Review: Dukot (3.5/5)

When the writ of habeas corpus (or the right of a person to undergo the due process of the law prior to incarceration) was suspended during the martial law, individuals who have gained the ire of the government mysteriously vanished. Four presidents after, the stench that reeked out of the dictatorial administration still lingers today. A number of leftists and critics of the government have been deprived of their liberty through forced disappearances. This is the weighty social reality depicted in Joel Lamangan’s Dukot.

The story begins with Junix (Allen Dizon) and his girlfriend Maricel (Iza Calzado) being abducted by state security forces. Junix is a student activist who decided to dedicate all of his time to the movement. He takes refuge in the mountains to live with the indigenous people. Maricel, on the other hand, left the movement to lead a normal life. Their captors identified them as leaders of the New People’s Army (NPA). In order to extract information from them, they were subjected to inhumane torture and despicable harassment. This reminds us of Star Cinema’s Dekada ’70 (wherein Piolo Pascual was made to sleep on top of a block of ice naked) and the Hollywood film Rendition. Call it shock cinema if you may, but this is reality.

Meanwhile, the parents of Junix and Maricel seek the help of a human rights group to look for their missing children. It’s a depressing predicament for a parent to dig graves, look at dismembered body parts, and identify corpses in morgues but they remain hopeful that their children are alive and will soon be found.

This alarming slice-of-life is juxtaposed with an emotional element that made the film more powerful. The film tends to overdo some of its dramatic scenes with slow motion, unnatural dialogue (Can you imagine a guy shouting “Mahal kita… habambuhay!” in the middle of Taft Avenue?), and an overbearing score. The drama could be a little tighter. Luckily, the cast is competent enough to play their roles with conviction. Iza is perfect for her role. Tabloid reporters will make a fuss about her ‘daring’ rape scene but her performance is definitely more than that. Gina Alajar, who played Maricel’s mother, doesn’t need to prove anything. She reminds us how good of an actress she is. Her mannerisms and delivery of lines is in character 100% of the time.

With the barrage of sensationalized news headlines that come with our morning coffee, we can’t be blamed for growing apathetic to the country’s social condition. Sometimes, it gets hard to separate the truth from yellow journalism. But after watching Dukot, it would be damning not to care. Penned by Palanca awardee Bonifacio Ilagan (who also wrote The Flor Contemplacion Story), this film is an account of the stories of real life desaparecidos. Bonifacio, who is a political detainee himself, produces a timely and courageous political thriller as a protest against forced disappearances and human rights violations in the Philippines.

* published in PEP

Review: In My Life (3/5)

Moviegoers will once again applaud Vilma Santos for getting under her character’s skin, while her son will soon be banned from portraying any living character. Meanwhile, John Lloyd Cruz will receive props for an understated but effective performance.

But I’ll sing my praises to Dimples Romana for that singular scene where she painfully recounted her mom’s hostile remarks about her plans of taking up medicine. Effective dramas don’t always require over-the-top acting and pails of fake tears. There’s beauty in restraint. There’s a strong emotion expressed by tears welling up in the corner of one’s eyes. And there’s an even stronger emotion expressed by the fact that someone is fighting back the tears. Dimples may not have been given the key emotional scenes. But on her few minutes on screen, she flexed enough acting muscles to purge Luis Manzano and his classmates in the Academy of Slipshod Acting out of show business.

Review: Manghuhula (1/5)

It’s weird how the film industry works. Manghuhula gets the chance to be distributed in mainstream theatres a year after its run in the Digital Lokal section of the Cinemanila International Film Festival. It’s weird not because it took them a year to show us the film, but because among the competing films, this gravely inferior film made it to our cinemas.

Manghuhula tells the story of an outcast fortuneteller who returns to her hometown only to find her daughter being groomed to be the town’s next fortuneteller, a fate she ran away from.

Manghuhula is a mess. With numerous missteps in direction and editing, the drama largely feels flat and unaffecting. The ineffective editing doesn’t make the scenes flow seamlessly to the next. Peek into the future, I’m sure you won’t see Manghuhula receiving any compliments.

Review: Kimmy Dora (3.5/5)

We’ve seen enough twins separated by birth to last us three generations of generic soap operas. In Kimmy Dora, Kimmy and Dora (both played by Eugene Domingo, ang bagong diyosa ng pagpapatawa) are very much together. They are the daughters of a business tycoon who owns a mammoth conglomerate (patterned after John Gokongwei). Aside from the twin’s identical looks, they share nothing else in common. Kimmy is a raging, rampaging bitch who runs the family business by throwing a fit at everyone and throwing punches at her poor secretary (Miriam Quiambao as Gertrude). Wanna know how bitchy this Miranda Priestly incarnate is? She fired a management trainee just because the latter is wearing the same dress as hers. On the other hand, Dora is the sweet (oftentimes, too sweet) but dimwit sister. It’s the classic case of sibling rivalry over the affection of their dad (Ariel Ureta), his inheritance, and the boytoy (Dingdong Dantes).

In a time when good Pinoy comedies are of a dying breed, we are reminded that there’s till hope. Thanks to thespian Eugene Domingo, director Joyce Bernal, and screenwriter Chris Martinez. Trading in the bad habits of TVJ and Dolphy movies with snappy witticisms and sheer outrageousness, here comes a comedy that’s actually funny. It’s also a display of good characterization and most of all, of good acting. Eugene can switch from naïve Dora to fierce Kimmy in a bat of an eyelash, but she does it best when she fused these quirky characters together. We roll in laughter as the semi-retarded Dora imitates her intelligent but temperamental sister. Those scenes alone already pay for the price of the entrance ticket.

I also liked the fact that the film did not self-censor itself to appeal to a ‘broader’ audience by trying to reduce its PG-13 classification down to GP. They could have bleeped the random utterance of “puke” and “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pekpek” to be kid-friendly, but the filmmakers showed us that they have balls to pull it off.

Kimmy Dora doesn’t talk down to us as if we’re stuck on Stone Age comedy. Although the film is not spared from slapstick, it was done in moderation and in a way that illicit giggles instead of hisses. It can also do without the ugly CGI and the ending song number. But even in its imperfect form, Kimmy Dora is still the most hilarious Filipino comedy of the late (only rivaled by 100, another comedy penned by Chris Martinez).

So do I still have to tell you to watch this comedy? If you’re as dense as Dora, then let me tell you this: Kimmy Dora is the funniest comedy you’ll see this year, so do yourself a favor. You deserve this treat.

Review: District 9 (4.5/5)

The film was slapped with an R-18 rating in the US. In an attempt of the local distributor to show the film to a wider audience, the film went through the cutting room. With a few cuts and bleeps, the rating is now down to PG-13. This means that the version we are seeing on our theatres is already ‘sterilized’, but that shouldn’t bother you at the very least. Regardless of the aforementioned, District 9 still turned out to be a wildly immersive and highly original science fiction.

You can view District 9 on two levels – as an intense and affecting gore fest or as socio-political commentary. This film is so intense that you will be at the edge of your seat, waiting in anticipation and cowering in fear due to the crass brutality unfurling. You’ll see nails falling off from one’s hand, cat food being eaten by a man, cross-racial prostitution (in other words: aliens fucking earthlings), human bodies hacked to pieces by aliens, etc. Despite the larger-than-life setups and situations, the story hasn’t lost its ability to emotionally connect with the audience. With the impeccable characterization of Wikus, his wife, and the father and son prawns, it is inevitable not to be moved. A feat not commonly achieved by the majority of sci-fi movies.

On a more subliminal level, Blomkamp throws allegory to apartheid. If you’re just like me who’s stuck in daydream mode back in my World History class, apartheid is the system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government in South Africa. He also shows us man’s greed for power and authority. Man is depicted as savages, more savages than any of the prawn-looking aliens in this film.

District 9 can be enjoyed either as a popcorn flick or as a deeper study of man’s humanity. With the interspersed quasi-doc clips, CCTV footage, and interviews, here’s an absorbing film with great CGI and an even greater narrative.

DIRECTOR: Neil Blomkamp

TAGLINE: You are not welcome here.

STARRING: Sharlto Copley

THE GIST: When an extraterrestrial vessel hovered above Johannesburg, the government broke in and discovered a million prawn-like aliens inside. They contained the prawns in a slum called District 9 where humans and aliens grew hostile against each other.

POP MATTERS SAYS: By avoiding the typical end of the world apocalypse that most alien invasion movies mandate, District 9 becomes that most elusive of science fiction films – a serious and thoughtful dissertation of who we really are.


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