Movie reviews: Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2019 films part 1
Watch Me Kill review: Mood and atmosphere
There is a lot to admire about Tyrone Acierto’s Watch Me Kill.
First, the movie, shot entirely on film, has a look and feel that aims for bleak and barren beauty rather than just artless coverage. Mood is clearly a primary aspiration here. The film is painstakingly slow and purposefully deliberate, all to service the atmosphere of an alternate universe where the bare boondocks of the Philippines are bereft of the rule of law and brimming with all sorts of unsavory characters. Acierto successfully creates an immersive backdrop for what could be a timeless tale of grave vices and fractured virtues that a very specific local culture can conjure.
Sadly, the story that Watch Me Kill puts into motion in this overwhelming setting is underwhelming.
It works best in the beginning where everything is shrouded in mystery; where the motivations for the relentless murders committed by brooding assassin Luciana (Jean Garcia) are indecipherable, or how the sudden fortune of a relentless treasure hunter will make a dent in Luciana’s journey. The set-up, coupled with the irresistible ambience of endless wilderness and cruel humanity, is exquisite. However, as soon as the film sets its focus on putting to fruition a plot twist that is as old as time, the creases start becoming more apparent. The elegance of the storytelling falls apart just to service the ending, with Luciana never really evolving into a character with enough humanity to root for. The brutality becomes repetitive. The artifice reverberates.
Still, Acierto’s film is a wonder to behold. It is impressive in terms of both risk-taking and crafting.
LSS review: Singing your heart out
A girl (Gabbi Garcia) has just been told that she is better in administrative work than in making music. A boy (Khalil Ramos) has just found out that the girl he has long adored is getting back with her ex. Tearfully listening to a song from a band they both adore, the two defeated characters see each other and end up sharing a passionate kiss. It’s illogical. It couldn’t happen. She’s professionally distraught. He’s irreversibly heartbroken. In our normal world, a heartfelt kiss would be the farthest thing from happening.
However, in Jade Castro’s LSS – a film that aspires to translate the magic of music bringing people together – the scene, amidst all the illogic and incredibility, is not just beautiful, it is poignant.
LSS is far from perfect. The love story it peddles unfolds far too conveniently. There are also certain details that feel too removed from reality for comfort, details that the film’s affinity with music cannot even be an excuse for. These are all writing problems, problems that the film’s very many precious moments can cover for, problems that the team of screenwriters who've shaped the characters to have more pressing concerns other than the need for a happy love story, can ultimately be forgiven for.
LSS can be categorized as a musical, except that when its characters burst into song, they do so not out of the filmmakers’ conceit but out of their connection to the music. They sing imperfectly like most music fans sing like, with Castro putting an effort to weave this communal adoration for songs and a particular band into dazzling sequences that seamlessly converge, translating something specific and possibly alienating into something as universal as love.
I’m Ellenya L. review: Cheek and ridicule
The biggest misstep of Boy2 Quizon’s I’m Ellenya L. is that it projects its disdain for millennials too overtly.
Ellenya (Maris Racal) is nothing more than a glaring stereotype, an aspiring influencer who forgoes traditional work for her ambition to make money from making all kinds of videos for the internet. Quizon’s film dutifully navigates her efforts and eventual comeuppance, sprinkling an afterthought of a love story into the mix. The film never really struggles to understand the character or the generation that gave rise to such a mentality. In the film’s world, she is stooge, the clichéd core of a parable about the pitfalls of indulging in the gross conveniences of this social media generation.
It’s all very elementary. Thankfully, Quizon is far from being elementary in tackling what could possibly be a rudimentary morality tale. I’m Ellenya L. is dominated by all sorts of humor, ranging from the drably inoffensive to the adamantly vulgar. The film is staunchly current, with its best and most irreverent gags clinging on the current flavors of the month. While this might hurt the film’s probably inexistent bid for immortality, it improves its chances at squeezing out every bit of chuckle from its audience. The film is truly funny. It is also wistful when it intends to be, with Ellenya’s dad (Gio Alvarez) and grandmother (Nova Villa) balancing the cheek and ridicule with traces of very relatable humanity.
Lola Igna review: Long life and levity
Eduardo Roy, Jr.’s Lola Igna is an absolute charmer.
Buoyed by the captivating and compelling turn of legendary Angie Ferro as the titular grandmother, the film diligently observes the ironic suffering of a woman unable to die with uncharacteristic but delightful levity. It is colorful, with the film making most of all the bright and striking hues the farmland setting can afford, to enunciate the abundance of life that the main character is trying her best to abandon. The music is spritely. The events that ensue never swell to the point of distracting melodrama. Everything is kept within a very intimate package, almost as if Roy intends his audience to witness the life of the main character first as intruders (like the many tourists who force themselves into her humble hut) and later on as friends or family who, little by little, acknowledge both the beauty and cruelty of Igna’s fate as a woman who wants to die but can’t.
Sure, the film’s focus is the titular character’s unique and fantastic dilemma. However, Roy can’t also avoid but tackle pertinent issues that accompany it. He conjures a believable world where a human being whose sufferings are unknown to the public is turned into a tourist commodity, converted not just by the community but also by her family into a living.
Society still plays a crucial part in this otherwise private concern, and Roy doesn’t just understand that, he fully comprehends that everything is interconnected. The film instinctively balances the inhumanity of being a world record and the profoundness of the pleasures of death after living a life fully lived, resulting in a truly tender portrait of this world’s most subtle and mysterious injustices.
Open review: Modern but old-fashioned
Andoy Ranay’s Open opens in the middle of a relationship that is already doomed to fail. Rome (Arci Munoz) and Ethan (JC Santos) are in a bakery choosing cakes to bring to a potluck. A simple argument on what kind of cake to bring is closed with a compromise that is not exactly amicable, as it involves a lot of emotional leveraging.
The clever opening telegraphs the kind of manipulation Ethan does to introduce to Rome the idea of open relationships, wherein while the two are emotionally loyal to each other, they can have physical relationships with strangers. Predictably, the set-up only forces their already troubled relationship into a deeper pit.
What is most unfortunate about Open is how it utilizes a modern and untested relationship set-up, one that is ripe enough to be brought into more mainstream consciousness, to serve as the fulcrum of another old-fashioned morality tale about the dangers of infidelity. Strip the film of all the trappings of innovation and currency and it remains to be the same tale as old as time where a relationship becomes embattled by the allures of a third party. What truly drives the film is the stirring performance of Munoz who intuitively humanizes a character who right from the start is made captive by a truly despicable man. The film isn’t really memorable because of the supposed novelty it brings to the table, but because of its fevered and oftentimes very elegant attempt to approximate the nuances of a torturously lopsided romance.
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.