Sunday, August 28, 2016

Movie No. 66 (2016): THE TEACHER'S DIARY

The Teacher's Diary (2014)
Director: Nithiwat Tharatorn
Cast: Sukrit Wisetkaew, Laila Boonyasak, Sukollawat Kanaros
In Thai, with English subtitles

I like this movie very much. There isn't any movie of the recent past that has affected this much.

The movie is about two teachers (Ann and Song) who have walked the same path but never met. They were assigned to a school floating on a lake in the outskirts of Chiang Mai but at different times. Both times, the number of pupils of different ages was small: seven during Ann's time, four during Song's. Ann came there first, Song a year later. He found Ann's diary in the decrepit school, which would be his one important connection to Ann. The other connection being the pupils under Song's care during his time. For both characters, their forced exile into the floating school cost them their respective relationships. The agreed on calling the floating school a school of the broken hearts. 

Song learns about Ann's triumphs, misgivings, and frustrations from her diary. The movie cuts from the present to past then from past to present seamlessly, giving the audience the two lead characters' back and present stories. The combined tight script and seamless editing is one of the movie's major strengths. The social relevance of the movie is tackled in a subtle yet resonating fashion. 

One can see this movie is romance-comedy. Indeed, it is as conveyed by the movies theme song a few lines of which go like this: "Have you ever seen what love is like? I haven't, but I feel it." The two lead actors have what it takes to lead in an effective romance comedy. This means their performances are believably great. 

This is very highly recommended.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 28, 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Movie No. 65 (2016): IT FOLLOWS

It Follows (2014)
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Loccardi

"It Follows" is a strange kind of horror movie. There is some interesting semblance of originality in it that we can't find in horror movies in the past. Jay gets some kind of curse after having sex with her new boyfriend, Hugh, who intentionally does the "passing" of the sexually-transmitted curse to her. Hugh sees and being followed by a demon or monster who takes the form of dead human being. He'll be dead if the thing get him. It is now Jay that is being followed.

Now, Jay and her friends make a childish (and stupid) plan to trap and kill the monster. The desperate move seems to have succeeded, so they think. So, Jay and her friend (Paul) have sex to see if the curse is gone. But the ending - although ambiguous - suggest a different thing, which makes me wonder what has happened between the end of the "duel" and that final shot. 

The movie is gorgeously shot; the script is competent. This is not your typical horror movie loaded with teens that end up being killed one by one - the type of blockbuster movie that Hollywood usually makes to rake money at the box office. The movie, while not having the capacity to elicit loud screams, remains to be scary in a sublime way. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 27, 2016

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Movie No. 64 (2016): THE THIRD HALF

The Third Half (2012)
Director: Darko Mitrevski
Cast: Katarina Ivanovska, Sasko Kocev, Richard Sammel
In Macedonian, with English subtitles

It is World War II. Dimitry, local journalist in Macedonia, dreams of making the local football team world class. He hires Spitz, a football legend in Europe. Spitz is half-Jewish. It's only matter of time when Nazi forces finally arrives in Skopje. The star player (Kosta) of the local soccer team is pursuing the daughter (Rebecca) of a local businessman, who is Jewish.

When the Bulgarian forces start to deport the Jewish into concentration camps, Rebecca elopes with Kosta and pretends to be non-Jewish to avoid deportation.

This is a Holocaust movie, which, in my opinion, is quite different from other movies of the genre. It follows the manipulations of the Nazis to sabotage the matches between the local team and the German team in a desperate move to convince themselves of their supremacy.

The love story embedded in the narrative is well-placed and beautiful. The tale of survival in it is convincing and inspiring. The technical aspects like editing and cinematography are precise and exquisite, respectively.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 15, 2016

Movie No. 63 (2016): ZOOTOPIA

Zootopia (2016)
Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Featuring the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Shakira, Idris Elba

Let me say this: Zootopia is the best animated feature that has come from Disney Pictures in two or three decades. Yes, better than Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars, etc. This, of course, is my personal opinion.

More than a feel-good movie featuring lovable and scheming animal characters, Zootopia's narrative, which boasts of intelligent twists, is excellently written. This is something I don't really expect from an animated movie fro Disney - the twists. The characters and their actions are allegory of simple issues that face humans. These are masterfully etched into the script.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 14, 2016

Movie No. 62 (2016): RINGGO: THE DOG SHOOTER

Ringgo: The Dog Shooter
Director: Rahyan Carlos
Cast: Sandino Martin, Janice De Belen, Liza Dino, Bembol Roco, Bodjie Pascua
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

In this year's Cinemalaya, this is the only out-of-competition film that I saw. The reason: a movie about dog-shooting (i.e., "assisted" and "paid" dog sex) is more than interesting than it is weird. I have to say, my time and money didn't go to waste. I really liked the movie.

The dog-shooting is the lead character's means of income. He was battered as a child and, still, is battered by his adoptive father at 19. In one dog-shooting engagement, a lesbian couple offer him an extra job that is to take care of their dogs to which he agrees. The couple become fond of him; they develop a bond with them. The relationship become deep, though never sexual. The back stories of the main characters, including that of the rescued dog, now in the care of the couple, are sufficient to understand and care for the characters. Even their mannerisms, some of which are awkward, are effective vehicle to understand how their fast affects their present.

Sandino Martin was believable as Ringgo. He's perfect for the role. Janice De Belen gave a performance of a lifetime. I had goosebumps whenever Janice De Belen appeared on screen. What she did was definitely outside her comfort zone. It paid off.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 8, 2016

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Movie No. 61 (2016): HIBLANG ABO

Hiblang Abo (2016)
Director: Ralston Jover
Cast: Lou Veloso, Leo Rialp, Nanding Josef, Jun Arbano
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

I was in the gala screening of the movie so that before the movie was screened the director shared that the movie was based on a play. Indeed, there were scenes that were theatrical, but not as conspicuous as Kusina's.

The film is about four old men who share the same room in a home for the aged. Each one of them has secret that they don't want to share to the other despite the considerable length of time that they've been living together in the same room. But, their demons in the past catch up on them, which cause tension among them. The tension peaks one day, a Palm Sunday; something tragic happens, making life or what remains of it no longer the same. 

Each of the actors has his own moment. I will not be surprised if Cinemalaya awards the Best Actor trophy to all of them. At points where each of the old men's secrets are revealed in flashbacks, the same actor is used to play their younger selves. This is a clever decision, which can suggest that each one's past is not different from the others'. 

Generally, I'm satisfied with the movie except for the technical aspects of it. I may have just ignored it but I don't spare the technical lapses of the other films in this batch pf Cinemalaya entries. So here it is. The cinematography is bleak. I'm not sure if its is made to look that way, which may be suggestive of the protagonists' predicaments. Production design is wanting. There also issues in editing as some scenes tend to drag.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 9, 2016

Movie No. 60 (2016): KUSINA

Kusina (2016)
Director: Cenon Palomares / David Corpuz
Cast: Judy Ann Santos, Joem Bascon, Luis Alandy, Gloria Sevilla
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Juanita was born in the kitchen; or, the early scene showing Juanita's mother giving birth to her on a kitchen table may be figurative. Then the entire movie shows Juanita's confinement at the kitchen - from birth to death, which is interesting. But, despite the linear narrative, which is easy to follow, there are many technical issues that caught my attention. The decision to shoot every scene in the kitchen, which looks like a sound stage, is innovative (though not original); however, that's also the source of some lapses in production design and editing. There might have been lapse in selecting proper angles to obscure some parts of the makeshift kitchen that shows the "other side" of the kitchen wall. In some scenes which are supposedly happening at lunch time, we see darkness outside the window. The technique to show passage of time is, in my opinion, poorly executed (i.e., the actors don't change costumes). Maybe, there's a point that the movies wants make. I don't get it. While I'm aware that the source of the material is an award-winning play, I find the movie to have lacked imagination in adapting it to a "real" movie because play and movie are supposedly different media. I entered the theater expecting to see a movie, instead I saw a play.

While Judy Ann Santos and Gloria Sevilla deliver competent performances, some of the supporting actors are painful to watch. I'm not referring to Joem Bascon or Luis Alandy, but the other actors. But I have to commend the metaphor of the kitchen in the life of Juanita.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: August 9, 2016

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Ang Bagong Pamilya Ni Ponching (2016)
Director: Ina Salazar Acuna / Dos Ocampo
Cast: Janus Del Prado, Ketchup Eusebio, Odette Khan, Joyce Burton Titular, Jackie Lou Blanco, Ricardo Cepeda, Lollie Mara
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Ponching is twenty-something and is jobless. Despite that he's religious, he does petty crimes with his friend. One day he randomly sends a scam text to random number, trying to extort some petty amount of money from the unassuming recipient. But, the recipient, thinking that Ponching might be the illegitimate son of their deceased relative, takes the text message seriously. 

A situational comedy, this movie really entertains. The comedic timing is well placed, eliciting laughter from the audience. Even the musical score is memorable. 

Despite what, in my opinion, is an inappropriate scene when the family matriarch (of Ponching's "new" family) delivers a preachy monologue toward the end of the movie, the movie still delivers its point successfully. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 8, 2016

Movie No. 58 (2016): LANDO AT BUGOY

Lando At Bugoy (2016)
Director: Victor Acedillo Jr.
Cast: Allen Dizon, Gold Azeron, Roger Gonzales

The movie's focus is on a strained father and son relationship. Lando, a 40-year-old tombstone engraver, now a widower, is a high school dropout. His son, Bugoy, a delinquent high school student, disrespects and spites him. Bugoy thinks that his father has no moral ascendancy to force him to take his schooling seriously because the latter doesn't have the brains to finish high school. Bugoy then makes a dare: he will take his schooling seriously if his father goes back to high school and finish his schooling, too. Bugoy's dare is not serious. To his surprise and dismay, however, Lando gives in to the challenge. 

The movie, in general, is inspiring. In fact, it is based on a true story. It's a good thing that it does not fall into the trap called preaching. Instead, the movie presents its point lightly despite some uncomfortable confrontations between father and son. The movie succeeds in presenting the struggles of father and son and how both characters discover realities about themselves, their classmates, and neighbors in the small community they belong to. 

There are scenes where Lando or Bugoy is shown threading a rocky beach on his way to school or home. The sunken cemetery, which is a famous landmark of Camiguin, is conspicuous on the backdrop. I don't know if it's a way to promote the place or it really has artistic relevance to the narrative. In my opinion, it is not necessary. But, it doesn't dilute the movie's good points. This kind of movie is not a function of the milieu because the centerpiece of the movie is the father-and-son relationship.

Another minor flaw of the movie, in my opinion, is the excessive number of scenes showing father and son bickering or spiting each other. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 7, 2016

Friday, August 12, 2016

Movie No. 57 (2016): MERCURY IS MINE

Mercury Is Mine (2016)
Director: Jason Paul Laxamana
Cast: Pokwang, Bret Jackson
In Tagalog, Kapampangan, and English, with English subtitles

Carmen, a fifty-year-old cook and owner of the only eatery at the foot of Mt. Arayat, within which vicinity a treasure is rumored to be buried, decides to close down her business. But, the coming of a teenage American (name Mercury), who begs for temporary shelter from the heavy rain at that time, changes her plans. The transient, then, becomes semi-permanent, resulting in Carmen's business picking up again, all due to the presence of Mercury.

The film, in my opinion, is a direct attack of Filipinos' fascination with foreigners (aka cololial mentality), particularly the fair-skinned like Americans. The Carmen character, although shown to have initial hesitation, welcomes a complete stranger in her household. At the point when Carmen learns about Mercury's dark secret, she seems to have just accepted Mercury no matter what. This, for me, is puzzling. I guess, it is after this revelation when selfish intentions of the two characters start to brood. But, we don't know know about it. 

Despite that we see how the lead characters' evolve due to circumstances thrown into them, I'm not comfortable seeing Pokwang (as Carmen) acting out comedic scenes as Pokwang, not as Carmen. Bret Jackson (as Mercury), however, is a revelation. His performance is worth praising.

The film's script is fluid although I'm not convinced of the backstory behind Carmen's almost estranging her family. Some scenes are unnecessary; they only dilute the film's strength. The cinematography is competent. Overall, the film is enjoyable.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 7, 2016

Movie No. 56 (2016): Cinemalaya 2016 Shorts B

Butas (2016)
Director: Richard Cawed

This short film tells the journey of a single mother. What makes the movie interesting is that the she works in a mine. This is an interesting premise; however, it's not used to its full extent. 

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Ang Hapon Ni Nanding (2016)
Director: Rommel Tolentino

Nanding's afternoons are repetitive. But, when he finds a way to to escape this boredom, things get interesting that lead to major changes and failed expectations.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Get Certified (2016)
Director: Isaias Zantua

Hilarious and entertaining, this (very) short movie follows Angelica in the afterlife as she lines up and applies to get certified as demon. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Fish Out Of Water (2016)
Director: Mon Al Garilao

This heartbreaking short film is about Minjae, a Filipino-Korean teenager, who faces a daily dose of discrimination in the Korean society. His mother's decision (a Filipina) to send him to the Philippines to study adds complication to Minjae's dilemma.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Forever Natin (2016)
Director: Cyruz Valdez

Despite their great love for each other, a couple weave their version of "forever" in a society that is generally judgmental toward this kind of relationship.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 7, 2016

Movie No. 55 (2016): I AMERICA

I America (2016)
Director: Ivan Payawal
Cast: Bela Padilla, Elizabeth Oropesa, Matt Evans
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

The movie depicts what preoccupies the Amerasian kids in Olongapo - searching for their identity while "life goes on". The narrative is combined comedy and drama, which makes the movie entertaining. Bela Padilla is a joy to watch whether in comedic scenes or dramatic confrontations. She disappears in Erica.

The movie is not perfect - in fact, far from perfection. In my opinion, however, the movie is a minor achievement in story-telling, despite unrestrained direction and some unnecessary characters and scenes.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 6, 2016

Movie No. 54 (2016): PAMILYA ORDINARYO

Pamilya Ordinaryo (2016)
Director: Eduardo Roy Jr.
Cast: Ronwaldo Martin, Hasmine Killip, Sue Prado
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Street children are an elephant in the room. They exist. We see them. Sometimes, we don't care. But this movie cares about them. On a second thought, the movie may just be reminding us these street children exist. In this vein, the movie proves its point. There are occasional CCTV footage scenes, which, I think, should be someone else's point of view or just a mere suggestion that we see these things happen and we don't care. I'm not sure if this decision enhances the narrative flow.

The lead characters are Aries and Jane, 17 and 16, respectively. At this age, they really are just kids, but they already have a child, who is 30 days old. The couple do petty crimes for a living. But when their child gets stolen, they must face this unexpected blow that may force them to "come of age" or think and decide like adults. 

Watching this movie is like watching real life. The two lead actors look real. The way they talk, walk, run, and whatever they do look real. This is neorealism, which actually reminds me of a similar situation in The Bicycle Thieves. There is one important scene which I expected to be some homage to either Maynila Sa Kuko Ng Liwanag or The 400 Blows. In my opinion, the movie would be more powerful had it ended there. 

By the way, Ronwaldo Martin, who plays Aries, stands out. The Sue Prado character, I think, is unnecessary.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 6, 2016

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Movie No. 53 (2016): TUOS

Tuos (2016)
Director: Roderick Cabrido
Cast: Nora Aunor, Barbie Forteza, Flor Salanga, Ronnie Martinez, Ronwaldo Martin
In Kinaray-an dialect, with English subtitles

Synopsis: A woman chosen to keep an age-old tradition alive must choose between her granddaughter's life and a belief that shackled her in solitary confinement. (from the Cinemalaya brochure)

This movie is so different from the other competing movies in this year's Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. I mean different in a good way. 

The movie's pacing is deliberately slow, which is a good decision because it can absorb the attention of the audience for a good viewing experience. In my case, I get to know the characters and feel the mise-en-scene well. The rituals look authentic.

The decision to use live action narrative for essaying the story of Pina-ilog and her family and tribe and animation to tell the myth of the spirits that are supposed to be in agreement with the tribe is brilliant. The parallel narratives, told in alternate succession, are carefully written and edited.

However, the best parts of the movie are the exquisite cinematography and performances. While it's quite obvious that every scene is this movie is a feast to the eye, there are also some scenes that are suggestive of the opposing views and beliefs of the main characters. Yes, I'm referring to the scenes involving the split mirror. The expected succession is beautifully staged (as suggested) in the scene at the dining table. Nora Aunor's tribal dance is mesmerizing. Both Nora Aunor's and Barbie Forteza's performances are commendable. I hope they both win acting awards for this movie. While there are no highs and lows that require intense acting, the consistency of being into character of these actresses are worth praising. What we see on the screen is an acting masterclass. No hysterics.

The movie is not perfect. There's one brief scene that I hope to be cut although it doesn't actually ruin the movie. The movie's final scene is open for interpretation. But, it doesn't matter.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 6, 2016

Movie No. 52 (2016): DAGSIN

Dagsin (2016)
Director: Atom Magadia
Cast: Tommy Abuel, Lotlot De Leon, Benjamin Alves, Janine Gutierrez, Sue Prado, Marita Zobel, Rolando Inocencio
In Tagalog and English, with English subtitles

This is the story of a Justino, retired judge, now a PWD, who became an atheist after the sufferings he experienced as POW during the Japanese occupation. The events that directly affected him as a practicing judge during the Martial Law also resulted in additional scars. At the start of the movie, he is shown grieving over the recent death of his wife. It appears that he just lives by the day, trying to kill himself by relying to luck (by point a gun loaded only with one bullet to his head, and clicking it). Taking care of him is Mercy who was adopted by Justino's wife (Corazon) during the early days of Martial Law regime. 

The movie bounces back and forth from the present to the past. This way we movie tries to explain to the audience the love story between Justino and Corazon and the events that lead to what has become of Justino at present. The technique works. But, why does it always have to be that a diary is used as a Pandora's box of secrets? This, of course, is not wrong. For me, even some brief scenes in which Justino is shown reading the diary is boring. 

There are scenes in which the young Corazon character seems to care more about writing an entry to the diary (hurriedly) than worrying about what is happening to her relatives and to the country in the midst of chaos. I would have liked the movie better had it ended in the suicide scene because the scenes after that dilute the movie's mystery. Despite this, however, the movie still appears good overall.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 6, 2016

Monday, August 1, 2016

Movie No. 51 (2016): CEMETERY OF SPLENDOR

Cemetery of Splendor (2015)
Cast: Apichatpong Weerasethekul
Cast: Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram
In Thai, with English subtitles

In my opinion, this movie is another example of cinema for the patient. If you're patient enough to last until the final scenes, you'll get your reward. The reward is satisfaction and a rewarding experience. In my case, I did get the expectation. However, I'm not ecstatic of the overall viewing experience.

The movie is mysterious. However, the slow burning narrative gets in the way to sustain the mystery. I'm not sure: maybe I don't have enough background on the mysticism that the movie uses as centerpiece. Soldiers with mysterious sleeping sickness in a facility that used to be an old school and installed in an estate that used to be a graveyard for kings is a very interesting premise. It's not all the time that we care about the characters - a volunteer care giver, a gifted medium who functions as bridge between the sleeping soldiers and their kins, and one of the patients. 

Despite its shortcomings, the movie is powerful, enchanting, and thought-provoking.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 1, 2016

Movie No. 50 (2016): DORM

Dorm (2006)
Director: Songyos Sugmakanan
Cast: Charlie Trairat, Jintara Sukapatana, Sirachuch Chienthawom
In Thai, with English subtitles

Despite that it reminds me of Guillermo Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone (an excellent horror movie), Dorm is a ghost story like no other that I've seen. Fans of hardcore horror movies might be disappointed to see this movie. The scenes that elicit thrill and suspense are far and between. The movie's concern about the characters makes the movie a cut above some movies of the genre. In my opinion, the movie is more of the coming-of age type of movie. In this vein, the movie is a resounding success.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 1, 2016