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

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

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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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‘Changing Partners’: postmodern love

The film celebrates, heartbreaking as it is, the universal difficulty of love.

In these times of shifting attitudes and emerging identities, how could films portray romantic love, that most celebrated of human relationships, with its universal allure and unchanging essence as well as its contemporary complications?

Changing Partners, Dan Villegas’ deft adaptation into film of the stage musical by Vincent de Jesus, feels like an answer to that challenge. It is the story of Cris and Alex, lovers separated by 15 years in age; this disparity is only the first among many contrasts explored in this film.

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‘Karma’ (Danny Zialcita, 1981): dying to love again

This Vilma Santos-starrer is quite cheesy, but it can be more than just a popcorn movie.

Change is inevitable, but some things are eternal—or at least, they reincarnate. In Danny Zialcita’s Karma, a film that premiered at the 7th Metro Manila Film Festival in 1981 and was recently remastered by ABS-CBN Film Restoration, we see such old, past things as a Makati City with an unrecognizable skyline. There were no cellphones yet, and the characters depended on landline services. For audiences today, the movie offers glimpses at how much life has changed in recent decades—but it also suggests that some things are undying, like love and souls and poor customer service from telephone companies.

Karma opens with a scene of lovers meeting at a clandestine location, part romantic and part spooky. Guada (Leila Hermosa) and Enrico (Dante Rivero) have barely made their amorous overtures when Limbo (Ruel Vernal)—Guada’s husband—arrives and threatens to kill the adulterous pair. He points his gun at the unflinching Enrico who, because of either some mystic foresight or simple, tragic romanticism, says “Bala lang ‘yan, katawan lang ‘to.” Limbo makes good on his threat and shoots the two, before killing himself.

The title credits are flashed in the next sequence, over a montage of babies being born in a hospital, intercut with images of the dying lovers, strongly implying that Guada and Enrico’s souls have reincarnated. Limbo’s crime of passion apparently failed to send them with finality to heaven nor to hell, and not even to limbo.

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QCinema 2017 reviews: ‘Neomanila’, ‘The Write Moment’, short films

Features on love and war, and short films from the charming to the profound.

Neomanila

Toto (Tim Castillo), a teenage orphan, is recruited by a notorious death squad. Irma (Eula Valdez), the group’s leader, soon becomes a maternal figure to the young boy. As the two form a familial bond, their loyalties will be put to the test when one of their targets turns out to be a familiar face.

In the wake of Birdshot’s tremendous success, young filmmaker Mikhail Red takes on a rather ambitious project. His debut feature Rekorder demonstrated his careful, patient craft as he told an intriguing underworld story, taking the distinct perspective of a movie pirate. Birdshot, the triumphant mystery-thriller, ventured into the past and out to the countryside, finding in the national eagle a symbol for social injustice. Now, with Neomanila, Red faces the challenge of entering familiar territory—the city’s criminal underworld—without as much of a fresh element as those found in his first two films. Local independent filmmakers have been scrambling to portray the drug-war-torn society of present-day Philippines, the same milieu that Neomanila tackles head-on. There have been more creative approaches; the topic has even found its place in a monster story, 2016’s Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B.

Neomanila mostly succeeds. It is a solid film. Red proves to be a truly confident and capable filmmaker, and his latest product has it all: well-written, well-acted, and well-designed. It is his most thrilling film so far, with impressive set pieces, displaying his definite talent for building tension.

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‘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.

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