Capsule Reviews: 'Signal Rock,' 'Bakwit Boys,' 'The Day After Valentine's,' 'Ang Babaeng Allergic sa WiFi'
Manila, Philippines--From a young lady who suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome to a provincial lad who falsifies land titles and business permits to help his sister win a child custody case, 14 Filipino films of varied themes and genres are curated for the "Pista Ng Pelikulang Pilipino" (PPP), a nationwide week-long exhibition of new and recent local films, which runs until today, August 21, 2018.
Here's a run-through of some of the productions we've seen from the well-received film festival, now in its second year.
By far, Chito Roño's drama "Signal Rock" is the best film we saw at PPP. The film tells the story of Intoy Abakan (Christian Bables) and his family of modest means who live in a third-class island town whose electricity shuts off after midnight. Cellphone signal is also weak on the island, which only improves from the top of a rock formation by the sea, where Intoy tries to keep in touch with his troubled sister, Victoria, in Finland. (We don't see Victoria in the film, but we hear her on the phone--voiced by Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo, no less!)
Bables, in his element here, showcases a wide range of emotions without overdoing it. Daria Ramirez, Intoy's mother; Nanding Josef, Intoy's hard-of-hearing father; Francis Magundayao and Jomari Angeles, Intoy's barkada; Elora Espano, Intoy's girlfriend who works in a bar in Olongapo, and Mon Confiado, a self-confessed murderer, provide the strong support.
Although some of cinematographer Neil Daza's images are covered in shadows even those filmed during daytime, thank goodness, Rody Vera's solid script saves the day; his story tells a moving, if sad, family's concerted effort--amidst their differences--to help Victoria win her daughter back from her estranged live-in partner 5,600 miles away from the Philippines.
As an added treat, the film features some gorgeous drone photography of Biri in Samar province, Eastern Visayas.
"Signal Rock" won the festival's main feature "Critic's Choice Award." Bables, on the other hand, won "Best Performance by an Actor."
University of the Philippines alum Jason Paul Laxamana is the writer-director of the heartwarming musical romance "Bakwit Boys," which tells the story of four brothers, who are reluctant viral stars and are victims of a super typhoon that hit their hometown. At a talent show in their barrio, the brothers (Vance Larena, Nikko Natividad, Ryle Santiago, and Mackie Empuerto) meet a musically-inclined city girl, Rose, (Devon Seron) who believes in their talent and volunteers to raise money to record the boy band's demo tape.
Besides the radio-friendly pop-rock songs by Jhaye Cura, "Bakwit Boys," all-embracing, is easy to love! Its characters, lighthearted and unpretentious, a bit cookie-cutter though, and its no holds barred script charm their way into your heart until you find yourself weep buckets by the tail end. Music, besides being universal, touches the soul, indeed.
"Bakwit Boys," (bakwit, a colloquial term meaning "to evacuate") is blessed with superb actors: Nikko Natividad, who plays the boy band's composer and is in love with Rose; Ryle Santiago, who strums the guitar while dreaming of fame and fortune; Mackie Empuerto, who provides the charming vocals to the band's first hit song, "Ligtas Ka Na," and Vance "Kierwin" Larena, who represents his brothers as their self-appointed financial manager, are top-notch. Further, Seron's singing voice has these breathy vocal colors that are easy on the ears. Take note, too: Natividad's role is practically a "non-singer" role, yet he sings his way through without autotune.
THE DAY AFTER VALENTINE'S
Also written and directed by Jason Paul Laxamana, one of the film's highlights is Bela Padilla (Lani) and JC Santos' (Kai) trip to the latter's hometown in the supposedly picturesque "Pineapple Island" of Lanai in Hawaii. However, the images captured by Rommel Sales' cinematography are rather bleak, almost uninspired, except the shots of the multitude of stars at night and Lani and Kai's last day on the island.
Past the film's camera work, in "The Day After Valentine's," Laxamana, fortunately, writes another sincere and honest script about moving on, being genuine, and forgiving the people who hurt you the most. In this romantic drama, fresh from a breakup, Kai meets Lani, a young tutor and a sales lady who helps the former mend his broken heart.
The chemistry between Santos' Kai and Padilla's Lani is palpably wonderful and mirrors that of a real-life couple who finds it hard to admit they've fallen in love with each other. The exchange of dialogues between Kai and Lani is effortlessly effective as if they're not uttering words from the script.
Although the final stretch of the film leaves only scant breadcrumbs about the fate of Kai and Lani's budding love story, its final scene says it all--unapologetically.
"Bakwit Boys" and "The Day After Valentine's" won the festival's main feature "Audience Choice Awards."
ANG BABAENG ALLERGIC SA WIFI
Cinematographically, Jun Robles Lana's romantic comedy "Ang Babaeng Allergic sa WiFi" is the most polished among them all; its luscious images, especially those shots with shallow depth of field, jump off the screen for its cinematic aesthetics.
However, what "The Day After Valentine's" has in terms of chemistry, is what lacks between Sue Ramirez's Norma and Jameson Blake's Aries in this film. Add to that, Angeli Nicole Sanoy's sidekick to Blake's Aries is a familiar, tired formula--almost cringe-worthy. Sadly, Lana, who also writes the script, did not bother to veer away from the conventional rom-com mold that mainstream movies--both Hollywood and locally-made films--have been shoving down our throats.
"Ang Babaeng Allergic sa WiFi" follows the road to the healing of Norma, a young lady who suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome. Subsequently, Norma is forced to live in her grandmother's hometown in Cabanatuan City, where Aries, her star athlete boyfriend's younger brother, visits her regularly to keep her company.
The film's last few minutes make up for an absorbing, rousing ending to the nearly two-hour of sheer pettiness.
The dramatic drone shot, accompanied by the slow-motion editing, near the end, is jolting, at the same time, stunning!
Nationwide, students get 20% discount from tickets to the PPP's official entries: "Signal Rock," "Bakwit Boys," "The Day After Valentine's," "Ang Babaeng Allergic sa WiFi," "Madilim Ang Gabi," "Pinay Beauty," "Unli Life," and "We Will Not Die Tonight."
Students can also avail the same discount form tickets to special feature films: "Balangiga: Howling Wilderness," "Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus," "High Tide," "Kiko Boksingero," "Paki," and "Iu Pug Imatuy."
Photos: Cape Signal Rock (CSR) Films PH, T-Rex Entertainment Production, Jason Paul Laxamana, The IdeaFirst Company Inc.