Movie Reviews: All 8 CineFilipino 2018 feature films
Delia and Sammy review: An unlikely charmer
In both screen and life, Delia (Rosemarie Gil) lives the life of a villain. It almost seems fated that he be married to Sammy (Jaime Fabregas), a womanizing bigot who even in his twilight years is still quick to spew hurtful words to gay men while flirting with pretty women.
Delia has survived living a sort of charmed life with Sammy through schemes, tricking their irritated neighbors to drive them to wherever with weepy tall tales. Their latest victim is their subdivision’s newly-hired security guard (Nico Antonio), who she urges to drive her and Sammy to Baguio on Christmas day for a mission she refuses to disclose.
Delia and Sammy, Therese Anne Cayaba’s first feature, is an unlikely charmer.
It starts painfully slow, almost in deference to its characters’ very measured lives. It refuses to get bogged down by melodrama though, always highlighting a character flaw when things begin to turn syrupy and saccharine. The film never abandons the notion that its protagonists are unsavory people. Despite its insistence on maintaining Delia and Sammy’s obnoxiousness up to the very end, the film still succeeds in sustaining a very unpredictably affecting human core, with Cayaba juggling ingeniously handled stereotype, innovation and insight seamlessly.
Excuse Me Po review: Blurring fact and fiction
The biggest problem of Ron Batallones’ Excuse Me Po is the lack of structure to frame its barrage of intentions. The film, about a washed-up actress (Elizabeth Oropesa) who ends up scamming people to earn enough for her disabled husband and grandchildren, is awash with characters and narrative threads. Batallones, however, seems oblivious to the requirements of his narrative ambition, insisting on telling his story in a straightforward fashion that only leads to bewilderment. Everything leads to a happy ending, no matter how labyrinthine and absurd the way to such an idealistic goal.
Still, the film is not without its slivers of genius. The film seems to blur the line between the fictional stories that sustain the protagonist and the fictionalizing of real stories that sustain the art of filmmaking.
Sadly, Batallones seems unable to sustain the idea, choosing not the more intellectually-exciting directions that his film could have taken but one where it ends up just being a needlessly elaborate inspirational tale whose mellow conclusion exposes a filmmaker’s ardent refusal to push the envelope.
Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus review: City of desire
Dwein Baltazar’s Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus couldn’t have been more different from her debut feature. Mamay Umeng (2012) is a sparse film. Set in a remote barrio, it centers on a single character who is waiting to die.
Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus, on the other hand, is vibrant and brimming with life. It is hopeful, latching on the idea of desire to depict a city that bustles with all sorts of complex but undeniable charms and allures.
While it seems to follow Ai (Iana Bernardez), a head-turning beaut who frequents Recto for various reasons, the film actually centers on 4 different men — a thrift store attendant (Nicco Manalo), a middle-aged widower (Soliman Cruz), a snatcher (Anthony Falcon), and a college student (Dylan Ray Talon) - who can’t help but be enamored by Ai.
Baltazar doesn’t settle for just an idea, as each individual thread is laden with its own pleasures, whether it be a heartfelt depiction of a man’s lyrical inability to expound his feelings for the woman he adores or another man’s sexual reawakening. The film doesn’t sacrifice coherence for its lofty impressions of the different facets of desire as broken down to disparate narratives.
Hitboy review: An elegy to pawns
Bor Ocampo’s Hitboy opens with Alex (Adrian Cabido) taking selfies with his pigeon. After releasing his bird, he goes about town, eyeing unguarded bicycles he can steal. After successfully snatching a bike, he rides around town, ending up in a farm. He asks the farmer for mangoes. The farmer allows him to pick mangoes from his tree while telling him his story about how the landowner wants him out of the land he has tilled for ages.
Alex then starts to beat up the farmer, telling what the landowners think of his unwillingness to leave the farm. In one masterful sequence, Ocampo makes a point. Alex is young. He is desperate and dangerous. Most importantly, he is an insignificant pawn to the powerful, the same way his victim is an insignificant annoyance to the privileged.
Hitboy is deceptive in its utility of seemingly nonsensical routes to make its point. It drowns in irreverent humor, almost as if its point are its gags. However, it is also very clear that Ocampo wants his audience to feel for Alex, while seeing his bosses as low-rent clichés. He wants his audience to understand Alex and his situation, to comprehend the web of misfortune that has led him to violence, and to know his value to the people above him. The film is an absurdist comedy because the dire situation it addresses is inherently absurd and painfully funny up until it reveals how close it is to reality. The film is an elegy to the pawns of society who are tragically caught in the middle of the powerful and their caprices.
Mata Tapang review: Dazzling only in theory
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Rod Marmol’s Mata Tapang is another festival-financed film that seems dazzling in theory but woefully fails upon execution. About a soldier (Edgar Allan Guzman) who becomes the lone survivor in an ambush, the film relies on a fantastic conceit to tell a story about friendship. The soldier suddenly wakes up with the ability not just to see his fallen comrades but also to talk to them, forcing him to fulfil their final wishes.
Mata Tapang is far too obsessed with dialogues, failing to weave magic outside the words that are spoken by its characters. The film turns out to be slow and staggered, only picking up when the narrative thread is ingenious, such as when the protagonist has to tell one of his comrade’s father that his beloved son is gay, or when it reaches its tender climax.
This isn’t to say that Mata Tapang is a complete failure. It is just that the film is paced sluggishly. Perhaps Marmol is too preoccupied in the little stories that pepper his film’s core. Perhaps he is a more discerning writer than he is a director, capable of imagining stories that read well but are too intricate to commit within a visual medium. Perhaps the film lacks a pervading theme to drive all of its individual parts. The point here is that for whatever reason, Marmol’s film is brimming with promises it sadly doesn’t keep.
Mga Mister ni Rosario review: Mishmash of intentions
It is quite ironic that the biggest challenge of Sari, the main character of Alpha Habon’s Mga Mister ni Rosario, is the way her husband, famous actor Yogi Juan (Joross Gamboa), has to literally live the way the characters he portray lives, causing her to struggle with confusion throughout their marriage. The film is as confused as Sari. It adheres to gloss but its moods are actually dark. It pushes for absurdist comedy but its values are actually quite horrific. It wants to bridge genres the way Yogi Juan jumps from one character to another but it is hindered by its desire to always be on point with its attempt to squeeze all the humor out of the novel concept.
Sadly, the humor can only take the film so far. As soon as the initial charms of the film’s conceit is drowned by repetition, Mga Mister ni Rosario becomes tedious.
Its effort to shift gear towards the end only adds to the confusion, turning what used to be a sometimes fun and funny take on the exaggerations of show business into a tepid, somewhat lifeless, and emotionally unrewarding mishmash of half-baked intentions with a questionable climax that feels like a last ditch effort to sustain the film’s hopelessly fizzling novelty.
Poon review: Exploiting religion
It is no longer surprising that Catholic imagery has constantly been used by filmmakers for convenient scares. Religion is laden with subtext, and in a country where it plays a constant role in the formation of memories of subservience, it forces the viewer to see religious icons with tinges of fear, guilt and punishment.
Roni Benaid’s Poon isn’t very shy in its exploitation of religion as it opens with a heavily-scored montage of Catholic processions, of wooden saints, of devotees pining for salvation. Clearly, the film pays no heed to subtlety. It wants to go for the jugular.
The only problem is that the weapon Poon wields is blunt and flaccid. It is seldom scary. It suffers from the notion that darkness is mood and that noise is atmosphere. Its characters lack convincing motivations. They are essentially there either to be victims are to live long enough for the film’s grand reveal.
The most despairing thing about Poon is not that it is a poorly crafted horror but that it actually has potent things to say. Its revelation actually reinforces the utility of religion as escape or fantasy, with the mysticism associated with it turning out to be merely a sheen for the bleakness of reality. Sadly, everything is lost in execution.
The Eternity Between Seconds review: Subtle and lyrical
The beauty of Alec Figuracion’s The Eternity Between Seconds lies in its very potent ideas. Everything is perfectly set-up. Two strangers, a middle-aged and fairly successful man (TJ Trinidad) and a confused millennial (Yeng Constantino), serendipitously meet in an airport and spend a few hours talking about their respective troubles.
Setting the film in an airport is a nice touch as the constantly busy place seems to represent departures, arrivals, and connections. The film plays around with the chance connection between two individuals who are in the opposite ends of the spectrum. One is off to leave, while the other has just arrived. Their constant is the uncertainty they feel for their destinations.
It is perhaps tempting for Figuracion to taint the connection with tinges of romance. Thankfully, he only hints of a cerebral interest, as the two convene about various topics. The film is far from perfect.
By avoiding romance, the film struggles to define the connection, making the two character’s sudden interest with each other feel more like a product of Figuracion’s fancy rather than human instinct. This becomes more apparent since Figuracion opens the film with Trinidad’s character seemingly content with his loneliness.
Thankfully, the film makes up for the narrative flaw with its charming subtlety and gorgeous lyricism. – Rappler.com
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.