BOY TOKWA: LODI NG GAPO (Tony Reyes, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Boy Tokwa: Lodi ng Gapo:

1. Anak ng tokwa! I was hoping for a palate cleanser after the mediocrity (to put it lightly) of the recently concluded Metro Manila Film Festival, but I ended up with this problematic garbage (to put it lightly) as my very first movie of 2019. Which shouldn’t be a surprise since I started 2018 with the stinker Haunted Forest and ended it with Jack Em Popoy: The Puliscredibles. Why break tradition, right?

2. The movie opened with a disclaimer that it was inspired by a true story, but any similarities to actual persons or events were purely coincidental. Was that supposed to be a joke? Like the opening scene with the announcement of the arrival of Cebu Pacific flight 5JX while a clip of (I think) a non-Cebu Pacific plane was landing at Clark International Airport?

3. The cast of young unknowns (half of which looked like they were part of the Sotto clan, since Tito Sotto was a producer) were just awful. Everyone talked like they were communicating with dogs that lived three blocks away from SM Southmall. The ones that played the local relatives had an American twang even if they were just explaining what ukay-ukay meant. One had the unfortunate task of delivering this line: “Lodi ng Gapo? Petmalu! Boom panes!”. Like, eww.

4. Jose Manalo played the titular role who was some sort of Robin Hood in 1940’s Olongapo. He would con American soldiers into buying overpriced tuko (gecko?) or used smelly panties and then donate the money to the needy. He also cheated them a lot in poker games, but was supposedly just doing a heroic deed. As one character (Joey Marquez) described him, “Hindi siya katulad ng ibang con man na walang puso. May moral standards siya at hindi tuma-target ng mga Pinoy.” Eh di wow!

(In hindsight though, anybody willing to pay 250 dollars for funky-smelling underwear probably deserved their fate.)

5. The iconic Vangie Labalan was Mommy Tokwa. Nothing follows.

6. It’s already 2019 and the sources of humor here included a stutterer (“Pina-kiki-kiki-kiki-usapan ko pa…”), a Chinese character named Tsing Tsong Atsay (Epy Quizon) who used an abacus to compute his poker winnings, and a joke about a maliit na unan (unano, of course!). Woke social media… attack!!

7. Tito Sen, what happened to the movie’s budget? Why were the same American soldier extras and pokpok chorus walking in the background in every Olongapo scene? Why was a green screen used in the Guam tourist spots montage? Why didn’t they even change the name of Kandi Towers in Pampanga when it was supposed to substitute for a hotel in Guam?

On the other hand, four different actresses played Daughter Tokwa and yet they looked nothing like each other.

8. My favorite moment in the movie was when Boy Tokwa was abandoned by his wife and he started reading her goodbye letter. The voiceover screamed, “I AM LEAVING YOU BOY! YOU ARE NEVER SEEING US AGAIN!”. I imagined that the letter was also written in all caps.

Immediately after, Boy had a walling scene while wailing, “Juskopo, anong kasalanan ko?” and then the camera focused on an altar of religious images. Buti hindi nagsalita ang mga rebulto ng, “Anak, nanloko ka kasi ng mga ‘Kano. Karma yan.”

9. Sample dialogue that made me fart in my seat:

• Boy Tokwa courting his future wife with this bagung-bagong pick-up line: “Remember M, remember E, put them together, remember ME!”

• Millennial apo after the con man story: “In this house, we stan a generous low-low!”

• One of the Sotto kids on the phone with his mom (Karel Marquez): “Sometimes I like talking to Siri more than talking to you!”

• Girlfriend to one of the Sotto kids: “The stars shine so bright, but if you take a closer look, they burn deep inside… just like you.”

Repeat after me: Anak ng tokwa!!

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

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THE DEBUTANTES (Prime Cruz, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Debutantes:

1. I still haven’t forgotten about the clunky twist of last week’s Last Night and now we get another movie that hinged on the big reveal of an ‘imaginary’ being. Are our writers running out of original ideas to surprise the audience?

It probably would have been more acceptable if the said twist wasn’t so obvious the moment you see young Jona Soquite (or at least who I thought was her). Seriously, why would ‘siblings’ with a huge age gap have that twinning kind of severe BANGS (yes, nagsusumigaw) anyway? The only mystery left was whether she was the evil side of Carrie, er, Kate (a competent Sue Ramirez), or a completely different entity altogether (answer: sadly, the latter).

2. I had this discussion recently with a filmmaker friend on the lack of creative main titles in recent films (especially Star Cinema ones). We would usually see the same old cast names in red (or white) Times New Roman or Comic Sans fonts that clearly revealed the lack of originality or how much the final product was rushed.

One good thing about this movie was that it had a good opening credit sequence with blood flowing/dripping endlessly on various objects like a flower (cattleya?) or on the lips that would figure prominently later on. Reminded me so much of the Emmy-winning design for Six Feet Under.

3. Although the bullying and the public humiliation reminded me of Carrie, the similarity ended there because it was hard not to sympathize with the Mean Girls when this was obviously not an outright revenge flick. How could I cheer for the eventual deaths of young, irritating girls when Kate wasn’t the one doing the killings?

I never really rooted for a maligno, except for this one time when the Undin hid in the toilet bowl and preyed on the loudmouth landlady played by Vangie Labalan.

4. Speaking of Mean Girls, I couldn’t get why Ivy Aguas wannabe Jenny (Jane de Leon) was considered the Queen Bee. She didn’t look or speak the part and Michelle Vito as Candice had more of the Regina George vibe (although the latter was also a terrible actress so maybe that was the reason?).

To be fair, the Jenny character was a hoot. I laughed out loud when she said, “Hey guys, as you all know it’s my birthday. Yeeeees! Happy birthday to meeeee!!”.

5. I also couldn’t understand how Miles Ocampo ended up with this group of bitches considering that her Lara character seemed like the typical goody two-shoes. Sure, she lived alone in a humongous house and had an annoying fringed bag that screamed social climber, but her personality just didn’t seem to fit with the group. Was it because she was too dumb to know the difference between Geometry and Calculus and the group needed a budget Karen Smith?

6. Why would Kate agree to wear a revealing halter top when she had visible scratch marks on her back? Also, why didn’t she even bother to check how loose those strings were prior to attending a party full of privileged brats?

In this day and age of social media prominence, who would still post a public status of them embarrassing other people? Have these kids already forgotten about Ate Amalayer, or the Kuya that threw a hissy fit in Alfamart and got knocked down by a loaf of Gardenia, or the Sisteret that wanted to hog all the chairs in Starbucks? A documented case of bullying sounded like an instant lawsuit to me.

7. This was a Prime Cruz movie so of course it looked good. I really loved the use of saturated colors and I hope that it wasn’t just a product of SM Cinemas’ poor projection. I kinda missed his cool soundtrack though and the songs were mostly utilized during the end credits.

8. I really don’t get how these onscreen characters would cut their own hair and they’d always end up with salon gorgeous looks after. If I were to handle my own haircut, my mother would most probably ask if I recently had ‘tipus’ (uhm, thyphoid fever).

9. Why would a traumatized Kate immediately attend the wake of one of her bullies? Was it because we needed a scare scene involving a coffin? And why was Candice wearing a stylish cover-up and pekpek shorts there? Jenny should really have risen from the dead and slapped her silly for stealing the limelight (and for lack of respect, naturally).

10. Most of the horror elements were familiar tropes (they basically replaced the hair braid coming out of Naomi Watts’ throat in The Ring with a necklace; the jump scene when somebody would open a fridge and a person would be standing behind it was used twice, the other with a locker; the setup where the ghost would pull on the blanket of a sleeping person looked straight out of The Conjuring) and even impressive scenes like when the engkanto came out of Kate’s mouth looked similar to the one in The Possession (or one of the Ouija movies). I spent most of the time chuckling at how bad the death scenes were staged.

11. That was one dirty toilet bowl. Candice, please ask your maid to check the Coke hack on Facebook pronto.

12. This was the type of horror movie where a person in a pool would see the moo moo and decide to swim to the other side instead of getting her ass out of the water and fleeing for dear life. Congratulations Shayne (Chanel Morales) for winning this month’s Darwin Award!!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

FOOLISH LOVE (Joel Lamangan, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Foolish Love:

1. I have a lot of single women friends, but thankfully none of them have ever reached the level of desperation of Virginia (Angeline Quinto). After getting dumped by her gay boyfriend and with the end of the world coming soon (read: her 30th birthday), she decided that her eggs had been unfertilized enough and she needed to find a partner by hook or by crook (or in this case, by Facebook). Let me count her kagagahan ways.

2. Together with her very smart friends, they stalked her Sasmoan childhood sweetheart on FB, but never bothered to check his profile picture. Through some miracle, they were able to get the addresses of all the Rey dela Cruzes, especially the half dozen that lived in the Quiapo area. As expected, none of them were the real Rey and they just ended up having their appearances mocked (one was ngongo, the other a midget, and the rest were just your local tambays sa kanto).

Everyone knows that the most logical thing to do was to go back to Pampanga and ask his relatives for any information on his whereabouts, but I guess the cute search was a must in the rom-com formula.

3. When her plan failed, Virginia (wink, wink) decided to visit her mother and while on a bus, met this handsome stranger (EJ Falcon) that she just couldn’t resist flirting with. Nagpaakbay agad si gaga even if it was so obvious that he was a thief. I think she immediately fell in love with him after this conversation:

“Ang galing ng moment na ‘to. Ikaw si Virgie, ako si Vhal. V ka. V ako. Ang galing no?”

4. After all these mishaps, she decided that the best thing to do was to enter the convent and become a nun. I wasn’t surprised because she was very religious. In one scene, she was being eaten by “Rey” (Jake Cuenca) and the camera focused on her delirious face while she was screaming “Thank you Lord!”.

By the way, she met “Rey” while he was sitting on a bench wearing a hoodie under the pouring rain. She asked this stranger to enter her house with the reason “Masyado syang gwapo para maging magnanakaw.” Yup, some women never learn.

5. I wasn’t sure why they forced Angeline to deliver some lines in English (“I was like a timebomb. Tik tak tik tak!”), but I guess it was part of the movie’s weird humor. I mean Vangie Labalan’s face was plastered on a beauty soap for crying out loud.

I’m still crossing my fingers for that Angeline Quinto-Maja Salvador comedy where they both play John Robert Powers instructors.

6. The ToMiho loveteam had a chunk of the screen time even if they couldn’t act to save their lives. I was close to throwing up every time they called each other Leading Man and Leading Lady (ironically, in a movie where they were playing support).

The only decent performance here was from Cai Cortez. I bet she would have made a great leading lady.

7. In one scene, Virginia apologized to “Rey” for offering 3-in-1 coffee. He replied with “Hindi ko nga alam bakit ang iba nagbabayad ng mahal para sa kape.” Aba walang pakialamanan! Ikaw nga nagpapaulan sa bench na naka-hoodie!!

8. In a bizarre last act twist, the movie turned into 50 Shades of Grey with all the sado-masochism, including a strangulation sex scene. Huwat?!

9. At this point, I really shouldn’t be surprised anymore. The movie was already as dumb and as desperate as its lead character. Fittingly enough, it ended with this crazy scene with a pregnant Virginia running around in a cemetery. Dead.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

ILAWOD (Dan Villegas, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Ilawod:

1. For me, Pinoy horror stories with their local settings, deeply-rooted mythologies, and fascinating folklore would always be much scarier than any Hollywood flick. Whereas Linda Blair and her spinning head made me cackle with glee, I almost peed my pants when Manilyn Reynes was stalked by a horde of aswangs led by Vangie Labalan. I could never picture Valak looking at me through a mirror, but I could easily imagine that dead nun killed during the Bataan Death March in the Magandang Gabi Bayan Halloween episode staring right at me from outside my bedroom window. This must be all coming from my childhood belief that Count Dracula and every other foreign monster would never even bother taking a 21-hour flight to the Philippines.

2. I really tried to like this movie especially since I was easily drawn to the very Pinoy story of the Ilawod, a water elemental living in streams known to dominate human bodies and suck the souls out of them (the name itself literally means downstream). Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to differentiate itself from other horror movies with genre tropes that included an exorcism and possession.

There was a scene with a kid drawing black rings that could have been an early promo for the new Rings sequel. The real face of the Ilawod looked like a monster from Pan’s Labyrinth. The elevator footage eeriely resembled that viral video with Elisa Lam (Google it!). Even the haunting scenes involving water (dripping from the ceiling, puddles on the floor) in the condominium seemed to have been borrowed heavily from Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water.

3. In the opening scene, an old lady was possessed by the Ilawod and when she saw Ian Veneracion (playing a daddy daddy beat reporter), her long pointed tongue started flailing like crazy and my very first thought was, “Why wouldn’t it?” Veneracion just didn’t age since his Anak ng Demonyo days and I could easily see hordes of women and gay men doing the exact same thing when they see him in person, with or without spirit possession. (Where did you find the Fountain of Youth, Ian? Tell us please!!)

4. I might have missed it, but I couldn’t understand why the Ilawod got really mad at Ian and wanted to exact revenge on him and his family aside from the fact that he didn’t believe in the supernatural. I’d rather assume that she was just being bitter for getting rejected by a hottie.

5. I kinda felt bad for Therese Malvar since she’s currently one of the best young actresses in Philippine cinema and she got stuck playing an elemental with heavy makeup and a brushed-up wet look hairdo while sporting Mother Lily’s magic white kamison. I also couldn’t believe that Ian’s teenage son never once bothered to ask why she never changed outfits or why she was always making tambay by the poolside.

6. Speaking of teenagers, I was really surprised at how much Xyriel Manabat has grown. Her transformation made me feel even more old. But wait, why didn’t she look like any of her parents (the mother was played by Iza Calzado)?

In one hilarious scene, she was attacked by the Ilawod so she ran to her parents’ bedroom but the door remained locked. Her parents kept knocking and pulling on the knob but the door just wouldn’t budge. In her state of panic, Iza then asked the most logical question: “Ano na bang nangyayari sa mga anak natin?” HUH?!!

At least after that incident, she regained her bearings and got the services of Father Pnoy to bless their unit.

7. With its blatant sexualization of kids, I was surprised that the movie still took the safer, more sanitized route. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t suggesting a love scene, but I would have preferred it if not everything (even just a simple kiss) were merely suggestive. Nothing wrong with a horror movie making people squirm in their seats and making them feel uncomfortable.

8. If the Undin made me stay away from the sea, this one made me reconsider making tampisaw in a batis.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

CineFilipino Short Films – Set A (2016)

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Shorts A had a really fine line-up that started with the great OKTOPUS by JP Habac. It was a bittersweet take on growing old filled with old people beliefs, superstitions, and ruminations on life. It starred an excellent cast of local veteran character actresses (Vangie Labalan, Ruby Ruiz, Flora Gasser) that in the end left a powerful dare (“Minsan lang po kayo matanda”).

KUNG ANG ULAN AY GAWA SA TSOKOLATE by Galileo Sioco Te and Prime Cruz was a refreshing take on a futuristic world where memories were sold and companies created a new breed of domestic helpers and caregivers. The mother-daughter bond established at the start was so strong (with great performances from its leads) that it made the big reveal even more heartbreaking. I wish they were able to fix the blatant dubbing concerns, otherwise this was a really great effort. (And I just could not stop singing that song!)

With Dayang Asu and now DIGPAN NING ALTI, Bor Ocampo has clearly established a specialty on the dog-eat-dog theme. Except for the (intentional?) non-matching perspectives, it was a well-shot, gritty film that would make you want to see what came after the prologue. I especially loved the scene where the camera was possibly mounted on a bike going downhill (signaling the current state of its characters’ lives).

John Rhys Guarina’s KATOK opened with a powerful image: that of a young boy tied and blindfolded in a cramped back of a van. It was later revealed that he was part of a group begging for money and his sad life was filled with the constant knocks on windows of both vehicle owners and his syndicate’s owner. It was a short that clearly delivered its message.

My favorite short film of the festival was easily SAANMAN NGUNIT DITO by Cheska Salangsang. It was a heartbreaking story about a childless couple doing a constant trek and their conversations revealed their sadness, disappointments (“Masama ba tayong tao?”), and a glimmer of hope. I would have personally wanted it to end without the voiceover and just the chilling final shot that was open to interpretation, but it was an excellent short nonetheless.

LUNA by Rae Red was a sad tale of a girl already trying to fit in and be accepted. And then she got her period and her gender identity struggle was fully revealed. Interesting for the most part, but I would have wanted to see (and feel) more.

Ratings:

OKTOPUS (JP Habac) – ★★★★★
KUNG ANG ULAN AY GAWA SA TSOKOLATE (Galileo Sioco Te and Prime Reyes) – ★★★★☆
DIGPAN NING ALTI (Bor Ocampo) – ★★★★☆
KATOK (John Rhys Guarina) – ★★★★☆
SAANMAN NGUNIT DITO (Cheska Salangsang) – ★★★★★
LUNA (Rae Red) – ★★★☆☆

EVERYTHING ABOUT HER (Joyce Bernal, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Everything About Her:

1. From the opening scene alone, the movie clearly established that this was The Devil Wears Louboutins with THE Vilma Santos playing a bitchy career-driven boss from hell (or as one character called her “Impakta ang potah”). She wore fabulous outfits (her gorgeous red ensemble reminded me of Ate Vi during her Eskinol days, “You too can be an Eskinol girl like me!”), had her own set of Emily and Nigel, and even a variation of the “That’s all” catchphrase (“Ang bagaaaaal!!”).

2. In this movie though, Miranda Priestly had multiple myeloma and instead of getting an executive assistant, she needed a personal nurse (Angel Locsin). It reminded me so much of the superior M. Mother’s Maiden Name (with the wonderful Zsa Zsa Padilla).

3. The first half of the movie was a delight with director Joyce Bernal deftly handling the comedic scenes and the two leads displaying great comic timing. Ate Vi’s character was named Vivian Rabaya and I actually thought they would start calling her Ate Viv. Angel, on the other hand, was named Jaica Domingo (“She calls me tonta for short”). Whether it was Ate Vi throwing insults left and right or Angel dangling from the side of a cab, there were moments of pure joy that really made me laugh out loud.

My favorite throwaway joke:

Ate Vi: “Kumain ka na?”
Angel: “Opo.”
Ate Vi: “Mukha nga.”

4. When Xian Lim’s character was introduced, I slowly started to lose interest not only because Xian lacked the acting chops (his tears were falling but his eyes remained dead) to go toe-to-toe with these amazing actresses, but also because the movie forced an unnecessary love story (which we all know will have the requisite Star Cinema happy ending).

I remembered how good Luis Manzano was in In My Life. He should have been cast here instead.

5. Where can I buy a similar low-hanging chandelier? Yes, I’m gonna swing from it. Waley.

6. Wala talagang kupas si Ate Vi. When her character learned that she had cancer, she held back her tears pretending to be strong and smiled while saying “Cancer lang ‘to.” In another scene, you could actually feel her longing to embrace her son and the bittersweet feeling when he finally did while she was in severe pain. That bathroom scene reminded me so much of her performance in The Dolzura Cortez Story.

7. Speaking of her filmography, I loved the (unintentional?) homage to Pahiram ng Isang Umaga. The lines she said while wishing for more time were really powerful (“Baka kelangan ko ng cancer, kelangan ko ng deadline. Pero sana wag masyadong mabilis, kelangan ko pa ng konting panahon. Konti lang.”) And that quiet scene where Vangie Labalan placed a blanket on her shoulder really broke my heart.

8. Jaica’s a smart nurse. How could she not know that an original Birkin or Balenciaga should never be utilized for anything vomit-related?

9. Did they use the same vacant lot where Popoy and Basha were supposed to build their dream house? Ooh, this will really drive Popoy to alcoholism.

10. In one scene, Angel made a Darna reference that was so meta it made my head hurt. So let’s see, Ate Vi played Darna and she was previously married to Edu Manzano who played Captain Barbell. They had Luis Manzano who played Flash Bomba and he’s currently together (are they still?) with Angel Locsin, another Darna. Talk about a family of superheroes. #mindblown

Rating: ★★★☆☆