Sunday, July 5, 2015

AN KUBO SA KAWAYANAN (Alvin Yapan, 2015)

*Official selection, 2015 World Premieres Film Festival, Filipino New Cinema section

Alvin Yapan has explored the supernatural with "Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe" (The Rapture of Fe), the subliminal with "Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa" (Dance of Two Left Feet), the marriage of the mythical and the religious with "Debosyon" (Devotion) and the psychological with "Anino ng Kahapon" (Shadows of the Past). His latest film "An Kubo Sa Kawayanan" (The House in the Bamboo Grove), surprisingly veers away from his usual exploration of folklore and literature, as its story lives within the confines of the mundane, the ordinary, and the calming silence.  

Perhaps "Kubo" is the antithesis to Yapan's film canon- a meditation on the simplicity of things, stripped away of all of the modern world's noise. In here, we find Michelle (Mercedes Cabral), an embroiderer living alone in a nipa hut tucked deep in the woods. She finds joy and comfort in the simplicity and familiarity of things. A small radio which needs to be wound up in order to play brings color to her silence. A beetle tied to a string becomes an instant toy. Lunch meant a can of sardines.

People constantly persuaded Michelle to leave her home because there is nothing for her there, they say. But Michelle is adamant on staying, for reasons other people will never seem to fathom.

The house has a language that only she can understand, according to Michelle. She speaks of the house through voice overs as if it is a person, capable of feeling envy, or becoming possessive, or playing games with her. In more ways than one, the film hints that a supernatural force is in play, as if the house could be the spirit of a lover, or an ex-lover, or perhaps those of her parents'. Yet "Kubo" is a literal representation of all elements present onscreen. A stone represents a stone, says Yapan during the film's gala premiere. Everything is what they are. Hence, the film ought to be taken as it is.

It is quite possible that the film was such designed to mislead viewers for a second into thinking "Kubo" is supernatural, or at least metaphorical. This is to be expected, since Yapan favors metaphors in his films. 

Also possible that while the film represents things in their intended capacity, there still are incidental visual metaphors, like how the organism growing underground may be a representation of change, of metamorphosis, or how the children dancing the native Tinikling dance echoes the beauty and innocence of the bucolic surroundings.

I'd like to add here one comment I heard during the open forum during the film's gala premiere. The person in the audience said that perhaps, some things in the world are better left untouched, or undeveloped. This is the whole film, in one sentence.

Kubo" is not the strongest of Yapan's films ("Fe" remains my personal favorite) yet we have to judge a film by its merits in relation to its purpose, and in the purpose of creating a reflection on nature and smaller pieces of the universe that often go unnoticed, Yapan succeeds, with great help from a stunning cinematography by Ronald Rebutica, vivid sound by Corinne de San Jose, and masterful editing by Benjamin Tolentino (who also did "Dagitab," "Transit" and "That Thing Called Tadhana").


Friday, May 1, 2015

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (Joss Whedon, 2015)

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, the highly-anticipated sequel to the highly-successful 2012 gathering of Marvel's superheroes, delivers a lot of idealism at its core, trading the non-stop explosion extravaganza of the first movie for heart as well as Darwinian scrutiny. Make no mistake: "Age of Ultron" is still an action-packed vehicle, yet it doesn't substitute the action for lack of catharsis, something the first film did so well. And for that, the sequel surpasses its predecessor by miles.

Whereas the first film dealt with the dilemma of becoming a hero, which is the Achilles' heel of every hero movie's beginning, "Age of Ultron" focused on the consequences of being a guardian of peace. When one of the Avengers seeks to end a war before it even begins, using whatever means necessary to prevent a cataclysmic event, such as the Chitauri invasion of New York in Part One, tension ensues. The Avengers begin doubting each other, and this is where each of the characters' motivations and morality are fleshed out. The creation of the artificial intelligence, dubbed "Ultron" (voiced by James Spader) enabled a deeper study of the characters' pasts and futures. 

The film examines supremacism in the context of man versus machine, living versus non-living. But can we consider artificial intelligence as a living thing, especially if it desires to become an organic being? 

One might say that Ultron is xenophobic, in such a way that it fears the human race. It wants to wipe humans from the face of the Earth. Fear breeds hatred. And Ultron especially hates its maker, Tony Stark AKA Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) the most. 

Going back to the consequences of being a guardian of peace, up to what ends are you willing to go to achieve lasting peace? Does the risk of creating something that might go haywire at some point justify a possible answer to safeguarding mankind? The film says yes. 

The issue of security and paranoia in "Age of Ultron" echoes the similar path taken by "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" last year, which to my opinion is one of the best Marvel film ever, if not the best. Perhaps reflective of present society where people fear what technology is capable of, "Age of Ultron" humanizes the fear in the form of Ultron- charismatic, narcissist and idealist to a fault. Ultron symbolizes our fear of the unknown, which leads us to do unimaginable things.

In fact, there is one key that the writers probably omitted intentionally- a contingency plan. Stark had no backup in case his original plan goes south, a powerful element that sparks a modern philosophical debate. Stark and co. just makes adjustments to their game plan as they go along because they are unprepared; Stark is unprepared. But in the end, the heroes each share the burden of responsibility, which is a commendable effort in terms of character development.

In one scene, Ultron hums something which grabbed my attention, especially that Spader delivered it so devilishly well. "I had strings, but now I'm free...there are no strings on me..."

On the surface, Joss Whedon may be talking about the technological enslavement of man, which is not only true but also unnoticed. Man created technology but look at who's controlling who. 

Or is Whedon talking about politics, about government? What are these strings? Election season in the U.S. is near. The film could not have arrived at a better time.

My theory on the film's subliminal criticism of the government  gets fueled further by a joke Tony Stark made during the party scene where the Avengers are trying to lift Thor's hammer. Stark said that if he lifts the hammer and is therefore hailed ruler of Asgard, he will reinstate prima nocta. Prima nocta is an alleged medieval law allowing a nobleman to have sex with any bride in the kingdom on her wedding night. I say "alleged" because it is still debated whether it is a real law or not.

So there's your (not) average superhero movie. Children probably dragged their parents to cinemas to see their favorite Avenger obliterate foes into kingdom come. "Age of Ultron" is actually a thinking man's movie that is never short on heart as well as laughter. There is always humor material when you pit Thor's machismo versus Iron Man's narcissism versus Captain America's righteousness.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

INTO THE WOODS (Rob Marshall, 2015)

For a film that is headlined by much star power, INTO THE WOODS is surprisingly dull, joyless, and overlong. The fact that the film adaptation is directed by the same person who wowed us 10 years ago with the Oscar-winning CHICAGO is hard to swallow.

INTO THE WOODS is a mashup of characters from popular fairy tales, and finds Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack (and the beanstalk) on a collision course as one childless couple (played by James Corden and Emily Blunt) journey into the titular woods to have a cursed reversed, which was cast years before by a vengeful witch (Meryl Streep). But while the material yielded tons of potential for conflict and a deconstruction of the characters, the film version suffered from an obvious detachment to its characters' plights. It is hard to retain any emotional attachment with any one character when the plot spirals here and there, only to fall flat in the end.

Unlike previous mashup movie adapatations such as LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (LXG), which combined characters from various classic novels such as Allan Quatermain (KING SOLOMON'S MINES), Tom Sawyer (THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SWYER), The Invisible Man (THE INVISIBLE MAN), Mina Harker (DRACULA), Captain Nemo (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA), Dorian Gray (THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY), and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE), or Terry Gilliam's 2005 film, and let's not venture further- THE BROTHERS GRIMM, which also combined characters from the Grimm's Fairy Tales, INTO THE WOODS feels more like a Saturday morning kiddie show than a movie. I learned that the original musical is darker and more complex, and perhaps what made the film the mixed bag that it is could be the decision to make it family-friendly. Then again, you can still make a family-friendly musical without overstaying your welcome by about an hour. I swear I almost lost it upon learning of the false resolution of the movie. As it turns out the movie would go on for about 45 minutes more. I WISH... that the film toyed around with the characters more instead of being the dry spectacle that it is.

Some of the songs are catchy, but the rest are more concerned with rhymes for us to give a heck. Anna Kendrick (Cinderella) is a terrific singer as always, and Meryl Streep holds her own, which I cannot say for the rest of the cast. Surprisingly, the young performers Lilla Crawford (Little Red Riding Hood), and Daniel Huttlestone (Jack), who also starred in another musical before (as Gavroche in Tom Hooper's LES MISERABLES adaptation) sing capably as well.

And who here thinks that Johnny Depp seemed out of place in this movie?

In all fairness, I laughed during the scene where the cow would have to eat the slippers, cape, and hair for the curse to be reversed, which might be the only time I enjoyed the movie.

I feel sorry for INTO THE WOODS because it could have been an ingenious film adaptation. Meryl Streep deserved better use of her acting prowess. Anybody could have donned the witch's costume. Rob Marshall, please. 

Now that I remember it, Rob Marshall was also responsible for another destruction of a cinematic gem, when he filmed the glossy but empty musical NINE, based on the Broadway musical of the same name, and itself a reimagining of Federico Fellini's masterpiece 8 1/2. 

Goodness. Fellini and the Grimm Brothers are probably rolling over in their graves as we speak.

RATING: 2/5 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

FORCE MAJEURE (Ruben Ostlund, 2014)

FORCE MAJEURE, the observational drama from Sweden is a quiet, dynamic study of gender roles between man and woman, husband and wife, placed under the microscope following an unexpected accident. While having their breakfast on the patio of a ski resort in the French Alps, businessman Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their two children (Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren) witness a "controlled avalanche", a man-made avalanche created to avert the occurrence of a bigger, more destructive avalanche. Tomas assures his family that it's perfectly safe, even videotaping the avalanche in his cellphone. However, as the avalanche draws closer and closer, the guests panic, and Ebba is left aghast at what happens next.   

Tomas goes on with their vacation as if nothing happened. But soon, the elephant in the room needed addressing, and Ebba hounds her husband every chance she gets about what happened. She is shocked more at her husband's response than what he actually did. 

Third parties come in to the equation. Ebba mentions the incident to Tomas' friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his younger girlfriend Fanni (Fanni Metelius), in front of Tomas. Ebba finds a shoulder with Fanni, while Mats tries to rationalize Tomas' behavior, in lieu of Tomas' lack of explanation. Funny enough, Tomas and Ebba's conflict becomes Mats and Fanni's as well as soon as they head back to their own room. Mats' manhood becomes scarred by Fanni saying that he will most likely act like Tomas when faced in the same situation.

While mostly dialogue-heavy, all throughout, but most especially during the first half of the film, FORCE MAJEURE becomes real interesting as the characters' five-day vacation draws to a close. Director Ruben Ostlund injects biting sarcasm into the frame. A sticker of a chicken on their hotel room door irritates Tomas, and; Mats and Tomas gets a case of mistaken identity on the resort's rest area, which further mocks their man ego.  

One may be inclined to side with either the man or the woman perspective in this film depending on personal views about gender roles and parental responsibility. FORCE MAJEURE beckons us to analyze the issue of social expectation on married life from all possible angles, which is why the characters of Mats and Fanni are essential, representing the observers, the third party who shall provide an external point of view. Though in this case, the observers seem to put more gasoline to the fire.

The film is very visual in its depiction of its subject. The avalanche itself is a humongous metaphor of the downhill slope of the characters' marriage. The ice represents the cold and ever-growing distance between Tomas and Ebba. The thick fog is the shroud of mystery between them, where they don't seem to recognize each other anymore.

The film is rightfully entitled so. Force Majeure, a clause in contracts that frees both parties from legal obligation to fulfill the contract in the event of an unforeseeable circumstance to which both parties have no control over, is cleverly depicted in the film's beginning. The contract here therefore being marriage, both a legal and social contract. The film is notable for its unflinching aim to confront us with the issue of survival. It puts the viewer to the test, that in the event of a catastrophe, what will we do? And it tests us so without any prejudice.

RATING: 5/5 

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Here's my pick for what I think are the notable local films of 2014:

20. EDNA
      Directed by: Ronnie Lazaro

EDNA marks the directorial debut of actor Ronnie Lazaro, who also stars in the film as husband to Irma Adlawan's titular character. What's admirable about EDNA is the sheer bravery of experimenting on various storytelling techniques to tell the plight of an OFW who comes home and finds out the real price of her years of toil overseas. The end result might be a little crude, sometimes confusing, yet Irma Adlawan still shines as a woman inches away from losing her sanity. 


      Directed by: Mike Tuviera

Whoever said that Pinoy action cinema is dead clearly haven't seen THE JANITOR. Thrilling, intriguing, and breathtaking all at the same time, THE JANITOR is one of last year's must-see, if only for the morality study it brings to the plate. We live in a world when our version of truth is only what is comfortable, what is palatable. It's a sad, sad world for moral crusaders.


      Directed by: Perci Intalan

The debut feature of Perci Intalan is an exercise in restraint, a technique with which Nora Aunor is very familiar with. The picturesque landscape of Batanes, herein used as a backdrop for terror beautifully resonates the mood needed to convey the mental state of Mara Fabre (Aunor), a woman who is taken back to her hometown to help her remember. And with a history like Mara, we simply don't want to remember things.


     Directed by: Dan Villegas

How much enjoyable can the path to closure be? So much! But only if you have someone to share the journey with. What started out as a business proposition turned out to be a life-altering trip for Fil-Am Julian (Derek Ramsay) and Filipina Tere (Jennylyn Mercado). More than a romcom, the movie works because the filmmakers got the approach on how to explore the phenomena of a culture clash right. 


      Directed by: Erik Matti

By the opening sequence alone, I readily knew that KUBOT is not the disaster its predecessor was. Erik Matti has finally embraced the campiness of the genre he chose, and what follows is a two-hour roller coaster ride of gags, thrills, and chills, but mostly gags. The inclusion of comedians Ramon Bautista (in a brand new role!), Bogart the Explorer, and Jun Sabayton has made the film a laugh riot. And who knew Lotlot De Leon can still capture the screen with her quirky character Nieves, sister to Dingdong Dantes's character Makoy. The effects are so much better, and Elizabeth Oropesa as the Kubot Manang Veron is pretty scary. 


      Jason Paul Laxamana

Despite the restless, almost nauseating shots, MAGKAKABAUNG (THE COFFIN MAKER) is a heartbreaking journey of a father whose love for his daughter and resolve will be put to the ultimate test. Allen Dizon shines in his silent agony, but it is really Gladys Reyes who churns out a revelatory performance here. The emotional weight of the entire third act is equivalent to Dizon's character's onscreen journey in the film's finale. And this is where the camera finally stops moving; the stillness somewhat ethereal.


      Antoinette Jadaone

The silliness contained in BEAUTY IN A BOTTLE cannot be logically described. Antoinette Jadaone ups the humor she previously showcased in her debut mockumentary film SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION FROM LILIA CUNTAPAY, and once again satirizes the hell out of her subject until our jaws hurt from laughter. Whereas SIX DEGREES dealt with the plight of bit players in the entertainment industry, BEAUTY IN A BOTTLE targets the highly-commercialized idea of beauty, and how it destroys women's self-esteem. All of the three leads (Angelica Panganiban, Assunta de Rossi, and Angeline Quinto) are in top form. I never knew I'd enjoy a film topbilled by Angeline Quinto so much.


     Nick Olanka

RONDA is a slow-burn dramatic thriller, an atmospheric film designed to make you feel the seemingly never-ending night, and the physical hazards of doing the same routine job over and over again. The beauty of RONDA lies in the irony of its story, where a cop (Ai Ai De Las Alas) is powerless in her search for her missing son. Ai Ai's turn in RONDA is praiseworthy, a different role and acting style from what she is commonly used to, and I think her Paloma Arroyo ought to have bagged the Cinemalaya Best Actress Award. But that's just me.


      Directed by: Antoinette Jaadaone

"It's not the destination so much as the journey," quips Johnny Depp in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES. This rings true for Antoinette Jadaone's THAT THING CALLED TADHANA. The ending might not be exactly what we expect from this charming indie that swept movie fans last November at the Cinema One Originals filmfest, but the journey is very, very satisfying. Where do broken hearts really go, indeed? Baguio? Sagada? Bontok? Call it the companion piece to Dan Villegas' ENGLISH ONLY, PLEASE (which Jadaone wrote). It is a wonderful feeling when a film can take us on a trip as if we've traveled there ourselves.


11. 1ST KO SI 3RD
      Directed by: Real Florido

The directorial debut of Real Florido is one that is very memorable, greatly because of the rekindled onscreen chemistry of Nova Villa and Freddie Webb, who became famous from their TV show Chicks To Chicks. 1ST KO SI 3RD, when it is not laying the rapid fire jokes about senility and first loves is actually a very endearing character study of a married woman whose carefully organized world is suddenly rattled with the resurgence of her first love. Florido disrupts our expectations of the genre and turns it on its head. This is the film for which we shall perhaps remember Nova Villa. And I am not just talking about the Facebook scene. 


      Directed by: Zig Dulay

A fish-out-of-water dramedy that features ZsaZsa Padilla in her very best, M. is a finely-written character study of a powerful woman who is used to having things her way. The story begins when she finds out that she has an incurable disease, and all her money and influence may not be able to save her. While letting us peer into the crumbling world of Bella (ZsaZsa Padilla), M. is also another portrait of the depressing healthcare system in the country, where money mostly decides who lives and who dies. The film exceeds expectation when the story shifts its focus away from Bella and onto characters with heavier burden than hers. 


    Directed by: Janice O'Hara

The film that ought to have bagged the Cinemalaya Best Acting ensemble award. SUNDALONG KANIN is a must-see for its unflinching juxtaposition of atrocity and innocence, which is made more painful by having four adorable young characters whose bonds of friendship are tested by physiology, deception, and personal beliefs. Also starring Marc Abaya, in a nail-biting performance as a Japanese conspirator. 


    Directed by: Joselito Altarejos

Arguably the best work of Joselito Altarejos, KASAL (THE COMMITMENT) is endearing and thought-provoking, a study of present society's views on gay relationships, more so on gay marriage. According to Altarejos, KASAL is a study of spaces; during the beginning of the movie, Arnold Reyes and Oliver Aquino enjoy total freedom within the confines of their own home. Towards the end, where they attend a church wedding, we see how the Church remains firm on its stand against homosexual relations. 

You may view our brief interview with Director Joselito Altarejos on his film KASAL here: PLM FILM SOCIETY interview with Direk Joselito Altarejos


    Directed by: Ida Anita Del Mundo

Picturesque and surreal best describes Ida Anita Del Mundo's debut feature film, a calming return to nature, to traditions, to history itself. Mara Lopez plays a native princess who is torn between her love for a commoner, played by RK Bagatsing, and her impending arranged marriage to the son of a rival village chieftain (Alex Medina). For all the disturbing movies last Cinemalaya (they were all enjoyable, but yes, unsettling), K'NA THE DREAMWEAVER is the charming little gem, like when you've had so much meat at a dinner party, and all you've been craving for is a soothing dessert.


    Directed by: Chito Rono

THE TRIAL is a revelation of sorts for me. First, that Gretchen Barretto can act; Second, that Jessy Mendiola should have her dramatic starring role soon. Third, that I can love watching a John Lloyd film even without Bea Alonzo. And lastly, Sylvia Sanchez (oh, what a performance!)

Chito Rono's empathic and careful direction, based on an original story by Ricky Lee, and screenplay by Enrico Santos and Kriz Gazmen moves the story in an even pace of one shocking discovery after another, while crushing our hearts into sand at the same time.


    Directed by: Dodo Dayao

VIOLATOR proves that jump scares does not define a truly effective horror film. By opting for a more psychological approach, Dodo Dayao immerses us into our own personal hell, where all our darkest fears are brought to light, and the sins we have committed, are committing, or is bound to commit become our eventual undoing. Truly, the devil is in the details. Also, terrific cinematography by Albert Banzon and Gym Lumbera. Too bad not all cinemas that played VIOLATOR last November projected the film correctly. In some cinemas, the projection is too dark, which is an injustice to both Banzon and Lumbera's work. Nevertheless, VIOLATOR is a surreal, terrifying experience, for each of its dread-filled minutes. 


    Directed by: Lav Diaz

At a running time of 338 minutes, some viewers may be intimidated with the length and pacing of Lav Diaz's critically-acclaimed masterpiece, but for those willing to embark on a journey to a distant place of haunting isolation, MULA SA KUNG ANO ANG NOON will prove worth your while. Through the use of foreshadowing technique to tell a story of the impending implementation of the Martial Law by then-President Marcos, Lav Diaz has slowly but carefully layered his metaphor of human cruelty and kindness through his assortment of characters, each struggling to survive in an unforgiving land during an unforgiving era.


    Direted by: Sigrid Andrea Bernardo

Where to begin on the list of things one loves about LORNA? The dashing but mysterious leading man? The metaphors? The laugh out loud humor? The sad reality of Shamaine Buencamino's character? Raquel Villavicencio doing Zumba? The list keeps on going. But if you need just one reason to go see LORNA, see it for the amount of heart writer/director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo has poured in this masterpiece, a far superior cinematic achievement than her equally innovative debut feature ANG HULING CHA-CHA NI ANITA. It is clear that her love for her heroine is huge and never-ending. Lorna, the character, despite her many faults, never stops at finding true love, if there ever is such a thing. And we, who feel like she is our closest friend are more than willing to share her journey over and over again.  


    Directed by: Jun Lana

BARBER'S TALES puts the universal plight of women front and center, a tribute to the many women who have helped forge this nation, and to one female director in particular who has had a HUGE hand in making Philippine cinema a force to be reckoned with in terms of storytelling and aesthetic quality. In BARBER'S TALES, Eugene Domingo plays the lead character Marilou with just the right amount of silent contemplation that when she finally makes the ultimate life-altering decision in the end, you can hear cheers inside the cinema. The particular scene preceding the final one, should be one of the best cinematic moments ever. 


    Directed by: Giancarlo Abrahan

DAGITAB is a film you cannot shake long after you've seen it, and repeated viewings may in fact, be required. I sure did get to notice tiny details crucial to the story on second viewing (having a writer and Literature professor for a movie buddy has its many perks), and it made me love Jimmy (Nonie Buencamino) and Issey (Eula Valdez) even more. I am a fan of mature love stories, and DAGITAB raised the bar for romantic maturity by taking the discussion on an intellectual, even metaphysical level. DAGITAB is a literature junkie's wet dream, and a Cinephile's visual addiction. Scene after scene of beautiful imagery. Eula Valdez has never looked more beautiful. And oh that melancholic musical score, it still plays in my head as I write this list. 

RATED 5/5  



Saturday, January 3, 2015

ENGLISH ONLY PLEASE (Dan Villegas, 2014)

ENGLISH ONLY PLEASE, the new film by Dan Villegas (MAYOHAN), from a script by Antoinette Jadaone (THAT THING CALLED TADHANA, SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION FROM LILIA CUNTAPAY) benefits greatly from the onscreen chemistry of its two charming leads, who give life to the story's playfulness and sincerity.

The story is simple enough, as with most romcoms: two lovelorn individuals find each other, and what seemed like a business proposition at first may in fact turn out to be a life-altering revelation for both of them. Fil-Am Julian Parker (Derek Ramsay) goes to the Philippines so he can tell his Filipina ex (Isabel Oli) in person his message of hatred. But first, he needs to master, or at least familiarize with the Filipino language so he can maintain the high ground of their breakup. This is where Tere Madlangsacay (Jennylyn Mercado), an English tutor comes in. She agrees to translate Julian's letter and help him pronounce its translation properly, and in return Julian offers him a thousand dollars in payment.

We all know how this ends, but more important than the destination is the journey these two characters take. Aside from merely just translating for Julian, Tere takes him on a trip around the metro. She localizes him. They eat street foods, ride the jeepney, and Julian even gets to meet Tere's family back in Bulacan. At one point, the two even go cinema hopping from one theater to the next as Julian searches for his ex. 

Julian is not the only one madly in love with an illusion. Tere herself is in a one-way relationship with his ex (Kean Cipriano) who she thinks will one day get back with her, but the guy clearly uses him for sexual and material benefits. And when she knocks her head on the wall, guess who's there to console her?

Then there's Tere's bestfriend Mallows (Cai Cortez), who gives unsolicited advice to Tere even though her own love life is in shambles. Men run away faster than horses at the track upon knowledge that she already has a daughter out of wedlock. Jadaone's script is interesting more so of the little ironies hidden in the subtext, but most times the irony is cleverly put into the humorous dialogue. 

What I like most about ENGLISH ONLY PLEASE is that it gets the culture clash conflict right. There is a lot of hilarious material when you write about two cultures clashing, and ENGLISH ONLY PLEASE gets it about 99% of the time. Jadaone knows the common one-liners and issues people encounter on a daily basis, especially in matters of the heart, and she embeds them in her script that we feel as if Tere Madlangsacay is someone we are intimately familiar with. She feels like our best friend, our sister, and maybe even our co-worker. The lines are snappy and Jennylyn Mercado has the privilege to utter them in street-smart, witty fashion. 

Those who have seen Antoinette Jadaone's previous film THAT THING CALLED TADHANA will easily spot the similarities between that and ENGLISH ONLY PLEASE. The characters are pretty much the same, perhaps reversed, and both couple embark on a life-altering physical journey. One might even say that ENGLISH ONLY PLEASE is a companion piece to TADHANA, a sort of dual he said/she said. But while TADHANA is about moving on, ENGLISH ONLY PLEASE is more about forgiveness. The film proves that the sins of the past easily affect our future, our understanding of certain ideologies such as love, commitment, and family, yet sometimes, there comes a person who will show us that our beliefs and prejudices have been terribly, terribly wrong. And in that moment, you will run out of excuses. Excuses like "Traffic sa Edsa" (It's traffic in EDSA). 


Thursday, January 1, 2015


This post is already one year late, but a lot of films needed to be carefully considered. This list reflects solely the opinion of the writer. For films that were released in the U.S. or in other countries in 2012 but had a release date in the Philippines in 2013, the Philippine release date is followed upon the creation of this list.

Also, all of the films appearing in this list have been rated FIVE over FIVE by the author.
And so, let the counting commence forth.

      Denis Villenueve, USA

A gripping police procedural, a whodunit thriller, and a morality study combined best describes PRISONERS. Solidly directed and featuring a stellar cast including Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano, among others who all render equally intense performances. The film follows the disappearance of both Jackman's and Howard's daughters, and the ensuing investigation led by Gyllenhaal's cop character, in which a suspicious young man (Dano) is grilled into confession as to the whereabouts of the girls. 

      Kathryn Bigelow, USA

One of the controversial films in recent memory is ZERO DARK THIRTY, the unflinching recreation of the daring operation of the Seal Team Six to eliminate Osama Bin Laden. Told almost entirely from the point of view of Maya (Jessica Chastain), the CIA analyst who has devoted her life's work to tracking down Bin Laden, ZDT offers both a tension-building experience leading to the now famous operation, and a character study of a woman whose calculated grip on the war on terror is marked by unparalleled ruthlessness. 

      Alfonso Cuaron, USA

If Alfonso Cuaron's aim was to make us feel the vast, cold infinity of space, and the sheer terror of the unknown, then he succeeded. GRAVITY is a one-of-a-kind experience, a more than welcome return to serious acting for Sandra Bullock, way better than THE BLIND SIDE. There is no other way to view GRAVITY than in IMAX 3D format. It just has to be viewed that way. 

      Ryan Coogler, USA

Based on a true story, FRUITVALE STATION is about the last hours of Oscar Grant III, who was killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California, during New Year's Day in 2009. Told with much empathy for his subject matter and highlighting the goodness of the main character despite his troubled past, FRUITVALE STATION is an engaging drama. Raw, honest, and straight through the heart. Michael B. Jordan gives one impressive performance as Oscar Grant, and Octavia Spencer delivers a heart-wrenching turn as  Oscar's mother.

      Park Hoon-jung,  SOUTH KOREA

With a story and theme that echoes that of the wildly successful INFERNAL AFFAIRS, Park Hoon-jung's crime thriller rises above the cliches of the gangster genre through his colorful assortment of flawed characters that make surprising turns as the story progresses. The unrest begins when the head of a criminal organization is suddenly killed in a car accident. Various successors plot against each other to take his place, but loyalties and identities are quickly changing in a vicious game of cat and mouse. Plus points to this film for the campy elevator knife fight scene that keeps begging for more. 

      David Gordon Green, USA

Two men (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) contemplate love, their differences and the mundane as they paint yellow lines on the asphalt road of a country highway in this little indie charmer from David Gordon Green. Rudd plays Alvin, who finds freedom and peace in the solitude of the wilderness, while Hirsch plays Lance, the presumed idiot brother of Alvin's girlfriend. Featuring stunning cinematography by Tim Orr and an eclectic musical score by David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky, PRINCE AVALANCHE is a contemplative and honest look about two men, and the unexpected friendship that formed within a mountain of insecurities, stupidity, and stubbornness. 

      Anthony Chen, SINGAPORE

Winning the Camera d'Or Award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and marking the first time a Singaporean film has won an award at Cannes, Anthony Chen's ILO-ILO is a poignant observational drama about a Singaporean family during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, and the friendship that sparked between a young boy, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) and his Filipina nanny, Teresa (Angeli Bayani). Honest, moving and uncompromising, Anthony Chen's debut feature is a work of silent beauty, and features another noteworthy performance from the versatile Angeli Bayani.  

      Asghar Farhadi, IRAN/ITALY/FRANCE

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi revisits the theme of divorce in his previous film A SEPARATION, and finds an examination of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons within a story of inner turmoil brought about by difficult choices. An Iranian man, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) is summoned by his ex-wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) in France to finalize their divorce, so she can marry Samir (Tahar Rahim), an Arab man whose wife is currently in a coma. Throughout a difficult week, secrets unravel, and relationships are tested to the limits. 

      Noah Baumbach, USA

FRANCES HA reunites Noah Baumbach with Greta Gerwig who previously starred in Baumbach's dysfunctional dark comedy GREENBERG, and Gerwig, whose own movie is long overdue delivers one spark of joy after another in this infectious story of self-discovery. The script is witty, and Gerwig is fun-filled to the bone. That insertion of David Bowie's upbeat song MODERN LOVE as Frances dashes along the New York streets is pure magic. 

      Woody Allen, USA

Is there anything that Cate Blanchett cannot do? From a strong-willed monarch, to a Soviet scientist villain, to being Bob Dylan, and now this colorful character of a woman about to lose her grip on sanity which earned her an Oscar trophy, Blanchett continues to surprise. BLUE JASMINE, while clearly a better film than Allen's previous films (MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER), becomes a required viewing due to Blanchett's unforgettable turn as the titular character, a mix of eccentricity and gravitas. 

      J.A. Bayona, Spain

Based on the true story of one family's ordeal and survival during the Indian Ocean tsunami incident in 2004, THE IMPOSSIBLE delivers gut-wrenching drama and stellar performances from leads Naomi Watts (who should have bagged the Best Actress Oscar that year) and Ewan McGregor, and from the young actors who play the couple's children. I dare you not to shed a tear during this movie. 

     Scott McGehee and David Siegel, USA

This is the film that every parent, or expectant parent, or potential parent (so that's basically everyone) should be required to watch. A contemporary re-imagining of the classic Henry James novel, WHAT MAISIE KNEW is captivating for the sheer emotional weight of the subject material which is made even heartbreaking by making the film from the point of view of the young girl, Maisie. Onata Aprile, the young girl who plays Maisie is a gifted revelation. 

    Henry Alex Rubin, USA

The film's statement could not be more painfully true: people spend more time creating digital relations than actual human connections. A sad, sad truth, indeed. Also, the final shot of this film (FYI not the screenshot above, mind you)- hauntingly beautiful.

    Paolo Sorrentino, Italy

A contemplative look on choices not made, opportunities lost, and finding one's fulfillment, LA GRANDE BELLEZZA, when it's not featuring stunningly gorgeous cinematography or engaging us in an intellectual discourse, is actually a poignant character study of one man's introspection. As if this is not tempting enough for you, the film won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and BAFTA, and is part of the Official Selection for the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. While in exhibition at the 15th Cinemanila International FIlm Festival, the film was awarded the Lino Brocka award for Best Film.

    Thomas Vinterberg, DENMARK

One small lie destroys one man's reputation, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Eventually, the true nature of all his so-called neighbors, colleagues and friends unfold faster than you could spell INJUSTICE. 

    Abdellatif Kechiche, France

The quote "Love has no gender. Take whoever loves you." is perhaps the one I best remember about BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, the French film by Abdellatif Kechiche which earned quite a global reputation after it won the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, for the film, and for its two leads Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos. Suddenly everyone wanted to watch it. After two viewings, I finally said "this is a film that will stand the test of time". More than a lesbian movie, BLUE is more of a search for identity, a heartbreaking journey that we are more than welcome to share with Adele. 

    Jason Reitman, USA 

LABOR DAY is a gentle reminder of why Kate Winslet is still one of the best actresses around. As she portrays her character's silent adaptation to terror, and to her own loneliness, Winslet grabs our attention over the minutest detail- a slight tingling of her hands, her weary eyes, her face filled with longing. Also, of all of Jason Reitman's films (JUNO, UP IN THE AIR, YOUNG ADULT), this one proves to be my favorite. Josh Brolin's gentleness vis-a-vis threatening presence is an equal match to Winslet's  vulnerability. Students should watch this as example on how to develop a plot.

    Felix Van Groeningen, BELGIUM

The poignant story of boy meets girl, and their evolution as parents to a cancer-stricken daughter is told in alternating timelines. The pain becomes increasingly real as every detail of the couple's shattering love story unfurls in a haunting fashion, as if a violent memory you cannot shake. One just cannot be simply prepared emotionally for this. 

    Destin Daniel Cretton, USA

At the center of SHORT TERM 12 is Grace (Brie Larson), a young woman who works as a supervisor at a facility for at risk teenagers. Working at such emotionally stressful environments, one cannot fully separate the professional from the personal, especially for fragile creatures as human beings. Destin Daniel Cretton's careful direction builds drama steadily and slowly, allowing characters to explore their emotions. The result is a painstakingly beautiful portrait of human connections formed in the unlikeliest of places. 

    Stephen Frears, UNITED KINGDOM

Expect Judi Dench to approach this real-life character with affecting humor and endearing pathos; coupled with Steve Coogan who is absolutely brilliant in this movie and guided with the expertise of master director Stephen Frears (THE QUEEN, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, DANGEROUS LIAISONS) and PHILOMENA becomes the sort of movie you know you will enjoy, but did not expect to enjoy so much. The plot follows ex-journalist Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) who stumbles upon the story of Philomena Lee (Dench), a woman in constant search for her son who was taken away from her many years ago by nuns at a convent in Ireland.  The journey which takes them from UK to Ireland and eventually, to the United States is a magical one, filled with hopes, and fears, and colorful anecdotes. The film's most treasured moments are when Philomena shares to Martin the plot of the romance novels she's been reading; in those scenes, you know right away that no other actress can pull it off rather than Dench.