Movie reviews: All 9 films in the 2018 Cinema One Originals Festival

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Here's what movie reviewer Oggs Cruz thinks of this year's entries to the yearly film festival. 

(Ed's note: The writer was part of the selection committee and was creative consultant for Paglisan and Double Twisting Double Back.)

A Short History of a Few Bad Things review: Flipped noir

Keith Deligero’s A Short History of a Few Bad Things is a delightfully imperfect noir. It is a police procedural in the strictest of sense, given that its protagonist is another burdened cop, played with an apt quiet intensity by Victor Neri, who gets assigned a case involving a shooting of two individuals in one of Cebu City’s busiest streets.

However, instead of highlighting the verve and ingenuity of detectives in solving a seemingly unsolvable crime, the film relishes on the mistakes, shortcuts, and blunders that blur the procedure. The result is a boisterously original work, a strangely entertaining amalgamation of a genre that thrives on the cleverness and efficiency of law enforcers with the opposing realities of a bureaucratic culture characterized by randomness, inefficiency and proclivity to influence.

 

 

It all feels like a comedy of errors, with the film cycling from its protagonist somewhat making headway in his investigation only to be reprimanded by his English-speaking superior, played masterfully by Publio Briones III. Yet there is definitely something sinister simmering beneath all of its lighthearted portrayals of police insolence and indolence.

As the mystery awkwardly unfolds, the film reveals a history that has graver implications than what the quirky procedural implies. It is to writers Deligero and Paul Grant’s credit that the film is able to juggle its affinity with its genre without losing its very local flavor.

It is, however, Deligero’s confident direction that elevates the material, turning it less another flipped noir and more an exploration of a country with a confused bastard past it tries so hard to forget but cannot, as shown by all the American phrases it mouths, or the film genres it emulates, the bastardized music it creates, and all the violence it conveniently sweeps under the rug.

Asuang review: The gods must be crazy

The biggest hurdle that Raynier Brizuela’s Asuang has to overcome is to turn what is an archaic mythological world of deities and their squabbles current and familiar enough to house a very contemporary tale about social media dominance.

That means Brizuela had to introduce gods and monsters, most of which are too obscure to the ordinary viewer, without resorting to convenient exposition. Instead, he opens his film with various found footage of just enough snippets to ground the mythology, all leading to a talk show where the titular character, supposedly the god of sins, is forced into hiding out of shame inflicted by his well-loved big brother. Decades later, Asuang is seen trying his best to make his presence felt in a world addicted to social media by following each and every trend that has led ordinary people into internet celebrities.

 

 

 

It’s clever from start to finish. It definitely helps that Alwyn Uytingco, who plays Asuang, is an engaging presence, inhabiting the role with an understanding that the film can only work if he is able to balance being both a parody and a character that strives for real redemption. Comedy is certainly Brizuela’s priority here, with a lot of the gags eclipsing some of the film’s intention of real drama.

The film feels like a string of hilariously ingenious mash-ups of local lore and present-day attitudes. Thankfully, the film would eventually wrap up its silly antics to conclude with a surprisingly bittersweet note, one that effectively takes Brizuela’s work from being merely a satisfying satire where gods can be as crazy as mortals into an effective study of a character desperate to prove that he is more than just his reputation.

Bagyong Bheverlynn Review: Overdoing the mess

Tedious should not have been a word to describe Charliebebs Gohetia’s Bagyong Bheverlynn, a supposedly wit-filled and absurdist comedy about a woman whose recent heartbreak has caused a literal typhoon that could destroy the world. However, as it becomes quite obvious that the film mistakes overdoing the mess in an effort to amplify its campiness, sitting through it becomes more of a challenging chore than a relaxing breeze. When the line between resourcefulness and sloppiness can no longer be distinguished, it becomes a real issue, since the soul of camp is not the calculated intent to be so bad, it becomes good, but the fervent and sincere desire to be good without knowing that the parts adding up to the hilariously awful sum are all so brazenly misdirected.

 

 

 

Bagyong Bheverlynn is first and foremost grounded on one smart conceit. It strikes at the very heart of a national addiction to heartache, one that literally rivals grand calamities. What’s very troubling about Gohetia’s film is that too much effort is committed to dumb itself down to the point that at times, the film feels more like a haphazard exercise rather than a film that has a singular vision at its core.

The film’s biggest problem is not that it lacks substance. In fact, it is more than obvious that Gohetia has an array of things he is attempting to say, as can be seen from his casting of Ruffa Mae Quinto of Booba fame to commit to the exaggerations of her role or his cornucopia of visual quirks. What is sorely lacking is consistency that will glue the parts together, making the film feel more like delectable mud pie rather than just plain mud.

Double Twisting Double Back review: Toil and trouble

What Home Feels Like (2017), Joseph Abello’s debut about a seafarer who returns home to a family that is emotionally distant, is an exquisite portrait of a man who without work has been emasculated by a family that has learned to live without him.

In Double Twisting Double Back, Abello continues to explore the curious facets of manhood – this time, concentrating on the obsessions that are mistaken as part and parcel of machismo. While What Home Feels Like is an intimate family drama that gently swells up until its emotional climax, Double Twisting Double Back is a rabid and unrelenting thriller that confidently utilizes sports film tropes to bolster the stakes before completely and surprisingly surrendering to utter madness.

 

 

 

Bembol Roco’s restrained performance encapsulated the dissipating presence of his character within the family unit that is the centerpiece of What Home Feels Like. In Double Twisting Double Back, Tony Labrusca’s astounding physicality and Joem Bascon’s ability to switch from sharp nuance to unabashed caricature keep the picture from falling apart with the heft of its ambitions.

Abello is clever enough to know that the conceit of split personalities is cliché. He skirts dillydallying in revealing that Badger (Labrusca), a gymnast who ambitions to represent the country in the Olympics, and Wasi (Bascon), the sales manager with a sex addiction, are one and the same person, both competing for their respective obsessions.

Instead, he concentrates on bringing life to the interactions between the split personalities, conjuring compelling conflicts out of the arguments, threats, and compromises. Abello courageously commits to the craze, resulting in a film that in its effort to magnify the compulsions of very toxic men, can be read as a potent commentary on masculine frailties.

Hospicio review: An odd picture

Twelve years after its release, Bobi Bonifacio’s Numbalikdiwa (2006), despite being shot in a medium that hasn’t aged that well, still feels novel. The film, about a young woman peddling skewered meats who is quietly adoring a goodlooking patron who is both richer and older than her, is an off-kilter romance that matures into a grotesque body switch horror.

Hospicio doesn’t really aspire to replicate the strange charm of Numbalikdiwa, where the aspirations of a foolish girl mutates into a horrific nightmare. It devotes its lore to a tale that attempts to explore the inhumanity of the current regime and its struggle to rid the nation of addicts. Hospicio’s protagonists are all addicts to various vices who are strangely stuck with aging divas and has-beens in a rehab run by a woman with nefarious secrets.

 

 

 

Clearly, it’s an odd picture. It has a lot of things to say. Sadly, it is mostly stuck in its effort to downplay its grim cleverness, needlessly relying on jump scares and jarring noises to supposedly supplement its central conceit. It is almost as if Bonifacio isn’t confident of the terror he is cautiously building within the walls of the suspicious hospice with his collection of strange circumstances and weirdos. It is almost as if he doubts that his audience will get the horror in the tale he is conjuring. The resulting film is a mishmash, where the humor doesn’t always complement the horror, and the shocks doesn’t always share the same stage as the creeping terror.

Mamu (And a Mother Too) review: From misery to hope

Rod Singh’s Mamu (And a Mother Too) doesn’t feature the most original of a plot. It echoes many of Lino Brocka’s melodramas, with its conceit of a transwoman adopting a ward snatched from Ang Tatay Kong Nanay (1978), its conflict of the daughter being caught up in some sort of an affair with the mother’s lover from Insiang (1976), and its world of rampant prostitution perhaps from White Slavery (1985).

However, it doesn’t really hide its allegiance to those well-established storylines and familiar milieus. Instead, it contemporizes those stories, perhaps correcting their politics to suit a point of view that makes the film not just novel but exquisitely unique.

 

 

 

Mamu (And a Mother Too) is aware of poverty but it doesn’t succumb to the convenience of revolving around it. It does not just simply depict queer characters, it does so without surrendering to the ease of stereotypes. Sure, the film is rife with humor that may seem generic to queer comedies, but here, the comedic dialogues do not feel forced just to churn out laughs but are part and parcel to everyday conversations. The film is explicit, but its explicitness isn’t there to solely shock but to facilitate in removing the barriers that unduly create taboos. What Singh does with Mamu (And a Mother Too) is quite bold, innovative and fascinating.

On the surface, the film is essentially a pleasant and entertaining crowd-pleaser. Beneath its fun and accessible veneer is a perspective that effectively molds the decades-old popular narratives from being simply miserablist to daringly hopeful, a trait that aptly describes the community it seeks to represent.

Never Tear Us Apart review: Alter histories

Whammy Alcazaren’s Never Tear Us Apart is a film that dares to put a spotlight on contemporary attitudes borne out of the secrecies made convenient by the internet. It seems to be about alternate identities, opening with a footage of a man donning only his underwear performing an erotic dance for an audience that if we take literally the implication of the mobile phone-appropriate aspect ratio it borrows are people glued to their own smart devices, living and breathing their secret fantasies through their personal gadgets.

The film is transgressive in the sense that it puts its audience in an unfamiliar place, in a world that is mostly reserved for people with private lives even beneath their private lives. The film confronts with images that traditionally belong behind closed doors but are presented with tempered audacity.

 

 

 

Anonymity is a constant theme. Faces are either blurred or completely covered. Alcazaren commits to the thrills of invisibility, of indulging in pleasures that are traditionally frowned upon and of the joys of life outside the closet of whatever kind and function. It is truly a family film but its methods are queer, not in its modern political definition, but in its understanding of the repercussions of the familial unit to each and every individual member.

Despite its blatant experimentations, it never fails to connect in an emotional level, relying on the power of its rich and lyrical images and their proximity to today’s technology-driven identities to tell familiar and personal stories. Never Tear Us Apart feels foreign and intimate at the same time. It’s a true wonder.

Paglisan review: Rough emotions

The premise of Paglisan isn’t exactly one that begs to be animated. However, director Carl Papa, who has carved a career telling the most intimate of stories through animation that are crude both out of purpose and scant resources, insists that the tale of a who is slowly losing his memories to Alzheimer’s and his wife who is quietly suffering is something that is best told through rough lines and delicate hues instead of real faces and gestures.

Papa puts himself in a situation where he has limitations, especially in conveying the very nuanced emotions that his story requires. Interestingly, Paglisan, despite its patent roughness, works. Papa’s decision to take the road less traveled makes his tale even more memorable than how it could have been had it been depicted as a typical live action drama.

 

 

 

Papa only has voices and art at his service and he maximizes them. Paglisan has songs that magnify the internal longings of his characters, with Ian Veneracion and Eula Valdez, who voice the main characters, belting them out with an intensity that makes one forget the fact that the sketches can only evoke the roughest facets of their emotions.

It isn’t as if Papa relies heavily on his actors and the beautifully composed songs, he also makes sure that the animation is never redundant. There are visual surprises, such as when during a melancholic song, the aspect ratio widens to reveal an immaculately rendered dance in monochrome, that elevate the work, strengthen the sentiment, and bolster its aim to be extraordinary despite its sincere depiction of the most intimate of domestic sorrows.

Pang MMK Review: Good grief

John Lapus’ Pang MMK is a romp that ingenuously subverts events and pop culture references that are traditionally connected to grief and melancholy all in the service of comedy. The film, about the gay son of an action film director who is forced to spearhead the wake of his father’s funeral services, is adamantly a comedy with characters whose actions are hilariously bizarre given the circumstances.

 

 

 

Lapus’ debut features a distinct understanding of irony that exists in a world that can already be described as ironic with movie stars turning into senators, patriarchs serving as fathers to more than one family and obscure rules that are hardly apt in an age where the definition of family is no longer limited to ones bound by marriage.

Pang MMK isn’t really a visually stunning film. Thankfully, it makes up with wit. The lead performance of Neil Coleta is fine. However, it is Nikki Valdez, who plays the histrionic sister of Coleta, who steals the show. There really isn’t that much a directorial style that differentiates Lapuz from other comedy helmers but it is his clever storytelling that seals the deal. All in all, Lapuz’s film is a good enough farce, an enjoyable sitcom that proves to be an apt satire to the tear-jerking efforts of the melodrama that found itself in its title. – 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.