Reviews: ‘Distance’, ‘School Service’, ‘Kung Paano Hinihintay ang Dapithapon’ (Cinemalaya 2018)

Two exquisite dramas about estrangement, and a too-familiar tale about street crime and poverty.

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Distance

Direction: Perci Intalan | Story/Screenplay: Keavy Eunice Vicente

Liza (Iza Calzado) is still drowning in grief from losing the love of her life when she receives a visit from the most unlikely person—her husband, whom she left five years ago. With no questions asked and no conditions, Anton (Nonie Buencamino) invites her back to his and their two children’s lives.

Distance establishes its tone, themes, and dramatic parameters with the very first scene: a tilting shot of a beach on a foreign land, patiently and slowly tracking Liza as she strolls up its expansive stretch. A montage of solitude follows, as we watch her spending her days alone, reading a book on a bench and killing time without company in her home. Anton knocks on her door one day, unannounced, unexpected; she offers tea, he declines, she insists. They exchange pleasantries, but Liza does not wait long to break the question: What really brings you here? He replies, I’m bringing you home. There is no need for resistance, and soon Liza finds herself in her old house, which somehow feels colder and stranger than her home abroad. Anton tells her to take the master’s bedroom while he moves to the guest room; she complains, he insists. The house is cavernous, and she goes through its rooms like a ghostly queen wandering in her empty castle.

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Reviews: ‘ML’, ‘The Lookout’, ‘Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma’ (Cinemalaya 2018)

An intense horror satire, a confusing thriller-drama, and a solemn coming-of-age film.

ML

Direction/Screenplay: Benedict Mique

Carlo (Tony Labrusca), a college student, his girlfriend Pat (Lianne Valentin), and best pal Jaze (Henz Villaraiz) get more than what they have bargained for when they decide to learn about the dark days of Martial Law from an old retired soldier who may be one of its worst abusers.

Early in ML, we are introduced to its burgis millennial protagonists in a classroom, a safe space, where they are discussing Martial Law with a professor (Jojit Lorenzo). Carlo is skeptical about the criticisms of the era, but Jaze is outright incredulous; he parrots the tired old arguments celebrating the legacies of the Marcos regime, about a disciplined public and enduring public works. The professor answers him with the standard, borderline paranoid rebuttal from the anti-Marcos side, telling Jaze that if he were that outspoken during Martial Law, he would be tortured or killed, or he would simply disappear. The professor then switches to an apologetic voice of reason: he admits that his generation became too complacent after EDSA, and that they are indeed to blame for our country’s continuing predicaments. The professor is of course talking to Carlo and Jaze as much as he is to us, the audience; this dialogue is setting the ideological stage for the rest of the film. However, it would also be nearly the last appearance of nuanced discourse in ML, because the rest of the film turns out to be an intense horror-satire à la Jordan Peele’s Get Out, albeit with a heavier hand and a more candid approach.

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Reviews: ‘Kuya Wes’, ‘Pan de Salawal’, ‘Liway’ (Cinemalaya 2018)

Stories about a love-struck clerk, a miraculous child, and a pregnant rebel.

Kuya Wes

Direction: James Robin Mayo | Screenplay: Denise O’Hara & Heber O’Hara

Wes (Ogie Alcasid) is a timid and earnest remittance clerk who falls for his customer in need, Erika (Ina Raymundo). As Wes offers to help her out, his “relationship” with Erika and his friction with his younger brother Raf (Alex Medina) starts to change him.

Like James Mayo’s own The Chanters and his associate Thop Nazareno’s similarly beloved Kiko Boksingero, Kuya Wes features a cute premise that promises a feel-good, underdog-story film, but as it delivers the charms it also deals a sucker punch, a double-edged blow that tickles your ribs as much as it wrenches your guts.

Wes is a generation older than Kiko and The Chanters’ Sarah Mae, but he is in many ways just as immature. Wes is not his real name, but a nickname of endearment given to him by his regular customers. His devotion to his clerical job is disproportionate to its prosaic repetitiveness. We watch him continually redecorate the remittance center with the latest holiday greetings as the months go on—Valentine’s followed by graduation, graduation followed by Mothers’ Day, Mothers’ Day followed by Fathers’ Day. Erika’s similarly clock-like visits, at one in the afternoon on the 16th of every month, is Wes’s sole hope of joy in his unremarkable life.

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‘BuyBust’ is a drug war-themed horror-fantasy movie

It is also a solid and enjoyable action-thriller that works less effectively as social commentary.

BuyBust, Erik Matti’s new film, may be about the horrors of the drug war, but it is crafted with an almost-festive sense of theatricality. There is no other way by which this story, about a tough-as-nails squad of law enforcers fighting their way out of a botched operation, could have derived entertainment from familiar and dark realities.

The tropes begin with the contrast between the two main protagonists. Anne Curtis, popular romantic leading lady, plays Nina Manigan, the hardened latest member of the squad, who joins them coming from a traumatic experience—she is the lone survivor of a previous operation also gone terribly wrong. The guilt haunts her, and it shows in her rogue tendencies. She is paired with Rico Yatco, played by mixed martial artist Brandon Vera, the big, bad brawler with a gentle heart, who likes telling Nina that his bottle-cap lucky charm is the key to their salvation.

Nina and Rico, with their tactical commander Bernie Lacson (Victor Neri) and an assortment of bearded and braided teammates, are sent on a buy-bust mission to capture a drug lord ostentatiously nicknamed Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). The operation that sends them to the dark heart of Manila’s slums becomes a literal trap, as the angry locals turn against them, blocking their way out of the colorful but hellish and maze-like settlement. This is more than the typical Hollywood action flick that pits cops against drug cartels in favelas; as Matti himself describes it, BuyBust is ‘a zombie movie without zombies’. The operatives try to make their way to safety by shooting, stabbing, and smashing their way through wave upon wave of bloodthirsty bodies.

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‘Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus’: delirious with desire

A mesmerizing ode to finding beauty in a dreary city.

The city, or the abstraction of this place, is an irresistible fixation for poets, fictionists and all kinds of storytellers, who spend much time imagining and fleshing out this concept or community, whichever form the city takes for their characters and purposes. Perhaps they find it wonderful how chaotic crowds of people find a measure of order when they walk down the same streets, just as seemingly disparate elements of stories seek structuring to form a narrative. Perhaps they appreciate the density of districts, which radiate the sense that there is always a story to be found just around the corner, down the alleys, inside the buildings. We all constantly desire to find the exciting things buried underneath the dreary details of life.

Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus is a captivating expression of this urge. The film, a love letter to Manila’s Avenida, weaves smoothly through the streets and spaces of the district as it tells the stories of four men linked together only by their common admiration for a woman named Aileen (Iana Bernardez, in a stunning debut). She is introduced in the glorious opening scene, walking in slow-motion on the streets, to the music of Ikaw Pa Rin, a song one could easily imagine blaring from those karaoke units being sold at Raon.

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