Review: Pitik-Bulag (1/5)

“Pitik-Bulag” marks the comeback of Gil Portes (“Mga Munting Tinig”, “Saranggola”) after a long hiatus in film directing. This film was Graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB). A promising credential for a BAD movie.

To add insult to injury, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) approved this ‘sexy thriller’ without cuts despite an explicit woman-on-woman sex scene that wasn’t necessary to the script at all. What is wrong with you, people? A film like “Aurora” (megged by Adolf Alix Jr.) received an X-rating for a non-sensual rape scene between Rosanna Roces and Kristoffer King, while this got approved. You must be kidding me!

Aside from the titillating scenes, this film has nothing left to offer. Shallow story. Cheesy dialogue and equally cheesy delivery from leads Paloma and Marco Alcaraz. Wooden acting, with the exception of Victor Neri. Awful score. Dry screenplay thriving on poverty clichés and plain stupidity.

My word of advice: skip it! Not unless you believe that CEB has taste.

Review: Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe (4/5)

SPOT Review: Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe (The Rapture of Fe)
by Fidel Antonio M. Medel

Although “Ang Panggagagahasa Kay Fe” is technically Alvin Yapan’s debut full-length feature, he is no stranger to film production. He has been involved in some critically-acclaimed films of the late like “Huling Pasada”, Cinemalaya 2008 finalist (as Assistant Director); “Rolyo”, Best Short Film in Cinemalaya 2007 (as Writer/Director); and “Tambolista”, Cinema One Originals 2007 finalist (as Supervising Producer). Now on his own, he concocts a tale that tackles domestic abuse and romanticizes Philippine mythology. An odd combination, but gripping nevertheless.

When an OFW (Irma Adlawan in the titular role) goes home to her rural township, she finds her husband (Nonie Buencamino as Dante) seemingly hostile of her return. His unpredictable pits of anger often results to acts of physical violence, but Fe occasionally turns over the other cheek. Her resilience, however, is not rewarded with hugs and kisses, but with more blows and punches. Before “Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe” turns into a full-blown drama about a battered wife, the real plot unfurls itself in a mystifying yet subtle fashion.

The “panggagahasa” mentioned in the title does not only refer to the sexual kind. It encompasses all other acts that strip a woman of her dignity, making her vulnerable to consider quick fixes no matter how implausible they may seem to be. In this film, Fe struggles to break away from a bad relationship. Dante’s abusive actions, coupled with his infidelity, forced her to seek another man who will save her from her miseries. The damsel-in-distress finds her knight-in-shining-armor in a former suitor (TJ Trinidad as Arturo). But due to his obligations to his kin and to their family business, eloping with Fe is not possible and practical. When the men in real life cannot stand up for her, she turns to a mysterious suitor who offers a fantasy of an escape.

The centerpiece of this film is Fe. With Yapan’s scripting dexterity (he has won several Palanca awards for his short fiction), the protagonist transcends the digital medium and becomes a real person. She is strong but frail, determined but afraid. The depth and nuances of her character are made apparent with the impeccable writing. Aside from Fe, the development of the roles of Dante, Arturo, and even Arturo’s ill father are supported by underlying stories and consistent characterization. We sympathize with the plights of these characters as if we know them on a personal level.

The concept may hit the A mark, but if poorly executed could still spell a disaster. Luckily Yapan knows what he is doing. In “Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe”, he mans the camera with an artistic vision manifested in every frame and every angle. His shots linger, but not to the point of static cinematography (which I hate by the way). His close-ups suggest subdued intimacy to his subjects whether living or inanimate. His camera glides through the scenes revealing just enough without giving away too much.

The film’s strongest tool in its arsenal is the screenplay. The story is well researched. Although deeply rooted in social realism, it was able to marry reality with local lore. Much of its appeal banks on the mystery surrounding Fe’s secret admirer who may or may not exist after all. To illustrate this, the filmmaker used repeated scenes and overlapping sequences and lent them a trance-like quality in order to confuse viewers as to which is imagined and which is real. The latter part of the film is puzzling and may require a second viewing, while the ending is open to various interpretations.

This film is what Filipino cinema should be about – rich in cultural authenticity and faithful to present-day circumstances. It is relevant, original, and stunning. If “Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe” is any indication of the quality of films in this year’s serving of indie gems at Cinemalaya, then things are looking up for the “big, small film festival”. Catch Cinemalaya Cinco at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) from July 17 to 26.

* published in SPOT

Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2/5)

DIRECTOR: Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor)

TAGLINE: Revenge is coming.

STARRING: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel

THE GIST: The Decepticons return to Earth, resurrect Megatron, and plan to take over the Earth. But when there’s trouble, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! Oops, wrong movie.

MSNBC SAYS: A cinematic avalanche in which Michael Bay eschews anything that resembles plot or characters and instead screams at the audience's eyes for two and a half hours.

I SAY: We all should know by now that the name Michael Bay is synonymous to massive explosions and larger-than-life encounters. With the second installment to the Transformers saga, Bay does not only blow everything up, he also gives us a mouthful of military BS. Despite the high-octane action, “Transformers 2” should have just stayed in the junkyard instead or wreaking havoc in our cinemas. I’m still trying to figure out why I sung praises for the first movie. What got into me?

Review: My Fake American Accent (1/5)

When I read the synopsis of “My Fake American Accent (MFAA)”, I automatically felt curious about it. I have friends working in this multi-billion dollar industry that goes by fancy names like contact center, business process outsourcing, and call center. “MFAA” is made up of call center vignettes sewn loosely together to make a movie that resembles a mini series so bad it has to be pulled out from air after its pilot episode.

“MFAA” is sloppily made with extremely low production value. The background is too noisy that the dialogue is often inaudible. The musical score is amateurish. The sound volume is inconsistent. The film also suffers from poor editing. It is full of clutter, as if it keeps a collection of unnecessary scenes. Mindless shots are also rampant. Meanwhile, the script is so badly written that it turns out to be more irate than those stupid American callers. The punch lines are bland and the dialogue is dreadful. Acting-wise, the Team Leader who is hungry for promotion as an Operations Manager is the only one who can act. The rest are merely saying their lines, and they couldn’t even say it right. In one sentence: “MFAA” is a high school project pretending to be a movie.

This movie will go down as Cinemalaya’s worst film ever. Even call center will roll their eyeballs over the misrepresentations and the stereotypes it projected on screen.

Excusez-moi French

It’s the time of the year again when we can use and misuse French phrases such as je t’aime, bonuit, bonjour, and even voulez-vous coucher avec moi.

I found out about the 14th French Film Festival at Shangri-La Cineplex five days late, which left me with little time to catch up with the films screening this year. So as a desperate attempt to partake in as much Parisian fare as I could, I declared a French movie marathon this weekend (the last two days of the filmfest, June 13 and 14). I saw seven films in two days, which shouldn’t have been possible if I have to line up each time to get myself a ticket. Thank God for Jo’s wonder ‘pass’.


The French Film Festival also took a holiday on June 12 to pave way to Pinoy films honored during the Cannes Film Festival. True to their promise to bring Cannes to Manila, five films that graced the coastal city of France were shown on the 111th year of Philippine independence. These are Raymond Red’s “Anino” (Cannes 2000 Palme d’Or winner in the short film division), “Manong Maong” and “Sabongero” (short film entries in Cannes 2009), “Serbis” (Brillante Mendoza’s controversial film that competed for the Palme d’Or in 2008), and “Independencia” (Raya Martin’s competing film for the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes 2009).

Check out my review of “Independencia".


We all know how reliable the cinematic sensibility of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) is, pun intended. And here they go again. One of the festival’s films, Benoit Jacquot’s “À Tout de Suite (Right Now)”, was rated X by the Board, which means that it cannot be shown on theatres. Moreover, “Le Pianiste (The Piano Teacher)” by Michael Haneke (this year’s winner of the Palme d’Or for “The White Ribbon”) almost got banned. MTRCB passed it on the condition that it will only be screened once. MTRCB doesn’t care about the film’s merits or the importance of the graphic presentation of sex and/or violence in setting the film’s mood. They merely slap ratings and censor scenes without looking at the bigger picture. ‘Nuf said, Save that for another blog.


The first French film that I saw from the festival is the period comedy “Ridicule” by Patrice Leconte. This Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in 1996 traces the struggles of a poor French lord trying to get royal backing on a drainage project. But in order to get the favor of the king, he needs to dip his toes in the corruption and sarcasm (which they refer to as ‘wit’) that plague the court. I am not a fan of period films, and by all means, I am not amused by their fancy way of talking and funny costumes. Men in wigs and in make-up baffle me. But this farce is surprisingly absorbing. You’ll easily get lost in the mind games that defined the time.

Meanwhile, David Vigne’s “Jean de la Fontaine” follows the famous French fabulist’s confrontation with Colbert of Louis XIV’s court. Unlike “Ridicule”, this film lacks wit and substance.

Ridicule (1996) – 3/5
Jean de la Fontaine (2007) – 2/5


Abdel Kechiche dissects teenage romance and high school drama (the superficial kind that is) with the hilarious but sharp “L'esquive (Games of Love and Chance)”. In high school, the trivial becomes life and death situations and verbal squabbles are relentless. Sandwiched in the funny scenes is a disturbing and long sequence that felt like a forceful punch in the gut.
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize during the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Bruno Dumont’s “Flandres” is a dark cross-examination of the simplicity of rural life and the horrors of war. The film banks on shock value and implants unpleasant images of abuse into our minds.

My favorite film from last year’s French Film Festival is Christophe Honore’s “Les Chansons d’Amour (Love Songs)”, the quirky modern romance musical. He returns this year with an earlier work entitled “17 fois Cécile Cassard (17 Times Cecile Cassard)”. The film embodies the same electricity as “Love Songs” – the hyper-kinetic music and the stylized camerawork. However, Cecile Cassard’s life is rather empty. All she did the entire running time of the movie is to feel sorry for herself and fumbles in rebuilding her life. What a letdown.

L'esquive (2003) – 3/5
Flandres (2006) – 2.5/5
17 Times Cécile Cassard (2002) – 2/5


“Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows)” is the breakthrough film of Nouvelle Vague director Francois Truffaut. This classic is about a delinquent juvenile’s slow descent to petty crime. An admirable work that is sure to strike a chord with everyone. Meanwhile, Claude Miller’s “Un Secret (A Secret)” is a Holocaust family drama that is beautifully shot and undeniably moving.

The 400 Blows (1959) – 3/5
A Secret (2007) – 3/5

That will do it for now. Till the next French Film Festival. Au revoir.

Review: Independencia (3/5)

PEP Review: “Independencia” defines the price of independence
by Fidel Antonio M. Medel

Much has been said about the illustrious history of defiance of the Filipino people against foreign imperialists. A number of films had been made to commemorate the heroism of the Rizal’s and the Bonifacio’s. They have paid the price of independence with suffering and eventually with their own life. But what is independence for the common Filipino? The war is not always punctuated with mighty pens and blood-drenched bolos. The war also echoes faint cries of rebellion and unheard affliction of the oppressed. Raya Martin’s latest body of work, “Independencia”, brings us back to the time when independence is a noble but unattainable concept. Instead of portraying the forefront of the war for freedom, Martin invites us to look at the struggle from another angle.

After reaping accolades for “Maicling Pelicula Nang Ysang Indio Nacional (O Ang Mahabang Kalungkutan ng Katagalugan)” and “Autohystoria”, Martin finds himself in the world’s most prestigious film festival this year. His latest film, “Independencia”, competed in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival. Un Certain Regard, which literally translates to “a certain glance”, is a parallel competition to the Palme d’Or (the festival’s top plum to which Brillante Mendoza’s “Kinatay” competed for) that aims to discover young talents and feature audacious works by extending a financial grant to aid the winning film’s distribution in France. Compared to other movies being screened in the Cannes Film Festival, the competing works in the Un Certain Regard section are more experimental and avant-garde in their approach to filmmaking.

“Independencia” is mostly a visual fare with an allusive story characterized by Philippine culture and history. A strong-willed mother (Tetchie Agbayani) and his son (Sid Lucero) were compelled to leave town to escape from the sounds of war. The family’s solitary existence was cut short when the son found an abused woman (Alessandra de Rossi) unconscious in the forest. Together, they took refuge in a derelict hut and toiled to build a shelter and a home. In the jungle, they may be free citizens who could do anything they wish unlike the rest of the population who are at the mercy of the whims of the American troops. However, their freedom is but artificial. They are confined in a claustrophobic world akin to a subconscious prison. Moreover, they are enslaved by their pasts. The lush tropical forest is unwelcoming. Nature is raging with fury. And danger is imminent. The family is a portrait of freedom-loving Filipinos willing to brave the odds just to have a taste of independence. But they too paid the price.

The look and feel of “Independencia” follows the same vein as “Indio Nacional”: it aims to imitate the cinematic style of a particular period. Since “Independencia” is set during the early years of the US colonization, Martin shot the entire film in vivid black-and-white inside a studio and reconstructed a forest setting by dressing it with potted plants, painted backdrops, simulated rain, flying sparrows, and a flowing river. The idea is to create a realistic fake forest to emphasize the artificiality of the so-called independence the characters are enjoying. To further imbibe us into the era, the actors spoke in old-fashioned Tagalog. Their dialogues are teeming with superstition, sayings, and tales inherited from their ancestors. The cultural element is so thick (may be to a fault) that it is almost palpable.

Martin is not for everyone. Even cinephiles are polarized by his films. People look at his films as either revolutionary or pretentious. But for those who are seeking alternative cinema, this visionary filmmaker may pique your curiosity.

The film had its Philippine premiere during the 14th French Film Festival held at Shangri-la Plaza Mall on the 111th day of Philippine Independence.

* published in PEP

Review: The Girlfriend Experience (2.5/5)

Welcome to the Steven Soderbergh’s unerotic world of high profile hustling. In The Girlfriend Experience, the award-winning director of Erin Brockovich and Traffic introduces us to Chelsea (played by adult film star Sasha Grey), a high-end Manhattan escort who charges her clientele $2,000 per hour to give them “the girlfriend experience”. His clients, mostly businessmen, treat her to expensive restaurants and luxury hotels while they vent out their frustrations about the stock market or share their problems regarding their wife and kids. Meanwhile, Chelsea listens to them, offers companionship, and makes them feel loved even for just a short while. Sex is not necessarily required, but allowed.

Utilizing an experimental technique, Soderbergh places his camera with a relative distance to his subjects. Coupled with a non-scripted-but-scripted style of narration, the film evokes a voyeuristic feel. During her ‘transactions’, Chelsea gives her patrons what they want but her emotions are secured behind walls of hard bricks. Impenetrable. Well, almost. Because underneath her Michael Kors dress and expensive jewelry is a fragile woman crushed by the consequences of the choices she had made.

The lo-fi production worked to Soderbergh’s benefit. It’s hard not to recognize the style and technical merits of the film. But it is hard to tell if there is anything else beneath the gimmickry and experimentation. The Girlfriend Experience happens to be too vague in its intentions, and the non-linear overlapping of sequences definitely does not help in elucidating the movie’s focal points.

TAGLINE: See it with someone you ****
DETROIT NEWS SAYS: After it's over, it quickly vanishes from memory, and viewers are on to the next transaction.


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