‘Ulan’ review: Nadine Lustre’s best performance yet

In a world filled with hopeless romantics, Irene Villamor’s Ulan encapsulates the meaning of ‘finding yourself before finding love.’

Ulan tells the story of Maya (Nadine Lustre) who grew up believing her Lola’s myths of finding true love against all odds, so much that it came to an extent that she shaped her life and expectations through such philosophy. However, after being disappointed by the unfortunate events in her love life — the engagement of her childhood crush to someone else, and the painful breakup with her first boyfriend — she swears to herself that she’ll never cry again for someone else, nor hold on to the foolish notion of love coming for her.

Just as when she decides to focus on other things like her career, fate brings her to a social welfare volunteer named Peter (Carlo Aquino) who tags her into the world of charitable works. The two of them quickly get along but with both swearing a promise not to fall head over heels again, circumstances immediately lead them apart. Ironically, it is on those days when she’s alone that Maya finds the true meaning of love and gets back her identity in the process. When the time comes that she has come to terms of how she truly feels, her conviction grows even stronger that neither rain or storm can stop it.

Ulan gives us a picture of life and love, challenge by an ominous superstition in its backdrop. It perfectly places the Philippine folklore about the Tikbalang myth as it relates so much to Maya’s character journey. The subversity of the romance genre unexpectedly gives so much heart to its proceedings. As seen in the trailer, this is not your guilty pleasure hugot film, but it manages to come above that and be a fun-filled and lighthearted experience. It simply shows how life can be with the presence of a significant other, yet it does not reinforce the need for such to be truly happy. It is so poetic that it lets us discover love with our own interpretations. Aside from having a heartfelt story, viewers will also enjoy the spectacular visuals and cinematography that is less seen in a regular local film. Truly, every scene is alluring and captivating.

What’s even great is the film’s element of unpredictability as it nudges on your curiosity to comprehend its profound symbolisms. It is through these unique narrative choices that the film draws a breath of fresh air, as well as letting its audience bring out their inner child. When all is said and done, the screenplay proves to be a well written piece that it leaves you satisfied rather than having a heavy heart.

The cast members remarkably did a wonderful job in portraying their characters to make this film more watchable. There’s no pre-existing magic here since the leads don’t belong on the same love team, the film earns it along the way. Lustre stands out as a wonderful lead as she shows an array of skills that is beyond the reach of an average actor. Her endearing antics and unexpected chemistry with Aquino prove that she can stand on her own, making this film as indeed one of her bests. Aquino, on the other hand, is still charming as he plays an efficient supporting role that shows off his flexibility. Together, their chemistry builds a deep meaning that should make the viewers yearn for more.

More than just a love story, Ulan takes you to a ride to self-discovery, with a pleasant twist of the Philippine folklore experience.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Now showing in cinemas nationwide, Ulan is an original HOOQ movie produced in association with VIVA Films. Directed by Irene Villamor, and stars Nadine Lustre, Carlo Aquino, Marco Gumabao, AJ Muhlach, Perla Bautista, Leo Martinez, Elia Ilano, Limer Veloso, Andrea Del Rosario, Kylie Verzosa and Angeli Bayani.

‘Exes Baggage’ review: Art imitating life

The chemistry of Angelica Panganiban and Carlo Aquino adds volume to an otherwise lightweight conflict in Dan Villegas’ ‘Exes Baggage.’

Antoinette Jadaone’s That Thing Called Tadhana (2014) is another romcom that reminded us of an Angelica Panganiban character carrying excess baggage from a past relationship. As the first local film to find a sweet spot between romance and wanderlust, That Thing Called Tadhana relies on an unhurried, dialogue-driven story to liberate the genre from its tropes. Since then, the recent breed of Pinoy romcoms have followed suit, including that of Jadaone’s real life partner, Dan Villegas. Exes Baggage operates on the same level, minus the tourist destination. The outcome is a much simpler yet somehow lackluster story. And with that, we ask ourselves if this increasingly familiar trend starts to feel like a formula again.

Frankly, there’s nothing new in Exes Baggage. It’s a non-linear story of two exes who unexpectedly reunite after two years. Flashback to the night when they first met—likewise in a bar where both are reeling from their respective breakups. Pia (Angelica Panganiban) is a love warrior who vows to embrace pain if only to experience love once again, while Nix (Carlo Aquino) is a lonesome soul who’s dumped by his fiancée moments before their actual wedding. With both being on the same boat, the wounded individuals strike an instant connection. ‘Tadhana’ asks, ‘Where do broken hearts go?’ Well, in some cases, they flock together.

Carlo Aquino and Angelica Panganiban in ‘Exes Baggage.’ Photo via Black Sheep Productions under ABS-CBN Film Productions, Inc.

The film then starts unpacking the stages of their romantic relationship: the blossoming, the honeymoon and the eventual breakup phase. Granted that the film works on a jumping timeline, we get to see the fragments of their highs and lows. There are gratuitous semi-erotic love scenes (which are really pushing the boundary for a PG-rated film), as well as petty and annoying quarrels that otherwise feel very real. What the story lacks in originality, the universality of it makes up to resonate across different generations of viewers.

Villegas’ direction, along with the script of Dwein Baltazar (Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus), thrive in nuances—the entire history of each character is neither laid out through deeper flashbacks nor lengthy expositions, but rather reflected in their behavior. Pia’s insecurity stems from her accumulated heartbreaks. On the other hand, Nix’s indecisiveness comes from his lingering feelings for his ex, also named Dwein. The problem here is that when the film gets to suggest that it’s all about a rebound relationship, both characters are forced to do actions that are very much within their choice and control, had they taken the time to pause and reassess. If only the film gave a better progression to the conflict by dropping more of the negative symptoms earlier.

Angelica Panganiban and Carlo Aquino in ‘Exes Baggage.’ Photo via Black Sheep Productions under ABS-CBN Film Productions, Inc.

In the grand scheme of it, this flaw is outweighed by the tons of sincerity that this film radiates. It owes a lot to Panganiban and Aquino’s loose yet palpable chemistry. Known to most Pinoy viewers, the two are actually ex-lovers who became close friends. Reviving the love team in the showbiz context, where some fans may have an unhealthy obsession, will inevitably lead to a fervent prayer brigade for the two to get back together. The future is uncertain but for now, Exes Baggage is the closest ticket they’ll have to the “CarGel” off-screen history. Hence, whatever the script throws at them, they will sell it, and you better believe it. It’s a classic case of art imitating life.

That is not to discount the individual performances, which are great as well. Panganiban, as the flashier lead demands screen attention with her natural, flirty demeanor. Her deep understanding for her character elevates the material. On the contrary, Aquino has a subtler level of charm that is nevertheless commendable too. At one point, he foolishly sings and dances to Ben&Ben’s “Maybe The Night.” It’s an excellent and catchy song choice that remains integral to the story throughout. Apart from the reliable leads and the thoughtful soundtrack, the cinematography glues your eyes to the screen by framing dingy apartments and empty condo units to look exquisite and aesthetically pleasing.

Exes Baggage does not reveal new philosophical truths about moving on. Instead, it navigates on a familiar territory that most viewers will feel happily represented of. There’s no big moment of epiphany nor catharsis here; the shock waves of emotions are sent evenly throughout. As for its adherence to the new breed formula, the film justifies it with the amount of authenticity in display.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Dan Villegas and written by Dwein Baltazar, ‘Exes Baggage’ stars Angelica Panganiban, Carlo Aquino, Dionne Monsanto and Dino Pastrano with special participations of Joem Bascon and Coleen Garcia.
Run time: 104 minutes

Mend your broken hearts via ‘Exes Baggage’ with Angelica Panganiban, Carlo Aquino

Would you take a chance on someone new when you’ve just had your heart broken? Ready your tissues as SM Cinema features the much awaited reunion movie of real life ex-lovers Carlo Aquino and Angelica Panganiban, Exes Baggage.

Fans of CarGel can see one of the biggest 90’s love teams once again after their last project together in 2014. While the two are still good friends in real life, their supporters cannot wait to witness their undeniable chemistry on the big screen.

Directed by Dan Villegas, Exes Baggage tells the story of two individuals who find each other in a time of heartbreak and healing. Pia (Angelica Panganiban) and Nix (Carlo Aquino), both recently having their hearts broken, instantly feel a connection when they meet at a bar. This connection quickly turns into a relationship. But are they ready for another commitment when wounds from their previous relationships have yet to heal?

Catch Exes Baggage in SM Cinema branches nationwide starting September 26, 2018. Book your tickets through the website, http://www.smcinema.com or download the SM Cinema mobile app. You may also follow /SMCinema on Facebook and @SM_Cinema on Instagram for updates!

‘Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral’ review: Deconstruction of a glorified hero

Jerrold Tarog’s ‘Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral‘ works better as an ensemble piece than a character study. Still, its a marvelous technical achievement.

The 2015 sleeper hit Heneral Luna stupefied us with an image of a burning Philippine flag and General Antonio Luna’s impassioned voice, “Bayan o sarili? Pumili ka!” It’s a rhetoric posed to the modern Filipino: will his sacrifice to fight for our nation’s freedom be in vain? The Philippine-American war is just a distant memory from the past but this film calls to arms in making a positive impact for our country today. It’s truly a life-changing event in the local cinema.

Heneral Luna can take pride on this achievement as a stand-alone biopic film but Goyo has the daunting pressure to outperform its predecessor – to present another biopic of a more known and beloved hero, and act as a connective tissue to a planned trilogy. It stays true to its roots as Luna’s ghost looms over, his name and his ideals are referred to, especially when the film illustrates the Filipinos’ tendency to worship idols and personalities.

But Goyo is not exactly a torchbearer to Heneral Luna’s fiery nationalism and resilience. The first film ignites a spark and from there, we expect a full-blown fire. Instead, this sequel throws a curveball to viewer expectations and dampens the fire with doubt. It’s a step back to challenge one’s existing ideals.

Gwen Zamora and Paolo Avelino in ‘Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral.’ Photo via TBA Studios.

Goyo picks up days after Luna’s (John Arcilla) gruesome assassination in the hands of his fellow countrymen. It’s an act of treason coyly implied to be orchestrated by President Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado). With the fighting ceased, Aguinaldo and his constituents in uncolonized Philippine regions are experiencing prolonged months of false peace, clearly unsuspecting of the Americans’ next move.

Meanwhile, one of Aguinaldo’s favorite generals, Gregorio “Goyo” Del Pilar (Paulo Avelino) has his head stuck in the clouds. He spends his time relishing his fast promotion by enjoying fiestas thrown in his honor, fooling around with his friends and chasing the affections of a beautiful maiden Remedios (Gwen Zamora). Goyo rips the textbook glorification right away and presents the titular hero as a flawed being – a PTSD-stricken soldier who doubts his leadership and principles, a reckless young lad who is torn between love and duty.

Goyo is being pulled to different directions. His brother Julian (Rafa Siguion-Reyna) feeds his ego, “Tandaan mo kung sino ka. Ikaw ang agila. Bayaning Bulakenyo. Dugong Magiting.” But what do those titles really mean to him? It’s only until he interrogates Luna’s supporter, Manuel Bernal (Art Acuña) that he realizes that he might not be a protagonist in most people’s story after all, but a henchman to Aguinaldo instead. Bernal taunts him, “Ang kaibahan natin, ikaw, naniniwala sa idolo. Kaming mga namatay at papatayin, naniniwala sa prinsipyo. Hindi ka sundalo, Goyo, isa kang aso.” Apart from this existential crisis, he is also troubled by ominous visions of his death, making him more hesitant in embracing a doomed, heroic path.

The film is driven by internal turmoil rather than the first film’s brash, strongman rule. Hence, Goyo pales in comparison with Luna, a character whose vulgar attitude alone can be a source of humor in itself. Still, this film has its distinct tone and plenty of philosophical truths to chew on, making it worthy of a second viewing. Where Heneral Luna says, “Ang taong may damdamin ay hindi alipin,” Goyo counters it with a different philosophy: “Tayo’y alipin ng sarili nating mga damdamin.”

Alvin Anson and Epy Quizon in ‘Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral.’ Photo via TBA Studios.

History can’t be contained in a single narrative so director Jerrold Tarog chooses to present this sequel as an ensemble piece – it’s actually more satisfying if viewed under such lenses. Apart from Goyo, the POV constantly shifts among the supporting cast. In General Jose Alejandrino (Alvin Anson), we take a peek on the status of the Philippine Republic’s diplomatic negotiations with the Americans. In Joven Hernando (Arron Villaflor), the viewer’s frustration of the socio-political climate is put into light. As the fictional character in the franchise, he is mostly used as a plot device to efficiently narrate the situation of Goyo and his troops. The character still lacks pay off but hopefully he will come full circle in the next chapter.

The film also thrives in its small moments like when Remedios and Goyo’s ex-lover, Felicidad (Empress Schuck) throw shades at each other during a mango picking contest. On a different note, even the short film Angelito (which can be watched for free online), gives us a perspective of a small player caught in the crossfire, how life is cheap in the service of a greater cause.

It is Apolinario Mabini (Epy Quizon) who forms the narrative’s spine. Known as the ‘brain of revolution,’ he’s the all-seeing eye that delivers the juiciest tirades against Aguinaldo’s administration and the Filipino leadership in general. (Here I am, lowkey wishing that a spin-off film will be dedicated to him as well.) What is lacking is Aguinaldo’s sentiments, as his actions are mostly told in someone else’s perspective so he’s presented as a one-dimensional villain who values unwavering loyalty over true leadership. I’m hoping his rationale will be explained in the next film.

Mon Confiado and Paolo Avelino in ‘Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral.’ Photo via TBA Studios.

As an epic historical war film, Goyo juggles with many characters and their respective threads that it’s marvelous how Tarog keeps them intact within his singular vision. Seamless editing, poignant musical scoring, poetic screenplay (co-written with Rody Vera) and meticulous direction – it’s a masterclass at work. His horror background even comes into play during Goyo’s nightmarish dream sequences. Apart from Tarog’s valiant efforts, the actors’ performances are all good and reliable, the crew’s splendid production design has perfect attention to detail and Pong Ignacio’s breathtaking cinematography deftly plays with light and shadow. This film clearly has the style to match up its substance.

It all culminates in the battle of Tirad Pass. There’s no typical Hollywood stamp to it. The sequence takes time in plotting its tactics and the gunfire is kept at a reasonable amount. As it takes an anticlimactic turn in the end, viewers are served with a disappointing revelation – what was regarded as one of the monumental fights in history falls short due to inexperienced soldiers and disorganized ruling.

The Battle of Tirad Pass in ‘Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral.’ Photo via TBA Studios.

I have to admit that there’s an initial dissatisfaction after my first viewing because I came into the film wanting to be roused like how the first film did. Goyo might disappoint because its short on giving its flawed hero a redemption. His emotional journey is mainly reliant on his relationship with Remedios, and despite spending a significant time in it, the resulting love connection never went beyond physical attraction. For a coming-of-age story, this will have more impact if his relationship with a parental/model figure like Aguinaldo is fleshed out even more.

Goyo plummets to hopelessness, exposing everything that went wrong in the revolution. Mabini caps it off with a powerful monologue on the immaturity of Filipinos, a musing that transcends to the present situation where leaders are driven by their self-interests and majority of the people are content at being complacent.

Where Heneral Luna takes away our freedom, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral strips away what’s left with our dignity and we are once again left to pick up the pieces. This sequel puts the franchise into a clearer direction. With the first two films both in the dark phase of history, I’m thrilled for the redemption that’s about to come.

4 out of 5 stars

Directed by Jerrold Tarog, screenplay by Jerrold Tarog and Rody Vera
Cast: Paulo Avelino, Mon Confiado, Epy Quizon, Benjamin Alves, Leo Martinez, Alvin Anson, Art Acuña, Carlo Aquino, Rafael Siguion-Reyna, Christopher Aronson, RK Bagatsing, Perla Bautista, Nonie Buencamino, Roeder Camañag, Carlo Cruz, Jason Dewey, Miguel Faustmann, Bret Jackson, Ethan Salvador, Ronnie Lazaro, Jojit Lorenzo, Lorenz Martinez, Karl Medina, Che Ramos, E. A. Rocha, Tomas Santos, Empress Schuck, Robert Seña, Stephanie Sol, Markki Stroem, Arron Villaflor, and Gwen Zamora.
Run time: 200 minutes

WATCH: Barkada movie ‘Bar Boys’ explores friendship in law school

Bar Boys is a drama-comedy about four best friends who enter the difficult world of law schools where they are forced to make sacrifices for success: sleep, relationships, family and one another.

The film stars Rocco Nacino, Kean Cipriano, Carlo Aquino and Enzo Pineda. It is written and directed by Kip Oebanda (‘Tumbang Preso’) and produced by SM Cinemas.

Joining the cast are Anna Luna, Mailes Kanapi, Sebastian Castro, Hazel Faith de la Cruz, Pontri Bernardo, Maey Bautista, Rener Concepcion, Irene Celebre, Vance Larena, Lharby Policarpio and Ms. Odette Khan.

Here is the teaser trailer for Bar Boys which will open soon exclusive to SM Cinemas:

Mes De Guzman’s ‘Dyamper’ depicts real-life struggle in Nueva Vizcaya

Director Mes De Guzman’s film ‘Dyamper’ is about three friends wait along Dalton Pass every dawn to jump at the back of rice delivery trucks to steal the goods and sell it at the wet market as their means of income. One of them accidentally gets a pack of drugs in one of the trucks they jumped and finds themselves in jeopardy when its owners track them down to retrieve the stash, and gives them a chance to get off the hook by means of taking on a risky mission.

Alchris Galura plays the character of Tinoy, one of the jumpers. He finds it difficult to say much about his role, out of fear that he might give away the story. “May tinatakasan siya. Period.” Co-star Lisa Dino adds, “Tinoy’s character is interesting because he’s trying to escape from his reality, thus creating a new reality for himself at dun nag-start yung conflict.”

Lisa’s character Elena is the object of motivation for Tinoy. “Nasagasaan ‘yung asawa ko tapos dahil sa guilt, nag-iiwan siya (Tinoy) ng mga pagkain sa bahay namin to make-up for what happened kasi bed-ridden ‘yung asawa ko. It grew into some sort of weird attraction between Elena and Tinoy,” she tells.

According to Direk Mes, ‘dyampers’ are not uncommon up North. “Taga-Nueva Vizcaya ako at nasasaksihan ko na ‘tong mga ganitong sinasabing pagda-dyamper. Dito, literal na tumatalon sila sa truck at sa tingin ko kaya ko na rin siya sinulat dahil wala pa ‘kong napapanood na pelikula na tumatalakay nito.

The cast of “DYAMPER” also includes Carlo Aquino, Tim Mabalot, Kristofer King, and Debbie Garcia.

The 2nd Sinag Maynila Film Festival will run from April 21 to 26, 2016 in select SM Cinemas. For more updates, log on to http://sinagmaynilafilmfestival.com/, on Facebook via SinagMaynila, Twitter and Instagram via @sinagmaynila.

The roster of SMFF 2016 films also includes EXPRESSWAY by Ato Bautista, LILA by Gino M. Santos, T.P.O. by Jay Altarejos, and MRS. by Adolf Alix Jr.