Movie reviews: Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2018, part 1

Ang Babaeng Allergic sa Wifi review: Dial-up romance

Jun Lana’s Ang Babaeng Allergic sa WiFi is cute as a button.

Each frame is color-coordinated, coolly-hued, lovely-to-the-eyes, and worthy of an Instagram account. It is also easy on the ears, populated with bubbly melodies sung by dainty voices that would have you imagine green fields littered with dandelion stalks whose blooms hover all over.

Clearly, the movie is meant to charm. Its tale, about a young taciturn boy (Jameson Blake) who becomes beholden to the new girl (Sue Ramirez) who becomes diagnosed with a rare condition that makes her sick whenever there are electro-magnetic waves around, is pregnant with promises of kink and quirk enveloping familiar but irresistible reinforcements of love trumping all.

Its characters – from the two hopeless romantics whose decision to be quiet about their feelings to their wacky sidekicks – are all sweet and amiable, with some of the credit going to the capable performances of the cast who maximize both their youth and good looks to shape their respective roles.  

For sure, Lana’s film is all that. However, despite being so true to its amorous motivations, it fails to really leave a mark beyond the usual tears and sniffles resulting from a tragic turn that is both convenient and unimaginative.

Ang Babaeng Allergic sa WiFi doesn’t take its conceit of an affliction that strips a young woman of her connection with the rest of the modern world far enough. It is merely a quirk alongside all the other quirks, an excuse to have its characters wear aluminum hats with floppy antennae or drive around a 90’s-era car covered in metallic foil.

At most, it forces its young characters who have become too enamored with the vices of technology to take a stab at the humble pleasures of writing letters with a typewriter and sending them through the post office. Those are all admirable sources of genuine cinematic pleasantries. It is just that the film doesn’t really stray that far from the mold. The film isn’t unsatisfying. It is just unconvincing in the way it overdresses instead of substantiates its portrayal of everlasting love.

 

 

Bakwit Boys review: Not just a crowd-pleaser

Jason Paul Laxamana’s Bakwit Boys is a very strange film, and I say that with the highest of respect.

It is clearly a crowd-pleaser. In fact, it is very effective in that sense. However, it purposely leaves very many loose ends in its neatly arranged journey to see that its story of four brothers finding fame through their music get to its very satisfying end. Those loose ends make the film more compelling.

This isn’t just a case of a musical that was formed from the mold of A Star is Born not being naïve of the dirty realities of both political governance and show business.

Bakwit Boys, in the way it manages to have its tale of boys getting their few seconds of celebration uplift amidst all the moral grey areas that were crossed, is making a very valid statement about the Filipino psyche, how we as a nation can easily have our attentions diverted from very real issues by a whiff of feel-good inspiration.

Perhaps the film is really just a singsong drama with the simplest of intent to make its audience gush with hope and inspiration because against all odds, miracles do happen. Laxamana does make it very easy to get that point across, recruiting four charismatic actors to play the brothers.

Specifically, Vance Larena, who portrays the eldest of the brood, is peculiarly charismatic, even if his character has the most ambiguous arc. He charmes the most with his romantic attraction to their discoverer (Devon Seron), whom his younger brother already has his eye on, and his brushes with a gay patron of the bar he works for. There is both an evident wariness and weariness in the way he navigates his brothers’ quest for their dreams, and at their most apparent, it is quite heartbreaking.

Bakwit Boys is just impressive in the way it garbs its pragmatism and pessimism in the most attractive and affecting of narratives. This isn’t escapist cinema, even if it wears all of its formulae. This is definitely something more.

 

 

Madilim ang Gabi review: Reign of terror

The most daring thing about Adolfo Alix, Jr.’s Madilim ang Gabi is that it depicts life under Duterte’s infamous "war on drugs" not from the perspective of the innocent who have been victimized by the proliferation of violence.

That would be too easy, too clear in its motivations to discredit the government’s actions because innocence should never beget abuse.

What Alix does is to show the campaign from the point of view of exactly the people that the regime deems deserving of its punishments. Terrified of Duterte’s broadcasted pronouncements, Sara (Gina Alajar) and Lando (Phillip Salvador), who peddle shabu through the rags she makes, wants out of the syndicate. However, after they tell Kidlat (Laurice Guillen), their neighborhood’s ring leader, of their decision to come clean, their only son (Felix Roco) goes missing, forcing the couple to pull all their strings and talk to all their contacts to find out what happened to him.

The couple’s desperate search for their son exposes the intricate web of criminality that exists deep within the metropolis.

Alix is at his most consistent here. He doesn’t give way to sentimentality. Instead, he allows whatever humanity that is left in his characters to seep through the edges of the amorality he carefully and cautiously builds up.

Sure, the film, crowded with so many characters as it is, is populated with drug users, dealers, killers, whores and hooligans. Yet it is also clear that Alix shows them as mothers, fathers, wives, friends and victims. The film makes it loud and clear that humanity isn’t defined by guilt or wrongdoing. Both the innocent and the guilty are rendered helpless in a government mandate that is not just corruptible but is also oblivious to reason.

Madilim ang Gabi is the most expansive of Alix’s very many films, and in a way, it is this sprawling and almost meandering quality that makes it coercive in its motives. It doesn’t reduce the tragedy of Duterte’s reign of terror to an isolated and sensationalized experience, but turns it into a toxic atmosphere that suffocates the audience with torturous repetition.

 

 

 

Pinay Beauty review: The darker, the better

 

The desire of Annie (Chai Fonacier) to undergo plastic surgery to have bigger breasts, a sharper nose, and whiter skin isn’t just a product of her chronic self-loathing. It is also due to the demands of a society that makes it a prerequisite for work to comply with generic standards of what is beautiful.

Willing to do anything for the happiness of his girlfriend, Migs (Edgar Allan Guzman) steals the plastic surgery money from his uncle (Tikoy Aguiluz, an aptly unsettling presence), a loan shark whose violence is only equaled by his lecherous tendencies. He gets caught and is given a week to either repay his debt or arrange a date with celebrity Lovely G (Maxine Medina). He asks help from his friends – a transwoman, a lesbian, a nymphomaniac, and a geek – to save him from certain death. The result is an uneven collection of awkward antics all arising from circumstances that showcase humanity pushed to the brink of depravity.


The best way to enjoy Jay Abello’s Pinay Beauty latest caper is to simply submit to its weirdness. It is a film with warts and faults. It takes utterly too long to reach that point where its overt oddness becomes palatable, but there are real pleasures here and there. In fact, Abello’s film is most enjoyable when it takes the most bizarre of turns, when it shows its characters teetering towards foolishness just to accomplish an impossible mission. The darker it gets, the better. Written by the tandem of Alpha Habon and Rod Marmol, the film, at its most bizarre, plays like a Coen Brothers’ comedy, depicting characters who act out of desperation, living within the fringes of an entertainment industry that is depicted as humorously ridiculous.

It is a film that thrives in exaggerations, that it is quite unfortunate that it doesn’t go for the jugular and descend towards utter madness.

As it is, Abello’s latest caper is a serviceable black comedy, a reel of gags grounded on men and women twisted and turned by beauty and all its grave repercussions.  – Rappler.com 

 

Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.

Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.