Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dalaga si Misis, Binata si Mister (1981)

Dalaga si Misis, Binata si Mister (Lino Brocka, 1981)
English Translation: The Wife's a Bachelorette, the Husband's a Bachelor'

Doria (Nora Aunor) is a professional singer. Dick (Christopher de Leon) is an advertising executive. Although married for closing to three years, they have agreed to have a liberated union, giving Doria the time to concentrate on her career and Dick the leeway to play around. The arrangement seems fine until their third year anniversary when Dick gets caught up with flirtatious go-go dancers, leaving Doria alone all night, waiting for her husband on what she thought was a very special night for them. That night’s heated argument forces Doria to leave Dick, leading to the comedic events and encounters that comprise much of what makes Lino Brocka’s Dalaga si Misis, Binata si Mister such an entertaining film.

The success of Dalaga si Misis, Binata si Mister is more a product of the witty writing and the endearing performances. Brocka’s direction, while still predictably dependable, is more perfunctory than anything. Scenes are dutifully sequenced and serviceably framed. Humor is obviously not Brocka’s cup of tea, forcing him to delegate most of the comedy to the humorous dialogue written by screenwriter Butch Dalisay and deliciously delivered by Brocka’s reliable stable of actors and actresses.

Aunor gamely plays the spitfire wife who can no longer take her husband’s infidelities. De Leon, on the other hand, expertly clowns around, allowing himself to be ridiculed as the careless playboy whose immaturity has him trapped in an illicit relationship with a sixteen year old aspiring commercial model that goes out of hand. Carmi Martin, who plays De Leon’s sixteen year old lover, mixes sexy and naive, alluring and annoying, and becomes the one character that makes De Leon’s side of the story the more interesting one in the film. Supporting Martin is Bert Olivar, who plays Martin’s perpetually drunk and extorting father with immaculate gusto. Joel Alano, who plays Aunor’s lover, an up and coming singer in Aunor’s show, is tame, colorless, and perhaps the only character who does not add anything to the film, driving Aunor’s featured escapades with him in the sidelines.

Brocka may have a chance to explore the intricacies of marital discord in a Philippine setting that is more and more moving towards the conservatism that marriage represents. However, Dalaga si Misis, Binata si Mister settles to be just a display of the hilarious consequences brought about by a relationship that was not serious right from the start. While it is interesting to see Brocka strip himself of the heavy burdens of society and just have fun in the film, one can easily judge the film with all of its missed opportunities of stretching the material further to be a satirical reflection of the hypocrisies of the supposed modern Filipino marriage rather than just an admittedly engrossing series of funny scenarios involving ex-lovers and their respective paramours are just too much to be left ignored. Perhaps the real burden of Brocka is not his need to lace his art with social relevance but that he has become too associated with social relevance that all his films will be judged as to how much they shake society to its very core.

That said, Dalaga si Misis, Binata si Mister is not a Brocka film in the same vein as Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You were Weighed but Found Wanting, 1974), Insiang (1976) and Maynila: sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon, 1975). It is more a showcase of the director’s competence, of his ability to stretch his reach beyond the comfort and crutches of social relevance. It is guiltlessly enjoyable. From the opening song sung exquisitely sung by Aunor to the stupendous finale involving Aunor, De Leon, Martin and Olivar in a word war, the film was clearly crafted not to arouse thinking but to fascinate and titillate. Brocka’s clever use of star power (Aunor’s role as a singer allows her to belt out a couple of Rey Valera tunes), of Aunor and De Leon’s then indefatigable love team, of Dalisay’s adept appreciation of what is funny in what is real, are all blended together into one product that is so satisfying, one can just immediately forget about all the seriousness in the world and get drowned in laughter.

(Cross-published in Lagarista.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Unofficially Yours (2012)

Unofficially Yours (Cathy Garcia-Molina, 2012)

Perhaps the primary motivation for Cathy Garcia-Molina’s Unofficially Yours is to craft a love story that has graduated from the conservative romances that the Catholic Church would give their blessings to. Not all love stories happily end with the first kiss. Some actually begin (and sometimes abruptly end) with a night of steamy intoxicated sexual intercourse. Garcia-Molina fluently communicates that motivation for the most part. She has her characters copulating without the blessings of an official relationship. Their coffee breaks hardly involve caffeine, just intense amounts of lust and sexual attraction. In a way, Garcia-Molina has successfully created celluloid-bound lovers who not only have romantic hearts but also working hormone-producing gonads.

Unfortunately, the demands of marketability prevents the film from truly being about men and women whose romantic escapades have been paved through one night stands and no-strings-attached agreements. Unofficially Yours eventually succumbs to formula. Explanations are snatched from thin air, rationalizing the behavior of the lovers, making it seem that traumatic past relationships are needed to develop a healthy hunger for sex. Of course, these explanations are there to lead towards the inevitable conclusion of the lovers establishing the so-called norm, abandoning whatever curious arrangement that had kept their libidos sufficiently satisfied for months.

Surely, Unofficially Yours is hardly successful in initiating something new within the stagnant supply of romantic comedies from the mainstream studios. The film is still in the vein of all the romances that came before it, whether those romances involved virginal teenyboppers or problematic yuppies. The core message about love and the contagious giddy feeling one gets from relating to that love remain the same. The only difference is that Unofficially Yours is sprinkled with more sex scenes.

The innovation of the entire rom-com formula however is not the point of the film. It is charm and the guiltless enjoyment one derives from that manufactured charm. Truth be told, Garcia-Molina gives that formula and the movie studio that swears by that formula the credibility they desperately need. She crafts these escapist gems by making most of those silly things called love teams, unmindful of any pretense or artistic ambition, removing at least partially the bad taste of falling completely for a film whose only real value is just to entertain.

Unofficially Yours is just immensely entertaining. Mackie (John Lloyd Cruz) is a dentist-turned-journalist who had a very memorable one-night stand with a very beautiful woman in Bali. That very beautiful woman turns out to be Ces (Angel Locsin), his mentor in his new job as a journalist. They resume their sexual trysts, with the agreement that there are absolutely no strings attached and that they are forbidden to fall in love with each other. Mackie however starts to fall for Ces, whose hardened exterior slowly but surely soften as Mackie starts wooing her with his genuine niceness.

Garcia-Molina makes most of the resources she’s provided. Perhaps the biggest of these resources are her leads, Cruz and Locsin. From Close to You (2006) to Miss You Like Crazy (2010), Garcia-Molina has molded Cruz’s onscreen persona as the man most women want their boyfriends to be and most men want themselves to be. By utilizing Cruz’s less-than-perfect physique, evocative eyes, and considerable acting talent, she has created for Cruz a vulnerability that feels more genuine than anything else in the fantasies his characters thrive in. In Unofficially Yours, Cruz simply enunciates what makes him such a charming lead. Locsin, on the other hand, complements Cruz’s overt appeal by being less animated, more subtle.

Garcia-Molina also taps into pop culture, creating a romance whose most fantastic elements are what make it irresistibly relatable. The characters sing pop songs to each other, revealing the unabashed sentimentality that these films thrive on. Garcia-Molina sufficiently understands that there is no point to withholding the goods that the films that she makes should peddle. She just dishes out everything, from the parade of quotable swoony lines to the gimmicks that are there purely for their pleasurable consequences, unhindered except by good taste. Garcia-Molina acknowledges the confines of her craft. She neither overreaches nor underachieves, creating a film that despite its lack of ambition and failure to push the envelope as advertised is more than forgivable for its many faults because the delights and charms it provides are too plenty and sometimes profound to ignore.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tinikling or 'The Madonna and the Dragon' (1989)

Tinikling or 'The Madonna and the Dragon' (Samuel Fuller, 1989)
French Title: Tinikling ou 'La Madonne et le Dragon'

A film is like a battleground. It’s love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word: emotions,” answered Samuel Fuller when asked by Jean-Paul Belmondo what cinema is in Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou (1965). The statement is in fact the guiding principle in most of Fuller’s films, which are fundamentally inspired by all of the things that Fuller has mentioned pervade a war. His masterpieces like Pickup on South Street (1953), Shock Corridor (1963), The Big Red One (1980), and White Dog (1982) are films that are charged with the rawest of those emotions, unhindered by any pretense of subtlety. Even in the twilight of his colorful career, a period which critics have disregarded as his weakest, Fuller still made films that move and stagger like emotional soldiers in the heat of victory or defeat.

Tinikling or ‘The Madonna and the Dragon’, made for French television and shot entirely in the Philippines, is the last film Fuller directed. The film starts with the display of several photographs of domestic strife from various parts of the world like Beirut and Nicaragua. After which, photographs of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, leading to the declaration of the elections between overstaying president Ferdinand Marcos and Aquino’s widow, Corazon. The film, set a few days prior to the elections, has foreign journalist photographers chasing around Manila for that perfect picture that will catapult Manila’s chaotic situation to international standards. It pits the distance from their subjects these journalists have to acquire to succeed with the very human situations that they are forced to witness and only document.

The action begins in the middle of a trash dump. Fuller opens with an extreme close-up of the withered face of an old man who is frantically praying. The camera pans to reveal the barrel of an automatic rifle, sticking against the back of the old man. The rifle’s owner, an intoxicated soldier, orders another person to shoot him at the count of three. The other person, a female photographer named Patty (Jennifer Beals), is cursing the soldier for his inhumanity while readying her camera to shoot the soldier at the exact moment of the old man’s execution. The soldier counts to three, kills the old man, and angrily asks Patty if he shot his proud moment. Patty curses the soldier and says that she couldn’t, forcing the soldier to angrily point his rifle at her, readying to shoot. Before the soldier could pull the trigger, he is shot by another photographer from behind. Simon (Luc Merenda), Patty’s savior at that time is also her ex-husband.

The opening sequence is one that fulfils Fuller’s description of what cinema is. In a matter of a few minutes, Fuller was able to completely characterize Patty as a woman too concerned over the welfare of her subjects to be truly successful. Simon, on the other hand, is more of a mercenary, adept not only in photography but also in other skills that would land him the perfect sensational photo. The photograph he takes later on, a photograph featuring a soldier shooting an old lady who refuses to reveal the lair of the rebel vigilante group of Mindanao (Ben Cervantes), becomes the object of the film’s story.

Wanted by Marcos’ men and Mindanao’s men for political reasons because its raw power which can steer the election towards Corazon Aquino and by the foreign press because it encapsulates the situation of the Philippines under the regime of Marcos, the photograph is suddenly stolen, leading Simon and Patty to deal and connive with Manila’s underworld which features Mama (Christa Lang), the shrewd owner of a casino cum brothel, Pavel (Patrick Bauchau), a suspect goon who has ties with both Mama and Mindanao, and a prostitute (Pilar Pilapil) under the care of Mama whose romantic dealings with Mindanao seems to be the picture’s only avenue to a real dramatic heart.

Tinikling or ‘The Madonna and the Dragon’ is commendable for dealing with a very specific event in Philippine history. Inaccuracies are inevitable. For example, the film makes it seem that Corazon Aquino officially won the elections, leaving out the People Power Revolution which eventually led to Marcos’ ouster. I suppose the several days of the peaceful revolution would throw the film’s quick pace off. I also suppose that Fuller did not have full control over the final product, which is why the film is not as tightly edited as it could be. However, the film has enough Fuller in it to be assessed alongside the director’s best films.

Aside from the astounding opening, the film also features a gun fight set inside a movie theater. As Mindanao’s men are firing against Marcos’ soldiers, Fuller cuts to the gunfight that is happening in the film being screened. Fuller seems to be channelling his Pierrot le fou quote by juxtaposing the violence of cinema and the violence of the realities of Marcos’ regime in that brilliantly conceived action sequence.

The film suspiciously ends rationally. Patty finally gets the picture that betrays her earnest characterization, shooting a boy (Reginald Singh), whom Patty rescues from the trash dump from bloodthirsty scavengers early on, who kills a man who turns out to be a Marcos supporter. Simon shoots Patty shooting the picture. Corazon Aquino has replace Marcos as president of the Philippines. Against the man-made peace provided for by a luxurious hotel pool, Patty and Simon are reunited. The boy, whose peculiar grasp of the English language was learned from growing up being fed by gangster movies, is reunited with his passion for rock and roll and everything else American.

Tinikling or ‘The Madonna and the Dragon’ concludes in a way that everything that happened before, from the extreme poverty that turns children into ingenious murderers to the treachery of freedom fighters, seems to be nothing more than plot points in a continuing history of a nation. From the perspective of foreign eyes, it seems that the very real atrocities of the country are but mere subjects of pulp fiction. Fuller, like the foreign photographers he chose to concentrate on instead of the fractured Filipinos whose stories may prove to be more endearing, chose to tackle his subject from a safe distance, turning the film into an enjoyable, sometimes intellectually stirring but ultimately emotionally shallow trip back to the final days of the Philippines under Marcos’ rule.

(Cross-published in Lagarista.)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Chronicle (2012)

The Man with a Camera
A Review of Josh Trank's Chronicle

Perhaps the only thing that made true sense in all of Michael Bay’s ridiculously noisy Transformers films is a scene in the first film. The homeless robots from outer space have just landed in America, transforming into various vehicles, creating much mayhem, destruction, and fanfare. Instead of running for their lives like the adorably naïve city-dwellers of those cheap monster movies from the 50’s and 60’s, the city-dwellers of Bay’s explosion extravaganza, armed with only video-capable cellular phones or other kinds of portable cameras, go near the metal-bound extraterrestrials and commit the strange occurrences to this world’s technology-aided memory, as captured in bits of data and shared to the world through the help of the internet. That scene in Transformers, perhaps done not for depth but for shallow social satire, sets the film within contemporary terms. It is what differentiates Bay’s films from the outdated but hugely enjoyable and undoubtedly memorable cartoon series from which the films were based.

Josh Trank’s Chronicle is ostensibly a superhero movie. Three friends discover a hole in the ground with some mysterious contraption that gives them telekinetic abilities. From simple tricks they display amongst themselves, they start expanding their powers, and as their powers evolve, the limits of what their morals can take are tested. They are after all quite suddenly gods among normal men.

Chronicle’s storyline is by itself satisfying enough to merit the film some attention. The connivance of the troubled coming-of-age of bullied high schoolers and superpowers creates an experience that delightfully betrays comic book expectations. Although many of the film’s plot points are more corny than compelling, the film admirably commits to its nonsensical musings, weaving together characters that are as obnoxious or as likeable as any other person off your Facebook friends list with a plot straight out of Marvel fan-made fiction.

What ultimately separates Chronicle from other superhero films with the same normal-person-turned-superhero core is the gimmick that pervades the film. The film starts off as a home video. Andrew (Dane DeHaan) has just purchased a cheap camera and has decided to shoot everything that happens in his life. From that logic, the film is allowed to maintain the amateur videographer aesthetic, creating an atmosphere that forces you to understand the motivations behind Andrew’s drastic decisions in the future.

Interestingly, as the characters gain their telekinetic abilities, and as the cheap camera is replaced with a new and more expensive one, the film also transforms into something sleeker, with deliberate pans and zooms and interesting angles, that not only adds aesthetic variance to this so-called “found footage” film but also adds personality to the character who is supposedly controlling the camera that is capturing the action. In a way, the character is not only described through the actions we immediately see but also through the motivations we impute behind his always wanting to be filmed or chronicled.

Andrew, from the loner whose only communication with the world is through the videoclips that people someday might see, is transformed into a power-hungry megalomaniac whose zest for self-iconography can only be matched by history’s worst dictators. In one scene that is similar to the Transformers scene earlier mentioned, tourists in the viewing deck of Seattle’s Space Needle start chronicling the midair battle between Andrew and his cousin (Alex Russell) instead of running for safety, Andrew telekinetically grabs the cellular phones and cameras from the onlookers and creates a wall of cameras circling him, capturing his every movement in numerous angles.

Many critics find the film’s reliance on the so-called found footage as more damning than helpful. I disagree. Perhaps the only liability that Chronicle’s peculiar style deals is that it raises questions as to the consistency of the gimmickry. It just seems unlikely that a camera would be available just anywhere to coherently form a story in motion picture form.

However, as can only be gleaned from the near limitless videos available online, from the freak accidents in an obscure part of the world that have suddenly gone viral in social networking sites or the proliferation of very personal and intimate video blogs, there is always a possibility, one that could not have existed years before the citizens of the world did not have the ability to randomly pull out a camera to capture robots landing from outer space, of an outrageous story being told by anybody who has unlimited access to view and edit something out of all the videos produced and being produced by the billions of people who have access to cameras. Chronicle is only a Hollywood-ized expression of that fantastical possibility.

(Cross-published in Lagarista.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Gamer (2012)

Through the Computer Monitor and Back
A Review of Oleg Sentsov's Gaamer (Gamer)

You are alone. Everything you see is strange, definitely not of the world where you were born and raised. Your forearms and your hands, the only parts of your body you can see, are curiously muscular, wrapped in space age protection, and brandishing a rifle-like mechanism. You run into a corridor. Running is easy, so you attempt to jump, as soon as the corridor ends to reveal an empty space. The world you’re in definitely does not follow Earth gravity, since your jump was higher than normal. You land straight in the middle of the space.

Your few seconds of peculiar inactivity in the middle of the empty space is interrupted by a quick yet ominous buzzing sound. You got hit. It didn’t hurt but the red gauge floating on the upper left corner of your field of vision shows that it had a significant damage to your life. You turn around and see the perpetrator, wearing a purple suit of futuristic armor, charging towards you. You fire your weapon, and after moments of sparks and noise, body parts erupt from where your opponent used to be. You let out a sigh of relief. A few seconds later however, the familiar ominous buzzing sound makes another appearance. You got hit again, and as always, it did not hurt. The only difference now is that that is the last time you’ll ever get hit, at least during that insignificant painless life that only lasted for a minute and a few seconds.

Videogames have really changed. From the pixelated single player adventures that had definite storylines to finish, games are now designed to be immersive and addictive, complete with manufactured visuals that are close to reality and a certain capacity for socialization. Videogames have not only created worlds, they have created lives that are as replaceable as ammo, leading to world rules that do away with morality and the sanctity of things that are normally sacred in the real world. Videogames have allowed us to live second lives that are presided over by the very simple law of kill or be killed. However, these secret second lives, lived only inside wired bedrooms or paid game hubs, are but mutations of the uneventful and painful real lives that gave way to them. The distances between these lives are short. But to travel back and forth, unmindful of the repercussions of being sucked into the seductive delights of a life with hardly any rules and complexities, poses an inherent danger.

Oleg Sentsov’s Gaamer explores the gap between these two lives. Through the story of young Koss (Vladislav Zhuk), who has just been expelled from vocation school but is unaffected because he believes he has a future in gaming, Sentsov paints a portrait of a very mundane life that struggles for some sort of significance. The nameless Ukrainian town that finds itself as the setting for Koss’ unremarkable coming-of-age offers no opportunity for excitement. The commuter tram plies its daily route with the same ticket lady inspecting if each passenger has paid their fare. The youth are on the verge of crossing over to adulthood, choosing which particular path would lead them to satisfy their responsibilities with the most ease. Most of them talk about college or work or fulfilling an ambition leftover from an unaccomplished childhood. They wilt away, thawing towards university, or some hobby, or some vocation. All in all, it is a town that aspires for character. Its residents, as a result, can only long to escape from that lifelong boredom.

The pleasures gaming has provided Koss are countless. In his troop, he is a leader, wise in all aspects related to Quake. In the gaming world he thrives in, he is near invincible, allowing him to travel from his town to the capital to win the nationals, paving his way to compete in California along with other anonymous gamers from around the world whose possible dull lives tempt them to do better in their artificial second lives. Those pleasures, like the artificial lives that end as soon as enough hits are absorbed, are temporary. The excitement wears off. The redundancy of real life beckons. Koss has to abandon the fantasies his dissipating childhood has left to live a life that is unadorned and ordinary. Gaamer, in demystifying that particular subculture that has successfully separated generations by exquisitely pointing out the obvious sheens and motivations of those stuck commuting to the game world from the real world, exposes the need for escapism especially from the droll experiences most of humanity is forced to swallow.

In the end, even cinema is an escape. It has to be exposed for what it is. Its portrayals of truths and half-truths should be placed in a perspective of fiction, of being created by another human being. When Koss has readied to graduate from being a gamer to become an adult, he sheds his jacket and prepares to sleep. A celebratory song plays in the background, and Koss, from being melancholic in his delayed decision to grow up, beams a smile, and looks at us. The same way that he broke the barrier that separates videogames from real life, Sentsov breaks the barrier that separates cinema from real life. By revealing the artificiality of his creative exercise, he deepens his agenda, cautioning the world from being too enchanted with second, third, and fourth lives lived vicariously through avatars that are either controlled from a mouse and keyboard or directed by intellectuals behind the camera.

(First published in Filmkrant: Slow Criticism 2012.)

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Tunay na Ina (1939)

Tunay na Ina (Octavio Silos, 1939)
English Title: True Mother

History has not been kind to Philippine cinema. Due to a climate that has made film preservation a daunting endeavor and an unfortunate culture of neglect for culture, films have actual life spans of a few years before they disintegrate or be recycled into home-made trumpets. Luck, more than anything, is the primary driving force for films to last longer than they logically should. One of only a handful of extremely lucky films to survive the war and several decades of neglect is Octavio Silos’ Tunay na Ina (True Mother), a tender melodrama about Magdalena (Rosario Moreno), a mother who is in search for the daughter that was taken away from her.

A product of rape, the baby was given up by Magdalena’s father (Precioso Palma) in the hopes that she can have another chance at getting happily married with a decent man. After a few years since the baby was given to a kind woman (Naty Bernardo) who has raised her like her true daughter, Magdalena has fallen in love with Roberto (Rudy Concepcion) but is worried that the truth about her past and her missing daughter will taint their blossoming relationship. Magdalena finally decides to tell Roberto everything, confessing about the past she and her family tried so hard to hide in a letter, which Magdalena’s aunt (Nati Rubi) intercepted, thinking that the letter will only result in further heartaches.

Roberto and Magdalena eventually marry. Magdalena’s aunt reveals to Magdalena that she never gave Roberto the letter, which leads Antonio (Exequiel Segovia), Magdalena’s rapist, to extort money from Magdalena with the promise not to ruin her marriage with Roberto by revealing about their daughter. Pining for her missing daughter (Tita Duran), Magdalena, with the help of her aunt, starts to search for her and discovers that she has been blessed with a beautiful voice which she uses to beg for alms to support her ailing foster mother. Magdalena suddenly finds herself caught between her desire to be reunited with her daughter and her fear of being separated from her beloved husband.

Tunay na Ina, like many of the other Filipino films during its period wherein the popularity of the zarzuela was under the mercy of the motion picture, has its characters suddenly bursting into song to enunciate the extreme joy or sadness that they are experiencing. In one scene, Magdalena’s daughter belts out a sad tune, detailing the hardships she has to face because of her poverty. In another scene, Magdalena expresses her grief towards her father’s death through a mournful song that aptly depicts the tragedies that have befallen her ever since her daughter was given away.

Buhat (Since), perhaps one of the most famous songs from the film which was remade by Rico J. Puno in the 70’s, is sung four times in the film. The first time is during Magdalena’s first dance with Roberto, followed by their engagement. Composed by Miguel Velarde, Jr., with lyrics by Dominador Santiago, the song is an immaculate love theme, expressing the intense adoration one suddenly has upon the first time one lays his or her eyes on her lover.

The third time the theme is sung transforms the song completely. Magdalena is in the bank of a stream where her daughter’s foster mother is washing clothes. She sings the song to her daughter, and her daughter reciprocates the melodically rendered affection by going close to her, revealing what seems to be a repressed longing for her real mother through quick glances set in such beautiful melody. The delicate scene is heartbreaking, utilizing the notes and words of a romantic chorus to direct the same feeling one usually reserves for love between two people swept into ecstasy by passion towards the immense emotion a mother has for a daughter she only had the opportunity to be with at that exact moment.

The fourth time the song is sung, everything has been resolved, and everybody is happy. At that joyous moment, after all the sordid struggles the characters have to face because of the conspiracy of twisted fate and human judgment, seem to be just distant memories. In that flurry of song, happy faces, and pleasant gestures, love, whether it be between husband and wife or mother and daughter, is the only thing that matters.

Tunay na Ina may have sensibilities that are extremely outdated. The words spoken by its characters are too ornate, too flowery to be believable. The scenes are too visually unsophisticated to arouse awe. The acting is too overstated, too unsubtle to be intelligent. The plot is too simple and undemanding. However, beyond these inconsequential complaints that are only results of the technological and cultural gaps between now and then, Tunay na Ina bears something that all the complicated narratives and showy spectacles of today lacks, and that is the fluency in communicating genuine emotions.

(Cross-published in Lagarista.)

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

My Cactus Heart (2012)

My Cactus Heart (Enrico Santos, 2012)

The biggest problem of Enrico Santos’ My Cactus Heart is that its protagonist, Sandy (Maja Salvador), the owner of the titular so-called cactus heart, is nothing more than a standard-issue rom-com dame, afflicted with issues brought about by familial troubles. Except for a montage where she supposedly breaks the hearts of her various suitors, her heart is evidently undeserving of the trying-too-hard-to-be-cute moniker. She is uninteresting, unconvincing, and unromantic. Salvador attempts to add color to the hopelessly color-less character by giving an authentically earnest performance, which only does so much. Sandy is just too lazily written, with issues too trite, and a resulting romance too dry to really matter.

Carlo (Matteo Guidicelli), Sandy’s fated partner, is clearly the better half of the forced pairing. A persistent but luckless singer who finds himself employed as a waiter for the catering business of Sandy’s mother (Rosanna Roces), Carlo has all the qualities of a charmingly hapless leading man. He is eager to please, armed with all the facial contortions, mannerisms, and quick wit to melt the hardest of hearts. Together, they form an unbalanced romantic team, more awkward than awe-inspiring. Consequently, the many romantic set-ups for which the film exists for are mostly misfires instead of successes.

Santos is obviously attempting to be innovative here. Unfortunately, innovation for Santos equates to corny and hollow spectacle. As a result, My Cactus Heart is a treasure trove of pointless gimmicks, from the painfully anemic animated introduction to the poorly conceived dialogue that aspires to be wittier than the average rom-com but miserably fails to be either funny or intelligent. Even the love triangle with bland business owner Benedict (Xian Lim) that the movie belatedly introduces seems to be a mere desperate attempt to inject some bit of excitement into the terminally tedious love story, and even that fails.

My Cactus Heart is the first film produced under the Skylight label of Star Cinema. Skylight, patterned after the supposed independent arms of major Hollywood studios like Fox Searchlight, seeks to tap the country’s bustling independent film scene to reinvigorate the mainstream with new stories and new ways of storytelling. Unfortunately, with My Cactus Heart, it seems that the only function of the Skylight label is to again exploit the already severely exploited idea of going independent by equating it with filmmaking with clear budgetary restrictions and an added goal of providing movie vehicles for untested up and coming future movie stars.

My Cactus Heart, like its main character, is nothing more than a standard issue rom-com, a substandard product that needs a little bit more time in the factory before being released to the paying public. There may be little glimpses of real ingenuity in the filmmaking but every time these glimpses appear, they are quickly enveloped by a general lack of imagination or an institutional refusal to cross the line and to genuinely innovate, resulting in half-baked endeavors that are only pieces of clutter in a movie that doesn’t really have anything worthwhile to say about love.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)