Book: Deadma Walking

"Deadma Walking"

John and Mark are gay beshies for life whose friendship is put to the test when one of them has a terminal illness and asks the other to help him stage his fake death, wake, and funeral as his dying wish. The result is a comedy of ‘deadly’ proportions.

There aren’t a lot of instances when one would say that the movie adaptation is better than the book it originated from. But this is definitely one of those instances.

Deadma Walking was one of the more entertaining films during the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival–which is why, when my friend A Messy Desk gave me a copy of the published screenplay that film was based of, I immediately started reading it…and started applauding the changes made to the material to make it more palatable to viewers.

It’s not that the original material was bad… It’s just very heavy-handed. And it misses a lot of opportunities at the same time. That said, the final film version also manages to miss the same opportunities–but the actors really do a lot to save the screenplay’s less-than-stellar parts.

But this isn’t supposed to be a comparison. I’m writing about the version that was published–which is different from the one people got to see on screen, and is also different from the one that won an award.

Deadma Walking, the published screenplay, is a work in progress. The emotional meat of the story is there, and the characters of John and Mark are funny enough that you’ll be able to latch on to their crazy antics. But most of the time, it felt like reading a person’s inner thoughts without filters. It rambles. On and on. And there are a lot of plot developments that need to happen earlier, but don’t.

It’s a good screenplay, to be completely fair. It’s just doesn’t feel like a final draft. Just one that needed to exist because an editor was probably breathing down the writer’s neck, to get him to cough up a version before a printer’s deadline.

Final verdict? If you’re going to read this book, make sure to lower your expectations.

Advertisements

Movie: Honor Thy Father

"Honor Thy Father"

After years of financial struggle, Kaye and Edgar are finally on a roll. Kaye has made millions promoting her father’s investment scheme to her friends and fellow Pentecostal parishioners at the Church of Yeshua. But their world unravels instantaneously one day when Edgar swings by his father-in-law’s house to find the place ransacked and the old man gone. It doesn’t take long for Kaye’s friends to turn on the couple, who go to the fiery bishop for help. But he’s not exactly generous, preoccupied as he is with raising money for a new temple (and with the promise of extravagant kickbacks). The parishioners continue to demand their money back, and Kaye and Edgar start receiving death threats. When the tension erupts in violence, Edgar decides to seek the aid of his criminally inclined family.

What is there to say about Honor Thy Father other than the fact that it was beautifully made? Director Erik Matti and Cinematographer Ber Cruz made even the tightest and dirtiest look cinematic. The first thought in my head coming out of the cinema was that this is the film that will become part of film class curriculum.

Meryll Soriano and Krystal Brimner were the standouts when it came to acting, delivering nuanced performances that made their characters feel strikingly real. Perla Bautista and Boom Labrusca both delivered solid support as well, making their presence felt without taking away the focus from the lead actors.

And then there’s John Lloyd Cruz.

I’m not a fan of John Lloyd, to be honest, but there’s something about his ticking-time-bomb performance that I felt really captured the essence of the film. That said, I like him better in the scenes where he doesn’t have lines, the ones where he lets his actions and reactions speak for him.

If you have seen and enjoyed Heneral Luna, you have to watch this film. It has the core of an independently-produced film with the budget of a mainstream movie–so we get the best of both worlds. And all I have left to say is that, I think Honor Thy Father is the best film off the past year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. So watch it.

Show the mainstream media that there is room for films like this. For stories that aren’t cookie-cutter romances, and aren’t trope-filled horrors, and aren’t slapstick comedies. We’re always lamenting the dying movie industry because it’s inundated with movies that cater to the escapist nature of the Filipinos, and yet most of those complaining don’t even bother watching films like this when they come out.

The movie industry will stay in its deathbed unless we support the films we want more of. If we want more quality films, it’s time to put money where our mouths are.

Movie: Buy Now, Die Later

"Buy Now, Die Later"

BUY NOW, DIE LATER is a compendium of five interconnected stories, each one representing one of the five senses. The stories featuring ODIE, ATO, CHLOE, PIPPA and MAITA will remind us that every bargain comes with a price.

I really wanted to like this film. Especially because out of the three films I’ve seen so far off this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival entries, this has been the best. But being better than My Bebe Love or Haunted Mansion isn’t really something to be proud of.

Buy Now, Die Later suffers from putting style over substance. The film is, for the most part, beautifully lit and shot. There was obvious thought put into lighting the scenes, in the camera’s movements, and in blocking the scenes. But the same thought wasn’t given into casting two of the main leads, because I completely do not understand why the producers of this film thought Alex Gonzaga and Vhong Navarro were right for the roles they played here.

Let’s start with Vhong. The actor’s swagger did not fit the underdog character he was meant to portray here. Based completely off the events and the dialogue, you’re supposed to feel that the character is meant to be looking to escape the shadow cast by a too famous father. Unfortunately, Vhong’s portrayal only made him out to be a fame-hungry bottom-feeder who wants the easiest way to get into the spotlight. Which would’ve been a fine character on its own, if it weren’t for the fact that this doesn’t fit his character’s actions and dialogue in the second half of the film.

And then there’s Alex. I don’t know if it was a conscious effort on her part to emulate the speaking and movement of certain local celebrities, but it was a little too over the top for me. It certainly didn’t help that she would jump from one emotion to the next without any nuance, making her character feel like she’s suffering from a psychological disorder.

Which makes me feel bad for the rest of the cast, Lotlot de Leon and TJ Trinidad most notably. You can see that these two made an effort to make their characters breathe and be real. I actually feel especially sorry for TJ Trinidad because the director or the producer subjected him to wearing an awful mask that was completely unnecessary. It’s like they didn’t trust that he could bring the malevolence needed to make his character work, when his character was actually already scary enough–until the mask appeared and made his character look like a joke.

Story-wise, I must commend the film for trying a different kind of story-telling from what the masses are used to. Especially during the Metro Manila Film Festival season. But I think they bit off more than they can chew with this one. Especially when it comes to logic and continuity. The biggest flaw in the story-telling comes near the end of the story when Lotlot’s character is seduced by the promise of youth–during the time when she’s worried about her daughter’s safety. It should make sense, but the dialogue given her does not–and neither do the scenes that follow after she succumbs to the devil’s bargain.

Then there’s the foreshadowing of how the devil’s items work; they used three characters to underline the fact that the magic of the items don’t affect those who have been cursed. Except one of the three characters hasn’t even been cursed yet. That’s a problem someone in editing, or the writer himself, should have been on the look out for.

And speaking of editing– I don’t know who was in charge of trimming down the movie, but the latter half of Buy Now, Die Later suffered from a lot of cuts that didn’t make sense–leaving characters finishing lines of dialogue that viewers never saw start in the first place.

Don’t even get me started on the garish music video that jolts viewers into the second story.

So would I recommend this movie to anyone? I want to say yes, if only for Lotlot de Leon and TJ Trinidad–but Buy Now, Die Later is really only entertaining two-fifths of the time, so I would say no. If you want to support Quantum Films so they could make more films, watch Walang Forever instead.

Movie: My Bebe Love

"My Bebe Love"

Vic Sotto plays the role of Vito who finds himself at odds and in a bitter professional rivalry with Cora, played by Ai-Ai delas Alas. The two are both in the business of mounting special events. The conflict happens when their respective wards – Anna (played by Maine) daughter of Vito, gets romantically entangled with Cora’s beloved nephew Dondi (played by Alden). As expected, the “parents” actively reject the budding romantic involvement between the star-crossed lovers.

It’s that time of the year again when theaters in the Philippines are showing only entries for the Metro Manila Film Festival. And as is the case every year, my mom had the family watching a Vic Sotto movie. Which means that I watched My Bebe Love.

I didn’t hate it.

I mean, I didn’t love it either, but it wasn’t as bad as some of the other Vic Sotto-starrers I’ve been subjected to. But it wasn’t as good as the Vic Sotto films that got it right either. (I have very low expectations set when it comes to films starring Vic Sotto. Ever since the very first Enteng Kabisote film.)

The thing with My Bebe Love is–it doesn’t seem to know who the central characters are. And I sort of blame the AlDub phenomenon. (I’m not going to explain what the AlDub phenomenon is, but you can read about it on Wikipedia. That’s right. It has a Wikipedia page.)

Now, watching My Bebe Love, it was obvious that the story being set up is supposed to center on conservative Vito clashing and then falling in love with the liberal Cora. They’re the ones with the premise and promise right at the beginning. Their respective charges, Anna and Dondi, are only supposed to move their plots along. It’s a very basic story set-up.

I don’t know during what part of the production period the AlDub phenomenon happened, but you can clearly see that when this movie was being filmed, some Vito-Cora development was thrown out the window in favor of giving more screen time for the better-loved supporting players. And it ruins the love story that the film was supposed to be about: that of Vito’s and Cora’s.

The thing is, this could have not been the case.

I know the producers of My Bebe Love were banking on the popularity of the AlDub love team to make this movie bigger than it was projected to be. But how hard was it to make their participation not feel shoe-horned in?

The set up is there. The stakes are there. But instead of using the additional scenes featuring the supporting characters to give their story more substance, they were underutilized and made to do what they’ve been doing every day in their Kalyeserye on television. And it makes their plot, the subplot, disjointed. Because, obviously, their characters had plot points they needed to hit. But instead of just progressing with those and letting those plot points define their character arcs, they were given scenes that didn’t serve anything more than a fleeting sense of romance and giddiness.

And they’re not the only ones to suffer. Suddenly, the main plot of the film is also missing two of its most vital parts: it’s supporting plot, and the time to progress their story forward. At one point, it felt like they were the ones supporting the subplot.

I feel bad for all the actors involved in this film. There was potential for My Bebe Love to be something more (and something different) from what the Vic Sotto films usually turn out to be), but it was wasted on poor story structuring and character progression.

Movie: Pedro Calungsod

"Pedro Calungsod"

I really wanted to like this film. Not because I’m Catholic, I’m not, but because I want to see a non-mainstream story make a mark on a mainstream event like the Metro Manila Film Festival.

Unfortunately, while the sentiments behind this film is lovely (as is the cinematography), the story itself is not.

Pedro Calungsod: Batang Martir is a fictionalized retelling of the life that the newly canonized saint led back in the day. I say fictionalized because, if I remember correctly, no one really knows the entire story of Calungsod’s life. Just snippets. Enough to get him beatified almost a couple of decades ago.

The film follows Calungsod, portrayed by Rocco Nacino, as he joins a mission that would take him to an island off the coasts of the Visayan region, where Spanish priests wish to spread the good word of Christianity.

We are then treated to a series of events that take place in that island; events that supposedly happened in real life. Events that are really boring to watch, to be perfectly honest.

Conflicts break out suddenly and are never followed up on. The every day life shown in between conflicts are pretty peaceful, and feel really off because these people are supposed to be living in constant fear of a seige.

You never really understand the motivation of any of the characters shown–save for Christian Vasquez’s Spanish priest and Nacino’s Calungsod. Then again, they’re the central characters. They’re men of faith and nothing else; and they will defend their faith to their last breath.

And they do.

And then you wonder: what was the reason for this movie to be made? I mean, really? What was the point? Because I don’t get it. We see Calungsod die early on in the film. And then we see the journey they make towards the island. Their every day life. And then, just because one man is angry, Calungsod dies. And the film ends.

Really, that’s it.

The scenes are beautifully shot. Christian Vasquez makes it known that he can be a serious actor. Victor Basa looks pretty while he baptizes the natives (and the dead). Rocco Nacino looks weird with his wig. Alvin Aragon has a weird accent while speaking Bisaya.

And that’s pretty much what I took from the film. I don’t think that’s what the producers intended when they decided to produce this. It’s definitely not what I expected when I went in the theater.

I wish I could say Pedro Calungsod is a must-watch, but it just might turn people off non-mainstream Filipino films.

Movie: 10000 Hours

"10000 Hours"The movie deserved its best picture win, even though I enjoyed the Kimmy Dora prequel more.

10000 Hours tells the story of a senator who has, all his life, believed that justice will prevail. Until justice turns against him. Afraid of how the law will be twisted to keep him from revealing the truth about the administration’s corruption, the senator takes off–to search for the one thing that would unmask the corrupt, even if he ‘disappears’ permanently.

What I loved about the film was the pacing. You know how you don’t notice the time when you’re engrossed with what you’re watching? That happened. I lost track of time. I was hanging on to the events unfolding on screen. 10000 Hours was gripping, and I credit this to director Bb. Joyce Bernal.

Bernal is known for her romantic comedies and her dramatic soap operas, but after 10000 Hours, I think she should be known now for her versatility as a director. Although, I would credit her background on the dramatic for making most of the action scenes in the film necessary–

Of course, she’s not the only reason why the film worked.

I’m not a fan of Robin Padilla, but I must say that he is effective as the senator on the run. The character is flawed, and Padilla doesn’t pretend otherwise. Sure, this is nothing new for Padilla. But you have to appreciate an actor who knows not to overexert, or to overact.

Ketchup Eusebio manages to steal every single one of the handful of scenes he is in. Bela Padilla has shown growth as an actress, and Cholo Barretto gives as much as he takes in the scenes he shares with Mylene Dizon.

But the best part of the film is that the unnecessary scenes are minimal, and those that aren’t important are kept short.

Of course, no movie is perfect. And I would just like to point out how wishy-washy Bella Padilla’s character is. For someone who has built her life on journalism and exposing the truth, the reveal of her character’s origins come completely out of the blue–and a little out of character.

But aside from that one tiny complaint, I applaud the existence of 10000 Hours. I don’t usually enjoy watching action films, so this is a pleasant and welcome surprise.

Movie: Kaleidoscope World

"Kaleidoscope World"

Lando, a poor boy, meets a rich girl, Elsa, in an open audition for the number one local hip hop crew that is competing for an international dance event. Lando and Elsa make it to the team but as their life and love unfold their dance crumbles.

Deep breaths. Deep, deep breaths.

I wanted to like this film. Really, I did. It stars two actors who I really believe has the acting chops to pull off lead roles, and they do showcase their acting capabilities in this film well. Unfortunately, that’s the only good thing I can say about this film: Sef Cadayona and Yassi Pressman acted their asses off.

But the whole film was just bad. Really bad. So bad that I wanted to walk out in the middle of the film. I didn’t. Because I had to stick through the whole thing to see if it gets better.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

Let’s list down the things that was wrong in the film:

Number one is structure. We have two characters whose lives intertwine, but are given problems that don’t really have anything to do with each other. Until past the halfway mark, when the writer seemed to have realized that the audience will have no idea what would make them root for the our lead couple. So the lead female is forcibly made to bear the brunt of the male lead’s conflict.

I feel as if the writer of the screenplay fell into the trap of trying to keep the twists surprising. Which is not what you want to do with a love story. You want your audience to know what’s going to keep your couple apart. So they root for the couple. By keeping the conflict a secret, you’ve only made your viewers apathetic.

When nothing is standing in the way of your lovers, you don’t root for them to succeed. Having finished the film, I already know that there’s an obstacle. But by the time it is introduced, viewers would have already stopped caring… and the conflict is made to look like a last minute addition.

Which leads me to the second problem of the film: conflict. Sef Cadayona’s character has a very alienating conflict: he freezes up whenever he remembers what happened to his dad. And this is not revealed until near the end of the film. And this is never resolved.

Oh, wait, should I have warned that there will be spoilers? Well, there are spoilers here. You have been warned now.

Back to Sef Cadayona’s very internal conflict: we get flashes of it, bit by bit, throughout the film. And this will confuse the hell out of you. Especially near the end, when two characters involved with Yassi Pressman’s character are revealed to be integral to Sef Cadayona’s conflict–and yet they don’t recognize Sef’s character at all.

I am serious. It doesn’t make sense.

And let’s not even start on the conflict between Yassi’s aunt and uncle that keeps getting addressed, but gets dropped with nary a mention ever again after their one confrontation. Suddenly, everything is right with the two again.

That leads me to the third problem of the film: resolutions. There are none. I’m not looking for a happy ending. I’m not looking for a wrap-up with a nice bow. I just want to see that the stories introduced are actually going somewhere.

We have a story thread about a dance competition, a group story arc, that suddenly ends with a performance. There are problems introduced into this arc that gets resolved off screen–if they did get resolved at all.

We have a thread on Yassi Pressman’s criminal past, and the part dancing plays in it. This does not get resolved, because Yassi’s story is suddenly cut short.

There’s a thread on Sef Cadayona’s juggling act between taking classes, starting to nod off at his part-time work, practicing during all the free time he has left, and still finding time to go to different malls just so he could stalk Yassi’s character. Oh wait, that’s not so much a problem about resolution as it is a problem on logic, and maybe Sef’s ability to clone himself so he can be in different locations at the same time.

And then there’s the weird cousin of Yassi’s character and her desire to dance. That goes nowhere fast.

But the worst offender of this is the main love thread. Yassi takes off from her aunt’s house, goes to Sef’s neighborhood, gets stabbed–apparently, to death, and yet appears to hug her group mates in the dance competition abroad.

What now?

I wanted to support Kaleidoscope World because it’s different from the usual fare. Also, I want to support Yassi and Sef’s career. But I can not, on good conscience, recommend this film to anyone.

Because the biggest problem I have with this film is that it masqueraded as a dance film. The characters dance, yes. But this is not a dance film. Street Dance is a dance film. Save the Last Dance, Center Stage, heck even I Do Bidoo Bidoo is a dance film. The Step Up franchise, even when the story is at its flimsiest, are dance films. Kaleidoscope World is a an acting reel masquearading as a film, much less a dance film.

Dance films feature dance prominently. Dance films have good music. Dance films do not use stock, royalty-free music during montages. Dance films will not just pile together different dances just to show the characters dancing. Dance is the most important part of a dance film. You do not give it the short end of the deal.

A dance film can get away with a threadbare story if the dance is good. And the biggest crime Kaleidoscope World commits is casting good dancers and never featuring them properly.

Kaleidoscope World isn’t just a waste of time and money. It also wastes the talent of the actors and dancers involved. And I’m not surprised that the director seem to have had his name stricken out of the credits.