BOOK REVIEW: THE COLLECTED STORIES OF JESSICA ZAFRA (Jessica Zafra, 2019)

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I already own copies of (and have devoured) both Manananggal Terrorizes Manila and The Stories So Far so the Php345 tag for the three new short stories in this collection is a bit much.

A good book to start your future Zafra addiction. For fans like myself, it’s just another pricey addition to our collection.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

MOVIE REVIEW: ANG HULING HENYA (Marlon Rivera, 2013)

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Bland, boring, and unfunny. Rufa Mae Quinto deserved so much better. Who wanted to see her oh so serious?

I couldn’t believe that Ang Huling Henya was from the same guy that gave us Ang Babae sa Septic Tank. They were on opposite ends of the comedy spectrum.

Quinto’s one of our finest comediennes but she just wasn’t in her element here. Booba’s not funny when she’s smart.

Aside from a clever bit involving Shaira Luna, Jessica Zafra and “Sen. Miriam”, the movie was almost devoid of laughs.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

(Originally published August 21, 2013.)

MOVIE REVIEW: SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES (Raya Martin, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

One character probably summed it up best when he mentioned that the others may have seen one too many Hollywood crime films since there were no serial killers in the Philippines (hail Queen Jessica Zafra!). Although this adaptation of the Palanca-winning novel by F.H. Batacan had a distinctly Pinoy setting (what screamed poverty more than the Payatas dumpsite?), nothing else felt authentic in this slow-paced procedural slash disappointing non-thriller.

I couldn’t get past the unnatural dialogue between the two conyo Jesuit priests (Nonie Buencamino and Sid Lucero). When the latter said something like “Nobody raised a stink?”, I just wanted to make tungga a bottle of holy water. Although these served well during one Atenista joke, the English conversations just felt (what did you call it again, Holden Caulfield?), ah yes, phony. Don’t get me started on the unnecessary (oh look we’re multilingual!) French talk.

Even the themes didn’t exactly break new ground. Inefficiency of our local crime units? Politicians taking advantage of the poor? Abusive power of the Church? Pedophile priests? Where was Joel Lamangan when you needed him? Worse, the big reveal of the killer felt very anticlimactic with the introduction of a last minute character (and not in a menacing Kevin Spacey in Se7en way) whose motives and modus weren’t fully explained.

At least it had the budget for a competent all-star cast, lovely cinematography and terrific production design (that fully captured the grimy late 90s aesthetics). It also obviously wasn’t a rushed production with a pre-keto diet Mae Paner (and was that the late Joy Viado in one scene?).

I got bored during the sluggish killer confession scene so I just imagined a more interesting version of the movie in my head. I renamed Buencamino’s Father Saenz as Father Science since he was a forensics expert anyway and with all the victims’ missing hearts and genitals, he sought the help of Kim Chiu’s Mayen who already had an experience with monsters that shove organs down people’s throats. Chito Roño’s Smaller and Smaller Bagwas, anyone?

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

MOVIE REVIEW: 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: ★★★☆☆

MOVIE REVIEW: ROOM (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Room:

1. If I were ever kidnapped by a cult and kept in an underground room or any tight, secluded space for the remainder of my life, I would immediately die within the first 48 hours from asphyxiation. Even the thought of it made me reach out for my inhaler. I had always been claustrophobic with the terrible luck of often getting trapped in elevators. My worst experiences involved long-haul flights inside the most spacious airplanes (and not even the strongest Benadryl could knock me out).

2. This movie reminded me so much of my favorite TV show of 2015, the hilarious Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt where a kidnapped woman reclaimed her freedom and slowly adjusted to her new life after 15 years of living in seclusion. Sadly, Room was no laughing matter and the pain and trauma felt by the mother and son victims were completely harrowing and depressing.

3. I loved how the film began with little Jack (played by the terrific Jacob Tremblay) saying good morning to everything inside the said room (“Hello plant! Hello chair!”). It was a clear sign that he had already adjusted in that cramped space and considered it his only world. Aside from his limited books and toys, his sources of entertainment were the old TV showing reruns of Dora the Explorer and the small skylight separating them from the outside world (which didn’t even exist for him). As an observer, it was really hard not to feel sadness, but also amazement by this kind of innocence.

4. The brilliant (now Oscar winner) Brie Larson played Ma, the dutiful mother held captive by a stranger and now struggling to keep the two of them alive while shielding him from the harsh realities of the world. When she decided to free themselves on Jack’s fifth birthday, I immediately understood all those nights of reading The Count of Monte Cristo and Alice in Wonderland.

5. I wasn’t at all surprised that Jack didn’t want to leave his tiny world. I got why he threw a tantrum and defended that the room wasn’t stinky and was only such whenever Ma farted. The succeeding scenes showing them planning his escape (with a fiery shouting match) was completely heartbreaking.

6. I usually do not get excited in thrillers but I was literally on the edge of my seat during that escape sequence. It was so tense that people really screamed inside the theater. By the time Jack saw the sky for the first time, I was sobbing hysterically.

7. Brie’s parents here were William H. Macy and Joan Allen. With those genes, no wonder she was such a good actress.

8. After the adrenaline rush, I’m sure a lot of people will get turned off by the slow second half depicting the long-term effects and trauma of the captivity. I actually loved that part more because it showed all of the emotions and humanity of Ma and Jack and the other people around them (e.g. Ma’s father could not accept that Jack was a consequence of rape). One of the most painful realizations was when Ma got probed if she should have released Jack instead, saving him from further damage, and she accepted with much guilt that she wanted him to stay with her and that was the better (albeit selfish) decision.

9. “We all help each other stay strong. Nobody’s strong alone.”

10. I believe it was Jessica Zafra who mentioned that this kind of situation will never happen in our country given the nosy neighbors that we all have, where even our personal business is everyone’s business. As soon as they see someone going to a shed every day, tongues will start wagging and an investigation will immediately start. Hooray for our resident chismosas!

Rating: ★★★★★