JUST A STRANGER (Jason Paul Laxamana, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Just a Stranger:

1. Sobrang tagal na pala since my last confession. (Mababasa ito ng nanay ko kaya, Sorry ma, I’m not proud of it.) Feeling ko sa haba ng listahan ng kasalanan na ikukumpisal ko, baka mauna pa matapos ang Probinsyano bago ang pag-uusap namin ni Father.

Eh paano pa kung kasing-chismoso siya ng pari dun sa simbahan ni Mae (Anne Curtis) na nagpa-kuwento ng bawat detalye ng adulterous affair niya with Jekjek (Marco Gumabao)? Yung inabot sila ng halos dalawang oras kasi kelangan niya talaga malaman kung ilang beses nag-sex yung mga cheater bago maka-prescribe ng penance (one Hail Mary ba ang norm for every instance?).

Tapos kelangan may comic relief na sisilipin niya kung gaano talaga kaganda si cougar Mae na nahumaling sa kanya ang isang teenager. At para mas nakakatawa, may reaction siya na “My God! Oh shit, sorry!” na feeling ko katumbas ng isang Sorrowful Mystery. Okay ka lang ba, Father?

(Pero salamat sa refresher on the difference between mortal and venial sins, I guess.)

2. Bilang dating president ng Reyster-Ems Fans Club – Las Piñas Chapter, alam ko na ka-love team ni Anne sa T.G.I.S. si Chubi del Rosario (who was several batches lower sa akin sa Zobel) so parang ang hirap maniwala na she was playing somebody around my age. Common naman for actors to play roles na way older or younger than their actual (or screen) age pero may binabagayan din siguro.

Hindi ko talaga matanggap na 40ish na si Anne dito at doble ng edad ni Marco (na mukha namang mid-20s). Malayong-malayo sa casting ng recent May-December love affairs na kakapanood ko lang from Glorious (Angel Aquino-Tony Labrusca) to Belle Douleur (Mylene Dizon-Kit Thompson) to Malamaya (Sunshine Cruz-Enzo Pineda).

Ang off lang nung tinawag si Mae na “tita” at tinawag niya namang “totoy” si Jekjek kasi papasa pa silang halos magkaedad (does that make me “lolo” levels ganern?). Hindi ba available si Alice Dixson?

3. Maliban sa kabit factor, selling point ng pelikula ang promised steamy love scenes na hindi ko naman masyadong naramdaman. Sobrang hot nina Anne and Marco (as in yung sexual attraction sa kanila transcends any gender; their characters even shamelessly described themselves as “attractive, winnable, charismatic”) pero parang walang heat or passion kapag magkasama na sila sa kama (or their chosen place of torjakan).

Konting halik, konting himas, tapos na agad ang eksena at pawisan na sila parehong nakahiga. I didn’t expect naman na dapat super graphic, extended, or gratuitous ang sex scenes pero at the very least ramdam yung electricity between them as soon as their bodies touched, diba? Yung parang kelangan mo ng cold shower para mahimasmasan katulad nung pagkatapos ko mapanood ang Unfaithful.

Pero wala talaga eh. Baka dun pumapasok na para nga silang mag-tita. (Btw, ang weird nung “Mobile Legends” reference.)

4. Given naman na magaling umarte si Anne. Kita mo yung loneliness sa mata niya bilang trophy wife kaya nagawa niyang lokohin ang kanyang asawa (Edu Manzano). (Side note: Bakit nga ba hindi issue ang age gap sa atin kapag lalaki ang mas matanda?)

May hint of repressed naughtiness din siya kaya madalas mag-give in sa temptations. Yung restrained niya na pag-iyak sa balcony scenes were impressive. Also, parang siya lang ang kayang magdala nung glamorous alta look pa rin habang nakasakay sa sidecar with her oversized abaniko.

Alam ko they were going for realism in terms of ugly crying (as in uhog levels ni Tita Viola Davis) pero nagtawanan (at nandiri?) ang mga tao nung nag-stretch na parang cheese sa pizza ang laway niya habang umiiyak sa kitchen. Not a fan of her acting din sa eulogy dream sequence.

5. On the other hand, okay lang ang performance ni Marco. Hindi naman siya nilamon (even literally) ni Anne. Medyo malamya lang talaga ang acting niya when the role required an immature, feeling alpha-male boy. Yung kelangan ng conviction ang pag-overcompensate niya sa sarili with lines like “You guys can take turns on me, I can go all night” kahit alam mo lalabasan talaga siya after 30 seconds. At least believable siya magsuot ng brief.

(Also, I’m officially declaring 2019 as the Year of the Cinematic Pwet.)

6. Tbh medyo nagulat ako sa output ni Jason Paul Laxamana this time kasi maayos siya na writer at storyteller. Yung tipong aawayin ka niya on social media pero wala kang malait masyado sa body of work niya kasi usually nga malinis talaga ang mga gawa niya (my favorites are still Mercury is Mine and Bakwit Boys).

Dito parang ang sloppy ng screenplay pati technical aspects. May sub-plot about Mae’s fibromyalgia na walang pinatunguhan. May eksena na nagtanggal siya ng heels in full view of other guests kahit sobrang sophisticated ng character niya. Minsan hindi ko alam kung gusto nilang maging discreet or mahuli ng ibang tao (part ba ng thrill yung naglaplapan sila sa kotseng wala namang tint?). Bigla na lang hindi na issue ang age gap nung dulo.

Pero ang worst for me was the ending. Grabe lang yung cringe factor dun na may linyahang “Who are you?” tapos sumagot si Mae ng “No one…” at nakisabay ang buong sinehan sa pagsabi ng “I’m just a stranger”. Juskopong mahabagin.

7. Cherie Gil was onscreen for a good five minutes and ended up as the most memorable character. Eksenadora ang tita mo talaga. Oh wait, don’t call her tita pala!

(At teka, naguluhan ako nung nilandi ni Edu si Cherie kasi apparently he was “into women (his) own age” pero si Mae ang asawa niya. Ano ba talaga ang type niya?)

8. Irita ako dun sa girlfriend na Febbie simula nung fake surprise scene niya (na ewan ko paano siya nagtago sa likod ng parents ni Jekjek) hanggang dun sa chaka niya na pag-iyak sa church. Mas bagay siguro yung girl sa role ni Diablita (the doll).

9. Ang pinaka-suspension of disbelief talaga para sa akin dito (maliban sa supposed age gap) ay yung super rich kid ni Jekjek kasi sinustentuhan siya ng tatay niya para tumira sa Tokyo, Washington, at Lisbon tapos ang suot niya lagi na undies eh Bench Body.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Cinemalaya 2016 Scorecard

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After a one year hiatus for feature length films (with only shorts shown last year), expectations (mine, especially) were really high for this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. Its theme of “Break the Surface” and hilariously brutal ad (“Gusto mo ba ng iba?”) further added to the hype and excitement.

I was happy that several films this year tried to be different, even if some failed in execution. This year’s selections didn’t reach the highs of 2012, but it was nice to see that they were polarizing at best. People’s opinions varied greatly and generated a lot of discussions. And regardless of differing standpoints, everyone agreed on one thing: that we have some of the finest actors and actresses (both ingenues and veterans) in the entire world.

With that said, here’s my festival scorecard:

Best Feature-Length Film

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1. TUOS (Derick Cabrido) – ★★★★★

Napakahusay!!

A lot of people will get turned off by the dream-like narrative of Tuos, which included deeply-rooted Pinoy folklore, breaking traditions, a tribal dance by La Aunor, gorgeous animation set to Banaue Miclat’s haunting voice, and a hung tikbalang. I was just enthralled.

Is it even possible to upstage THE Superstar? Well, Barbie Forteza just did. Such a talented young actress!!

 

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2. PAMILYA ORDINARYO (Eduardo Roy, Jr.) – ★★★★☆

Gritty, filthy, and riveting. It needed a bit of trimming, but had solid performances from the entire ensemble.

Loved the deafening silence of the CCTV shots that always served as a witness to an ongoing crime.

Hasmine Killip was a revelation. Ang bigat sa dibdib (pun intended) ng eksena sa police station. Grabe lang.

Was the cardboard sex scene a nod to Kuya Coco Martin’s dirty copulation scene in Serbis?

“Hindi porket bakla mabuting tao.” Best line in the film. And probably in this year’s festival.

 

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3. MERCURY IS MINE (Jason Paul Laxamana) – ★★★★☆

An enjoyably weird ride that unfortunately went off the rails in its final twenty minutes.

I loved the screenplay because it didn’t try too hard to be funny. It also hit the jackpot with Pokwang who was truly phenomenal here.

Bret Jackson finally gave a decent performance. He had an easygoing charm that suited the role and (please don’t scoff) actually reminded me of a manic Leonardo DiCaprio.

Overall, this was a definite crowd-pleaser and I wouldn’t be surprised if it snagged the Audience Choice award.

 

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4. HIBLANG ABO (Ralston Jover) – ★★☆☆☆

At times, it felt like I was an old man wasting away on my deathbed. Sigh.

Looked like an experiment of techniques, but I liked the chemistry among the four veteran leads (Lou Veloso was exceptional).

 

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5. KUSINA (Cenon Palomares, David Corpuz) – ★★☆☆☆

Thank heavens for Judy Ann Santos since this dish went cold and sour really quick.

It felt like a Film student fell in love with Dogville and then staged his own high school production.

 

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6. DAGSIN (Atom Magadia) – ★★☆☆☆

Like The Notebook turned Philippine History lesson. Tedious and thirty minutes overlong.

It was hard to fully appreciate the fine performance of Tommy Abuel when I was trying not to giggle lest I wake up the sleeping people.

Benjamin Alves acts very much like Piolo Pascual, no?

 

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7. ANG BAGONG PAMILYA NI PONCHING (Inna Salazar Acuna, Dos Ocampo) – ★★☆☆☆

It only worked because of the wonderful (and woefully underrated) Janus del Prado. I liked the sweet little moments with Lola Ludivina, but the rest of the (family) cast, especially Tita Arianna, were just terrible.

For such a rich family, they didn’t have a lot to do except lounge around in their sala or kitchen, no? Too gullible pa.

At least it made me crave for the natural oiliness of Ludy’s Peanut Butter. Is it still available in supermarkets?

 

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8. I AMERICA (Ivan Andrew Payawal) – ★★☆☆☆

Like The Comeback, this one just couldn’t decide on the right tone. Except for the funny opening audition, the rest just strained for laughs and tears. Carabao English just doesn’t cut it anymore.

So Olongapo is a place where crushed dreams get brushed off and serious problems just magically disappear. Great.

I also couldn’t understand the choice of the shaky cam. The last fifteen minutes were really brutal to the eyes.

 

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9. LANDO AT BUGOY (Vic Acedillo, Jr.) – ★★☆☆☆

Nothing made sense to me. Badly needed reshoots, too.

I felt really bad for Allen Dizon because he tried his best to salvage something that was dead on arrival.

RIP.

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

1. LOU VELOSO (Hiblang Abo)
2. TOMMY ABUEL (Dagsin)
3. JANUS DEL PRADO (Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching)
4. RONWALDO MARTIN (Pamilya Ordinaryo)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

1. BARBIE FORTEZA (Tuos)
2. POKWANG (Mercury is Mine)
3. NORA AUNOR (Tuos)
4. HASMINE KILLIP (Pamilya Ordinaryo)
5. JUDY ANN SANTOS (Kusina)

*Special Mention: CHAI FONACIER (Get Certified)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

1. NANDING JOSEF (Hiblang Abo)
2. MATT DACLAN (Hiblang Abo)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

1. LOTLOT DE LEON (Dagsin)
2. ELIZABETH OROPESA (I America)

 

Best Short Film
1. FOREVER NATIN (Cyrus Valdez) – ★★★★★

Forever Natin was such a realistically honest depiction of a lesbian relationship. It broke my heart into a million tiny pieces. I just wish the sound was much better.

2. FISH OUT OF WATER (Mon Garilao) – ★★★★☆

My other fave in this group was the technically impressive Fish Out of Water, about a Filipino-Korean boy trying to find his space and purpose in a foreign homeland. It was alienating in the best possible sense.

3. PEKTUS (Isabel Quesada) – ★★★★☆

I did like the frantic Pektus and its impeccable cast of character actors (Nonie Buencamino, among others). Malinis ang pagkakagawa, including the subtitles. It made me look forward to the director’s future full-length feature.

4. GET CERTIFIED (Isaias Zantua) – ★★★☆☆

The brilliant Chai Fonacier made me look forward to the afterlife in Get Certified. All the craziness in the film (including Hitler as hell’s version of San Pedro) just couldn’t keep up with its star.

5. NAKAUWI NA (John Relano, Patrick Baleros, Luis Hidalgo) – ★★★☆☆

Nakauwi Na would’ve been more effective if I didn’t see the same theme in Cheska Salangsang’s Saanman Ngunit Dito, shown during this year’s CineFilipino. Made me wonder if I still had all of my old mix tapes.

6. BUGTAW (Noah del Rosario) – ★★☆☆☆

The animation-infused Bugtaw only got interesting towards the end, when fantasy and reality started to meld.

7. ANG HAPON NI NANDING (Milo Tolentino) – ★★☆☆☆

Ang Hapon ni Nanding was the story of a latent homosexual finding solace in the company of an orphan with a broken neck. It also made me want to break all sorts of furniture for attention.

8. ANG MAANGAS, ANG MARIKIT, AT ANG MAKATA (Ibarra Guballa) – ★★☆☆☆

Ang Maangas, Ang Marikit, at Ang Makata was over-the-top silly and not in a good way. It involved crazy dancing, double entendre harana, and fake wooden machetes. Not my cup of bourbon.

9. BUTAS (Richard Cawed) – ★★☆☆☆

Although it had good intentions (a tribute to Benguet miners) and had its heart on its sleeve, Butas reminded me so much of that local broadsheet’s ad shown before the actual movie. All it needed in the end was a copy of the front page.

10. MANSYONG PAPEL (Ogos Aznar) – ★★☆☆☆

Mansyong Papel was saved by the menacing performance of Odette (O-deht, not Oh-det) Khan. The story was a complete mess, just like the subtitles. How heavy was the three hundred million in cash and who was that terrible actress that played the daughter?

Until next year!!