Review: When Timawa Meets Delgado (2/5)
Review: Lake Tahoe (3/5)
Review: Samson and Delilah (4.5/5)
Not to be confused with the biblical epic, Samson and Delilah is a tender love story between two Aboriginal teenagers caught in dire poverty and solvent addiction. Other than that, there isn’t anything else to say about the plot. Although the pace is slow, it is never boring. We are left amused by the characters’ quirks and dark humor. Director Warwick Thornton finds beauty in the tragedies that beset Samson and Delilah. These tragedies bring out the best traits of these characters. Life may be cruel, but as long as love exists, no tragedy is too great to overcome.
The first thing I noticed about the film is its lack of dialogue. The characters rarely talk and when they do, they speak in Pidgin English. The print that was shown in Cinemanila doesn’t have English translation, but no worries. You don’t need words to understand the film. The visuals artfully presented by director Warwick Thornton are enough to articulate the language of cinema. On that alone, Samson and Delilah proves to be a real triumph.
Samson and Delilah is so far this year’s most original, daring, and haunting movie.
Review: Biyaheng Lupa (2.5/5)
Most of the scenes happen inside the bus wherein we get the chance to peek into the lives of the different characters sans visual flashbacks. As soon as the door of the bus closes, we hear the passengers’ innermost thoughts. But when the bus door opens, we can hear the noise from the outside except the passengers’ uttered words. Their stories are presented through the characters’ voices. The concept is solid. But its novelty soon wears off. There are far too many stories to make each truly affecting. The ending is also a letdown.
Just when you I was trying to remember what Biyaheng Lupa reminds me of, the characters suddenly break into a song. And that’s when I realize, how this ensemble film is greatly reminiscent of Magnolia.
Review: Iliw (3/5) & Ang Beerhouse (2.5/5)
by Fidel Antonio Medel
Aside from the Cinemanila Main Competition and Southeast Asian Competition that screen international films, there is the Digital Lokal section wherein six Filipino movies vie for the Grand Prize. Former recipients of this award, like Brillante Mendoza’s Manoro and Raya Martin’s Autohystoria, have been arthouse favorites but none has crossed over to the mainstream successfully. From the toast of homegrown talents that found their way to Cinemanila this year, Bona Fajardo’s Iliw and Jon Red’s Ang Beerhouse may have slim chances in clinching the top plum but at least they are commercially viable. Thanks to star power and mainstream appeal.
During the time of World War II, Fidela (Kaye Abad) and Colonel Takashi (Hiroyuki Takashima) find love in each other’s arms despite everyone’s disapproval. As the war comes to a close, Colonel Takahashi was ordered by the Japanese Imperial Army to destroy Vigan and make it uninhabitable. But because of his love for Fidela, he disobeyed his superiors and left the town unscathed.
As a non-English speaker, it must have been hard for Hiroyuki Takashima to communicate with his co-actors. But despite that, his charisma gave him strong screen presence. His chemistry with Kaye Abad is palpable. The rest of the cast includes Ping Medina as Fidela’s childhood sweetheart, Irma Adlawan and Amante Pulido as Fidela’s parents, Alex Medina as Fidela’s brother, Charee Pineda as Fidela’s friend, and Ron Morales as the leader of the guerilla movement.
Iliw wants to be an epic love story. It’s the classic tale of forbidden romance between warring nationalities. It’s an ambitious film, notwithstanding its limited resources. Dubbed as a film tourism project to promote the historic town of Vigan (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the filmmakers manage to create something visually eloquent. They succeed in capturing the picturesque Spanish colonial town in all its glory.
However, the focal romance is not as compelling as it ought to be. The film’s narrative excess could have been trimmed down to make a more cohesive picture. Overall, it’s still refreshing to watch a period film that promotes the beauty and mystique of our national heritage.
Noynoy (Ryan Eigenemann) and Brad (Hector Macaso) own a ‘business establishment’ fronting the Red Light Beerhouse. At first, they were already content peeping through the cabaret’s window to see the almost naked bodies dancing on stage until Jewel (Gwen Garci) caught Noynoy’s fancy. Noynoy soon becomes enamored with Jewel’s allure, but what he’s after is more than just a one night affair. He plays knight-in-shining-armor for Jewel’s damsel-in-distress. And so his mission begins: to save Jewel from the beerhouse.
Aside from Noynoy and Jewel, the rest of the characters in Ang Beerhouse are caricatures we’ve seen countless of times in comedies that precede it. We have the evil pimp, his dumb assistant, the dancer with a Visayan accent, the loud gay floor manager, and Brad, the protagonist’s sidekick whose command of the English language is as ‘suave’ as Jimmy Santos’.
There is a lot of talent in the cast. We get convincing but not over-the-top performances from Ryan Eigenmann, Epi Quizon (the money-hungry pimp), and Joel Torre (the hot-tempered beerhouse owner). But if I could single out one actor from the bunch, I would pick Hector Macaso hands down. With his comedic timing and hilarious delivery, he gives us enough reasons to laugh. Meanwhile, it’s a completely different story for the girls. Che Ramos, who had a magnificent turn in Jerrold Tarog’s Mangatyanan, was reduced to playing a vacuous character – a stripper who is always stoned. Gwen Garci, on the other hand, can play coy and cute but once the scenes demand her to display more emotions, she falls into a disaster.
Although the gag show antics are undeniably funny and some insights can be pretty clever, Ang Beerhouse amounts to nothing new in the end. But if all you need is a funny film you can watch with your buddies, then this film would gladly serve that purpose. You’ll roll in laughter whether you’re sober or not.
* published in PEP
Pinoy Indie 101
by Fidel Antonio Medel
For moviegoers who are fed up of watching cheesy love stories and J-horror rip-offs mass-produced by Star Cinema and GMA Films, indie films present themselves as a welcome alternative to break the monotony. The word ‘indie’ often gets thrown around to describe the new brand of Pinoy cinema – movies that are fresh, edgy, and award winning both locally and internationally.
INDIE VS. MAINSTREAM
For starters, indie (short for independent) refers to all films made outside major studios such as Star Cinema, Regal Films, Viva Films, GMA Films, and the like. Some classify all arthouse movies that are difficult to appreciate and devoid of commercial appeal as indies. Though that may be true for some, it does not apply to all. In fact, the Eugene Domingo-starrer comedy Kimmy Dora is an indie but has achieved box office success. This proves how diversified independently produced films are. They do not follow a specific template, style, concept, or genre. Each one is a unique expression of the filmmaker’s vision and artistry.
University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI)
UPFI houses a cinema called Cine Adarna and a small screening room called Videotheque. It is one of the three institutions in the Philippines that have no censorship restrictions. So even if the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) gives the film an X rating, it can still be screened here. UPFI served as host for numerous premiere nights as well as screenings of uncut versions of local films and movies deemed unfit for public viewing by the MTRCB.
Mogwai, the brainchild of directors Erik Matti and Lyle Sacris, is two-floor establishment with a restaurant and a private cinema. The 35-seater screening room called Mogwai Cinematheque occasionally shows movies that never made it to our theatres – from art films, classics, to Pinoy indies. During the early days of Mogwai Cinematheque, it screened Lav Diaz’s epic-long masterpieces (Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino, Heremias, and Death in the Land of Encantos) and Ray Gibraltar’s When Timawa Meets Delgado. Lately, the focus has been on critically acclaimed international films but it still premieres indies from time to time. It is located at Cubao X (formerly Marikina Shoe Expo), Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City.
Robinsons Indie Sine
Gone are the days when indies are confined within the walls of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and UPFI. More commercial establishments are recognizing the fact that these independent gems have an audience. In fact, one of the cinemas of Robinsons Galleria, dubbed as Indie Sine, has been dedicated to screen them on a regular basis.
Although SM Cinemas do not have indies as part of its weekly lineup, the retail empire has its own initiative to support the industry. Last summer, SM Cinemas became the venue for Sine Direk wherein six established directors tried their luck with independent filmmaking. Sine Direk produced the cult hit Ded Na Si Lolo by Soxy Topacio (the Philippines’ official entry to the Best Foreign Language Film of the 82nd Academy Awards, preceded by last year’s Ploning), the juvenile romance Agaton and Mindy by Peque Gallaga, and others. These Sine Direk features were later screened in other venues such as CCP, UPFI, and Robinsons Indie Sine.
Gateway Cineplex was the home of the Cinemanila International Film Festival for 2008 and 2007. This year, Cinemanila will take residence in Metro Market! Market! from October 15 to 25. Aside from the international competition, Cinemanila runs a parallel section called Digital Lokal for Filipino movies. Over the last decade, Cinemanila has honored the likes of Jeffrey Jeturian (Pila Balde, Kubrador), Lav Diaz (Batang West Side), Raya Martin (Autohystoria, Next Attraction), and Brillante Mendoza (Manoro).
The Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, organized every July, is said to have spurred the renewed interest in Pinoy cinema. In its aim to discover and cultivate up-and-coming talents, ten full length and ten short films are given a production grant of P500,000 out of thousands of submissions. Although Cinemalaya is only five years old, it has produced a gamut of international film fest darlings: from warring Tondo gangs in Jim Libiran’s Tribu to a love story set in the time of contracts in Jade Catro’s Endo. The most famous in the bunch is Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (by Aureaus Solito), the coming-of-age tale of a young gay boy living in the slums. Maximo has made the rounds in over 50 international film festivals including Sundance and Berlinale.
The Cinema One Originals Digital Movie Festival runs in the same vein as Cinemalaya. It handpicks five films and gives P1,000,000 seed money for the production of each. The notable filmmakers who have joined Cinema One Originals are Richard Somes (Yanggaw), Adolf Alix (Tambolista), Jerrold Tarog and Ruel Antipuesto (Confessional), and Sherad Anthony Sanchez (Imburnal, Huling Balyan ng Buhi).
RENAISSANCE OF PINOY CINEMA?
During the late ‘90s, Hollywood films dominated the industry as domestic ticket sales plummeted to an all time low. Since local movie viewership registered disappointing figures, the total number of films produced each year was cut down from 150 in the 1990s to less than 50 in the 2000s. During the turn of the millennium, the advent of digital filmmaking made the cost of making movies lower than ever before. This allowed filmmakers to break out of studio restrictions and make movies that daringly articulate their cinematic insights.
Mga Munting Tinig & Magnifico
In the early 2000s, we have seen Gil Portes and Maryo de los Reyes helm modern classics Mga Munting Tinig and Magnifico. Mga Munting Tinig is about an idealistic teacher who inspired her students to follow their dreams. This commentary on the country’s educational system competed in Bangkok and Palm Beach. Meanwhile, Magnifico is the heartwarming story of a young boy eager to help his impoverished parents. This family-oriented melodrama warmed the hearts of critics from Berlin to Hawaii.
Several films made the rounds in different international film festivals all over the world during the past decade. But that was just icing on the cake, it wasn’t long until a Filipino filmmaker reached the pinnacle. In May 2009, Brillante Mendoza made history in Cannes. He competed in the most prestigious film festival in the world for two years in a row – a feat not even the late Lino Brocka was able to achieve. Not only that, he bagged the Best Director award (Prix de la mise en scène) for Kinatay despite tough competition from auteurs Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Park Chan Wook, and Pedro Almodovar.
This recognition opened the door for Pinoy filmmakers to take centerstage. In fact, 15 Filipino films are on their way to various film festivals all over the globe. These films are:
Lola by Brillante Mendoza
100 by Chris Martinez
Jay by Francis Xavier Pasion
Manila by Raya Martin and Adolf Alix
Independencia by Raya Martin
Bakal Boys by Ralston Jover
Dinig Sana Kita by Mike Sandejas
24K by Ana Agabin
Dukot by Joel Lamangan
Last Viewing by Ronaldo Bertubin
Imburnal by Sherad Anthony Sanchez
Adela, Kadin, and Aurora by Adolf Alix
Just recently, Pepe Diokno’s Engkwentro received the Orizzonti Prize and the Luigi de Laurentiis Lion of the Future award in Venice where the oldest film festival in the world was held.
Since it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to make a film like it used to, it’s easier to make one. This is the boon and bane of independent filmmaking. Visionary filmmakers with little funds can now produce their masterpieces for the world to see. On the downside, filmmakers who want to cash in on the emerging trend can easily produce exploitative cinema in the guise of indie films. This comes in the form of the numerous skin flicks and pink films plaguing the multiplex and tarnishing the reputation of independent features. There’s a hefty serving of indie films available today, but be wise enough to separate the gems from the stones.
Although the earnings of mainstream films still make up the bulk of the movie industry’s total revenue, it’s good to know that indie filmmakers are finally building an audience here and abroad. They have proven time and again that cinema is more than just escapist entertainment. The country is now being considered as the new hotspot for emerging filmmakers. For indie filmmakers, the world is definitely theirs for the taking.
* published in SPOT
Review: 500 Days of Summer (4/5)
500 Days of Summer dramatizes Tom’s ‘friendship’ with the commitment-averse Summer. Well, they’re not really a couple but they kiss, hold hands, and even have shower sex. But Summer doesn’t want to put any label to what they have. In short, it’s complicated! And Tom is left with a bleeding heart and crushed optimism.
Although the narrator warned us beforehand that 500 Days of Summer is not a love story, nothing can prepare us for Summer’s parting shot – those heartbreaking eight words she uttered at the park. That she just woke up one morning and she just knew… You have to watch the film for that part, ‘cause I’m not spoiling it for you.
500 Days of Summer is a light and inventive romantic comedy that will please everyone except those whose heart is made of steel.
Review: Mammoth (3.5/5)
Gloria, on the other hand, left her two boys in her hometown to work abroad. Through phone conversations with her eldest son, Gloria’s story unfurls. She is a single mother who plans to build a house for her children. Although she is not used to being away from her kids, she has to be strong in order to provide for them. Her sons miss her terribly and demand that she comes home soon. Gloria’s stoic demeanor slowly shatters and gives way to tears as she hears her son’s demands. As Leo, Ellen, and Gloria pursue what they think is best for their children, they soon realize that what they are pursuing can’t really fulfill their lives after all.
There’s a hefty amount of Filipino talents in Mammoth. We have Jan Nicdao as Salvador and Martin Delos Santos as Manuel, Gloria’s sons, as well as Maria del Carmen as the kids’ grandmother. But the film belongs to Marife Necesito who played the caring nanny and enduring mother convincingly. Mammoth is Marife’s biggest break. But she has already appeared in several productions including Lav Diaz’s Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino and Heremias Book Two: The Legend of Tagabulag Island. From the looks of it, Marife will undoubtedly land more roles in the future because she knows how to lose herself in the character. Marife’s portrayal of Gloria is so genuine – from diction to maternal instincts, she has captured it perfectly.
Swedish-born Lukas Moodysson (helmer of the arthouse film Show Me Love) is responsible for direction and screenplay. Lukas may be Scandinavian, but he has realistically captured the struggles and aspirations of Filipinos as if he is a Filipino himself. His exploration on third world virtues and sensibilities is sweeping and insightful. Philippines and New York City may be on the opposite ends of the world. However, the differences stop on the lifestyle of its residents and its geographical location. Parental love and values seem to be universal regardless of nationality and social class.
Mammoth is a humanist study about the dynamics of working parents who may be providing the needs of their children but are largely absent in their lives. It’s a subject matter that a lot of Filipinos can relate to, especially with the growing number of OFWs today. Parents often forget about their real priorities while chasing their dreams of a good life. I’m not saying that they are bad parents. Their intentions are good, but there are negative repercussions that must be addressed. At the end, the film teaches us an important lesson: appreciate what you have now before it’s gone, before it becomes extinct.
* published in PEP
Review: Lola (3/5)
by Fidel Antonio Medel
Many criticize Brillante Mendoza for sensationalizing the country’s state of poverty with disconcerting imageries of graphic violence and gratuitous sex. With movies such as Serbis, about a matriarchal family living in a rundown moviehouse where prostitution thrives, and Kinatay, about a washed-up druggie hacked to pieces by corrupt cops, it may seem that the Filipino auteur has nothing else to offer but shock cinema.
But these critics must have forgotten about Foster Child, Mendoza’s very first film in the Cannes Film Festival. This little indie film, screened as part of the Director’s Fortnight section, tackles the state of foster care in the Philippines. There’s no sex and violence in Foster Child, but it is as evocative and as gut wrenching as his two other movies.
Mendoza’s latest body of work, Lola, also doesn’t have the seemingly mandatory elements of brutality and carnality. But it doesn’t mean that Mendoza has veered away from his cruel expose of living in a marginalized society. In this film, Mendoza forces his viewers to walk in his characters’ shoes until our feet get blisters from the long, agonizing walk. It’s a dragging and tedious journey, but once we reach the destination, the pay-off makes it worthwhile.
Lola tells the parallel stories of two elderly women, Puring (Rustica Carpio) and Sepa (Anita Linda). Driven by selfless love, the two scrape the bottom of the barrel to raise funds for their respective grandsons. Sepa wants her dead grandson to have a decent burial despite barely having enough to get by in life decently. Meanwhile, Puring wants to free her grandson after being incarcerated for killing Sepa’s grandson.
Memories of Typhoon Ondoy will inevitable resurface as you watch Lola. The film was shot in Malabon during the rainy season. Typhoon Ondoy flooded Metro Manila because of its continuous and heavy rain. But in Malabon, the slightest rainfall can submerge the town in murky water at any given day. Mendoza perfectly captured the harsh weather – the strong wind, the downpour, and the flood. He was able to use these elements to punctuate his scenes’ dramatic arc.
We see the frail grandmothers drenched in rainwater as they individually attempt to seek financial help from other people – may it be neighbors or city officials. Your heart will be crushed as you see them being ignored or turned away. In the film’s most beautifully shot sequence, the funeral procession for Sepa’s grandson has to go on regardless of the waist-deep flood. Boarding improvised boats, Sepa and her family take their beloved dead to his final resting place.
Anita Linda and Rustica Carpio are effortless performers. As the camera zooms in on their’ faces, you can get a glimpse of a heartbreaking portrait of struggle and repressed emotions written with their wrinkles and facial lines. Despite the storm that messed the characters’ lives, they remain resilient and tough.
What might turn viewers away is the pacing that runs at turtleneck speed. A 5-minute scene is stretched to 10 or even 15 minutes. But once you get pass that, you’ll find Lola all at once poignant and unnerving. This film proves that even without sex and violence, Brillante Mendoza can deliver his hard-hitting messages.
* published in http://www.pep.ph/guide/4921/PEP-REVIEW:-Lola-gives-a-heartbreaking-portrait-of-two-grandmothers
6 Films in Cinemanila 2009 that I’ve Already Seen
The following films are ranked from my most to least preferred:
HUNGER (UK, Steve McQueen)
Hunger chronicles the last weeks of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, protesting his status as a political prisoner, before completely succumbing to death in Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison. It is an unsettling portrayal of the resilience of man and the power of human determination. There is no other film as disturbing and as shocking. A purely visual spectacle that you should see at your own risk.
DINIG SANA KITA (Philippines, Mike Sandejas)
What happens when the deaf-mute dancer meets the rock band singer, the calm meets the storm, the parentless meets the overprotected? The two make beautiful music together in Dinig Sana Kita. This film is a family drama, an advocacy, and an inspirational tale. It empowers the handicapped as well as normal people whose disability is the unwillingness to help themselves. It reminds us that the only thing that is impossible are those we refuse to do.
ENGKWENTRO (Philippines, Pepe Diokno)
This callusing tale of moral corruption is not for everyone. Some will walk out of the theatre even before it is finished because of nausea. Others will complain that it is too stylized, while some will applaud this body of work as a bold and unforgettable piece of cinema.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Sweden, Tomas Alfredson)
This curious love story rewrites the rules of the vampire genre. There are no cheap scares, no screaming victims, and no Edward-Bella mushiness. The narrative plays out like a somber ballad – controlled, moody, and haunting, but at the same time, sweet and charming. Let the Right One In is too tender to be a horror film, but too grotesque to be otherwise.
INDEPENDENCIA (Philippines, Raya Martin)
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. Instead of portraying the forefront of the war for freedom, Raya Martin invites us to look at the struggle from another angle.
SERBIS (Philippines, Brillante Mendoza)
With its striking visuals, we are transported to the dreary and decrepit movie house. We can smell the filth and feel the dirt on our sole. It works as a social commentary, but the metaphors don’t always make sense.
To see the complete screening schedule of the 2009 Cinemanila International Film Festival, go to
Review: A Journey Home (2/5)
by Fidel Antonio Medel
In contrast to the dark-themed movies revolving around the decomposition of the mores of man and the disintegration of Filipino families, the Jubilee Evangelical Church and Jubilee Youth for Christ venture into film to give us a family drama that sees life through rose-tinted glasses. Directed by Paul Soriano, A Journey Home has its story grounded on reality with its ideals soaring to high grounds. With central themes of forgiveness and solidarity of the family, the film is optimistic about man’s ability to make the right choices and change his life for the better.
The death of a loved one becomes the catalyst to reunite Dante (Soliman Cruz) with his son Raffy (Joem Bascon) and daughter Kristine (Athena Tibi). Dante sees his family for the first time in 20 years after leaving them for another woman. Raffy, still scarred by the past, does not want to be associated with his father despite the efforts of his wife Gayle (Toni Gonzaga) to bring them closer. Meanwhile, Kristine is more accommodating to his dad’s attempts to rebuild their broken relationship.
A sudden twist of fate brings Dante at the doorstep of Raffy and Gayle’s home. This might be God’s answer to Dante’s prayers for a second chance. Gayle helps Dante to get on the good side of Raffy, but the latter has completely shut his father out of his life. Dante soon develops a bond with his grandchildren Jake (John Manalo) and Tinka (Cha-Cha Canete). However, the imminent collapse of Raffy’s business results to his emotional meltdown that strains his family gravely.
A Journey Home carries a message of hope. It upholds moral values and promotes the strengthening of family ties. More importantly, it shows us that forgiveness works both ways. As we forgive others, we do not only help them free their conscience from emotional burden, we also help ourselves unload unnecessary baggage that subconsciously affects our lives. Many films will challenge its simplistic perspective towards filial relationships and personal values. But for those who miss an old-fashioned family drama in the tradition of Tanging Yaman, the morality check that the film provides may prove to be enough.
The ensemble does a decent job in portraying the troubled family. Soliman Cruz lends enough humanity to his repentant character. He tries to pull off a few jokes for comic relief, but oftentimes miss the mark. Joem Bascon’s performance as the angst-ridden son is largely overdone during the big moments. His acting works better during the quiet scenes where we see him slowly letting go off his guard but his inability to forgive gets in the way. Meanwhile, Toni Gonzaga shows off her versatility. Her forte may be hosting and doing comedies, but she can also do drama. She is convincing as the good-hearted wife who have nothing but love for her husband and family.
Despite the story’s richness in moral values, A Journey Home feels largely flat. Its primary shortcoming is the overused story. Its adherence to clichéd plot devices brings us to a familiar melodramatic territory where we know exactly what will happen next and how everything will eventually be resolved. Due to the film’s predictability, we couldn’t harness enough empathy for the characters’ conflicts.
The film is not bad per se. It is just ordinary. It exudes the same vibe as Lenten episodes of Pinoy TV shows. They are generally well intentioned but have nothing new to offer.
* published in PEP