Cinema One entries more frivolous than fabulous
Last weekend, we had a difficult time shuttling from one mall to another to watch as many entries as we could at this year’s Cinema One Originals indie fest. We found the festival’s schedule of screenings, particularly for its seven-film Narrative Features category, too scattershot and viewer-unfriendly. When the festival wrapped up its run on Nov. 22, we ended up missing only “Tisay,” Borgy Torre’s cautionary tale about game-fixing.
But it’s interesting to note that had we seen less, we wouldn’t have missed a lot, because the 2016 movies appeared to be more frivolous than fabulous, in theme and execution. It’s the weakest lineup we’ve seen from Cinema One in years.
We loved what C1 has been churning out the past couple of years, but many of this year’s batch failed to live up to the country’s indie-grade standard and accomplishments, paced by our remarkable triumphs in Cannes, Venice and Berlin.
A significant exception, we must note, is the dark and dangerously delectable “dramedy,” “2 Cool to be 4Gotten,” directed by Petersen Vargas, the guy behind 2014’s bittersweet and similarly homoerotic short, “Lisyun qng Geografia.”
The film, which benefits from Vargas’ astute yarn-spinning and unpredictable tonal shifts, tells the story of overachieving high school student Felix (Khalil Ramos), whose dull and dreary existence in lahar-ravaged Pampanga gets a shot of adrenaline when he catches the attention of half-American transferee students, 17-year-old Magnus Snyder (Ethan Salvador) and his younger brother, Maxim (best supporting actor Jameson Blake).
Magnus and Max’s American soldier father abandoned them and their partygoing mother (Ana Capri) after Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the early ’90s.
But Felix gets more than his share of “excitement” when Magnus asks him to be his math tutor. Thereafter, Max enlists him to take part in a nefarious plan that would compel their neglectful father to take them to the States with him.
Capri and Blake’s enthusiasm are compelling to behold, but the production gets its main thespic tag-team boost from Salvador and Ramos’ complementary portrayals, each in thoughtful sync with the other.
Samantha Lee’s carefully crafted “Baka Bukas” also generates some same-sex tension and frisson, this time courtesy of best actress Jasmine Curtis-Smith, as lipstick lesbian Alex, and “confused” Jessica (Louise de los Reyes, also remarkable), the best friend she’s head over heels in love with.
There’s a wrinkle on Jess’ horn, however. She’s torn between her budding romance with Alex and her financially lucrative career as an actress. And Jess isn’t even sure if there’s more to it than mere infatuation or friendly compassion!
The joys and delights of this lesbian tale arrive in their own sweet time as we watch how Alex and Jessica’s romance plays out with growing affection. We see them take their relationship one step at a time, until they’re both comfortable to finally step out of the closet.
And it doesn’t hurt that Curtis-Smith’s penchant for inner truth and emotional honesty guarantees that none of the tears she sheds is unearned.
Jose Abdel Langit’s “Malinak Ya Labi” strings together interrelated tales—about a teacher (the one-note Angeline Quinto), a cash-strapped soldier (Allen Dizon), a two-timing politician’s wife (Dexter Doria), a dead boy, and an animal-sacrificing Pangasinense ritual that is said to ward off bad luck.
Despite its fascinating premise, the movie’s convoluted elements fail to mesh into a cohesive whole, so you see its exposition wobbling between an overwrought drama and a half-baked thriller.
In best director Keith Deligero’s “Lily,” reality goes out of kilter when the myth of a murderous Cebuano monster is dramatized by way of the life of young wife and mother Lily (Shaina Magdayao), whose inner demon emerges when she discovers that her husband, Mario (best actor Rocky Salumbides), has left her for another woman.
The film boasts alluring directorial touches that benefit from Deligero’s judicious use of magic realism and properly mined Visayan stories and balak Binisaya. Speaking of “relatability,” the playful poem, “Kahayag sa Bulan,” reminds us of the oft-discussed mores and incantations of our youth.
Unfortunately, the pleasures we get from these fascinating and inventive touches are more episodic than cohesive—and the film eventually succumbs to its own discordant narrative muddle.
Like “Lily,” Jules Katanyag’s Special Jury Prize-winning “Si Magdalola at ang mga Gago” moves to the beat of its nonlinear groove, but it presents its unconventional, irreverent tale with winking confidence and flair.
When drug-dealing goons (Josh Bulot, Gio Gahol) cross paths with shaman Lola Magda (Peewee O’Hara) and her stubborn party-loving granddaughter, Rosa (Rhen Escaño), they’re quickly sucked into a parallel world that soon puts their lives in peril.
The film is weighed down by occasional incoherence, but its relentlessly dark humor keeps it viewable and reaches its peak when the scene-stealing, English grammar-bungling Ricky Davao helps the film enliven its Peter Greenaway flourishes a la “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.” The film isn’t perfect, but Katanyag is no slouch at entertaining his audience.
Speaking of incoherence, the portrayals of Rap Fernandez, Valeen Montenegro and Antoinette Taus are drowned out by the drone-like whir that continually reverberates in the background of Malay Javier’s slow and meandering “Every Room is a Planet.”
The film examines the unlikely bonds forged among Elly (Fernandez), his “missing” brother’s mentally unstable wife Yannie (Montenegro), and Doc Cara (Taus), the psychiatrist assigned to take care of Yannie.
Elly’s “fond” of his distraught sister-in-law, who thinks that her husband was abducted by aliens, but that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with Cara—whose American accent is as distracting as the stultifying dullness of the film.
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