My Only Ü

Bong (Vhong Navarro) is secretly in love with Winona (Toni Gonzaga). He will do everything to save her love who is fated to die at 25. Winona comes from a family which is under a curse. This is the reason why Winona never entertains the idea of falling in love and just focuses herself caring for her blind father (Dennis Padilla).
My Only Ü opens October 29, 2008 in theaters nationwide.


Anton (Zanjoe Marudo), a boxer who accidentally killed an opponent in the ring, returns to the Philippines from the United States and finds himself jobless and destitute. He is hired by a mysterious foreman named Erning (Dido dela Paz), who assigns him and a man named Lope (Nor Domingo) to renovate an eerie, decrepit house on the outskirts of the city. They soon discover that the place is haunted by the apparition of a young girl, and that the basement carries a strange wooden altar to an unknown deity.
Altar will be screened at IndieSine, Robinsons Galleria from October 29 - November 4, 2008.


Mishaps and Miscasts

I think I've gone insane

Every film has its strengths and weaknesses. At times they qualify on certain aspects and wane on others because of elusiveness. Ambitiously persistent, the character Sisa is brought again in the limelight. But its light has faded and turned dim. The historical perspective lacks precision. Its elaborate set design is a bit quizzical. The set of clothes looks like a tailoring made for an amateur high school play. Its deliberate use of theatrical style did not correspond to the very aim of the film which is characterization, centered on human emotions. The characters in the film come out as embellishments and caricatures. This material is so grand which needs to be backed by a good financier. But why not give all you got if they believe in their undertaking.

Narcisa “Sisa” Dalangin (Jodi Sta. Maria-Lacson) is a young Filipina lass living during the Spanish Occupation. She lives with her grandmother Ising in a tiny hut. Pedro Magbuhos (Carlo Maceda) tries to get Sisa’s empathy. But Juanito (Christian Vasquez) is more esteemed to seize Sisa’s heart. Things changed when Pedro disclose a hearsay to the Guardia Civil that Ising is a member of the cult group Confradia. This prompted her to be imprisoned but later dies due to an accident. Soon enough, Sisa was caught by Pedro in the woods and was beaten and eventually she was raped. Then, they were married for that matter and had two children: Basilio and Crispin.

I am quite confounded with the casting of some characters. Padre Damaso (Dido dela Paz) is supposed to be pure Spanish. That character is a complete bastard, but he must possess this imperative charisma in a wicked way which dela Paz has failed to recognize. Dona Consolacion (Aleck Bovick) has achieved a circus-like characterization in terms of makeup but her performance has tendencies to be over-the-top. The director must have guided her in delivering a bitchy attitude with a more humanitarian bearing. Maceda as Pedro is wearing a tight fitting pajama in the entire film which is deeply unappealing. It is just goofy in a way to watch period films with misconceived understanding of accurate clothing. The accessibility is more prioritized than suitable casting. But it is all true that bad casting ruins a great aspect of the film’s authenticity and sincerity.

Sisa’s character is indeed the most vibrant character in the novel Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not). Aside from her surname, there is nothing new to my senses offered in this film. Andaluz’s Sisa lacks vision to give a new perspective of Sisa that will mark his directorial debut. The execution is nothing triumphant. It has a certain feel of dreariness. At some point, you might suspect the directors’ lack of confidence over the material itself. Filipino Period Films must enable to convey or let a feel to the audience of a certain degree of authenticity. It did try to experiment with its editing technique to make it more contemporary and appealing to the youth but it is not careful with its function. That is why its result looks cheap and gimmickry. Its zoom lens is all used up just to give some spice to each scene but has not achieved a positive effect that it purportedly put across. Instead, it gives a severe confusion with its technique.

Something that is right in this film is no other than Sta. Maria-Lacson herself as Sisa. I could feel her endeavor to rightly portray a delicate character. Sisa lost her reason and state of mind in the end, indeed. But it’s her heart that is most seen. She made us understand the significance of her plight and her passiveness. Her acting is not perfect but it’s most favorable I have seen in recent years. And she is an attractive Sisa. This makes me wonder of the implication of the controversial confrontation scene between Rizal and Sisa. Jose Rizal knows Sisa during childhood. Rizal knows that Sisa did have a happy life. Sisa is with her lover contrary to what is narrated in the story and in the film. Although the confrontation is a bit staged, Rizal answers her back that Sisa will forever be in the heart of every Filipino.
Charlie Koon's Rating:


Let the Culture War Rage

We're in deep trouble!

Irony plays a big element in these hapless yet quite hopeful social beings which originated from the tenants of the railways. It is a mixture of hysteria, paranoia that has outwardly corrupted the ethics of the known squalors of Philippine Society. Give them a crying statue of the Virgin Mother Mary, they will acquire faith. They will flagellate their selves within a given opportunity. Give them a few metal scraps, some tube and powder; without any difficulty they make a gun. It’s a free killing world. Yes it is.

Helen (Aiza Marquez) travels during Semana Santa (Lenten Season) to Southville. She wants to ensure a housing unit named under her Auntie Jessica (Ana Capri). When she arrives in the village, she was helped by Bro. Girlie, (Bo Vicencio) a faux faith healer. She soon visited the unit but was repelled by a group of gay syndicates, headed by Kirat (also played by Bo Vicencio). Then she stayed again for a little longer in the Chapel of Crying Virgin and assisted Bro. Girlie’s healing antics. Soon enough, Bro. Virgie’s father Mang Lazaro tries to rape Helen. This resorts her to stay in another house by two helpful brothers: Barok and Abel.

Ala Pobre, Ala Suerte is the third installment of the Ala Verde series. Unfortunately, I was not able to see the two previous films namely Ala Verde, Ala Pobre and Ala Suerte, Ala Muerte. It is advised to watch this film with caution. If you think that their lives in the railways are worse, you might be befuddled with how shoddier their lives has become in Southville. At times, the story’s progression is illogical. But boy, this film made me scurrying from my wee-wee break not to miss any of its sequences.

The story’s progression is flabbergasting. It is confidently maneuvered most especially with its bizarre scenarios. Helen’s character has instantly been in the swing of things with Bro. Girlie. When Helen moved to Abel’s house, she agreed without hesitation. Every scenario leads to a provocation. This in the end has justly been vindicated. You know, I have great admiration with how Santos has drawn a society with a great appeal of sordidness without loosening its artistic panache. Surprisingly, his experimental techniques are not amateurish. But rather it is a well-thought-of aesthetics in its entirety.

Bo Vicencio has made me applaud for his versatility. He played the character so well and so rich, this is the first time I clapped during its credits. As well as Carlo Migue’s demanding portrayal as a drug addict and pusher is very much admired. Despite his flaws, he was able to have a good rapport with a possible love pair with Helen. Ana Capri’s short performance has shown her range of emotions like rage, grief and repression. Aiza Marquez as the heroine Helen has weaved the story in a way that you will never get to notice that her mere presence is enough to have chaos.

At times we get too attached with our malevolent nature. It is a healthy exercise of how films must be. It is free flowing. It is willing to convey the lives of both innocent and culpable. We might not agree with how this works. The film lacks a clear course of action. But there is still a possibility of escape. Ala Pobre, Ala Suerte has delivered a just rendition of a society that has tarnished. It has not yet escaped its past’s bigotry. But it tries to move along and survive.

Charlie Koon's Rating:
Director's Trivia: (an excerpt taken from Cinemanila Pamphlet)
Briccio Santos is a European-schooled artist who has maintained a consistently adventurous and markedly experimentalist approach in the various mediums in which he has worked since he directed his full-length feature film Manikang Papel (Paper Doll) in 1970, when he first attempted to take up residence in the Philippines. Cavaliers of Wind (1994), his last major film project, was made in Moscow at the height of the revolution that had dislodged the Communist leadership in Russia and East Europe and had conveyed a sense of the Kafkaesque in the political upheavals of our time.


Cinemanila Day Five: Controversial

The last two films for Digital Lokal are tagged as Rated X by the MTRCB. I wonder why? Imburnal did not make it in its 9PM screening since it was not allowed for public screening. Good thing Next Attraction was appealed and is now R18. But I'm still confused with their rating. Anyway, I will post my reviews soon...
From the five films I have seen, my top two film choices are:
1. Carnivore
2. Ala Pobre Ala Suerte

Favorable Performances:
Carlo Aquino as Lino
Bo Vicencio as Bro. Girlie and Kirat
Carlo Migue as Abel
Jodi Santamaria as Sisa
Anita Linda as Adela

By the way, Melancholia screening is on October 25, 2008 (Saturday) from 12nn-9pm. Ticket price is P300.


Cinemanila Day Three: Jampacked Screenings

Today, I have seen three Filipino Films: Adela, Ang Manghuhula and Carnivore. Adela started on time. And I am seven minutes late. Nonetheless, I was able to cope with its story. The film is a tribute to Anita Linda. The director Adolfo Alix is there and one of its casts, Joem Bascon.

Ang Manghuhula is shown an hour late from its suppose screening. The casts are are also present like Chanda Romero, Glaiza de Castro, Emilio Garcia and Pinky Amador.(Star-studded gala night) But I did not see Eula Valdez. They also offered free popcorn, soda, bottled water and even Starbucks Coffee! (I did not get any of their freebies as I might get biased in reviewing the film... haha) Anyway, they also have prizes in the end. Paolo Herras is also there.
The last film is Carnivore which is directed by Ato Bautista (started thirty minutes late..) Ato Bautista made a short introduction. Erik Matti is also in the house and some notable directors.
Eventhough their ticket prices are costly, many attended the film screenings and I could say that on its third day, Cinemanila is a success!


Cinemanila Day Two: Good Vibes

Although Gateway Mall is far from my house and work, I am glad that this year's Cinemanila is more organized. (There are last minute changes in film screenings before) I am also confused if they really offer golden tickets (good for 10 screenings I suppose) but they said they don't have it yet. In their official website, the screenings are for a hundred bucks. Unfortunately, its only for students. (It is 151 pesos... so I have to cut down on my Starbucks for this... argh.)
For the updates, I have seen Ala Pobre, Ala Suerte and Sisa (both for Digital Lokal Competition). I will post my reviews of these films soon. I am glad to see Lav Diaz in both screenings. (Filmmakers are more of a celebrity to me) Briccio Santos is also there together with his casts. The heroine Aiza Marquez who played Helen is so cute up-close. In the film, the drug pusher Abel played by Carlo Migue is also there. I was surprised to hear him talk and I have to say that he played the character so well. (Smells like a new indie actor on the rise to stardom) The versatile actor Bo Vicencio is also there. Ana Capri watched both films together with Tikoy Aquiluz.

The second screening started thirty minutes late from its suppose 9PM showing. I think they are planning to have a small chit-chat/introduction but did not push through. I did not see Jodi Santamaria-Lacson but some of the casts are there.
I will also post my predictions once I have seen all films in competition. (Digital Lokal only since its all Filipino Films)


Music Madness

Stiff Neck

Behind one’s music, there is madness. Musical composers are sometimes mistaken as crazy people. Ariel (Coke Bolipata) is no different. His reclusive nature demeans every playful child in the shelter whenever they listen while he is playing the violin. His ardor for music might be too arrogant. Most of the times, his mood swings are outrageous. But beneath his cruel demeanor, he endures a past affair that haunts him endlessly even in his dreams.

The funny thing is I am more fascinated to talk about Ariel than Onyok (Julian Duque). Onyok is the mute child in the film. I always see to it that every time I make reviews, I watch it in theatres. For Boses, I screened it with the kids in Cultural Center of the Philippines. Based on my observation, I think they liked it.

Boses is the story of Onyok, a mute child that is constanly abused by his father Marcelo (Ricky Davao). His back is made to be a cigar ashtray. There are speculations that he became mute due to an object inserted in his mouth and infected his larynx. One night, a neighbor reported an incident to the authorities, leading Onyok to stay in a shelter headed by Amanda (Cherry Pie Picache). Despite Onyok’s reluctance in his new environment, he is enthralled with the eclectic resonance of Ariel’s violin exploits. Ariel is arrogant to almost everyone and Onyok is no exemption. But when Ariel realizes through his sister Amanda the traumatic events from Onyok, the two slowly develop a harmony in their passion for playing violin.

I might be baffled with how our culture works with this kind of abuses. In our Filipino Culture, we are well-acquainted to harsh disciplines. An intention does not really matter as these are prevailing methods in child discipline to most parents. I will not dwell too much on parental concerns. But another fascination I am inclined to perceive in films are film execution and outstanding technicalities. I have seen Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil’s Mga Pusang Gala (Stray Cats). I have to say that its technicalities in Boses, especially its photography, have been compromised a lot.

I got acquainted with Mozart and Schubert’s works also from films. Amadeus has been one of my favorite films directed by Milos Forman and based on Peter Shaffer’s play. Elfriede Jelenik’s Nobel Prize for Literature La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher) is directed by Michael Haneke. They are the two of my favorite composers. Boses did expand my musical knowledge through the composers Bartok, Haydn, Vivaldi, and Massenet. Their musical pieces range from emotions of sorrow, rage, and joy. In the end of the film, Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ endows with a symbolism of new life for the characters.

Froilan Medina and Rody Vera’s story screenplay deals with social problems in our country. Despite the story’s sensitivity in its subject matter, they were able to inject humor with our antagonists’ plight for redemption. Although I am not entirely overwhelmed with the story’s premeditated dealings with its subject matter, which is ironic in a way. Most of the Filipinos view films and expect stories’ contrivance in instilling values. I am not a moralist and I certainly have the opposite precognition. The end is pleasingly hopeful with a touch of cynicism not uncommon in critics. Although it is meritorious in a way since it brings a parcel of artistic awareness to a broader audience. Sometimes it’s the final avenue for aesthetic expression. Films use legendary albeit dead artists to uplift their works, but living artists and the present state of affairs of the art world need to be placed on the limelight as well. Films that portray living not-so-established artists take a risk, but it is a laudable one.

Boses brings about two talented violinists in our generation. Duque and Bolipata’s striking violin performances transcend a breath of fresh air. Their plight for a new beginning did materialize in the end. Life is so good. If this mirrors our society, I am sure everyone will be happy. Its undertaking of the harsh reality is a reminder of our imperfections. Yes, we Filipinos are always hopeful. We hope for a better life. The forgiveness we anticipate and the sympathetic nature of Filipinos will always succeed in the end. We might be healed, but it doesn’t mean that we will never be wounded again. Blame it on our supposed Filipino values.


Charlie Koon's Rating:


Dekada Cinemanila

The 10th Cinemanila International Film Festival runs from October 16-29, 2008 at Gateway Cineplex 10, Araneta Center.

In the International Category, Lav Diaz’s winning opus at Venice’s Orrizonti section, Melancholia, competes for the Brocka Award with other critically praised films from Australia, Israel, Iran, Iceland, USA, Japan and Russia.
The Southeast Asia Competition has two Filipino entries. Adela is directed by Adolfo Alix Jr. and Confessional is directed by Jerrold Tarog and Ruel Dahis Antipuesto.


The Digital Lokal Competition consists of six Filipino films: Ala Pobre, Ala Suerte is directed by Briccio Santos, Carnivore is directed by Ato Bautista, Imburnal is directed by Sherad Anthony Sanchez, Ang Manghuhula is directed by Paolo Herras, Next Attraction is directed by Raya Martin and Sisa is directed by CJ Andaluz.

10th Cinemanila International Film Festival Official Website



Directed by Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, Boses tackles the healing power of music by telling the story of an abused child (played by Julian Duque) who regains his voice by learning to play the violin under a reclusive musician (portrayed by renowned violinist Coke Bolipata).
In celebration of National Children's Month this October, a free screening of Boses will be offered at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Dream Theater this Saturday, October 11, 2008, at 2:25 pm.

On October 18, 2008, councilor Dennis Alcoreza and the Tondo Asenso Community Foundation will screen the film at the Don Bosco Parish Gym in Tondo for the parents, teachers and children of district 1.

Boses will also be the opening film of the four-day film festival at FEU Manila starting November 18, 2008. This event is organized by the President's Committee on Culture, the Film Society and the Office of Student Affairs.

Internationally, it will have screenings at the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival on October 11 and 13, 2008.

Direk Ellen is hoping to screen her film in selected mainstream theaters in Metro Manila by late November or early December. Boses is being endorsed by the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines.

Article Credits: Jocelyn Dimaculangan @ Philippine Entertainment Portal


Scare Tactics

What a cute doll... :)

When a writer gradually tries a path in film directing, more so directing his own writing, I am certain that the director will deliver a well-written story over anything else. Jun Lana is nonetheless an acclaimed writer. I am not doubtful that his story has a good plot. There are inconceivable twists coalesced within the story. It is skillfully crafted with less abrupt contrivances. Mag-ingat ka sa... Kulam is an efficiently written horror film with a dash of dramatic overtones. This fine material fits well for a versatile actress like Judy Ann Santos. Despite the film’s adequacy in writing, good production value and favorable performances from Judy Ann Santos and Dennis Trillo; the film’s execution is unpromising. The film might be a success to most of the people who have seen it. On my part, I did not perceive any visionary schemes for it to appear exceptional.

Mira (Judy Ann Santos) remarkably survives a car accident. But she suffers the loss of memory. Strange things start to happen at their house. Even her husband Paul (Dennis Trillo) seems unwary with Mira’s intuition that something eerie is going on. He believes that it is a result of the traumatic accident. It is also revealed that Mira is not close with her blind daughter Sophie (Sharlene San Pedro). She makes an effort to be close to her daughter but she is constantly distracted with the mysterious things recurring upon her. One day, she was visited by her business partner Dave (TJ Trinidad). Dave admitted that they had an affair in the past. He confessed a secret only the two of them knew. With his assertion to uncover Mira’s past, she discovers more than she must not be aware of her true being.

Kulam is a result of malevolent incantations by witches and sorcerers alike. Its fusion in Philippine Culture is undoubtedly good material for film exploration, dissection and even exploitation. However, Mag-ingat ka sa... Kulam only scratches the surface of this fascinating world of witchcraft and sorcery. It resorted to familiar chants in gibberish dialect, maladroit representations of warlocks, and unflattering undertones of native myths, customs and rituals. Even the depiction of the evil spirit is not justified. I am certain that even in the point of view of a writer and director; he must have achieved a vision that accurately illustrates the evil spirit. It certainly makes an effort to use prosthetics so it’s deliberated that the spirit must look horrible, but why? Are there clues for us audience to understand even on the basic level why on earth she appears like that? She looks like a leper, or did she acquire any skin disease of some sort? Or is it just for the sake of making a horror scenario creepier? An obvious prognosis for this delineation will entirely make an audience jump from their seats. Okay, for a horror film to sell, the wicked spirit has to be frightening. Evil usually equals scary ugly. It’s an interesting point though. Mag-ingat ka sa... Kulam makes the mistake of jejune characterization, especially for the horror persona they have shown. But for a writer-director, the sin is twofold.

Another thing, there are spooky circumstances in the film that is terrifying but has not hinted any just rationalization. A tuft of hair in blood is found in the cabinet. Is a person’s head bumped on that sturdy piece of furniture? The water in the bathtub boils and the evil spirit emerged. Even her hair is falling apart, implying that the spirit had cancer. It is spine-chilling but it has no purpose. It leaves empty scares. Even the suppose to be promising story in its essential level is made to clutter with the film’s strive to bring about horror and a disturbing atmosphere without giving thoughts of its intention. Witchcraft is so vague and films have no purpose to conceal a story’s progression. The film could be indicted of contriving the plot if found not adequate in its motivation of the characters.

Santos still has the imperative charisma an actress must possess. It definitely shows in the jam-packed theatre, despite the fact that the ticket rates are costly (roughly two hundred bucks). She did very well in her portrayal even though some parts were inexcusably dubbed (Regal do it in their films on purpose). Trillo as her leading man is quite a relief and a surprise. They make a good pairing and I would love to see them again in future films, possibly in a drama feature. I have said it in the past that I am not a TV guy, but I am dumbfounded with Neil’s (Mart Escudero) role in the film. Is he the male evil spirit? Or is he the newest heartthrob sensation in showbiz? And yeah, I have been acquainted with Kris Bernal in her ‘tomboy’ role in Loving You. She might have done a delightful stint in that film so she had a role in this movie even though her character is uncalled for.

Mag-ingat ka sa... Kulam has been backed-up by a good production company that is why their output is nearly well-made technically. The film’s story is cleverly made on the very basic level. Its crucial element in fusing witchcraft rituals is delightful but it is clear that it only dwells on an atmosphere we are accustomed and supposed to believe in. Lana’s recent work has relied on sound cues to mangle our breath with scary enchantments. The story’s twists are quite fine; praising it exclusively on its own is well deserved by Lana. But I will not buy the evil spirit inspiration because it is merely a fixation for horrible things to look more horrible. The film also lacks good execution in elevating horror without being overshadowed by emotional cues from its musical scoring. Its subject matter on its own is creepy and only a clear vision is the tool to make this material work in a film’s standpoint.

Kulam is graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board

Charlie Koon's Rating:
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