Friday, May 19, 2006


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100 movies you should see before you die
This author is proud to be a contributor to, SUPERBRANDS 2005 Awardee.

Most of the film reviews here are published in

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Genre: Drama/Romance
Director: Peter ChanStarring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jacky Cheung,
Director: Peter Chan
Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jacky Cheung, Zhou Xun, Ji Jin-Hee
RunTime: 1 hr 47 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: PG

Opening Day: 8 December 2005


A movie-within-a-movie, featuring a love triangle plot that parallel between several actors’ lives. Jealousy, hatred and passion ignited by memories of the past, collide and culminate through the intervention of a seasoned heavenly being, a modern Cupid, who shares their joy and sorrow.

Monday, December 12, 2005


When war breaks out in the lull of summer 1914, it surprises and pulls millions of men in its wake. Nikolaus Sprink, exceptional tenor at the Berlin Opera House, will have to give up his prestigious career and the one he loves: Anna Sorensen, soprano and singing partner... Palmer, Anglican priest, has volunteered to follow Jonathan, his young church aide. They leave Scotland, one as a soldier, the other as a stretcher-bearer… Lieutenant Audebert has had to leave his wife, pregnant and bedridden, to fight the enemy. But the Germans now occupy the small town of Northern France where the young bride has probably given birth. Unless the worst has happened…. Having no news is the suffering which haunts Lieutenant Audebert’s every night…And Christmas arrives, with it’s snow and multitude of family and army presents. But the surprise won’t come from inside the generous parcels which lie in the French, Scottish and German trenches.That night, a momentous event will turn the destinies of Nikolaus, Anna, Palmer and Audebert around. Because the unthinkable will happen: rifles will be left at the bottom of the trenches to go, candle in hand, to see those opposite, shake their hands, exchange a cigarette and a piece of chocolate, wish them "Merry Christmas"...

Release Date: March 3, 2006 (NY, LA)
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Christian Carion
Screenwriter: Christian Carion
Starring: Diane Kruger, Benno Fürmann, Guillaume Canet, Gary Lewis, Dany Boon, Daniel Brühl
Genre: Drama, War

Data from Visit official site here.

Friday, December 09, 2005


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I have been sidelined for weeks from watching any new movies except JUST LIKE HEAVEN (Rob's Place Manila) because of, uhm, a Korean soap entitled JEWEL IN THE PALACE. Because I can't stay until 9:30 PM every night just to watch the series, I availed myself of a 19-set DVD box courtesy of my favorite suki in RFC Mall just 4 blocks from my house. I have been hooked ever since. I'm currently on the 6th CD yet.

No, it's not the interminable plotting between warring families inside the royal court of the Chosung (or Joseon) dynasty that got my attention (it was pretty much becoming irritating already) and neither was it the lead character Jang Geum's underdog status. It was the food. Yes, the food preparation which is central to the story of this real-life Korean saga. The focus on food, its preparation, and its relation to health maintenance is just amazing. An interesting insight is also given to the apparent power of the Chinese court and Korea's relations to China during this particular period. The arrival of the Chinese Ambassador is always a cause of great consternation among the kitchen staff as he is known to be so picky with his food that heads are known to have been lost if he was displeased.

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The TV miniseries Daejanggeum, or Jewel in the Palace, which first aired on MBC from September 15, 2003 to March 23, 2004, set many new records. The miniseries, whose viewer rate averaged 47%, and even reached a high of 57.8%, is based on the story of a real historical figure (Jang-geum) who was the first and only woman to serve as head physician to the King in the rigidly hierarchical and male-dominated social structure of the Joseon Dynasty.

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Daejanggeum, in English, “the Great Jang-geum,” caught the attention of Korean TV viewers with its unique combination of two themes: the successful rise of a female, which is rarely covered in historical genre, and the elements of traditional food and medicine. Now that it is here in the Philippines, I hope Filipinos will find time to watch it and learn more about our neighbor in the north. Read more about it here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Finally saw A CHORUS LINE and FUNNY GIRL today after I woke up from another horrible night of work. I agree with JGC that A Chorus Line (1986) is a boring film, saved perhaps by some really great songs and wonderful choreography. Some of the songs you'd easily recognize would be "One", "What I Did for Love", and "Nothing", the latter being a mainstay in any Lea Salonga concert performed to obviously spite her former detractors.

I found Funny Girl (1968) very amusing in many parts. Streisand's first foray into film (which won her the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1969) was just a reprise of her role in Broadway. Story has it that Shirley Maclaine was first considered for the role but producer Ray Stark insisted on Streisand.

Familiar songs from the film were Streisand classics "People" and "Don't Rain On My Parade".

A huge THANK YOU to Steve A. for lending me these DVDs.


Because of the success of last year's 1st Cinemalaya, the CCP has decided to forgo of the supposedly 2-year wait to start the 2nd Cinemalaya next year, July 17 to 23, 2006!

For film lovers in Manila, this is good news indeed but more so for the Philippine film industry. The most-remembered entry of the lot, 'Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros' is opening for a commercial run next week, and will compete in Sundance, Hong Kong, and San Fransciso festivals!

Check out the film goodies awaiting you in next year's festival here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

ILUSYON (2005)

Was rushing to Rob's Place Ermita last night to catch ILUSYON, a film by Ellen Ramos and another director whose career i've been following - Paulo Villaluna.

Set in 1958, Ilusyon tells the story of Miguel, a young man from the countryside, who decides to visit his father, Pablo, a Modernist painter in Manila. Upon his arrival, he discovers that his father has decided to leave for the province to heal from depression after the death of his wife and Miguel’s mother. Miguel opts to stay in Manila for a vacation – where he finds a job as house painter and realizes that city life might fit him well. One day, he meet Stella, a nude model originally scheduled to pose for Miguel’s father. Struck by her beauty, Miguel does the unthinkable – he pretends to be his father Pablo. He pretends to paint her and hides his doodles from the unwitting Stella. Developing a relationship based on a lie, things turn for the worse as Stella begets a strange skin disease that turns off Miguel. Surrounded by strange characters – a talking cow, a talkative mailman and a nosy landlady – Miguel driven into a frenzy realization about beauty, lust, love and being true to oneself. An ambiguous ending underlines the surreal tone of the film.

Based on a true story, co-written and line produced by maverick independent filmmaker Jon Red, Ilusyon is the debut narrative full-length film by award-winning independent documentary and animation filmmakers Paulo Villaluna and Ellen Ramos. Shot in 5 days with an approximate budget of only $16,000, Ilusyon is the second film produced by Digital Viva, the digital production are of Viva Films. Ilusyon avoids the melodrama specifications of the period drama as well as the hip maneuverings of the digital explosion in the Philippines, delivering a surreal and deliberately paced portrait of a young man caught in maelstrom of weird events. (Cinemanila 2005)

I can't say I had a wonderful time. It can be a bore in some places but the photography and the score will keep you up most of the time. Credit goes to whoever was in charge of these two things. None of the websites i've seen show their names, poor people. The whole affair borders on the avant garde. The musical numbers are very French, or should I say, LVN and Sampaguita? Still, the work looks sadly too dim on screen. Again, this is the result of transfering digital to 35mm. Robinson's should get a nice 10,000-lumen projector quickly!

This is the second film to get an A grade from the Cinema Evaluation Board after 'LA VISA LOCA' by the same outfit. I heard 'La Visa...' tanked at the tills. I hope 'Ilusyon' gets its due with Pinoy audiences.

Monday, November 21, 2005


View trailer here.

Friday, November 18, 2005


For us who have the faintest memory of the Marcos years, the closest thing to say would be that it's just like going back to Cory's time when the Americans were still here. With the spectre of a US-RP crisis looming on the horizon that will definitely come along with the trial of 5 or 6 (depending on the source of info) US Marines for the rape of a young girl from Zamboanga, one cannot just sit back and ignore it all.

By the way, I came across this photo during my search of something relevant to my topic today. This is a the cover of the VCD of 'Minsa'y Isang Gamu-Gamo' where the famous line "My brother is not a pig!!!" came from. You can click on it to enlarge. This was filmed in 1976 by Lupita Concio, a year after I was born.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


The production on Roman Polanski's OLIVER TWIST is finally over. This is the 4th version of the well-read social satire set in England's Industrial Revolution by one of my favorite authors of all time, Charles Dickens. To be shown in theatres in 2006.

Monday, November 14, 2005


Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl or Tian Yu is a movie based during the 1970s and the time of the People's Republic of China's Cultural Revolution's Down to the Countryside Movement, instituted by Mao for political reasons.

Xiu Xiu, a 15-year-old girl living in the city of Chengdu, moves out to study how to herd horses in the countryside of Sichuan and quickly discovers that she is never to return to her parents. She learns lessons about love and life as she struggles against corruption in the government to return to her family by giving officials her body for their sexual gratification, and deals with her caretaker, Lao Jin.

There are several instances when you wish you could confront Lao Jin regarding his non-action on Xiu Xiu's problems. Baffling as well was Xiu's decision to have herself shot (to death). This was hardly any way to escape her dilemma.

It's a very sad film but it gets your attention alright. In passing, I was reminded by Zhang Yimou's THE ROAD HOME, which was filmed during the same year. There's almost a parallelism between the two stories and Zhang Ziyi's role as Zhao Di was almost none the happier than Lu Lu's Xiu Xiu.

At any rate, Lu Lu became the youngest Best Actress winner in the history of the Taiwan-based Golden Horse Awards in 1998 for this film.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Stills from VICTORY JOE (1946), LVN Pictures, 97 minutes B&W. Featuring Rogelio de la Rosa, Norma Blancaflor, Art Cantrell, Jose Cris Soto, Amelita Sol and Pilar Garcia

The Filipino Movie Industry is the youngest art form existing in Philippines. The Filipino Movies have evolved considerably over the years. In fact today it has become the most popular of all the other existing art forms in Philippines. The Movie Industry in Philippines began only in 1897.

Since the inception of the Filipino Movie Industry, the movies that have been produced have fallen into a wide range from the silent movies to the talkies. The Filipino Movie industry took over the other longer existing art forms of the country. It easily gained acceptance from one end of the country to the other end.

The viewers of the Filipino Movies came from all walks of life. The Filipino Movies reflect the culture and the beliefs of the people who are the prime audience of these movies. In fact it is the movies which shape the consciousness of the Filipino audience.

Since the 1930 were the early years of the Filipino Movie Industry it was more like a time of discovering film. It was a new art form at that time. The stories for the Filipino Movies came from the theatre and popular literature. And though the industry was fraught with heavy restrictions on the filmmaking, nationalistic films were still in vogue.

The 1950s marked the Golden Years for the Filipino Movie Industry when the movies matured and were artistic. The 1960s brought about a lot of positive changes in the Filipino movie industry, but at the cost of artistic decline. In the 1970s and 1980s there were positive and negative changes.

Now, in the new century, the industry is engaged in a muddle of genres, plots, characterization and cinematic styles. Filipino Movies, in short, have reached a full circle.

(Source: Filipino Movies and Film Resources)

Saturday, November 12, 2005


At least twenty (20) new titles join the ever-growing collection at The Film Library today. Maybe the target of 1,500 titles by the end of the year wouldn't be such a far-fetched goal after all.

Lots of European titles this time, a smattering of Chinese films (and finally, an 'IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE' dvd!), and several pink films. The problem with the latter is that most are overrated but almost always turn out really bad, bad stories.

Will make a list soon of these new titles. And yes, the latest film from Gus Van Sant.

Other Gus Van Sant titles in the Library:

Goodwill Hunting (1997)
Psycho (1998)
Finding Forrester (2000)
Elephant (2003)


Finally got a copy of this hilarious film, a unique take on contemporary life and the ongoing struggle people have while connecting with others.

Cannes Film Festival (Critics Week Grand Prize, Golden Camera, Prix Regards Jeune, Young Critics Award)

Sundance Film Festival (Special Jury Prize)

Visit the site here.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Cesar Montano won the Best Director plume in this year's Brussels International Festival of Independent Film. His entry 'Panaghoy sa Suba' (Cry of the River) also won Best Film.

Read the rest of the story here.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


The most beloved musical of all time celebrates its 40th anniversary with a double-disc DVD with never-before-seen footages.

Friday, November 04, 2005


A Cannes entry, it is a story of three teenagers: a beautiful girl, Vanessa, and two boys, Mickael and Clement, one rich, one poor. The story of Mickael - judo fanatic and doomed lover - and his parents, both convinced that the sky will one day come crashing down on their heads, and both more than able to cope when it does. Blackly comic, brutally funny, heartbreaking, truthful. A tragi-comedy. About happiness and hardship, sex, luck and catastrophe.

Directed by Anthony Cordier. Visit the site here.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


A Chinese-American surgeon, living in Manhattan, is shocked when her single mother shows up on her doorstep pregnant. To help her mom save face and avoid the taboo in the Chinese community of an unmarried woman pregnant, the doctor helps her mom find Mr. Right. The thing is she, too, has something she's keeping from her Mom!

An enrty to the Sundance and Toronto festivals, it explores culture shock, acceptance, love and family. Reminds me so much of THE WEDDING BANQUET! This is director Alice Wu's first film. The story is based on her own coming-out book.

So nice to see Joan Chen again, who I saw last in THE LAST EMPEROR. Visit SAVING FACE here.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005



I already sensed it from the trailer: this was Panic Room, Airborne Edition. The similarity is uncanny save for the setting but I won’t let this dampen my mood because this was one film I have long waited for.

Quintessential actor Jodie Foster plays a grieving widow named Kyle Pratt on a flight to New York from Berlin with her six-year-old daughter Julia (Marlene Lawston). In the jetliner’s cargo hold is a coffin, and in the coffin is the body of her husband who supposedly died last week under accidental circumstances. Kyle has quit her job as a propulsion engineer in Germany, and is returning to the United States on the very aircraft she helped design to spend time mourning with her parents.

Three hours into the transcontinental flight, Kyle and her daughter fall asleep. When she wakes up, Julia has vanished. Kyle calmly walks around plane but Julia can’t be found. Kyle talks to other passengers, the stewardesses, and they all claim not seeing her or remember seeing Kyle go onboard with a child. Kyle starts to panic, and demands to see the Captain (Sean Bean) who informs her that her daughter isn’t on the passenger manifest – they even produced a death certificate claiming she died with her father - and that as far as they can tell, she was never on the plane to begin with.

From this point on, Jodie’s mind – and ours – start to race. We all saw her board the plane with Julia, and they even had an intimate mother-daughter conversation before the flight. What’s going on? Already emotionally devastated by the unexpected death of her husband, Kyle desperately struggles to prove her sanity to the disbelieving flight crew and passengers while facing the very real possibility that she may be losing her mind. While neither the plane's Captain Rich, nor Air Marshal Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard) want to doubt the bereaved widow, all evidence indicates that her daughter was never on board, resulting in paranoia and doubt among the passengers and crew of the plane. Finding herself desperately alone, Kyle can only rely on her own wits to solve the mystery and save her daughter.

A Robert Schwentke debut film, the German indie filmmaker turns in a rather emotionally draining, mind-boggling thriller that approximates an earlier Foster-starred film, Panic Room (2002), but this time while cruising at 30,000 feet in the air. The audiences are made to think that she is crazy, what with her emotional lability compounded by being on antidepressant medication. This game is played for about a third of the 98-minute film until a sharp turn in the latter half of the story makes it all clear to us: the “disappearance” of Julia is a cover-up for a much-bigger menace onboard!

The film is intense and the performances, as you’d expect from this kind of cast, are absolutely stellar. You also cannot be blamed if you start becoming wary of flight attendants from hereon, but the crew was very good in coming across as rude and unhelpful. Throw in a little suggested hanky-panky between two flight crews – and in the middle of the search at that – and the picture is complete. No wonder flight attendant unions all across the globe are up in arms over the portrayal of FAs in this film.

Jodie Foster lends credibility to a frenzied role that has her pulling at extremes. She occupies her role so fully that some moments of the film really shine with tension and anxiety. Director Robert Schwentke really knows how to move the camera and keep a steady rhythm, and the film is better for the talents of the rest of the cast and James Horner's cool, restrained score.

The first half of the film does an excellent job of keeping the audience in suspense. Pratt's sanity is definitely in question, as are her motives and the motives of the crew. Post 9/11 anxiety is also exhibited with a bite at profiling poor Arab passengers as those who took Julia, and there’s no attempt anywhere in the film to apologize for this lapse in judgment.

Nevertheless, the film is taut with excitement running an all-time high in several instances, but sometime it can be a little bit of a drag. The ending, however, is a major head-scratcher and may appear to have wasted the entire film. Maybe after going through an overly complicated plot, the writer just wanted to end it on a rather safe fashion. Talk about total lack of imagination.

Suffice to say that the musical score and cinematography saves the day for ‘Flightplan’. Credits go to Florian Ballhaus of ‘Gangs of New York’ fame for the latter. He has created a look of soothing airline lights in blue and reflective colors which are just perfect for a thrilling experience.

In the end, ‘Flightplan’ is a wild, escapist trip that challenges all sorts of assumptions. One may approach this film with answers already in mind but Schwentke has made sure you’d realize this is not the same flight as the others. And what a ride it had been!

Catch the official opening on November 6 at your favorite cinema.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


I have always been a fan of Japanese movies. In fact, I'm a newbie in this genre and most, if not all, works I've been exposed to are those by Akira Kurosawa, Japan's preeminent filmmaker. Thanks to Criterion Collection titles which are thankfully becoming widely available, and to my annual attendance to EIGA SAI, the twice-a-year Philippine-Japan Friendship Festival, I have been exposed to more and more Japanese works, even those by contemporary directors. Many thanks to my friend from the Japan Foundation, Mr Rudy Lagman, for the invitations.

Here are my top ten favorite films from Japan. For now. Not in any particular rank.

1.) DREAMS (Yume), 1990 Akira Kurosawa

2.) RED BEARD (Akahige), 1965 Akira Kurosawa

3.) DOLLS, 2002 Tekeshi Kitano

4.) Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime), 1997 Yuriko Ishida

5.) Nobody Knows (Daremo Shiranai), 2003 Kore-eda Hirozaku

6.) Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai), 1954 Akira Kurosawa

7.) Rashomon, 1950 Akira Kurosawa

8.) Tokyo Story (Tokyo monogatari), 1953 Yasujino Su

9.) Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei), 2002 Yoji Yameda

10.) Zatoichi, all versions 1964-(Adventures of Zatoichi by Kazuo Mori); 1967-(Zatoichi The Outlaw by Kenji Misume), (Zatoichi's Vengeance by Akira Inoue), and 2003-(Zaotichi by Tekeshi Kitano).

Saturday, October 29, 2005


From television, the Korean invasion of the Filipino consciousness moves on to the silver screen with the Tagalog-dubbed Korean film, ‘Yeopgijeogin geunyeo’, or what is more popularly known as ‘My Sassy Girl’.

Released in 2001, ‘My Sassy Girl’ became the 2nd highest grossing film in 2001, and the 5th in Korea’s box office history. It was so popular that a remake by Dreamworks SKG is currently in the works under the direction of Gurinder Chadha (of ‘Bend it like Beckham’ fame) and is due to be released in 2006.

‘My Sassy Girl’ is based on an on-line serial written by Kim Ho-sik that detailed his relationship with his slightly unhinged college girlfriend. This was eventually compiled into a best-selling book and caught the attention of director Kwak Jae-young, who wrote the script for the film.

The story kicks off with college student Kyun-woo (Korean pop singer Cha Tae-hyun, in his feature film debut) crossing paths with a drunk girl (Jeon Ji-hyun) on a late-night subway. She was so drunk that she –excuse me – vomited over one of the passengers. Just before she passes out, the girl looks at Kyun-woo and calls him 'honey'. The other passengers, assuming him to be the hapless girl's boyfriend, demand that Kyun-woo look after her. After carrying her on his back for what seems to be miles, Kyun-woo drops the girl off at a motel. But instead of leaving her and getting on his way, Kyun-woo finds himself intrigued by the nameless girl and vows to do whatever he can to heal her sorrow.

But Kyun-woo didn’t have any idea what he was in for. The moment the girl woke up, all hell broke loose. She is an irreverent, unapologetic girl – hence “sassy” – who has the tendency to be paranoid, extremely violent, and weird - all of which ran counter to her sweet countenance. She’s a demon in angel’s clothing, waiting to pull the next rug under Kyun-woo’s feet. Unfortunately for us, she remained unnamed throughout the film and we can only shake our heads at her off-the-wall antics.

The work is divided into two parts: the first is where Kyun deals with Jun’s eccentricities. This portion covers the character buildup part. The second is when they realize that they are falling for each other. This is when the film slows down to focus on the characters’ inner feelings – that Jeon’s bizarre attitude is just her way of masking her personal fears arising from a past experience of a sad relationship (her ex-boyfriend drowned in a lake) and the fear of getting burned when she decides to get into one again. Audiences will find a little bit of themselves in this film which, despite the many clichés, can be one amusing and heartwarming thing to see.

The fact is, ‘Sassy Girl’ can also be quite irritating to watch if you’re not one who relishes slapstick comedy, but given Korean culture where the young can actually be as boisterous as Jun Ji-hyun’s character (the popular soap ‘Sweet 16’ on GMA7 is one affirmation of this observation), perhaps we have to accept this kind of behavior as something that is pretty much normal. Add to this Kyun-woo’s perennial constipated look which makes one wish he were being slapped more often than what is necessary. However, for the very observant, the film has its own Easter eggs. The elements of coincidences and symbolism are very important aspects of Korean cinema and they are very well used – and extensively at that - in ‘Sassy Girl.’ It’s up to you to find out what these are.

This film marks the return to the screen of director Kwak Jae-yong after close to a seven-year absence. Actress-model Jeon Ji-hyun followed this film with ‘Windstruck’ but it wasn’t as popular in Korea because it looked similar to ‘Sassy Girl’, but it was a major hit in Japan.’

‘Sassy Girl’ combines all traditional elements of a romantic comedy – melodrama, slapstick, and parody rolled into one distinct cultural presentation of present-day Korea. Catch it in major cinemas this week!

Friday, October 28, 2005


I haven't had the chance to visit this Erap creation until last Tuesday when I picked up a nice gift from Barnard Miranda, currently the in-charge of the newly-opened Mowelfund Museum of Film History.

I didn't bring my camera during my visit because I though it wasn't allowed to take them inside but since there hardly are any stuff like paintings that will be affected by a camera's flash, i'd be bringing one next time I drop by again.

I also got to visit their work spaces and got to peep inside Nick Deocampo's nice office. Along the way, however, you will notice certain things that are out of the ordinary: The building is generally spooky. Wires are left hanging out of unfinished ceilings, and doors open to empty rooms. Dust is everywhere. And that smell...something that's like vinegar but not quite.

Being the keen observer that I am, I realized it was coming from - horrors - rotting film. Reels upon reels of them. Some are in their reels, some have been unspooled (or whatever it is you call them in that state), while several dozens are still in their cases.

I do recall having read somewhere that these have been moved here from the defunt Manila Film Center, the archives of which have been flooded many times before aside from the fact that the building has been condemned long ago.

It was a heart-breaking scene too see all these films lying about in several rooms with the windows open. I know for a fact the Institute is in deep shit. I mean, whoever brought these films here perhaps might also have a budget in mind to fund their restoration and storage?

Barnard informed me that several of these have already been restored and are now kept in an airconditioned room somewhere in this 5-story building. Also, kudos to Deocampo for finding mint condition copies of films like ZAMBOANGA (1936), which opened last year's Pelikula at Lipunan, and TAGUMPAY NG MAHIRAP. The former featured Fernando Po, Sr. and the Rosa de Rosario, best remembered as the first Darna. The latter was a biopic of former President Dado Macapagal.

If anyone from the Institute find themselves accidentally reading this, please forgive me if I upload some photos by November. Think of it not as a way of pissing off or embarrassing you guys, but to raise awareness and consciousness regarding the sad state of our film archives.

Who knows? Somebody who might be able to help might read this entry soon enough.

Visit the Mowelfund Film Insitute here.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Saw MASAHISTA (The Masseur) tonight at the Gateway Mall and theatre 4 where it was shown was three-fourths empty on its last day in Manila despite the high-profile media blitz resulting from its winning the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival.

I am at a loss if I should even write this. I was severely disappointed with the film, and yet all reviews I’ve read – from Business World's Doy Ariola (Thanks, Sir Ariola!) to Philstar’s Butch Francisco’s, sang its praises! Is there something they saw in it that I didn’t?

‘Masahista’ generally is a ‘quiet’ film despite its risqué topic, with moans, grief, and lotion slick as the sounds that reverberate in its 80-minute run. Transferred to a 35mm frame from a digital medium, the film has a somber mood to it owing perhaps to the topic at hand: abject poverty that has driven a 20ish boy to take on a job as a masseur in Manila servicing an all-gay clientele. Aptly called “Club Maharlika,” (“maharlika” means “a free man”, by the way, and I hope the comparison is not lost to audiences) the parlor is home to several brawny masseurs from Pampanga and Cebu who have their own reasons for doing the job.

With this theme in mind, one cannot help but remember the great Lino Brocka and his milestone works MACHO DANCERS (1988) which launched the career of his newest discovery, Allan Paule, and MANANAYAW (1988) which had greenhorn Philip Salvador essaying the lead role. Together with Mel Chionglo’s SIBAK (1995), these were among the first and only Filipino films to be sold in Europe for the longest time, and may have forever formed that continent’s image of the Philippines.

And along comes ‘Masahista’, the most recent Golden Leopard winner for Video (along with Canada’s LES ÉTATS NORDIQUES) at the 58th Locarno. Incidentally last year, we sent O’Hara’s BABAE SA BREAKWATER to Cannes. It may have been lost to European audiences and Filipino filmmakers but we seem to be sending the same themes to Europe for the last 17 years! It’s already strengthening the image that not only have we not improved socially, we have even become worse.

Let me make it clear. My bone of contention with ‘Masahista’ basically lies on its technical aspect and the overexposure of scenes which depicted masseurs and their clients as they do their stuff in dingy cubicles. I agree with some reviewers that these scenes can be deleted or at the very least, tightened. In fact, I am shocked that a newcomer like Coco Martin agreed to do a scene where client Allan Paule gets to - excuse the term - butt fuck him. I am pretty sure no other young actor who is just starting out would have agreed to such a scene (try this with any of the Starstruck winners and see if they would!), and I salute Martin for his courage and for putting his career on the line.

The challenge for (poor) Coco Martin is that he should prove that he’s not another pretty face, and must do everything to move on to better projects less he suffer the fate of some of his costars –Paolo Rivero, for example – whose careers ended long before they even started. With pretty faces becoming dime-a-dozen these days but without enough exciting projects to work on, new and young actors will increasingly become prey to the sex(y) film genre: the classic fallback when all the rest of the Philippine film industry fails. It’s a sad truth with miles of reels as proof.

Also, I am rather surprised that CBCP and conservative groups neither raised a howl nor a whimper over this film, the scenes of which are far more lurid than Jose Javier Reyes’ LIVE SHOW (2001) which, if we all recall, resulted in its banning and the eventual resignation of MTRCB Chair Nicanor Tiongson. I suspect it’s the Locarno win that saved the day for ‘Masahista.’ With a PGMA congratulatory message to back it up, it was finally granted an R-18 without cuts.

On the technical aspect, there is that lousy translation job from Capampangan / Cebuano / Tagalog to English. I raised this concern during the CCP’s Cinemalaya but it seems that it is getting to be very difficult finding credible translators. Then there’s the sketchy photography. The OBB alone already makes you think this was one bad job from both the Photography and Editing departments.

Coco Martin: how will he move from here?

Using the often-used contrasting of two parallel events – here depicted as Iliac (Coco) servicing a client and the final service a son does for his dead father. I must admit it is an effective style but it is not enough to arouse sympathy nor does it make a strong statement. It must be the cynic in me or something, but I do have reservations about Father-son themes because of personal experiences.

The nuances of the Capampangan and Cebuano languages were captured well by employing actors who are primary speakers. Since I speak and write in both, it was a pleasant surprise to hear them used in a local film. Coco’s attempt at Capampangan, for example, was pretty much acceptable.

The sight of a horizontally-growing Jaclyn Jose makes me wonder why she is stuck with this kind of genre. I would have asked Allan Paule the same thing if I had the chance. While this is all nothing new to Ms. Jose, star of Chito Roño’s PRIVATE SHOW (1986) and TAKAW TUKSO (1986) by William Pascual, and who appeared as a prostitute in a Cinemalaya entry SARONG BANGGI (2005), I seriously wonder if she has more plans for her future other than starring in low-budget films. I know her, although not personally, to be a staunch supporter of new directors and new material and this may be the reason for her being a part of projects like ‘Masahista.’

Honestly, with a topic like this and despite the fact that it may not necessarily pander to the prurient, any gay man will find delight in watching ‘Masahista’. In fact, it appears to have been created to please this particular sector although it would be too sad if it were to be billed as a “gay film” from hereon because - and I say this without meaning to insult the community - the message of this film would be lost. If the orientation was meant to be a marketing ploy, this should very well pay off. I have yet to read about how well – or bad – it is doing in the box office. If Chris Pablo’s (supposedly) Wong Kar Wai-esque DUDA (2004) was able to make it (and it was far lousier than anything I’ve ever seen), ‘Masahista’ can, too although I’m making a rather bad comparison here.

Given the chance, I’d rather watch ILUSYON by Ellen Ramos and by another favorite director, Paolo Villaluna - also a scholar of Mowelfund like Mendoza - who is more known for his short film PALUGID (Margins). PALUGID is the 2001 Second Prize winner at the 24th Gawad CCP; Best Short Film at the URIAN, and an official entry to the Yamagata and Overhausen festivals. I saw it in a Pelikula at Lipunan festival in Cebu several years ago, and have sought out friends in Mowelfund to convince Villaluna to lend me the VHS copy for transfer to DVD. He said yes, of course, but I never got around to doing the transfer as he doesn’t work at Mowelfund anymore. Sigh.

“A filmmaker is an agent of change. I did PALUGID to change the representation of gay people from the ‘screaming faggot types’ to sensible human beings. To my mind, I was successful in that aspect because it broke barriers and achieved my goal,” said Villaluna in a 2003 interview with The Manila Times writer Archie Liao.

The opening scene of PALUGID

Sadly, this can’t be said of ‘Masahista.’ Just because it is based on reality does not mean it’s worth filming. There are excellent topics, and then there are tired ones. Revealing the inner workings of a masseur’s life is good but will not help them rise from their predicaments. Rather, films like this have the tendency to invite scorn, revulsion, disdain, and pity for the characters but not incite real efforts to get involved in movements to change society – which is what real filmmaking should aspire to.

Also, if Brillante Mendoza thinks he can cloth his seminal work with legitimacy by employing Paule or Jose, he is sorely mistaken. It will take more than stars to bring a film to a status worthy of respect. Brilliante Mendoza will eventually be judged by his succeeding works. We can just let ‘Masahista’ pass as an effort that paid off.

By the way, it is obvious by now that I’ve posted a lot of photos from the film in this entry, but this is just to show you what you may have missed (not much) by not watching it.

Brillante Mendoza’s next film, KALELDO (Summer Heat) will be shown soon. It stars Johnny Delgado, Cherrie Pie Picache, Alan Paule, Angel Aquino, Juliana Palermo, Lauren Novero, Criselda Volks and Rita Magdalena. Since I grew up in Pampanga, I think “kaleldo” simply means “summer” but I don’t want to argue with Mendoza’s translation because I’ve done enough bashing for a day.
Brillante Mendoza’s debut film The Masseur is an atmospheric account of a man who must deal with the death of his father after working the previous night at a gay massage parlor. Iliac (Coco Martin) must dress his father for the ceremony, but is more concerned with the well-being of his widowed mother. The night before, Iliac takes on a new client and the two discuss matters of life, sex and their parents. The sexual ambivalence of the sexual encounter juxtaposes with the delicate, religious nature of his father’s funeral, creating an innovative story arch while conveying the wisdom that one single day can decode a life. Mendoza uses dialogue sparingly, letting the rich visuals take center stage.
- 41st Chicago International Film Festival

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


"Babae sa Bubungang Lata (Woman On A Tin Roof) isn’t about films so much as it is about the people who make them. Not the directors or proucers or stars (as in Federico Fellini’s 8, or Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night) but the little people on the fringe… O’Hara works in the neo-realist tradition of Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini (a tradition Lino Brocka belonged to), but there’s also a touch of gothic in him. He stages much of his story inside the Manila North Cemetery, a vast landscape of tombs and crosses and silently weeping angels, where most of his characters – so poor they can’t afford a house – live. It’s a marvelous visual conceit, a brilliant coup de theatre: crawling among the mausoleums and monuments of famous dead presidents and statesmen, O’Hara’s little people struggle to survive."

- Review by Noel Vera, Critic After Dark: A Review of Philippine Cinema (Singapore: BigO Books, 2005).

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


At last. The 7th edition of the Cinemanila has come to an end, but plagued with the most irritating of flaws - the lack of proper scheduling is the best of the lot, if it can be described in such a manner.

Tikoy Aguiluz must have learned a lot by now from his past experiences as Festival convenor of this "Festival of festivals-my-foot". As someone who has been a faithful follower of the festival since its 3rd year, the problems of the past festivals were the following:

1.) Films trapped at the MTRCB office and can't be reviewed and classified in time for the festival, some of them never made it to the festival because of severe ratings (no thanks to sex or nudity);

2.) changing screening schedules without prior notice. Even if they have the right to do so without informing audiences, they must be reminded that the festival is being held during a work week and right smack in the middle of a business center, and people coming in from their offices attend because they have scheduled to see a specific film, only to be shown something else;

3.) choppy quality (remember how bad PRICE OF MILK turned out last two years ago? Must have been so embarrasing especially since the lead female actress from New Zealand was in attendance).

These are the only three I can recall for now. This year, something weird has happened. The Manila Film Festival was merged with the Cinemanila so there were two levels of competition happening: an international and a local level. Those who win in the Local get to receive an old MFF trophy, while those in the International will get the Bulol-inspired trophy. Hmmm... How will former winner Ana Capri, for example, equate her Best Actress win in PILA BALDE with A LA POBRE, A LA VERDE? Which one is the REAL Cinemanila award? Magulo, Mayor!

Best memories of past Cinemanilas? The Belgian selection during the 3rd Festival. Last year's THE BEAUTIFUL BOXER. One Vietnamese entry about a guava tree and the diaspora of a family (Scent of Guavas?). For bragging rights, we sat through the World Premier of the 5-hour BATANG WESTSIDE. This year, we saw a Korean invasion. I miss the Japanese films. Good thing I already have copies of DOLLS and ZATOICHI.

I hope the 8th Cinemanila gets its act together or else.

Capri does it again! Winning Best Actress (Local) for A LA VERDE, A LA POBRE. It can be recalled that during the 1st Cinemanila, she won Best Actress for PILA BALDE

The list of other winners are here.

Monday, October 24, 2005


An Aliw award for Best Director for a Musical Play in 2004 must have emboldened Joel Lamangan to do a second attempt at theatre by launching PENIS TALKS RELOADED. I have had the chance of watching ALL ABOUT MEN last year on my birthday (courtesy of JGC) and well, I thought that would be the last we'd hear of the subject. Like Eve Ensler perhaps (the work of whom the play is trying to ape but unsuccessfully so) who only made one version of VAGINA MONOLOGUES, I was hoping ALL ABOUT MEN can now go down history as ALL ABOUT (GAY) MEN, period. Never mind the so-so moral lessons. There weren't much that could be life changing.

Read a scathing review of the play here by Gibbs Cadiz. You can't be faulted if you agree with what he wrote. Oh, trust me.