Loosen up a bit

Are you sick?

I try to be as democratic as possible by reviewing all Filipino films, even the ones that I am anxious to see. Walang Kawala (No Way Out) is a bit of a surprise. It is like a balloon that is rapidly inflated. One instance, it suddenly bursts in your face. Walang Kawala is a story made by Joel Lamangan in collaboration with Manny Valera and his screenwriter Enrique Ramos. It is Lamangan’s first venture in independent filmmaking. Hopefully it is the start for mainstream directors to be roused from their periods of complacency.

With the return of Joaquin’s (Polo Ravales) wife Cynthia (Althea Vega), Waldo (Joseph Bitangcol) suddenly feels jealous with the lack of attention he expects from Joaquin. To his dismay, he escapes the province in search for a better life in the city. Joaquin is saddened by the incident and he left his wife in search of Waldo. In the city, Joaquin was clued-up that a police officer named Rufo (Emilio Garcia) is spotted last with Waldo. An awful twist of events happens when Rufo abducts Joaquin and makes him his human sex slave to take pleasure from his craving of younger men.

Walang Kawala does not qualify to be criticized in terms of moral values. So critics must be flexible enough with the use of different tools and criteria for every film. Walang Kawala has qualities that are perfect for such objective evaluation. It is so evident that Lamangan has been in the industry for decades. He has done quite a number of mainstream films and has been a hundred percent behind some of the important films that the Philippines has. He is part of Ishmael Bernal’s Himala and Lav Diaz’ Hesus Rebolusyonaryo. Walang Kawala is no different from his other works’ endeavor to be accessible to audiences. He imparts his skills in mainstream to independent filmmaking. It is quite easy to notice that Walang Kawala has ideas that might be very useful to sustain independent film works.

Non-linearity has been in the works for most filmmakers. Its usage consists of flashbacks within the story and yet it is still cohesive if and only if it is executed adroitly. It is quite good to see that the flashbacks in Walang Kawala are woven within the story with great skill. The progression of the story is quite overloaded with tension and melodrama which has been a guilty pleasure of most Filipino audiences. Spectators are like diners. They are drawn into more scrumptious dishes. Sadism has been an active element within the film. The sight of the brutality is quite gripping. Walang Kawala is effective with its aim of a definite sense of apprehension.

I was not surprised that the film got a tamer rating from the MTRCB than other films that recently got an X rating (Next Attraction, Imburnal, and Melancholia). I think it only needs common sense to persuade the board of their works. Evidently, our ‘indie’ artists today lack persuasiveness. They merely hate the entire system. As a result, their ego is inflated to such an extent that they consider their works as victims of uneven judgment. But how do we apply simple common sense in the defense of a film’s unashamed nakedness. In gay bars, obviously you get to see naked male bodies with their schlongs out in the open. Lamangan has confidently made a film with much blatancy, he will never go wrong. He might have been just honest about it. Plus the fact that Lamangan is very good in dealing with the bureaucrats which other artists try to avoid.

Nothing is pretentious in Walang Kawala that is why it is surely well-regarded all on its own. It has incorporated a love story between two men. You might revolt on how they dealt with this kind of relationship but their characters have human dignity and respect for love. The crude depiction of life within the film’s story is maneuvered confidently. It is evocative to a society that has tumbled down and its harshness will always be malodorous despite its good outer surface. Walang Kawala might not be the best film made in recent years. But how would we know in this period in time where we don’t even know what is best? If the film doesn’t stick to a certain narrative it is doomed to failure. If it tries to sugarcoat a simple story to attract more audiences, it will be quite repulsive to some. If a certain artist tries to be unpretentious, direct and integrates conventional filmmaking, will he be cast out? Lamangan certainly knows what he wants. He knows a lot about the process of filmmaking. Walang Kawala has a lot of good ideas that could be of better use in improving independent films. Independent films must strive for aiming a wider audience in order to survive (unless they’re damned to self-indulgence). Lamangan might have done a few silly mainstream films, but I think he does not even care. He will certainly know better than any of us and I believe that Walang Kawala is better than any Mano Po Series he has done.

Charlie Koon's Rating:

Crafting Mystery

Neutral Look

Altar is one of the films in last year’s Cinema One 2007 Competition. This is the film I liked most simply because it has a very interesting story and superior cinematography. In most horror-suspense genres, we are perceptibly enthusiastic in speculating the twists the film has integrated within the story. Rico Maria Ilarde has effectively made it in Altar.

Anton (Zanjoe Marudo) returns to the Philippines and finds himself jobless. But then, a mysterious foreman named Erning (Dido dela Paz) hires him together with Lope (Nor Domingo) to a secluded house far from the city. Upon his arrival, Anton senses secrecy lingering in the house. Soon enough, a young girl appears to him asking for help. With much curiosity that has been built-up, Anton together with Lope tries to solve the mystery in the house by entering the basement which the foreman has illicitly prohibited them to go through.

I will not dwell on how ridiculous the maid costumes in the film are. Instead, I will try to be more proactive. Certainly, Altar is commercially viable with its usage of the horror genre. It has been very unique in infusing supernatural beliefs and diabolism. The malevolent envisioning of the evil entity is astonishing. So when it tries to contrive the development of the story it is totally understandable to the very aim of engaging its character and leads it to the plot.

Altar fairs substantially with its eeriness not only with its story’s progression but mostly with the use of symbols, secret codes and fictionalized history of sorcery. It has also included the elements of romance and humor for it does strive for accessibility. But the use of humor has altered a bit its frightening story, thus it could have been avoided. Ilarde’s Sa Ilalim ng Cogon has achieved much on its eccentricity feature. But with Altar, it has attained not only the latter, but also with other layers of what films must consist of not only in it’s strive for a wider audience but also with its remarkable skills in making the story more favorable. The film tries to depict irony in its horror persona. Is it the dreadful looking that we should be more cautious of or the innocent, soft-spoken type? The evil spirit idea has been created brilliantly with much forethought.

Obviously, Altar is my personal choice from the five films shown in last year’s Cinema One Originals. The leverage might have been different on the panel of judges’ personal biases and political clout. But it is noteworthy that the film is beautifully photographed than any other film in competition and it really looks mystifying. Like what I have said, it might be branded as an independent film, but it has made an output that could be viable for commercial release. The sound design, production design, musical scoring adheres to the very aim of the festival itself. Altar is global in outlook, looks very classy (not the hideous acting of the two maids), and it is well photographed. I admire Rico Maria Ilarde and Mammu Chua for there attempt to incorporate the element of surprise within the story and twists within a twist obsession. Altar is uniquely well-made horror-suspense film.

Charlie Koon's Rating:


One True Love

One True Love is a romantic film directed by Mac Alejandre. It stars Iza Calzado, Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera.
It will be shown in cinemas nationwide starting November 19, 2008.


Concerto stars Jay Aquitania, Meryll Soriano, Sharmaine Buencamino, and Ynna Asistio. This period film is directed by Paul Alexander Morales.
It will have theatrical screenings starting November 19, 2008 at IndieSine Galleria, SM North Edsa, SM Southmall, SM Megamall, and Glorietta 4.


Xenoa 2: The Clash of the Bloods

Xenoa 2: The Clash of the Bloods, the second of a sci-fi trilogy about aliens from a rival planet Zephyr will be shown at all SM Digital Cinemas starting November 12, 2008.
It stars Victor Basa, Paolo Ballesteros, and Isabel Granada directed by Sean Lim.


Not Only Me

Rock 'n' Roll!

The film is horrendous. I cannot think of an adjective to better articulate my dismay with this creepy crappy film. I have nearly lost my Filipino sensibility with its hazy ‘crude humor’ which they have deliberately incorporated. What’s with patola? You know, it’s just baffling to me, that somehow, at this point in time, they already know how to adhere with the proper usage of comedic devices in films. This is where we are good at. What I have seen is entirely a mockery of what they have already established (Star Cinema’s recent films).

My Only Ü is the story of Winona (Toni Gonzaga), who happens to have a history of early death from her mother’s side. They have been cursed that before they reach the age of twenty-five, they will die. Bong (Vhong Navarro) is the caretaker of the tenement where Winona lives. He is the closest friend of Winona. He has a deep admiration for her. He tries his best to save Winona’s life who is two days away from her 25th birthday. Things changed when Winona miraculously survives the curse.

The premise of the film has uncovered the contrivance I wanted to discuss further. They have integrated a device which has been used by Greek and Roman drama called dues ex machina. It is probably the idea behind the ‘fantastic’ or rather the insoluble plot. Of course a double usage might not be harmful and the film has gotten hold of it in the presence of Doctor Duke (Benji Paras). Obviously, the premise has something to do with the unexplained curse, which they have lethargically narrated in a very pseudo-comical way. They showed the ancestors of Winona who passed away before reaching twenty-five and has explained how they died. It is confusing though that they have explained the unlikely way they die rather than simply explaining the curse itself. Doctor Duke just comes out of nowhere to resolve the problem.

What can we do, the intractable problem in the plotline has already been completed. It is not entirely healthy to use this kind of device simply because it implies a lack of skill on the part of the writers (Emmanuel dela Cruz, Chinno Marquez, John Roque, Tanya Winona Bautista). It does not compensate to the appropriate logic of the story itself. What will the characters do? Just act out what has simply been the idea in the first place? Does it mean that the character’s seemingly sparkling romance is a bit off to put it further? It is a bit insulting for me as part of the audience watching it and persuading myself with its machination. I could not simply partake of it.

The moment I sit in that theatre, I know what they have to offer and that is to entertain. Actually, there is a promise of entertainment in the film which is easily recognized. Audience might need a little participation for this as they must be willing to overlook the limitations of the film and not interfere with the approval of the premise. It is quite interesting though, but even on its entertainment aspect, the film deeply subsides.

The cinematography is irrevocably bad. It doesn’t adhere to the very essence of why it was made in the first place. It looks dull at times, the color grading is a bit dark, or does it embody death? Actually it must look brighter. Nonetheless they have been proud of the fact that it is a black comedy after all. The supposed to be humor that surrounds death is a bit offensive. It tries to be humorous but it appears to be more on the scornful aspect of it. The idea has totally gone off-beam as their objective of a lighter approach towards the subject of death has not been reasonably thought of.

It is also noteworthy to define the jokes they have injected in the film. Filipino Culture is unique towards this and I have no condemnation with how ethnocentric the jokes have progressed. It is at times funny. The parody has been a very good device to extract laughter. But My Only Ü has been sloppy with the off-color humor it has projected simply because it is not hilarious at all. I never heard the audience laugh for some of its ‘in-jokes’. They could have been forced to laugh simply because there is a cue that it is indeed the punch line. I have no doubts that the actors have made their very best to make it humorous. They have done it with caution and much more, with precision. But I cannot simply give away my laughter for those silly lines. Anyway, Gonzaga and Navarro have this charm in how they handled their characters. It could save the film. Actually, it is funny that we still criticize films like this. Why not? If they could have known their strengths, they could have stuck with them. I did not feel any risk on their part as they get to use a hasty device.

Garcia-Molina might have done a great job with A Very Special Love simply because it is written with grace and is confidently executed. For now, it has been a hit and miss. My Only Ü has used a device not so common to all. People die for strange reasons and at times, even if they have sickness, it is still uncommon to the general Filipino public (You should go to PGH). Tragedy still requires a logical explanation for any occurrence as well as with comedy. Even with a comedic interpolation, it must be coherent. Films must give justice to what has transpired because after they have shown it, they can’t explain further what it tries to achieve.

Charlie Koon's Rating:

Touching the Untouchable

Where's my rubber ducky?

Masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice. - Virginia Woolf

Third world art is tough for critics to criticize. Next Attraction is so clever with its guard to criticisms. Next Attraction is really good in terms of improvisation. It also receives a special recognition in the recently concluded 10th Cinemanila. It is quite predictable though. I think that is the entire idea of it. As long as you have no budget, you have a weird concept; they will be praised as the new artists.

Next Attraction is about making a film. They have a steady camera recording the behind the scenes of a certain short film. Apparently, there’s a progression within those steady shots. We get the details of what the short film is all about. It is about a guy (Coco Martin) being reprimanded by her mother (Jacklyn Jose) for an act he committed. You can hear the dialogues but it is an art film so you expect something more profound. Instead you get to see a steady shot of the cameraman shooting the scene and the supposed to be director of the film. After fifty minutes of more or less fifteen long takes of behind the scenes, the film shooting packs up. The second part of the film is the short film which is roughly ten or fifteen minutes long.

Actually, the film has achieved many of its supposed goals. Next Attraction has a different perspective with its use of the strategic anticipation within the story. Nonetheless, the audience did acquire much anticipation. It is quite easy to understand the very concept of it all why they shot the film like that. It has inputs in making a radical approach in film making. The film doesn’t tolerate clichés or any form of 'hackneyism'.

To be honest, the film experience is like; I was brought into a different planet and literally got back without any trace of libido. I could have purchased Viagra afterwards. I know this might be my personal opinion on this film but it seems to be as important as how I objectively evaluate films in general. I am no robot. I could easily give four or even five stars with all those deleted scenes. But it is still a film. The film’s ‘in your face’ attitude is quite disturbing. Like “Oh we don’t have the money, and this is our film”, is a bit puzzling to be of good practice. To show some form of appreciation, the film has its defenders for what they have done and I am just not that enthusiastic about it. Anyway, Raya Martin is merely trying without expecting people to actually realize what his goal was in the first place.

Next Attraction is too safe for my opinion to be made by an artist who makes risks. It is quite easy to perceive art films that really have the edge to be noticed. Next Attraction will get the attention it ought to have. But I’m a bit confused as to why the film is shot in digital format, while the short film is with the use of film stock? Is he not too confident enough to stash some cash for a film stock for all the behind the scenes? If it is of equal importance, why did he shoot it in two different medium? Actually, I watch DVDs with bonus features. It’s pretty much this movie.

Charlie Koon's Rating:
Next Attraction is the second installment of the Box Office Trilogy. First installment is Now Showing. It also receives an X Rating (together with Melancholia and Imburnal) before it is shown in the Cinemanila 2008 Festival after the director made an appeal to the MTRCB.

I have seen the future

Smells good...

The observance of a certain region, a territory or even a town in the Philippines has this commonality in perception of what their livelihood must be. It is not entirely bad, but it is totally overwhelming to see a mini store all over one place. At times, the entire street is crowded with a bunch of bakery stores. This film’s depiction has tackled a mildly different approach but it has the same system. The Quiapo Church might be the common ground for fortunetellers. And this has been their bread and butter. In this film, the fortunetellers inhabit a small village. Their passion in fortunetelling was projected a bit more. But I never thought that this simple tarot card reading might be competitively baneful.

Messina (Eula Valdes) goes back to her village after her mother Dorothea (Chanda Romero) dies of an unknown illness. Messina wants to save her daughter Claire (Glaiza de Castro) from the fate of being a fortuneteller. When she arrives in their house, she soon discovers that her family is caught in debt by a fortune-telling syndicate headed by Jakob (Emilio Garcia).

It was corroborated by the producer of the film that they employed a touch of magic realism in Ang Manghuhula (The Fortuneteller). Obviously it’s a bit literary in nature and some of the most prolific writers in this literary genre have very few works translated into film. Ang Manghuhula has this certain feel that yeah, in a way, they have translated into film perspectives of what magic realism is. If you’ll be more critical with its story’s progression, you’ll be perplexed because the peculiarity is entirely part of magic realism. Like in the story, the tarot card owned by Dorothea is known to possess some certain powers. Or the mysteries involved if you get to possess those tarot cards. The very essence of magic realism is to make the fantastic seem or indeed become naturalistic. Herras has accomplished it.

When the film started, it has this feeling of coldness in its scenes. Death has been very common in anyway it could be represented. The technical execution of the film is crucial with their undertaking simply because it will play a big factor in defining what magic realism is all about. Ang Manghuhula is beautifully photographed. The eerie scenarios are convincingly effective in recreating a flight of the imagination.

The acting of all the characters is sufficient. Valdes as Messina has portrayed the character well with deep understanding of the supernatural beliefs. De Castro looks like a newcomer and she seems like she has been too challenged with her role as Claire and has tendencies to look a bit overwrought. Romero’s participation is of course very well appreciated. Her presence has made the film more enigmatic. And it is surprising that this film has almost star-studded cameo roles from the likes of Angel Locsin, Epi Quizon, John Lapus, Candy Pangilinan to name a few. Bella Flores has been a crowd favorite the night of its premiere. And she will always be.

It is good to see that Herras has improved a lot from his suppose to be acclaimed film Lambanog which I have perceived differently, much of it in a negative manner. But with Ang Manghuhula, I certainly will buy this magic realism he has employed right from the very beginning. When he tries to imply Maria Makiling’s mortality in Lambanog, I have doubted it. But in here, magic realism is adequately translated into film. It is certainly admirable. Hopefully, he sustains what he is best known for.

Charlie Koon's Rating:
The term “Magic realism” was first used by the German art critic Franz Roh in 1925 to describe a kind of visual style that expressed a heightened reality but is based on mundane subject matters. It has been championed by a lot of Latin American writers such as Gabrielle Garcia Marquez, using the style to portray the miraculous in a seemingly normal setting. In film, directors such as Tim Burton exemplified in his movie “Big Fish” is a prime example.

Count Your Blessings

Screen Legend

The new trend that is being employed by some of the most flourishing directors and screenwriters in film is with the use of real time in terms of storytelling. Adela is one of those films which made it right. The story’s development is loaded with all those activities happening in a day. You will never doubt Adela’s energy to do all those things for her age. And yet, it adheres to the most essential elements of a film despite the time constraint. It’s good to know that the film was shot for seven days not really a day in Adela’s life. It might be physically impossible for an actress like Anita Linda to conform to the idea of real time. I don’t want to meddle with the theories behind it as it’s a different issue. What is important is Anita Linda’s performance with of course Adolfo Alix’s directing. Despite her age and the director’s idea of real time storytelling (usually happens in a day), Adela is one that I will never get tired of watching. It is simply because; Linda is magnificent!

Adela turns eighty years old. It seems another ordinary day to her life. She goes to the market. She prepares the ingredients for the pansit bihon (vermicelli noodle dish). She expects a visit from her daughter to celebrate her birthday with her. She goes to the church. She visits the grave of her husband. She also visits her son in the prison. And come back to her shanty and wait with much hope that somehow, something extraordinary is in store for her that day.

The shabby production design is apparently shot in the junkyard part of Manila. Despite its understated setting, the moment Linda simply passes by the area; it made the entire place enchanting. I am at a loss for words on how great her performance was. Linda is the very key to the success of this film and I have no doubt about it. Alix’s directing skills with a handful of films as his backup might have contributed a lot in bringing the best from Linda. If this has been done by a different director, I have this feeling that it would get messed up. And for the role of Adela, I have exactly the same precognition. It is quite tedious to demonstrate a wide range of emotions with subtlety and Linda has done it with style.

When I review Alix’s film, it certainly appears to be short. Adela is a story which transpires in a day. The simplistic nature of the film threatens to belie its profundity for the unseasoned viewer. No dramatizations, no histrionics, just the stark goings-on of an ordinary woman’s life. Precisely this is what Filipino films lack, brevity. Before, I really have doubts with their ideologies in its incorporation of real time for film perspective. I basically view real time as something theoretical in nature, and will possibly distort its own views. I felt that Alix has done a good task in this. I have a fair grasp of this supposed new trend in films.

Adela is Alix’s best work so far. After all, seeing a legend on the screen is one rare opportunity. Linda is simply stunning. Her past works might have not been very visible in our local theatres as well as in television. Adela is one film you will certainly be blessed to see a performance that requires a luminary presence and charisma. Anita Linda has such qualities.

Charlie Koon's Rating:


Maling Akala

Maling Akala which stars Victor Basa and Jodi Sta. Maria-Lacson will be screened at IndieSine, Robinsons Galleria from November 5-11, 2008.Maling Akala is co-directed by Veronica B. Velasco and Pablo Biglang-awa Jr.
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