‘Tagpuan’ review: Alfred Vargas, Iza Calzado, Shaina Magdayao find self-love, take second chances

Tagpuan successfully brings hope, love, humanity, and identity in a world of pain and suffering.

Official poster of the #MMFF2020 entry TAGPUAN.

Ever since the community quarantine was implemented in the country, movie theater operations become very limited, that is why the annual Metro Manila Film Festival has decided to go digital this year. MMFF makes use of the newest video-on-demand platform, Upstream.ph, where families can enjoy watching in the comfort of their own homes. Not to mention, the online edition of this film festival is not limited to Filipinos residing in the country but will allow Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)—and even foreigners—to enjoy the festival in a legitimate platform, wherever they are in the world.

One of the 10 film entries this year is Tagpuan, a story that talks about much more than love. It scales the spectrum of joy and pain, success and failure, acceptance and rejection.

Tagpuan takes us to the world of Allan, Agnes, and Tanya. Allan (played by Alfred Vargas) is a rich businessman who deems to find purpose again despite his broken past. Agnes (Iza Calzado), a simple ex-wife to Allan, wants to follow her dreams by studying arts and design in New York. Tanya (Shaina Magdayao), on another hand, is a go-with-the-flow girl, who is stuck as an immigrant in Hongkong but wants to go to New York for opportunities. All three of them are trying to find themselves and looking for second chances in life and love.

Tagpuan is the only romance-drama entry in this year’s lineup. The story and pacing is a bit slow at first but then you’ll realize that these characters are telling you their life stories in an intimate manner. They are simply people who have fallen in and out of love—fighting for love after the romance is gone. A simple story, yet a reflective one, it also manages to bring us a closer look at what life looks like as an immigrant and as an OFW in Hong Kong and New York City. The film simply puts the characters’ struggle and plight with the mix of social and economic forces that reflect and shape reactions to love and relationships.

Director McArthur C. Alejandre and writer Ricky Lee remarkably shaped a world that easily showcases love towards other people as well as self-love. It’s something that we often forget: finding ourselves amidst the noise and chaos—and losing ourselves in the middle of the silence. It is a process of reflecting in those experiences for the sake of our own second chances in life.

This romantic-drama showcases Alfred Vargas, Iza Calzado, and Shaina Magdayao as they put themselves in their roles with much grace. No doubt that these three equally give amazing performances in showing their emotions and fierceness throughout their respective acting careers.

Tagpuan wants us to find ourselves again this Christmas. It presents itself forward for viewers to have self-love and second chance in life. It is indeed a relatable film for Filipinos all over the world this holiday season. You want a film where you can have a contemplative takeaway? Then this is the MMFF entry film you don’t want to miss!

Tagpuan is an official entry to the 46th Metro Manila Film Festival. Starring Iza Calzado, Alfred Vargas, and Shaina Magdayao. Directed by McArthur C. Alejandre and written by Ricky Lee. Produced by Alternative Vision Cinema, Inc.
Streaming starts this Christmas on www.upstream.ph.

Ricky Lee to hold 15th film scriptwriting workshop for free

Application to the workshop is open to everyone, including those who do not have prior experience in writing. The selection process is tentatively scheduled on September 4 at the new film studio in UP Diliman.

Those who are interested to join may fill up this form or email rickyleebatch15@gmail.com.

After more than 14 years, award-winning screenwriter Ricky Lee will resume conducting his free workshop to selected individuals who want to learn how to write scripts for film and those who want to improve on their writing. The workshop will be held every Sunday starting this November.

Since 1973, Lee has written more than 160 scripts for films, many of which have won awards here and abroad. Among these are “Himala,” “Karnal,” “Brutal,” “Moral,” “Salome,” “Jaguar,” “Relasyon,” “Bulaklak ng Maynila,” “Gumapang Ka sa Lusak,” “The Flor Contemplacion Story,” “Muro-Ami,” “Bagong Buwan,” “Jose Rizal,” “Mila,” “Anak,” and “Dubai.” He has worked with many Filipino filmmakers, most notably with the late National Artists for Film Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal.

Lee has been holding free scriptwriting workshops since 1982, producing hundreds of graduates who are now part of the movie and TV industry. He has successfully mentored several budding writers and he vows to continue supporting more of them (from those who will be chosen to participate in this year’s workshop) to help them reach their full potential in the field of writing.

Apart from being a screenwriter, Lee is a fictionist, playwright, and book author as well. His body of works also include short stories, plays, essays, and novels. Among the books he has published are the scriptwriting manual “Trip to Quiapo,” the anthology “Si Tatang at mga Himala ng Ating Panahon,” the playbook “Pitik-Bulag Sa Buwan Ng Pebrero,” screenplay books like “Brutal/Salome” (the first of its kind in the Philippines), “Moral,” “Bukas May Pangarap,” and “Jose Rizal,” and the novels “Para Kay B (O Kung Paano Dinevastate ng Pag-ibig ang 4 out of 5 sa Atin)” and “Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata.” His screenplay for “Salome” has been translated into English and published by the University of Wisconsin in the U.S. as part of its film studies.

Ricky Lee1

Lee has received more than 60 trophies from various award-giving bodies, including the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Gawad Para sa Sining, UP Gawad Plaridel, Natatanging Gawad Urian from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, and a similar Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cinemanila International Film Festival, just to name a few. He was also one of the recipients of the Centennial Honors for the Arts from the CCP and the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas for Tagalog fiction from the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL).

He has worked as Creative Manager for ABS-CBN, handling dramas for television such as “Mangarap Ka,” “Maging Sino Ka Man,” “Vietnam Rose,” “Ysabella,” “Lobo,” “Magkaribal,” “Imortal,” “Kahit Isang Saglit,” and the recently launched family drama “The Greatest Love.”

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.

iadya mo kami 2

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.

iadya mo kami 4

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.

iadya mo kami poster 1

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.

ringgo the dog shooter 2

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.

ringo the dog shooter 3

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. 

ringgo the dog shooter poster