Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Da Possessed (2014)

Da Possessed (Joyce Bernal, 2014)

It would take a special kind of callousness to watch the entirety of Joyce Bernal’s Da Possessed without even acknowledging the suspicious circumstances behind its being made. Just a few of months prior to the movie’ release, its main star, dancer-turned-actor Vhong Navarro, was mauled inside a condominium unit. Speculations were made by the public, who were incessantly bombarded with every bit of news about the sensationalized but most unfortunate event. As of present, Navarro, with the help of his enterprising handlers, has turned into some sort of crusader, using the country’s legal system for retribution.

Navarro is cowardly Ramon, a landscape artist who happens to waken the vengeful spirits of three murdered individuals, played by John Lapus, Empoy Marquez, and Aaliyah Belmoro, while working. Navarro plays Ramon as a veritable underdog, who is incessantly bullied because of his delicate demeanor but will have to prove his mettle and bravery when defending the ones who matter to him, more specifically his family and his love interest, Anna, a Filipinized version of the sexy Shaider sidekick (complete with her trademark yellow-and-white attire that is generous when it comes to panty exposure) and played with such a joyous disregard for any sophistication by Sollenn Heusaff.

Da Possessed, for all the inanity in display, echoes a lot of the themes of Navarro’s present predicament. Beneath the jokes and gags, the movie predominantly tackles revenge against an individual who has eluded the law despite his propensity for violence. Navarro, of course, plays his character with indisputable charm and affect, showcasing his trademark talents, whether it be his comedic timing or his dancing moves, to ensure that the actor does not get lost in the character. Navarro, by donning Ramon’s clothes and quirks, becomes the unlikely hero who will pave the way for justice to triumph despite such an immense desire for the more traditional type of vengeance.

Da Possessed is an unsubtle propaganda that is crafted precisely to woo its audience back into Navarro’s side. It could be an essential part of the damage control being orchestrated for Navarro, showcasing the fact that despite the recent miserable events, he remains to be an effective entertainer.

Of course, while Da Possessed is essentially Navarro’s show, the movie would not have been as convincing if it were not for his support. Beverly Salviejo, who has been relegated to mostly minor roles in previous films, is utterly delightful as Navarro’s mischievous mom. Joy Viado, who plays Anna’s strict aunt, proves to be the perfect match for Salviejo’s mix of physical comedy and wit. Smokey Manaloto, Matet de Leon, and Joey Marquez add further color to the bunch.

Bernal makes most of her cast’s various styles in comedy, and turns Da Possessed into a spectacle of sorts, with lowbrow humor interspersing with slapstick and other types of jokes that are certain to tickle the masses. A lot of the jokes are effective, thanks largely to the cast. The movie only loses steam when it decides to abandon its atmosphere of reckless fun for some degree of logic and the off-putting and totally unnecessary moral lesson that seems to be a requisite for Filipino comedies.

In the end, Da Possessed does what most Navarro-starrers do. It sufficiently entertains. The entertainment the movie delivers might not be as guiltless as let’s say, Erik Matti’s Gagamboy (2004), or Bernal’s D’ Anothers (2005), or Cathy Garcia-Molina’s My Only U (2008), because of the circumstances surrounding its release, but there’s more to it than suspicions of exploitation or discomforting underpinnings. It’s all good.

(First published in

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel: In Praise of the Old World

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel opens with a girl paying homage to the novelist of the book she is carrying by visiting his bust in the center of a park in his hometown. By the look of all the trinkets pasted on the unkempt marker, the park, along with the prized author’s bust, has become quite a tourist’s attraction for what seems to be a country that has seen more pleasant years.

The girl proceeds to read her book, with Anderson quickly taking his audience away from the park and into the office of the novelist (played by Tom Wilkinson), explaining the intricacies of his job. While in the middle of his lecture, a little boy interrupts him by threatening to shoot him with a toy gun. He momentarily stops his lecture to threaten the boy, and continues his story.

The novelist, now thirty years younger (now played by Jude Law), is a resident of the Grand Budapest Hotel, the once luxurious home of baronesses and countesses. The hotel is just a shadow of its former glory, with its empty halls being adorned by lackluster guests and snooping employees.

The novelist has taken a fancy on the hotel’s reclusive owner, Zero Moustaffa (played by M. Murray Abraham). The reclusive owner has also taken a fancy on the wandering novelist. Over dinner, the wealthy owner recounts how the hotel came to be part of his dearest possessions.

The hotel owner’s story first takes place inside the palatial room of Madame D. (played by an indistinguishable Tilda Swinton), a very wealthy aristocrat who is about to leave the confines of the hotel. The hotel’s concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, who aptly wears an exterior of propriety while bellowing in bits of naughtiness), along with an army of the hotel’s finest employees, is with her, comforting her before her trip.

Upon her departure, Gustave notices the young Zero Moustaffa (a delightful Tony Revolori who counters Fiennes’ onscreen confidence with impish awkwardness) wearing the hat of lobby boy. Gustave starts to mentor the wide-eyed penniless immigrant, tagging him along in everything he does, including all the misadventures that have yet to happen as a result of Madame D.’s untimely flight from the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Anderson has always occupied his films with a sense of reminiscence, of harking back to days better than the present. His very distinct visual style, with its pleasing mixture of a near-absence of depth and curiously symmetrical framing, enunciates the fantasy out of the many realities he is accomplishing to tell. In a way, Anderson plays a modern and ingenious fabulist, prescribing harsh truths within cleverly told stories that are all too pleasing to immediately disarm.

The Grand Budapest Hotel has all the ingredients of an escapist fairy tale. It is set in a fictitious country dressed in alpine mountains and courteous upper folk. Its main story has an orphan arriving at an immense amount and finding his one true love while dodging psychotic villains. It is one heck of a caper, featuring a delirious prison break, a hilarious ski chase, and a mystery to keep things stirring in the middle.

However, underneath all the wily artifices of the film, it echoes a very palpable sadness. Its structure of being a story within a story within many more stories articulates how far back in history this tale of stark camaraderie and veritable honor takes place. Its allusion to the Great War that shook Europe partakes of a passing of an era of noble dispositions only to be replaced by noise and barbarity.

Anderson, by abandoning the ease of the 1.37 aspect ratio that better suits his aesthetic idiosyncrasies for the 4.3 aspect ratio that would obviously limit him but would seem to be more appropriate for Zero’s lengthy flashbacks, also gives due respect to the form of storytelling, attributing within his own cinema a desire to be transported back to those supposedly good old days.

History has changed us, Anderson seems to be imparting. We have turned into a people who look upon the past to be reminded of how it is to be human. We travel great lengths to visit monuments to be imparted the virtues of honored heroes. We read novels from decades past to recall ages we were deprived of witnessing. We tell stories and listen to stories being told to perpetuate glorious pasts. Once that has passed, we struggle to live again, ignoring the noise, avoiding the violence, surviving.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is such an ode to the old world, and to those who have immortalized it in words and pictures. Sure, Anderson’s ideal of pre-war Europe is one laced in anachronistic liberties. However, absolute creation is not the intention here. It is his mere act of storytelling, adorned lovingly it with as much of his wild artistry, that punctuates that immense yearning for a world that we can only experience through stories told and retold.

(First published in Rappler.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (2013)

Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Lav Diaz, 2013)
English Title: Norte: End of History

History is often written to objectify the past into a series of related events that lead to the present. As a result, it tends to glorify milestones to the point of neglecting the humanity that is the very soul of such a continuing story. The history that most of us acknowledge is nothing more than a collage of important dates, people, and places that shallowly define nations, ultimately trivializing them.

History, however, is also a malleable thing. It can be shaped to favor interests and ideologies. The history that is taught in schools and read in most textbooks has been precisely molded to define the Filipino nation as a product of a variety of struggles of all those who resisted colonialism and those who protect democracy. It instils both pride and a distinguishable identity to the ordinary Filipino. Any Filipino who has a respectable memory of this institutionalized history would have seen his existence as a Filipino citizen as both a gift from those who sacrificed in the past and a responsibility.

Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan’s Fabian, played by Sid Lucero, is one product of being entrenched this kind of institutionalized history. In fact, he is quite an expert of the institution, garnering respect and awe from both friends and mentors for his mastery and criticism of the establishment. A once promising law student who dropped out of school presumably out of disillusionment, he maintains a modest lifestyle replete with perspective-less intellectual masturbation and erstwhile sexual encounters with debts from and tentative relationships with former classmates and professors.

Intelligent to the point of madness, he favors anarchism to the current state of order. He has a point. The laws he has dedicated some years as a law student has bred evil people, more specifically in the film, Magda, played by theater actress and political advocate Mae Paner, Fabian’s creditor who is depicted as avaricious and excessively shrewd to her debtors. In both an effort to prove his point and out of necessity, he kills both Magda and Magda’s innocent daughter and takes off with the proceeds of his crime.

Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment immediately comes to mind. The similarities between Diaz’s film and the famous Russian novel are definitely uncanny, but it is where the two works separate that makes Norte special. Unlike Dostoevsky who concentrates on examining the criminal, Diaz momentarily leaves Fabian and centers on the real victims of his transgression, Joaquin and Eliza, played respectively by Archie Alemania and Angeli Bayani.

The couple has a small canteen in the works but an accident that broke Joaquin’s leg has forced them to pawn everything, including Eliza’s prized piece of jewelry, to Magda for a paltry sum. An effort by Joaquin to win the piece of jewelry back from Magda culminates with Joaquin inflicting violence on Magda, making him the logical suspect for the crime that Fabian committed. Joaquin ends up suffering in jail for Fabian’s crimes.

By covering Joaquin and Eliza’s side of the story, Norte separates itself from Crime and Punishment and posits an exposure of those victims of oppression. At this juncture, Diaz, and scriptwriter Rody Vera, observes the grave injustices that plague the marginalized.

When Eliza pleads her lawyer to act on Joaquin’s conviction, the lawyer mouths legalese that cannot possibly comprehended by a lowly commoner. In prison, Joaquin encounters convicts who are momentarily freed by high-ranking officials just to conduct assassinations. By mapping the linked trials of Eliza and Joaquin, Diaz explores the extent of the corruption that has plagued Philippine society. Perhaps the bigger victim of circumstance is Eliza and Joaquin’s family, who has been reduced to woe and embarrassment.

Joaquin and his family’s reaction to the injustice is bare acceptance. Joaquin fends off prison bullies with benevolence. Eliza, on the other hand, is forced to peddle vegetables for survival. In any other film, their quiet suffering may be regarded as dignity. Diaz however echoes a more painful sense of resolution that can only be borne out of an understanding that hoping can only cause more misery for their kind and their class.

Clearly, Fabian is the more fascinating character. He tests the theories he enjoys lecturing to his friends and mentors by doing away with a person that represents the greed that consumes society, and ends up the very thing he rebels against. He becomes consumed either by guilt or the pain of being betrayed by an entire life’s worth of conviction. His story is one that is defined by despair, aimlessly searching for redemption from institutions that represent everything he abhors, whether it be religion, the law, or the landowning family he abandoned a long time ago.

Fabian’s chosen path to redemption however is marked by repulsive self-preservation. is facilitation of providing legal recourse for his victims. Fabian exemplifies the same shallow concern and responsibility the ruling class has for the marginalized it has exploited for years. Philippine history has been marked by armed struggles resulting from this parasitic relationship between the haves and the have-nots, where the have-nots are made to suffer the sins of the haves and the haves maintain its moral ascendancy through hollow advocacy.

Norte, by separately exploring the lives of Joaquin and Fabian, maps the immense and glaring gap that separates social classes. Diaz posits a society where evil is bred in situations wherein easy opportunism is available. This is the same evil that Fabian sought to eliminate when he murdered Magda whose desire for profit overtakes her humanity. This is the same evil that consumes Fabian when Joaquin easily becomes the fall guy for his loathsome crime. This is the same evil that dominates the Joaquin’s prison cell, where the strong subsist on the weak. This is the very same evil that defines Philippine society and its history of the dominance of the few and the subservience of the masses.

The north of the film’s title refers to the rich province made famous by capitalist clans and political dynasties that perpetuate a culture of social stagnancy in the region. It is therefore unsurprising that many critics read Fabian’s flawed intellectual of a character as an allusion to dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who despite national derision during the decades after his downfall is still being treated a hero and a treasure in his hometown in the north. Yet Fabian is nowhere as brilliant or as ruthless as Marcos. His crime is also not as grave as Marcos’, who ensured his protracted reign by silencing and eliminating opposition. He is more of a by-product of Marcos’ legacy, the child of the colossal disillusionment his regime and the disappointment from the broken promises of the renewed democracy has brought.

Interestingly, Norte plots the fate of two families ravaged by a complete collapse of concepts such as laws and justice that keep society from imploding. Although separated by education and social class, Fabian and Joaquin’s families share the same destiny of being broken. This is the apocalypse Diaz has envisioned for the Philippines, a country where the most basic units of society are bastardized and torn apart.

Norte, as it is, is an extremely rewarding film. Within the context of Diaz’s post-Regal Films, Norte is somewhat of an anomaly. Even at a traditionally lengthy four hour running time, the film is comparably hasty, filling its hours with a substantial amount of plot. While still unflinching when it comes to exposing Diaz’s philosophical convictions, Norte is nevertheless the most traditional of his recent films, occupying a position of being an outlier in Diaz’s respected filmography in terms of accessibility.

Norte provides its viewers the comfort of being merely spectators of other people’s sufferings and sacrifices. Diaz’s fascinating use of color and framing, with the invaluable assistance of cinematographer Larry Manda, has created a visually arresting portrait of Filipino strife in the midst of a regime of invisible but very apparent oppression.

Without taking away from its numerous merits, Norte has barely touched the surface of what Diaz’s cinema is. Diaz, starting with Batang West Side (West Side Avenue, 2001) up to Florentina Hubaldo, CTE (2012) has resisted the very common tendency of filmmakers to merely expose characters in a state of anguish, by inviting his audience, whether through the extreme length of his films or through the immersive quality of his uncompromised long takes, to partially share the burden of his characters, whether it be boredom, waiting, violence or pain. Diaz has drastically taken cinema away from being a pastime of idle spectatorship.

Norte is therefore not the pinnacle of Diaz’s career. It is but an invitation to his more demanding universe of men and women trapped in a whirlwind of moral, political and spiritual crises. It is a well-adorned gate, complete with pleasures one has learned to expect from traditional cinema, to the purgatories that Diaz has created and will continue to create from his invaluable perspective on human suffering.

According to English novelist George Orwell, “the most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” Within the four hours of Norte, Diaz has mapped the disparate but connected lives of people struggling in a society that has been skewed by a history plagued with ill motivations and half-truths.

(First published in Twitch.)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bang Bang Alley (2014)

Ely Buendia, King Palisoc & Yan Yuzon's Bang Bang Alley: Violence as a 3-Course Meal

A world-weary bodyguard, played wondrously by Jimmy Santos who returns to his actioner roots, takes a well-deserved reprieve from work by spending his night singing songs from his youth in a karaoke bar with his chosen paid companion. He snaps out of his pleasant reminiscence when he hears a familiar voice singing a familiar tune from another room.

He then recounts the significance of both the song and the voice. Director Ely Buendia, by utilizing extreme close-ups and, amplifies the maddening claustrophobia, turning the bodyguard’s story into something perverse, something that telegraphs the episode’s bloody outcome. After his monologue, the bodyguard proceeds to the other room and shoots the singer with all the conviction of a man consumed by vengeance.

And so begins Bang Bang Alley, a triptych of tales that explore violence within a distinctly Filipino setting where the government is shaded in grey, the police are vulnerable to corruption, and everybody else is just waiting for that one push to explode in fits of base brutality. Buendia’s appetizer efficiently sets the tone of gloom and unpredictability that shrouds the three episodes.

Yan Yuzon’s Aso’t Pusa’t Daga opens with the lone witness of a politically-motivated massacre, played with admirable conviction by Bela Padilla, having a casual conversation with the cop assigned to keep her safe, played by Yuzon. From exploring the meandering intimacy of two individuals trapped inside a safe house, the short morphs into a disturbing probe of the ill mechanics of Philippine provincial politics.

The episode eerily echoes real events, blurring the line between Yuzon’s pulpy machinations and his very pessimistic outlook of very current events. There are no blacks and whites with the characters he conjures. Even the seemingly sinister hitman played by Art Acuna tempers his turpitude. All of the players in the grandiose stage that is Philippine politics are all morally ambiguous souls swimming in a culture of getting ahead and getting even, no matter the consequences.

King Palisoc’s Makina takes Bang Bang Alley back into the arena of the ordinary and familiar. Emman, played by Gabe Mercado in what seems to be the performance of his career as a character actor, is driver for a home-service massage business. He leads a morose life. He wakes up early to buy bread from the nearby store where the neighborhood bully who he suspects is shagging his wife is all too ready to humiliate him. At work, he has to struggle the constant nagging of his loudmouth boss.

It is therefore not surprising that when he involuntarily commits a violent act, he becomes a ticking time bomb waiting for the right moment to explode. Palisoc and screenwriter Zig Marasigan has created a setting that delivers no reprieve for the working man, with other people’s problems infesting the radio waves and the simple act of relating to other people is a difficult chore. Although the streets are empty and a stress-relieving massage is just a call away, all the elements that would awaken the beast out of the most docile of men are all apparent and abundant.

Makina is quite a feat of visual and aural design melding to turn sleepless Metro Manila into a pressure cooker for its citizens on the edge. Violence is not a depravity reserved for those with the resources to be evil. It’s innate in humanity.

While Buendia managed to control both style and substance in the prelude he directed, his Pusakal, the third and final episode of Bang Bang Alley, leaves a lot to be desired. A high society girl played by a rather unconvincing Megan Young has retreated to the mountains to stay with her aunt after killing a boisterous rich kid who left her sister bruised and beaten. Despite the outward serenity of the place, she becomes witness to a decades-long battle between her aunt and certain operatives who want the land for themselves.

The premise itself shows promise. Buendia manages to communicate the extent of violence, how it is not limited by time or place. Unfortunately, Buendia executes the concept without restraint or finesse. The scoring of the episode gives too much away. Moreover, he utilizes voice-overs perhaps to add a noir-ish effect to his episode. Sadly, those voice-overs only betray what little atmosphere and subtlety he can conjure from stuffing the short with too much technique.

In the end, Bang Bang Alley, as a collection of tales that navigate the concept of violence within a specific local context, is mostly successful. There’s a variety in insight in the three episodes that eventually cohere to create a damning and cynical portrait of society.

As a showcase of new filmmaking talent, it is predictably a mixed bad. Yuzon astounds mostly because of his ability to frankly communicate his suspicious outlook of Philippine politics. Palisoc impresses with his ability to tell the deviously common tale of a man succumbing to his inner demons with a lot of clever sophistication. Buendia is sadly the odd man out. The promise he shows in the film’s prelude is left in shambles with an episode that is dwarfed by the fine works of his colleagues.

(First published in Rappler.)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Echoserang Frog (2014)

Joven Tan's Echoserang Frog: Discreet Charm, Clever Conceit 

To completely appreciate the allure of Joven Tan’s Echoserang Frog, one has to understand the career of Shalala. Shalala, who presumably got his nickname from the erstwhile Vengaboys hit, rose to some sort of fame as the sidekick of German Moreno in his late night-early morning show Master Showman: Walang Tulugan. He left Moreno’s wing, causing a temporary rift between them, and proceeded to make a name for himself against all odds.

See, Shalala is an unlikely movie star and an even more unlikely lead star. His appeal is reliant on one’s tolerance to noise and kitsch. With his occasional shrieks and gaudy attire, he is most likely to offend than attract. Despite that, he seems to have clawed his way into some sort of success in the entertainment field. It is his particular position in current local show business as a curious anomaly that makes up the core of Echoserang Frog.

Shalala dreams of graduating from obscurity. When he learns of a possible inheritance from a very distant relative, he proceeds to borrow money and blindly initiates his quest to make his debut feature. For every step, his seed money gets smaller and smaller because of expenses both inherent to filmmaking and irrelevant to it.

Tan gamely borrows from television sitcom Two Broke Girls to document Shalala’s dwindling budget. He also takes some cues from Larry Charles’ Borat (2006) without of course the grand deception and accompanying pranks, with the flimsy tale of Shalala’s obsession overtaking his relationship with his best friend, played by Kiray Celis.

Let’s be honest however. Echoserang Frog is a horrendously crafted film. Despite having two cinematographers being credited for its look, the film is visually drab, with scenes seemingly lacking of any creative insight. Despite The easiest thing to do is to accuse the film as being an amateurish effort, meant only to cash in on the bizarre appeal of its star, Shalala.

Fortunately, the film’s unappealing look, whether it be a product of creative design or not, is apt. Echoserang Frog is after all about Shalala’s attempt to make his starring film. Considering that the attempt involved a lot of sidesteps and blunders, a film that had some semblance of gloss or sleekness would feel both false and forced. There is a discreet charm to the film’s absolute lack of sophistication. It could perhaps even be the film’s biggest joke.

Humor is definitely Echoserang Frog’s biggest asset. A lot of jokes do not work, either because they require specific knowledge of pop culture references or simply because they just weren’t executed properly. The jokes that do work however are absolutely hilarious. More importantly, unlike Marlon Rivera’s Babae sa Septic Tank which covered similar areas, Echoserang Frog does not feel like it is mining humor at the expense of others.

Self-deprecation is the key. Shalala allows himself to be the subject of ridicule. In fact, in the film’s post-credit sequence where he lampoons the anti-camcording ads that regularly screen in cinemas, he even pokes fun at the possibility that nobody would be interested to pirate his film.

All the other celebrities who performed cameos in the film are in on the self-deprecation, playing caricatures of themselves all for the sake of fun. Odette Khan becomes the queen of overacting, while Jaclyn Jose exemplifies the opposite. Lav Diaz is the self-important saviour of Philippine cinema, mumbling his goals for cinema to the detriment of Shalala’s very meager understanding.

Echoserang Frog is clearly not the film that Jose Javier Reyes is gushing about at the start of the movie. Echoserang Frog is not made to raise Philippine cinema to greater heights, or to cure poverty, or to win awards. It is what it is, a product of whimsical ambition by its titular hero. Thankfully, there is also quite a clever conceit underneath all the nonsense.

(First published in Rappler.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Diary ng Panget (2014)

Diary ng Panget (Andoy Ranay, 2014)
English Title: Ugly's Diary

The charm of Diary ng Panget, a bestselling book that started out as a serial published online, is hardly surprising. It is basically the timeless tale of poorly-treated Cinderella and her prince charming transported into the internet-age and embellished with colloquial humor. It feeds on almost every girl’s fantasy of overcoming current hardships and be rewarded with a romance that is impossible in realistic terms. With the addition of culture-specific comedy and other details, the trope has turned into a sensation big enough to be filmed.

Andoy Ranay’s film adaptation is therefore pleasing enough just as a story of a supposedly ugly girl winning her handsome prince. Unfortunately, Ranay delivers something woefully unfocused. The film is all gloss but with very little glee. A lot of the jokes are hampered by drab execution. A lot of the romance is killed by dull filmmaking. A lot of what could have been fun and hip is squandered by relentless posturing.

If there is one thing that Ranay was able to do correctly, it is the creation of a world where Eya (Nadine Lustre), the pimple-faced and poverty-stricken girl, is a definite outsider. Willford Academy is a school populated by fair-skinned and English-speaking students. Eya’s existence within such a community evidently becomes an anomaly, which is basically the seed for much of the film’s humor. Ranay obviously enjoys creating an exaggerated portrait of the upper class, as what he has done in Sosy Problems (2012) and When the Love is Gone (2013), films that depict the upper crust of Philippine society with a certain sense of both adoration and sarcasm.

Cross (James Reid), the handsome rich boy with personality issues that becomes Eya’s love interest, resides in a mansion where his troop of maids is headed by a leader with militaristic instincts. Lory (Yassi Pressman), Eya’s best friend, is both proficient in Filipino and British accented English. Chad (Andre Paras), Lory’s fervent admirer, drives a Ferrari to school and dishes out one thousand peso bills for taxi fares like they were growing out of trees. Ranay adequately turns Eya into such an impoverished eyesore, making his audience forget that the poor girl’s problem is just acne, and nothing more.

Ranay, while an able observer of class excesses, is crippled by mediocre crafting. Diary ng Panget is riddled by a lack of rhythm, which causes the film to pathetically drag its way to the predictable ending instead of sashaying confidently towards it. It is heavily scored, with a lot of the jokes and the romantic moments drowned by loud melodies or spoiling stingers. Moments that should have been climactic end up becoming duds because of awkward staging. It really is quite a pity because Ranay may have something up his sleeve but he just couldn’t properly expose them because he does not have the tools to do so.

Ranay’s adaptation of Diary ng Panget is only fueled by built-in fanfare. Sure, it will elicit the necessary shrieks of delight from its target audience, but it will not win new admirers who have an entire library of local formula-based romantic comedies that are done with a lot more finesse and expertise. The glimmer of intellect that the film tried to inject into the Cinderella tale is sadly tainted by Ranay’s lack of skill. The film drowns by its own gloss and ends up the ugly one, with no prince charming to save it from being ultimately forgotten when the thrill has died down.

(First published in