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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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: ★☆☆☆☆

FANGIRL/FANBOY (Barry Gonzalez, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Fangirl/Fanboy:

1. In one scene, a supposedly talented dubber Aimee (Ella Cruz) was not allowed to enter the studio because she forgot her company ID. To prove that she actually worked there (as a “Dubberkads”, wenk wenk), she mimicked the voices of her famous characters such as Shan Cai of Meteor Garden and Princess Sarah of Patatas Kingdom. The problem though was that she didn’t sound anywhere close to them and it was very much like Ella Cruz doing terrible impersonations that would make Miss Minchin furious.

Even worse, when she dubbed the lines for her Korean robot character Sandy/Android 5000 (Yam Concepcion), it seemed that they used another person’s voice in lieu of Ella’s. So we had a Koreanovela character dubbed by a dubber character who was also dubbed by another real person? Confused yet? Was this supposed to be the Inception of dubbing?

2. Even with a half-decent story, it was just hard to buy the romance between Aimee and Ollie (Julian Trono) because the leads had zero chemistry. There were instances when it felt like I was watching siblings flirt with each other and it just made me squirm in my seat.

Maybe it was because Ella still looked like a kid (Aryana feels!) so it was weird seeing her sexualized by wearing a French maid costume (why did she even own one in the first place?). It was like a scene straight out of Toddlers and Tiaras.

There was also something off with Julian and his slo-mo pa-cute scenes that reminded me of Michael Jackson in Moonwalker.

When the two were having fun running around a fountain (drone shots galore!), it was the same kind of happiness I saw between Jocelyn and Jervy in Mga Batang Yagit. Now where was Xian Gaza when you actually needed him?

3. Aimee’s mom (a sublime Yayo Aguila): “Anong nangyayari sa’yo?”

Aimee (kinikilig): “Ay, wala po. May ipis kasi.”

Aimee’s mom: “Ipis?! Nasaan?!”

Aimee: “Ay, ayun po. Lumipad palabas. Feeling butterfly eh.”

Wenk, wenk, wenk.

4. Given their huge height difference, how did Aimee end up kissing Ollie on the lips when she got hit by that fire exit door? Napatalon ang mga labi sa takot? Para-paraan? Hokage moves? (Yung totoo. Sa Adam’s apple ni Ollie sya dapat nasalubsob.)

5. I felt bad that Aimee was given a gay bff (trope) that proved useless to her. When they were having a discussion regarding that unfortunate (?) kiss, she asked his advice if it actually meant something and his response was, “Wala nang panget ngayon. Marami na lang tamad mag-ayos.” Huh?! Whatever happened to a gay character being the voice of reason in rom-coms? You were supposed to be her friend, not her pimp. Bakla ka ng taon!

6. I liked how the movie touched on the Koreanovela craze and the local industry’s expectations on love teams. I wish they could have done more than just provide basic observations. Also, why were they already shooting a local remake of that Program to Love show when the original was still being shown?

7. I wouldn’t want to work in that studio that seemed to receive bomb threats every week. Hindi sapat ang HMO para sa stress at near-death stampede experience.

8. As always, Shy Carlos (as bitchy diva Cheska) was the highlight of the movie. Along with her entourage (personal assistant Donnalyn Bartolome and twin set of alalays), she effectively wreaked havoc over everything that stood in her path (literally and figuratively). I laughed so hard when she delivered the line, “Aminin mo nga sa kin. Girlfriend mo ba ‘tong jej fangirl na ‘to?” Seriously, we need her in all Viva movies.

9. Librarian to Aimee after the latter misplaced a History book: “Kelan pa naging fiction ang History?”

Aimee: “Kapag ‘di mo na alam ang guni guni sa katotohanan.”

Ehrm. I was more troubled that Aimee ruined the Dewey Decimal System.

10. So Aimee suffered a mild heart attack after Ollie acted all Judas Iscariot and denied (three times?) that she was his girlfriend. But then Ollie retaliated against Cheska and blamed her for everything. His final, profound words: “Not everyone revolves around you and your heng-eps.” Huehuehuehue!!

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

THIS TIME (Nuel Naval, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on This Time:

1. I could easily relate to Ava’s (Nadine Lustre) hate for summer. It was bad enough that the six-pack abs that I wished for last Christmas did not magically show up this month in time for Laboracay (I hate you Santa!), this was also my dreaded season of extreme sunshine and salty sweating. Her reason was completely different from mine, of course: her assumed childhood boyfriend Coby only visited (and left her) every summer, but hey, if James Reid (How to be you po?) were to spend time with anyone even for just a day, that person would be eternally thankful. Show some gratitude girl! (You didn’t even wish that from Santa!)

2. With a coffin on display in their sala and with the family living in a funeral home (named Buhay Funeral Homes, naturally), I got a lot of the Six Feet Under vibe. Except that Frances Conroy never really danced like a loon around a corpse (although she should have).

The dining table was right next to the sala and the family had what looked like dinuguan and bopis for lunch. I could never imagine myself eating dinuguan and bopis inside a funeral home. Wait, I could never imagine myself eating dinuguan and bopis. Period.

3. The Buhay Family was supposed to be funny, but they were just annoying. Candy Pangilinan who was spectacular in Star Na Si Van Damme Stallone resorted back to her irritating tics as a comedian with the belief that the louder she said her line, the funnier it would be. (Uh, no.) Also, why did these supporting characters always say supposedly funny lines in unison? Are we forever stuck with this kind of comedy?

4. Nadine was really playing Marcelo Santos III with all her endless hugot lines and empty platitudes on love and long-distance relationships. These were some of her groan-worthy bon mots:

• “Ang love ay parang traffic. Susuot ka kung saan-saan pero mararating mo rin ang destinasyon mo.”

• “Sa pagiging loyal ko nga dapat may loyalty card na ako na may points eh.”

Of course her loud and shrill friends (Ultimate Kakaibabe Donnalyn Bartolome, etc.) had to contribute their own terrible lines that included this classic:

“Ang relationship na walang label, parang damit sa ukay. Ang labo!” (Huh? Malabo yung damit sa ukay? Labhan mo kasi teh!)

4. Why did Ava really hate summer? Cue flashback. Include a lengthy story about Ava and Coby as kids because we terribly need a filler to support such a simple love story. Flashbacks should have a comic book effect. The Marvel-er, the better. Throw in the Snapchat filters because they’re so cool nowadays! Wait, we need a beach scene. Ok, sa Japan naman! When does this flashback end? What? End na ng movie? Ano ‘to ukay? Bakit ang labo?

5. The only ice cream that ever existed in this universe was Selecta Cornetto. I was surprised that it didn’t have its own major billing in the credits. It had a more substantial role (and acted better) than Bret Jackson, to be honest.

6. The first young boy that played James didn’t look like him at all. The teenage Nadine, on the other hand, looked exactly like her because it was really Nadine, only in pigtails, dressed in overalls, and acting immature.

7. I couldn’t actually recall crying over the break-up of celebrities. Hmm, okay, I think I teared up a bit when Kris Aquino broke it off with Joey Marquez, but only because my ears could only handle all the STD talk.

In this movie, we knew the passage of time because Ava cried every time a celebrity couple called it quits (Jen & Brad, Zac & Vanessa). Oh, and also because of the local history on popular diseases (H1N1). Fortunately, there was no mention of STD.

8. Full disclosure: I had never really liked a JaDine movie. Diary ng Panget was icky and that Talk Back one made me wish I were dead. I became an instant fan because of On The Wings of Love, where their scorching chemistry was in full display. It was still here in this movie, only it wasn’t given enough to really shine. A great love team could only do so much to salvage terrible material. The first kiss didn’t elicit any kilig, the pottery scene was a bore, and the final painting scene (while they were wearing white, que horror said my OCD self!) was pure umay.

9. For the first time in Philippine cinema history, I saw the brilliant Ronnie Lazaro struggle in a role and it was for playing a gay guy who loved dogs. How sad. Speaking of, if you know a bachelor with dogs that they call babies and you’re wondering why he’s still single…

10. If there was one thing that I really liked here, it was that sweet little sub-plot involving Nova Villa and Freddie Webb (reminiscent of their romance in 1st Ko Si 3rd, or if you’re way older Chicks to Chicks). Their love story set amidst the cherry blossoms was everything that this movie wanted to be.

11. “Ayoko na kausap ang monitor, ayoko na kayakap ang iPad, ayoko na ka-kiss ang cellphone.” This line made me sad. Only because this girl was really cray. Eh di wag mo gawin, girl!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

GIRLFRIEND FOR HIRE (Vanessa de Leon, 2016

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My notes on Girlfriend for Hire:

1. It was only a couple of years ago when they showed Bride for Rent, a Star Cinema rom-com where a hilarious Kim Chiu played the beard of the wooden Xian Lim. She pretended to be his future bride because she desperately needed money and he plotted the whole charade to please his grandmother (and get his trust fund).

Girlfriend for Hire had the exact same plot. Nami (Yassi Pressman) needed scholarship money so she agreed to be the pretend girlfriend of Bryle (Andre Paras) whose desperate grandfather wanted him to continue their Stanford legacy.

Seriously though, why couldn’t these rich, decent, good-looking men land real girlfriends? Made me wonder if it was an equipment or gender issue. And why do these movies always involve renting/hiring women? May I suggest Boytoy for Lease with KC Concepcion and Piolo Pascual?

2. I found it off that Bryle kept treating Nami like shit and it was supposed to be funny and romantic. In one scene, he actually commanded her to “get down on (her) knees and give it to (him)”. In another scene, out of selos, he dragged her inside a room like Chris Brown being sweet to Rihanna. The worst was when he ate the only piece of chocolate strawberry cake that she was craving for. As a fat kid outside, I felt her physical and emotional pain.

3. I love the Yassi-Andre love team not only because they’re bagay but also because they’re not annoying actors (they even had the most genuine onscreen kiss in this movie). I guess I was surprised when the usually charming Andre was forced to let loose (eyes popping, nostrils flaring, spittle flying) and overact like he was auditioning for a The Mask sequel. In his previous (terrible) movies (Diary ng Panget, Your Place or Mine?), he was funny without even trying. I hope they get way better projects soon. Sayang ang potential.

4. I therefore conclude that the Ultimate Kakaibabe Donnalyn Bartolome is the new Nikki Valdez.

5. My favorite scenes in the movie were:

• When Bryle’s alta grandfather showed him a Powerpoint presentation (presumably made by a 6-year old) of the country’s eligible bachelorettes that he probably met in Cafe Havana

• When Nami mindlessly crossed the street under the pouring rain and Bryle almost hit her with his car and he screamed, “Anong ginagawa mo sa gitna ng ulan?” (Hindi talaga sa gitna ng kalsada??)

• When Nami took Bryle to a palengke and he had the gall to complain about his ruined outfit (white shorts and Toms) (Wait, sarado ba ang lahat ng supermarkets?)

• When Nami’s hot neighbor saw all the ingredients of pesto pasta (noodles, pesto sauce) and correctly guessed that she was preparing the said dish, she acted all shocked and asked, “Paano mo nalaman??” (Girl, it doesn’t take a chef to know that.)

6. Product placements galore. The SMDC sign (complete with Sarah G.’s face) was shown every thirty minutes. I think they even used the exact same room in The Breakup Playlist.

Also, after eating a heavy meal (three cups of rice and all), Bryle still ordered a Greenwich Barkada-Size Ultimate Overload and I knew that was what he ordered because the Greenwich delivery guy loudly said it at the door (“Hello Sir! Here’s your order of one Greenwich Barkada-Size Ultimate Overload!”). Now that got me hungry. Product placement worked.

7. You know this was a fantasy because the lovely Yassi still had her own makeover montage (when all she needed to do was comb her hair). Weirdly enough, she reminded me so much of Mailes Kanapi (please tell me I’m not crazy).

Also, Yassi preferred Andre’s baby fats over her abstastic neighbor (you immediately knew that she didn’t like hottie neighbor because she devoured an entire chicken right in front of him).

8. The last minute introduction of Shy Carlos as Bryle’s girlfriend didn’t serve any purpose except to ensure that the movie reached its quota of Viva talents.

Again, better movies for them, please!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆