Sunday Beauty Queen Film Thoughts

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One thing about documentary films is that every story takes a really long time to develop and a filmmaker always has to guess what will come next. He or she does not need any special talent but just an ability to see right through the subject and capture not only its façade but its inner truths as well. That’s what Babyruth Villarama has achieved in Sunday Beauty Queen.

In one scene, you would see all these beautiful OFWs all dressed up and glamorous on a beauty pageant stage where they battle for recognition. But what are their real battles beyond the stage?

In the film, Hazel Perdido, a domestic helper in Hong Kong for eight years, watches her daughter’s graduation on her phone while fighting back tears. Cherrie Mae Bretana, who has been in Hong Kong for four years, spends more time taking care of her young charge Hayden than his parents ever do; and the boy’s obvious attachment to her makes it difficult for her to leave to another country with greener pastures. Mylyn, on the other hand, is taking care of an entertainment industry mogul who lives alone despite having several daughters and grandchildren. Meanwhile, Leo, a sassy lesbian, is dedicating his life in helping OFWs in Hong Kong by organizing beauty pageants that raise funds for them.

The subtle editing cuts back and forth between the subjects and clearly balances the ugly and beauty truths of living and working in a foreign land. Honestly, these truths are not new to us since there were some films about OFWs already made in the past such as Anak in 2000 and Caregiver in 2008. However, compared to those films, Sunday Beauty Queen presents this story without acting and formulated heavy dialogues. It’s not pretentious. It’s the raw perspective and that’s what makes it feel a genuine and special watch.

The film presents stories of ironies with the Department of Tourism sponsoring these beauty pageants for OFWs to welcome foreigners to the Philippines while its own citizens are leaving the country; and with Filipinas taking care of foreign children like parents when they can’t even take care of their own kids back home. Scorer Emerzon Texon’s gentle melodies perfectly brings the audience to the depths and heights of these realities. I must note that the ending credits song, Panahon ng Pagkakataon by Chlara Bear, is a perfect finale to sum up all the emotions you felt while watching the film from that one day that these OFWs could be themselves and be happy with friends to that bus ride home worrying if they will make it to the deadline set by their employers.

It would be a mistake though to expect Villarama’s documentary to have an entertainment value like the other MMFF 2016 entries have. What I actually mean here is, more than focusing on entertaining, it focused on touching people which I think is what the audience need more than just pure entertainment from films these days.

I know one documentary can’t hit all the important spots of a big social issue like this and Sunday Beauty Queen certainly did not; but Dexter dela Pena’s cinematography was enough to create a picture that evokes the feeling of familiarity and foreignness of working abroad. In the end, the perspective that working abroad is one of the saddest struggles facing many Filipinos today was not lessened or severed; the film just emphasized that each of them can make the best out of their conditions and thus it wrapped on a heartwarming note. It was so heartwarming that I think a lot of OFWs and their families felt a little bit closer even just for a while through these stories.

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The Little Prince Film Thoughts

It was two years ago when I first saw the world of the Little Prince in book and last October 29 during the QCinema Film Festival, I re-entered his world through film with a higher expectation. Not only mine, but the eyes of the whole world are all set on this ambiguous adaptation of this well-loved book that’s why everyone hopes it would not disappoint.

I am happy to say it did not.

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The Little Prince turned out to be a respectful and lovable re-imagination of its original source that beautifully uses two different animation techniques in a slow-paced storytelling. It may lack heart-pounding action that the usual animated films have today but it sure appeals to the whole family by effectively translating the life messages and values of Saint-Exupery’s story.

Published in 1943, The Little Prince was inspired by a real life air disaster involving the author in which his aircraft crashed in Sahara desert near the Nile Delta. From there he wrote a tale in which an airman meets an interesting young boy with blonde hair who claims to be from a distant asteroid (#B-612) before he fled away and reached different planets including earth.

Apparently, the film was not a direct adaptation of the book since the material was scarcely long enough to be a feature film. The filmmakers added a disneyfied storyline that weaves the story of The Little Prince. It involves a girl whose strictly monitored life meets a crazily-eccentric old man living next door. He then gives her pages from his notebook that tells the story of the Little Prince complete with Saint-Exupery’s drawings. A few more additional adventures involving the girl meeting the Little Prince made the film more interesting because it took emphasis on the story of the Little Prince and brought it to a closer level of understanding with its audience.

The distinction between the two worlds, the real world and the Little Prince’s world was presented very clearly. With the girl and the old man, the film makers used a big-eyed CG for the characters more like the modern manner of human animation; but when it comes to the story of the Little Prince it turns to a very beautiful rustling paper stop motion technique. I never imagined that the latter technique in animation could be very effective for a film like this. It added magic to whole thing.

It’s a good thing that the screenwriters did not write a contemporary storyline as endearing or as mythical as Saint Exupery’s tale because it gave the Little Prince’s story the chance to stand-out, well in the first place the film is titled the Little Prince so he should definitely shine the most. The story of the unnamed little girl served both as a thread that carefully weaved the story of the Little Prince and at the same time, a loudspeaker that amplified the tale’s true message and that is to never forget how it is to be a child again. Growing up is not wrong but always remembering the innocence of being a child, that simple and uncomplicated life, and most especially the joy of being one will help you become a better grown up. If you did not have a good childhood it’s okay cause it’s not too late to. You could always learn how to enjoy life through looking at children. This is your time to make up for those lost years.

Accompanied by Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey’s beautiful scoring that brings dreamlike calmness, this film should be a good watch every night for children or for adults who want to relax.

More than being a good looking film, every adult and child should see this for the societal flaws it tries to present. It is not often that we see animated films for children that tackle adult issues in a …..well…..”cute” way; therefore we should go see one when it does. We need more films like this. But of course the credit goes all to Saint Exupery. Thank God he was lost in that desert. If not, I wonder if we’ll ever get to know that a Little Prince lives somewhere up there.

GO WATCH IT IN CINEMAS STARTING DECEMBER 2!

Above the Clouds Film Thoughts

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Written and Directed by: Pepe Diokno

This much awaited second film of Pepe Diokno had its Philippine premiere last August 14 at the 11th Cinemalaya Film Festival. Compared to Diokno’s first feature film, Engkwentro, a seat clenching gang and crime story which exposes the ugly truth of our society today, Above the Clouds dwells on the adventure of two people for peace and freedom from emotional burden while stunningly showcasing the breathtaking mountainous area of the country.

This artistic work aims to evoke essence and emotion through good visuals but the question is, was it enough?

The story started with a teenager, Andres played by Ruru Madrid, losing his parents due to a natural disaster. He was then forced to live with his estranged grandfather, played by Pepe Smith, who he has never seen for years. The two then embarks on a hiking adventure with an attempt to reconnect to each other as a family.

Basically the plot offers no twists and it isn’t necessary to have so. It’s all about dealing with emotions as one tries to reach out while the other runs away from everything. From time to time, Pepe Smith effortlessly throws humorous lines that sends the whole theater to laughter. It succeeds in this aspect but it still struggles to build up deep tear-jerking moments that would’ve instilled a better impression to the audience as a greatly moving film rather than just a visually successful one.

Symbolism in the film though was often and becomes very interesting and it supported the articulation of the characters’ troubles and grief. Yet, Above the Clouds, despite its artistic value, is honestly predictable. At the latter part, the audience was actually watching more of for the view only and not for its totality anymore. Let’s give credit though to some interesting parts in the film like when Andres ran of to the woods in the middle of the night, you just can’t help but feel agitated for him and for his grandfather who was very worried about his grandson.

I commend the film for raising up the garbage issue in Mt. Pulag. It displayed the ugly result of leaving our dirt in a beautiful creation like the said mountain. I’ve been there myself and though there wasn’t that many garbage there as in the film, the locals are still very troubled about this issue because it disturbs the sacredness of the place.

One thing difficult to accept though is the vandalism in the mountain. It is just not right that they also showed vandalism on the rocks of the mountain in the film, like lovers putting their names there. I know that it has a purpose in the film but I would’ve suggest that it could’ve been altered into something else, like just maybe a hidden letter under the rock. There are a lot of tourists climbing up there every day and it may encourage other people to do the same vandalism, which isn’t a good idea. As filmmakers that could influence other people, you should be careful about even just unintentionally suggesting an undesirable idea to anyone that could result to the degradation of anything especially our natural wonders.

Bottom line is, I do recommend this film and please do watch it. It still is a refreshing film to view without that many characters or things going on it. It aims for the soul rather than the mind. Though I admit, to do this perfectly, the film could have had a better script. It is a one of a kind idea for a film but it still needed more. It took a road less traveled but it still striving to get to its destination. But along the road, it could introduce you to some wonderful things and it did so for me.

The Fault in our Stars Movie Thoughts

The Fault in Our Stars gives you this funny, wise and heartbreaking journey of these cancer patients, sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster and eighteen year old Augustus Waters. Their relationship started with their friendly acerbic wit interactions about a book which also has a cancer story called, The Imperial Affliction, and their search for what goes beyond the end of the book, which makes this love story even more unconventional. The characters had more time to know each other in a more deeply and witty way before they did make out.

Adding to the already acclaimed story of the book, The Fault in Our Stars film is very well and sensitively acted and brightly captured the emotions of the capable cast. Looking only at Shailene Woodley’s expressions is enough to feel all the emotions needed and you don’t need any words at all. But with all those famous lines of Hazel Grace which was delivered very naturally by Woodley, you get overloaded by so many feels that are difficult to handle. She rightly portrayed the smart girl who is extremely overhyped about a book and at the same time the girl who already accepted the fact that her life was never and will never be normal. Ansel Elgort showed so much charisma but I must admit he was better at his down-moment scenes than those in which he was playing confident. Lauren Dern was the one who really pinched my heart in this film. Every cry she makes and touching words she says to her daughter makes you feel a lump in your throat. She and Woodley made the mother and daughter relationship very believable. I like how positive parents were portrayed here. It’s like in a situation like this; you will realize that your parents can really be the most supporting, loving, and understanding people there for you. Nat Wolff could have used more screen time for everyone to have felt him more.

The only moment that made me cringe about the film was when the people started clapping when Gus and Hazel started kissing in Anne Frank’s hideout. It was the usual Hollywood plot device or teen flick technique. It didn’t feel real and natural that people would just start clapping like that seeing two strangers make out in the middle of a Holocaust memorial.

Even though I like Hazel and Gus’ relationship better when they were just friends and the mother and daughter relationship of Dern and Woodley even more, I cannot deny that this is a powerful and a tear-jerker love story. The film’s aura was so bright even if there’s cancer, suffering and loss. The screen was shining. It’s like; hope and love are more powerful than all of the faults in their lives. If you aren’t moved by this movie, well the fault is in no other than in you.

Dagitab Film Thoughts

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Note: I know it’s a little late but I’ll post this anyway. 🙂

Film Title: Dagitab

Director: GianCarlo Abrahan V

Main Cast: Nonie Buencamino, Eula Valdez, Martin Del Rosario

Genre: Drama

Rating: 4/5

There are films that raise thoughts about life in your mind and leave you thinking about it long after watching it, and Dagitab is definitely one of those.

It is a poetically written film that showed a real life situation of a middle-aged couple who are still, at their age, trying to find themselves. Jimmy (Nonie Buencamino) and Issey (Eula Valdez) Tolentino are a childless married couple who both work as professors in the University of the Philippines Diliman. Jimmy was on his last days of writing a book which he have worked on for years in the desire of finding his lost true love, Lorena (Max Eigenman) who disappeared in the mountains while practicing her rebellious activities. Issey on the other hand went as a panelist on a writing workshop for students which included her Godson, Gab Atienza (Martin Del Rosario) and there she was dragged into a scandalous affair. Being apart and having to deal with their own personal issues will test Jimmy and Issey’s marriage. Will they be able to stick together after resolving their individual problems?

Having writers as protagonists in a film does give Dagitab a poetic and witty script. Giancarlo Abrahan, the director and also the screenplay writer of the film, gave us lines that make us want to replay in our heads over and over again. Some of these well written lines are, ““Naniniwala ka ba sa spark?” (Do you believe in spark?), “Kung pagod ka na, hindi mo naman kailangan umalis, kailangan mo lang magpahinga.” (If you’re already tired, you do not have to leave, you just have to take a rest), and “You are just a void! Soon you will be irrelevant!” There was also a line in a song sang by Jimmy and his friends which says, “Mula dito hanggang Kalayaan,” that really struck a string in my heart. You will really feel the troubles and unhappiness that surround the characters with every word they say.

Eula Valdez stood out in this film. But what can you expect? Valdez does not have anything to prove anymore when it comes to portraying characters. Every action she made in the film may it be that long pointless laugh she did at the near end, seemed nothing but natural. Nonie Buencamino and Martin Del Rosario’s acting were not the type that will receive an award but they undeniably did well in showing off the essence of the characters they play.

The cinematography is a success in leaving beautiful visuals in the memory of anyone who would watch it. Who could easily shake off in his head that incredibly long scene of a dead woman being eaten by worms? And that mesmerizing scene where Issey and Gab were lying on the beach while the waves came in? It just makes you wish you were actually there lying with them. What I did not like about the film were the unnecessary long shots of scenes that seemed to have no relevance in the storytelling and that only made the film feel too long and sent some viewers to sleep.

The filmmaker could have shot scenes that will give more element to the characters of the protagonists instead of seeing them kill mosquitos, have sex in the forest and just sit there looking out at the window. The gay subplot was entertaining but it did not felt necessary except for being an escape route for Gab’s problem. Abrahan could have added more to it that will make it feel more needed in the story.

Compared to Transit, which is also from the same production company, we could say that Dagitab is just a second runner up. But still Dagitab has its own strengths as a film and I can say that it is one of the best in this year’s Cinemalaya line up.

Insurgent Movie Thoughts

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The Divergent Series is back again with its latest installment, Insurgent, and as much as it was not my intention to change my perception on the film series after I leave the cinema, Insurgent just turned me sour towards the entirety of it.

With all candor, I appreciated all the changes they made to add more action scenes with 3D effects but the thing is, it was not executed smoothly and it was unrealistic enough for me to think that I was actually watching a video game. There are very apparent mistakes like the way it was obvious to the audience when the rope or wire or whatever it is that was used to hold one of the characters’ when she jumped from an edge of a tall open floor. After seeing all of that I felt like I had my toll.

Here in Insurgent, Tris Prior played by Shailene Woodley faces a tough decision if she will turn herself to, Janine Matthews played by Kate Winslet, or let her friends be manipulated to their deaths. The whole film then revolves to Janine finding and torturing divergents, specifically Tris, to help her open a box which came from their ancestors containing a message that will tell them the truth about their existence; the truth why they are caged in a nearly destroyed city.

In Divergent, I was in denial that this series is not like the other flopped YA books film adaptation. Well while it’s true that in terms of earnings, it is a lot better than some of its YA sisters, you cannot ignore that the story is just somewhat like the others, struggling to be something but failing at all means to do so. It is a dystopian story that brings nothing new. There were some tight-grip moments but it was not enough to carry on the elevation of emotions until the end. I actually felt nothing when it ended.

I also protest that Kate Winslet’s role should have given more depth. Okay fine we know that she’s the villain, but what we don’t know is WHY she is the villain. What was her true reason why she’s doing all of this? What is the main root? A villain becomes more effective when we also know where she’s coming from. Besides, Kate Winslet does not deserve a role like this. No.

The men in the film were good but they were not outstanding. Theo James showed more emotion this time in playing his character, Four. Miles Teller is still quite an effective jerk and Ansel Elgort actually succeeded in dropping his hot guy image in his previous film, The Fault in our Stars, and look like a stupid traitor.

Shailene Woodley is the one who gave the film a ray of hope with her good acting. It’s a given factor already because Woodley is a natural actress and her impressive physical strength in doing her stunts really makes you nod at this girl. However, a single good performance of an actor is not enough to compensate all the huge flaws of a struggling film.

I am not really comfortable to say this, but as a former fan of the series, Insurgent disappointed me.