Tuhog (Larger Than Life)

148733-larger-than-life-0-230-0-345-cropThe ’90s brought us Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Eraserheads, Rivermaya, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, AND—Carlo J. Caparas movies. The last on that list is an embarrassment of riches: great acting, rape, murder, massacre, drug addicts, and Kris Aquino—all based on “true to life” stories. Couple that with sensationalist TV programs masquerading as public service, and you got surefire box office hits.

Add to that the softcore sex films of the mid ’90s to early ’00s and you get Tuhog (Larger Than Life, 2001), a drama-softcore-comedy film satire on filmmaking malpractice, starring Ina Raymundo and Klaudia Koronel, playing two versions of the same girl, who was raped by her grandfather. Hmm. That last sentence was long.

The film starts with filmmakers interviewing the victim and her mother (Irma Adlawan), who turned out to be a victim herself, propositioning an offer to turn their story into a movie. They were reluctant at first, but eventually gave in. When asked who she wanted to play her character on-screen, Floring (Raymundo) answered Judy Ann Santos. Well, she’s a fine actress. And this is the closest we’d ever see of Judy Ann Santos in an erotic film, playing a rape victim’s character in a movie within the movie. But the filmmakers and the producer, had another thing in mind. (The producer, by the way, agreed to produce the director’s pitch, with one condition, the movie should contain nudity and sex, lots of it.)

Instead of offering the role to Judy Ann, they gave it to Klaudia Koronel, whose previous movie credits include lurid titles such as Pisil, Kesong Puti, and Anakan Mo Ako. Nothing could prepare Floring and her mother for what’s to come. Though the title, Hayok Sa Laman (Lust For Flesh), should have been a dead giveaway. Coming to the city all the way from their hometown, just to see the finished film supposedly based on their lives, they walked out of it before the end credits roll. It’s an abomination—with great bad acting from both Jaclyn Jose and Dante Rivero, and shockingly nuanced and mostly nude performance from Klaudia Koronel.

That is, Hayok Sa Laman is what you’d get if Carlo J. Caparas and Wenn Deramas (RIP) had a child, who turns out to be a tianak (demon baby). This movie within the movie is so bad—you’d want to scrub yourself afterwards. If Pila Balde is sex comedy-Lino Brocka social drama hybrid, Tuhog is a cross  between a Mike de Leon satire and softcore drama comedy. Definitely one of the best films about films in the whole wheat multiverse.

Themesongs (Ang Bandang Shirley, 2008)

a0640265112_16Themesongs isn’t really as great, much less original, as all those millennial kids who raved about it before would have you believe. Musically, it’s mostly just second-hand twee. But the songs are playful, quirky, they’d make you wanna jump, dance or chase around your hun and give him/her your tweest embrace when you catch him/her. And the lyrics, the Tagalog lyrics, well, that’s what elevates this from all other local indie-pop peeps, and somehow justifies them using a name from a song by the Eraserheads.

I mean, Ciudad didn’t call themselves Torpedo or Butterscotch, Itchyworms didn’t call themselves Scorpio Rising, Orange & Lemons didn’t go by Milk & Money, and Ebe Dancel, even though a big Eheads fan, named his band so because he’s Diabetic. Oh, well, whatever. Only Owel Alvero, Selena Salang, et al had the gall. Anyways, what I’m trying to say is, attaching Eraserheads to their band name was a risky move. I know some people didn’t like it.

If I remember correctly, there were some dismissive comments on their music video for “Sa Madaling Salita” on YouPorn. Still, I think having “Shirley” in their name quite worked for them, Owel Alvero and rest of the gang. “Sa Madaling Salita” is also quite good. The music video, not much, though at least it’s not as off-putting as Up Dharma Down’s “Turn It Well.” Also, bonus points for the band for putting the words “dumadanak ng dugo” in a love song.

Where was I? Yes, the lyrics. Ah, Patintero. Have you ever wonder before why the girls, when they started hitting puberty, they would stop playing games like Patintero (or anything that requires touching and running) or if they’d still do, their very strict lola or old maid tita would scold them and damn them to hell? Hmm… exactly. Kung ika’y aking mahuli, di ko kagad masasabi / kung ano ang una kong gagawin sa’yo. Well, he definitely knows what he’s going to do next, but it’s this kind of playfulness in the lyrics that makes the songs in Themesongs work.

Then, there’s the title track where the lovers wait for their would be theme song. Because, you know, it isn’t always like the movies, where the perfect love song plays in the background the moment the girl says “Oo.” That’s cute. But do girls still say “Oo” nowadays? I don’t know. Maybe they use some other phrases, slang or colloquial terms. Or maybe just plain lazy phrases like “wala lang” or “iyong”?

The best song here, “Tsuper Duper”, is probably the closest they have for a crossover hit. Y’know, like crossover from Nu107 to Love Radio, that kind of thing. (I know there’s a longer title but “Tsuper Duper” has better recall like ABBA’s “Super Trooper” and the best longest song title award is already taken.) And it’s probably the most Ely Buendia-ish and Stephen Malkmus-y song Owel Alvero has ever written. The moment they shouted “Solo na!” just before the guitar solo echoes Pavement’s “And they’re coming to the chorus now,” which, of course, Malkmus sings just before the song’s chorus.

There’s something in Themesongs—I don’t know—a kind of knowing or self-awareness that’s missing in their other albums. And you know what, second-hand twee or not, I’d give this one a blowjob just for this song title alone: “Kagabi Nanaginip Si Morrissey Na May Nagmamahal Sa Kanya.” It’s hardly album of the year material but it’s definitely worth a spin.

 

 

Tama Na Ang Drama (Ang Bandang Shirley, 2012)

29784385_800_800Now this, is Album Of The Year material. Probably the most exciting local indie-rock record from the 2010’s. This sophomore effort is said to be more collegial, mature and sophisticated than the debut. The band, easily averting the proverbial sophomore slump—if there is still such a thing. All this, according to the fans, critics, and critics/fans.

The only problem is, I can’t find that same album the local tastemakers so raved about. Sure, there are hummable melodies in here, a few fuzzed and fast, if predictable tunes, and one sad song about a huge mass of slow moving river of snow. Compared with their debut, the songs on Tama Na Ang Drama are generally slower, longer, mellower, more polished—none of these, directly equates with, better. And between the strategically placed A-sides, are uninspired throwaways, redundant B-sides, and one remake that’s largely unnecessary (“Saan Na,” previously by Narda).

There are hummable melodies, LSS-inducing even, in the breezy, if lyrically-challenged “Wala Lang” and “Iyong.” There’s that, then there’s throwaway half-assery (“Distansya,” “Ewan Ko”). There’s also an irresistibly catchy chorus in “Nakauwi Na,” where the deceptively simple metaphor and sing-song quality makes up for the sleep-inducing opening verse, which reminds me of one of the best jokes in Erik Matti’s Pedro Penduko: The Return of the Comeback, the “Tabuknon” scene. Could they not get someone better for that part? Janno Gibbs would smirk and roll his eyes for sure.

Best song off the album award goes to “Glacier,” a mid-tempo miracle of a song that’s also moving. Like a sad romantic movie. And bittersweet, like shrapnel-coated chocolate. Consistent with the album’s boom and bust track sequence, the best song is followed by the worst (“Acid Reflux”), at least for its obvious lyrics (which makes one imagine and equate bad romance with peptic ulcer), second-hand Fatal Posporos vibe, and, uhm, acid reflux-inducing cheap Santana riff.

A couple more notable cuts: “Single Bed,” which should have followed “Glacier” for maximum effect, the line about “scratching one’s back” notwithstanding, and the Ang Nawawala crowd and fan-favorite “Di Na Babalik,” with its sad movie-ending feels. But before you get to them, you have to wade thru B-sides (“Baliktad”, “Pait,” “Taksil”) that are just redundant, if not obligatory, songs that don’t say any thing “Masamang Damo” or that Morrissey song haven’t said before.

Tama Na Ang Drama, despite its title being self-referential, isn’t really self-reflexive like Themesongs. The best tracks here, they’re probably more sincere than those in the first. But the whole album is also lacking a center, a unified sound or theme. It just alternates between good and bad, the mediocre and passable. You upvote the better tracks, downvote or skip the next fillers, or just pick a few choice cuts for your playlist.

The Killer 2: The Last Bullet

FD06AE4F752F3A5DD0E0737A4F422266A gun for hire (Ace Vergel) accidentally injured a bar singer (Aiko Melendez) during his last hit—gun powder blast to the eyes left her blind. A cop expert in taekwondo (Monsour del Rosario) and his buddy (Ruel Vernal) are in pursuit of the hitman, because he could lead them to the gun syndicate who ordered the killings. Well, I may or may not have made up that last part; I already forgot much of the plot and the baddies in the story. Gun dealers, drug dealers, in action movies, what’s the difference, anyways?

I probably saw this in theater in early 2000s. Initially thought this was made in the early aughts, when local action movies has only few remaining punches left in them. And I thought they made some surprising choices. One is casting Monsour del Rosario and Ace Vergel as the cop and the killer. Ace Vergel plays a sympathetic hitman while Monsour del Rosario, the straight-A cop. Two is in having no strong or vague love angle to the story. I mean, Ace Vergel and Aiko Melendez? Three, Ruel Vernal plays a good cop. And four, it’s a rip-off (remake? sequel?) of John Woo’s The Killer (1989), with Ace Vergel playing Chow Yun Fat’s character. (Turns out, this was released in 1996. And it’s actually listed on IMDB as an unofficial sequel to The Killer.)

Huling Sagupaan has the classic two man on the opposite side of the law—cop and hitman—teaming up to go against the bigger bad guys. The hitman just wanted the singer to see again, but when his middleman friend (Dan Fernandez) is killed by the syndicate, he finally turns on the guys who initially hired him. And he needs Monsour’s high kicks and hand to hand combat expertise for some heroic bloodshed. Plot-twist, they turned out to be childhood friends.

Again, it follows The Killer, story-wise, down to the part where a child caught in the crossfire is hit by a bullet and Ace Vergel’s character takes him to the hospital. But it still makes for a fun watch, as it echoes the playful gunfights in HK action films and the local martial arts movies from the ’90s directed by Philip Ko. Oh, wait, it was actually co-directed by Philip Ko.

Cristine Reyes goes for some good, old-fashioned revenge in ‘Maria’

Maria

Seven years after that one final job, Maria (Cristine Reyes) now lives a quiet domestic life in an unnamed province. A nice big house, a loving husband, their cute little daughter, Cristine Reyes plays an ex-cartel assassin turned wife and mother, from killing people to cooking dinner.

But not for long. Her idyllic domestic milieu turns to hell when the cartel learns her whereabouts. Kaleb (Ivan Padilla), the cartel boss’s younger son and Maria’s ex, had her followed, then raids her home. And they “took the only thing that makes it a home.” And in case you haven’t seen a revenge flick before—Spoiler Alert—Maria turns the table on them in the movie’s second act.

Maria is Pedring Lopez’s follow-up to 2015’s Nilalang a.k.a. Maria Ozawa’s first (hopefully not last) Filipino feature film. And it’s a straight-up revenge action film. Take some of the best stuff from A History of Violence, a few moves from John Wick and—only the good parts in Peppermint, put them in a local setting and you got Maria, possibly the best Filipino action film in a long time.

Or at least, it’s the best among the crop of recent action pics from our shore. It’s stylish, beautifully photographed, it has well-choreographed fights, and damn it has Cristine Reyes playing “sexy but deadly” in a series of jaw-dropping action scenes. She isn’t only drop-dead sexy, she also figures in lots of edge-of-your-seat thrilling and bone-breaking fights. And she reportedly did 90% of her own stunts.

Cristine Reyes brings her A-game, not only in the fights but in the dramatic scenes as well. While the movie may sometimes feel uneven—some scenes of hammy acting, more than a few cheesy lines (“You’re death.” “I know.”), one mildly less convincing fight (Miru vs. a big guy)—it still makes for a compelling watch, mainly for Reyes’ convincing portrayal of its central character. Cristine Reyes’ Maria is a steel magnolia—she’s tough and pretty, feisty—but vulnerable.

Cristine Reyes played her character so well that she made Anne Curtis look bad. And I actually thought Anne Curtis did good in BuyBust.

The cartel, headed by Ricardo dela Vega (Freddie Webb) initially wanted the head of a Governor Villanueva, senatorial candidate, who, near the beginning of the movie, provokes the ire of dela Vega when he said some unsavory things on TV. It’s implied he’s connected to the cartel (maybe he’s in their payroll) and so the irked dela Vega put a hit on him. It’s the same politician whom Bert (Guji Lorenzana), Maria’s politically naive husband, eagerly supports because according to him, he’s the country’s only hope. Sounds familiar? I know.

Contrary to what some might have expected, Pedring Lopez and co. didn’t build a video game world where assassins have their own rules, their own unique currency. What we have here is like a manga or comic book version of our own. It’s a world where people who ran the cartel are the villains and politics is a shit show.

Helping dela Vega run the cartel are his two sons: Kaleb, whom he seems to favor more, and Victor, the ill-tempered older brother, who has an axe to grind (a bald and bearded, hence evil, KC Montero). Their lives seem to revolve only around the “business as usual,” which means drugs, killing their enemies, and drugs. And nobody smiles. But then, no one gets to tell an unfunny joke. And none of the thugs in their group are named Brando and Bogart. And no one wears denim jacket or sports a mullet. That’s a plus.

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The movie’s hard R-rating is probably more than earned by the film’s first half, when the dela Vega’s are introduced mercilessly killing hapless henchmen and traitorous drug runners. Webb smashes a guy’s head with a baseball bat. Montero tortures a man in his underwear tied and lying on blocks of ice, electrocutes him Ben Tumbling-style* then shot him in the head pointblank. In another, Kaleb pulls a guy’s fingernail with pliers and stick a knife in his thigh.

(*A couple of reviews mentioned that Victor sticks a drill or soldering iron to the guy’s ass. I think that scene is similar to the one in Ben Tumbling where the cops torture Lito Lapid’s character—they stick electrodes to his balls—to make him own up to a crime.)

Balancing the heavies, is Greg (Ronnie Lazaro), an old friend, mentor, and father figure to Maria. Greg provides Maria what she needs: shelter, guns, weapons and at one point, Maria tells him, “Kailangan ko ng dress.” Lazaro’s character is kind of an amalgam of Ian McShane’s and Willem Dafoe’s characters in John Wick, Nic Cage’s Big Daddy from Kick-Ass, and, among other things, the fairy godmother.

What about the fight scenes? Well, the fight scenes are the real highlights of the movie, along with Cristine Reyes superb performance. There’s bathroom brawl between Miru (Jennifer Lee) and Maria, a sequence where Maria razes a drug warehouse to the ground, an impressive fisticuffs in a public market, and yes, a final battle in the port. If you’ve seen BuyBust and like the never-ending fights, you’d find a lot to like here. If you were disappointed with BuyBust, like me, you’d love the cleaner, clearer fights in Maria.

Maria is a damn fine action movie. And here’s hoping Cristine Reyes, Ronnie Lazaro and the whole team behind the movie—fight coordinator Sonny Sison, cinematographer Pao Orendain, editor Jason Cahapay and director Pedring Lopez—come back with a sequel.

Kita Kita (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2017)

kitakits

Kita Kita (I See You) could be a distant relative of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise; only it isn’t presented in real-time, it’s set in Japan instead of France, and the male lead (Empoy Marquez) hardly resembles Ethan Hawke. And KZ Tandingan’s version of Air Supply’s “Two Less Lonely People” frequently plays in the background. Okay, the two movies are probably more different than similar. Kita Kita tells of a bittersweet love story between Lea (Allesandra de Rossi), a Filipina tour guide in Japan, who suffers from temporary blindness and her unlikely Prince Charming, whom she met after. The story follows this unlikely couple as they wander around the picturesque where-to-go attractions in Sapporo and Hokkaido. The movie happily forgoes typical romantic comedy tropes and mostly features its two leads talking to each other—the dialogue most likely improvised. In short, it’s not your usual rom-com with the best-looking couple, manufactured conflict, and predictable plot. And just when you think that that is all, it burst its own bubble by telling the B-side to the story in the second half. Truly, love is blind. And only in darkness can we see the stars. Or in the case of Tonyo, only after he got wasted drinking 24 cans of Japan’s famous Sapporo lager. Consider this as Philippines’ “thank you” to Japan for featuring San Miguel Beer in the original Ghost in the Shell. Oh, there’s a part that reminds me of Il Mare. Don’t ask, it’s a spoiler