Thursday, July 23, 2009

Last Supper No. 3 (2009)


Veronica Velasco's first solo effort in the director's chair after successfully building a tandem with Pablo Biglang-Awa Jr. in films such as Inang Yaya (Mother Nanny, 2006) and Maling Akala (2007). The film chronicles Assistant Production Designer Wilson Nanawa's (Joey Paras) journey through the Philippines so-called judicial system and government trappings. His story (based on fact, from writer Winston Acuyong's personal experience, which isn't that hard to believe, we've all been through his experience one way or another, dealing with the government) innocently enough, begins as he scouts for the perfect "Last Supper" to be used in a corned beef commercial. He narrows his search and finally finds the perfect one, fit in its dimension and look. He unfortunately loses "Last Supper No. 3" a raggedy old rug which means the world to its owner, since it was a gift from Saudi. Saudi of all places, imagine that. Wilson tries to plead with its owner Gareth (Jojit Lorenzo) and Aling Suming (Beverly Salviejo), to no avail. As it ensued into a fist fight, this is when Wilson's true calvary begins. He is charged with estafa and serious physical injury along with his assistant, Andoy (JM de Guzman).

His plight through the hoopla and miles of red tape, is nothing out of the ordinary but what makes it unnerving is its closeness to home. Because we've all been there. Maricel Soriano's
cameo appearance as a clerk, says mounts about the corrupt system that has taken hold of her. Her character is someone whose gotten used to the system, She acts as if its second nature to accept bribe and nonchalently laugh on things that any civil person would cringe. I'd be more than happy to share my experiences with SSS, but fears of withholding my benefits in the future (in the form of salary loan or pension) prevents me to. But you get the picture, alleviating red tape would do wonders in any government agency, and nasty faced meanies that calls themselves civil servants.

Wilson's lawyer (Ness Roque
), is not grounded to the realities of the world around her either. She thinks of herself someone whose above and atop a pedestal, whose mindset revolves around her text book and academic realities. She and all of her post graduate trimmings just added to poor Wilson's sufferings, as she charges thousands and thousands of pesos in appearance fee even without lifting a pinky nor uttering a single word, thinking that her client is a cash cow.

Wilson Nanawa is unapologetic in his queerness and his outgoing approach serves a good deal when he interacts with people, this is exemplified as he uses his charm to work wonders in an FX taxi, when he connives with a good looking passenger to go along with his skit, to fool his boss on the phone or when he tries asks politely the jeepney driver to stop, to no avail until he uses his manly voice. There are moments when we feel his frustration as days turns to months and months turns to years. And the never ending court battle ensues and milks his cash flow to the last centavo. If it was not for Joey Paras'
openness the film could have dropped flat on the ground, it is hard to imagine someone else doing the part. He is a common man, trying his very best to keep his sanity, his hard walk to the top of a precinct best describes this as a somber song of suffering plays as he drags himself up the stairs.

Debraliz who portrays Wilson's aunt could have been given more screen time. She is someone that i look forward to seeing but was given so little presence. The interaction between the people and the government is a commendable effort which is hardly portrayed in its entirety on film. The film says so much about the deterioration between our trust as a people and the government that has turned itself as a living breathing entity. As i see it, is no longer for the people and by the people. This is one story cloaked in dark comedy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Manila (2009)


Manila (2009) is a double feature inspired by the works of Filipino directors Ishmael Bernal (City After Dark, 1980) and Lino Brocka (Jaguar, 1979) which brings together the denizens of the city's underbelly.

Director Raya Martin whose work also represented the Philippines in the Un Certain Regard section at the recent Cannes Film Festival, with his faux turn of the century stylized film Independecia (2009) helmed the lyrical first segment "Day." Martin's visually arresting part of the double bill does not heavily rely on the filth and scum of the surroundings, but on the degradation of its characters, even if they have the noblest intentions. William (Piolo Pascual) is an addict who wanders about, finding solace in a crumbling city bright in its sun drenched seemingly ideal facade. He tries his best to reconnect with his mother, Charito (Rossana Roces) who herself has been through hell and back, haunted by her former life as a prostitute. As these two characters bump into each other in a hospital, Charito explodes into a fit of rampage as she curses her son, reminiscent of the late Charito Solis' (Kisapmata; 1981) dramatic high point in the film City After Dark (1980). Even the use of high def slow motion captures every sentiment which says so much about Roces' character's bottled up anger. The supporting characters does a good job, providing memorable portrayals. John Lapuz' flamboyant gay reporter, much could have been said about him, he too has a story to tell (See Bernardo Bernardo's couturier character in City After Dark, 1980). Or perhaps, Katherine Luna's blind masseur (Rio Locsin played this role in Bernal's film).

Flanked in between the two segments is the film credits featuring the lovely Iza Calzado, and avant garde director Lav Diaz directing a faux romantic film. Clearly defined in color. Quite a contrast to the black and white realities of the two segments. Music by Radioactive Sago Project, the jazz soundtrack is definitive of the noise the city makes that we as a people ignore. The harsh and seldom heard pleas and cries for help.

Director Adolfo Alix Jr. (Kadin; 2007, Donsol; 2006), offers a more narrative linear segment "Night", the story revolves around Phillip (also portrayed by Piolo Pascual), a poor boy whose job is to protect a self absorbed rich son of a politician (Jay Manalo). Living with his iron willed grandmother (Anita Linda, Caregiver; 2008) in the rundown backalleys of Manila's lower strata, Phillip thinks of his employer as a brother, who will support them and lift them from the strangling hold of poverty. Events of blinded loyalty will test him and his so-called brother, leads to his tragic demise. Alix's part is more accessible, thanks in part to the very humane portrayal of its actors. Quite revealing is Baron Giesler's manical character who taunts Phillip, leading him to do what he thinks is right. Based from Lino Brocka's 1979 film, Jaguar. The term jaguar is street slang for security guard. Phillip's blind idealism, self absorbed kindness does him no good as his decisions slowly kills his being.

A fitting tribute that surely makes one want to watch Bernal and Brocka's works.

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Opening film for the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival 2009, July 17 -26, 2009. CCP, Philippines.

Screened at the Cannes Film Festival 2009. Out of Competition.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tropic Thunder (2008)


If you've seen the movie and haven't noticed by now, yes, that is Tom Cruise (Magnolia (1999), Born on the Fourth of July (1989)) donning a bald head and fat suit to play a creep of a studio executive. With curse words a mile, a minute and stereotypical portrayals, this film would undoubtedly offend every class, gender, handicapped and racial denomination in the modern world. However, the film surprisingly doesn't feel that way in the whole. One would even say that the Ben Stiller film fairs well above the Apatow swarmed film market of today. Although, Ben Stiller attempts to rekindle his career both in character and probably in real life, his cast of supporting characters and cameos does one mean portrayal after another, ultimately overshadowing his futile attempts. Cruise with his mouth you'd like to wash with soap, Robert Downey Jr., who plays a white Australian, depicting an African-American complete with the accent and attitude. With these two alone, they serve as feet to this overflow of talented people. This is rounded up by Jack Black, as a pornographic actor whose decision to turn his acting career from sleaze to Oscar caliber may be harder than it looks.

The film shows the trace when a Vietnam war film goes over budget, the unorthodox method the director (Steve Coogan) and it's military adviser (Nick Nolte) concocts to salvage the flagellating production. In a way, it may work. But after the director blows his head off, the cast of five works through the jungle, with the opium drug trade hot on their tails. With a clueless actor as their leader (Stiller) whose most memorable screen performance is a maligned portrayal of a mentally challenged person. Things are bound to go haywire. Besides it's crude characterization, one will have a good time, naming the films they've spoofed. notable of course, is William Dafoe's Elias, arms stretched as he is gunned down in Oliver Stone's Platoon (1988).

When push comes to shove, these characters deals with hilarious situations to save a fallen comrade, with half baked plans and strategies based on a movie script. Weird as it may sound, it may actually work, Downey proclaims. And these tense scenes comes to a dramatic close with an explosion, David Lean director of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), would be proud of. The visual allusion to his film at least.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

El Orfanato (2007)


El Orfanato (The Orphanage) (2007), is a slow boiled pot that does not rely on cheap thrills, but it does have its moments of schlock. The film begins in an innovative credit sequence of wallpaper peeled by the delicate hands of children as it reveals layers upon layers of credit imbued paper. The film intends to do the same with its plot which runs rather thin, despite its myriad of layers. The film is atmospheric, yes, with its domineering house of a home as its main attraction. Set in a seaside scape, the majestic manor, an orphanage, was closed down and abandoned. With its new residents, they hope to bring the once glorious orphanage to its former splendor. To Laura (Belen Rueda (Mar Adentro) (2004)), who once occupied its rooms as an orphan, wishes to relive her happy memories as a child, with her family, husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) and their son, Simon (Roger Princep). They plan to reopen the orphanage as a hospice for children with disability. What she doesn't know is that the one place of refuge that she holds dear to her heart also holds terrible secrets, that will reveal itself as she spiral towards longing, redemption and madness.

The Orphanage has its moments, though it did not quite hold up in its entirety. It did get me thrilled to little effect. It's all over the place with disconsolate feel of melancholy between the mother and son. The secrets of the orphanage, the seemingly endless search of the mother, as she desperately connects the dots to her son's sudden and mind numbing disappearance. The relevance of the past, and how it has paved a path towards Laura's future. These discords between fact and fiction tears her family apart.

She even seeks the help of a medium (played by Geraldine Chaplin, who is also featured in another Pelicula entry, Miguel y William (2007)), together she discovers the truth, that may or may not help bring her son back. Chaplin's sequence as she searches for spirits in the house is unnerving with the night vision camcorders serving as our eyes, you can't help but get glued in the nothingness of her search. Director Juan Antonio Bayona's lack of dialogue works wonders in this sequence as he guides Chaplin through the orphanage, with very little conversation, hushed tones and eerie deafening sounds. The only moment of shock comes in the form of a hit and run victim, whose face deformed from impact literally leaps out from the dead. The imaginary friend of Simon, the small boy whose face covered in a brown sack is equally dreadful as it is menacing.

El Orfanato closes in a rather syrupy ending. It does not blend well in its suspense filled story, which was started by the horrid kid with a burlap sack for a face. It feels more of a compromise between safe endings desperately wanted by execs. Winner of 7 Goya Awards (Spain). Executive produced by Guillermo del Toro, director of The Devil's Backbone (2001) and Pan's Labyrinth (2006).

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7th Pelicula Pelikula "Es tu historia" Spanish Film Festival
October 1-12, 2008. Cinema 1, Greenbelt, Makati City, Philippines.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Nocturna (2007)


October 11, Saturday - Right before the 2pm screening of the Spanish animated film Nocturna (2007), ticket holders had an option to watch the mime performance of the group Teatrofio at 11am for free. Clocking in at 75 minutes, they performed various antics about travel, and the awkward situations we've probably been in. It was funny and a good way to start the movie. Last year, we saw De Profundis (2007), which appealed to the older crowd. This time around, it is nice to see a lot of children, and young people in attendance to watch Nocturna (2007).

Nocturna tells about the story of a young boy, Tim, living in a amber grazed orphanage that resembles more like a labyrinthine maze than a home. Despite being surrounded by kids, his fears of the dark and tragic loss of his mother keeps him an outsider. He finds solace from the star, Adhora, that he believes protects him from the dark. But when his star, mysteriously vanishes from the night sky. He embarks on a nighttime journey to return order in the mystical netherworld of Nocturna. He discovers all that creaks and bumps in the night are not mere natural occurrence. They are orchestrated by a team of nocturnal beings whose work is to bring order and balance to the night.

Think of Hayao Miyazaki's (Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime) (1997), On Your Mark (1995)) colorful world translated to ambient, dull, and singular tones of blues, yellows and grey. In fact, it is a fusion between Miyazaki's Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi) (2001) and Pixar's Monsters Inc. (2001). It is fun to watch how the writers come up with ingenious ways to explain why and how the netherworld of Nocturna operates. The children are put to sleep by a guardian cat, whose purrs and meows echoes lullabies, these cats are herded by the Pastor de Gato, a gargantuan, round stripped man which resembles the cats he oversees. The sounds of the night are conducted just like an orchestra, where creatures have their own sound. From the chimney, to the windows and even the downspout has it's own weird creature that mans it. The Hair Messers, are a trio of thin dolls whose business is to mess up hair. No wonder our hair are all standing up in the morning! How the dew on plants and leaves, as well as the morning mist on windows are created. The luminescences, which keeps the city streets bright at night. And who can ever forget, Pee. I'll leave that to the imagination. All of them are monitored by Sr. Moka, the head honcho of Nocturna.

The animated film moves briskly along, but there are a lot of eye candy to keep one busy. The jokes are subtle, without the annoying pop culture references of American animation. It would have been nice if the organizers screened the film in its original language. The English dubbing seemed unnatural. The DVD playback was also alarming, since the colors tend to bleed in the fast paced sequences, which really hurts the eyes. Recipient of the 2008 Goya for Best Animated Film (Mejor Película de Animación).

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7th Pelicula Pelikula "Es tu historia" Spanish Film Festival
October 1-12, 2008. Cinema 1, Greenbelt, Makati City, Philippines.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

El Violin (2005)


This gripping political, neo realist drama commences with the torture of a lone farmer in a shed, the women and the elderly, gagged and bounded, look on in terror as the military, literally squeezes valuable information to track down the insurgents in the nearby mountains. And without warning, the armed men in uniform harasses and rapes a poor woman. This sets the tone for the rest of the film. Shot in black and white, director Francisco Vargas, paints a pale and grim picture on the past and present situation in rural Mexico.

The patriarch Don Plutarco (Angel Tavira), his son Genaro (Gerardo Taracena) and grandson Lucio, are a family of traveling musicians. They also supply arms to the renegade movement in the rural areas, specially in their farming village. As Genaro, gets in a tight pickle, it is up to Don Plutarco and his gentile nature to set things straight. Tavira's Don Plutarco exudes sincerity and goodness and it shows on screen with his weathered and wrinkled old face, which speaks of his character's and probably his own lifelong experience as a real life musician. He plays the violin, although not as fluid, as say, Joshua Bell, he undoubtedly plays it from the heart, which the military commandant quickly realizes. Don Plutarco strikes an unlikely friendship with the military, when he passes to and from his village, playing his violin, in order to smuggle the hidden ammunition for the guerrilla movement, which his son is a part of.

Wary of the title, Plutarco insists on calling him just by his name, he tells the Capitán on post. Yet, the Capitán sees it befitting because of Plutarco's humble sensibilities and his perceived honesty. The has tense moments, although devoid of the explicity of its opening sequence. The film progressing with a cliff hanging motion as we partake in the daily struggles of Don Plutarco and his family. The difficulties of living on alms to supplement their income from farming. The dangers of rural insurgency. Why the villagers sympathizes and joins them. The harassment and anguish caused by armed conflict. These scenes are fittingly shot in crisp black and white, because there are no grey areas. Just like the truth, it is simply black or white.

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7th Pelicula Pelikula "Es tu historia" Spanish Film Festival
October 1-12, 2008. Cinema 1, Greenbelt, Makati City, Philippines.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bajo Las Estrellas (2007)


You probably know someone like Benito Lacuna (Alberto San Juan), a self centered, arrogant individual that all he cares about is his wobbling career as a trumpet musician in the big city. Well, not exactly in that description, but someone who care nothing else but himself. "Benny Lacun" as he fondly calls himself, is also a drunkard. He also wallows in nothingness, tagging along his long suffering girlfriend with him. After hearing the news of his father's failing health, he seems to be more concerned about his life in the big city, hesitant to visit. As soon as he mustered enough strength, he returns to his home town, and meets up with family and old friends. His brother Lalo (Julián Villagrán), makes a living making iron sculptures, and is now hitch to Benito's former flame, Nines (Emma Suárez). He strikes an unlikely friendship with Nines' daughter, Ainara, and Benito finally steps up and talk control over his meaningless existence as events turns for the worse.

The characters in Bajo Las Estrellas (Under the Stars) (2007) are despicable and feels disconnected with the rest of us. Nothing to like about at face value, yet director Félix Viscarret based from Fernando Aramburu's novel, slowly injects sympathy as the movie moves along this drama infused with comedy. In collaboration with TVE, (TV Español), it looks like a big budget TV production projected on screen. Simple and uncluttered, does not intrude in scenes of importance. Memorable scenes includes the first encounter of Benito and Ainara, how he desperately tries to communicate with the young girl, who has become a recluse. And Benito, as he walks along the lonely stretch of country road beneath the stars and glimmering twilight sky. The old man with the metal detector, whose constant search remains to be a mystery.

The film also depicts the power of family, and bond of brotherhood in times of need, longing for contentment and peace with one's self, which is universal. Yet, the discord is still there until the end, Nines admits, and we feel it too. Their lives will be a long journey of struggle and discoveries. San Juan's performance won him the 2007 Goya for Best Lead Actor (Mejor Actor Principal) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Mejor Guión Adaptado) for Félix Viscarret.

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7th Pelicula Pelikula "Es tu historia" Spanish Film Festival
October 1-12, 2008. Cinema 1, Greenbelt, Makati City, Philippines.

Friday, October 10, 2008

For The First Time (2008)


Pinagtilian ng mga intrigero't intrigera, panatiko, ususero at iba pang lipon ng mundo ng showbiz, ang tambalang KC at Richard sa pelikulang For The First Time (2008) ni Joyce Bernal. Sa ilang mga kadahilanan, mga bigating artista ng magkaribal na istasyon sa bansa, na si Richard Gutierrez (The Promise (2007)) ng GMA-7 at KC Concepcion, anak ng premyadong aktres na si Sharon Cuneta (Bukas Luluhod Ang Mga Tala (1984)) mula sa bakod ng ABS-CBN. Ito ang kauna-unahang pagkakataon ni KC na pagbidahan ang isang malaking produksyon. Masusing pinagmamasdan ang bawat galaw ng dalawa kung sakaling sila ay magkatuluyan, at kung matatapatan ba ni KC sa lalim ng pag-arte and kanyang ina. Showbiz na showbiz di ba? Sa kawalan ng ibang mapapanuod nung panahong iyon, at dahil mag-eexpire na ang aking libreng tiket (na aking natamo mula sa isang paligsahan), ako'y napapasok sa isang pagpapalabas ng pelikulang tampok.

Coming from Joyce Bernal, i've expected more from her, with her delicate on screen command of her other rom-coms films. Yet, no amount of beauty can save this production. The story itself is nothing out of the ordinary. So much for its title, For The First Time. Yes, it does boast the beauty of its locale, Santorini, Greece. Yes, the cast are beautiful people. Yes, story does appeal to the hob-snob wealthy crowd, gearing towards social graces and the ability to spend wands of cash, not just your typical story of an OFW (overseas Filipino worker) in a strange country. I just have this inkling that we've seen it before and executed better. Nothing exceptional that can truly stand as its title. Nothing we've seen for the first time.

As for KC's acting I'll just leave it as it is, just watch the trailer. Both of them look good together, but that is it. You can't really feel any connection. Girl hates guy, promises never to mingle with guy for being a player, guy then asks girl. So they've spent a day together eating ice cream and swimming in the Aegean sea, and that's it, they're a couple! Guy, then leaves girl hanging, then tries to win her back. In my lonesome presence, had more fun watching the couples cuddling up that watching this pompous film that no one could ever love except those infinite admirers of its stars.