale ending as well.

Rating: ★★★★★

BAD GENIUS (Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Bad Genius:

1. One of the lowest points in my high school life (or even my life in general) was when I got caught cheating (along with three other classmates) in an exam. It was quite the scandal because we were part of the Honors Class (or as one of our teachers called us, “the Cream of the Crop, pweh!”). Unlike this film though, that incident didn’t involve an elaborate set-up, high stakes, huge amounts of money, or even a hidden kodigo written on an eraser. On my end (the others had reasons of their own), I just matter-of-factly checked with another classmate if we had the same answer on a specific item of a crossword-type quiz. Unfortunately for us, one of the moral guardians (aka chu-chu) in class informed our teacher about it.

Back then, I couldn’t understand why we had to be severely punished for something that (to me) didn’t really constitute cheating. We were even asked to stand in front of the class, very much like modern-day adulterers on trial (kulang na lang meron kami cardboard sa leeg stating “Mandaraya! Wag tularan!”) challenging the crowd to cast the first stone (ironically, some of our classmates that did throw stones and reminded everyone on the importance of good values were the ones that blatantly cheated in exams but were never caught; more on this later).

Anyway, we were reprimanded with a failed score in that test, a C- in Conduct, and our Catholic souls promptly delivered to the devil for eternal damnation. Suffice to say, I fully learned from that experience and never cheated my way through an exam ever again.

2. When I initially saw this film several months back, it functioned as an effective thriller about students scamming their way in a national exam. Even to this day, I would have these nightmares resulting to cold sweats for not knowing the answers to a random multiple choice exam and it was probably the closest feeling that could describe this viewing experience. Every sequence that involved flinging shoes, two sets of exams, piano codes, and hidden cellphones in the toilet had the same level of excitement slash anxiety as any heist flick directed by Steven Soderbergh or Edgar Wright.

A second viewing though revealed a much deeper take on morality; how seemingly righteous people could be swayed into the dark side and how perfectly flawed characters could find redemption. The juxtaposition of Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, in a stunning film debut) and Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul) spoke volumes on how external factors (social inequality, intelligence as a form of power, capital-driven labor system, among others) could ultimately define/shape a person’s morals/values. That bridge scene where they stood above the stop and go signals was simply, well, genius.

3. Although I was impressed with how the piano lessons were incorporated into the cheating scheme (the highlight was when Lynn used the same method to memorize all the STIC answers), I found it hard to believe that her intellectually-impaired classmates could keep up with her fast-moving fingers (and even had to “transmit” answers the same way to the rest of the group). Surely there must have been easier gestures/signals that they could have utilized instead.

Going back to my morally upright classmates that I mentioned earlier, one of the techniques that they used to memorize the correct answers was the folding of their fingers. We would usually have these short quizzes that consisted of ten True or False questions and what they would do was fold every finger that corresponded to every False answer (based on the leakage of their friends that took the test before us). While our teachers thought that they were just fooling around and making alien-like gestures, everything was set for them to get perfect scores. Except of course in long quizzes and finals when they would lack enough digits (toes included) to fold for a 100-item exam.

4. I really liked how the story utilized the infinite reflections whenever Lynn was faced with a moral dilemma (the opening interrogation, the escalator scene before agreeing on the STIC scheme, and her final application on her chosen college). Nothing screamed introspection more than a character looking at all her possible identities in a mirror.

5. For a film burdened with such serious themes, the occasional stabs at humor helped keep it a bit lighthearted. I had a good laugh at the following: 1) when Lynn’s father brought a box of her trophies and medals when they were talking to the headmistress (probably something that my mother would also do), 2) when everyone who answered set 1 stood up at the same time to submit their papers, 3) when someone referred to Pat (Teeradon Supaponpinyo) wearing a turtleneck and giving a rousing speech as Steve Pat, and 4) weirdly enough, when Lynn held her pencil like a weapon before heading to the STIC exam room.

On the flip side, I couldn’t hold back my tears during these scenes: 1) when Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan) mentioned “If I had half your brain, I wouldn’t do something this stupid”, 2) when Bank gave Lynn a nod during his interrogation scene before realizing that he was on his own, 3) when Lynn went all Teddie Salazar in the airport and confessed everything to her father, and 4) the subsequent waiting hall scene with him assuring her that “We’ll get through this”. You’re not crying, I am.

6. The weakest aspect here that really strained credulity was the extended chase scene with Lynn after she threw up on her test (why didn’t anyone even hear her gagging in the first place?). When her phone started getting kicked around and Pat and Grace lost their phone’s signal, it was just too many coincidences happening to be believable. Even if you dismissed the fact that she was being chased by the Terminator, did she really have to drop that phone in a stranger’s bag? How would that be considered a clean trail? Seriously, these amateurs should have consulted my morally upright classmates.

7. “Even if you don’t cheat, life cheats you anyway.”

a) True
b) False
c) Saklap besh

Rating: ★★★★☆

ONE HOUR PHOTO (Mark Romanek, 2002)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on One Hour Photo:

1. Remember when your parents would invite guests over and the worst thing that your mother could do was bring out her stack of family albums and proudly show your most embarrassing photos to these strangers? Like that picture of you swimming nude in a palanggana looking really silly and it would be everyone’s source of laughter? No? Then you must have been born after the digital revolution.

In my time (did I again sound like I just lived through the Mesozoic Era?), the term Kodak wasn’t just the most popular brand name in the world of photography (sorry Agfa and Fuji!), it was actually a verb synonymous to taking a selfie (“Kodakan na! Piktyuran na!”). Except that it would be really hard to take a selfie back in the day with those chunky Olympus cameras.

2. With the number of filters and Photoshop tools available now, film photography could definitely be considered a lost art. There was always that feeling of excitement in having your film roll developed (I actually missed that whirring sound when rewinding), crossing your fingers that it wouldn’t be exposed (otherwise, goodbye memories!), and just admiring the finished product that couldn’t be saved by any second takes or Camera 360.

3. Although this film might feel a tad dated (Robin Williams’ Sy Parrish actually said “When people’s houses are on fire, what’s the next thing they save after loved ones and pets? Family photos!”. Uhh, I don’t think so), the idea of a lonely psychopath stalking people through pictures could very well apply in this world of Facebook and Instagram. In hindsight, these social media platforms actually made it easier to gain access to people’s lives, unlike before when only the film developers could see you in your kinkiest outfits (hmm, I was suddenly reminded me of a grade school teacher who “accidentally” shared her scandalous lingerie photos to some of the boys in class).

4. The late great Robin Williams would always be Mrs. Doubtfire to me, but he was undeniably better in his more serious roles (his critically-acclaimed turn in Good Will Hunting, his criminally-underrated performance in Insomnia, etc.). His character here may be downright creepy (in one hair-raising scene that was the stuff of my nightmares, he imagined trespassing in his victims’ house and decided to poop in their toilet, their TOILET! Nooooo!), but he still exuded a certain warmth that made it hard to completely be scared of him.

His best scene was that reaction shot of him after being told that he was getting fired. The way his face scrunched up not because he was losing his job, but because he realized that he would lose access to the private lives of his victims was terrifying.

Side note: His set of baby blues were just perfect for all the blatant eye symbolisms used in this film.

5. “Nobody takes a photograph of something they want to forget.” Ironically, happy couple pictures would usually be the first to get deleted in your camera roll after a bad break-up. Just me? Okay.

6. I was weirded out a bit in that market scene where old family photos were put up for sale. Why would people sell pictures of their loved ones? And who would buy these stuff (because apparently there were potential customers if these were being sold)? Didn’t they see The Others?

7. I wonder how many people would feel paranoid about posting their photos online after watching this one. Just imagine all the possible stalkers lurking out there. Don’t worry, I promise never to poop in your toilet.

Rating: ★★★★☆

CRY NO FEAR (Richard Somes, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Cry No Fear:

1. In my recent take on the 2008 home invasion movie The Strangers, I expressed my frustrations on the idiotic decisions made by the lead characters in protecting themselves from their tormentors (running inside the house instead of fleeing as far away from it as possible, forgetting the most basic instinct of locking doors, etc.). Very much like in any Carlo J. Caparas massacre movie though, I still felt some sympathy for the victims because they were basically living their quiet lives before these monsters started violating them and their homes.

This movie reminded me so much of The Strangers, except that I was weirdly rooting for the strangers. Why should I even care about these spoiled, privileged half-sisters Kaycee and Wendy (played by Ultimate Kakaibabe Donnalyn Bartolome and Teen Dance Princess Ella Cruz, respectively) when they themselves wanted to kill each other? They even found the time to freshen-up before escaping from their killers because, I dunno, if they were to die they might as well be looking good?

Their poor father (Lito Pimentel) was working his butt off as a washed-up actor forced to dress up as Chewbacca and yet they couldn’t even respect him enough not to gouge each other’s eyes out over breakfast (didn’t they hear him practice the exact same three lines for hours inside his room while wearing that blue girdle that my mom bought from Home TV Shopping to help burn her fats?). I actually cheered when he finally had enough of their bickering and gave each of them a well-deserved spanking (as in pinatayo nya pareho at pinalo sa pwet, like they were a bunch of six-year olds). Go Tatay!!

2. According to Wikipedia, the male gaze is the act of depicting women as sexual objects for the pleasure of male viewers. It couldn’t have been more true here where probably 30% of the screen time involved the camera slowly moving up and down Donnalyn’s kakai-legs while she was in various states of undress. In one scene that doubled as a calamine advertisement, she was talking to her boyfriend on the phone while applying lotion on her (what else?) really, really long legs (made even longer by SM Southmall Cinema’s weird aspect ratio).

The rest of the film spent several minutes ogling the girls’ nubile bodies while wearing a bikini, panties in bed, and in the climactic rain scene (where they took off their shirts because they were fearless and invincible to pneumonia) matching baby bras. Was Viva Films actually paying homage to its early 2000’s soft-core flicks with Rica Peralejo, Maui Taylor, and the Viva Hot Babes where their characters were also allergic to all types of clothing?

3. Speaking of Viva Hot Babes, the maid here named Dory was played by Sheree who spoke with a slight twang and made me initially think that she was their mother. But then all she ever did was collect their dirty laundry (imagine the number of panties she had to wash every day) and cook (it was probably my first time to see characters actually eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner like any normal family).

There was one (terrible) extended scene where she screamed her head off because she couldn’t kill a rat, but I guess she would still be considered a super yaya for rising from the dead after several stab wounds and killing one of the strangers. In one bit, she went missing and the girls had to look for her and so the movie suddenly turned into Finding Dory.

4. My favorite scene in this entire mess though was when the strangers headed straight to the kitchen, brought out a loaf of Gardenia bread, and took a quick snack break. Nakakagutom nga naman kasi manloob ng bahay.

After the snack break, one of them felt the need to play a haunting piano piece while the rest continued to raid the pantry. Newbie thieves would go straight to the master’s bedroom to look for cash and other valuables, but these experts knew the essential items and started hoarding kitchenware and canned goods (plus, a ceramic vase for good measure).

5. I felt really sad when the first to get killed in this movie was the dog Tarzan. This movie should be endorsed by PETA because when the girls were terrorized by receiving Tarzan’s severed head wrapped in plastic, their first instinct was not to call for help, but to bring it back to its grave with the rest of its body (“Ibalik natin ang ulo nyaaaa waaah!”)

Aww, how nice! (Ay wait, pinanghampas pala nila yung ulo to kill one of the strangers in the end so…)

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

OLD SKOOL (Cia Hermosa-Jorge, 2015)

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My notes on Old Skool:

1. It’s hard to be tough on Old Skool, a well-intentioned movie that obviously wore its heart on its sleeve. The problem with it though was how it played its supposedly inspirational message with throwaway gags and juvenile humor.

2. Tessie Tomas is one of our finest actresses but her performance here was very inconsistent. There were times that she acted like Budoy when she was just a perfectly normal old woman that just wasn’t able to finish grade school.

3. In one scene, she wore a Trinidad and Tobago outfit for United Nations Day (?) complete with a headpiece full of dalandan and bananas and she acted all clumsy like Forrest Gump just stepped in class. (In another, she was obviously reading the lyrics of a song on the back of a classmate during the Christmas production.)

4. I was also confused when she mentioned that she was supposed to be the batch valedictorian before she stopped schooling and yet she couldn’t add basic fractions. Also, with the advanced learning system now, don’t they teach Calculus and algorithms as early as Kinder?

5. I was happy to see that artista notebooks (you know, the ones with Juday and Wowie on the cover) are still available. I wonder if they have an AlDub version.

6. Oh and that Microsoft Office Computer class! I suddenly remembered my Wordstar and Lotus days. I’ve mentioned this before but I’m still amazed that we had Typewriting classes back in grade school. Using an actual typewriter. I swear I hated the quick brown fox that jumped over the lazy dog.

7. Buboy Villar was good as the school bully. I wish there was no sudden change of heart because he was funnier when he made other kids cry. In contrast would be the shrill performance of Angel Aquino who basically hated life. She kept screaming every 15 minutes on the most petty stuff that I missed my morning alarm clock (read: my mother).

8. True story:

Me: “What’s HEKASI?”
Other: “Heograpiya, Kasaysayan, Agrikultura, Sining, at Sibika.”
Me: “Eh di dapat HEKAASISI?”

But seriously, di ko inabot ang HEKASI. I’m that old.

9. Styrofoam solar system! I had the exact same project in grade school! Memories!!

10. Teacher: “Ilagay ang kanang kamay sa puso. O tumitibok ba?”

Students: “Opo!!”

Teacher: “Mabuti! Kung hindi dadalhin kayo sa ospital.”

Me: “Sir, sure ka hindi sa morgue?”

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published November 7, 2015.)

THE PRENUP (Jun Lana, 2015)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The PreNup:

1. If there was one word to describe this movie, it would have to be shrill. Most of the characters delivered their lines a pitch higher than their normal speaking voice. Even the situations felt heightened to an absurd degree that was neither funny funny nor weirdly funny. I was surprised this wasn’t directed by Wenn Deramas.

2. Jennylyn Mercado was a delight to watch in English Only, Please. She was fine here as well but there just wasn’t enough good material for her to work on. With this and the upcoming Walang Forever, I hope that she wouldn’t get typecast in the usual kooky jologs role that really puts the manic in Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Oh, I liked that her character kept talking to herself. She was like a walking Facebook status update. I could definitely relate in all that craziness.

3. Why can’t there be more diversity of gay characters in Pinoy comedies? Do we really have to see the same stereotypical shrieking gay dressed in rainbow-colored outfits? Gardo Versoza (playing one of Jennylyn’s adoptive fathers) sounded like he recently got castrated. Besides, I don’t know any self-respecting gay that would wear a multi-colored, polka-dotted dress shirt unless they have a “Multi-Colored, Polka-Dotted Dress Shirt Theme Day” in the office. In another scene, he was wearing a fitted purple shirt, leopard scarf, and puruntong shorts. Why dear, why?

4. Speaking of adoptive fathers, the other half was played by Dominic Ochoa who was probably just a decade older than Jennylyn. How was that even possible? One of the adopted sisters was played by the delightful Melai Cantiveros and she had a Bisaya accent that was never explained as well.

5. To be honest, Melai completely stole the movie with her outrageous characterization and wicked slapstick comedy. Nothing made sense but her croaking frog scene made me laugh so hard that I actually decided to raise the movie’s rating a star higher.

6. One scene (shown in the trailer) had Jennylyn and Sam Milby engaged in a loud banter that never bothered the other passengers. If I bought an expensive ticket to fly first class and I ended up behind these two loudmouths and their endless bickering, bodies would have flown out the plane.

7. Awkward closet gay joke. Really awkward.

8. Jun Lana is an incredibly talented filmmaker and he directed the beautiful film Bwakaw. I was surprised with all of the continuity errors and technical issues in this movie. In one scene, Jennylyn was writing down everything that she was hearing but the shot prior to that showed the exact same line that she would eventually hear. Was she psychic? Yet in another, she opened her bedroom door saying “Katok ka kasi ng katok” even if Sam was just calling out her name. And how in the world did she end up in a room overlooking the Fort Strip when the previous scene showed her in the MOA grounds? A psychic and a teleporter. Wow!

9. In case you’re curious, Sam did well in his topless shots.

10. The actual prenup wasn’t brought up until midway through the movie when it transformed into a langit vs. lupa clash of clans that was purely offensive and tragically unfunny. Besides, Jennylyn’s house was bigger than our entire street, how could her family even be mistaken as poor? And don’t even bother asking about the ending. Like we’d expect anything else. Yes, everyone had an instant change of heart in the end and they lived happily ever after. Confetti! Confetti! Wooooh!!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published October 15, 2015.)

FELIX MANALO (Joel Lamangan, 2015)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Felix Manalo:

1. Let me start with a disclaimer. To all my INC friends, this is not an attack on your religious beliefs. All my opinions are about the movie and none on our differences of faith. Love and peace.

2. When I first saw the trailer of this film, I thought, what else was there to show? And I was right. Everything you needed to know was right there, down to all the stars and starlets that had cameo roles.

3. To be fair, there were some noteworthy things in this movie. The costumes and production design (except for the Xeroxed portraits of American Presidents) definitely showed that the movie had a huge budget and the attention to detail was commendable. Some roles (although predictable, Jaime Fabregas as a prayle? Groundbreaking!) were also well-acted.

4. I wasn’t sure why every location (down to street names) and year had to be flashed onscreen. I guess the movie wanted to clearly show the timeline (Birth to death! No wonder it was three hours long!!) of important events in Manalo’s life. But really, did we need to be reminded that they were in Paranaque when the shop clearly showed Sumbrereria de Paranaque? How about the word Maynila shown in the scene that was shot in front of the Manila City Hall?

5. For a movie with a budget though, the sound design was scratchy, the musical score was relentless, the editing was confusing (with abrupt transitions from scene to scene), and the visual effects (especially during the war scenes) were laughable. Also, in the latter part of the movie, Dennis Trillo and Bela Padilla (with perma-crimped hair) played older versions of themselves with full-on face latex but their hands didn’t even age one bit. That was a missed Vaseline endorsement right there.

6. I’m sure Manalo’s a very interesting person but this movie just didn’t give his life story any justice. The idea of a man constantly questioning his source of faith and transferring from one religion to another in search of the ultimate truth is a gold mine. Such a missed opportunity.

7. It was a typical Joel Lamangan (of late) movie. Some scenes were staged like a high school drama. Please bring back the director that created searing socio-political commentaries like Bulaklak ng Maynila and Ang Huling Birhen sa Lupa.

8. I really didn’t understand the whole Japanese War sequence. Was it to show that the INC were severely persecuted for staying true to their faith? The only thing I clearly understood was that we don’t have any other Japanese captain to cast in our movies except for Jacky Woo.

9. Speaking of great casting, Gabby Concepcion played the son of Dennis Trillo. I know, right?

10. One other thing that wasn’t clearly explained in the movie was the instant wealth of Manalo. The latter scenes showed him living in a mansion in Riverside, San Juan and another one showed him riding a Cadillac. Sure, it would have been a controversial topic that might spark a lot of debate but isn’t that what biopics are for?

11. If they got one thing right, it was to ask Sarah G. to sing the movie’s theme song. An additional star just for that (hey, this is my rating!).

12. The end credits listed the actors’ names in alphabetical order. By first name. I wanted to cry.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published October 19, 2015.)