MOVIE REVIEW: Iadya Mo Kami (2016)

There have been many moments in my life when I felt disappointed. For instance, when I received a clear envelope for a Christmas exchange gift back when I was a kid; or when Alex Turner cut his hair and started pretending like a British Elvis; or when The Hobbit movie came out and it was horrible and it didn’t do the book justice; or whenever I would watch a 2010s live video of The Strokes which, to be fair, is my favorite band. There are many more instances, and usually I would just forget them in an hour or so later. But having been through the worst, such as your favorite indie rock songwriter changing appearance, I still haven’t got quite used to being disappointed. It still bites. And I rediscovered that fact about myself last Saturday when in a twist of fate I was able to watch Iadya Mo Kami.

Like I always say, I don’t take pleasure in negatively criticizing any topic, and it is of great suffering that I have to say bad things even if they were about matters that genuinely disappointed me. Like for instance, Ricky Lee’s writing in this particular film we speak of.

To be fair, Mel Chionglo’s direction was generally good. He was able to bring out the best in his actors, and consequently they were able to deliver well on-screen. Moreover, the technical aspects of the film is of professional quality, a trait that is foundational to good filmmaking. For example, the cinematography is spectacular, utilizing well the beauty of the surrounding mountains that take up a significant portion of the movie’s mise-en-scene. This is augmented by an excellent work in color grading that gives the picture such vibrance and nostalgia. And who could forget that wonderful work in production design which makes the characters and the different physical elements in the narrative come alive.

So on the superficial level, Iadya Mo Kami looks and feels good. It was promising, from the title to the visuals. And this is precisely why I’m saddened by it, because everything was great–that is, except for the writing.

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For context, the film is basically about a certain Father Greg who gets reassigned to a parish high up in the mountains. Through his encounters with the the proletariats living in the area and the powerful elite clan of the goatherd Julian, we are introduced to Greg’s struggles and his attempts to detach from his fleshly desires. In a lot of ways, it’s a commentary on the nature of religious life and the institution which governs it, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. With that established, let me begin highlighting in brief why I think the writing for the film fails in a lot of ways.

For me the most noticeable flaw in the screenplay is that the pace is too draggy. I don’t have much of a problem if the writer is merely taking his time to establish the characters, their motivations, and their inner struggles and undercurrents, in the same way that the great writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda takes his sweet time in cooking the characters for his films. But in the case of Iadya, there’s no other way to say it other than there was just too much time wasted on less valuable elements so that it didn’t really pay off in the end. It makes you feel like your choice to stay awake until the ending was a choice badly made. In short, the film’s a tad bit boring.

As an example, I’d like to highlight the fact that the script contains a number of superfluous characters that aren’t really relevant to the entire narrative. For instance, we have the rural bishop who does nothing to motivate (or discourage) Greg to carry out a plan of action; then we have that one sickly guy called Kulit (subtitled Mr. Obstinate) who happens to be Greg’s colleague; and then we have, for some strange reason, the Pope. To be fair, I somewhat understand Kulit’s role as the demonstration of ‘the weak flesh,’ a theme which fits well to the story of Father Greg. But my problem with him is that his addition to the tale is a bit late, and his character doesn’t really get developed for him to be relevant to the story. I am also not quite aware on why the Pope has to make an appearance; I don’t see his inclusion in the narrative as something which enhances the depth of the film’s inner meaning. Thus, I believe these characters can be omitted because they do nothing to push the narrative forward. In truth, I feel that they are merely distractions that function only to further slow down the sluggish pace.

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To be fair, there’s a slightly interesting turn further down the storyline. But I say ‘slightly’ because I feel that it was a bit forced and predictable. I also found the use of flashbacks to introduce this particular turn a bit dull and lazy. I mean, isn’t there any other way to reveal the details without using that age-old tactic? Not to mention, the reaction of the protagonists after the momentous event was illogical and bland. Frankly, the ending did nothing to resuscitate the dying script. I felt betrayed.

I know that Ricky Lee is a great writer, and for his works in advancing contemporary Filipino literature, he deserves every ounce of my respect. But as to what exactly happened with Iadya Mo Kami, I am not sure, and I don’t think I want to know. Indeed, Lee’s work in Ringgo: The Dog Shooter is commendable, and having seen it the night before Iadya premiered, I guess my expectations failed.

*profound sigh*

But you know, everyone messes up sometimes, and my faith in Ricky Lee as one of the luminaries of modern Filipino writing is still intact. As I said earlier, I usually forget about disappointments, and I will most likely forget about this one as well.

Give me a week.

Iadya Mo Kami premiered July 2, 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 Musical Score, Best Production Design, and the Special Jury Prize.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Curiosity, Adventure and Love (2016)

The documentary is perhaps the hardest genre of cinema. Here, when we talk of it, we’re not talking about the TV-style documentary which we regularly see on the National Geographic Channel—the type that almost always does not go beyond the layer of being merely factual. But when we talk of documentary for film, we’re talking about the type of genre in which stories of people, groups of people, or events are told not only factually, but creatively in order to strike not just facts but also a deeper, underlying meaning. Having said this, the documentary genre is hard precisely because you’re using a material which is mostly unscripted, and so you would have absolutely no idea where things would lead. It’s volatile, and it’s hard to make sense of something of that nature.

Curiosity, Adventure and Love, a film by Sunshine Lichauco de Leon and Suzanne Richiardone, attempts to convey meaning through the genre we have just spoken of. It’s primarily about the story of Jessie Lichauco, a 104-year-old woman who lives in a 150-year-old house in Sta. Ana, Manila. The film not only tries to put together her biography, but also attempts to encapsulate the voluminous amount of wisdom she has accumulated through a century in as little as an hour—a feat that is understandably applaudable.

What I appreciate most about the film is that one can easily see the amount of hard work that the filmmakers put in in making a comprehensive documentation of Jessie’s life. Her story was not told without context, and a great deal of effort was spent to portray the eras she had lived through. We see the nostalgic pictures and videos of the Philippine islands during the American occupation period; the energy and vibe of glorious pre-wartime Manila; the buildings and houses that were ruined in the fallout of the Second World War; and the images of struggle to rebuild a post-war nation as gradually the remnants come into filmic color. There was much effort to research on the subject matter, and the act of knitting them together to depict Jessie’s life from her halcyon youth to her aged days living beside an ancient tree is nothing short of amazing. In this way, the documentary film deserves attention.

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Moreover, the film is brimming with wisdom; it is filled with insights from someone who learned from the best teacher (as the cliche goes): experience. We are injected with knowledge on youth, friendship, marriage, love, aging, and many more valuable lessons that are applicable to anyone regardless of his or her season. The film is therefore inspirational in many ways, and it not only encourages people to behave more like people, but also restores one’s faith in the good fight. In this sense, the film is commendable for its humanitarian message.

But this particular quality of the documentary is what could also be a source of a certain weakness. And it’s that, amidst the many sayings in the film, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is trying to say in its entirety. There are attempts to establish a grand theme, for instance when they talk about the ancient tree at the Lichauco house and the timeless river flowing beside it. However, in my opinion, this grand theme lacked its required pursuit, and if much more effort was done to develop a central meaning instead of opening up new sources of knowledge via Jessie’s proverbial sayings, the film could have struck a more profound meaning lying deep beneath her story. The sayings were interesting, and they are appreciated, but they could have also been limited for a much better purpose.

What I also have an issue with is how we get to see only one side of ‘Tita Jessie.’ I understand that this is a personal film, made by one of her granddaughters Sunshine Lichauco de Leon, so this might have had a rather subconscious influence on the making of the movie. But if we look at another personal documentary such as Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley, a film which Polley made about the story of her parents, we see that it is quite possible to detach yourself from your subject in order to have a more objective method of research. In that particular film, Polley does not only show the good and wonderful side of her mum and pa; she also spends a considerable amount of time dealing with the darker pasts of her family. Through this we become more engaged in her personal story and much more appreciative of the message she tries to convey.

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I’m not claiming that at one point in her life, Jessie was a bad person. Of course not. I’m also not pushing the film to be ‘scandalous’ for the sake of audience reception. No! All I’m saying is, we can’t deny the fact that Jessie is a mere person who is also able to commit mistakes. And that if there are some things she had done that she is not particularly proud of, and she is willing to share these to the world, it might be easier for the audience to connect with her because then they would realize that she is as much as human as them. What I mean to say is, all saints have had their share of self-inflicted misfortune, and that is precisely what makes their stories convincing. Because as readers of their biographies, we get to know where they fell short and how they were able to redeem themselves from the miry pit. Thus, the lessons they learned and teach become weightier, and they become more relevant to another person’s life. This is exactly what could have been done to improve Curiosity, Adventure and Love.

I would say that despite these issues, the film is still good. Being 104 years old is enough detail to make any story interesting, and thus the film is still very much valuable. It’s also a very nice opportunity to learn something that one could apply in one’s life, and so I would still highly recommend the documentary to anyone willing to learn.

For its historical relevance and inspiring nature, Curiosity, Adventure and Love is worth a watch, and perhaps it would take a couple more to remember everything essential.

So if ever you do get the chance to see it, be sure to open your mind and prepare yourself to glean from an excellent student of the school of age—in which experience teaches.

Curiosity, Adventure and Love premiered July 2, 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 the Special Jury Prize.

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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.



(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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Margot Robbie plays tougher Jane in ‘The Legend of Tarzan’

Australian actress Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, Focus) emerged as a breakout star with her captivating onscreen presence and has quickly become one of the busiest actresses in the industry.

Now, she stars as a feisty Jane to Alexander Skarsgård’s “king of the jungle” in Warner Bros. Pictures’ new action-adventure, The Legend of Tarzan (now showing in Philippine cinemas).

Robbie appreciated the film’s more contemporary approach to the couple. “It’s set in the 1800s, but it has a very modern feel to it, with universal themes that are applicable no matter what day and age it is,” she says. “There is a fantastic adventure, but with a wonderful romance at its core. I liked that it’s not the origin story of Tarzan and Jane meeting in the jungle. Their relationship is more complex now.”

One crucial quality in the casting of both Skarsgård and Robbie was the chemistry between the two actors. “It was vital to immediately feel the love between John and Jane,” director David Yates affirms, “because they are separated not long after arriving in Africa. Although they are kept apart for a significant amount of time, you have to believe their bond is unbreakable.”

“I think their romance is what gives you the emotional investment in the outcome of the story because, at the end of the day, you want them to be reunited,” Robbie relates. “I’m a sucker for a good love story, and the mere notion that Tarzan will go to the ends of the earth to get Jane back can make you a little giddy…especially when it’s Alexander Skarsgård,” she smiles. “He has a great presence and was so committed to his role, but beyond that, he’s just the nicest, nicest guy and a dream to work with.”

The feeling was mutual. “Margot is so lovely and has the most effervescent personality,” Skarsgård says. “It was so much fun working with her. She’s also a pretty tough Australian girl, and definitely tapped into that in creating Jane.”

The director points to Robbie’s innate strength as a reason he wanted her for the role. “Jane has to be feisty and passionate. She’s not a wilting flower waiting to be saved; she can kick some ass. Margot is not only an amazing actress, she has spunk and I love that about her. She made Jane a formidable, contemporary woman.”

Robbie makes it clear she would not have had it any other way, stating, “I’ve never wanted to play the damsel in distress, and Jane is anything but. David and I both agreed that she should be perceived as a very fiery and strong person, so I was excited about that. She is capable of fighting back, which also creates a terrific dynamic with Christoph Waltz’s character, who is the main villain. It’s more like mind games between them, which is interesting because while there are physical battles going on, you also have fighting on an intellectual field.”

Following The Legend of Tarzan, Robbie stars as Harley Quinn in the much-anticipated action adventure Suicide Squad, marking the first time the fan-favorite comic book villain will be seen on the big screen. Robbie joins an ensemble cast, also including Will Smith, Jared Leto and Joel Kinnaman, in the film, directed by David Ayer and opening on August 4 in the Philippines.

From Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures comes the action adventure The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgård as the legendary character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The film also stars Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou, with Oscar winner Jim Broadbent and two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz.

It has been years since the man once known as Tarzan (Skarsgård) left the jungles of Africa behind for a gentrified life as John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, with his beloved wife, Jane (Robbie) at his side. Now, he has been invited back to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary of Parliament, unaware that he is a pawn in a deadly convergence of greed and revenge, masterminded by the Belgian, Captain Leon Rom (Waltz). But those behind the murderous plot have no idea what they are about to unleash.

The Legend of Tarzan is now showing in Philippine cinemas. The film is distributed in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

MOVIE REVIEW: Blue Bustamante (2013)

Miko Livelo’s comedy film Blue Bustamante tells the story of OFW George Bustamante’s (Joem Bascon) travails in Japan where he is accompanied by his sleazy friend Roger (Jun Sabayton) in his quest to find the perfect job. Because of a lack of opportunity, eventually George settles for a stuntman job for a children’s TV show Force Five where he plays the hero Blue Force. Or rather, the masked Blue Force, which is the selling point of the film.

What I found impressive about the movie is its lighthearted and yet effective delivery of a socially relevant theme—the plight of the OFWs. It makes use of the ridiculous in order to tell a story of importance in an engaging and humorous fashion. But Blue isn’t only for laughs, it possesses a depth that is at home with the Filipino experience: it is a story about heroism.

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George is a breadwinner: socially conditioned to fend for himself in a foreign land and send money from abroad just so his wife June (Dimples Romana) and son Kiko (Jhiz Deocareza) could live comfortably back home. As his day-to-day episodes with Roger pass, we realize how much of a hero George becomes to his own family, putting their needs first before his own. Notwithstanding the struggle of losing a dignified job as an engineer and being forced to settle for work, which, in his opinion, is so embarrassing that he can’t possibly admit it to his wife, George presses on anyway in the streets of Japan, writing letters to his family whenever he could.

What is more is that the film does not only stop at the familial level, but for me it also comments on the issue of overseas work and the concept of bagong bayani which is essentially tied to the rise of OFWs. In this sense, George becomes a caricature of the modern Filipino family man who must make ends meet far from home. He is therefore a hero on three levels: a hero to his family, a hero to his homeland, and a hero defending the planet Earth from aliens invading the four corners of the television screen. Thematically then, Blue Bustamante does not lack depth.

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The writing is also generally good and there is usually a reason to laugh (either that, or the people at the back row of the Cinema ’76 Theater couldn’t stop laughing and so I decided to laugh with them too. But, who cares, it was funny). Having said this, the film’s brand of humor does not insult intellect, and it does not merely resort to sarcasm or cliche slapstick. Character development is also well-done, and one could easily connect with the film’s main characters. One could feel as much as make fun of June’s housewife woes, or Kiko’s little adventures with his friends, or Roger’s peculiar way of making friends with George. It takes some skill to develop characters naturally and make them come alive, and succeeding in that area is a requirement for every good piece of literature.

I would also note how often the film would engage in unrealistic audio and visual effects to make scenes more ridiculous than they would be otherwise—that is of course, in a good way. Like when a scene lapsed into slow-motion in order to emphasize George’s abdomen prowess, or when they choreographed hardcoded subtitles to give the Japanese girl Ayumi’s dialogue a bit more humor, and who could forget that weird guy Saitoooooooohhh…. (Don’t worry, you’ll get it when you watch it).

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Also commendable is the production design of the film which is spectacular: the vibrant color palette rich in blues; the hilariously unrealistic props and wardrobe of the fictitious show Force Five; the wisely picked locations in the film; and the iconic and unforgettable way George dresses in all denim. There are many more to cite, but if there’s anything I have an issue with, I’m not sure if the girl Ayumi’s fashion fits the 90s, and the film is supposedly set during that decade. However, this is a superfluous detail, and I mention it here just in case some expert on 90s fashion comes up to me and complains why I didn’t bother to write it in this review. Well here, now I’m safe.

All in all, I liked the film. It’s not a grand movie that you must absolutely watch before you die, but it’s also not a terrible one. It’s funny and entertaining, and would most likely appeal to everyone, not just that one weaboo friend we all have. Okay, it might appeal more to weaboos like, like… me. Joking.

So if ever you do get a chance to see Blue Bustamante, bring your barkada and give it a try. It’s definitely worth a watch, and it might inspire you to learn a bit of Nihonggo. I don’t know why, don’t ask me, but it might.

blue bustamante poster

MOVIE REVIEW: Memory Channel (2016)

Existentialism is perhaps the most appealing subject to young artists. It’s quite a tempting habit to get into, and it may lead to abuse when you realize how easily you could make yourself appear intelligent with very little effort simply by asking “Why do I exist?”

In saying this I think I speak from experience, being that I have a background in film school where everyone seems to be making a film about the same substance. Admittedly, I’m also guilty as charged. But I’m not saying that existentialism is bad for your artistic health. I mean, hey, we’re all fans of Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard aren’t we? All I’m saying is engaging in the subject matter exposes you to the risk of sounding trite and perhaps even lazy. Because like a History Channel documentary investigating the possible existence of extraterrestrial beings, in my observation existentialist literature has the same tendency to come up empty handed. What I’m saying is you can do absolutely anything you want and think you can get away with it simply because no one really knows the answer to the question “why.” Being fully aware that everything is permissible–because “why not?”–it’s easy to become tempted to make lazy artistic decisions. I’m not saying you will, but you might.

Having said this, the subject matter of existence is both easy–in the sense that it’s effortlessly intellectual–and difficult–precisely because it takes a ton of effort to answer an essentially challenging question. And being an artist and not only a philosopher, one has an obligation to answer the question creatively. Which makes it harder to achieve genius-status and not merely be a pseudo-intellectual.

With that lengthy introduction out of the way, let me talk about the film Memory Channel by Raynier Brizuela which I had the privilege of watching at the World Premieres Film Festival 2016. It’s got a catchy name that sounds as if it could easily be a classic (or, I don’t know, I like how it rings), and looking at the SNES-themed publicity materials published on social media, the film does look quite appealing.

memory channel poster

Now, I don’t like reading the synopsis for any sort of literature, whether it be a book or a movie, fearing that it might take away the element of surprise. So when I sat down to watch the film, and was immediately greeted by the narration which inquired “What is my purpose in this world?” I thought, Oh, here we go again.

Basically, the film is about an ex-celebrity-singer Leo La Torre (Gerald Santos) who suffers from amnesia and is unable to recall much of his past life, as such he is afflicted with anxiety disorder. He lives alone, receiving monetary support from his mother abroad (whom, we never hear about, except that she’s living with a different man). In the film, Leo meets a sketchy character who appears out of nowhere and claims to be a retired psychiatrist (Epy Quizon) able to heal Leo if only the boy would just give him his trust. It’s an okay plot, not a very grand one, but it’s okay. I mean, it’s not about the volume of the plot which determines a film, but how well that plot line is actually expressed. And in this film, it’s done rather experimentally.

I admit this makes it hard for me to determine which questionable aspects of the movie are merely ‘mistakes’ and which are ‘intentional.’ To illustrate my confusion, let me begin by dissecting the movie.

At some parts it is obvious that the rough camera work is intentionally designed to confuse the audience (i.e: when Leo goes crazy with a panic attack). However I find that in other sequences (i.e: when Leo doesn’t go crazy with a panic attack) the rough camera movement feels a bit accidental. It’s not easy to recall at which points exactly, but I also felt that some shots weren’t properly woven, and given that the film is not trying to be conventional, it’s hard to say whether or not these were just mistakes.

The color grading is also uneven, and some sequences look as if they come from an entirely different film. One could observe, however, that at times there are attempts to establish a uniform color palette, such as in the character of Oella (Michelle Vito) who either wears bright green or teal. But the attempts are quite lacking, and when you hear the title Memory Channel, it doesn’t bring to mind a set of colors the same way mentioning Moonrise Kingdom would. I’m not saying it should try to imitate Wes Anderson’s iconic production design, all I’m saying is, I wish it could have been better.

I also have a bit of an issue with regards to the writing. I understand that the heavy use of narration is intentional, which kind of reminds me of Stranger than Fiction. But at times I also felt tired hearing that all-knowing voice, and I wonder if it’s really necessary that they abuse it to that degree. I also can’t quite grasp why the video-game character who poses as the narrator for the story deserves to even be the narrator. Just because Leo plays his video-game in the opening sequence does not mean that character is relevant to the whole narrative. But I get the underlying metaphor, that life’s like a game and it has a script and so and so, but if they really wanted to push through with it as a grand theme, they should have focused more on developing this character. For me, the way it was lacked any meaning.

That being said, I felt that the character development was unmotivated, and it was hard to connect with Leo’s struggles and the psychiatrist’s inner suffering, not because the actors weren’t good enough, but because not much attention was paid to holistically make their characters come alive. As an example, I can’t forget that sequence when Leo hands out flyers trying to find his muse Oella, an action which seemed to me as illogical. The psychiatrist mentioned the internet, so wouldn’t that have been the first logical step to finding the missing person? And how exactly are you supposed to find a person just by specifying on a flyer that that certain Oella has red hair? Not to mention, Oella and Leo’s little love story lacked the required motivation to push it forward; how did they even manage to get from a carinderia to a beach-outing when Leo doesn’t even want to talk? There are many more examples of this, but I don’t want to be the one to spoil them.

memory channel oella

To be fair the animated sequences in the film were excellent, and the SNES-inspired sequences looked well on screen. I just wonder why the filmmaker chose that look instead of using modern video-game graphics when the film obviously isn’t set in the 90s–or if it is, I’m not aware. With every artistic decision, there must be an underlying reason, and I am yet to grasp any meaning with using outdated graphics for a visual-style. If it has something to do with ‘uncovering the past’ (after all, it’s a film about amnesia), then I wish the film could have pursued that theme more and made it more apparent. If it were trying to accomplish that sort of meaning, then to me the attempt felt a bit raw.

I also find the film’s ending to be a bit shaky. There’s quite a number of turns in the plot, and I guess it’s okay. What I don’t like however is that by the time the film ends, there’s still a few loose threads that don’t get tied up. For instance, what of Leo’s singing career? Was that merely an accessory to his character background or was it important? If not, can we do away with it? Why does it have to be in the film? How is it relevant to the whole narrative? And how exactly did Leo get amnesia? I can’t say I’m satisfied.

Whether or not this piece of existentialist literature is genius or not, I can’t say for certain. The film is trying to be new, and it’s obviously trying to get rid of established rules and norms for telling a story… Honestly, I’m just not sure if it works. I mean, It’s a formidable attempt to be different from mainstream cinema, but I guess there’s a very thin line between trying to be French New Wave obnoxious and just being downright obnoxious.

Although I can’t say that I fully liked the film, I would still watch out for the filmmaker Raynier Brizuela’s future projects. For me, creating a film that aims to experiment takes a lot of courage and guts, and if you know anything about filmmaking (or in the arts for that matter) then you’d know that ‘learning’ how to break the rules takes an immense amount of time and dedication–and one should respect that. I am hopeful that in time Brizuela’s work will be more refined and creative. Or rather, if not meant to be polished like a piece of work obedient to the rules of cinema, at least edgier, but in a good way.

Memory Channel premiered June 30, 2016 as part of the World Premieres Film Festival which will run from June 29 to July 10 at SM Megamall, SM North EDSA, Greenbelt 3, Uptown Mall, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, and Cinematheque Centre Manila.

Brillante Mendoza shares background on latest masterpiece ‘Ma’ Rosa’

2009 Cannes Best Director Brillante Mendoza talks about Ma‘ Rosa, his inspiration, and the challenges in making the film.

1. Describe Ma’ Rosa in one sentence

Ma’ Rosa shows us a glimpse of a Filipino family set on a typical district in Manila, giving us a slice of life in a community.

2. What made you pursue the story behind Ma’ Rosa?

The idea of this film came up four years ago when I became indirectly involved with the said incident. It captured my interest to tell this story because it shows a unique but also disturbing characteristic of a common Filipino family. That when a family member is backed against the wall for the wrong doings that he or she made, you will do everything to keep them out of trouble even if it means violating basic virtues. In a society where survival of the fittest is a fact that we have to live with, family becomes amoral.

3. What were the challenges in putting the story together for the screen?

The whole film was treated like a documentary film with a strong feel of realism, using found objects and locations in production design. But what seems to be a simple production endeavor is actually a formidable challenge to any filmmaker because even though this was filmed in a minimalist manner, the truth is we are still doing a feature film with real actors trained in different disciplines of acting.

In able for us to capture the precision raw emotions, I told them to throw away everything that they have learned in their acting profession and just act plain and natural as their characters since they should blend with non-actors on screen.

4. We heard that you shot the sequences without any script? Why is this?

That’s correct. The actors were never given a copy of the script and were only directed based on how I commute the script. Dialogs were delivered very naturally as they depend on their personal instincts throughout the film. In fact, sequences were filmed in the same order as the story so that the actors can relate to the plight of their character as the shooting progresses. The feeling of uncertainty must materialize on screen as the editing subscribes to the main character’s point-of-view as we follow their account of what transpired that evening.

5. After Ma’Rosa, what’s next?

A lot of films are in the pipeline. Also a bigger Sinag Maynila for 2017. There is of course the The Brillante Mendoza Film Workshop which is part of my advocacy to “rethink and redefine cinema”. This is also my way of giving back and training new generations of film makers and storytellers.

Mendoza is known for his advocacies and groundbreaking films that tackle social issues. He is committed in sharing his knowledge and experience in filmmaking with a new generation through his works and workshops.

Ma’ Rosa is Mendoza’s 4th film to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France. The first one was Serbis in 2008, which was nominated for the coveted Palme d’Or (Golden Palm). In 2009, Mendoza won Best Director at Cannes for his film Kinatay, and in 2015, his movie Taklub was given the Ecumenical Jury-Prize Special Mention.

Ma’Rosa gave the Philippines and Southeast Asia its first acting award when Jaclyn Jose won as Best Actress in the 69th Cannes Film Festival. Among the nominees were Charlize Theron, Marion Cotillard, Isabelle Huppert, and Kristen Stewart.

The Philippines will get to see what the buzz is all about come July 6, 2016 (Wednesday) as Ma’ Rosa opens in cinemas nationwide.

Guatemalan legend becomes horror story in ‘Worry Dolls’

The Guatemalan Indians teach their children an old story. If you have worries, you share them with your Worry Dolls at bedtime. You put the dolls in a box and come dawn, the worries have been taken away.

worry dolls-

In the upcoming horror movie of the same title, Worry Dolls is set in a peaceful town where a series of brutal murders sees a detective racing against time to save his daughter.  A brutal serial killer is finally gunned down in the middle of carrying out one last heinous act of bloody murder. In the maniac’s possession, a box of Guatemalan talismans, which mistakenly end up being sold as charm jewelry in Chloe’s Collectables thrift shop. Soon those who bought the Worry Dolls begin to act strangely out of character and cause another rash of senseless slaughter. An ancient curse is consuming the city and pits a hardened detective against the clock to save his 8 year-old daughter’s life.

Worry Dolls is now showing in Philippine cinemas, distributed by Silverline, Inc.