Movie reviews: Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2018, part 2

Oggs Cruz
Movie reviews: Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2018, part 2
Film critic Oggs Cruz reviews 'Signal Rock,' 'The Day After Valentine’s,' 'Unli Life, and 'We Will Not Die Tonight'

For part 1 of the reviews, click Movie reviews: Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2018, part 1

Signal Rock review: Full coverage


The opening image of Chito Roño’s Signal Rock makes it seem like it’s set in a different world. Oddly shaped rocks jut out of the ocean. On top of them are men with their arms outstretched in the air, all desperately holding up their cellular phones like shipwreck survivors marooned on a deserted island.

The place, however, is not some alien planet but the only spot in town where there’s signal, and the men there are all expecting calls from their mothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends.

This is where we first see Intoy (Christian Bables) as he calls his sister in Finland regarding a remittance that has been late by a few days. The audience never gets to see Intoy’s sister. She is just a presence, a disembodied voice whose faraway tragedy takes over Intoy’s life and the island he calls home.

Roño and screenwriter Rody Vera ingeniously explores the Filipino diaspora from the perspective not of those who left, which have been detailed in so many films already, but of those who were left behind. The film elegantly sprawls from the personal missions and intimate relations of its amiable hero to showcase a small town whose fractured psyches and warped moralities comprise a nation’s curious culture of twisted resilience and abused generosity. 

Bables is phenomenal here. His is a performance that is aware of the importance of scope and evolving magnitude. He opens the film as a mere dot in a constellation of emasculated men at the mercy of both their overseas relatives’ dole-outs and limited technology. He is shooed away by his girlfriend’s dad, who prefers his daughter to follow suit in the town’s trend of marrying its women to foreigners. He is ordered around. He is the enduring membrane that connects the small town’s disparate elements, and when he finds himself in a mission to help his sister, he unites everybody. He literally grows and becomes the plausible soul of the film.

Amidst all of its deeper themes, Signal Rock remains uplifting, almost reminiscent of narratives that champion the surprising intrepidity of ordinary folk. Roño’s film is far from perfect and there are many points to nitpick. However, the graceful way the narrative unfolds more than makes up for the anachronisms and other technical missteps.

This is a film that surrenders to the conveniences of melodrama. It earns its resounding emotionality, and more importantly, it never betrays its discursive implications.



The Day After Valentine’s review: After the high of romance


If Jason Paul Laxamana’s The Day After Valentine’s feels like it is all too familiar, it is because it really is. There is no denying that the film follows the trend of romances, often teetering towards depicting heartaches rather than the pleasures of winning at love, that center on random and mundane conversations of strangers that establish what would be a more passionate relationship.

As such, Laxamana’s film is satisfying enough. Kai (JC Santos) and Lani (Bela Padilla) first meet when the former, still reeling from a break-up, enters the latter’s shop to buy arm sleeves to hide the scars from his bouts of self-hurt.

They talk, flirt, learn to express their emotions through Baybayin, and travel. It is a film that truly knows how the genre works and Laxamana navigates through all the motions with expert ease. The result is a film that has ample delights even if the characters are few and the plot is sparse and intimate.

What is most fascinating about The Day After Valentine’s is how it shifts its tone just when it establishes itself as a potent romance. While Laxamana makes it very clear from the start that his film may not have the happiest of endings (with a prologue that shows Kai and Lani awkwardly planning to meet), the way his film suddenly twists and turns to reveal the harsh realities beneath all the addicting promise of possible everlasting love.

This is a love story that is not so much interested in happy endings as it is in the unraveling of the  imperfections that are often skirted in favor of escapism. The title says it all. This film isn’t about when people are consumed by amorous emotions. It is about what comes after when the delirious high of romance is gone and all that’s left of lovers are the ugly warts and the indelible scars.

Admirably sober, Laxamana’s film speaks volumes by abruptly straying from the formula it so fervently followed.



Unli Life review: Chock full of nuts


Miko Livelo’s Unli Life mixes its high concept with hilarity and great confidence. It helps that it avoids taking anything seriously. Each frame is laced with a prank, whether it be a pop culture pun in the background or a ridiculous and physically impossible stunt that serves as a visual gag. There is never a minute that the film doesn’t attempt a joke.

A lot do not land effectively, but the ones that do land are irresistible gems of ingenious comedy. It helps that Livelo knows how to make use of Vhong Navarro’s discreet charms and carves a character that is distinct from the celebrity’s off-screen personality but is still reliant on the wit and humor that he has developed throughout the years.

Here, Navarro plays Benedict, a popular podcaster who after being dumped by his girlfriend (Wynwyn Marquez), takes an offer by a mysterious bartender (Joey Marquez) to indulge in a magical liquor that will have him live through his many past lives and might give him his promised happy ending. 

The film takes Benedict through various episodes of Philippine history, all of which are treated by Livelo with cheeky irreverence. It is frivolous from start to finish. It is consistent with its nonsense. There is never a sense of the film taking itself seriously to the point of many of its episodes unabashedly bearing the same aesthetic as a gag show or a sitcom.

Perhaps the film is really an ode to many of the foregone inane but truly enjoyable shows that have been unduly replaced by the never-ending soap operas that are bereft of imagination. Livelo’s film is brimming with creativity. It treads what could have been expensive recreations of eras past with do-it-yourself craftsmanship, resulting in a work whose technical unevenness adds a self-referential, if not totally self-deprecating, layer to its amusingly profound sense of humor.

Unli Life is a chock full of nuts and so much more.


We Will Not Die Tonight review: Punch, kick and slice of life


Richard Somes’ We Will Not Die Tonight is the simplest an action film can ever get. There is barely a plot, and Somes strips his characters of any information that won’t lend any credibility to their being action stars.

He grants them motivations, a certain moral standard to uphold, and the requisite grit to be able to survive a night full of punches, kicks and slices. An exhausted stunt woman (Erich Gonzales) and her friends are recruited by a former flame (Alex Medina) for an undisclosed job. When they get to the building that serves as their prospective employers, they discover that their job involves kidnapping street children whose internal organs will be harvested for profit. They disagree and are then chased around the city, forced to fight for their lives. What ensues after is a consistently frenetic assembly of fight scenes set in an abandoned building that Somes turns into a piece of hell on earth.  

We Will Not Die Tonight is a film is unapologetically fueled by brutality. In its flurry of images depicting men and women who are simply trying to eke out whatever livelihood stomaching blows and punctures, it almost feels like the film is making a point that existence in such a heartless and hopeless city is a literal contest of brute strength and endurance.

Somes is at his most relentless here.

However, despite its being heavily preoccupied with violence of any form that is practical and within the limits of a shoestring budget, it still grants a glimpse of a facet of humanity that is often glossed over for pleasantries – that if push comes to shove – we’re just as good as dogs biting each to death.  – 


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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