Sunday, August 31, 2014

Book No. 3 (2014): SCENES FROM VILLAGE LIFE

Scenes From Village Life
Author: Amos Oz

Scenes From Village Life consists of eight stories which are related. I can even say such stories have common theme. Some stories even share characters. The allegories and some hints of surrealism make the stories even more mysterious and interesting. I don't seem to understand completely the actions of some characters; I can take this as something that maintains intrigue. Some stories are disturbing, but this doesn't mean they're not interesting. The precise words used by Amos Oz, in my opinion, have easily made their way to my consciousness to discern the ambivalence of some characters who seem to be still nurturing the scars of Israel's past.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Date read: April 24, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Movie No. 66 (2014): THE FISHER KING

The Fisher King (1991)
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl

Jeff Bridges is Jack Lucas, a conceited and haughty radio DJ. One day his rudeness in dealing with a random caller results in tragic consequences, which will force him to quit radio and succumb to three years of depression. Just when he's about to take his own life, he meets, in an unusual circumstance, a homeless man, Parry (Robin Williams, who's a former university professor. Having learned about Parry's background, Jack is forced to help save Parry before saving himself. The rest of the movie is about Jack and Parry's dramatic, funny, and fantastic journey to redemption.

Terry Gilliam's surrealist's touch is quite evident. In some way, it makes the movie enchanting and enthalling. Probably it's one reason one will not notice the smooth sailing of the relatively long running time for a story like this. The use of a parallel fairy tale is well-placed in the script. The (lead) performances of Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams are unforgettable. But, it's Mercedes Ruehl's acting, as the neurotic girlfriend of Jack, that got bestowed with a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1991.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 24, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

Movie No. 65 (2014): MOOD INDIGO

Mood Indigo (2013)
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris, Omar Sy
In French, with English subtitles

The quirkiness one sees in the movie can be said to be typical of Michel Gondry. Here is a simply story of a wealthy bachelor (Colin) who decides to fall in love after learning that his friend and his chef have respective girlfriends. Then he meets Chloe, they fall in love, they get married. Then Chloe gets sick; apparently, there's a water lily growing in her lungs. The plant may be taken as a symbolism for cancer. Colin decides to take menial jobs to provide for Chloe's medication (i.e., to surround her with flowers to kill the plant in her lungs) as their money slowly gets exhausted. I have to stop here.

This is a simple love story. But, Gondry presents it in a way that's absurd. For example: foods that are animated; a dining table on roller blades; the plant that grows in Chloe's lungs; the house that gets smaller as Chloe's disease advances and as they become poorer; the bedroom that turns round when Duke Ellington is played; a scene on screen showing half in summer, the other in spring; the mouse; the race to the wedding; the see-through car; the chef on TV; the eel; the body parts that defy the laws of physics when dancing to Duke Ellington's music; the "walk" in the clouds; and a lot more. The overload of this art direction details sometimes get into the way of the narrative (i.e., distracting). But then, the movie is still likeable, knowing it's Gondy directing.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 24, 2014


Movie No. 64 (2014): BETHLEHEM

Bethlehem (2013)
Director: Yuval Adler
Cast: Tsahi Halevi, Shadi Mar'i, Hitham Omari
In Hebrew and Arabic, with English subtitles

I don't know much about the Israel-Palestine-Hamas conflict, which is on the backdrop of the drama that unfolds in this movie. I only care about the characters involved in what can be called a spy drama with the requisite elements of a thriller. But, it really is the character study that needs attention. While some background stories are not enough to understand the actions of some characters, the movie still sustains the intrigue that it has established at the start of the film, which has kept me glued to scenes after scenes. This can be attributed to the well-written script. The cinematography is near precise. The performances of the two major cast are impeccable.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 21, 2014

Movie No. 63 (2014). Cinemalaya X: "MAUBAN: ANG RESIKO"

Mauban: Ang Resiko (2014)
Director: Lem Lorca
Cast: Sid Lucero, Alessndra De Rossi, Bing Pimentel, Biboy Ramirez, Menggie Cobarrubias, Jess Mendoza, Kenneth Paul Salva

Resiko is a portion of a salary that is allotted for good time. In Cagbelete Island (Mauban, Quezon), the idea of good time is drinking. This movie shows the daily lives of the people in the island. It focuses on one family: the matrirach moolights as a masseuse in a nearby beach resort; her son is preoccupied with lapu-lapu (grouper, an expensive species of fish) breeding; her daughter and son-in-law are into winemaking. There isn't much happening in the island. Resiko-funded good time is a fixture. Even some (occasional) dynamite fishing accident seems part of their existence.

This is pure cinema. I like the way it's presented in a way so sober that it contrasts with the ever-inebriated dispositions of the characters presented in the movie. The great performances of Sid Lucero, Alessandra De Rossi, Bing Pimentel, Menggie Cobarubbias, and Jess Mendoza help make the movie worth watching.

I saw the premiere showing of this movie on August 9, 2014 at CCP's Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino.


Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 9, 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Movie No. 62 (2014). Cinemalaya X: POSAS

Posas (Shackled) (2012)
Director: Lawrence Fajardo
Cast: Nico Antonio, Art Acuna, Bangs Garcia, John Lapus, Jake Macapagal

The movie was in competition in the Driector's Showcase of 2012 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. It won the grand prize that year. In this year's Cinemalaya X, posas is part of the retrospective.

Posas is a movie about corruption in the local police in the eyes of a petty thief. In one random day, a pickpocket gets caught by the police after a well-executed chase scene in the busy streets of Quiapo. The pickpocket is presented as one who is quite naive of the police procedural despite being in the "pickpocketing business" for quite sometime. This is the first time he gets caught. While being interrogated, he gets to witness the corruption taking place in the local police. In an unexpected turn of events, he gets released, but his life will be different from then on as he will be forever "tied" to the corrupt officers. Hence, the tag line: "The day they set him free was the first day of his life sentence."

The movie succeeds in its use of irony via juxtaposing certain images with scenes suggesting the opposite. There aren't much cinematic inventions utilized, but the movie is engaging from the scenes that establish the plot in he beginning until the conclusion. As for the performances, Art Acuna's take on his role as a corrupt police officer is outstanding.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 7, 2014


Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie No. 61 (2014). Cinemalaya X: SEPARADOS (a.k.a. s6parados)

S6parados (2014)
Director: G. B. Sampedro
Cast: Victor Neri, Ritz Azul, Ricky Davao, Jason Abalos, Alfred Vargas, Anjo Yllana, Erick Santos, Iwa Moto, Katrina Halili, Melissa Mendez, Joel Lamangan

I'd like to make it short. The movie title is contrived (s6parados? How do you read that?). The subplots of the other characters simply don't count. The episodic treatment of the narrative is also begging to be noticed. The story is simple and trite. The movie tries to achieve something with editing style it adopted.  Even the good performances of some of the cast (i.e., Victor Neri and Melissa Mendez) can't save the movie from its fast descent into oblivion.

Rating: 1.50/4.0

Date seen: August 9, 2014


Movie No. 60 (2014). Cinemalaya X: #Y

#Y (2014)
Director: Gino Santos
Cast: Elmo Magalona, Colleen Garcia, Slater Young, Kit Thompson, Chynna Ortaleza, Sophie Albert

The movie masks as a commentary to what preoccupies the time and psyche of some privileged youth today, the so-called Generation Y. The hash tag (#) in the title suggests how social media and electronic gadgets heavily affect the daily existence (not daily living) of these youth. In my humble opinion, the commentary can easily extend even to other social classes and even to youth in the western hemisphere. Prominently enmeshed into the chaos that includes social media, never-ending parties, substance abuse, casual sex, etc., is the topic of suicide and the helplessness that goes with it. Honestly, I don't understand what drives the Elmo Magalona character to commit suicide. Mental illness? He doesn't look like he has it. At least not obviously. The moment I realize his 'brother' has got something to do with it, that's enough for me. The mention of Catcher In The Rye, where the hate that consumes the protagonist has been depicted to be coming out of nowhere, is another attempt to justify the actions of the Elmo Magalona character.

The movie is not without flaw. But, it effectively captures on screen what it really wants to show, with not much sugar-coating. The Best Ensemble Acting Award that the cast received is well-deserved. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 8, 2014


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Movie No. 59 (2014). Cinemalaya X: SUNDALONG KANIN

Sundalong Kanin (2014)
Director: Janice O'Hara
Cast: Nathaniel Brit, Isaac Cain Aguirre, Akira Morishita, Elijah Canlas, Marc Abaya, Ian De Leon, Paolo O'Hara, Enzo Pineda, Via Veloso, Che Ramos

I like this movie very much because it reminds me of the 1985 movie, Stand By Me, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. Sundalong Kanin, however, is more tragic. The movie tells how, in a remote barrio, several boys coming of age become determined to take part in defending the country as soldiers. They even make crude armory that look ridiculous. Although serious in their intention, their parents and the guerrilla fighters dismiss them. But some turn of events that have already taken away peace-and-order from the barrio will rekindle the children's determination to kill the enemies. In the process, new alliances form, loyalty shifts, friendships are put to test, people scheme, people make difficult choices, people get killed, and the war makes all these things worse.

The cinematography has that requisite capability to transport the audience into the time in history that the events in the film are thought to have occurred. The narrative, while having the tendency to resort to melodrama, remain controlled and engaging. The performances of the young cast plus that of Marc Abaya's are simply great.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 7, 2014

Movie No. 58 (2014). Cinemalaya X: KASAL

Kasal (2014)
Director: Jose Altarejos
Cast: Arnold Reyes, Oliver Aquino, Rita Avila, Maureen Mauricio

The movie dissects same-sex relationship in the Philippine setting. Sherwin (Arnold Reyes) is a lawyer whose expertise is annulment; Paolo (Oliver Aquino) is a film director who moonlights in wedding ceremonies video coverage. They have been living together for three years. Paolo suggests to Sherwin that they get married despite absence of law allowing it. Paolo, who is practically still in the closet, rejects the suggestion, citing it will never work in the local setting. 

The movie is riddled with irony, which makes the movie an interesting piece. Even the beautiful cinematography is ironic since what we see on screen is a relationship that is on the verge of turning sour. On their way to the wedding of Sherwin's 16-year-old sister, who got impregnated by an equally young fiancee, Sherwin and Paolo occasionally get into bouts of argument, sometimes over trivial things, sometimes about one upbraiding the other on issues of infidelity, etc. The performances of the lead actors are excellent, making every scene involving them so engaging. The script can actually work even for a heterosexual relationship. 

This is one of the best films shown in this year's Cinemalaya.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 5, 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Movie No. 57 (2014). Cinemalaya X: BWAYA

Bwaya (2014)
Director: Francis Xavier Pasion
Cast: Angeli Bayani, RS Francisco, Karl Medina

The Cinemalaya X jury must have liked this movie very much to make it win Best Film. Well, I didn't, and I still don't understand. While there's is a desperate attempt for this movie to show (or flaunt) achievement in its narrative style, it simply doesn't work for me. Infusing real interview footage with real people from which some characters in the film are based is so contrived. The voice over telling a folkloric tale is irritating. The most irritating is when an obviously plastic crocodile is shown (in near close-up) - in a supposedly important scene. The ending is so trite and cliche - and contrived, too. 

Angeli Bayani is almost always good in whatever role assigned to her. But as the mother of the missing girl that was attacked by a crocodile, in this movie, she is good when she's not hysterical. In all her hysterical scenes, she's like a caricature.

Rating: 1.50/4.0

Date seen: August 5, 2014


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Movie No. 56 (2014). Cinemalaya X: MARIQUINA

Mariquina (2014)
Director: Milo Sogueco
Cast: Mylene Dizon, Ricky Davao, Che Ramos, Bing Pimentel, Barbie Forteza, Dennis Padilla

The old and new Marikina are in the backdrop of the movie, but it's not about Marikina. In some integral scenes though, we see hints of how the shoemakers of Marikina had faded into almost oblivion. But again, the movie is not about them. Maybe, we can think of what happened to the once glorious industry of Marikina as allegory of the main story. In the opening of the film, we see Imelda (Mylene Dizon) dealing with the demands of her stressful job as owner of a ready-to-wear clothing factory and then receiving the news about the suicide of her estranged father. It's intriguing to see her indifference and coldness toward the supposedly sad news. This was the scene that attracted my interest. As expected, the next scenes that move back and forth in time give hints of what caused the father-daughter estrangement. But there are some details that the writer and director don't want to share. Well, for me, this works because, in real life, when people tell stories what we hear are their version of the story - a version where some details are actually left out whether on purpose, or simply due to some mental lapse. Making guess about some details makes the experience more worthwhile.

When Imelda finally succumbs to the memory of her father, a once-famed shoemaker of Marikina, she takes charge to carry out arrangements. Learning that her father does not have shoes on in his coffin, she protests and, with the help of her father's friend, she will find a pair; she wants it to be a great pair as a tribute to his father's body of work. This is coming into terms with the dead. 

With its compelling premise, intriguing conflict, and execution, Mariquina is a standout among this year's batch of films in Cinemalaya. It is also important to note that the excellent ensemble great performances of Mylene Dizon, Ricky Davao, Bing Pimentel, Barbie Forteza, and ChE Ramos simply integral to the 'greatness' of this movie.

Rating: 3.50/4.0

Date seen: August 4, 2014
 
 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Movie No. 55 (2014). Cinemalaya X: CHILDREN'S SHOW

Children's Show (2014)
Director: Roderick  Cabrido
Cast: Buboy Villar, Miggs Cuaderno, Gloria Sevilla, Allen Dizon, Nathan Lopez, Suzette Ranillo

In Children's Show, children talk, decide, and treat life like adults. Adults, their parents included, are generally helpless. This is the story of two brothers, both out-of-school youth, one in his preteen the other barely a teenager, who make a living by driving a pedicab and occasionally moonlighting as fighters in an underground wrestling show run by syndicates. They live in a shanty under the care of their grandmother having been abandoned by their father for another family and by their mother who committed suicide. 

In the opening credits, the movie claims that it is based on actual events. This information, the dire circumstances the children thrown into (poverty, crime, absence of adults' guidance, etc.), and their carefree dealings with their daily existence make the movie horrifying. And this horror is effectively conveyed in the narrative, excellent editing, and wonderful performances of the lead (Buboy Villar and Miggs Cuaderno) and supporting cast.

In my opinion, this is one of the best movies shown in this year's batch of Cinemalaya entries.

Rating: 3.50/4.0

Date seen: August 3, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Movie No. 54 (2014). Cinemalaya X: RONDA

Ronda (2014)
Director: Nick Olanka
Cast: Ai-Ai Delas Alas, Carlos Morales, Carlo Aquino, Menggie Cobarubbias, Perla Bautista, Julian Trono

The movie shows a policewoman (Ai-Ai Delas Alas) as she and her partner patrol the streets of Manila at night to dawn. The next two nights are not ordinary nights because her only son, a high-school student, hasn't come home. There are scenes showing her trying to contact her son, but to no avail. Then there's another scene showing her informing her husband, who's working abroad, about the son "missing." She does her routine in most scenes, but looks like she's more interested in her other "affair" than finding her son. It looks like there's too much effort in Ai-Ai Delas Alas to morph her face to look serious  as the character requires.

Other characters give a necessary and welcome diversion. The chief of police looks like not at all concerned about fighting criminals. The Carlo Aquino character is actually more interesting than the policewoman's son. And Carlos Morales, as Ai-Ai's partner in her nightly patrol, is a standout in his performance particularly in that telephone conversation which practically appears (on screen) like he's doing a monologue.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: August 3, 2014



Sunday, August 10, 2014

Movie No. 53 (2014). Cinemalaya X: DAGITAB

Dagitab (2014)
Director: Derick Cabrido
Cast: Eula Valdes, Nonie Buencamino, Martin Del Rosario

Dagitab means spark. True enough, the movie used an overload of symbolism suggestive of a couple's marriage on the verge of falling apart. Cigarette is most prominent. Then there's the spark emanating from an electronic mosquito killer. Even the spark produced when the fat from pork skewer that falls on a live ember desperately needs attention. Then the fireflies in the final scene. Some of these make some scenes poetic. Some look contrived.

I can't complain about the performances. Eula Valdes and Nonie Buencamino are equally good, which makes them front-runner in the acting awards of Cinemalaya X. I guess it's screenplay is good on paper. Cinematography is one of
the best, particularly that one scene on the beach, which is reminiscent of the now famous scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Oh, there's another one, a copycat of the famous beach scene in From Here To Eternity. But the main problem, is the storytelling itself. This movie needs re-editing. There are lots of scenes that drag.

Rating: 2.50/4.0

Date seen: August 3, 2014


Movie No. 52 (2014). Cinemalaya X: HUSTISYA

Hustisya (2014)
Director: Joel Lamangan
Cast: Nora Aunor, Rosanna Roces, Rocco Nacino, Sunshine Dizon, Romnick Sarmenta, Gardo Versoza

Nora Aunor's character (Biring) is ironic. She's generally kind-hearted. She's pious when in church or whenever she sees religious images. She's foul-mouthed. She works for a local human trafficking syndicate as the right hand of the leader, Vivian (Rosanna Roces), who, like her, is from Bicol. She delivers payoffs to "people that matter." 

The movie follows Biring as she walks through the streets of Manila while doing her "duties." Occasionally, she drops by the house of her daughter who doesn't approve of her involvement in Vivian's circle. Through these scenes we get a glimpse of Biring's character. But, it's hard to understand her actions without sufficient back story. I see Biring as someone who has become indifferent to the 'filth' of Manila due to years of involvement in the syndicate. When Biring gets framed up for a murder she didn't commit, then  gets out of jail through the manipulations of a young crooked lawyer (Rocco Nacino), and then commits actual murder, we get to see other layers of her character. Nora Aunor, using her facilities, really effortlessly pulls off a dark character, a role that she hadn't tried before. She still manages to shine in a movie that's problematic. The other cast also standout: Rosanna Roces, Mailes Kanapi, Rocco Nacino, and Romnick Sarmenta.

But the movie suffers from incoherence, particularly in the second half. Some scenes look staged. There's too much detour from the main point of the movie. Joel Lamangan's social commentary via scenes showing anti-government protests and graffiti in the backdrop of some scenes look too contrived and misplaced. The metaphoric tossing of letters and money from the clock tower of Manila City Hall to purge her guilt is, in my opinion, is unnecessary. Leading to the conclusion, the metaphoric walk-through of Biring in a dark street (where all the 'filths' of manila are on display, as if in a tableau) ending with dark clouds eclipsing the moon is a welcome suggestion for Biring's total immersion in the crime world. And that mysterious last laugh is iconic.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: August 2, 2014

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Movie No. 51 (2014). Cinemalaya X: THE JANITOR

The Janitor (2014)
Director: Michael Tuviera
Cast: Dennis Trillo, Richard Gomez, Derek Ramsay, LJ Reyes, Raymond Bagatsing, Alex Medina, Irma Adlawan

Overall, this action-thriller really delivers what's expected from the genre Here's the thing: a bank robbery gone awry leaves 10 people dead, the police force is under pressure, and a 'hitman,' who's a disgraced policeman desperate to regain his post is brought in to clean the mess. Thinking it can happen (or, is happening in real life) makes the film scary.

The performances are noteworthy. The editing helps sustain the momentum of the movie. Entertainment value is A+. But, there's one thing that bugs me: the Cris Espina character is like a puppet whose actions depend much on what his superiors tell him to do. Yes, this is cinema and the writer can make this situation possible and acceptable. And this is the only glitch I can think of. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 2, 2014


Friday, August 8, 2014

Movie No. 50 (2014). Cinemalaya X: ASINTADO

Asintado (Between The Eyes)
DirectorL Louie Ignacio
Cast: Aiko Melendez, Miggs Cuaderno, Jake Vargas, Gabby Eigenmann

The film narrates the story of a mother who uses the 'gift' of her special child to save her elder son, who gets tangled in a dangerous web. The film uses the Taong Putik Festival (in Nueva Ecija) as the backdrop. The material for the movie is rich; however, I find the movie wanting. Whatever it is I can't really pinpoint. One thing: I can't really understand the Jake Vargas character who's supposed to be the town valedictorian, but the way the character is written makes him appear like stupid and gullible. I mean, should there be a little back story? Miggs Cuaderno as the special child who has a gift to easily hit anything he targets with his sling is the only standout in this film. Gabby Eigenmann's attack on his character is so desperate. And Aiko Melendez? Oh, well...

And that ending is so teleserye-ish.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: August 2, 2014


Movie No. 49 (2014). Cinemalaya X: HARI NG TONDO

Hari Ng Tondo (Where I Am King)
Director: Carlitos Siguion-Reyna
Cast: Robert Arevalo, Liza Lorena, Rez Cortez, Ali Sotto, Audie Gemora, Eric Quizon, Cris Villonco, Rafa Siguion-Reyna, Ciara Sotto, Aiza Seguerra

Hari Ng Tondo is Carlitos Siguion-Reyna's come-back film after more than a decade absence. This film is a (welcome) departure from the types of films in his filmography. A drama-comedy, which is also almost-half musical, is an unexpected extrapolation. I'm quite delighted with I saw: this film being the very first film that I saw in this year's Cinemalaya.

In the film, a wealthy businessman (Robert Arevalo), on the brink of bankruptcy, reluctantly sells all his property except a dilapidated apartment complex in Tondo, called Alapaap, where he spent his youth. He decides to return to Tondo; his two grandchildren tags along to escape from the manipulations of their domineering parents. In Tondo, the businessman rekindles old flame; the grandchildren meet different people who, in a way or other, change the way they look at people of this social class and of the world, in general.

The film is playful. There's this plot that, although quite familiar, still draws intrigue and keeps the audience's attention. Near the film's conclusion there's a subtle but direct social commentary that, I think, is not contrived. But then, even without that, the film still works.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 2, 2014