Movie reviews: All 5 Sinag Maynila 2018 feature length films

Oggs Cruz
Movie reviews: All 5 Sinag Maynila 2018 feature length films
Movie critic Oggs Cruz gives his take on the films shown in this year's Sinag Maynila festival

Abomination review: True to its title



It’s easy to pinpoint what’s good with Yam Laranas’ Abomination. All the tolerable elements of the film, which is drab and dreary from start to finish, are prominently sticking out. There’s Tippy Dos Santos’ robust performance as the mentally unstable girl who wakes up in a hospital with memories of a student suffering through the trauma of causing her father’s coma. There’s Laranas’ crisp cinematography that allows the film hints of gleam and gloss as it wobbles its way towards its underwhelming twist. There are the spurts of mood. Sadly, everything else is bland.

The screenplay by Paolo Vacirca and Oscar Fogelstrom is ridden with clichés. What is most damning is how the film refuses any cultural identity. Clearly, the film is shot in Manila yet it lacks an allegiance to any specific place, which results in an unsettling feeling of all its events being tenuous and bereft of rigor. If the goal of Laranas and his team was to blur any sense of time and place, the film’s style would have been a daring experiment. However, it seems the goal here is more commercial than innovative. Abomination is as generic as it can get. It is at least true to its title. When others make fervent attempts to innovate the genre, this one does nothing but be a disposable abomination.


Bomba review: Tense to explosive


Ralston Jover’s Bomba is actually an interesting companion piece to Hamog. Hamog displays street children who have been stripped off their innocence by the cruelties of the city. Bomba prominently features another minor (a riveting Angeli Nicole Sanoy) whose purity has been compromised by abuse. She finds redemption in the strangest of places, in a deaf-mute man (an amazing Allen Dizon) who stands as both her guardian and her ward. The film spends most of its time dissecting their strange relationship with Jover focusing not on bombastic dramatic sequences but on minute moments where strange gestures and activities reveal frictions and fissures of a society that has been pushed to moral compromises and even depravity. 

The tension that Jover subtly builds as he navigates a man’s descent to violence is unmistakable. Although the film dwells on the everyday and the mundane, in its periphery are details that point towards a direction that the film isn’t just the standard exposé of the country’s perennial poverty, but is a compelling portrait of a persisting psychology of an oppressed citizenry, of people on the far margins, on the verge of exploding. Bomba is clear, angry, and defiant.


El Peste review: Gone to the rats

Richard Somes’ El Peste has an interesting but adamantly old-fashioned premise. A pest controller (Mon Confiado) is assigned to take care of some rats that have been nesting inside the dilapidated house of a married couple. He takes a liking to the wife (Jean Judith Javier) who he sees being both verbally and physically abused by her husband (Alvin Anson). In order to see more of the wife, and perhaps to save her from her husband who he thinks does not deserve her, he hatches a plan to ensure that the house never gets rid of its pests.

The film feels like it belongs in the 90’s, in an era when it was the men, their taste, and their mentality that urged filmmakers to craft stories that are brimming with unadulterated machismo. El Peste is antiquated in that sense. It is fueled by a principle that women who find themselves encaged by inept and cruel men will always find salvation through the emotional and sensual pleasures found from other men. Somes thankfully stylizes the film to the point of outrageousness, resulting in a twisted morality play that is laced with awkward humor. It is just unfortunate that the film fails to push the boundaries of sensuality, refusing to merge the grunginess of its conceit with the sweat and steam of escapist infidelity.


Melodrama/Random/Melbourne! review: Above average from down under


A stunning discovery, Matthew Victor Pastor’s Melodrama/Random/Melbourne! is a pastiche of many attempts – both somewhat successful or outright failures – to be something. Vague in terms of form and substance, the film, without even perusing its scatterings of plot and characters, is a brash reflection of the waywardness and captivating caprice of the unique millennial culture brought about by cross-border migration. The setting here is Melbourne, a city that the film depicts as one that is undergoing transformation into a bustling center of distinct Asian influences. However, its young and rebellious citizens, heirs of those from a generation that needed to make the city its home, are themselves repelling the waves of new migration, sowing seeds of division.

The film isn’t as dreary and serious as I make it out to be. If anything, the Melodrama/Random/Melbourne! wears its struggle for a definite and distinct identity on its sleeve. It is fun, sometimes to the point of never really knowing whether it wants to be grave or satirical. It never settles, morphing from one thing to another, never focusing on a single character or a story thread, and always evolving its moods and aims. It belatedly coheres near the end, trying to close some plot points in an effort to assemble a thesis, one that involves the fates – disparate but both dealing with the dilemmas of persisting in a land where being women and of foreign descent have apparent consequences – of the two daughters of a Filipina immigrant.


Tale of the Lost Boys review

Joselito Altarejos’ Tale of the Lost Boys is about Alex (Oliver Aquino), who arrives in Taipei seemingly without a plan. The film doesn’t explain what forced Alex to fly out of Manila but through infrequent flashbacks, it reveals that he has left behind several responsibilities. In Taipei, he meets and befriends Jerry (Soda Voyu), a gay bartender who also happens to be harboring a secret from his family. It really is a simple film, one that relies not on grand revelations or immense plot points, but on the emotions evoked by meaningful conversations.

Altarejos, with films like Ang Lalake sa Parola (2007), Pink Halo-Halo (2010), Kasal (2014), and Unfriend (2014), has carved a career out of exploring the various facets of queer life. While Tale of the Lost Boys seems to also touch on the same subject, it does so from the perspective of a straight character. In that sense, the film attempts to bridge differences, allowing two characters separated by geography, culture and sexual orientation to profoundly connect. In its discovery of certain similarities amidst immense diversities, it establishes a potent point that it doesn’t take much to find yourself in a world bursting with so much humanity, all suffering from the same aches and pains. –


Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ Tirad Pass. Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.


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