MMFF 2016: Oro plata woof-woof

Posted in advocacy filmmaking, digital film, drama film, film festival, MMFF, Philippine Cinema, Philippine film industry on January 30, 2017 by leaflens

I’m not even going there, folks. I know ORO has a lot of controversy surrounding it, but we’ll be barking up the wrong tree if I’ll focus on it hehe. Google niyo na lang mga bes. For me, it’s irrelevant to discuss here because I want to focus on the film itself, because I think this one struck gold. See why.

oroposterORO (2016)

d., s. Alvin Yapan

dop. Ronald Rebutica

p. Feliz Film Productions

c. Irma Adlawan, Joem Basco, Mercedes Cabral and a whole community that we should actually protect IRL

Pitch: A small-scale mining town somewhere in rural Philippines gets disturbed by so-called nature patrollers who end up abusing their powers, to the detriment of the kind folk there.

Catch: Di ko sure ano pa-epek ng camera angling minsan beh, pero sige kineri na rin later.

[poster swiped from their wikipedia page, other stills swiped from Mell T. Navarro’s FB page (beh peram ha)]

MGA BEH, MAY SPOILERS ITO HA. HUMANDA KAYO KUNG DI KAYA NG POWERS.

To be honest, I was expecting to be underwhelmed by this film, given the rural setting and the bucolic shots featured in the stills I’ve been seeing online, and reading the log line about a mining town et cetera, I’m thinking, “Ay, mga indie na pang-award ang peg nitey I bet.” You see, there’s a bunch of digital flicks that have been approaching filmmaking like that: pang-award lang. And that was actually parodied brilliantly by the film ANG BABAE SA SEPTIC TANK (the first one). These films tend to overly-romanticize provincial-set stories and overly-romanticize (read: exploit pala) simple stories for an international audience (poverty porn, anyone?). But since my indie faves Irma Adlawan and Mercedes Cabral are in the cast, I thought I’d relax that “expectation” a bit.

Lo and behold, never did I expect that I will strike gold pala with this MMFF entry. For me, I think this is one of the best directed and best scripted films in the lot, because you can see the effective storytelling here. It creeps up on you, unti-unting lumalabas, emanating, like growing organically like a well-cared for tree or shrub, kaya namulaklak ito nang bongz sa climax o huli.

The story is rather simple, and it’s my first time to hear that this was based on a real incident somewhere in Camarines Sur. Which is sad, really, since I think there should be national outrage about the events of the story. But sadly, that’s Pinas for you, hay naku. Anyway, it’s a good thing to see how small-scale mining folks function; you will learn how they also try to care for the environment as they try to mine the small benefits that mother nature provides us humans. And the community is humane about this: the small-scale mining is not totally destructive and not greed-based, as the folks there are not grandly ambitious a community who will exploit the gold until mother nature gives up. We’ve also been highly exposed to other news and issues of these extractive industries and the human rights abuses perpetrated by the corporations given leeway to rape our land for greed, so it’s really a breath of fresh air, albeit just for an hour, to see the more humane way of mining.orostill1

For me, it was very interesting to see the daily life of such a community: like Joem Bascon’s miner character who’s just a laidback dude trying to earn an honest living and earning extra so he can marry the love of his life; Mercedes Cabral’s public high school teacher character who’s also nonchalantly taking her pregnancy news in a very calm demeanor; the feisty Kapitana character of Irma Adlawan who serves as the town’s mother image and later mother-warrior protecting her constituency; and of course the small-scale miners there who show us how they do their stuff, from the first process inside the cave down to the collecting of their mini-treasures, with a bonus of seeing this town goldsmith do his thing as well, when Joem went to have some gold fashioned into jewelry or something. These are the “small things” that shouldn’t go away due to “modernization,” methinks. Maganda lang. And it was also interesting to see how things could get shaken up by a little bit of greed with the introduction of Sue Prado’s character, that woman who also buys gold from the townsfolk “in competition” with the Kapitana. Of course such conflict and controversy will hound any community, so here it is.

Things turn for the worse, however, when some thugs with high-powered assault weapons arrive and brand orostill3themselves as the protectors of nature, Patrol Kalikasan. Apparently, this is a thing in communities such as this one, and it’s sad that the goons with the guns still terrorize people for gold. Hindi na ba talaga mawawala ang formula na ito sa Pilipinas? Nakakalungkot isipin ito, I swear. So apparently, the thugs are also in cahoots with Sue’s character. And this Patrol stops the operations of the community, even taking the small-scale miners hostage to ban them from illegally entering the mining cave. NKKLK! Their excuse was, the community has no permit to operate a mining thing, so the Kapitana gets a permit and all.

Pero ganun pa rin, the abusive Patrol goons still terrorize the small town, until the town appears so divided as some are forced to work for Sue under the Patrol’s watchful eyes, then some like Joem’s tropa continue their honest work later on when the Kapitana finally gets that permit nga (since the people there have been mining for decades, they thought they didn’t need such a permit na or something like that). So of course, everything goes awry when the Patrol thugs wreak more havoc and shoot Joem and his tropa while they were having their occasional inuman session one night. And this is where the film gets political after an hour: the mining issue becomes a national issue with the deaths of these innocent men. Walang kalaban-laban, binaril lang nang ganun. Insert national outrage here. Sadly, the case known as “Gata 4” is still unresolved, as I read. Gata is the real place where this incident took place. Kaya sad, sad, sad. But I’m glad it became a film. We learn of our nation’s troubles, heartaches, and aspirations in cinema sometimes, and this is one of them times.

15267507_694528670714823_3240130399885393009_nThat one is hooked on the story and its unfolding is a success brought about by the tandem of good directing and good scriptwriting, topped with the very inspired acting of all, as in all, the actors involved. Mercedes as that cool lang na titser gets her moment during the crucial wake scene, as she slowly dissolves and realizes that the love of her life is gone (bonus ‘yung tumakbo siya from the iskul to the mining place and back sa bahay ng nanay niya to get one gadget that the town doesn’t use often: the cellphone). Kapitana’s feisty mother-warrior mode was also excellently portrayed by Ms. Irma, deserving talaga ng best actress award si ati dito. She appears like one of those kind kapitana women na community leader, mabait pero matapang kapag kailangan. She pulls it off well. And well, Joem is Joem, oks naman si koya, pero talagang ganun lang ang acting ni koya no, yung parang steady heartbeat na minsan babagal at minsan bibilis, pero may beat pa rin at maaantig naman ang heart mo when needed. So he gets the job done.

This would have been perfect nga sana if the film’s camerawork improves a bit. Like I don’t get the tilting orostill2horizon effect of some shots as the actions unfold, and sometimes it’s excessive that I just want to grab the cam and hold it steady na lang. LOL. But that’s just me.

Overall, I really think this should have won best directing. Kinulang yata sa dasal dahil napunta dun sa isa. Award! LOL. Hay naku, heavy ang heart mo after watching this, pero hindi naman wazak na wazak mode, kasi nga mapapaisip ka sa mga nangyari, at makikisimpatiya ka enough para sumigaw din ng HUSTISYA! Ganern.

Thanks for this film, team Oro. Good luck dun sa dog controversy na lang.

15194604_694528874048136_5231514782967557227_o

MMFF2016: Sunday’s best, all year long

Posted in digital film, documentary film, indie films, MMFF, Philippine Cinema, queer issues in film, women's issues in film on January 21, 2017 by leaflens

That a documentary film, a full-length one at that, was included in the MMFF 2016 line-up signifies that the right people (or at least a handful maybe) are sitting there at the selection committee of this fest the past year. And good to know that they have enough sensibilities to consider all kinds of films as viable entries, even documentaries. Then it won Best Picture pa! Ayuz!

So let’s see what’s up with this beauty.

sunday-beauty-queen-posterSUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN (2016)

d. Baby Ruth Villarama

e. Chuck Gutierrez

Pitch: The film follows the lives of several domestic helpers in Hong Kong who are also beauty pageant contestants during their downtime.

Catch: The catch is that this should be shown more in many cinemas!!! Bakit na-pullout agad.

I think it was 2002 or maybe 2003-4 when I first encountered a queered version of domestic helpers’ lives in Hong Kong. I read an investigative report by IPS, that’s the Inter Press Service or like the Reuters of the NGO world as they say, and that report was in a book they mailed me during the early 2000s (met their head honcho in Bangkok who is Pinay pala, a panelist in Probe Media Foundation’s video docu workshop na napasali ako nung 2002 nga). I was amazed to learn how Filipino domestic helpers engage in same-sex female relationships to curb loneliness, even if some of these women didn’t identify as queer, lesbian or even bisexual, and some are even legally married to a man to boot. But they do it for several reasons: coping, companionship, to fight loneliness and, of course, battle homesickness. But once they come home or visit for a vacation back in the Philippines, it’s like their hetero lives resume without question, and of course without mention of their queer life back in HK. A very interesting and intriguing slice of Pinoy life as an OFW.

Now fast forward to 2016 and I see this reality onscreen, now, in this documentary film that won the MMFF Best Picture award. And the queer conversation is taken to a higher level already, almost a “non-issue” issue as the film portrays it, since one of the prime movers in the documentary is a queer (male-identified/identifying) woman. It’s very interesting to see how the queer character named Leo identifies herself as “lesbian” who is clearly within the more masculine spectrum, yet she is referred to as a “he” by his employers. (Or is it because a gendered pronoun is required to refer to him/her in English by her Chinese employers? I’m wondering if I will problematize this discourse the same way if they were merely referred to using non-gendered Filipino pronouns.) Although she is also referred to as male/masculine by her friends (their term of endearment for her is “Daddy”) and also her female partner, the more feminine or femme character (the one they call “Mommy”) who lives with Leo in her apartment. But regardless; I just find it very enlightening again, and now more so entertaining, since the queer identity is out in the open within this 2010s era of the Pinoy domestic workers’ lives in Hong Kong, and the queer identity of Leo is not an apologetic one (but she drops a disclaimer later, though — more on that below) nor is it a negative one as I’ve previously read in that early research. So yes, happy siya!

15723562_1205333356223683_7889505708413310433_oThat the queer-identified person in the film stages a beauty pageant is also a happy fact. And it’s just so Pinoy queer culture at its finest reinvention, as the film helps in its intelligent yet heartwarming unfolding. Staging beauty pageants (and watching/following national/international ones diligently) has always been there in the culture, and it, of course, traditionally features heterosexual female contestants, with the queer people just fussing about at the background in some supporting role or another. Back home, we know how there’s a subculture that kinda flipped the coin on this one already: showing effeminate gay men naman — who are actually transgender women in nature, but this label still eludes the common mentality about queerness (maybe this also applies to Leo as a “he” or how she identifies as lesbian but her identity is clearly a transman) — actively participating in beauty pageants in smaller areas like in barangays and towns, usually done to liven up a town fiesta or event of sorts.

The barangay beauty pageant is a worthy event to stage lately, be it featuring hetero women or transwomen. And most of the time nga, we always see the person organizing the pageant (or funding it pala or something) as heterosexual. But here in this film, even if a queer person stages the Hong Kong beauty pageant composed of domestic workers, most of the contestants portrayed are heterosexual (save for one quick eavesdropped moment where we hear Leo and the other girls tease another girl as she leaves with her masculine-presenting female partner, or her “Prince Charming” as they joked). Thus, the queer Leo stages “traditional” beauty pageants with “traditional” hetero female contestants. Hmm okay, medyo queer na rin. Ish. Aliw pa rin, though.

SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN shows how this queered pageant offers the domestic helpers (or DH as they are termed) a chance to be beauty queens themselves, at least every Sunday, their designat15385341_1186146441475708_3847054069873803220_oed time off from work. The film follows a handful of women who join these beauty pageants, to the extent of risking their jobs sometimes, as they might miss their strict curfew and get fired (one did). From Monday to Saturday, the film shows us how the life of a Filipina overseas worker in Hong Kong earn their keep. And on Sunday, the film shows us how they spend their time off from work: by hanging out with each other and preparing for their 15 minutes of pageant fame.

Features and stories about domestic helpers in the diaspora tend to highlight only the negative aspect of being abroad. For melodramatic flare, fictional films highlight the ills of having a mother leave abroad to seek greener pastures, leaving behind a family. The OFW DH momma role has already been played by many actresses, from Ate Vi to Pokwang. TV documentaries feature the hardships of their daily lives, sensationalizing their sacrifices. News items broadcast the abuse and the deaths of some of them. That’s why this film initially didn’t really stand a chance against prejudicial publicity due to the body of works that came before it (highlighting the “heaviness” of its supposed premise). One really had to go by word of mouth muna before seeing it. Clinching an award could also help its longevity. But of course, the premise has to deliver talaga. Kaya what one needed to do was just forget the news bit about it, the word of mouth, even the award, and let the film speak for itself by just giving it a chance and watching it. Simple lang.

From the get-go, its premise sounded like a jazzed-up pa-fun-effect version of a sob story waiting to sbq-queenexplode at the background. But one will be astounded to realize that the jazzed-up fun that the beauty pageant journey entails already weaved in the supposedly sob stories of some of the featured women. And no, the “sob stories” weren’t manipulatively shown a la TV Patrol epic style. In fact, they become sob stories because you actually feel the women’s pain with them. And how is that achieved? Just by letting it unfold naturally.

15800544_1205333446223674_2482483383326513596_oThere’s one good example there, of this woman who was being interviewed near a park area by the river or by a body of water, where she later walked the dog of her employer. She was trying to call her children back home and connect via video chat, but the connection was crappy (on the Philippine side, of course). One of the children was graduating, and I think they were trying to show her the graduation ceremonies as it’s happening, and she struggles to be with them “in spirit.” Prior to this, she was talking to them, and trying to explain to the audience as well, that she was apologizing for not being able to come home to attend the ceremony, since she needed to stay for her work, that she needed to work so she could afford to send the kids to school. The way she delivered this fact was just plain and simple, but she was a bit teary-eyed, trying to restrain her sadness. That “quiet” scene was indeed powerful enough to start you bawling; nakakaiyak siya nang hindi ka sadyang pinapaiyak, kasi nakakaiyak lang ‘yung sitwasyon, ‘yung dilemma, ‘yung reaksyon, at ‘yung found moment na ‘yun sa pelikula. You feel her pain, and it’s sadder that way, because she’s not putting an effort to make you sad; sad lang talaga ‘yung sitwasyon, period. Gets?

15844532_1207209902702695_7880778725808231185_oThere are many other moments like these in the film, scenes that make you sad because the narratives of the women — including their daily struggles and moments of happiness with their chosen lives — touch your heart without that obligatory cinematic manipulation, that sadyang “kurot sa puso” device we “cleverly” write in within the scripts. In here, since it’s a documentary, it’s just…found. Like that scene of the girl who was a caretaker of this former film producer/executive who died while she was under his employ. And the producer’s daughter calling up the Pinay DH to tell her the bad news, and how she reacted and coped after, since she was obviously already endeared to the boss.

Many moments like these are shown that when the beauty pageant preparation scenes come up, it’s like a sigh of relief, an escape from the engulfing pathos of these Monday to Friday lives, a break from reality — their reality. Kung tayo ngang spectators ay naghahanap ng break from the sad reality, what more these women who live within such realities? And perhaps this is why the symbolism and importance — and relevance — of the seemingly “wala lang” event such as a beauty pageant would be deemed as important and regarded highly by these women: it’s a happy one-day-only respite from their  daily grind. No, it’s not 15181703_1171704282919924_3446965180142806906_nescapism; it’s coping. The beauty pageant gives them some distraction, sure, but it’s more than that: it gives them another sense of purpose, one that doesn’t kurot their puso so much to the point of bawling daily, one where they need to come out as happier naman for a change, to pose as confidently beautiful with a smile, to parade as a human being being valued in another way in this foreign land that only sees them in a (sometimes non-humane) myopic devalued viewpoint. In their small corner of the universe, they want to become magnanimous, even for just a few hours, perhaps a weekend or two, dolled up and forever captured in their selfies, the media coverage, and in their minds. No, they don’t do it for vanity’s sake; they need to have an alternative (and better) picture to frame their (often cruel) lives in the diaspora, and that damn picture better look good!

That the pageant organizer and the pageant participants themselves see the pageant staging as a chance of giving themselves a parallel purpose in their current lives is something worthwhile to realize, poignant to hear, and worthy of supporting and applauding. We all do what we could to survive, and we all do what we could to make surviving more bearable. This film shows us another form of resiliency of the Filipino spirit, and it shows us that we can have a damn good time being resilient, plus we could look good doing it to boot!

Walang itatapon sa pelikulang ito. Parang lahat ng included scenes ay poignant, kailangan, hindi sayang, hindi sitners lang ang peg (o ‘yung mga eksenang pang-fillers lang ng video habang naririnig mo ang narration ng audio). Kahit ‘yung eksena sa bahay ni Leo na nagluto sila ng hapunan, big deal ipakitang independent live-out helper siya kasi big deal pala sa HK ‘yun. Plus big deal for me din to have the queer couple portrayed like any other hetero couple out there: domestic, loving, and very real. No role-playing po in our universe; we just exist, and yes, this is how we love. Pero natawa naman ako ng bongz when Leo mentioned that she (sorry I refer to her as a she ha, kasi she said “lesbian” siya) didn’t start staging beauty pageants so that them lezzies could meet eligible women out there hahaha! Kaloka. Although that’s an interesting concern, and also to note, parang hindi organic kay Leo to use the term “lez” or “lesbian” when narrating her story. I feel it’s a suggestion picked up from the interview Q&A with the filmmaker behind the cam. This is my conclusion since she appears to be “old-school” in that manner, na “mars at pars” ang reference sa mga butch-femme, or to a certain extent they use the term “les” pero not the whole term. That was one moment when I felt the filmmaker’s hand on the material, handled rather heavily. But these touches are rare, few and far between, so they’re forgivable overall.

This indeed is the winning shot right there. Backlit pero makulay,parang mga buhay ng kasambahay na nasa anino ng mga amo pero may natatagong ganda din naman sa pagkatao.

This indeed is the winning shot right there. Backlit pero makulay pa rin, parang mga buhay ng kasambahay na nasa anino ng mga amo pero may natatagong ganda din naman sa kanilang pagkatao. Love this shot! And the moment it came out! Panalo! Directing + editing + camerawork + storytelling = Bonggacious!!!

Kudos much to the people who worked on this. Congrats to my former student Chuck who edited it and also part of the producing team, as I read. I loved how they use the quiet visual language of the cinema to let the stories unfold before your eyes and ears, participatory enough so that you also have the time and leeway to let the messages sink in, to actually have time to listen to your own thoughts passing through your mind as you watch their stories unfold scene after scene and formulate opinions about what’s going on. You have this chance of hopping along for the ride, instead of being a mere spectator na sasabit ka lang sa outside rails ng tsubibo habang umaandar ito excitedly. Yes, no voice-over narration and no voice-of-God type of narrations work well for me for a documentary. It’s the cinematic kind, not the TV kind, kasi ang TV takot sa silence as I found out in that video docu workshop nga more than a decade ago. Talagang taong pelikula ako eh, hindi taong TV, kaya I value the pregnant pauses and the occasional silences that emanate from scenes and in between or within scenes. And I so love this film for having this approach, this treatment. Pang-best picture nga siya talaga, in form and content.

K end of review. I… thank yew!

[All photos swiped from the SBQ FB page. Pahiram ha. Salamuch!]

MMFF2016: Seklusyon perpetua from this one

Posted in horror slasher film, MMFF, Philippine Cinema on January 13, 2017 by leaflens

I still don’t like the horror film genre in general, but from time to time, I revisit it when something notable comes out, notable due to the unique concept or interesting storytelling. But this one I was forced to see because I wanted to see what merit it had for being included in this batch, and why it won a handful of awards.

seklusyonposterSEKLUSYON (2016)

d. Erik Matti

p. Reality Entertainment

c. Neil Ryan Sese and a bunch of actors na ngayon ko lang nakita (sorry didn’t watch much TV or films last year lol)

Pitch: A priest investigator researches about a kid supposedly performing holy miracles amidst the backdrop of a bunch of would-be priests undergoing a seclusion ritual prior to being ordained chenelyn.

Catch: Horror na horror (in a good way) ang pagkakagawa, pero horror (in a bad way) ang ending pagkanood.

[poster image swiped from their wikipedia page]

 

That this film won best cinematography and best production design is understandable. I like the period film look as they simulate the air of the 1940s. The costumes didn’t seem to come from one single costume designer’s baul, the props looked authentic for their era, and I loved that car, man. Questioning the sunglasses of the investigating priest from time to time as I wonder if a priestly character who took a vow of poverty would wear something as stylish as aviator glasses back then. But I nitpick.

I like that the film follows the textbook Horror Genre Filmmaking 101 conventions in terms of putting elements together: you have the tadaaaaah! scary music that accompanies the halaaaa! shot of swish panning to reveal something or having a creature or prop pop out of nowhere to scare the bejeezus outta ya, with the winning sound design helping to add palaman to this very obviously made horror sandwich. You certainly know how to scare people, man.

Now here’s the scary part: The acting of the would-be priests didn’t convince me beyond their cardboard characters’ capacity, not enough to feel sorry for them when their own personal horrors started to appear to taunt them during their seclusion time. Like there’s a guy who obviously left a woman for the priesthood, but left her under questionable circumstances (turns out to be pregnant and stuff, unclear if aborted, more unclear how the miraculous kid became the child of that “tortured” dude). Not also good directing-wise and storytelling-wise, to plant this angst in the form of a Mother Mary statue who later seems to be possessed to represent that abandoned preggy girlfriend; it’s just obvious shock value, from the beginning, from the moment I saw the rebulto inside the room. In scriptwriting terms, we call this plant-and-payoff, pero pangit siyang plant for me kasi obvious masyado. Then there’s another would-be priest taunted by the abandonment he did of his mentally ill mother who was abusive/got abused etc. something something. Tuwing lalabas si mudraks, tumataas din ang audio level ng sigawan-singilan-multuhan mode nilang mag-ina, tapos paulit-ulit lang. Again, shock value. Hay, kakapagod. Tapos isa pa, yung pinaka-scary sa lahat ng technique: using small kids to appear randomly, tapos under your bed pa. This always works. Tengeneh katakut! But after doing it for like the nth time like every other 4th scene, man it gets tiring na. And no, the brilliant cinematography and curious sound design didn’t help a bit; nakakapagod na bigla yung pananakot ng technical elements. It gets old easily. Kasi alam mo na ding bawat labas ng mga respective multo nila will slowly reveal where the haunting came from (the kids nga pala were the would-be priests’ siblings na namatay during wartime kasi hindi niya pinakain at nagdamot siya dahil survival mode so napabayaan chenelyn or something vaguely explained like that). I think the pacing of how each ghostly revelation could be better executed, and subtly siguro, for a deeper-felt scare, not a physically-felt one lang. You know the diff? Takot from within, not takot na ginulat ka lang sa likuran mo at napasigaw ka ng “Ay, kabayo!” sa gulat. Gulat, hindi takot. Magkaiba kasi sila. The film was more of a gulat supplier, not a takot supplier. And that doesn’t work for me.

That there’s a seclusion time concept that existed before for would-be priests is something interesting to me, though, and very Catholic, of course, since it parallels the temptation of Christ chuvaness we learn in religion class (former Catholic school girl ini, ‘wag pansinin). I suppose this is the main purpose of that seclusion thing, which gets marred bigla by the presence of this miracle-doing child nga, na medyo over-acting na minsan kasi alam mong ang purpose ng facial expression niya ay manakot na hindi halata (makes me wonder paano siya na-motivate during directing her). Plus I’m still questioning the purpose of why the kid had to be hidden there in that place where the auditioning priests are staying. Malaki ang Pilipinas; wala na bang ibang lugar kung saan puwedeng ilagak si batang anghelita-demonyita beks? Obvious na masyadong storytelling blender itetch: ihalu-halo ang ingredients (characters) sa isang lalagyan (location) and entrap them there to see what (characterization, back story, flaws) comes out.  Kapagod panoorin after a while, beks, sa totoo lang. I just wanted to snuggle with my sweetheart sa loob ng sine. We make out when we get bored, is what. Nearly did that, if not for the loud music disturbing us lol. But I digress.

Overall, this film feels like one of those horror train rides I used to like back when I was a kid. Naaalala mo pa ba yung Fiesta Carnival dati sa Cubao, na may fixed horror train ride? Yung alam mong may dadaanan ang train na isa-isang section and you ready yourself to be scared in each stage. May ganun din sa Universal Studios sa LA na pinasok naming magkapatid dati, at nampotah hindi siya train kundi lalakad ka lang sa loob. At nakakatakot nga infernez yung bawat stage na dadaanan mo, at ang styles ng pananakot nilang hinanda hahaha nampotah. Merong may haharang sa iyo, hahabol sa iyo, biglang lalabas sa kung saan. Pero masaya siya paglabas mo!

day2-537

day2-539

 

 

 

 

 

House of Horrors nga pala yung tawag dun. That’s me before going in. See the sign that says “walk through terror-filled movie sets” there? Yan, parang ganyan si Seklusyon — horror-filled set, pero hindi thrilling story ang iiwan sa iyo.

Ito kasing Seklusyon, ayan nga, parang ganun. You just walk through each horror-designed sequence. You know that each sequence is created to scare the bejeezus outta ya, but only on a surface level. Story needs more beefing up, storytelling din, and yeah, putting it all together to work seamlessly, so the directing has to be more effective. Sorry, here kasi, I can clearly see the seams. Hindi siya flawless beks. Directing-wise, siguro derma pa more next time, for a better ride. Kaya nagataka ako why it won in those categories, lalo na sa scripting-directing tandem. Misteryo ng Buhay No.666. Oh well papel.

In the meantime, up to you if you wanna get taken for a ride by this film when it comes out on DVD or shown somewhere else. I miss horror films na konsepto-turned-istorya ang nakakapagpatakot sa iyo, hindi yung pabalot lang. For that’s what Filipino horror films are sometimes, yung pambalot lang ng kendi na gumagawa ng ingay, at nalilimutan nilang lagyan ng flavor ang tunay na bida ng kalakaran — yung kendi mismo. Walang lasa pare. Kulang sa timpla.

I expounded on that when I was interviewed for a Halloween special once sa Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho, talking about how Filipino horror films want to scare you superficially lang, hindi deeply. Teka, up pa ba yung excerpt na yun? Let’s see…

Wala na yata sa Youtube. Oh well papel. Basta, you know what I mean. O siya, better luck next time na lang.

Next!

MMFF2016: Kabisera ng buwan, at ang hangin ay may kalamigan…

Posted in drama film, film festival, MMFF, Philippine Cinema, Philippine film industry, women's issues in film on January 12, 2017 by leaflens

Ahmsareeeh, was quoting this APO Hiking Society song (sing along here). Kailangan lang may kapitan ang lola mo sa pelikulang ito. Kasi kung ito ang unang napanood mo sa MMFF 2016, either bibitaw ka na agad o…matutulog na lang. O makikipaglambutchingan sa iyong jowa kasi malamig ang Disyembre at Enero.

Anyway I digress. Here’s why.

 

kabiseraposterKABISERA (2016)

d. Arturo San Agustin, Real Florido

c. Nora Aunor, Ricky Davao 

Pitch: A seemingly simple family in a province, with a barangay captain for a father, gets embroiled in unexplained garden variety injustices in 2016 Philippines. Or something like that.

Catch: When the actual pitch of your movie is understood by the audience after 1 hour of watching it, teh, may kailangang ayusin.

 

With my deka-dekadang film industry knowledge in tow (or info/gut feel since 1990s), I knew that this film will not make it through the January cut kaya siya ang una kong hinabol na panoorin.

For those of you still unfamiliar with how the MMFF works in the country, there’s a lockdown of MMFF-only entries cinemas in Metro Manila and nearby provinces have to abide by, meaning no Hollywood fare muna sa panahon ng Pasko sa Pinas. And it’s but a fair move to help the industry recuperate from being blasted month by month ng big budget Hollywood. Alas, bombastic din kasi ang labanan sa MMFF entries, and the bottomesa of the lot will not see the light of day (or the flicker of the silver screen) come second week of January if they don’t perform well during the MMFF Christmas week. Poor ticket sales and word of mouth work hand in hand this Christmastime reel time, I tell you. For reals.

So anyway, there’s so much hullaballoo about this year’s MMFF crop being indie-indie fare lang at hindi daw ito kikita dahil walang bombastic no-brainer trashy comedies being served blah blah blah ad nauseam. I will not even join that conversation because it’s ho-hum chika na for me, aside from having too many ignoramus loopholes. What matters more is seeing films as films, regardless of how it was produced. And this is what I’m doing with KABISERA.

Na indie pala siya ay hindi ko alam until I checked their Wikipedia page (swiped the poster photo from there, too. Teynkyu!). But that doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that I want to see Ate Guy act formidably again. Sadly, I have to tune in to other things to find that. Wala dito.

I remember her distinctly because when I was still working in mainstream showbiz back in the mid-to-late ’90s, isa sa mga formidable entries namin sa MMFF 1997 yung film niyang BABAE, directed by no less than MMFF 1976 entry MINSA’Y ISANG GAMU-GAMO director Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara (eh kasi boss ko din ang producer ng Gamu-Gamo and then Babae kaya reunion film kami ng tropa nila gow). Aba beh Second Best Picture winner kami dito noh! Galing lang ni Ate Guy kaya dun. Na laging padaan-daan si direk sa cubicle namin to rant endlessly about the Superstar’s no-show mode while problematizing that Babae could be read as a lesbian-themed narrative ay ibang kuwentong pang-memoirs ko na lang hahahaha I swear ang colorful ng life ko back then pare.

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The film is actually partly sponsored, if I remember it right, ng DOH, because anti-violence against women ang tema nito, with Nora’s hubby making physical bugbog sa kanya and Juday’s BF Jao making emotional bugbog sa kanya. Generational tuhog ng isyung kababaihan bes, sankapa! Salamat sa paborito kong video rentahan dati na Video 48 para sa hiram na pic na ito.

 

 

So yeah, I remember Ate Guy giving great performances in films like that, ka-acting sparring ang iba ding magagaling (in our Babae film, it’s Judy Ann Santos who held her own sa kanilang ina-anak drama tandem, at andun din si Nida Blanca sumalangitnawa). In Kabisera, I don’t know what’s up with her acting here, pero para siyang ‘yung comment na lagi kong naririnig when we critique film students and their thesis works dati sa iskul na pinagtuturuan ko: “They look uninspired.” I’ve always wondered what “uninspired acting” meant, way back when I was a film student in that said school myself, when I hear our film profs say that or write about that (mga film critics din kasi sa industriya mga prof namin). Only when I took the required acting class did I discover what it meant: na hindi ka believable sa acting mo kasi hindi ka bilib sa karakter na ginagampanan mo. It’s that simple. That, or mababa TF mo so uwing-uwi ka na after the take. Puwede rin ‘yun.

And this is how Nora’s take on the docile obedient wifey role ruined the film for me. Well, the storytelling also didn’t work, but first things first: It looks like the universe knocked the wind out of her acting prowess and gave it to someone else. Parang bato ni Darna na pinaluwa na sa kanya para isubo na ng iba. And what were we left with? Something of an echo of past greatness. Sad. There’s this one particular scene where she was wary of having a hunch confirmed (that her hubby was gunned down na) and she made her way slowly, as in eeeeveeeer soooo sloowly pababa sa hagdanan para puntahan ang nakahandusay na jusawa sa lupang inuulan (siyempre kelangan umuulan ang death scene! More drama! Waaah.) Tapos ‘yung eksenang convinced na convinced siya na inosente ang asawa niya. It’s like the one person she’s trying to convince is herself — na marunong pa rin siyang umarte. Nalungkot naman ako ng bongz teh. Uber-bongz.

Siyempre, malilimutan ba natin ang napaka-Ate Guy moment na ito in Philippine Cinema, one of the best lines ever?

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Salamat sa pag-upload ng excerpt na ito, mga beh!

And of course, from Gamu-Gamo, itself a great critique on the presence (and abuse) of the US bases here in the Philippines (her bro was gunned down by American soldiers who mistook the boy for a baboy damo daw).

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Picture swiped from here. Pahiram mga beh.

To sum up this Kabisera film, parang ganito lang siya: “My husband is not a pig! My son is not a pig!” Tapos insert call for hustisya dialogue. Roll credits.

Na hindi namalayan ng audience mismo sa loob ng sinehan na tungkol pala ito sa extrajudicial killings ay isang fail na fail na teh! Sorry, kahit kasi basahin mo ang synopsis o log line, wala kang makukuha. Dahil sa unang 30 minutes ng film pa lang, di mo na alam kung saan siya pupunta. Para siyang choose your own adventure teh. Comme ça:

Plotline 1: Barangay Chairman has hints of being corrupt, ergo riding in tandem hitmen try to gun him down, twice.

Plotline 2: Higher provincial politicians try to “bribe the good man” but goes awry.

Plotline 3: Family man of a barangay captain flexes macho flirting skillz when younger and sexier secretary applicants flirt with him out in the open, amidst the death stare glares of subservient domesticated wifey.

Plotline 4: Religious wifey gets persuaded to check out a palm reading seer outside of the church who predicts ominous omens that tadaaaaah will come true later I swear. Bad foreshadowing isdatchu?

Plotline 5: Captain and wifey deal with conflicted son number 1 who wants to shift out of his nursing course but who doesn’t want to go back to working on a cruise ship of sorts (they talk about this to death) and face conflicted son number 2 who impregnated his jowa agad-agad.

Tomoo, magandang game ito: Choose Your Own Story Arc To Develop. Gow. Kasi by the time Act II commences, biglang kabig ng manibela at:

Suma-subplot na plot pala 1: Pinasok ang bahay ng unidentified high-powered gun-toting gunmen ang bahay at pinatay ang kapitan.

Suma-subplot na plot pala 2: May bloody bank robbery in town at si kapitan pala daw ang isa sa mga suspects dun, kaya tinimbog.

Suma-subplot na plot pala 3: Kasabwat daw ‘yung isang junakis kaya biglang nagtago matapos um-attend lang ng birthday party so hindi na siya umuwi since then. (Ha? Ma.)

And don’t get me started on the role of the woman/wife/mother in a Filipino household being subservient blah. My inner feminist is also screaming. I’m ignoring her this time. Bigger screams to face, beh.

I know that in life, we have so many issues we face and struggle, but in fictional storytelling, we need to weave these sub-narratives of our lives together in order to bring us to a coherent whole. Sadly, this film forgot their cross-stitch needles. Walang tahian teh. Facundo, ibili nga ito ng Singer sewing machine, ahora mismo! Kalerks.

Even the slow-pulsed/paced directing can’t save the life of a script that sounds so first draftey. As in, kung ipapasa mo sa akin ‘yang script beh, mamumula ang mga pahina sa mga corrections ko pramis. Revise revise revise. Tapos shinoot na lang bigla without approval. Edit edit edit. And yeah, it doesn’t help that the themes of the film echo 2016 sociopolitical concerns. Or if we’re going to follow the “logic of 2016” (a.k.a. ang logic na illogical) eh sige bes pasok na pasok ka. I admire the effort, brave siya to boot, pero hilaw pa sa luto ang putaheng ito. Balik muna sa kusina beh. Timpla pa more. Baka maka-jackpot na next time.

Sayang. But I’m still happy na may Nora Aunor entry ulit sa MMFF. Sana mas magandang materyal na sa susunod. Or taasan niyo TF niya para mas inspired ang acting? Or I dunno what will make it tick next time.  Choose your own production path na lang din sa susunod. Huwag susuko. Gawa lang ng gawa, k.

Next!

MMFF2016: My briefer (pantyer?)

Posted in MMFF, Philippine Cinema, Philippine film industry on January 12, 2017 by leaflens
mmff-logo

Photo swiped from here.

 

I like this new MMFF logo. It cutely reflects both celluloid and digital via the wheel icons. Then there’s Metro Manila icons within the jeep. And then there’s movement, as this is an animated logo. The font is also reminiscent of the past Tourism Dept. campaign of “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” Enter frame from left, exit frame to the right. Just where we want to go — forward.

And this is supposedly what this refurbished MMFF aims: to move forward, away from the usual Christmas box-office trappings of trashy Christmas film fare. So many things have already been said about this, so I won’t add to the conversation. I’m just glad that I’m seeing more formidable people like my former film professor colleague at the helm of things in the selection committee or whatever they call their committees now. Slowly, change is indeed coming, at least in this “miniscule” part of our world we call Philippine cinema.

But have things really changed? Save from having a documentary — a full-length one at that — enter as a viable competitor, some films sounded like they’re cut with the same cookie cutter of past films while the rest were whipped up by artisanal chefs who kept on reinventing at the last minute before serving. Yes, we saw them all. And we’ll talk about them, one by one.

mmff-2016-posters

Photo swiped from here.

Enero na nang mahagilap ko ang mga pelikula, at nakaka-panic dahil sa threat na aalisin na daw sila agad-agad matapos ang takdang araw ng festival. Aba, perstaym! Dati eh extended nang bongga ang entries, tapos ngayon, hindi magkaugaga sa pag-pullout. Talagang same mafia, different decade lang talaga ang ibang kalakaran sa industriyang ito, na siyang maaga kong kinapaguran, sa totoo lang.

Pero sige lang. Habol lang lola mo. Una kong nahagilap sa SM Marikina ang Kabisera ni Ate Guy, dati naming bida sa 1997 MMFF entry ng dati kong opisinang Premiere Entertainment Productions na Babae. Tapos sinunod ko ang Seklusyon kung saan humabol ang sweetheart ko sa panonood. Umaatikabong reaksiyon, bilang unang beses sa buong buhay niya ang manood ng MMFF entry (Hollywood film buff ang lola). Pero natuwa na siya sa pangatlong entry na napanood ko kung saan sumama din siya, sa Sunday Beauty Queen. Mainam ang gabi.

Ikalawang araw ng paghahabol, Oro lang ang kinaya ng powers ko sa Eastwood. Gorabels lang, fambam duties muna. Pero dapat lang pang-isang araw nga ang pelikulang iyon. More soon.

Ikatlong araw, kuntodo na ang mall-hopping! Sa Megamall naabutan ang Vince and Kath and James. Buti na lang may mochi stall sa harap ng cinemas. Sarap. Tapos talon naman sa Die Beautiful. Kabog! Then diretso na sa errands sa UP Town Center at kumonyo na din sa cinema doon para sa Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank 2: Forever Is Not Enough. Tapos errands ulit bago tinira ang huli, si Saving Sally. Galing kong mag-multitasking anek! Dedma na sa migraine the next day. Masaya naman at nahagilap ko silang lahat. Just like the good ol’ days, eh. Slight.

Sige, iisa-isahin natin ito in the days to come, oks? Are you ready ka na ba?

#filmmiron commence!

2016 Life, Interrupted…2017 resuming take!

Posted in takilya life on January 12, 2017 by leaflens

WordPress has changed so much that I’m having a hard time reorienting myself with their new UI. Yes, it has been that long since I’ve been here. Laman ng buhay at lamyerda sa Pilipinas at Asya ang unang inatupag ng lola mo…pero hindi pa rin nakakalimutan ang pelikula, siyempre.

At dahil MMFF ang huling paalam ng 2016 sa atin, doon ko muna sisimulan ang pagbabalik-tipa dito sa 2017. Teka, warm up lang muna bago mag-take, k. K!

Standby.

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Spinderella cut it up one time!

Posted in children-young adult content, fantasy-mythical, Hollywood dream factory, love story, women's issues in film with tags , , , on March 24, 2015 by leaflens

Or in short, here’s my take on this year’s remake of a tale as old as time, but the messaging is as problematic as ever. Yes, I know it’s as predictable as hell but it still needs to be scrutinized, especially these days when media bombards women and girls with questionable embedded values.

MV5BMjMxODYyODEzN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDk4OTU0MzE@._V1_SX214_AL_CINDERELLA (2015)

d. Kenneth Branagh

c. Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Lily James

PITCH: That ageless tale of an orphan girl with a wicked stepmum and stepsisses who, out of kindness and through magic, snags herself a prince charming with a foot fetish of sorts. Okay glass slippers na nga!

CATCH: That ageless tale just rebooted its age-old problematic messaging and what this tale actually related to young girls out there.

That this film was directed by Kenneth Branagh surprised me more than anything. But no amount of Shakespearean creds or great film creds (Much Ado About Nothing or Dead Again or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein my fave! to name a few) could spin this tale out of its eventual tunnel vision of a message: that in order to get out of a miserable life, a girl needs to be kind and suffer first in order to snag a prince charming. Whoopteedoo.

Daniel Radcliffe, Kenneth Branagh, and Rupert Grint

Or maybe he was directing it as Gilderoy Lockhart. Yeah, Ron’s face, mine as well. Waaah Emma Thompson o! Oops, baka marinig ni Helena BC heheh.

Fine, given that the film didn’t identify its era so we automatically assume that it was from that era where women are considered property of men, saved only by virtue of being the daughter of a man or the wife of one (which still happens today devahhhhh but I digress). Since Cinderella didn’t have both a dad and a jowa, then she just tried to make do with what life handed out to her, until that fated prince comes along.

And this is where my sweetheart and I reacted when watching this film: that women like Cindy here would just accept what life handed her, without giving up a fight. I mean, is she that naive and trusting that she would just accept all the atrocities that her step-sibs/mum would hand her? Siyempre dahil mga palabang eba kaming mag-jowa, bumubula ang bibig namin nang panoorin namin ito, right? [Yup, dapat nasa Insurgent kami pero may kasama kaming kids at ito ang type nila, so there, k.] Granted that Branagh gave us a glimpse of a “palabang eba, slight” ni Cindy during that scene na parang “kinakaawaan” niya ang katangahan ng step-sibs niya, still, it’s not enough for us to forego all of the pang-aapi that she just received without a whimper. And this is where that idea of female sufferance enters the picture, where women ought to just accept these burdens thrown upon her, because woman! Kainis. Fine, given din na pinakita naman ni Branagh na may spunk kahit papaano si Cindy when she encountered the prince for the first time sa forest, pero onetime bigtime lang ito teh, at pag-uwi niya sa balur, yagit mode pa rin ang peg ni ati. Di ko bet.

I don’t know what’s more dangerous: Cinderella being portrayed as naive to the evils of other people, or that naivete is being disguised as kindness. After all, her mantra was her mother’s dying habilin: have courage and be kind. But mum forgot to lecture her that in order to be courageous, one has to stand up when people are being unkind na, right? Isn’t this akin to just accepting bullying when one is being bullied? With so many problems regarding bullying that kids these days face, they don’t really need another film to reassure them that being bullied now is okay because later, a prince will save the day! Kalerks. They should save themselves dapat ang peg. But no, Shrek kasi ‘yun. or Ever After.

And that’s also one point that my sweetheart reacted to: hindi ganyan ang ma-inlove k! Meaning love is not just about finding someone secretly and then later revealing their real identities and then later ulit inlab na sila. Fine, granted na love at first sight ito, a la Romeo and Juliet, but you know what actually happened to those two star-crossed lovers, right? [Na-tegi sila teh k!] At saka hindi mo mahahanap ang trulab mo because of her shoe size. Pero sige na nga, dahil magical naman ito, I’ll give you that: a shoe-fitted love.

And that’s another thing kung saan din kami nag-react: na hindi masasagot ng magic-magic lang ang prublema mo. No caru? Have pumpkin for a coach! No dress? Bibbity-bobbity-boo RTW courtesy of fairy godmother’s wand. No julalays? Have rats and lizards turn into humans for a few hours. At gorabels na sa ball! Tugz tugs na si teh. Winner.

Well, I guess wala na naman akong magagawa sa tale as old as time na ito, with messaging as dangerous as shit, so I tried to focus on the finer points of the film while watching it. And it involved fixating on the stellar cast . I mean haller, Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmum pare. Dapat mag-usap sila ni Angelina Jolie mylab at gumawa ng Maleficent meets Cinderella’s Evil Stepmum movie pare! Patok sa takilya yun.

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If only for this scene, watch this film and see how this Academy Award-winning thespian makes bawi this forgettable story. Walang kupas!

I don’t know how much she was challenged in portraying this role, but she sure looked like she was having fun channeling filmic femme fatales for this role hehe. I don’t know but she reminded me of Marlene Dietrich in some scenes, while that emerging-from-the-dark scene confronting Cinderella and her glass slipper was just awesome. It felt like it didn’t belong in this film. Yes, that’s Branagh indeed, bumabawi si bakla lolz.

 

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Dietrich, meet Blanchett. Pero minsan rume-Rebecca rin ang peg ni ati so hmm ayan hodgepodge.

 

At kumusta naman din na andito ang alter-ego ni Bellatrix Lestrange in the form of Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of the Fairy Godmother. Again, I guess she was trying to find some deeper hugot of this character pero wala naman talagang mahuhugot dito. So I guess she had fun playing this “alter ego” hihihi. Yes, I get it: raket lang ito, kids. Sige, kelangang kumita paminsan-minsan.

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Uhm, Black Swan ba ituh lola Helena? It’s the wand, ano? Lolz. 

As for the notion of a happily ever after, I think there are many tales that have debunked this already, so maybe that’s why they decided to humanize the prince here, so he won’t be altogether 100% charming. By injecting some angst into him (i.e. I want to marry for love, not for political connections chenerz), we could now justify why he ran away from the ball and went bouncing after the belle in blue. Although that landian scene sa swing was a bit funny, and I detected a bit of sexual nuance here hehe. Puwede siyang symbolism for a one night stand kaya haller (i.e. landian blues then hawakan blues then takbuhan blues then ask si bakla ng “What is your name?” sa kalandian lolz yeah I’m overreading #bagotarepublic na by this point).

1893_PrinceCharming_CinderellaLiveAction_23

Ako lang ba ang bothered sa bakat ni boylet??? #himatay

Well, what more can I say? If you want to see a live action version of this Disney animated classic, then go ahead and watch this, if only for these superb actors. Other than that, just be prepared to guide impressionable young minds who might be watching this with you, and help them un-suspend their disbelief after watching this story. Yes, because they’ll need it, teh. K? K.

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