Dead Sea

Happy Trio

The local indie scene has been very keen on capitalizing on the new wave of directorial talent that has flooded the film industry for the past decade. The term capital, otherwise utilized in the net rather than the negative, is a relative term. Watching Ron Bryant’s Alon in all its sprawling and subtle intricacies with less than half of the theatre occupied adduces the reality. Needless to say, the market for such works is slim if it exists at all. The film’s respite is its understated power to mesmerize the thirsty few. It is, apparently, a slow reverie that drowns the consciousness not in waves but in drops, perhaps a form of torture to some, but to others an enrapturing feat.

The movie starts with scenic platitudes of the beach broken by a voice reciting a poem. The poem itself is obvious in its emotive intent. The film took another course. It is presented in layers, first appearing as a reverse Lolita (Kubrick's film) where the desire is projected from the viewpoint of the coltish naïf Vanni played by the excruciatingly ebullient Charee Pineda. She awkwardly vaunts her whiles to Fiel (Mark Gil) who is curiously obtuse to her advances. Once the audience gets completely inundated with Pineda’s annoying treble, the movie is set to unravel, showing the counterpoint to Fiel’s apprehension. The appearance of Eula Valdez as his sick wife Angela who is much too eager to have her husband move on with another woman is a study in melodrama and marital sacrifice. What comes out is an emotional menaja twa that leaves the audience guessing at the characters’ intrinsic turbulence, best illustrated by Gil in perhaps his most subtle role to date. Though at times elliptical, the movie dissolves gracefully in its own introspection.

Despite the predictability of the landscape, the movie employed a lot of curious points in terms of cinematography. Light was muted, shown perpetually through fissures of leaves, through the interlacing of a hammock, through hazy window glass. There are scenes where light is circumvented entirely, leaving the audience in visual limbo. It is testament to the director’s intent, perhaps a form of emotional expression that has dominated the artistic paradigm of the 21st century. The story-telling too is indicative of this, cautious in its progression but with eventual flashes of silent intensity, obviously not a fixture for the hot-blooded. It is a refreshing alternative to the shock market of hyper-intense realism that has engulfed the indie aficionado’s esoteric world.

And such a small world it is after all. Due to the burgeoning of low-cost productions, directors are able to indulge themselves in otherwise inaccessible work. Effectively, the indie scene has become a clubby enclave, a murder of talented (and not-so-talented) crows perching on trees in the middle of nowhere with only a few to listen to their irreverent squawking. Though it has gone a long way, it still has to connect not just with chosen intellectuals and masturbation fiends, but with a broader “Filipino” audience. Some may say that this defeats the purpose of indie. It is only a naïve illusion in a capitalist world.

Though Alon may have its faults, it is certainly worth the trouble of going all the way to a particular mall, the only place where you can possibly watch it. I guess it gives blood to the term “limited release”. But them’s the terms, you either surf in an ocean of still water or choose to drown with a cup of milk. I think that’s just the philosophical equivalent of freedom leading to inevitable dissatisfaction. Either way Bryant was perhaps not indulging himself in a masterpiece of cinema, but the devices he used manifest a style that is very now, very into the cool. The movie itself is not cool, which is why a lot of people may not like it, and it doesn’t have two guys fucking, which is why a lot of gays (majority indie share-holders) won’t watch it. But for the sake of intellectual argument, watch it. The brain will always ponder first and induce vomiting later.

Written by: Alex Milla (Guest Critic)


Namets! is a Negrense film about love and food. It is directed by Jay Abello and written by Vicente Garcia Groyon. It stars Christian Vazquez, Angel Jacob, Peque Gallaga, Dwight Gaston, and Monsour del Rosario, with the special participation of Joel Torre and Ronnie Lazaro.
It will have a one-week theatrical run at Robinson's Galleria Indiesine from January 28 to February 3, 2009. Those of you in the U.S. can catch Namets! at the Rialto Theater in Los Angeles, California on February 7, 2009.

Namets! Official Website

Status: Single

Status: Single is a comedy film written and directed by Jose Javier Reyes starring Rufa Mae Quinto, Alfred Vargas, Rafael Rosell, Mylene Dizon, Angelu de Leon, Desiree del Valle, Mark Bautista and Jon Avila.Status: Single will be shown in theatres nationwide starting January 28, 2009.


Butas (Loophole) is a crime/mystery indie film starring Allen Dizon, Gwen Garci and Marco Morales. It is directed by Alejandro Ramos.
Butas will be shown in Indiesine Robinsons Galleria and in selected theatres starting January 28, 2009.


All Night Fun

Am I thinking?
It is hard to make me laugh. I have no reservations in showing how sarcastic I can be once I am not pleased with any kind of joke delivered up front. One Night Only is an engaging sitcom that lets me out of my shell for a moment. It is surprisingly funny and sexy. It is a mixture of farce comedy and grotesque situations, equipped with a risqué story and we get to laugh even if it did not intend to be funny. I think the entire film is the punch line.

One Night Only gathers five of the gutsiest female stars (even male) in a comedy riot that will certainly intimidate other big budgeted, star-studded comedy films included in the Metro Manila Film Festival 2008. This is the version of a mainstream film when it comes to real time storytelling. One Night Only happens in a day (not only in one night) with numerous characters that were intertwined in multifarious and far-fetched scenarios in a motel called Lovers Hideaway.

There are four major scenarios within the film that will capitalize on the shambles-in-the-making during their stay in the motel. Jasmine (Katrina Halili) tries to make amends with her lecherous and hot-blooded benefactor Congressman Facundo (Ricky Davao). They decided to have a quickie before Jasmine leaves for a vacation in Macau. Jasmine’s friend Vivian (Diana Zubiri) is playing it hard-to-get to a hunky advertising executive named Pons (Jon Avila). Vivian tries to give-in to Pons. Pons is stuck in a bloody meeting and has already an early set rendezvous with Vicky (Valerie Concepcion). The two girls have some domineering tendencies and tries calling Pons the entire time. In effect, they both get to the same motel at the same time.

The other characters to this twist-of-twist oeuvre are the matinee idol Diego Ravago (Paolo Contis) and Angela (Alessandra de Rossi). Angela is an extra in a shooting where Diego is the main star. Diego is determined to hook-up with any girl he likes and ends up getting Angela to have a one-night-stand. The last addition (this is so crazy) to this zany scenario is the tandem of two pairs of queer lovers: Edward (Chokoleit) a beautician and a patron to a yuppie boytoy Nestor (Joross Gamboa), and George (Manilyn Reynes) a dyke who wants to commit suicide unless her beloved Elvie (Jennelyn Mercado) will talk to her.

One Night Only is written and directed by Jose Javier Reyes. I was flabbergasted with the film’s output. I personally crave black comedies and it is until now that I have seen a decent film that has explored this chic and campy genre. They performed the characters effectively which could have attributed to the typical casting employed by Reyes.

One Night Only meets its objective to give fun to the audiences. It has an appeal even to the elderly even if the scenarios are teasing. The awkward-grotesque situations employed as a major element of the plot is agreeable and even if it there is chaos, the story has a solid direction and a good surprising ending. This is the best film of 2008 Metro Manila Film Festival. It is funny. It is sexy. It is cleverly written. I too was surprised. Comedy is our finest element. We should stick unto this because we are capable to deliver the best we could put forward.


Charlie Koon's Rating:


High Hopes

Don't eat me!

Dayo combines folklore with urban settings in Manila with a nifty script written by Eric Cabahug and Artemio Abad. It has the typical structure of a children’s tale. It has a protagonist, a villain, lots of enchantments and three (a magical number I assume) tasks to be done to break the curse. It is Robert Quilao’s first venture into digital animation. It is quite a good budding for a brand new Filipino-made animation.

Dayo is about a boy named Bubuy (Nash Aguas) who is always bullied in school. One day, he gets to do a task to end the bullying. He must make a bonfire under an old Balete Tree (Big Rubber Tree) inside the mysterious forest adjacent to the town. The spirit residing in the tree gets mad and the roots of the tree started to crawl and grasp Bubuy until he reaches their house. Unfortunately, the grandparents of Bubuy are the ones seized. Meanwhile, a manananggal (Self-segmenting flying being) named Anna (Katrina Legaspi), tries to help Bubuy get back her grandparents (I think she has a crush on him). A punso (anthill) will lead them to Elementalia, a place where mythical creatures live.

The richness of our Filipino culture is undeniably the starting point in the creation of a compelling animation film that we can consider our very own. The structure of the story appears to have an impression of a conventional way of pitching a story that will appeal to most viewers. When Bubuy gets into Elementalia, he seeks help from Nano (Peque Gallaga), a potion maker, in order to break the curse. He needs to get three magical ingredients for the potion alimuyop. The challenges in acquiring it look way too simple. Bubuy’s spar with the merfolks looks striking in visual taste but it is burdensome with the thought that Bubuy is more prone to failure than those magical beings. It is also the same in pilfering a crystal from the caves of the alitubi. But the time when he was caught, he utters endless excuses (very annoying). That could be a problem with the characterization of Bubuy as this merely takes the unhealthy way of delivering lines that would otherwise sound better.

The creations of the characters especially Bubuy and Anna have western style approach. It could have had difficulty in satisfying any group mostly with its local audiences and film critics alike. I might say that Dayo is more of a graphical showcase of what Filipino Animators who have worked in Disney, Pixar and Cartoon Network can produce. Given that they were the ones behind the animations of these big companies, I might think again in gauging the possibility that the creations of the protagonists could be passable. I watched some animations from other countries like Germany, Thailand, Czech, India, France, and Japan. (Japan has a unique style of animation and means of storytelling that only takes a few western influences. In fact it is the other way around; the west was influence by them.) It appears that the creations is likely have rooted in one big animations company or perhaps just a similar western style approach. As for Bubuy, I cannot think for the character to be more uniquely Filipino as this could also affect the way they market the film as mainstream.

Dayo is a work made by Filipino animators. The visuals I suppose is passable and could be improved. This cannot be compared with the recent works of Miyazaki (which I am a big fan of) simply because Dayo creators are more like novices in this business. It would be unfair in fact to make such a comparison. Japan has an animation tradition spanning a few decades. Ours has just begun. They have to eradicate their supposition that animation only needs good visuals. The script tries to be more humorous and accessible to the local audience, it needs a lot of buffing up. It is like a balancing act. Although it has fair visual stateliness, the storytelling as a whole requires more exertion to back-up the foundation of any animation film. I know they are also aware of this. They have to make up their minds on what they really want to achieve. But in terms of making a pleasing reference to our own culture and mythology, this film makes its objective felt.
Charlie Koon's Rating:
Critic's Note:
I checked online what other animators have done. If you are a purist in terms of artistic worth, you might love the eccentric style of Sylvian Chomet’s Triplettes of Belleville and the environmentalist animation made by Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. There are also works that are made for escapist like the amusing work of Reinhard Kloos and Holger Tappe’s Impy’s Island (European counterpart of Madagascar) and even the western appealing Indian animation Roadside Romeo by Jugal Hansraj. Kompin Kemgumnird’s Khan Kluay appears to have more Thai culture inspiration.

But of course animation is not just for the young. Animation can be tapped to discuss meatier and more political subjects as adduced by Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. It is the elaboration of a country’s cultural heritage that will usually set the work apart from its more developed counterparts.
Other Reviews:

There is Love down under

Love Me Again has taken two steps forward in telling a love story. It strays from the formula of most romantic films and in effect shunning the usual boy meets girl premise. The two characters have an established background. They were previous lovers who have not seen each other for years. Suddenly, they meet again which leads us to assume that there is really another possible romantic affair.

The starting sequence of the film shows the green fields of Bukidnon. Then, the two characters are having a horse race going atop the hill. Migo (Piolo Pascual) wants to win back Arah’s (Angel Locsin) love and trust. He does this through sugar-encrusted lines said to Arah, overtly trite love gestures, horse race bets, bull riding and even joining the famous calf roping during the Kaamulan Rodeo Festival. During the festivities, Migo’s team-up with Arah’s father (Ricky Davao) won them the Rodeo competition. Suddenly, Arah’s father got gored by one of the calves. The worried Arah desperately needs money. She gets an offer from his uncle’s (Ronnie Lazaro) boss Brian (Brent Metken), an Australian rancher to join them to work abroad. Migo gives financial support to Arah for her not to go. But Arah has already made her decision.

It sounds like a love that will conquer any barrier and distance. And yes, it is. I am aware to whom this film is made. As I have said, the film has made some alterations with the romantic formula. Obviously, they cannot further make flamboyant and wild experimentations to make this a work of a superior caliber. It has a market to please in that once it has achieved the audience satisfaction, it could be adequate to make this film just passable, the financial returns is an expectation. I don’t want to be explicit on this but for now, I have to say that mainstream films balances the gifts they have in hand and offers compensation to most viewers. Love Me Again has been written by Jewel Castro and Arah Jell Badayos with careful intonation. The conflict of the story is of course well regarded on how they made it more natural.

Arah’s character has high hopes for a future love with Migo. But then, it is shattered by the accident. She works in a ranch in Australia and after a while, she was offered by Brian to get married. Arah is good in Mathematics which I think got Brian’s interest to have her as a partner. She stopped doing physical work and instead she does the Bookkeeping. Until after two years, Migo appeared in the ranch hoping for work and to get Arah back.

Both actors are convincing as a love pair. They are candid most of the times and I know most of the viewers had a great time seeing these two stars riding in horses and chasing calves. It is risky in a way and I admire both Pascual and Locsin in having the courage in doing most of the stunts. Also, I can sense that Pascual has really the potency to be very accessible as an actor. He is so easy to be paired with anyone and that is quite a talent because that is the essence of making the story more convincing. His character as Migo has lots of weakness and much of it has ruined the opportunity to have Arah’s trust back. Although he gets to do one thing that is right and sensible. He opted not to sell part of the ranch. There is a hope for something to go back for.

Rory Quintos has a certain feel of what love is all about which is why she gets to direct a film with more bluntness towards this kind of emotion. It is a risk in itself. But the director and the writers have balanced this through the timely progress of their love which even took more than two years until Pascual’s character even went far to Australia. The sight of small scale festivals in the province and working abroad is believable as a backdrop. Although I have noticed that the horse scenes of the two stars could be more polished. Their efforts must be seen since it is hard doing all of that stuff. The camera works appears to be dull and listless. Innovation with the camera techniques might help these scenes look more forceful and engaging.

Arah’s father once said to Migo that Bukidnon during his times had a flourishing Cowboy livelihood. At present, the refusal for change is not anymore practical. It is part of the metaphor of love, the refusal to yield once the passion has set, as seen in Migo’s refusal to move on despite the realities of a pragmatist’s world. There are opportunities given at every point in our life. And with those prospects, we have to deal with it with practicality. Love Me Again in relative terms is a film that could be enjoyed by most audiences. In recent times, the Filipino Film Industry is still struggling. Love Me Again could be sufficient for now. It has a logical conflict and even if the ending is a bit contrived, even the intelligent ones cannot argue as love is not perhaps greater but is independent of logic. It is the person’s choice whether to use logic and practicality in love or to dive head-on without the knowledge of depth.

Charlie Koon's Rating:


The 'Thank You' Girls

The 'Thank You' Girls is a film written and directed by Charliebebs Gohetia.
It will be shown in Indiesine, Robinsons Galleria from January 21-27, 2009.

The 'Thank You' Girls Official Website


Hilot is a film directed by Neal Tan. It stars Glenda Garcia, Ma. Isabel Lopez, Beejay Morales, Ricardo Cepeda, Melissa Mendez and Empress Schuck.It will be shown in selected theatres starting January 21, 2009.


White Flag

Forbidden Love
Love is known to usher inevitable compromises. Not unlike love are movies about love. They challenge the jaded, perfunctory education of the brain to relinquish the common cynicism, apprehensiveness, and gag-reflex of the modern, love-worn individual. Baler is no different. Set in the 19th century when the Philippines is at the verge of a colonial transition, the story progresses from one romantic flourish to the next speckled with the occasional demonstration of wholesome movie-grade patriotism, sentimental humanism, and your good-ol’ helping of mechanical Filipino-style drama. Moviegoers who are anxious enough to find a decent and intelligible MMFF film that still retains some of its swoon factor would not be disappointed. Hopefully they didn’t forget to heave their boyfriends along, kicking and screaming.

Baler tells the forbidden love story of Celso and Felisa. Celso Resureccion the charming half-breed recruit of the Spanish contingent in Baler is played by the not-so-mestizo-looking actor Jericho Rosales while Felisa, his coquettish indio beloved, is played by the trophy-bestowed and unindio-ishly pale actress Anne Curtis. The two exchange sweet nothings in both Tagalog and Spanish and drench themselves euphorically (albeit uninhibitedly) in the pristine, sun-threshed landscape while a war is festering in the mainland, not to mention in the grave mind of Felisa’s father, a rebel leader played by the ever robust Philip Salvador. Eventually, a planned assault by the Filipino insurgents drives the small but motley Spanish guard into the unimposing church of San Luis de Tolosa where the soldiers will hold their ground for an excruciating 337 days sequestered from all communication and succor from the outside world. It is under these terms that the love story takes on a Shakespearean relish with the two lovers separated by family, nationality, and the harsh veracities of war. Needless to say the siege from which the film derives most of its credibility becomes the white noise of the whole movie outfit, much to the dismay of nationalistic purists who deem the film as too neo-colonial.

Politics aside, the movie is in its sheer essence a historical romance. History jives with accuracy. Historical films are supposed to hold some degree of accuracy. But accuracy does not always equal money. It is often difficult to market period dramas despite how well-crafted they are to the MMFF crowd due to a number of reasons. Period pieces usually do not allow the crowd-pleasing doses of comedic leverage or automatic thrills required to get them into the second or third week of the MMFF Calvary. Despite this Mark Meily took the risk that most Filipino directors make. Hence, to criticize the film in relative terms and not on its inherent merits and flaws would do the act a gross disservice. On that note, let the bullets fly where they may.

There is little to bemoan on the technical aspect of the film. The cinematography was lush and nature-aggrandizing. What was less than natural was the acting. Baron Geisler as the Spanish captain Las Morenas was mostly awkward. The same could be said about the rest of the faux-Spaniards. This would have been forgivable if not for the intermingling with foreign extras that gave away the air of error. Though critics tend to be very fastidious with believability, the main core of the film is still the chemistry between the two main actors. This was palpable enough in Baler for the film to more-or-less claim the Holy Grail of romantic pieces, the much sought after kilig moment, the cornerstone of the Filipino movie industry. Despite Curtis’ bland thespian intimations that leaves one to focus more on her pouty lips rather than her actual dialogue, she still manages to transfix the audience to the task at hand, namely how is she going to get away with having a child out of wedlock in 19th century Catholic Philippines whose father is considered a traitor and the nominal enemy of no less than her own father. Everybody loves a good conflict. It is perhaps only amusing that the greater conflict of the Filipino revolution and the Spanish-American war would be nothing more than a backdrop to the making out of two star-crossed lovers. Simply put, the war in the film lacked urgency, and the waiting for the soldiers to surrender, dragging.

What was meritorious was the manner in which the film humanized the colonizers. Neo-colonialism for some may strike as emphatic humanism for others. Even Felisa’s obstinate father was moved to tears at the sight of his quarter-bred bastard grandchild. The cliché of love being able to penetrate enemy lines is given an endearing face. The character of Felisa’s brother, brought to coltish life by Carlo Aquino, corroborates the undertoned theme of the power of faith and love amidst insurmountable truths, all standard grind in war movies. Yes Baler can be magnificent to behold in its predictability, but not to its own faults does it lavish itself on the usual manipulations common to the ilk of romantic dramas. It has a certain volition of compromise. Not necessarily waving a white flag but a gray one, the kind that pushes the director to choose both quality and marketability. Of course at the present situation of Filipino cinema, one is inclined towards one way rather than the other.

Written By: Alex Milla (Guest Critic)


Love Me Again (Land Down Under)

Love Me Again is a film starring Angel Locsin and Piolo Pascual released under Star Cinema. The film was directed by Rory Quintos.

It will be shown in cinemas nationwide starting January 15, 2009.

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