Friday, June 27, 2008


In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

In my craft or sullen art, Dylan Thomas

by DYG

By now the staff and crew of SERBIS are already past caring what anyone thinks of their work, but as SERBIS opened in its home country for the first time yesterday (I saw it on July 2), it opened the film – and people behind it – to critique by the local audience of both the pandering and the venomous kind. After all, not all the reviews that came out of Cannes were nice to read (or watch, as it were). I admit I was pushed to watch SERBIS because of the quite interesting trailer. I like the color green and there was this overall greenish – or rather, mocha – patina all over the film which I loved so much. Plus, being an amateur photographer, I like shots with drama and SERBIS was quite liberal in this department (among other things, but that’s getting there too early).

Mendoza’s penchant for realism find resonance in the works of Filipino film masters – Brocka, Bernal, etc., but then I recall writer Rita de la Cruz reminding a group of younger, bright-eyed writers during a workshop, ”Napaka-boring ng katotohanan.”and SERBIS has everything – guts, grit, gumption. It also has all the clichés one can possibly think of in films of this genre (they are too difficult to resist). Not only does it have the kitchen sink, it also threw in the toilet bowl for good measure.

Because of this, SERBIS’ narrative suffered terribly in the light of its turtle-paced progression. The story was sacrificed on the altar of details. Because of too many things happening on the screen at the same time (too much energy was spent on establishing the setting, for example), the writers didn’t even have the chance to develop the characters. Everyone acted on their own accord; we couldn’t even figure out who was the son, the mother, and the grandmother of who (see? We were too distracted).

Lingering shots (method acting) did not help nor did they make an impact. This makes me wonder if Mendoza has friends in the film industry who could criticize his work honestly without being afraid of losing their jobs in the increasingly contracting local film business. It is in the interest of Mendoza to surpass his more brilliant works (i.e. Kaleldo). It is useless to keep on experimenting in styles if the story does not progress. The latter should come as a surprise since the writers of SERBIS had super track records (Pila Balde & Tuhog for Amando Lao; Kaleldo for Boots Pastor). Was the material too complex to put together in a 1.5-hour film? Maybe. I recall watching a play of a similar story at last year’s Virgin Labfest and I thought it was the worse of the lot.

Anyway, the film is a visual feast (and I do not mean the gratuitous nudity which was said to have driven a wedge between the director and lead actor). Priceless were the scenes where Coco Martin was unplugging a stuck floor drain, the escaped goat against the screen, an aggrieved Gina Pareño on the toilet floor clutching her new but wet pair of shoes, Julio Diaz and that perpetual stupid look on his face, water coming out of the faucet during Gina’s bath scene (I loved the tiles!). The opening scene; what the hell was that all about? Ugh. At any rate, Gina Pareño shines in this film (but not as much as she did in Kubrador). Coco Martin and Jacklyn Jose are hopelessly trapped in mono-dimensional characters. Everyone else was forgettable.

Filipino Director Brilliante Mendoza poses in Cannes during the photocall (May 18, 2008). Photo credit: Getty Images

If it wouldn’t be too imposing, I wish to offer four alternate endings to SERBIS:

First, there was a scene where it showed the theatre in its most serene – silent and lighted. For once, there was a respite from the ambient noise that so many reviewers were complaining about (I think I liked it, actually). There was a top shot of a man sitting all alone on a bench below with the light from the afternoon sun flooding the area around him. There were lovely shots of empty halls and stairwells that were fantastic and worthy of a coffee table book. Slow music. Fade.

Second was when Gina Pareño, after taking a bath and changing into mourning clothes again (but bejeweled, as if to show pride in whatever was left of her former fortunes) manning the ticketron, her head held up high. The camera actually panned out, but didn’t fade as expected. Tsk tsk. It could have ended the film on a more positive note. I mean, after all the sad, depressing scenes earlier, perhaps there could be some form of justice in the end? Nada. None for this film. It’s too Lars von Trier for crying out loud (he did once say, “A film should be like a rock in a shoe”).

Third was when Coco Martin packed his bags and walked out of the theatre and got swallowed up in a huge religious procession. Pan out, fade, music, credits.

The fourth was a beautiful and dramatic night shot of the theatre’s façade with the huge signage that reads FAMILY (the theatre’s name; how truly imaginative. Onli in da Pilipins.) The theatre looked glorious, it’s 70’s-era architecture a stark contrast to the shabbiness around – and inside – it. Fade, music, credits.

All of the above endings are thematic and aim for positive endings, but Mendoza’s style is obviously – and continuously – changing; there are no more rules, and that creates a lot of problems. I think I also had a quick Maslow moment during the screening. “It is tempting,” says Abe Maslow, “if the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail.” Truly, when one has high-grade cameras and great writers at one’s disposal, so many things can be done with them; otherwise, what are you a filmmaker for? To quote von Trier, “When there's nobody to enforce discipline upon you, then you have to enforce it from within. That, in return, has made me incredibly disciplined at my work today—I work all the time. But at the same time it's a tremendous source of anxiety that everything is your decision. Of course this has given me great faith in my own creativity—almost like a christening gift.”

I, too, have great faith that Mendoza will continue to improve his craft.

Anyway, after mentioning all these to a friend, he SMSed back,” Who cares about the technicalities? How was the sex?” I rest my case.


RADIOACTIVE ADOBO dedicates this post to all the victims - living, missing and dead - of typhoon Frank. May the Heavens hear our prayers for peace, healing and reunion.

Photo: Dove of Peace, Pablo Picasso

Thursday, June 19, 2008


KATORSE SHORTS is a project of The Katorse Writers’ Group, a group of young writer-filmmakers who were part of Ricky Lee’s 14th Scriptwriting Workshop (hence 'Katorse'). I saw their ad on Philippine Star last Sunday and decided to go watch the series even if Robinson's Galleria was so way out of my usual route. Thanks to BC for giving me a tip on how to get there from Manila (if you're anywhere near the Metropolitan Theatre area, wait for a bus that goes to Taytay or Cainta).

I am a huge fan of short films. I always get DVDs of foreign shorts whenever I have the chance to come across some. Anyhoo, here's the list of shorts featured. These came from their 4th-year anniversary DVD.

Ang Kapalaran ni Virgin Mario by Ogi Sugatan
Ambulancia by Richard Legaspi
Manyika by John Wong
Puwang by Anna Isabelle Matutina
Dead Letter by Grace Orbon
Lababo by Seymour Barros-Sanchez
Walong Linggo by Anna Isabelle Matutina

Truth be told, the only film I didn't enjoy was Lababo. Paciencia, pero I really have no patience for anything that has a leftist bent. Each to his own.

Ang Kapalaran started the series on a humorous mood. This is a take on the Virgin Mary's Immaculate Concepcion (hence Virgin Mario). The story opened with two men on a bed; lovers, obviously, named Jose and Mario. One of them (Mario; Yul Servo) woke up one day to find himself pregnant. What followed next was too hilarious to even write about. The attempt to abort the child took the most part of the film: Jose (Ricky Orellana?) tried making sungkit the fetus using a wire hanger from all the possible body orifices but to no avail, until a man suddenly appeared in the room telling them to stop and announcing that the second coming was at hand. A joyful mystery indeed.

Ambulancia stars Alan Paule and Nor Domingo. Alan is an ambulance driver and Nor is a medic. The story takes a dig on the belief of ambulance drivers that animals get themselves run over by ambulances to save the dying patient being ferried to hospitals except that on this particular day, Alan didn't run over a dog but his own daughter (who eventually died to "save" the life of a tetanus patient, a friend of Nor). Coincidences can indeed be chilling.

The story could use a little tightening. Parang hindi alam ng writer kung kelan niya tatapusin ang pelicula. Short films should have the ability to leave the audience jarred, shocked or somewhere in between (think Pam Miras' Blood Bank or Raz de la Torre's Labada or Jeanne Lim-Pepe Diokno's No Passport Needed; may ooomph ang ending, gets?). Lingering shots can kill the emotional buildup and ends the film on a flat note. Nasasayang ang effort.

Set in Luneta, Manyika has a promising premise: two young meet and become a couple. Every day, the girl receives a stuffed toy from the boyfriend until her room is filled with them. She becomes inis because the boy can't seem to say that he loves her. Instead, he gives her more stuffed toys. One day, he decided to give her the largest stuffed toy ever and she throws it on the street out of sheer desperation. Boy retrieves it and gets run over. After the internment, girl comes home crying and accidentaly squeezes a toy and it says, "I love you". Turns out, all the toys will say the same thing when squeezed and the largest of them gives her the boy's final message: that he did plan to finally say it on the day he gives her this toy. Sigh. Ano ba ito?! So heartbreaking naman. I wish it could have been shot with a better camera though; plus all that ambient noise! Haay.

Puwang is too long to discuss here (they translated the word 'puwang' to "space between"; "Space" was enough na sana because the title didn't mean it to be a literal physical space. Emotional space ito, eh), but I loved the tension brought about by the confluence of events - a dying father, a son who wouldn't visit, a daughter giving birth, and another daughter who's torn between giving up and taking care of the father. Kudos to the actors and to the writer. Shots were good, never mind that the father's poop was (quite literally) in-your-face. Because of this hindi ko na tuloy matandaan ang ending (I swear!).

May ganda naman ang Dead Letter. Medyo nakakainis na nakakalungkot. I think it is pure poetry in motion. It really captured the situation of many struggling writers (the young writer's script as pambalot ng tinapa was cliche-ish but still the best way to depict things given the circumstances). A little tightening, okay na siya. Definitely not for all audiences dahil sa heavy drama. Anyway, kudos to writer and director Grace Orbon! (Was this part of the Cinemalaya Shorts A last year? Because that was what I didn't get to watch.)

Lababo. An advise to the UM Film Society: keep writing, keep watching, keep observing, keep making films.

I liked Walong Linggo because it's a fine, smooth ending to the series akin to a mug of hot coffee and chocolate cookies after a long day. I guess the official synopsis describes it best: A young man who sits alone in a café every Sunday morning suddenly finds himself strangely falling in love with a girl he doesn’t know. As he tries to get to know her, he is hindered by insecurity and fear of rejection, thus prolonging the much-awaited introduction. Cute concept by writer-director Anne Matutina. Actors Joey Santos and Jaymee Joaquin were very, very good. Mababaw ba ako to like this story? Maybe the simplest can actually be the most likeable.

A better review of the series can be found here.

In the net, the Katorse Writers' Group lives

Friday, June 13, 2008

JUNE 13, 1976

My dear son,

We’re together once more here in Davao. We arrived yesterday at some minutes past noon. You cried a lot. You could not sleep because I’m sure you missed your “duyan”. You got used to this cradle while with Lola. You were terrible on the plane and at the airport, although you slept in the taxi. Here at home you started crying terribly again because you could not sleep! Now you are sleeping again because I made you your kind of cradle. You certainly have a very bad sleeping habit. You toss and roll in your cradle, so it’s dangerous not to watch you.

You always smile so sweetly that it makes people “melt”, but they don’t know that you scratch your face and pull your hair when you can’t get something you want, which, of course, is unbecoming of a sweet-looking baby like you! You’re only 3 days less than 8 mounts old. Some say you’re big for your age, bit I think you’re just okay. Your lola and your great grandfather didn’t want me to take you back here.

You’ve always been a happy child. Let’s pray it will be that way always because that is all that will matter. I am happy, too.

- Mommy

Thursday, June 12, 2008


In keeping with the 110th year of our independence from Spain, I went on a mind-boggling three-film extravaganza of Filipino films. I started with Aureus Solito's Tuli, followed by Peque Gallaga's Oro, Plata, Mata and finally, Himala by Ishmael Bernal. First, I am thankful that these films are finally on DVD. Was so glad to have found them while browsing through Astrovision at Rob's Ermita.

Anyway, Tuli was a digital work by the indie director Aureus Solito that was shown at the Cinemanila and at Sundance. This was his second film after the celebrated Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros. I am not sure if this film ever had a local commercial run because it received an X rating from the MTRCB for a lesbian kiss, among others. I think the topic was rather risque at best, although it wasn't really the crux of the story. Artfully shot with a little sepia glow to it (or maybe that's just how most Pinoy films are when viewed on DVD), it has a rather engaging narrative. Bravo to the young actors; they really deviated much from their protected-teen images to deliver very endearing and convincing performances.

I thought I'd never ever get to see this Gallaga masterpiece. You know, in my college days, people will only get to see this film by visiting the UP Film Center in Diliman and that alone doesn't even guarantee you a screening. Nestor de Torre brought this along with him during his national speaking tour and that's when my Mom saw it in Xavier University. Now, you can own a legit copy of this obra maestra for only Php 199. So cheap for something so priceless (note the irony in this sentence).

ORO, PLATA, MATA (Gold, Silver, Bad Luck - or something like that; Mata means something else in Spanish actually and it's not "death"!) was filmed in 1982 and set entirely in Negros (where Gallaga hails from). It won in that same year the Gawad Urian for Best Picture, direction, cinematography, production design, musical score and sound. If at all, we only have the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines and the Philippine National Bank (funder?) to thank for this film. It was also shown during the opening night of the first (and last) Manila International Film Festival in 1983 at the Manila Film Center. I loved the performances of the women actors, everyone deserving of an award (if only!). I loved Liza Lorena, most especially. I have always been a huge fan of hers. Too bad she isn't given any substantial roles these days. Gossip says Mitch Valdez regretted doing the topless scene, but hey! That was integral to her role as a liberated, US-educated doctor. Kuh Ledesma's role here is weird. She appears as a diwata. She represents, of course, the innocence (and the destruction thereof) that was inherent in the national character that was left scarred by the war.

My interest in ORO, PLATA, MATA was piqued by my current interest in this Thai soap entitled Four Reigns, which came from a book written by a former Prime Minister about a woman whose life spanned four kings. I was thinking that perhaps there could be a Philippine equivalent, and I think Oro is it. Compared to Four Reigns, however, Oro has so much tension - name it, it has it - and sex and violence and intrigue, something which is sorely lacking in its Thai equivalent (which made me think Four Reigns will never make it to local television). Every Filipino cineaste worth his salt should make Oro, Plata, Mata required viewing.

Lastly, I saw Himala. By now, it was already past mignight but I've been having problems sleeping lately that I didn't even quite notice the time. I have seen this thrice, twice on ABS-CBN and last night on DVD. Yes, you can now own a copy of this precious Bernal for only Php 199! Himala premiered in 1981. Although it didn't get the elusive Urian nod, it won in the 1982 Metro Manila Film Festival (Best Actress, Best Film, Screenplay, etc.) was eventually shown in Chicago and Berlin. The Manunuri, however, made up for its oversight by declaring Bernal the Most Outstanding Filmmaker of the Decade (1971-1980). He also was conferred the National Artist Award albeit posthumously. Himala was also shown, along with Oro, during the opening of the 1983 Manila International Film Festival. I don't need to mention here what this film says about the Filipino, but the need to believe in something is still a quest for so many.

Friday, June 06, 2008


I am so loving Pinoycentric, the blog that covers everything brown and beautiful. It pretty much gives very new news from both sides of the Pacific - Manila and the US mainland, with some coming in from around the world. Why, it even incorporates articles from other blogs I read! At least kahit nakatira ako sa mountains, aware pa rin ako sa nangyayari sa world. Yun lang. Bow.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


What is a life? A frenzy. What is life?
A shadow, an illusion, and a sham.
The greatest good is small; all life, it seems
Is just a dream, and even dreams are dreams.

- LIFE IS A DREAM (Calderon de la Barca)*

I was pleasantly pleased with this Google header. They do this every so often to commemorate something (yesterday, it was about the first air balloon flight). My favorite is their Christmas series in which they add something every day until the tableau is completed on Christmas Day. I first encountered Diego Velasquez as a child while reading back issues of Reader's Digest which we had hundreds of. I have two prints of his work - Las Meninas (see below) and Vieja Friendo Huevos (An Old Woman Frying Eggs) - awaiting framing.

Las Meninas (roughly, The Ladies-in-Wating); 1656

Pablo Picasso's Las Meninas (1958); as his own tribute to Velasquez

* Did you know that the plaza fronting the Binondo Church is called Plaza Calderon de la Barca? It was first called Plaza de Binondo, then Plaza Carlos IV (whose statue stands infront of the Manila Cathedral) and was finally named after the Spanish poet. Is now known as Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz. (Special thanks to Traveler on Foot for this information.)