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MOVIE REVIEWS: Cinema One Originals Festival 2018 (Part 1)

Here’s the first part of our festival report on Cinema One Originals 2018, in which we cover Double Twisting Double Back, Mamu (and a Mother Too), Never Tear Us ApartPaglisan, and Pang-MMKThe 14th edition of Cinema One Originals Film Festival runs from October 12 to 21, 2018 in select cinemas in Metro Manila.

READ MORE: Guide to Cinema One Originals Festival 2018


DOUBLE TWISTING DOUBLE BACK

Joem Bascon and Tony Labrusca in ‘Double Twisting Double Back.’ Photo via Cinema One.

Synopsis: A year ago, Badger is one of the best gymnasts in the Philippines. He wants to be the very best, until his reckless best friend sabotaged his athletic career. Now, Badger is miserably working as a distributor, selling alcoholic beverages to the managers of bars and supermarkets. To his delight, Badger receives a new opportunity to pursue his quest to be the best Filipino gymnast. He immediately resigns from his job. His reckless best friend, who fulfills his desires through this job, gets pissed and vows to stop Badger’s dreams once again.

Review: Double Twisting Double Back puts a fascinating marriage to gymnastics and sexual deed, both activities similar in a way that they involve an endorphin rush. While most psychological studies state that engaging in exercise (or in this case, competitive sports) can help enriching one’s sex life, the film lays out a reversed hypothesis: surrendering to carnal desires can actually give a sense of relaxation, and therefore focus before an upcoming competition. This is the main argument that satyromaniac Wasi (Joem Bascon) enforces to his athlete best friend Badger (Tony Labrusca), to which the latter strongly rebuffs.

Apart from sexual addiction, the film also tackles another frequently portrayed mental illness in cinema (I won’t spoil but watching the trailer below will give you a good idea of what I’m talking about). Its premise is mostly founded on Sigmund Freud’s conceptual framework – the clash of id and superego, presented in some form of a twisted reality. As a devil’s advocate, Bascon summons so much menace and self-righteousness in his portrayal. On the other hand, Labrusca may be playing a more passive role in the dynamic but he delivers to a challenging task of enduring mental anguish and relearning gymnastics himself. The film showcases a full display of his flexibility (from somersaults to handstands and all), and in attempt to be socially relevant, it inserts a clunky commentary about the current plight of local gymnasts.

Director and writer Joseph Abello is not afraid in breaking the rules he set beforehand as the third act gets crazier. Benefiting from an eerie musical scoring and a restless editing, the film amps up the testosterone level to reach a shocking, no holds barred finale. At this point, fantasy may completely take over but it in this manner that the film finds its sweet spot.

Written and directed by Joseph Abello, ‘Double Twisting Double Back‘ stars Joem Bascon, Tony Labrusca, Mon Confiado, Suzette Ranillo, Acey Aguilar, Elora Espano, Biboy Ramirez, Sunshine Teodoro, Dalin Sarmiento, Elle Velasco and Ella Mae McCoy. Run time: 115 minutes.


MAMU; AND A MOTHER TOO

Iyah Mina and EJ Jallorina in ‘Mamu (And a Mother Too).’ Photo via Cinema One.

Synopsis: A transgender sex worker in her late 40s along Fields Avenue whose only aspiration is to have breast implants for her profession unexpectedly assumes the role of a mother to her orphaned niece, a transgender youth who is only beginning to discover her own sexuality. As she works more shifts to save for her implants, troubles arise when she begins to feel the weight of her struggles – being an aging sex worker in fast-evolving society, a partner to her young fiancé, and a parent to a teenager she just met. Her difficult confrontations eventually lead her to a new attitude towards life, and a unique recipe to a famous Kapampangan dish, Sisig.

Review: Despite coming from a miserable place of sex industry, Mamu (and a Mother Too) teems with genuine kindness most evident in Ernalyn (Iyah Mina in her strong movie debut) as a trans-prostitute with a heart of gold. The main goal here is to redefine the conventions of being a mother and while the film quickly sets up Erna to be a likeable protagonist, for the most part though, she is often tied to her goal of having breast implants to attract more customers. It does excel more on its comedic aspect – the film guilty on meandering in its shallow themes, but with it comes the entertaining banter among its gay supporting characters.

There’s also a hilarious coming-of-age of storyline in Bona (EJ Jallorina comes out as a crowd favorite) and even Vincent (Arron Villaflor) who seems to be Erna’s leeching boyfriend, defies his stereotype midway through the film. But once these subplots converge into its dramatic moments, the emotional weight is ultimately watered down by the film’s lack of focus. During its third act, the film takes Erna’s selflessness to an extreme that feels rather uncalled for.

Still, it’s refreshing to see a film operating in a progressive society – where straight guys openly flirt with gays and never once do the characters make a big deal about sexual orientation. It could have benefited more from a restrained editing but director Rod Singh touches on a lot of socially relevant issues to represent the struggles of a marginalized demographic. The film places its heart on a poignant level of humanity to make us viewers realize that we’re not that different from them after all.

Directed by Rod Singh, ‘Mamu (and a Mother Too)‘ stars Iyah Mina, Arron Villaflor, EJ Jallorina, Markus Paterson and Jovani Manansala. Run time: 90 minutes.

 


NEVER TEAR US APART

Screen grabs from ‘Never Tear Us Part.’ Photo via Cinema One.

Synopsis: An aging spy, his delusional wife, and promiscuous son are driven into madness as they confront the terrors caused by the monster known as The Shadow.

Review: I resign any attempt to comprehend what happened in Never Tear Us Apart, let alone think what this movie is really about. Vertically shot using an iPhone, this experimental film is not for everyone. There’s a deliberate intention to confuse the audience – the faces are not shown until the third act and the storyline, interspersed with random clips, don’t have a natural rhythm to sustain coherence. The english dialogues feel contrived and I can’t say that the cinematography truly arrested my attention when I was struggling to stay awake for a good amount of time.

One can argue that the experience is like peering into someone else’s private and promiscuous life. With the amount of soft core porn and BDSM this film has, it clearly tries to stimulate your senses. But instead of pleasure, the meaning gets lost in translation and all I get is a bunch of homework.

There are far more posing questions: What convinced these veteran actors to be involved here? How much did the producers pay for all the copyrighted material inserted? At one point, did director Whammy Alcazaren realize that he’s alienating the ‘average’ viewer too much? He sure does pour his heart here, but it’s a vanity project that only he and his team can fully grasp. Anyway, this form of ‘art’ belongs more in the museum than in the cinema.

Directed by Whammy Alcazaren, ‘Never Tear Us Apart‘ stars Ricky Davao, Meryll Soriano and Jasmine Curtis-Smith. Run time: 85 minutes.

 


PAGLISAN

Eula Valdes and Ian Veneracion in ‘Paglisan.’ Photo via Cinema One.

Synopsis: Crisanto and Dolores’ marriage is going through a rough patch. Going through a marital crisis, a couple’s marriage is tested when Crisanto is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease as Dolores sinks deeper into depression. Paglisan tells the story of how a married couple attempt to survive together through fading memories and fleeting identities.

Review: At first, the gradual deterioration in Paglisan’s animation may seem like a product of rushed production but in hindsight, this is actually a reflection of Cris’ decline in mental faculties. Director Carl Joseph Papa, as seen in his previous work in Manang Biring, seems to have a preference for the humble 2D animation but I would have appreciated if there’s more frames and details here. Perhaps that’s the only thing that hinders me in giving this beautiful film a perfect score because such anti-climatic style gets in the way of earning its maximum emotional impact. Given with a larger budget, this film though is very ripe for a remake. So here’s my unsolicited opinion: go for live action in the first act, then the Manang Biring pseudo-animation for the second act and finally, save the storyboard style for the third act.

And man, I am disappointed that the trailer bears no hint that this is actually a musical. If the trailer did so, this film would’ve drawn more attention because the songs are really good. Eula Valdes’ vocals shine during her breakdown number of “Pagod Na” and Ian Veneracion sings plenty of catchy songs too, with “Ten Past Eleven” being the standout. There’s also a pleasant surprise as Khalil Ramos and Junjun Quintana join in a rendition of Do Re Mi’s “I Can” performance. Will someone make a petition to put these songs on Spotify?

Despite its limitations, Paglisan is something that I can embrace and recommend wholeheartedly. We don’t often get a local animated feature these days, let alone also a musical. As Veneracion performs his heartbreaking swan song in the end, the film reminds its viewers that memories may fade and bodies may fail, but unconditional love never forgets.

Directed Carl Joseph Papa, ‘Paglisan‘ stars Ian Veneracion, Eula Valdez, Khalil Ramos and Junjun Quintana. Run time: 100 minutes.

 


PANG-MMK

Neil Coleta in ‘Pang MMK.’ Photo via Cinema One.

Synopsis: Being the legitimate son, Janus was given the stressful responsibility to take care of his father’s funeral. With the presence of a senator, constant phone calls from his mother (who was in the United States), and the conflict between his scandalous sister and his father’s mistress; the funeral became dramatic, chaotic, and hilarious.

Review: Almost everything about Pang-MMK screams of repetition. It beats you on the head with the same running jokes. To repeat them twice will elicit laughs, but to rehash them for the third or fourth time, is already telling how actually thin the material is. Engrossed on gags, this film has little regard for its main character’s development – Janus remains emotionally unbothered of what’s happening around him. The film misses the opportunity to explore the history with his father and thereby, give him a more meaningful arc.

Neil Coleta does his best to impersonate a sassy gay and Nikki Valdez gives an all out performance as a vulgar drunk woman, but none of their characters are simply likeable enough for the viewers to root for. It does not help that the film has a misguided notion into thinking that profanity is tantamount to punchlines. (They’re not.) Director John Lapus seems to be following the footsteps of Wenn Deramas, but this style of direction starts to feel outdated in the current landscape of local cinema. Even the rip-off musical scoring turns off.

It’s a shame because making a parody sequel to an original “Maalaala Mo Kaya” episode seems like a fun concept to play with. But without a solid emotional core, this film just falls apart regardless how much star power it has. The unimaginatively titled theme song “Pang-MMK” played in the credits section puts the final nail in the coffin.

Directed by John Lapus, ‘Pang MMK‘ stars Neil Coleta, Nikki Valdez, Zeppi Borromeo, Joel Torre, Ricky Davao, Cherry Pie Picache, Charo Santos-Concio, Mosang, Marife Necesito, Dennis Obispo, Ricel Vito, Kakai Bautista, Anjo Damiles, Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo. Run time: 99 minutes

 

Read more: Part 2 of Cinema One 2018 coverage

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