LOVE YOU TO THE STARS AND BACK (Antoinette Jadaone, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Love You to the Stars and Back:

1. As a kid, I believed everything that my mother told me. I would immediately take a shower after getting drenched in the rain to avoid getting pulmonya. I would forego that extra cup of rice during dinner lest I end up dying of bangungot. I never went to bed with wet hair because I didn’t want to wake up crazy and dragged all the way to the basement of Makati Med. I was proud of my huge ears because they meant that I would live a long life. I also ate an entire roasted lizard because it was supposedly a cure for my asthma.

I wasn’t surprised at all that young Mika (Julia Barretto) swallowed up all the alien talk of her soon-to-be-departed mother (Carmina Villaroel). I mean it would be nice to believe that E.T. (yes, as in “E.T., phone home!”) would one day abduct me and bring me to the stars so I could observe EDSA traffic from above. In Mika’s own words, “Walang imposible sa mundong ito. Kelangan mo lang maniwala.”

2. So Mika decided to look for aliens in Mt. Milagros (fictional place, right?) somewhere in Batangas and the very first thing she bought as supplies were…Choco Muchos?! Please tell me this wasn’t a blatant product placement (similar to that succeeding Oppo selfie) and that she was really a junk food junkie. Also, would Sapporo now be considered the official beer of Pinoy love stories? Better luck next time Red Horse Litro.

3. Leo Martinez had always been the token Batangueño character in Pinoy cinema and his accent (read: punto) would always be played for laughs. I was happy to see a different version here represented by Caloy (Joshua Garcia, another true-blue Batangueño), but I wish he kept the accent all-throughout the film just for authenticity (sadly, the ones by the supporting cast were spotty at best).

Joshua made up for it though with such a strong performance that displayed his versatility. The John Lloyd Cruz comparisons made during Vince & Kath & James were even more obvious (and justified) here. Naiiyak ako habang pinapanood lang sya umiyak, whether he was telling the story of how his father abandoned them over a plate of tapang kalabaw, or peering through the gate while getting rejected by said dad, or calling his mom to assure her that he was okay. Nanay pa niya si Cherry Pie Picache so wag na umasang di ka maiyak.

(I think the only weakness of Joshua would be his fake laugh because, well, it felt fake. Bawi naman sa pa-karug. Har har.)

4. I loved how the characters here bonded over the grossest things, making them more human and their relationship more relatable. Their meet cute moment actually involved pooping and pissing in a talahiban (another mother’s advice: always say ‘tabi tabi po’ to prevent the wrath of a nuno) and since a significant part of the movie had them inside a car, I was happy when somebody actually farted (with a round of finger-pointing after, of course!).

5. Wait, so Caloy was sick and he decided that the best way to go from Lemery to Calaca (this would be like going from Southmall to MOA ba?) was on a bike?

6. The manong manok character was definitely me to millennials: “Ang babata n’yo pa, ang lalandi n’yo na!”

Mika was able to provide a good defense though: “Bakit kung uso na ang cellphone nung EDSA Revolution, hindi rin ba kayo mag-selfie?!” Touché!

(Another Titas of Manila moment: my brain kept screaming “Eyes on the road!” while they kept making landi in a moving vehicle. Ay josko ka!)

7. Goldie, their pet chicken, was left in the car while they ate lunch. Buti hindi naging Chickenjoy pagbalik nila.

8. I was never really fond of Julia because of her rumored kaartehan and perceived brattiness (I read a lot of FashionPulis, sorry!), but she definitely proved her mettle here. Not only did she look and sound very much like her Aunt Claudine, she actually acted the exact same way.

I especially liked her in that bridge scene where all of her emotions just felt raw and natural. Any lesser actress would have disappeared amidst the powerful presence of Joshua. She also had this really cute (albeit bittersweet) scene with Mika imagining that Caloy was still in the passenger seat. All it needed was her playfully saying, “Mukha kang chewing gum na masarap nguyain.”

9. Although it had elements similar to The Fault in our Stars (and even Your Name), the film overall was still distinctly Jadaone. Iba pa rin ang magic niya kapag usapang pag-ibig. She always knew the right blend of kilig and drama.

I really liked how this was able to differentiate itself from TFIOS by showing the ugly side of cancer. It would be hard to forget that heartbreaking scene with Caloy all covered in his own puke and blood, trying to pretend that nothing was wrong with him. Also, it had one of the most unromantic (pero damang-dama pa rin) declarations of love in cinema. Move over, Ansel and Shailene!

10. “Walang sigurado pero minsan kelangan mo lang maniwala.” I now believe in you, JoshLia. Elyen!!

Rating: ★★★★☆

ATOMIC BLONDE (David Leitch, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Atomic Blonde:

1. I really didn’t have plans of watching this movie in a theater since a) the local version was heavily butchered to receive a more SM Cinema-friendly rating (lesbian sex was deemed offensive?), and b) inasmuch as I adored Imperator Furiosa, seeing Charlize Theron pull off a John Wick just wasn’t my thing, but there would always be stuff we do for love.

2. I probably would have appreciated this more if it didn’t even try to be a smart thriller ala The Bourne Identity and just stayed true to being a hot mess (like basically any Guy Ritchie film). But no, we were treated to an incomprehensible plot that started with the demolition of the Berlin Wall, involved twist after twist inherent in the espionage genre, and ended with…wait, what exactly happened? Sorry, but I do not have the time to check Wikipedia.

3. With our current weather, I’d do anything to have that kind of ice bath. Are there any places that offer this type of service? Better if they also serve Stolichnaya and Jack Daniels.

By the way, when Charlize stepped out of that tub, her to die for body was shown in its full glory, but when James McAvoy got up from bed, he had to be fully wrapped with a kumot from the waist down with just a tease of his V-lines. He even mentioned, “If you see my balls, you’ll be more impressed”. Now how would we know? Why the double standard?

4. Literal killer heels. Ilabas ang lisensya! Also, as a nod to anything ’80s, I loved how that dressing up montage resembled that of Vilma Santos’ in Tagos ng Dugo.

5. Some of the fight scenes didn’t feel authentic. It was supposed to be one violent brawl after another, but the punches seemed to be pulled.

At least it had that awesome stairwell sequence (it was supposed to be one long take if it weren’t chopped up for being too violent) that made me wonder which parts were actually done by Charlize (since it involved a lot of smashing on the walls and tumbling down the steps).

6. “David Hasselhoff is in town. Berlin is really doomed.” Hahaha! Forever a Baywatch fan, though.

7. If there was something that I really liked here, it was the killer soundtrack. If I were to get hit on the head with a skateboard, I would also want it to be scored with Nena’s 99 Luftballons.

Caveat: I was obviously a disgrace to my generation because when the first few notes of Queen’s Under Pressure was played, I squealed with delight from my seat and screamed ‘Ice Ice Baby’!!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

ANG GURO KONG ‘DI MARUNONG MAGBASA (Perry Escaño, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Ang Guro Kong ‘Di Marunong Magbasa:

1. In the film Abakada…Ina, Lorna Tolentino played an illiterate mother who had the unfortunate luck of having a nasty schoolteacher for a biyenan (played by the late great Nida Blanca). One of the movie’s highlights was their verbal showdown where Nida bluntly called her tanga, ignorante, and iliterada. The apparent shame that she felt upon hearing those words was enough to make me bawl my eyes out.

Although the issue of illiteracy would always be an important topic, some Pinoy films only used this as a default plot device to tug at heartstrings. I think the last film I watched that dealt with this as well was that MMFF New Wave film Turo Turo, where AJ Dee played a fishball vendor who went bankrupt because he didn’t know how to properly count the exact change.

2. Similar to these movies, Guro also had good intentions, but its execution was completely disastrous. It wasn’t even about the illiterate teacher played by Alfred Vargas, or a scathing look at child warriors trained for political propaganda. It was just a poor excuse to shoot an action film where the main villain was tied to a tree and shot with a grenade launcher (after a controversial spit bukkake scene as a form of torture), or for Kiko Matos playing a soldier to keep tumbling around for no apparent reason.

3. It was hard to take the movie seriously when everything about it was just awful, in particular:

• Gunshots sounded like they came from plastic toy guns.

• Characters having dinner were squeezed on one side of the table for framing reasons (kahit mag-isa lang si Alfred sa kabilang side).

• The camera moved from side-to-side behind the students and half of the screen would just be a shot of their backs (was this supposed to be a nod to early Shyamalan?).

• The sound of goats bleating was louder than the actual dialogue.

• Terrible editing that never really cared about transitions or continuity.

4. One of the scenes that garnered the biggest laughs from the audience included a cassette tape used to teach the alphabet to kids.

Sample phonics:

• A is for Animal
• B is for Beast
• C is for Ceasefire (huh?)
• D is for Dark Side (huwat?!)
• E is for Education
• F is for Freedom (nux!)

I suggest that the updated 2017 version include the following: O is for Ohmygulay, P is for Pisting yawa…

Also, this magical cassette knew exactly when to proceed to the next letter. It didn’t speak until after Alfred mimicked what it just said. Wow lang.

5. My favorite scene though included foreign delegates that volunteered to teach the young students in that far-flung barrio (they probably never heard that the place was as safe as Marawi so they travelled without any security). They were supposedly from different countries like Singapore or the US, but most of them looked like they came from Las Piñas.

I had to control a fart when one of them was asked why she decided to help and she replied with, “I would like to smell the fresh air of the forest.” Q is for Qiqil si acoe.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

BABY DRIVER (Edgar Wright, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Baby Driver:

1. That coffee shop scene early in the film where the barista smirked when Ansel Elgort said that his name was Baby reminded me of the time when I used to work as a manager for a customer service account in a call center. One of my basic tasks was to ensure that each associate got assigned an “appropriate”-sounding call name. The uniquely cool ones like Baby Juice or Shangri-La or Miracle Boy had to be changed into more “pleasant-sounding” generic nicknames. We also couldn’t use real names that sounded like terms of endearment such as Love, Sweetheart, Honey, and yes, just Baby (even if a quarter of our population probably used this as a name/nickname) lest callers began thinking that they actually dialled a phone sex hotline.

On a different note, I was so hooked on that B-A-B-Y song that I wanted to jump in my Subaru, put on my Wayfarer, and play that song on blast while driving around Commerce Ave. (okay, done with my social-climbing exercise for the day).

2. A lot of people would most likely look like an idiot doing that swaying dance routine with the windshield wipers, but Ansel had the right amount of charm to make it just the cutest thing ever. I could probably watch that one long continuous take of him singing and dancing during a coffee run on a loop for days. (Bonus na lang that he could also prepare a mean sandwich. Mukhang masarap sya.)

3. Aside from Monsters Inc. (“You and I are a team”), I was happy to see the references on my other faves here, like It’s Complicated, Fight Club, and The Little Rascals (although I still preferred the version of Alfalfa with his cowlick singing You Are So Beautiful to dear Darla).

4. Those impressive car stunts that could rival the ones in the Fast & Furious series! As if this movie wasn’t even cool and stylish enough already. More nganga lang ako. And that whole Tequila shoot-out. Worth the price of admission.

5. I knew that Jamie Foxx could not be trusted as soon as he showed up wearing that tacky King of Hearts sweater. I would rather trust that “puts the Asian in home invasion” guy even if he didn’t know the difference between Austin Powers’ Mike Meyers and Halloween’s Michael Meyers (or even Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees). Also, seeing those masks reminded me so much of the Betty Doll Bank Robbers from the underrated Sugar & Spice. Time for a rewatch.

6. Sorry Edgar Wright, but Prime Cruz beat you (twice!) on that colorful laundromat scene.

7. I had a bit of a problem with the last act when everything just went awry and people started growing a conscience. And inasmuch as I adored Debora (Lily Collins), I wasn’t completely sold on the romance and the idea that they fell in love even before their second date.

8. Baby cleverly used music to drown out the terrible memories of a traumatic event in his life. That definitely wouldn’t work with me since my playlist would mostly be weepies by Celine Dion and Sarah Geronimo huhuhu.

Rating: ★★★★☆

KIKO BOKSINGERO (Thop Nazareno, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Kiko Boksingero:

1. In the same way that men would never understand the pains of menstrual cramps or childbirth, I think women wouldn’t also fully realize the physical and psychological effects of circumcision. The humiliation of being called supot, the mixed fear and anticipation of that chosen summer, the embarrassment in asking your father to accompany you to the nearest hospital, the excruciating agony of walking around in XXXL basketball shorts, and the horror of letting your mother (mine’s a nurse huhu!) tend to your wounded member (in full kamatis mode) would always be an essential and memorable part of a young Pinoy boy’s rite of passage.

2. In one touching scene, Kiko (the endearing Noel Comia, Jr.) was explaining to his estranged dad George (a terrific Yul Servo) that all the other boys in his school got circumcised the previous summer and that he missed it because he didn’t have a father to go with him. It was such a simple moment, but heartbreaking enough to make me text a single mom friend about how sad it made me feel and that I would be willing to be a proxy circumcision father for her son as needed.

The scene ended on a light note with George joking about the high medical fee (“Sana pala sa albularyo na kita dinala. Ako nga pukpok lang. Kita mo ang laki na!”) and it just made everything feel really genuine.

3. It was this kind of authenticity that made this perfectly-told coming-of-age film really special. It could have easily gone the typical Pinoy melodrama route, but it decided to keep things very straightforward. There were no big moments, no acting highlights, no twists, no spoonfeeding of explanations, no unnecessary frills, no pretensions and yet it kept me thinking and made me burst with emotions (yes, I sobbed like crazy) as soon as the end credits rolled.

4. I really loved the movie’s take on a modern family. We were basically just watching Kiko and Yaya Diday (Yayo Aguila) do the most ordinary things (the scene where she applied baby powder on his neck and placed a bimpo on his back took me back to my grade school days).

I smiled every time she lovingly corrected him on his lack of manners (“Para kang sira”, “Para kang sira PO”) and laughed every time she would complain that she should have picked him up from school, but never really bothered to do so.

Yayo (in a career-best performance) fully captured the essence of her character and it would make everyone wish that they had a Yaya Diday to comfort them during times of trouble and force them to eat their veggies every meal time.

5. In one emotional scene, a heartbroken Kiko (abandoned yet again) and Yaya Diday hugged each other while we were treated to a majestic view of the Baguio landscape at night. Definitely one of the best moments in Pinoy cinema this year.

6. Originally titled Pacboy and supposedly about a kid’s quest to look for his father Manny Pacquaio, I was actually happy with all of the creative changes (I heard that the legendary boxer didn’t approve of the story). Since the updated plot just had him as Kiko’s favorite boxer, it further highlighted the difference between his hero worship vs idol worship. This was even more obvious when George asked Kiko if he wanted to be the next Pacquaio and his smart retort was, “Ayoko maging senador”. Now that was a knockout line.

Rating: ★★★★★

Cinemalaya 2017 Scorecard

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I wasn’t surprised that the general consensus on this year’s line-up was that of disappointment. One friend made a joke that Cinemalaya seemed to be a festival of diminishing returns. Majority of the selections this year would have a tough time disproving that thought.

Luckily though, there would always be a gem (or two) that’d restore your faith and make you believe that even with a limited budget and lack of big stars, our talented local indie filmmakers could create quality films that deserved our continued support.

Here’s my #Cinemalaya2017 festival scorecard:

Best Feature-Length Film

1. KIKO BOKSINGERO (Thop Nazareno) – ★★★★★

2. RESPETO (Alberto Monteras II) – ★★★★☆

3. NABUBULOK (Sonny Calvento) – ★★★☆☆
4. BAGAHE (Zig Dulay) – ★★★☆☆

5. BACONAUA (Joseph Israel Laban) – ★★☆☆☆
6. SA GABING NANAHIMIK ANG MGA KULIGLIG (Iar Arondaing) – ★★☆☆☆
7. ANG PAMILYANG HINDI LUMULUHA (Mes de Guzman) – ★★☆☆☆

8. REQUITED (Nerissa Picadizo) – ★☆☆☆☆
9. ANG GURO KONG ‘DI MARUNONG MAGBASA (Perry Escaño) – ★☆☆☆☆

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

1. NOEL COMIA, JR. (Kiko Boksingero)
2. ABRA (Respeto)

*Special Mention: RONWALDO MARTIN (Sorry for the Inconvenience)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

1. ANGELI BAYANI (Bagahe)
2. GINA ALAJAR (Nabubulok)
3. ELORA ESPAÑO (Baconaua)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

1. DIDO DELA PAZ (Respeto)
2. YUL SERVO (Kiko Boksingero)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

1. YAYO AGUILA (Kiko Boksingero)
2. CHAI FONACIER (Respeto)
3. MOI BIEN (Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha)
4. THERESE MALVAR (Baconaua)
5. RACQUEL VILLAVICENCIO (Bagahe)

Best Short Film

1. SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE (Carl Adrian Chavez) – ★★★★☆

2. HILOM (P.R. Patindol) – ★★★☆☆
3. MARIA (JP Habac) – ★★★☆☆
4. FATIMA MARIE TORRES AND THE INVASION OF SPACE SHUTTLE PINAS 25 (Carlo Francisco) – ★★★☆☆
5. LOLA LOLENG (Che Tagyamon) – ★★★☆☆

6. NAKAW (Arvin Belarmino, Noel Escondo) – ★★☆☆☆
7. BAWOD (TM Malones) – ★★☆☆☆
8. ISLABODAN (Juan Carlo Tarobal) – ★★☆☆☆
9. JUANA AND THE SACRED SHORES (Antonne Santiago) – ★★☆☆☆
10. ALIENS ATA (Glenn Barit) – ★★☆☆☆
11. MANONG NG PA-ALING (E. del Mundo) – ★★☆☆☆

12. NAKAUWI NA (Marvin Cabangunay, Jaynus Olaivar) – ★☆☆☆☆

Until next year!!

CINEMALAYA – SHORTS A (2017)

SPOILER ALERT!!

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FATIMA MARIE TORRES AND THE INVASION OF SPACE SHUTTLE PINAS 25 (Carlo Francisco Manatad, 2017) – ★★★☆☆

Although the title was as subtle as Jason Mraz’s Waiting for My Rocket to Come, there were still a lot of funny bits here that kept me erect, er, entertained in my seat.

I was supposed to question why the old couple was watching Kris and Biiiiimb on Tonight with Boy Abunda in broad daylight, but there were far crazier things happening on their side of the world (crashing dildo, floating knife, luggage with a chastity alarm, vagina moon).

Did the license for Dayang Dayang cost the production a fortune? I wish the old lady danced what she learned from zumba during that Christmas lights scene.

Nice enough, but lacked an impressive girth.

*****

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SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE (Carl Adrian Chavez, 2017) – ★★★★☆

Anong meron si Ronwaldo Martin? What makes him so watchable (enigmatic?) every single time? In this short, he barely had any lines, but the grit and emotions were definitely palpable.

A fascinating look at masculinity defined by a Pinoy patriarchal society, where the bond between a boy and his father could only be felt through a common desire/need for violence. Powerful stuff!

*****

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LOLA LOLENG (Che Tagyamon, 2017) – ★★★☆☆

Reminded me a lot of the equally affecting Manang Biring (hey, how about an animated film about other relatives?). The crude animation worked really well for the story, although the sound design felt a bit off.

Another reason to fear family reunions, but more than that, another reason to fear the emerging short-term memories of people vis a vis historical revisionisms. #NeverForget

*****

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ALIENS ATA (Glenn Barit, 2017) – ★★☆☆☆

The aerial shots felt too gimmicky and couldn’t quite justify the lack of a strong narrative. It reminded me so much of those trips to the National Museum and watching moving dioramas. Not my kind of voyeurism.

*****

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ISLABODAN (Juan Carlo Tarobal, 2017) – ★★☆☆☆

Remember the Daily Prophet in Harry Potter with all the moving pictures? This short felt exactly like that, except that it was a literal comic book film. The multiple panels with their abrupt stop-and-go motions were too distracting. It was a novel idea that just didn’t fully work onscreen.

That climactic Captain America: Civil War-like showdown between the two gangs had me in stitches for all the wrong reasons.

Also, for a comic book movie, this one included my ultimate peeve: wonky subtitles.

*****

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MANONG NG PA-ALING (E. del Mundo, 2017) – ★★☆☆☆

Had some excellent underwater photography, and not much else. I still couldn’t figure out why Manong had to remove three pieces of underwear for his shower scene while his fantasy mermaid slash dead wife wore nude-colored panties. Ehh.

CINEMALAYA – SHORTS B (2017)

SPOILER ALERT!!

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JUANA AND THE SACRED SHORES (Antonne Santiago, 2017)

Similar to Pina, this dance film was just too artsy for my basic tastes. Kwento ko na lang sa inyo mga bes.

So merong long-legged Ate Dyosa na nag-trip magsayaw sa maduming batis. Biglang dumating si Gluta Koya na may dalang santol at more join sa ballet nya. Nagpagulong-gulong sila sa putikan at nagtastas ng damit. Biglang may Grindr notif si Koya so itinigil nya ang pagkaladkad kay Ate Dyosa na naninilaw na. Paggising nya, naka-blusang itim na sya at nagpapaligo si Gluta Koya ng isang bata.

Tungkol ba ito sa colonialism? Oppression of women? Dance as art form? Ang deep, men!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

*****

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MARIA (JP Habac, 2017)

Aka the Reproductive Health Law Movie.

From the opening breakfast scene with a dozen children of all ages grabbing for the remaining food on the table, to the endless petty fights between the siblings (that would put Bunak and Bilog to shame), to the mother giving birth yet again to her twenty-nth baby inside a tricycle, it was enough for me to wish for an instant vasectomy.

Strong message and good production values, but it just fell short from being a public service announcement.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

*****

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NAKAW (Arvin Belarmino, Noel Escondo, 2017)

Single take, poverty porn, murky lighting, shaky cam, gratuitous sex and violence, social relevance, Kristoffer King. This short was able to tick everything off the Brillante Mendoza-lite checklist. Didn’t really feel necessary.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

*****

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HILOM (P.R. Patindol, 2017)

There was something sweet and completely unsettling between the bond of the young twin brothers in this short. When Blue Twin developed a stronger friendship with another boy, you could actually feel the jealousy of Pink Twin. At the end of the day though (and amidst the malicious gay accusations), blood was still thicker than water.

Solid production values all-throughout. I just wish it didn’t hold back and ventured darker than expected.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

*****

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BAWOD (TM Malones, 2017)

Although I liked the initial focus on the charming relationship between the grandfather and his thirteen year old granddaughter (especially the opening sequence with their constant banter that ended up in a carabao ride), it failed to capitalize on this and instead chose to take a philosophical route (similar to that clichéd bamboo metaphor).

The ending made me scratch my dandruff-free head.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

*****

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NAKAUWI NA (Marvin Cabangunay, Jaynus Olaivar, 2017)

A well-intentioned short dealing with extrajudicial killings that was tough to watch given its crude technical aspects. It was like watching a Powerpoint presentation that would always fade to black before moving on to the next flashback scene. Most of the performances were terrible (the part where the friends delivered the bad news to the father was cringe-worthy). The blatant audio issues were also very distracting and in the only scene that was meant to be affecting, the musical score started to swell before the sappy theme song was played.

Maiiyak na sana ako sa dulo nang biglang lumabas ang multo ng napatay na anak. It was probably meant to be sentimental, but I walked out of the cinema laughing instead.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

NABUBULOK (Sonny Calvento, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Nabubulok:

1. Whatever happened to that Anti-Chismis Law? In a country powered by daily gossip (ranging from the newest kabit of your neighbor to the escapades of the resident office slut to the questionable sexual preference of a popular matinee idol), could that even be successfully implemented?

The great Jessica Zafra once said that we could never breed serial killers in our country because we’re a nation of nosy people. Secrets could never be kept for long in a community since Pinoys are naturally suspicious of the littlest odd behaviours of others.

This was the very first thing that came to mind while watching this mystery-thriller (in my mind, more of a dark comedy slash social commentary) about an American accused of killing his Pinay wife and how he was subjected to a public trial by chismis (or was it?).

2. How apt that the gossip started from local labandera Aling Ingrid (a brilliant Gina Alajar, her “Putang Ina” scene alone deserved a Balanghai), who smelled something rotten emanating from the house next door and immediately concluded that her cousin Luna (Sue Prado) was killed by foreigner husband Jason (Billy Ray Gallion).

She then had the audacity to ask her son (“Rockyyyyy!!”) to climb a tree just to check on their shady neighbor (in this scene, they were talking too loudly not to get noticed, though). When the seed of doubt was planted, it was funny and ultimately scary to see just how fast it grew and spread around the xenophobic town.

3. Definitely not happy that characters in Pinoy films named Jason always turned out to be villains and this was no exception. Fortunately, they were mostly good-looking and the one here resembled Hugh Jackman in his younger Logan days.

4. I had some problems with the bad lighting especially since most of the scenes were shot at night and I strained my eyes trying to decipher what was happening onscreen. It almost ruined that exciting trespassing sequence with Rommel (JC Santos, required to go topless in one scene).

Also, was the Harper family actually living in complete darkness? Was that why the policemen never bothered to turn on any of the lights when they searched the house?

The day shots were just as bad since one couldn’t even see what was written on cellphone screens. I expected the washed out colors for added effect, but it shouldn’t require a visit to an opthalmologist after.

5. This movie had the balls to actually associate the Duterte administration with the current vigilante culture. The President’s face was plastered everywhere, even on a killer’s shirt. I guess that smell of decay might be coming from the current state of our society as well.

6. Some of the subtitles weren’t in sync with what the characters were saying. In one scene, the word “Motherfucker” was shown, but nobody was actually cursing. ‘Nak ng tokwa!

7. The funniest moments were just from some random lines delivered by extras:

• Horny Ate entering the internet cafe: “Kuya, one hours!”

• Single Ate on a boyfriend that she met through a miraculous santo: “Magpapa-free taste na ako sa kanya!”

• Host of a gay beauty pageant: “Thank you Anne Curtis. Next we have Champagne Morales!” (I was the only one who really laughed out loud during this part because I could still remember the Metropop rivalry between Champagne and Roxanne “Roxee B!” Barcelo, surely the Pia Wurtzbach of singing competitions.)

8. What was up with that rushed Calvento Files ending? Did we really need a title card to explain what happened to each character? Whatever happened to the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule of film?

Rating: ★★★☆☆

SA GABING NANAHIMIK ANG MGA KULIGLIG (Iar Lionel Arondaing, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Sa Gabing Nanahimik ang mga Kuliglig:

1. It was probably during the scene where Hector (Ricky Davao) was wailing over the corpse of his wife Dolores (Mercedes Cabral) that I realized I had watched something similar to this before. It looked very much like the same red herring thrown around in another murder-mystery set in a swampland.

My suspicion was further confirmed when self-confessed killer Magda (Angel Aquino) had that fantastical dream sequence where she ended up seeing a floating dead body that actually turned out to be her. Yes, I was definitely watching a version of Sam Raimi’s The Gift, except that the supernatural element was replaced by a religious theme. Nyek!

2. I shouldn’t even be complaining that the movie chose to head into that direction because I initially thought I was watching Senakulo: The Movie and it would really be Easter Sunday 2018 by the time it completed the twelve stations of the cross (thankfully, it abandoned that concept while I was close to nodding off right around the fourth station).

How could I forget these Bible stories when I would often volunteer to lead the prayer of the rosary done before and after breaks every October (rosary month!) in Zobel? My favorite part was the Sorrowful Mysteries because I got to play different characters and I always made sure that I gave each one a distinct voice. My rosary-praying career ended though when I read the line “Crucify him!” as “Cruci-fee him!” and one classmate laughed so loud and mocked me in front of the whole class that I felt very much like Mary Magdalene.

3. Those were some really odd framing choices. I wasn’t a big fan of seeing the characters occupying a quarter of the screen and talking in one corner. Nothing really wrong with that, it was just too AHRT(!!) for my basic sensibilities.

4. I really liked how this tackled the Seal of Confession and that priests were not allowed to disclose any information divulged to them vis a vis the separation of the Church and State. So basically a murderer could confess his crime to a priest and receive absolution for his sin, but the best that the priest could do was suggest that the killer turn himself over to the police. Did I understand that correctly? Why didn’t that sit well with my heart and brain?

5. How could Dolores be married to Hector for twenty years when Mercedes didn’t even look a day over thirty? Did she get pregnant at the ripe old age of ten?

6. Gorgeous (gorgeous!) cinematography. More reasons to visit Cuyo Island in Palawan.

7. I felt a bit disappointed when the focus shifted to Dolores’ son Lester (Jess Mendoza), who had to deliver cringe-worthy lines while giving the corpse of his mother a sponge bath (“Ang mukhang ito ang una kong nasilayan…”, “Ang mga brasong ito ang yumakap sa akin…”). I swore to myself that if he were to make punas every body part and deliver a Juan Miguel Severo-like poem for each, I would surely walk out (especially if he would reach the “Sa pepeng ito ako lumabas…”).

8. Sitting through this ordeal should serve as my penance for the entire year, yes?

Rating: ★★☆☆☆