‘Isa Pa, With Feelings’: from speechless to breathless

A love story, pure and simple, full of feelings as advertised.

“Out of sight, out of mind”, the saying goes. People tend not to think about, or at least be aware of, things that are not visible. But visibility is not enough—the saying should really come with a complementary proverb: out of hearing, out of meaning.

At the heart of Isa Pa, With Feelings, the new, humble film by Prime Cruz, is this message: that things out of our sight and out of our mind, things we take for granted such as the sense of hearing, create invisible worlds that bind people together, but that can also separate and isolate them. And because these are invisible worlds, they are not usually on our minds, we usually do not notice them—until we start truly paying attention, not just with our eyes but also with our ears. Because to understand people, for them to mean something, it is not enough to see them—we also have to hear them.

Continue reading “‘Isa Pa, With Feelings’: from speechless to breathless”

‘Tayo sa Huling Buwan ng Taon’: a world of their own

Five years later, Sam and Isa find themselves pulled back into each other’s worlds.

Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa was the study of a relationship coming to its end, and had its characters in constant motion, through trains and taxis and the corridors of a college, echoing the transient, restless nature of their romance. The theme and motif evolves in the sequel, Tayo sa Huling Buwan ng Taon: Nestor Abrogena, the man behind both films, shares that in making the sequel, to convey its visual philosophy, he came up with three keywords—flight, orbit, and gravity. But these concepts do not merely manifest in the cinematography; they also enrich the essence of a film that could easily have been just another heartstring-puller.

(Tey Clamor, the director of photography, executes the vision well, exemplified in such shots as of Emmanuelle Vera where the camera hangs at an oblique angle, seemingly floating away from her, but also inducing a sense of vertigo. Also, whereas Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa had cold colors, Tayo sa Huling Buwan ng Taon is rendered in rich, worldly tones.)

Continue reading “‘Tayo sa Huling Buwan ng Taon’: a world of their own”

‘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.

Continue reading “‘Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus’: delirious with desire”

‘Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B’: dark romance, visceral thrills

Striking visuals, genuine thrills and a few subtleties more than offset the story’s shortcomings.

Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B is a horror-romance film that seduces with millennial sensibilities: balancing its brooding atmosphere with injections of humor, delivering eye-catching cinematography and Instagram-worthy production design, featuring a hip and esoteric indie soundtrack, and setting up its scenes with meme-friendly situations. It is a movie that can be enjoyed by the most casual moviegoer—anyone seeking bloody thrills, feverish titillations, and affecting romances—yet it is a film with something to say beyond this enthralling shell of plain entertainments.

Consider, for instance, the intriguing title. For city dwellers, the manananggal is merely an ominous mythological terror, a vague threat lingering out there—but the film’s title locates the creature, makes it present with shocking particularity: she lives in an apartment just like yours, in Unit 23B. This specificity reflects how the film presents the manananggal not as a creature of pure malice, but as a person like the rest of us—only, that she is also afflicted with a monstrous other side, that terrifies her just as much as it does her victims.

The eponymous Unit 23B is not a mere quirk; the apartment points to the film’s central theme. Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B, like director Prime Cruz’s previous film Sleepless, is a story of alienation. Its protagonists, Jewel (Ryza Cenon) and Nico (Martin del Rosario), like Sleepless’s Gem and Barry, are lonely neighbors. Romance springs from this proximity: love conquers the irony of apartments, that as people come to live closer together in cities, they lose the solidarity of neighborhoods; people live together but apart, shuffling and hurrying around in urban anonymity.

Continue reading “‘Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B’: dark romance, visceral thrills”

Review: ‘Can We Still Be Friends?’ (2017)

A standard Star Cinema rom-com, with a few delightful tricks.

To provide an upfront summary of this review: ‘Can We Still Be Friends?’ is your standard rom-com, cast in the same old Star Cinema mold, with a few nice tricks up its tried-and-tested sleeve. That this movie is not groundbreaking should not be taken against it—and the story itself gives us a reason why.

Warning: this review includes spoilers.

Before anything else, let us mention the film’s worst moment: a minute or so is spent on product placement in the middle of the action. It is not as blatant or tacky as certain MMFF entries have been, but neither is it subtle. Jarring advertisements like this destroy storytelling flow. At least, the scene does not take too long. It cuts out before audiences can start hurling tomatoes at the screen.

Can We Still Be Friends? is made by the same core filmmaking team behind crowd-favorite indie Sleepless, and the horror-romance Ang Mananggal Sa Unit 23B (AMU23B), also an indie. Both films were entries at different editions of the QCinema Film Festival; Can We Still Be Friends?, therefore, represents this filmmaking band’s crossing into mainstream cinema. The team’s past work provides a convenient standard against which their latest work can be measured.

Continue reading “Review: ‘Can We Still Be Friends?’ (2017)”