Movie reviews: Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2019 films part 2

Pagbalik review: Monochrome and monotone

Maria S. Ranillo’s Pagbalik is drab, dull and dizzyingly lethargic.

While it is decidedly monochrome all through out, it definitely didn’t mean to be such a monotonous mess. And yet it is. Right from the start, when the returning matriarch (Suzette Ranillo) is deep in contemplation on a bus that will take her home, the film revels in its crutches – the sympathies ultimately reserved for our hardworking overseas workers who become victims of the ever-changing politics of the world. See, this matriarch was forced to return home because of Trump’s cruel policies and now has to stomach taking care of her own needy and cantankerous mother (Gloria Sevilla) and a very confused son (Vince Ranillo). The premise is ripe for melodrama, but Ranillo is unable to flesh out anything out of the blend of familial repressions and subtle politics but sluggish sequences of very little emotional heft.

There is very little reward to the film’s pertinent requests for attention. Clearly, Suzette Ranillo is the best performer of the lot, since her character has the most to explore. Surprisingly, Sevilla does very little to make her character endearing amidst the lazy writing. Vince Ranillo is a prime example of an actor who goes through all the motions of acting without any of the depth. Pagbalik is difficult to abhor because it tackles topics worth any kind of discourse. Sadly, the film is stuck at the surface level, lazily skimming through the thinnest storylines hoping that its rehashed bid for sympathy will shroud all of its blatant deficiencies.



The Panti Sisters review: More than meets the eye

There is something more to Jun Lana’s The Panti Sisters than meets the eye.

On its surface, it is a deliberately crass and unflinchingly vulgar comedy, one that throws around innuendos with such wild abandon that it all feels normal. It is effective that way. The film is indubitably hilarious, with each and every one of the actors taking part in the farce committing to the business of making fools out of themselves all for the sake of guffaws and chuckles. Paolo Ballesteros is bright and loud. Christian Bables is rough and boorish. Martin del Rosario is sweet and restrained. While essentially playing characters which in the public’s narrow minds are all the same, the film makes sure that the characters are distinct from each other, more human than just easy stereotypes.

That is exactly what makes The Panti Sisters remarkable despite its seemingly escapist endeavors. It continues Lana’s filmic mission to bring into the mainstream some of the nuances of the LGBTQ discourse. Here is a film that has a gay character marry a woman not out of desiring to maintain being in the closet but out of pure personal choice. Here is a film that attempts to differentiate the spectrums of sexuality. There are very many troubling compromises along the way, considering that Lana has to attach himself to the kind of comedy that will attract the most audiences, but the goal here is not to suddenly change perceptions but to normalize different perceptions and points of view.

The Panti Sisters isn’t a great film, but its presence as a box office monster is something worth celebrating.




Cuddle Weather review: Giddiness over grit

The love story at the center of Cuddle Weather is to die for. A prostitute with a heart of gold falls in love with another prostitute, who also has heart of gold. What is stopping them from concretizing their love is an agreement that everything is business between the two of them. The concept is golden and if properly incubated and fostered, can become a timeless romance; one that truly explores the validity of love amidst a profession that supposedly invalidates it.

Rod Marmol nearly accomplishes what he sets out to do with such a lovely premise and conjures the story of a high maintenance hooker (Sue Ramirez) taking under her wing an inexperienced boytoy (RK Bagatsing) not expecting that their constant interactions will blossom into a romance.

The plot is fine. What Marmol forgets to build is the verisimilitude.

Perhaps to service the prudes that still dominate the censors or to capture the widest audience as possible, the film commits self-censorship, ultimately romanticizing a dirty and degrading livelihood. The respective dilemmas of the characters seem to outweigh the hazards of their profession, eventually making the film less novel and less compelling than it could have been. Cuddle Weather preferred levity over substance, and that’s quite an understandable choice if only there was a real effort by Marmol to keep things truly surface level and make it feel that the love story is truly oblivious of the grime of prostitution and only strives for escapism. The film, however, acknowledges the corruption, amorality and the inhumanity involved, but simplifies it all for the sake of its satisfyingly oblivious cuddly happy ending.



Circa review: A hundred things at once

Adolfo Alix, Jr.’s Circa wants to be so many things at once, and that is its biggest flaw.

As a tribute to Anita Linda, it doesn’t really allow the formidable actress to shine, relegating her as an object for veneration than a film performer. With the sole exception of a powerful scene where Alix’s camera zooms in on Linda’s powerful face as she weeps presumably for all her character’s efforts that will soon be forgotten, Linda is mostly used as a backdrop for a familial drama over inheritances. As a familial drama, it is disjointed and emotionally distant, with the family members never really making an effort to establish the necessary connections they have between each other or with the family. As an observation of the unsubtle caste system that pervades not just the household but also the film industry, it is toothless and shyly expository. 

Circa is most enduring as a statement on the futility of reliving the glories of the past. It is evident that with all its indulgences and deficiencies, what Alix has really crafted is a resounding metaphor for a film industry whose centenary celebration is but a distraction from the rot and disputes that are endangering it. Sadly, the metaphor is rendered inert by the lack of drama and fervor. It is a very elegant picture, with each frame brimming with an unspoken melancholy that burdens both the mansion and the characters.

However, there is no climax to all the restraint, no fruition to all the symbols and representations. 


G! review: Youth without youth

A movie purportedly about the youth but without the courage to push the envelope beyond cutesy humor and trite sentimentality, Dondon Santos’ G! is nothing new. A troop of jocks go on a road trip to fulfill their cancer-stricken buddy’s many wishes, one of which is to finally lose his virginity. Unsurprisingly, the film is less about the more interesting bumps and surprises that stall their ultimate mission as it centers predominantly on the issues that start to taint their masculine bonds. What is truly troubling about the film is that it is again an example of the faults of escapist entertainment, where truly pressing issues such as social inequity, domestic violence and blunt murder are all waylaid for the feel-good aspirations of the formulaic teenage buddy flick. G! navigates its way around crime and crookedness and it still comes up oblivious to everything except macho camaraderie. 

The performances are mostly charming and unchallenging, with McCoy De Leon and Jameson Blake leading the pack in sustaining the film with their onscreen charisma. The film gets old quicker than it should, and even with the abundance of virile teenagers talking about their futures and their dreams and committing all sorts of reckless misbehaviors, the film fronts its allegiance to formula without any hint of shame. Sure, it is entertaining and moves briskly despite the many detours in its uncomplicated storyline. However, it is nothing that we haven’t seen before.

Simply put, the film does not deserve the exclamation point in its title. 


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.