Film Diary: Interstellar, Gone Girl (Part 1)

Damn. It took me almost five months to write about two of my favorite films in 2014. Supposedly they are to be classified under “Awards Circle” but given the disappointing turn-out of this year’s Oscar nom–

Why do they have to be validated by awards anyway? Interstellar and Gone Girl are spectacular in their own way; two dark horses prancing in a cinematic year befuddled of conventional biographies and pretentious fictional personalities. Most of the Best Picture nominees are based on a person but these two films in particular are based on an idea which definitely has its intriguing way of piquing one’s curiosity. Both are genre-films that the Academy typically overlooks but they are a must-see for everyone’s viewing pleasure, not just for the Nolan loyalists or mystery-diggers and/or miserable-avenging wives. Detractors are common, but in this case, are hyped on their misdirected attacks of alleged illogical plot holes and biased misogyny – all the more making these films thrilling to see. I’ve come to love the imperfections Interstellar and Gone Girl are speckled of, but those don’t lessen their value as absorbing, mesmerizing and though-provoking films of recent memory.



A three-hour expedition of mankind’s last refuge for survival, INTERSTELLAR is Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious and personal craft that may arrive highfalutin with its cosmic conquest bounded by emotional gravity, but the overall film is not to be defined by its disproportionate narrative fragments. An epic space opera immersive of exhilarating visual effects, INTERSTELLAR creates an alternate world where the astonishment of what is beyond the living planet and the imagination is beguilingly stunning, foreign and perilous.

Here’s another film (succeeding 2013’s behemoth Gravity) that pulls off another argument on why it should stand out and matter as the line between science and fiction blurs ominously. More than the underlying theme of preserving one’s existence during the ever-changing global landscape, is the universal message of hope and love that buoys INTERSTELLAR from the impartiality of its genre. The outer space is a peculiar podium for a father-daughter story but it’s the key to the film’s coherence in depicting love as an equally formidable force along with the unfathomable time and immense space. It takes a visionary to propel such auspicious story and Nolan goes for the challenge, along with its charismatic ensemble led by Matthew McConaughey as the former NASA pilot forced to abandon his children for a space mission with a bleak chance of return. It’s in those moments of doubt the film assures that love is as binding as gravity and as critical as time – the complex factors fuelling this one-of-a-kind intergalactic and interpersonal adventure.

Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain also star as Amelia, Cooper’s determined shipmate; and Murphy, Cooper’s daughter whose radical scientific knowledge and personal memories prior to her father’s departure were established to unlock the narrative loop that spans dog-years and speeds in wormholes. Some viewers may be dogged in burrowing the film’s disputed plot holes but in my opinion, it’s defensible for the film to not overwhelm itself from its fictitious galaxy, nor succinctly solve the mystery of space travelling which in reality hasn’t even been deciphered and accomplished. Nolan has a penchant for creating a unique mythology for his films and INTERSTELLAR exists in an intriguing astronomy that calls for an admiration on the filmmakers’ dedication and passion in conceptualizing a stellar visual and intellectual experience for its perceptive viewers.

Cooper and younger Murphy (Mackenzie Foy)

Given the standards of a Nolan film, Christopher Nolan outdoes himself in terms of thematic scale and graphic set that stretch to the metaphysical elements of space, orbiting at the center of the undeniable pull of love presented by the film as universal as the governing incomprehensible principles of the galaxies. INTERSTELLAR affirms that such human virtue is as vast and compelling as the entities beyond us. It doesn’t require the audience to believe on the pronouncement; rather, they are inherently released into unabashed tears, especially in the post-apocalyptic future complicated by the mortal component of Murphy’s longing and frustrations on her father and the ‘almost’ mission failure of Cooper and co., where hope and love are the last two things we can only cling to.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

UP NEXT: Crazy, compulsive things married people do in “Gone Girl”


Capsule Review: You’re My Boss

It’s difficult to not compare the indie darling That Thing Called Tadhana from the mainstream YOU’RE MY BOSS; but since both were directed by Antoinette Jadaone, the two films become a case study on how romantic comedies are treated depending on the scale of production. YOU’RE MY BOSS is no fate but pure formula that Star Cinema applies to the genre. But Jadaone manages to make do of the platonic-turned-romantic relationship between Georgina (Toni Gonzaga) and Pong (Coco Martin) who performed the serviceable humor and somberness that their characters require. Like Tadhana’s land-based travel, YOU’RE MY BOSS follows an intimate and transformative flight of its two leads, in this case, two work colleagues tasked of a marketing pitch to a Japanese investor for their airline company, Skyjet (one of the film’s unabashed but narratively coherent product placements). But while Tadhana relishes on its contemplative journey, YOU’RE MY BOSS’ unhurried pacing has been predetermined to a happy ending. The usage of the typical romantic formula forsakes the element of surprise in developing a subversive love story, which the film falls trap of. So where does Jadaone’s style manifests? Cutting the chase on exposition, she resorted to playful character moments and discreetly illuminating scenes to establish Georgina and Pong’s growing closeness, even if the actors don’t possess the ‘spark’ in jumpstarting their romance.

Despite the backstory, Georgina and Pong don’t match the emotional depth of Tadhana’s Mace and Anthony but it proves to be informative on their motives for self-preservation. The characters, however, are familiar of Gonzaga’s and Martin’s roles in past projects that are made blatant by their self-deprecating laughs through sarcasm and lisp. Gonzaga once again plays an intensely career-driven and fashion-savvy adult still pining for her ex (Starting Over Again) while Martin lets himself loose as a naive but not-to-be misjudged promdi (from the province) who undergoes a closet overhaul anew (Maybe This Time). Their burgeoning attraction intersects with the film’s allegory on honesty that makes YOU’RE MY BOSS more than the average rom-com by taking the initiative of incorporating a simple yet solid overarching non-romantic theme. The film is also chiding and conscious of technology’s role in building one’s online personality that contrasts the actual identity and acknowledging its existence as a means of communicating complicated feelings that are more conveniently said online or through text. YOU’RE MY BOSS’ premise isn’t the most interesting and ingenious starting point (playing make-pretend then unveiling their true selves) and it loses unpredictability in the process; nor does Jadaone make an impression in her venture to mainstream film-making. But it’s not entirely her fault, but perhaps, the bosses’.

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Film Diary: ‘Ekstra’, ‘Himala’ (Part 2)

When I try to talk about Philippine movies, I always end up pining for its golden age: the 1970s to early 80’s. When a quiver of legendary directors emerged from the fumes of censorship and landed bull’s-eye to the local cinematic history. When films were not lax and niggard of thought-provoking themes and also challenged the political restiveness. When the silver screen is not a medium for superficial emotions but is a portrait capturing the gritty reality plaguing the society. Illiteracy, poverty, fanaticism; these are just some of the ugly truths in Ishmael Bernal’s HIMALA, making it even more compelling, important and resonant 33 years later.

Film Poster

Most would have probably first seen the parody before watching the actual film. A spoof of Nora Aunor’s iconic lines overshadows the reason why the film is adhered ‘classic’ in the first place. The digitally restored version I saw during the Holy Week left me pondering on how no different is the fictional town of Cupang to the modern-day society where venerations of religious and showbiz are disturbingly parallel. Is technology to blame for tying one’s faith into false beliefs and idols or maybe the lack of it makes one susceptible to gullibility? Media has a part to play in both the old and new testaments of HIMALA’s undeniable social commentary. It remains chilling and provocative of its taboo themes (to be discussed later on). HIMALA doesn’t play complex mind games but is straight-forward amidst the ambiguity shrouding it. The classic proffers the mutually exclusive ‘believe it or not’ and the final answer is a radical observation of the self-destructive ways the society beguiles itself.

Elsa (Aunor) is discovered while in her iconic pose.

Shot in the impeccably chosen milieu of Ilocos Norte, HIMALA immerses in its eerie setting; the crude and cursed fictional town of Cupang. As the townsmen scuttled during the solar eclipse, it unveiled a young woman fervently praying and unfaltering in the wicked windiness of the sandy hills. Elsa confessed to her adoptive mother (Vangie Labanan) and town priest (Joel Lamangan) that the Virgin Mary appeared to her. Soon, she amasses her disciples and believers physically and spiritually ailing. Elsa’s miraculous claims rejuvenated the moribund Cupang, whose commercial activities sparked from religious merchandises to the trade of flesh. Yet Elsa was not powerful enough to contain an epidemic and save a friend. As the town clamors the streak of misfortunes following her absence, Elsa returns but is unbidden of her last words – the truth.

Elsa while healing one of the many miracle seekers.

There are two sides of the story in HIMALA that makes it a fascinating tug-of-war of truth. On one hand, the film’s mystery is not rooted at the strange locale but in Elsa, who dug her status from underdog to the town’s superstar (pun intended). Elsa sees the Marian apparition at the same spot where she was abandoned as a baby. The uncanny similarity, along with her ill-reputation as a slow-witted, unattractive and unwanted bastard, makes her a dramatic choice for divine intervention. More than her naïve facade, Aunor conveys Elsa’s conviction expertly with her signature expressive eyes. But Elsa’s uncharacteristically indulging smile at the camera during her healing raises suspicion. While Elsa’s character is established on the townsmen’s hearsays, a childhood friend disclosed how Elsa is self-aware and clever with self-preserving determination. Could it be Elsa lied about the Virgin Mary’s appearance? Did she trick the townsmen to gain their attention and adoration? With the situation getting uncontrollable, Elsa’s eventual death was tragic but operatic, inadvertently consistent to the act she could be pulling off. Despite the tons of holy water she douses (and her disciples sell), the crowd of desperate cases are perpetually thirsty that they become a wildfire feeding on misaligned faith.

The restless crowd waiting for Elsa

The whirlwind of strange events in Cupang revealed the more curious case of its people, whose desolate condition make them a fitting case study of a fanaticized society clinging on unproven truths based on legend (the curse of the banished leper) and religion (Elsa’s alleged miracles). HIMALA doesn’t tow a prickly debate on Roman Catholicism; it even isolates the Church through the impersonal views of the town priest. Some may say that HIMALA attacks religious fanaticism but in my opinion, it portrays how the society can irrationally react to bizarre events that only require the tricky virtue of faith. The film is uniquely critical on how this false belief can transform into an overwhelming force to be feared at. The townsmen do not anymore adore the Virgin Mary through Elsa; instead they direct their faith at her and become insatiable. To see the sea of believers zealously (and desperately) flocked at the barren hills as Elsa’s audience is daunting (I remain anxious by the river of prayer after her assassination). Special nod goes to Lamangan who is also the film’s casting and crowd director in gathering Elsa’s vast believers of various deformities, elderliness and sickness (the power of bit players!). Dearth in the aspects of livelihood and knowledge could have baited the people to their unguarded fanaticism but as affluent individuals join them, it becomes clear that faith is unbounded and malleable. It is the second most unrequited piece of one’s soul (next to love), easy to give and difficult to prove. HIMALA presents how faith can be distorted to questionable fervor when religion is befuddled with irrationality. At the end, it’s just a matter of perception.

The role of media in adding fuel to the fire on Elsa’s alleged miracles reflects the sensationalistic nature of journalism. But more consciously, HIMALA demonstrates how it is also the caretaker of truth, through Orly (Spanky Manikan). Keeping his objectivity intact, he relies on the truth seen behind the camera but an unexpected footage led him to spare Elsa from the controversy. By abandoning such shocking angle for his documentary, he settled on filming Elsa’s last breath but the future of his output was unclear. The film also touches numerous taboos such as illegitimacy (Elsa’s backstory), consensual intercourse, suicide and other crimes, magic and prostitution. The last two were incorporated in Nimia (Gigi Dueñas) who was treated as outcast upon her return to Cupang since it was implied that she worked in a cabaret. She opened her own club, only to be closed by Elsa’s disciples.

Elsa’s dramatic monologue

In a more complete and complex picture, HIMALA depicts a society committing a paradox on its beliefs that are grounded but not validated by religion. It may have initially challenged the conservative thinking of the 80’s, but thirty years forward, HIMALA’s relevance is untainted and heralded in the passing years. It remains as one of the few films that unflinchingly reveals the society as a force to reckon with, in this case driven by the blinding power of faith. Normally treated as a backdrop, the general public takes center stage on their baffling devotion to Elsa, who has been the instrument in unleashing the true miracle only the masses can conjure.

Film Diary: ‘Ekstra’, ‘Himala’ (Part 1)

TV stations tend to screen full-length movies to fill the primetime void during the Holy Week and for this year, Channel 2 chose a back-to-back broadcast of local cinema’s two most iconic actresses of their generation. This entry will not pit Vilma-nians against Nora-nians, nor compare a slice of their sundry filmography. I do, however, find the selection interesting: the lightness and familiar environment of Ekstra contrasted by the duskiness and obscurity of a little town plagued by strange phenomena in Himala. I haven’t written a proper movie review after my first viewing so the re-watch was helpful in reassessing my initial verdict. Regardless, both films successfully mirror the Filipino way of life and thinking, but in varying degrees of depth and resonance.



Follow the star” were the words printed at the back of an L300 van that dropped two batches of disheartened parents and their kids who were initially cast as the young Piolo Pascual and Marian Rivera in a top-rating evening drama. That is just one of the many blistering realities Loida Malabanan (Vilma Santos) witnesses and endures in her ‘professional’ stint as a bit player in Jeffrey Jeturian’s acerbic (if not candid) comedy of the working dynamics in show business. EKSTRA’s humor is grounded on the unflattering behind-the-scenes misfortunes and the unfaltering spirit of its lead character. But the film also imparts a bitter taste, a biting truth on how the commercialization of talents is acknowledged, and in the bit players’ case, are used in exchange of compensation. It’s in this rare occasion that the film allows the ordinary life stories of Loida and her peers to upstage their A-list screen partners.


The bit players.

Screened in the ninth Cinemalaya Film Festival (2013), EKSTRA had already invited attention through its lead star, the Star for All Seasons. The independent film cleverly builds its story through the casting: the irony of having one of the most celebrated actresses to perform the mundane gimmicks of an extra. More than a selling point, Santos is effective in bridging the audience’s sympathy to Loida who had long been a bit player. She still aspires for her break (a lengthier exposure on TV) but her small-time acting has been a reliable source of income for a single mother struggling in sending her daughter to college. Despite the cumbersome pre-dawn call times, inconvenient lay-bys and sometimes scathing remarks that are self-depreciating for the viewer’s delight, it’s safe to say that Loida and her co-extras are living their dream jobs. They find fulfillment in the smallest acting parts, regardless of whom they share the scene with. As Loida explains to an aspiring teenager, bit players are necessary to complete a scene. Their roles maybe inconsequential but theirs are what comprise of the real world that the show aims to recreate.


“Nauna Kang Naging Akin” production staff and lead actors. De Jesus on leftmost. 

EKSTRA follows Loida’s two-day taping for the Pascual-Rivera drama “Nauna Kang Naging Akin” but the real entertainment unravels in the TV crew whose production troubles were made privy to the audience. The fluctuating levels of pressure, frustration and stress among the key staff oscillate between hilarity and austerity. Fortunately, the film spared itself from sinking to the quicksand of celebrity egotism and skipped justifying the supposed greatness of the soap opera. Instead, it focused on the unsung heroes: the extras and the production staff. Vincent De Jesus’ grudging and hassled portrayal of the assistant director is the heart of the comedy, from his sarcasm to weariness in achieving what the director requires. The real actors, including Cherie Gil, Tom Rodriguez and Pilar Pilapil, are no more than a backdrop for the more intriguing dynamics behind the camera. As the window that lets the public peek at the insides of television-making, EKSTRA’s fictitious production challenges were handled with resourcefulness that sometimes turns to rash improvisation, where Loida gets her first taste of stardom. But showbiz has two faces and the other side is where EKSTRA subtly succeeds…


Loida’s second ‘break’ with the Cherie Gil.

…or it could have done more. But EKSTRA is not a black comedy, nor a tragicomedy about pursuing fame. It’s a lite mixture of everything likable and unlikable in the industry. It’s a story about people who work in the unglamorous side of entertainment. Resilience is as important as confidence in this business so whereas the production staff is inured of the stress-fueled intimidation of the director, it registers differently to Loida. The physical and emotional strains they suffer, however, don’t make them as equals. The superiority complex exists in the production staff’s treatment of the extras as if they are just props (while the extras are naively consenting, desperate for the payoff). Even when the tension in the set dissipated, Loida regretted not acing her brief role. For her, it was a chance that got away, an opportunity of a lifetime to speak more lines, to have a more significant role that will recognize her as more than the average bit player. EKSTRA doesn’t end happily but departs in a contemplative tone about the life of an extra, and in the process, is commemorated for the sacrifices she made, not for the sake of art but for life.

The congenial cast (established TV extras appear as Loida’s co-bit players) and recognizable setting outline the light humor in EKSTRA, though a part of me would have like the indie film to be more daring and critical on its commentary of the very business it is in, without the expense of its comedy. The movie does make a star of the many bit players Loida represent. Despite her failure, I know, it won’t stop Loida in her career, along everyone else who committed a mistake in their chosen profession. Affable and enjoyable, EKSTRA has potential to be more than what it is. But on its own, it smoothly carries self-awareness with humor that is anchored in reality, and no melodrama can replace the virtue of modesty that this film observes.

Rating: 3.0/5.0


Up Next: my imperfect take on the impeccable “Himala”

Capsule Review: Cinderella, Feng Shui 2

This latest entry offers a bizarre combination of the only films I watched during the Lenten season (a habit I started last year). Not to mistakenly compare apples to oranges, these two films are quite similar in extending the proposed cinematic universe of their source materials. A charming British romantic fantasy, Cinderella leads the pageantry of Disney princesses made alive onscreen (to be followed by Emma Watson as Belle in Beauty and the Beast and the recently announced live adaptation of Mulan). Meanwhile, the mythology of Lotus Feet is further explored in Feng Shui 2 which disappointingly doesn’t supplement the ingenious and native horror of the original.



Cinderella may not be my favorite fairy tale but among its onscreen contemporaries, the Kenneth Branagh-directed live adaptation is the most pleasing and satisfying. Forgoing dark hues and undertones (as played by Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent), CINDERELLA is a picturesque modern retelling whose beauty doesn’t just capture the visual design and fantasy fervor from its naïve fictional pages. Romanticism aside, the fantasy film scores a more realistic approach to feminism by forging an empowered Ella (Lily James), whose mantra in life (‘have courage and be kind’) enabled her to weather the vile treatment of her stepfamily and clinch the happy ending she deserves. Excluding the magic of her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), CINDERELLA as a British period piece is still entrancing, courtesy of the refreshing and palpable pairing of James and Richard Madden (Robb Stark of Game of Thrones). Cate Blanchett slips into the villainous territory naturally, shifting gears in her signature grace from the rippling farce of Lady Tremaine with her ditzy daughters, to the terrorizing matriarch goaded by greed and envy. CINDERELLA’s benevolent values of compassion, forgiveness and resilience refine this worthy cinematic complement to the beloved fairy tale. That, alongside the efficacious recreation of the story’s fantastic atmosphere, sets the standard of the succeeding live adaptions to balance the personal and whimsical elements onscreen, just like finding the perfect fit for those memorable glass shoes.

Rating: 3.5/5.0


A jargon in economics, the ‘law of diminishing marginal returns’ is what I refer to Kris Aquino’s cinematic cash cow produce whose scream queen status since Feng Shui (2004) spawned four horror films of receding quality. On the other hand, Director Chito S. Roño has then directed three horror follow-ups of similar unsatisfactory results. Together, their latest reunion project is possibly the weakest that can’t be even salvage by Coco Martin’s promising efforts. FENG SHUI 2 is an unnecessary sequel that doesn’t invite the curiosity on its most recognized, bleached legend’s backstory, nor inspire to frighten apart from shock value and gore that Roño repeats from the playbook of The Healing. FENG SHUI 2’s imprudent entertainment value is elicited through the silly appearances of Lotus Feet and the dreary exposition (tell and show) that impale the film’s momentum, particularly when Aquino’s character begins to eclipse Martin’s. The idea of the bagua haunting a new victim-owner is thrilling at first, sort of a fresh adventure ridden of mysterious deaths. Lotus Feet’s grandest ploy is orchestrated to justify the sequel’s existence but the outcome still gravitates to Joy that could tease another installment, thus defeating the establishment of Lester’s story. Mainstream cinema has yet to offer Martin a worthy script that won’t downplay his talents. FENG SHUI 2 is a forgettable and futile horror flick that doesn’t augment the franchise. Regardless of the stories left to tell (if told well), the original Feng Shui is sufficient to immortalize its supernatural Chinese ghost.

Rating: 2.0/5.0