Review: Cinema One Originals 2018

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Transgender comedian Iyah Minah was awarded the Best Actress award for her portrayal of a transwoman who has to take care of her sister's transgender child in Rod Singh's “Mamu; (And a Mother Too).”

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The problem of diversity is still an issue in many film festivals around the world, despite the continuing impact of the #MeToo movement. In this year’s Cinema One Originals film festivals, there are no female filmmakers in the full length competition roster (Iris Charmaine Lee’s “Palibhasa Babae” was included in the original lineup but pulled out eventually). The film festival though has seen strong work from female filmmakers — Antoinette Jadaone’s “Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay” and “That Thing Called Tadhana;” Sari Dalena’s “Ka Oryang” and “Dahling Nick;” and Pam Miras’ “Pascalina,” to name a few — and Shireen Seno’s “Nervous Translation” from Cinema One Originals 2017 continues to travel in film festivals and museums abroad.

This year though, LGBTQ filmmakers are well represented. Two of the strongest films this year, Rod Singh’s “Mamu; And a Mother too” and Whammy Alcazaren’s “Never Tear Us Apart” center on LGBTQ characters and at least five other films have substantial queer characters. The same goes to the festival’s World Cinema slate, where films like “Girl,” “The Poet and the Boy,” and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” tackle LGBTQ issues in new and innovative ways. Even the documentary “Whitney” takes on the purported queerness of the gay icon as well. Perhaps the queerness of the festival is telling with the opening film itself, Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born,” which screened a few days before its local commercial run.

In between queer stories, genre films thrived from different corners of the Philippines: Keith Deligero delivered another siraulo outing with “A Short History of a Few Bad Things,” and Raynier Brizuela’s equally siraulo “Asuang” delved into Bicolano mythology updated with social media ills. Bobby Bonifacio Jr.’s “Hospicio” is the lone horror film of the competition, unless you count Joseph Abello’s “Double Twisting Double Back” as a sexed-up psycho-horror, or even the aforementioned “Never Tear Us Apart” as a postmodern take on horror.

There are also two comedies featured in the lineup: Charliebebs Gohetia’s “Bagyong Bheverlynn” starring Rufa Mae Quinto and John Lapus’ directorial debut “Pang MMK.” Rounding up the competition films is returning filmmaker Carl Papa, who won the 2015 edition with “Manang Biring,” with another animated feature though this time as a musical drama about mental illness.

Below are a few notes about the festival’s films. — DJ

A Short History.png Screengrab from CINEMA ONE

“A Short History of a Few Bad Things”

“A Short History of a Few Bad Things,” directed by Keith Deligero and written by Paul Grant, is film noir by way of the Coen Brothers. Just like “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski,” it deliberately nails the elements of the genre and flips them for a take that feels local, more comedic.

The film starts off like most detective stories, with a murder and a man out to uncover the truth. When no-nonsense Detective Felix Tarongoy (Victor Neri, in all his world-weary glory) is assigned to investigate the assassination of an old colleague, he begins to suspect that the motives go beyond simple robbery. He starts exploring the victim’s connections, including their own shared history.

“A Short History of a Few Bad Things” has all the requisites of the genre, but with Deligero's brand of siraulo subversion inserted into it. So instead of a hardass boss, we get a hardass boss who loves Bisaya rap; in place of an all-dolled-up femme fatale, we get one who prefers house clothes and texts in sticky caps; and, yeah, there’s also a police chase where only one of the parties is running. These are all absurdist in a way that needs no explanation, that is just matter-of-factly. This makes the film’s humor so unassuming and, in turn, more effective.

This quirkiness though also serves another purpose as it makes the world Deligero paints as alien; its Cebu setting, a city in the uncanny valley. Juxtapose this to Tarongoy being a Tagalog (from Luzon), a stranger unfamiliar to their customs and unable to fully speak their language, we get to see a deeper disconnect between him and his milieu. This fits into noir’s sensibilities as one of the genre’s trademarks is making its protagonists feel isolated, unable to grasp the world they get embroiled in.

And of course, because this is noir, the film by the end of it still manages to send a message about the rot beneath the system, the bleakness beneath the tropical vibrance.

Aside from some overscoring (Deligero loves showcasing Bisaya music a bit too much), “A Short History of a Few Bad Things” is an excellent exercise in the genre. Not quite the deconstruction social media is calling it to be (“True Detective” frequently in the conversation), it is instead an evocation of noir nostalgia, albeit with a distinct flavor that makes it a fresh and highly entertaining watch. - GP

Never Tear Us Apart.png Screengrab from CINEMA ONE

“Never Tear Us Apart”

“Never Tear Us Apart” remains like an open nerve for its entire running time, its corners slowly saturating with dread much until it implodes under its own pressure. Much has been said about the use of the smartphone portrait orientation yet the instagram influencer sheen here is deployed to chilling effect with the chic clothes, banal furniture, and carefully composed images. It really feels like we’re watching a theatrical presentation of someone else’s Instagram story but it is discomforting in a way that we’re watching something that we’re not supposed to. “Never Tear Us Apart,” after all, is the contents of someone else’s memories, a closet full of demons thrown open for the world to see. The film begins with a ‘selfie’ of a boy, Alex (Albee Saspa) in his tighty whities, dancing like nobody’s watching and from here on, he proceeds to get fucked, literally and figuratively, thanks to an entity known as ‘the Shadow’ that has haunted his family for decades. The unfurling is cold, distant, and slow. Director Whammy Alcazaren becomes the Virgil to our descent in his own familial inferno where each circle contains an assortment of crimes, suffering, and transgressions. “Never Tear Us Apart” is intensely intimate and it brings us pleasures and horrors unknown, reminding us that the monsters that we created ourselves are the realest of them all, probably the deadliest — and it might just be in the family. — DJ

Pang MMK.png Screengrab from CINEMA ONE

“Pang MMK”

The drama anthology “Maalaala Mo Kaya” has been around for so long, 27 years to be exact, that it has built a little cottage industry to itself, integrating melodramatic tropes to the extent that dismissing something is “pang MMK” or “too MMK” means that the person’s story is too morose or sappy. Parodies of “MMK” have also been done left and right (Michael V nailed it once upon a time in “Remember When”) but John Lapus’s directorial debut “Pang MMK” is distinct in combining caricature and exploring what happens after a story has been given the MMK treatment.

“Pang MMK” is a sequel to an actual MMK episode from 1999 where a mother (Cherry Pie Picache) and two children (Alwyn Uytingco and Nikki Valdez) are abandoned by their filmmaker father (Joel Torre) for another woman. The new story is still read by Charo Santos and most of the original cast return except for Uytingco since the letter sender wants Neil Coleta to play him this time. The request is granted and Uytingco is literally bumped out of the movie. Janus (Coleta) finds out that their estranged father has died and now has to deal with the circus surrounding his funeral  — from choosing caskets to making sure that his sister and his father’s second wife (though they were not married) do not cross paths.

I’ll admit that there’s more to “Pang MMK” than what I expected. The trailer makes it look like it’s just any other generic comedy film — and this is true to some extent. Lapus has always been a suave comedian and many of his clever turns are deployed in “Pang MMK.” The film often feels like its a more restrained Wenn Deramas outing with outsized scenes of hysteria, playful secondary characters, and a full tank of queerness. Valdez spends most of the entire film shouting and even Picache and Torre are in on the silliness: Picache is supposed to be away on vacation so she’s mostly on green screen-ed vistas and Torre is literally a talking corpse, acting as Janus’ subconscious when the story needs it.

Lapus has some pretty interesting things to say about the melodrama formula that Filipinos have gotten used to and these jabs land strong and solid. It’s not an entirely awful watch and has a few moments of comedy gold to spare even though it’s the kind of film that looks like it won’t age well. — DJ

Mamu.png Screengrab from CINEMA ONE

“Mamu; (And a Mother Too)”

When Cinemalaya awarded Mimi Juareza Best Actor in 2013 for “Quick Change,” it felt like a missed opportunity and perhaps a signifier of the refusal of the film festival to commit to more progressive terms. The transgender actress said she didn’t mind, as long as her efforts were recognized. But her role in “Quick Change” was a momentous accomplishment in itself: a transgender actor playing a transgender character.

This year though, Cinema One Originals awarded transgender comedian Iyah Minah the Best Actress award for her portrayal of a transwoman in “Mamu; (And a Mother Too), and rightfully so. It comes at a time when representation and diversity is talked about at length, particularly in movies that depict the stories of the marginalized. And with a film like “Mamu,” from a genderqueer director and featuring a transgender actress in a lead role, the struggle seems less futile.

Minah owns so much of “Mamu.” She steers her titular character as a woman on the verge yet unfazed by the direness of her and her family’s circumstance. She decides she needs to have a breast implant so she can compete with younger prostitutes. Yet this new plan is upended when she has to take care of her sister’s child, who is also growing up to be transgender. Like “Never Tear Us Apart,” “Mamu” is an offbeat family film, and there is a conscious effort on building a new queer narrative from social realist LGBTQ films of past, from Lino Brocka’s “Ang Tatay Kong Nanay” to the aforementioned “Quick Change” by Eduardo Roy Jr.

Rod Singh’s full length debut is a gleeful triumph and it is a delight from start to finish, buoyed by pitch perfect performances not only from Minah but from Arron Villaflor and EJ Jallorina as well. It’s not just about a woman trying to make ends meet but it also allows us to confront the notion of “womanhood” and what it means to be a mother, especially when you get to choose your own family. — DJ

Hospicio.png Screengrab from CINEMA ONE


“Hospicio” begins with a summary execution that misses its target and instead hits a sweet, young girl, Lian (Jana Victoria), while consoling her drug addict sister, Leslie (Loisa Andalo), who is frustrated with her art practice. With her sister struggling for her life in the ICU, Leslie is sent to a hospice — nay, a ‘wellness center,’ as it is preferred to be called by its Imang (Ana Abad Santos) — where its resident basket of deplorables are exorcised with their various addictions: sex, drugs, kleptomania, or just plain old hysteria. But of course, like in any horror movie set in a creepy manse, nothing is what it seems in this place. Soon enough Leslie finds out that the “Nueva Vida” in the institution’s name means something else entirely.

Director Bobby Bonifacio calls the film a “parody on institutionalization and self-righteousness.” As far as this setup goes, “Hospicio” has more than enough to build a conceit that is equal parts scary and relevant. Beyond the EJK implications, it is the millennials vs baby boomers stand off between the patients and the staff that makes for a rife discussion on generational divide and how the next generation will undo — or continue — the mistakes of the previous.

“Hospicio” is strongest when it explores the lore behind the cult running the rehab. The film is a direct sequel of Bonifacio’s “Numbalikdiwa” (although it isn’t marketed as such) and continues the story about an ancient rite of flesh eating and soul transference. “We are the ones who deserve a chance, hindi sila,” justifies one of the elders, on the verge of picking another youthful body among the society’s undesirables. This “graduation,” as they call the execution and subsequent cannibalism, is an ‘administrative decision’ and is carried out by a god known as the Sasigloho, one of the most interesting monsters to come out in recent Filipino films. Sins are reborn and the atrocity continues.

But for most of the time, “Hospicio” is wildly uneven, particularly in its attempt to balance horror and comedy: it’s either too silly or too obvious. Jump scares can be seen from a mile away and the sound is too jarring to even count as an added atmosphere that it feels like it’s coming from somewhere else. Despite the tired horror tropes in recent spookhouse triumphs such as “The Conjuring” and “Insidious,” these films work well because of the well-oiled setups that put the story in place. “Hospicio” may have a solid bedrock for its foundation but everything on top is built too randomly and haphazardly. — DJ

Ma - Cropped.png Screengrab from CINEMA ONE


If “Ma,” directed by Kenneth Lim Dagatan, was an entry in this year’s competition, it would easily be its frontrunner.

Shown only at a special one-time screening during the fest, viewers would, unfortunately, have to wait for the film’s iWantTV streaming debut. Quite a missed opportunity if you ask me as “Ma” is a near-spotless work of Filipino horror that deserves to be seen in all its big screen glory.

Admirable most among all of the film’s assets is its patience. It respects the audience enough to not employ mere jump scares or throwaway moments of unearned gore or violence (though the film does have a proclivity for vomit sequences). Instead, the film takes time to flesh out its story, take us deeper into the individual arcs of its characters, understand each motivation. This commitment is evident right from the start, as the film already devotes a grueling 10 to 15 minutes to dread-building even before its title card flashes.

“Ma” is best experienced going in cold. All a viewer needs to know is that the film, at its core, is an externalization of various woes related to motherhood. It is the dread, paranoia, the body horror already inherent to femininity, just brought to its extremes. The supernatural is merely used as a vehicle to make the implicit terror more overt.  

From the fear of dying and leaving your young children to fend for themselves, to being abandoned by a partner mid-pregnancy, and to the state of pregnancy itself — where women lose agency over their own body. What Dodo Dayao and Kenneth Dagatan’s script accomplishes is impeccably weaving these natural and relatable feelings in a narrative that showcases their individual horrors but still culminate in an impressive and terrifying collision. — GP

Double Twisting Double Back.PNG Screengrab from CINEMA ONE

“Double Twisting, Double Back”

[Spoilers below]

Written and directed by Joseph Abello, “Double Twisting, Double Back” by its concept alone is a highly interesting watch. Its greatest strength is how it spins a familiar premise, that of split personalities, and takes it to a place rarely before seen.

What the film does differently is treat Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) not as a plot twist but instead a matter of fact for its characters. It sets its protagonist/s in a place where the ascetic gymnast Badger (Tony Labrusca) has learned to cohabitate with his more hedonistic, sex-addicted alter-ego (Joem Bascon). They are “Jack” and Tyler Durden if the two worked out shifts.

By laying its cards down immediately, the film is given more room to explore this quirky character dynamic. It’s fleshed out even better by the performances of Labrusca and Bascon who are just having a go at it — they’re clearly having fun with their roles.

What “Double Twisting, Double Back” lacks though is more palpable conflict. When the OG Badger decides to pursue his dream of becoming the Philippines’ top male gymnast once again, the equilibrium he and Bascon’s alter-ego once shared is thrown off balance. But what should be a fight for control — superego vs. id, restraint vs. indulgence —  is too amicable, too buddy comedy, for its weight to be felt. This lack of struggle is most apparent when the film’s strong starting play starts losing its steam towards its middle.

The film does try to make up for this by dialing up the shock value and the reveals in its latter-thirds. Though it works in most part, I couldn’t help myself but wish that this heightened friction — especially with Bascon’s menacing charm — should have been built up earlier on. — GP

Paglisan.png Screengrab from CINEMA ONE


Similar to his previous Cinema One 2015 entry, the Best Picture winner “Manang Biring,” writer-director Carl Joseph Papa once again juxtaposes the themes of love, family, and sickness via the lens of animation. It uses the surrealism the form provides to depict the haze that is life amid crisis. While in “Manang Biring,” it was through cancer and a mother’s longing to spend one last Christmas with her daughter, in “Paglisan,” it is by the story of a former theater playwright (Ian Veneracion) at the onset of Alzheimer’s and the wife who’s left taking care of him (Eula Valdez).

Storywise, there’s an overwhelming sincerity to the kind of love the film depicts. It is sacrifice, it is attention, it is putting yourself in the service of another. And there’s just something about music that elevates the depths and heights of these emotions, a purity only capable of being unleashed through song. This synergy of music and storytelling reaches its acme in an ugly cry-inducing number where in a moment of lucidity, Veneracion’s Crisanto serenades his sleeping wife — a melodic apology as he wonders whether his tired spouse will still love him when she wakes.

Jarring in “Paglisan” though is its central device, its animation; it may need some getting used to. Though addressed early on as a means of visualizing the slipping and fading memories of Crisanto, the already odd style choice is made more detrimental by what I can assume is a low frame rate in the animation (it becomes comparable to stop-motion at parts).

Toward the end of “Paglisan,” there are also plot points unloaded that, though feel organic to the story, muddle up the narrative, in my opinion. It may even negate the feelings viewers felt earlier in the film.

Nevertheless, these are but minor gripes I’m willing to look past as, overall, “Paglisan” is very much a poignant piece of filmmaking. — GP

Asuang 2.png Screengrab from CINEMA ONE


The best way I could describe “Asuang” is it is the world of the fantasy comic book series “The Wicked + The Divine” told through the mockumentary stylings of “What We Do in the Shadows.” (Full disclosure, two of my all-time favorites. So yes, I might be “Asuang’s” target market.)

Written by Carl Papa and Rayn Brizuela, who is also the film’s director, “Asuang” is set in an alternate present-day wherein not only do gods exist, but they do so as celebrities — appearing in talk shows, holding parties, having enormous social media followings, etc.

We follow a documentary crew as they chronicle the titular Asuang (Alwyn Uytingco), the Bicolano god of sin, as he works on rebranding himself for a comeback after decades of dormancy.

As far as world-building and strength of concept go, “Asuang” is admirable. Just like “The Wicked + The Divine,” it draws rich commentary in depicting the parallels of idolatry in religion and celebrity-slash-influencer culture — followers being their lifeblood. “Asuang” takes things a notch further though by turning this commentary into satire. This creates great moments of comedy as the god Asuang tries his hand at packaging himself as a social media star. Uytingco’s charm and comedic timing undeniably carry this role.

Where the film stumbles is when, about two-thirds in, it attempts to raise the stakes. From petty ploys at social media stardom, Asuang goes back to taking control of his own myth. In this transition, the film unloads backstories, throws in some character deaths, and adds other twists and turns that lead the film to lose sight of its strengths. It kind of falls apart, failing to be fun nor funny.

Thankfully, “Asuang” quickly regains its footing, finding the balance in its new quest narrative and the comedy in its earlier acts. — GP

Bagyong Bheverlynn.png Screengrab from CINEMA ONE

“Bagyong Bheverlynn”

There’s a message that “Bagyong Bheverlynn” is trying to tell. In an age where hugot is all around us, women should learn to unbind themselves from the societal pressures regarding relationships. A woman is not defined by the number of men they’ve been involved with nor the heartbreaks they have gone through. There is happiness in independence.

And that about ends all the nice things I have to say about “Bagyong Bheverlynn”; I can give it the benefit of the doubt that it had noble intentions. Besides that, well, you know what they say about good intentions and the road to hell.

Directed by Charliebebs Gohetia and written by Jericho Aguado, “Bagyong Bheverlynn” is an odd film, to put it lightly. It wears self-awareness as a badge, thinking that by saying it knows how nonsensical its jokes are, it creates a space between itself and the audience where everyone is in on the joke. The problem is, it’s not very funny.

The film’s humor is based mainly on bombarding its audience with memes and pop culture references, people speaking in English (because Filipinos speaking in English are apparently funny), and scientific jargon (yes, they do say, “wow, big word”). It does this so incessantly, winking and nudging, hoping it draws laughs, but in reality it’s the cinematic equivalent of a sad tito repeating a punch line, thinking you missed it or just didn’t get it.

Throw in a gay joke and some insensitive jabs at typhoon victims here and there, and the film doesn’t just feel dated in its brand of humor (it’s a close cousin of mid-2000’s parody comedies like “Epic Movie” and “Meet the Spartans”) but also in its political incorrectness. And saying that those are satire or parody is not an excuse, because those only work if drawn on insight.

I don’t really know what more I could say without turning this review into a litany of rants. Yes, I can sympathize that comedy is a hard nut to crack, but still I wish Ruffa Mae Quinto and Edgar Allan Guzman were given something better to do. — GP