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: ★☆☆☆☆

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: ★★★★★