MOVIE REVIEW: The Conjuring 2 (2016)

“The Conjuring 2” Review
Written and Directed by James Wan

Three years after the first film’s inception, The Conjuring 2 arrives with a fresh new face. A Marilyn Manson, demon general kind of face. And if you think the first one was scary…

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprises their roles as professional demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, permanently cementing their reputation as scream king and queen (with Patrick in the starring role of Insidious, which incidentally is also directed by James Wan, and Vera in Orphan, you can see it’s becoming a trend).

The film begins with a glimpse of the Warrens’ most notorious paranormal investigation to date: the Amityville  Haunting. Since Lorraine is the clairvoyant one, she gets herself into a trance to enter the realm beyond our world. And the vision she sees is not too jolly.

James Wan, a director so well versed in the subtle art of making your sleep less peaceful, wanted the film to have a connection to Amityville regardless of the limitations due to film rights. Set in 1977, our power couple is tasked to investigate an occurrence east of the Atlantic, two years after the Amityville case. The Warrens are called in to look into a seemingly supernatural disturbance in Enfield, where Peggy Hodgson’s (Frances O’Connor) youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) seem to be troubled by an entity unknown to them all. 

As usual, typical horror flicks try to associate themselves to a supposedly real event to make the story even more compelling, but Wan made sure the material he was making is still something that’ll show the creativity of him and his writing team. If the real events that occurred in Enfield involved a poltergeist, Wan introduces a rock star, another face (reminiscent of his film Insidious’ Red Demon) to remember during cold nights alone, when the nights are out. This new demon, as it turns out, is some hotshot back in hell, and powerful enough to push the Warrens  to the very limits of their faith and abilities. One other special mention is The Crooked Man, an entity created by the demon that’s based of a nursery rhyme. If you think that’s tame, just wait until the film’s cinematography transform everything he is into something more horrifyingly spectacular. Macabre at its finest.

Speaking of faith, Wan carries on the presentation of Ed and Lorraine warren as not psychics with special powers, or a simple obsession to the supernatural, but a couple bound and obligated by their relentless faith to help other people rid themselves from the influence of dark forces. With a crucifix necklace and a bible in tow, the Warrens go ahead and proclaim the love  of Jesus Christ, which apparently makes even the most hardcore of demons sick in the face, condemning them back to hell where they came from. Sweet.

The Conjuring 2 has made itself a classic by proving that some old tricks of the trade can be made new and refreshed, and that making sure you cast the right actors is the best investment you can ever make in a film. Well, besides an excellent writing team. Wilson and Vermiga’s chemistry is impeccable, and if there ever will be a sequel, I still expect them to deliver.

MOVIE REVIEW: Finding Dory (2016)

“Finding Dory” Review
Written and Directed by Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane

One of the most anticipated sequels of the 2016, Finding Dory takes us back to the lives of beloved characters Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), Marlin (Albert Brooks), and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), a year after they crossed the ocean to rescue Nemo from a horrid and mundane fate: living it out in a dental office’s aquarium. Dory now lives right next door to Marlin and Nemo’s anemone home, and has established herself as that kind of family friend (the kind that just shows up unexpectedly). She has become so familiar, Nemo has to warn Dory that anemones sting other fish, but Dory seems to revel in her ignorance.

Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane’s writing team stuck to the formula that made its predecessor a classic: focused on a kind of loss that emboldens you to cross the ocean (quite literally) to regain whatever it is you lost. If it was Nemo before, it’s Dory’s family and memories of her family now.

The film is essentially an origin story for the forgetful Pacific Blue Tang, and how she ended up meeting Marlin in the first place. She has a tendency to lose her memories immediately anyway; but her being able to recollect memories long forgotten drives her to do something about it, lest she forget again.

A smattering of new supporting characters are also introduced to liven up the story even more than it already is: sea lion mates Fluke (a deep and gravelly Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West), tank neighbours Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey (Ty Burrell), and breakout character Hank (Ed O’Neill), a selfish, grumpy, self-loathing octopus scared of the open ocean and bitter about losing an arm (Dory’s relentless persuasion of him being a septopus instead of an octopus didn’t help, either). Flexible enough to slither (and scale hanging structures) along the ground and capable to change his colour and texture to blend anywhere, Hank is not only entertaining, he also ends up becoming an unexpected bestfriend to our favourite Blue Tang (and I’ll never get tired of seeing him in stroller).

As it is, one of the most thought-provoking aspects of the film is the relationship Dory had with her parents Charlie (Eugene Levy) and Jenny (Dian Keaton). Growing up as a fry with short-term memory and a speech impediment, the film once again shows the challenges of taking care of a child with special needs or disability (Nemo, in fact, is a comparable to a child with one shriveled arm). It’s not something everyone can relate to, but it’s still quite evident, and pulls at the heartstrings a bit too strong.

Finding Dory is not as fresh as the first, but understandable due to the fact that as a sequel, it simply follows a tried-and-tested formula (compared to the risk of the first movie, which could’ve bombed for all we know). Its saving grace though is the wonderfully talented wring pool Pixar has in its studios, making the story happy and poignant, calming and thought-provoking, all at the same time. It’s like Beef Rendang. It almost has everything, but doesn’t feel spoilt. The harmony of so many things combined together, without the chaos. In the end, it’s worth a watch. And it’s worth every peso.

MOVIE REVIEW: A Hologram for the King (2016)

“A Hologram for the King” Review
Written and Directed by Tom Tykwer
Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Dave Eggers.

Uniting Hanks and Tykwer once again four years after Cloud AtlasA Hologram for the King comes forth as another attempt at interpreting into film a book brimming with existentialism. The film lack depth and gravitas, but Hanks’ acting and narration (not to mention his natural charm) throughout the film makes up for it. And that, most definitely, is a good thing.

A Hologram for the King takes us into the life of Alan Clay (Tom Hanks), an ageing businessman trying to salvage his career and reputation by trying to sell an advanced holographic teleconferencing technology to the king of Saudi. He spends his days haunted by his past failures as an executive and board member of the now defunct Schwinn Bicycle Company, and unceasingly plagued by the shadow of a divorce and a daughter he can’t even put through college.

Trouble ensues when he arrives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and finds failure and utter disappointment from the very beginning. The Saudi monarch he was supposed to present to doesn’t seem to have any plans of manifesting, and the people he employs doesn’t seem to empathize with his plight either.

With nothing but an outdoor tent that doesn’t have air conditioning (while being in the middle of the desert), no Wi-Fi (Que horror!), and no readily available food, he decides to take a risk and seek out the decision makers that can make him get his plans into fruition.

Greeting him (after escaping into the elevator while the receptionist is away) at King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade is Hanne (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a Danish associate working in payroll. After giving him a bottle of smuggled liquor (disguised as olive oil) and seducing him into making a mistake, Alan realizes an intense lack of libido and drive he never expected to have.

With middle age and sudden solitude troubling him, Alan finds himself blaming all his lack of energy to a large growth on his back, precariously located on top of his spine.

Alan finds a semblance of friendship in  his driver Yousef (Alexander Black), a young Arab man obsessed with American 80’s music. Worrying about the bump on his back, Yousef persuades him to have it looked at.

He finds himself treated by Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), a female Saudi doctor. For reasons unknown, the two find themselves making an immediate connection, and as hard as they may try, it can not be ignored and set aside.

Tom Tykwer’s attempt to channel the book’s depiction of a lost and exhausted soul leaves audiences wanting. Alan’s narration of his past, and his musings of current events and possible prospects bring a sort of lift to the otherwise languid flow of the story. It only picked up towards the end, but still left a few things quite uncertain.

Newcomer Alexander Black delivers a few sniggers with his character Yousef’s sharp jibes and blatant hypocrisy. As per usual, it’s quite interesting how he (a Caucasian) was cast as a young Saudi man. Makeup might make him look racially and ethnically ambiguous enough to pass as a Saudi man, but this might still bring up concerns about Hollywood whitewashing everything. And quite frankly, it is a serious issue.

Sarita Choudhury, on the other hand, seems a more fitting casting choice to her character compared to Black. Even with her English-Indian heritage, it’s definitely better to see an Asian play an Asian on screen. But then again, that’s still an opinion challenged up to this day.

A Hologram for the King is distributed by OctoArts Films International, and now showing in cinemas.

MOVIE REVIEW: Mother’s Day (2016)

“Mother’s Day” Review
Directed by Gary Marshall
Written by Tom Hines, Lily Hollander, Anya Kochoff, and Matthew Walker

From the creators of Pretty Woman and Valentine’s Day comes another movie about another bloody holiday, since their writers must be having trouble with creativity these days, and holidays seem to be an easy enough material to write about–much less make a film about. Mother’s Day meshes the lives of different people living different lives, all of whom seem to have a metaphysical connection through the common phenomena of said holiday. As it is, what the film is trying to portray is how big a deal Mother’s Day really is to these people. Ugh.

Jennifer Aniston is Sandy, a single mother raising two boys who seem to have no problem accepting her ex-husband’s (Timothy Olyphant) deliciously young wife (Shay Mitchell). Helping her cope is her carefree friend Jesse (Kate Hudson), a mother herself, who is trying to come to terms with her absolute disenchantment with her own racist, bigoted, trailer-trash mother. 

Aniston once again proves that she has definitely found her niche in comedies, and Mother’s Day shows her as natural at it. She has never been a mother herself, IRL, but her acting is as convincing as it is. Hudson, on the other hand, looks like she relished playing a rebellious daughter, one who deliberately married an Indian man despite her mother not wanting any man “darker than a Frappuccino.”

Another friend of Jesse’s who has mummy issues is Kristin (Britt Robertson), a mother herself, who has trouble deciding if she should tie the knot with her boyfriend Zack (Jack Whitehall) due to, erm, private matters she needs to attend to first. Robertson has come far since her stint on Disney’s Tommorowland, and Whitehall’s comedic chops are utilized through an in-film stand-up routine. 

Now, audiences might roll their eyes and liken this to an act as old and boring as a Sandler – Barrymore pairing, but Jason Sudeikis once again joins Aniston as mourning widower Bradley, who has apprehensions celebrating the only holiday that reminds him most of his loss. With his attempts at moving on and raising two blooming young women, and Sandy’s non-existent love life (and having two sons of her own), you know where this is headed. The writers couldn’t have been more obvious. Or blatant. That said, nothing was spoilt. You already knew that.

Last but not the least is the often fleeting appearances of Miranda (Julia Roberts), a bestselling author who has the stern and poised manner of someone who has made it big. Her personality and hair evokes the aura of American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, famed for her chilly vibe and ever consistent hair style. Her orange bob, inspired by Wintour’s own ‘do, feels a bit off. Damn Hair & Makeup Department.

Audiences would find themselves wondering what the heck Miranda has to do with any of the characters, what with her Home Shopping Network stints (selling jewelry she designed herself) and all, but she definitely has a part in it, and a deep one at that. Thick as blood.

The film Mother’s Day proves to be a film that does not stimulate intellectuals, but then again, it wasn’t created for that purpose. At its very essence, it made an attempt at creating something funny and lighthearted, something you’ll feel good about when you exit the theatre. It definitely serves up quite a dose of clean (slightly irreverent) humour, and is highly recommended for sons and daughters who have no idea what to give their own mothers this coming Mother’s Day. Bring them to the bloody cinema.

Comedy film Mother’s Day opens May 4, 2016 in Philippine cinemas via OctoArts Films International.

MOVIE REVIEW: Unlucky Plaza (2016)

“Unlucky Plaza” Review
Written and Directed by Ken Kwek

In Unlucky Plaza, debt-ridden restaurateur Onassis Hernandez (Jeffrey Quizon) struggles with his finances after a salmonella scandal caused by a disgruntled cook ruined his once prominent Filipino restaurant’s reputation. With eviction from his apartment as an added burden, and with no assistance from his estranged wife, he decides to take his chances when a sultry woman named Michelle (Judee Tan) offers him her flat at a discounted price–given that he’ll pay six months in advance.

Realizing he was scammed, he makes a desperate attempt at getting his money back by taking Michelle, his con-artist husband Sky/Terence (Adrian Pang), her pastor Tong Wen (Shane Mardjuki) and gangster Baby Bear (Liang Guo) hostage. He then proceeds on recording the whole event and sharing it on social media, trying to explain to the world that he wasn’t and never was a villain, but a victim of his situation: a victim of the people currently under the mercy of his gargantuan cleaver.

Writer-director Ken Kwek dreamed up the script during a time of conflict between Singaporeans and foreigners (specifically Filipinos) back in his home country. Apparently, what he wanted to portray was that Singaporeans were not as squeaky clean as most people would think, and has flaws just like everybody else. And the city itself, as it is, is mostly ruled by money and the moneyed.

To highlight this fact, he made sure to establish the Singaporean characters in a mostly bad light: a con-man riddled with debt, a wife who seduced her pastor, a pastor who succumbed to worldly desires, and a group of Singaporean men who brutalized Onassis’ employees and vandalized his restaurant. He was very adamant in showing to the world that Singaporeans weren’t wearing halos on their heads, they were just as bad as everyone else.

The film pokes fun on the difference between Singapore and Philippine culture, with very obvious references to the blatant corruption in the Philippines (where you can always pay off the judge if you don’t win a trial), and to how Filipinos romanticize events as if it were a soap opera. If you think about it, it’s really how Filipinos do things, and it’s not something that Singaporeans roll with.

A lot of the humor is extremely racist (and to highlight reality, most of the racist uttering were from Onassis, a Filipino), which is an irony Kwek wanted to point out in Singaporean culture: a culture so diverse and very multi-racial. Some of the humor may be lost to Westerners, but is very apparent not only to Singaporeans and Filipinos, but to Asians in particular.

For a foreign film, it’s also noteworthy to mention how refreshing it is to see a Filipino that, albeit struggling, is actually a boss and a business owner. Onassis has employees of Chinese and Indian (or South Asian, for that matter) descent, which is a portrayal of Filipinos we don’t usually see in foreign films. Most often, Filipinos are characterized as underpaid, overworked peasantry forced to work in a foreign land. In this film, not so much. But Onassis nevertheless is still working on getting citizenship, since he can no longer call the Philippines his home.

Unlucky Plaza is filled to the brim with swearing, violence, a lot of racism, a gratuitous sex scene, and Singaporeans behaving badly, which are the reasons why it’s heavily censored (banned, actually) in Singapore. But for what it’s worth, it’s not as pretentious as most films are nowadays, and tries to be as real as can be even with all the gimmicks loaded into it. If you’re ever wondering why it got banned in the very country that gave it birth, I highly suggest you give it a look-see. It will not disappoint.

MOVIE REVIEW: Criminal (2016)

“Criminal” Review
Directed by Ariel Vromen
Written by Douglas Cook and David Weisber

What with the already saturated market for mind-altering/wiping/reading, memory-recovering movies, Criminal gets on the bandwagon to amuse us once again with the premise of making something unfeasible possible. The film is director Ariel Vromen’s first venture into big-budget films after dabbling in a number of music videos, short films, and documentaries. From the looks of it, he might still need to take thing up a notch.

Stationed in London, field agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) arrives on the screen with an immediate need for rescuing. Sensing he’s being followed by the thugs of Spanish industrialist and anarchist Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Jordi Mollà), he hastily tries to avoid capture by going above and below Central London’s walkways, all the while being monitored by Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), CIA London’s Head of Operations. 

What Heimbahl wants from him is the location of his ex-operative Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt), a Dutch hacker (creatively nicknamed “The Dutchman”) who was able to infiltrate the depths of U.S. Military technology, allowing anyone wielding his Wormhole  program to launch any of the U.S.’s nukes from anywhere in the world, to anywhere in the world. Apparently, The Dutchman made a deal with Bill to get asylum from the U.S., to ensure his absolute protection from Heimbahl. What follows is one of the fastest and most absolute deaths for any character I’ve seen so far. At least Ned Stark lasted a full season.

Criminal writers Douglas Cook and David Weisber, who worked before in a number of films like The Rock (might bring memories of Sean Connery’s Shhcoddish accent), decided to use this hasty demise to insert their story’s main character Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) into the mix. With Quaker believing that Bill’s memories might allow them to locate The Dutchman and prevent a cataclysmic event, he asks Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones), a neuroscientist who has developed a memory-transfer process, to transfer Bill’s memories into the heavily damaged and empty, untapped brain of Jericho’s.

And from here on out, the acting goes absolutely awry. Either that, or the actors had pretty awful material to work with in the first place. Quaker goes absolutely bonkers when Jericho couldn’t immediately access Bill’s memories after his surgery, which is not something you’d expect from a CIA top honcho. In fact, what you’d expect is an intelligent and calm demeanor; cold as ice. Oldman’s absolutely brilliant acting skills gets absolutely wasted; all he is reduced to is an angry adult who gets into tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Pity.

Also noticeable is that they decided to cast English actors to play ALL of the most noteworthy CIA agents in the film. Besides Oldman, Alice Eve and Scott Adkins star as agents at Quaker’s beck and call. Hell, even the warden who processes Jericho’s release is English (played by Colin Salmon). You just notice these things. Either the film’s casting crew can’t find Americans good enough to play the roles, or they find English people better at playing Americans. Interesting stuff.

Costner’s portrayal of a dumb, drooling, growling, and violent psychopath is on point, and he actually looks like he revels in playing a character that has absolutely no empathy, and just hits or punches his way into anything and anyone. Audiences would find a bit of humor on scenes where his psychopathic tendencies collide and mesh with Bill’s own kind and polite personality. Since he has also gained the spy skill set Bill honed through the years, he finds himself in a patisserie, ordering posh brekky in perfect French, without any knowledge of what the words meant. It is an attempt at humor, and albeit subtly funny, is not enough to make a lasting impact.

Tommy Lee Jones’ role is too much of a pushover, and all he has on while his pièce de résistance gets beaten up in front of him is a hangdog face. There is no power or authority in his character or his acting, which is something that is sorely missed, most especially if you think about his previous work.

Gal Gadot, who played Bill’s wife Jill, did well with trying to make the film as emotionally captivating as possible. Her attempts at trying to connect with a man who seems to have his husband’s essence within him is touching, but is not enough to elevate the film from the depths of the film’s bad writing.

Even with an all-star cast, what a good film should rely on is excellent writing. In the end, an actor can only do so much.

MOVIE REVIEW: Demolition (2015)

“Demolition” Review
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by Bryan Sipe

A man who lives in absolute privilege, Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to terms with the sudden death of his wife Julia (Heather Lind). While other people normally mourn the death of a loved one, he ends up feeling nothing; in fact, he has never even shed a single tear even after his wife’s burial. Bothered with his absolute lack of empathy, he works on finding out how he truly feels about everything.

Davis finds some consolation through correspondence with Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), Champion Vending Machines’ (only) customer service representative. Back in the ER, he has tried purchasing a packet of Peanut M&M’s from the company’s vending machine, but it did not dispense properly. His letters to the company asking for his refund is nothing but a desperate attempt at opening up to someone, and he is not really expecting a response until Karen calls him unexpectedly at 2 a.m., asking about his condition.

Audiences would find it interesting to see a customer service representative who sincerely sounds like she cares, and is even moved by the letters Davis keeps on sending on the pretense of asking for a refund. If you start asking yourself if reps like her exist, remind yourself that you’re watching a work of fiction. Just saying.

Naomi Watts’ portrayal of a struggling, cannabis-smoking, single mother is on point, and her rock-and-roll loving, drum-playing, teenage son Chris (Judah Lewis), who at first is apprehensive of having a strange man in the house, finds himself warming up to him.

But the very point of Demolition  is what Davis decided to do to start his journey into finding his feelings: destroying stuff. He starts lugging around tools wherever he goes, and systematically disassembles anything that catches his fancy or provokes negative feelings in him. He starts with his leaking refrigerator, and continues his demolition spree in the office, disassembling his computer and the cubicle doors in the men’s washroom (simply because they squeak).

Jake Gyllenhaal once again has shown great acting chops, what with his own depiction of a man at his wit’s end, with an obsession of destroying everything he sees.

As it turns out, his mania is influenced by something his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper) told him once: “If you want to fix something, you have to take it apart and put it back together.” He doesn’t exactly put the things he destroys back together (because most of the time, he can’t) but finds out that he gets a sense of release from all the numbness whenever he destroys things.

Viewers will find Chris Cooper’s acting a lot more tear-jerking than most of his roles, which usually have painfully restrained, stoic personas; and also almost always work for the government or anything connected to politics. His previous films Jarhead (which he co-starred with Jake Gyllenhaal) and American Beauty (which incidentally has the same elements as Demolition) are perfect examples.

Writer Bryan Sipe succeeded in drawing out a few laughs from an otherwise dreary film. Davis’ attempts at practicing how to cry in front of the mirror is quite humorous to see, and his total nonchalance at his ridiculous dancing in the subway and on the streets of Manhattan while listening to his updated playlist (dutifully uploaded to his mobile by Chris) might also crack you up a bit. It’s not going to get you in stitches, but the humor is made appropriate for the scene’s atmosphere, and quite commendable.

Demolition finishes a bit poorly for my taste, with sudden twists and turns, and an oddly surprising act of charity toward the end. The act does not fit Davis’ personality overall, and Sipe could’ve thought of something better.

MOVIE REVIEW: Punla (2016, CineFilipino)

“Punla” Review
Written and Directed by Kenneth Mandrilla
Cinefilipino Film Festival 2016

Bugoy and Mikko are two friends who barely have any similarities between them; Mikko is chubby and clumsy, while Bugoy is slender and agile. Despite their differences, the two friends make things work and make sure to meet in their favorite playground every day.

One day, the two friends end up fighting due to Mikko’s  attempt to keep a mango Bugoy picked for himself. Furious, Bugoy pushes Mikko, not knowing the river was right behind him. Bugoy then rushes home to inform his father that Mikko has drowned, and his father decides to cover up for him by burying Mikko’s body in the playground.

One year later, Bugoy returns to the playground and finds a mango seedling, and with the belief that it’s his friends essence, pulls it out and keeps it to himself. Mikko’s phantom painfully stares at Bugoy as he walks away from the place that separated them.

Punla is a story about the sudden and unexpected loss of someone close to your heart, and the need to find something to remember them by due to the suddenness of it all. Bugoy never had a chance to apologize, he never had the chance to say goodbye. Mikko served as the Punla, and the seedling served as his spirit and memory that will carry on through his absence.

cinefilipino 2016 punla poster

MOVIE REVIEW: Aki (2016, CineFilipino)

“Aki” Review
Written and Directed by Rommel Tolentino
Cinefilipino Film Festival 2016

Aki (Japanese for autumn) is gone. Her mourning lover, Haruo, wanders around Japan trying to cope with her loss. And then it all goes black.

In the Philippines, a woman named Myla is brutally raped by her own husband. She eventually dies but miraculously resurrects with memories not her own. Visions of autumn, a forest, and running water race through her mind as clear as day.

Fragmented scenes of Haruo and Aki show that they seem to have an awareness of each other’s existence, regardless of the distance. Haruo’s fond memories of Aki and Myla’s borrowed memories of autumn (as of this point in time, audiences can probably assess that all of it are Aki’s memories) establish a connection between them that goes beyond the physical.

Aki is avant-garde in its own way, requiring a bit more intelligence and perception to understand the message writer and director Rommel Tolentino (who goes by the moniker of MILO) wants to convey. His presentation of Haruo and Myla’s metaphysical connection is beautifully made and can make you say “Wow!” with its visual quality.

The film also addresses physical abuse a number of women have to go through, simply because they are tied to their husband with a marriage contract. As depressing as it may be, her only escape is through someone else’s memories. The domestic abuse in her household is tolerated even by her mother, and Myla’s only solace is the comfort of her connection with Haruo.

MILO made the film using his fascination for autumn as an inspiration. But there lies the ominous message. Autumn is scarlet and bursts with a violent kind of beauty. Nevertheless, it is only a prelude. After the haze of color, everything becomes black and white, and everything dies.

cinefilipino 2016 aki poster

MOVIE REVIEW: XXX (2016, CineFilipino)

“XXX” Review
Written and Directed by Allison Barretto
CineFilipino Film Festival 2016

XXX relays the story of Lucia Versoza, a seamstress from Angeles City, Pampanga. Working her way to the top of the regional beauty pageants, she simultaneously calls attention to her own dress shop by showcasing the gowns she makes for herself.

What makes the film interesting is the fact that her story is not relayed first-hand. What the audience gets instead is bits and pieces of what has happened to her career through the rasping and static of voices of radio presenters. As it turns out, Lucia kept recordings of these broadcasts, and listens into them while she works in her dress shop.

Through the presenters’ rambling, the audience is taken through Lucia’s meteoric rise and eventual qualification for the Miss Universe pageant, up to her eventual downfall due to a scandal. The venomous gossip about her personal life has ensured that the life she knows is over, and humbly returns her to the place where it all began.

Lucia’s face is barely shown or given proper screen time in XXX. What is shown is a hollow shell: a shadow of what was before. As Lucia continues working in her shop, the only thing that keeps her company is the memories brought about by the people in the recordings: people who talk about her past self. A self that has already died.

Allison Barretto’s XXX is successful in showcasing the struggle of a person who has reached the stars, and fell crumbling down after. The protagonist’s attempt at burying herself with her sewing is the only compensation she has, since it was the thing she was absolutely best at. In fact, it is the only thing she can actually return to. The recordings she plays every day also proves to show that she still has a lot to work on when it comes to moving forward from her personal tragedy, and so she begins anew.

xxx cinefilipino poster