MOVIE REVIEW: Ringgo: The Dog-Shooter (2016)

One of my favorite poems is “Ode to Clothes” by the great Pablo Neruda. I like the poem precisely because of its use of a peculiar subject matter to convey a larger and more profound meaning. Its genius lies in the fact that it violates the conventions of writing odes–that it always has to be about grand subjects like stars, or oceans, or love, or something so magnificent that it is worthy of praise–and it does this brilliantly. What I mean to say is, who in the world would ever think of writing an ode to clothes? It’s fantastic.

Which brings me to Ringgo: The Dog Shooter, a film directed by Rahyan Carlos and written by Ricky Lee. The film attempts pretty much something similar to what Neruda did in his time. I mean, who would ever think of making a movie about… dog sex? It’s an occasional laughing matter among elementary school boys below the age of 10, but I’ve never imagined the subject matter reaching cinematic status. It’s unconventional; it’s eyebrow-raising; it’s… it’s weird.

In summary, the film is about Ringgo who makes a living out of dog shooting, the act in which a trained professional assists domestic dogs to mate. Eventually Ringgo meets a lesbian couple who hire him to take care of their dogs, and they all become very good friends who care enough to look out for each other. The story then revolves around the relationship of these three major characters, and we are told of their struggles, secrets, and dark pasts.

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Although I found some parts of the film to be quite dragging, there is no denying that the writer Ricky Lee does an impressive job in establishing the protagonists (and antagonists) found in the narrative. How the characters would evolve during the span of the story is well-thought-out, and there is a steady build-up that ties effectively at its denouement. As expected of a veteran writer such as Ricky Lee, I have no qualms about the overall character development in the film; their motivations are properly introduced, and their subsequent actions are logical. Personally I believe this to be the foundation of every good piece of literature, and the film does a considerably good job in accomplishing this.

But more than basic character development, what I found impressive about the writing is its faithfulness to a profound theme and its pursuit in developing this central meaning. As I said earlier, I found the subject of dog mating to be initially shocking, as if the film could not be about anything else other than what I could see on the surface. But beneath this rather unorthodox layer is an intelligent commentary on the nature of love vis a vis its carnal counterpart, lust. And all elements in the narrative–from Ringgo’s habit of publicly scratching his genitals, to his brief sexual exploits, and to the undercurrents running deep beneath the lesbian couple’s sometimes turbulent relationship–functions in harmony with one another to convey a message that is at once thought-provoking and entertaining.

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The film is also solid with regards to its visual aspects: cinematography and editing are of professional quality, and production design is equally great. Another thing of significance is how well the actors delivered on-screen: Sandino Martin does an excellent job at maintaining the qualities and idiosyncrasies of his character Ringgo, and Janice de Belen’s performance as Bong, the tough-talking lesbian woman, was nothing short of sublime. Coupled with a screenplay that naturally pushes its characters to come alive, the acting is an invaluable strength to the narrative, contributing much to its success.

Thus Ringo: The Dog Shooter, in my opinion, accomplishes similarly what Neruda did in his famous ode. The film is unafraid to flaunt its strangeness, and precisely, this is where it derives its poetry and its profundity on a topic that sits at the center of human experience. Hence Ringgo: The Dog Shooter is a relatable film which invites its viewers to reflect on the nature of humanness, to understand more deeply the inner longings of every person and animal, and most especially to explore the concept of love which, I read somewhere, is the greatest.

Ringo: The Dog Shooter premiered July 1, 2016 as part of the World Premieres Film Festival which will run until July 10 at SM Megamall, SM North EDSA, Greenbelt 3, Uptown Mall, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, and Cinematheque Centre Manila. The film won awards for Second Best Picture, Best Actress (Janice de Belen), Best Actor (Sandino Martin), and Best Screenplay. 

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MOVIE REVIEW: Ku’te (2016)

To be honest, I genuinely don’t like saying bad things about any topic even if I find it absolutely undesirable. Of course, there are some exceptions when it is for the common good that you would say something distasteful, but it’s just that I believe that the world is already full of negativity and I wouldn’t want to be one to articulate another pandora’s box into existence. Thus, I always make it a point that if ever I do have to say something bad, and it is needed for say, a movie review, then I would have to balance it with all the positivity I could grasp. But of course, I don’t want to force it; I don’t want to say something nice just for the sake of saying something nice. So what if there’s no choice but to write negatively about a movie for online publishing? Then I decided that I would have to make it short if I can’t avoid it being bitter.

Ku’te, a film directed by Ronaldo Bertubin, is today’s pandora’s box. If I really have to say anything good, perhaps it would be that it’s a movie done with beautiful intentions, and it’s primarily an advocacy against ableism and discrimination towards people with Down’s Syndrome. That’s as far as I can appreciate when we talk about this film, and really, I believe that subject matter deserves more coverage to provoke dialogue. But with regards to the technical aspects of Ku’te, which any comprehensive review would have to cover, eerrr… everything is just, wrong.

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The writing is dragging, often resorting to lazy flashbacks (and a dream sequence!) in order to relay key points in the narrative. Character development is also problematic, and you can’t exactly connect with the characters onscreen. The lack of engagement to the audience makes the drama of Lenlen, the girl with Down’s Syndrome, and her homosexual brother whom she calls Ku’te somewhat hard to stomach. It’s all just crying and breaking down, and you just sit there wondering when it’s going to stop.

The cinematography and the editing are equally terrible, something I would brand as student film quality. The camera movement is rough, aimless, and lacking artistic purpose. The cinematographer can’t make up his mind if he’s going for a solid, stationary shot, or a handheld one. And he doesn’t seem to be aware that he must have his reasons for picking either. Not to mention, there’s an obvious use of AUTO mode wherein the camera’s exposure and focus settings shift automatically during shooting. It’s horribly distracting. It’s like a group project put together by a bunch of undergraduates.

Production design is also unimpressive. There’s not much attempt to creatively organize the visual aspects of the film. If there was ever an attempt to establish a color palette, it was never apparent. There was nothing eye-catching, nothing iconic, nothing worth remembering.

The acting of the major characters are generally satisfactory, but it’s the minor characters that ruin everything. You know those times when an extra delivers a line or an action that’s just so bad that it takes away everything good in a particular sequence? In Ku’te it happens quite a lot.

Again, I don’t take pleasure in saying these things, and I’m really sorry for having to be frank. But Ku’te is really a film I would not recommend. The intentions are nice, but artistically, it’s raw in a very bad way. Had they put more attention to the technical aspects of filmmaking, the film’s themes could have been expressed much better. For me, this movie is a case of sayang–when the subject matter could have been promising, but the delivery is just, off.

In all honesty, Ku’te is a film I would rather not have watched, and I am saddened by its lack of excellence. But if you ever get a chance to watch this film, then see for yourself if I’m correct about not being happy with it.

Ku’te premiered July 1, 2016 as part of the World Premieres Film Festival which will run until July 10 at SM Megamall, SM North EDSA, Greenbelt 3, Uptown Mall, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, and Cinematheque Centre Manila.

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MOVIE REVIEW: EDSA (2016)

(Disclaimer: This is not a political article, this is a film review!)

In recent times there has been a false dichotomy setup by the lesser informed that if you say you are anti-Martial Law then logically you would fall into the category of someone supporting the yellow family–this, in truth, is quite a terrible analysis. It’s as if you can’t choose to abhor the atrocities of both sides, and that you are merely a mindless, floating piece of debris caught in the waves of an ocean that could only bring you to either one of the two shores. Let me get this out of the way: this is not a Jollibee vs. Mcdo, or GMA vs. ABS-CBN type of question. And you are not merely a citizen controlled by the magnetism of monolothic oligarchs, unable to make up your own mind. This is a question that is of greater significance, a question that requires much more thought and study that Facebook memes will simply not suffice. This is a question that has haunted our history as a people since that most infamous felon was ousted in 1986. This is the question: “Was it worth it?” And if so, “What now?”

The reason I am in praise of the film EDSA directed by Alvin Yapan is precisely because it presents this question without the baggage of having to mention the names of a few powerful elite. As Yapan stressed during the Q and A portion of the gala screening of his piece at the World Premieres Film Festival 2016, this is a film that is essentially about us, the Filipino people, and not about the achievements of a certain political party. And this attempt to remove the subject matter from the claws of oligarchy is, in my opinion, noteworthy.

EDSA 3On the surface level, EDSA is a frame-story of a handful of people living and working in proximity to the leviathan highway of the same name. EDSA, that is, the great highway, is iconic because of its role as the battleground of the People Power I revolution which ousted the dictatorship in ‘86–the event which is central to the development of the themes in the narrative. It is also unforgettable, and the mere mention of its name produces shivers down the spine (at least, for me) because of its association to the words trapik, badtrip, and pu%$#@&&*!!!! But the film does not take place in the 1980s, it takes place in the now when EDSA’s traffic jams have reached crisis levels, snatching 2.4 billion pesos from the national treasury every single day.

Indeed, the film possesses thematic depth, with its use of the great highway as a grand metaphor for national progress, and its commentary on institutions such as religion, education, and authority. But the actual writing and the way this theme is expressed is what astounds me.

EDSA 4For me, it’s not really an incredible plot; it’s great but not extremely impressive. However, its simplicity is made up for by how well the writer establishes the characters and shapes them to life. Plus, these characters are not merely additions to the narrative, they all function to represent the different social classes that make up the modern-day Filipino social stratification. Hence, they not only turn into engaging entities that one could easily connect with, but more so they function as symbols that enhance the depth of the story. And frankly speaking, a narrative becomes much more difficult the more characters are added; thus, although the storyline is simple, the writing is complex because of how well the characters are treated, and this naturally results in a sound narrative.

With regards to the technicalities such as cinematography, editing, and production design, the film is solid. For instance, that opening sequence of a montage of EDSA (the highway) in which the colors yellow, red, and blue are isolated, is in all honesty beautiful–which is ironic, because Metro Manila itself is yet far from being easy on the eyes. Editing and production design are likewise impressive, and nothing lacks attention to detail. If I have but one complaint, that would be the sound design which at some scenes sounded rough. But I do understand that they had to shoot this in the bowels of the great city, and thus it would be difficult to have clean and natural sounding diegetics. To be fair, it’s only distracting at some parts, but I still I hope they would do something to improve the problematic scenes in order for the film to be holistically good.

EDSA 1Finally, there is the educational value of the film, of which the director admitted to making his work accessible for the purposes of distributing the product to schools. It’s a wonderful endeavor to create films designed to educate young people especially now when misinformation and historical revisionism is rampant in our society. That would perhaps explain why the film does not resort to exceedingly dark themes, and instead speaks of EDSA’s significance through light-hearted material.

Alvin Yapan also mentioned the film’s attempt to draw references from Lino Brocka’s 1975 masterpiece Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag as a means to juxtapose pre- and post- EDSA revolution Philippines, and if we are watchful enough, we’d notice these tributes brilliantly ingrained in the film. But in my opinion, there is also one more film of significance that we could compare to Yapan’s EDSA, and that is none other than the 1980 Gawad Urian award-winning film by Ishmael Bernal, Manila by Night, which like Yapan’s is a frame-story that uses the whole of Manila as a grand metaphor to comment on the political milieu of the times. But with its mission to be accessible to all audiences, EDSA is less daunting, and much easier for the average moviegoer to digest. Frankly, it’s a difficult compromise: to honestly teach a subject that is controversial by nature, and also to teach it in a way that accommodates all types of viewers. But in this case, EDSA succeeds in being both artful and educational.

Thus I would highly recommend Alvin Yapan’s masterpiece EDSA. It is both entertaining and enlightening, a trait that any piece of art should aspire to. Being well-crafted and meaningful, it is highly worth a watch.

EDSA premiered June 30, 2016 as part of the World Premieres Film Festival which will run until July 10 at SM Megamall, SM North EDSA, Greenbelt 3, Uptown Mall, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, and Cinematheque Centre Manila. The film won awards for Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Sound.

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Q&A with Anne Hathaway for ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’

Anne Hathaway returns as Mirana, the mild-mannered, kind White Queen, and the beautiful younger sister to the spiteful Red Queen, in Disney’s fantasy adventure “Alice Through the Looking Glass” in Philippine cinemas July 6th.

In the film, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to the whimsical world of Underland and travels back in time to save the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp).

Question: We get to see the backstory of the divide between the sister queens. Was it fun to go back in time and play that younger character with Helena Bonham-Carter (as the Red Queen)?

Anne Hathaway: It was fun to learn that she’s not perfect. I think she’s sort of lovely in the first one but a bit oppressively good so it’s nice to know that, like everyone, she’s got a past and she has regrets and she feels shame, she feels guilt and that you forgive her these things so I actually was really thrilled that we were trying to see what the emotions were about this character who looks so fantastical but then feels so believable.

Q: What kind of relationship did you have with Helena while filming? Did you discuss the scene together?

Anne: I think Helena is one of my favorite people on the planet. I think the world is better because she is on it. She’s so inventive and fresh, literally all the definitions of fresh. She’s got a wonderfully fresh mouth and she’s fearless and vulnerable and open and friendly and I admire her so much so it was really exciting for me to have more scenes with her this time around. Yes, I got to work with an incredible actor but also because I got to talk to her between scenes which I love. I think we had a really nice time crafting a sisterly relationship together and trying to find something that felt true to us and that people would understand.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the wild costumes in the film?

Anne: I wore no trousers. I loved it, actually. I thought that Colleen Atwood’s costume probably created my character. I had certain ideas about who she was and as soon as I put on the dress, it was like “Oh, she’s there.” I also started to think about the relationship between her and Helena and I thought if you have a family member who has a very large personality, has a lot of emotions, you compensate by taking up less space. I thought here’s somebody who is literally turning herself into almost weightlessness and yet it is still so ornamented so I just thought it was very rich and very airy for my airhead character.

Q: What was your initiation to Lewis Carroll’s books and what do you appreciate more now that you’ve looked closer through these movies?

Anne: I first read “Alice in Wonderland” when I was 19 and in college so I think being nineteen and fairly dramatic I focused so much on how well Lewis Carroll described madness, just the idea that you see the world just a little bit off and I remember feeling very connected to that at that time. And, as you feel when you encounter people who champion that way of living, I felt a kinship and at home and was very pleased with it.

Q: You have been in some family-oriented films like “The Princess Diaries” films. Now that you are a young mom, do you think “This is something that my son can watch”?

Anne: You give me a lot of credit as a mom. When I was seventeen years old, I thought “My kids are gonna watch this someday.” I didn’t think about that when I did `The Princess Diaries’ and I got questions about being a role model. It never occurred to me that actors should be role models for a multitude of reasons but, that’s not what I’m interested in so I don’t make films for that reason. If they happen to work out that way sure, I’m thrilled.

I’ve now been in a lot of films where you can have a date night in a theater with your family or you can sit down on the couch in sweat pants and become a human amoeba and just chill out together and feel warm and connected and I’m proud of that in my body of work are stories that allow families to experience them together. I can’t say that I’m going to continue to make them because I have a child now. I just will hopefully continue to make them because I respond to them and seek challenges as an actress.

Presented in Digital 3D™, Real D 3D and IMAX® 3D, “Alice through the Looking Glass” opens July 6, 2016 in the Philippines as distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International through Columbia Pictures.

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