The Episcopal Commission on Social Communication-CBCP

CINEMA (Catholic INitiative for Enlightened Movie Appreciation) of The Episcopal Commission on Social Communication of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines presents movies viewed in the light of the gospel. . *** For inquiries, please EMAIL: *** CALL or TEXT: (02) 664 5886 *** or WRITE TO: CINEMA, Episcopal Commission on Social Communication, CBCP Compound, 470 General Luna St. Intramuros, Manila *** Enjoy the reviews, and THANK YOU!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

DIRECTOR: Jake Kasdan  STARRING: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Bobby Cannavale,  Nick Jonas, Rhys Darby;  SCREENPLAY: Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, & Jeff Pinkner; STORY: Scott Rosenberg BASED ON: the book "Jumanji" by Chris Van Allsburg   BASED ON: the film "Jumanji" screen story/screenplay by Greg Taylor; PRODUCED BY: Matt Tolmach, William Teitler, Ted Field, Mike Weber
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Dany Garcia, David B. Householter, Jake Kasdan; GENRES: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy; MUSIC BY: Henry Jackman; EDITED BY:  Steve Edwards, Mark Helfrich;  CINEMATOGRAPHY: Gyula Pados; PRODUCTION COMPANIES: Columbia Pictures, Matt Tolmach Productions, Radar Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions; DISTRIBUTED BY: Sony Pictures Entertainment; COUNTRY: United States; LANGUAGE: English  RUNNING TIME: 1 hour 59 minutes
Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 3
Cinema Rating: A14
MTRCB Rating: PG                        
Back in 1996, an old board game, Jumanji, is found on a beach, taken home, and magically turns into a live game. In present day, in this brand new Jumanji adventure, four high school teenagers Spencer, Fridge, Martha, and Bethany (Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner and Madison Iseman) discover the old video game console while serving school detention and are sucked into the game's jungle setting, literally becoming the adult avatars of the game characters (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillian and Jack Black) they chose. What they discover is that they don't just play Jumanji—they must survive it. To win the game and return to the real world, they'll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, and change the way they think about themselves—or they'll be stuck in the game forever.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is fun-filled, entertaining spectacle.  The premise may be quite worn-out given that it’s no longer original but the tweak of the story focusing on teenage issues has worked well to make the entire feature an interesting adventure. Central to the film’s overall comedic appeal are the charismatic actors who enthusiastically portrayed complex, juxtaposed characters. The real-life simulation of the game remains to be an interesting handle although the Jumanji games seen from the point-of-view of a gamer may be a mediocre one, but the heart of the story keeps the movie afloat. The twists and the climaxes provide enough thrills and there is never a dull moment in the film.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a coming of age film with the adventures of a real-life game simulation as its backdrop. The teenagers’ issues on identity, acceptance and peer pressure are all tackled in the film. It’s good that somehow the movie gives a sensible take on these matters that concern mostly the youth. There are realizations here and there—of one’s worth not relative to looks and popularity, of one’s identity not dependent on others’ approval, and of friendships not dependent on benefits. When the conflict of survival comes in, the film goes even deeper and more meaningful. The challenge after the game—the real life being actually more challenging and the bond that is built on trust and genuine care—all these somehow tell that there is hope in the youth only that they should be given a platform to bring out the best in them.  The film also shows that the avatar game characters are neither immortal nor perfect—they die and they have weaknesses. But the focus must be on the strengths, and weaknesses can be an opportunity in disguise. Real-life lessons are learned in the game—the world of the young. And so the film is also talking to the experienced ones that to teach the young, they must enter into their world. The film however still exhibits some portrayals of violence and insinuations of sexual awakening that may not fit the very young. So CINEMA recommends the film as suited to audiences aged 14 and up.—RRP 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Paddington 2

DIRECTOR: Paul King  LEAD CAST: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson  SCREENWRITER: Paul King, Simon Farnaby  PRODUCER: David Heyman  EDITORS: Jonathan Amos, Mark Everson  MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Dario Marianelli  GENRE: Animation, Adventure, Comedy  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Erik Wilson  DISTRIBUTOR: Captive Cinema Distribution, Studio Canal  LOCATION: England, Ireland  RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  4
CINEMA rating:   V13
MTRCB rating: PG
Paddington 2 brings back the adorable bear Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw), now happily settled with the Brown family in a small London neighborhood. He thinks often of his Aunt Lucy who raised him. For her 100th birthday, he works several odd jobs to get her a pop-up book of famous London landmarks. But the book is stolen, and Paddington is sent to prison when no one—not even eyewitness Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant)—can corroborate his story that a heavily bearded man stole the book. In prison, Paddington befriends the terrifying cook Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson) who later helps him escape to go after the real thief. Meanwhile, Mary Brown (Sally Hawkins) and the rest of the family discover a link between the stolen book, a missing chest of dazzling jewelry, and a man with many faces.
This live-action/animated film occupies us with its CGI, convincingly merged with breathtaking cinematography of nature and urban outdoors. Then there’s live action and the lead actors’ good acting. We can overlook how the adult actors eclipsed the Brown children’s characterization, who should have been given a more prominent role in this movie meant for children. But all is well, because the screen is undeniably redeemed by the rest of the cast, especially Paddington himself, who is created entirely on CGI. Thanks to Ben Whishaw (of the critically-acclaimed Perfume and The Danish Girl) voicing for Paddington. His voice moves us to tears and his naivete earns guffaws from children and adults in the cinema. Paddington 2 is a skillful mix of technology, direction, script, plot development that holds our attention with its suspense, and a bucket of lessons of disarming good-naturedness.

There is however one point in the story that needs adult guidance: Paddington and friends’ prison break is uncomfortably glorified. The rest of the plot—including Paddington being suffused with grief thinking the Brown family has abandoned him, later he nearly drowns, and there’s the brutishness of life—are all within the context of the story and there is redeeming value. Conflict is resolved in the end, to the point, in fact, of being too explicit about it. CINEMA considers Paddington 2 a clean wholesome film, well-made, with outstanding lessons to impart: manners-manners-manners, gratitude, believe in the goodness in people, unearth them and stubbornly believe in them even if the people themselves don’t, because eventually people have a way of redeeming themselves. The movie draws us in, and we leave the cinema with an overwhelming sense of goodness, and the world bending to receive it.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

DIRECTOR:  Wes Ball  LEAD CAST:  Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scoldelario, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter, Ami, Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Blake Cooper, Jacob Latimore, Dexter Darden,  Rosa Salazar,  Patricia Clarkson & Giancarlo Esposito  SCREENWRITER: T.S. Nowlin  PRODUCER:  Wyck Godfrey  EDITOR: Dan Zimmerman  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  John Paesano  GENRE: Action/Sci-Fi  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Gyula Pados  DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox  LOCATION: South Africa  RUNNING TIME: 152 minutes
Technical assessment:  3
Moral assessment:  3
CINEMA rating:  V14
Staging a daring train rescue operation, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and companions Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Frypan (Dexter Darden), Brenda (Rosa Salazar), and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), brave death to free young people from becoming guinea pigs in the organization WCKD’s experiments to find a cure against the Flare virus.  They discover, however, that their fellow “Glader” Minho (Ki Hong Lee) is not among those they have rescued.  Feeling certain that Minho has been taken by WCKD—led by Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and her sinister right hand Janson (Aiden Guillen)—Thomas decides to leave their base camp and go on his own to search for Minho.  Newt and Frypan join him; soon they encounter Gally (Will Poulter) whom they had thought to be dead, but who helps them enter the Last City.  Gally tells Thomas’ that his love interest Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is now one of the WCKD scientists; captured, Teresa reveals to them that Minho is indeed being used in WCKD’s experimental search for the “death cure.”
Based on James Dashner’s novel The Death Cure the movie—the conclusion of the Maze Runner trilogy—features heart pumping chase scenes that almost never stop—whether the chaser is a giant beetle, the zombified characters called Cranks, or the enemy’s flying machine guns and foot patrol.  Acting and characterization are adequate, with the exception of Scodelario’s somewhat robotic Teresa.  Janson (Guillen, Game of Thrones’ Little Finger) should have been given more screen time to show bigger and meaner fangs as the villain.  Throughout the dystopian milieu, the characters project flashes of vulnerability, justifying the plot’s twists and turns.  However, (spoiler alert!) the too frequent resorting to deus ex machina as a salvation device diminishes the story’s credibility and realism.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure’s redeeming factor is the innate goodness of the young people in the story.  The greater good is the glue that binds all those young people together in spite of past offenses and misgivings.  Friendship, forgiveness, loyalty to ideals, repentance, and courage in the face of danger are values highlighted in the film.  Aristotle once wrote, “He is courageous who endures and fears the right thing, for the right motive, in the right way and at the right times.”  It is the kind of courage that the characters displayed here, and the script is clear enough about how evil deeds are dealt with in due time.  The ending implies that it is these young people who will populate the earth anew, inspiring one to hope they will create “a new heaven and a new earth.”  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Fallen not Forgotten: The Untold Story of the Gallant SAF 44

FALLEN NOT FORGOTTEN: The Untold Story of the Gallant SAF 44 (Documentary) 
In 2015, President Noynoy Aquino authorized OPLAN EXODUS, the Philippines’ attempt to neutralize and capture Marwan, an international terrorist in the FBI’s Most Wanted List, in hiding in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The mission involved only the SPECIAL ACTION FORCE (SAF) of the police and a few high ranking officials close to the President.  No coordination with the military or local officials in the area was done.
However, the operation, though successful in its objective, suffered heavy casualities—44 SAF men to be exact. Some blame the enemies’ advantage since they were familiar with the terrain. Some blame the miscommunication and lack of coordination.  Some blame the blantant disregard for lives in order to satisfy an agenda.  The question: what went wrong? Could it have been avoided? Was it worth it?  The narrative is told from recollections of the men who survived, officials who were part of the planning, and observers and critics as they try to shed light and answer these questions.
A successful documentary is a perfect balance between showing what really happened and the creative representation so viewers will not only be better informed but be more involved. Fallen Not Forgotten, The Untold Story of SAF 44, does not really provide anything new that one cannot find out online or in the news. After years of controversy, we would have already formed our respective opinions on the issue.  However, hearing the stories of the actual people who were involved in Oplan Exodus lends it more relevance in our reality than just being part of the pages of our history books. The interviews gave a  good perspective and insight from those who were on the ground, those who were part of the planning, those who were just observers and those who critique what happened. Some of the survivors of the Mamasapano encounter actually took part in reenacting some scenes in the documentary and the experience proved to be an emotional moment for the troopers.
One can also appreciate that the presentation did not bank on drama or emotional blackmail to prove a point. Did it point fingers? Probably, but it is inevitable because facts narrated were corroborated by the conclusion. It was necesssary to produce this documentary because at a certain point in our history facts will be forgotten and misinterpreted, thus we lose our chance to learn from mistakes.  There were lapses and loose ends in the production both in the documentaries and the reenactments, but taken as a whole, the film delivered.
Nobody wins in a war. Nobody—even if the objective is achieved and victory is gained. The aftermath of irreparable  trauma, massive destruction, and countless deaths cannot be compensated by political or economic gains. But in this political world, acts of war are inevitable. While there is no humane way to go through it, we expect leaders to exercise outmost compassion and discernment in decision making. The biggest mistake (at least as shown in the film) is the leaders’ incompetent communication before and during the operations, and unimaginable display of insensitivity after.  The documentary also seemed to deliberately avoid echoing the questions in the mind of the public then, such as “Where did the bounty on Marwan’s head go?”   Instead, the film emphasized heroism and commitment to service. As Senator Honasan said, no public servant, other than the police and military, has a social contract to offer or sacrifice his life for the sake of the people. This reminder is timely because after all the stereortyping of the police and military as corrupt and violent brusque bullies, we realize that those—and many do—who have the heart for service willingly lay down their lives for the country’s sake.
Caelestis Productions, Inc.  Executive Producers: ATTY. FELIPE CRUZ, SALLY JO BELLOSILLO  Director/Cinematographer:  ADRIAN BELIC  Director: SALLY JO BELLOSILLO  Co-Director/Edit Producer:  EMILE GUERTIN  Producer: MARICEL REDUCTO  Assistant Director: CHRIS ALMEDA  Editor: CHA ESCALA  Associate Producer: PAMELA CARBONELL   Media Partner: CNN PHILIPPINES 
To view the trailer, please click on the link:

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes

Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 2
CINEMA rating: V14
Parehong nagdududa sa pagkalalaki ng kani-kanilang mga mister ang dalawang Mrs. Reyes na sina Lianne (Judy Ann Santos) at Cindy (Angelica Panganiban). Sa kanilang di inaasahang pagtatagpo ay makukumpirma nila  na bakla nga ang asawa ni Lianne na si Gary (Joross Gamboa) at asawa ni Cindy na si Felix ( JC De Vera). Matutuklasan din nila ang mas masaklap na katotohanan na magkarelasyon ang mga bakla nilang asawa.  Sa tuluyang pag-iwan ng dalawang Mr. Reyes sa kani-kaniyang pamilya ay magsasanib pwersa sina Lianne at Cindy at uupa ng private invetigator upang malaman ang mga plano at ginagawang magkasama ng mga asawa nilang bakla pati ang balak na pagpapakasal ng dalawa sa Taiwan. Magkahalong sakit at galit ang nararamdaman ng dalawang Mrs. Reyes lalo na kapag nakikita nila na masaya ang mga asawa nilang bakla samantala sila ay miserable. Gagawa sila ng mga paraan para magkahiwalay ang dalawa katulad ng pakikisabwatan sa isang macho dancer, pagbubuking sa biyenan at pagpo-post ng open letter na magba-viral sa social media.
Kumplikadong kwento na binigyan ng mahusay na trato ang Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes.  Mabigat  ang tema pero naihatid ng magaan. Magaling ang direktor at ang mga artistang ngsiganap lalo na sina Santos at Panganiban. Bagamat maraming eksenang nagpatawa sa mga manonood, epektibo din nahugot ng pelikula ang iba’t ibang reaksyon at damdamin ng mga manonood katulad ng galit, paninisi, awa, unawa at simpatiya. Nakakalibang at nakaka-relate pakinggan ang mga diyalogo. Kuhang-kuha naman ng kamera ang mga emosyon ng mga karakter ng dalawang Mrs. Reyes pati ang mga detalye ng mga ginagawa ng mga asawa nilang bakla na  magkalaguyo. Maganda rin ang mga kuha ng kamera sa isang festival sa Taiwan. Sa kabuuan ay maayos ang mga teknikal na aspeto at nakakaaliw panoorin ang pelikula.  
May kasabihan na sa pagiging totoo sa sarili at pagkatao nagiging malaya ang isang tao.  Subalit may kaakibat na responsilidad ang pagiging malaya. Ito ang hindi isinaalang-alang ng mga karakter na bakla sa pelikula. Sa halip ay ginamit ang pagpapakasal upang subukang makapagtago sila sa katotohanan. Sa kulturang Pilipino na malaki ang pagpapahalaga sa kasal at bilang bansang Kristiyano na sagrado ang turing dito, Ang Dalawang Mrs Reyes ay salungat sa pagpapahalagang ito.  Ang pag-aasawa ay isang panghabambuhay na pagtatalaga ng sarili sa isang relasyon kaya dapat ay buo ang loob at isipan sa pagpasok dito. Kung may isyu sa pagkatao, hindi dapat magpakasal ang isang tao dahil siguradong madadamay ang iba. Sa pelikulang ito biktima ang mga babae na nagmistulang desperado at miserable samantalang nagpapakasaya ang mga dahilan ng pagka-miserable nila. Sa gitna ng kumplikadong sitwasyon ay unti-unting nagkaroon ng pagtanggap, pang-unawa at pagpaparaya sa parte ng mga biktimang babae. Maselan at seryoso ang kabuuang tema na tinalakay sa pelikula katulad ng adultery, deceit, investigative scheme, at same sex marriage. Pawang may mga negatibong epekto ang mga nabanggit na tema sa pamilya at sa lipunan. Nakababahala na tinalakay ang mga ito sa tratong nakaaaliw at maaring isipin ng mga taong may murang isipan na katanggap-tanggap ang mga ito.

Friday, January 19, 2018


DIRECTOR: Carlos Saldanha   VOICE CAST: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Anthony Anderson, Bobby Cannavale, Peyton Manning, Gina Rodriguez, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, David Tennant  SCREENPLAY: Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, Brad Copelandy  STORY: Ron Burch, David Kidd, Don Rhymer  BASED ON: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson  PRODUCERS: John Davis, Lisa Marie Stetler, Lori Forte, Bruce Andersonn  GENRE: Animation, Adventure, Fantasy, Comedy, Family  MUSIC BY: John Powell  EDITED BY:  Harry Hitner  CINEMATOGRAPHY: Renato Falcão  PRODUCTION COMPANY: Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox Animation, Davis Entertainment DISTRIBUTED BY: Warner Bros. F.E. (Philippines)  COUNTRY: United States  LANGUAGE: English  RUNNING TIME: 1 hour 51 minutes
Technical assessment:  4
Moral assessment:  4
CINEMA rating:  V13  (Ages 13 down with parental guidance)
MTRCB rating:  GP
Ferdinand the calf is not aware that bulls are sent to the ring to fight for their lives until he loses his father, a champion bull, who never returns from a bullfight.  At the breeding stable Ferdinand (who loves to sniff flowers) is bullied by other calves but he refuses to be intimidated; he is provoked but he’d rather sit it out.  He is rudely told, “Fight!  If you don’t fight, you’re meat!”  Seeing this truth he soon escapes and lands providentially in a flower farm where a little girl Nina (Lily Day) and her single father adopt him as a pet.  In this loving environment Ferdinand (John Cena) grows into a bull of monstrous proportions but is (un)naturally non-violent. When he follows Nina and her father to a local flower festival, mayhem begins.
An adaptation of the 1936 classic by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, “The Story of Ferdinand”, this message-movie is a first rate animation that’s made to appeal to viewers of any age.  To make the 36-page book into a full-length feature film, screenwriters Baird, Federle and Copelandy pad it up with the antics of secondary characters like a resourceful hedgehogs who help Ferdinand escape captivity, bitchy Lipizzaner horses with pastel-colored manes, and a slightly unhinged goat (Kate McKinnon) acting as his coach to train him to face the famous matador El Primero (Raul Esparza) in the bullring. Pastoral landscapes are both eye candy and soul soothers, while the scenes in the “chop shop” (a high tech slaughterhouse) might spoil your enjoyment of your next burger meal.

Ferdinand in promotional posters carries the slogan “built to fight, born to love”, which, though probably unintentional, forms the solid foundation for this fable.  Children who may be experiencing bullying in school or peer pressure in the community may find especially applause-worthy the bullring scenes showing how Ferdinand sticks to his commitment to non-violence in the face of life-threatening odds.  Adults will get Ferdinand’s message about corruption in bullfights and logically conclude that the same thing can happen in boxing, basketball, or other sports event, although the best take-home message here is, between the slaughterhouse and the bullring, there is a way out: the commitment to love.  Humans, take note.   

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Meant to Beh

DIRECTOR: Chris Martinez  LEAD CAST: Vic Sotto, Dawn Zulueta, JC Santos, Daniel Matsunaga, Sue Ramirez, Andrea Torres, Gabbi Garcia, Ruru Madrid, Baste Granfon  SCREENWRITER: Vanessa R. Valdez, Kiko Abrillo, Anna Karenina Ramos, Janica Mae Regalo  PRODUCER:  Vic Sotto  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Emerzon Texon  GENRE: Comedy  DISTRIBUTOR: OctoArts Films  RUNNING TIME: 120 mins  LOCATION:  Manila, Baguio  RUNNING TIME:   120 minutes
Technical assessment: 2.5
Moral assessment: 2.5
CINEMA rating: V14
MTRCB rating: PG 13

Hindi masaya sa kanilang arranged marriage ang mag-asawang Balatbat na sina Ron (Vic Sotto) at Andrea (Dawn Zulueta). Lagi na lang silang nag-aaway at nagkukumpetensya sa atensyon ng kanilang mga anak na sina Christian (JC Santos), Alex (Gabbi Garcia), at Riley (Baste) na walang hinahangad kundi ang magkasundo silang dalawa at maging masaya ang kanilang pamilya. Subalit matapos ang matagal na pagsasama ay matatanto nila na di nila talaga mahal ang isa’t isa kaya magpapasya silang maghiwalay. Nang nagsisimulang makipag-date sa ibang partner ang dalawa ay mababagabag ang magkakapatid kaya mag-iisip at magsasagawa sila ng mga paraan para magkabalikan sila.
Halu-halong eksena ng mababaw na kwento ang Meant To Beh, mga eksenang tila sinama lang para humaba at bigyan ng exposure ang mga nagsiganap. Mabuti na lamang at kasama sina Zulueta at Baste sa pelikula. Nakakaaliw panoorin ang batang aktor at ang kanyang timing sa pagpapatawa. Gayundin si Zulueta na mas kilala sa drama at mga seryosong pelikula. Sinsero sa paghahatid ng komedi ang pelikula at naibigay naman ito, sana lang nilagyan na nila ng saysay ang layuning ito para naging pagkakataon na magbahagi ng magandang aral sa buhay habang nakakapaglibang ang manonood. Maayos naman ang disenyo ng produksyon at mga kuha ng kamera. Naipakita kung anong klase ang pamilya Balatbat at ang trabaho ni Andrea sa isang publication. Kung ikukumpara sa mga naunang pelikula ni Sotto na sinali sa filmfest ay mas maigi-igi pa itong Meant to Beh. Kapansin-pansin din na walang kasamang advertisement ng mga produktong iniendorso ni Sotto kaya nakapagpahinga ang manonood sa mga commercials na itinatambad sa mukha nila ng binayaran nilang panoorin.
Sa pamilya Balatbat, sa halip na magulang ang nagbibigay ng gabay ay tila, sila pa ang nangangailangan nito. Ang pag-ibig sa pagitan ng mag-asawa na dapat ay lumalago habang tumatagal ang pagsasama ay hindi nakita sa pelikula. Di naman masama ang mag mag-good time dahil may social needs din ang tao bilang dibersyon mula sa pagpapagod sa trabaho pero hindi  para pumasok sa pagkakasala. Tama naman na nirerespeto ng mag-asawa ang desisyon at choices ng bawat isa pero hindi ang choice na magtaksil. Mas responsable pa sa relasyon ang mga anak at mas may malasakit na magbuklod ang pamilya. At dahil marahil komedi, pinilit pa rin haluan ng kabaklaan. Sa hanay ng propesyonal na tagapamahala ng isang magazine ay binigyan-daan ang napakakabang uri na pagkahilig ng mga bakla sa katawan ng lalaki. Maari namang maging binabae at manatiling disente at wag magsamantala sa kapwa lalaki. Sa kabuuan, bagamat kahanga-hanga ang intensyon ng mga anak na magbuklod ang kanilang pamilya, nakakabahala ang tema at ang maraming eksena sa pelikula.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Bethlehem without borders

By Teresa R. Tunay, OCDS  On my last birthday, I was struck by the cruel truth that I will this year be celebrating my 73rd Christmas.  Seventy-three, OmG, it’s like ice water thrown at my face.
I usually dedicate my birth month to examining my life and meditating on mortality—and it helps that it’s the month of all Saints and all souls.  Last November turned out to be nostalgic—which confronted me with the fact of aging, because nostalgia is a right most deserved by those coming closer and closer to the grave.  Thinking, “God, how many more Christmases will You give me before You finally call me back?”, I reviewed my Christmases as far back as memory could take me, and asked myself which of those brought me closest to the baby Jesus.  It’s a no-brainer: the Christmas that did this was that which etched itself earliest in my memory—with the help of the creche in my Uncle Jose Fermin’s house, painstakingly put together by his wife, Tita Chol.
This “belen” was the highlight of my childhood Christmases—a huge table by the Christmas tree (live pine) covered with sand to contain a miniature Bethlehem, not only Mary, Joseph and the baby in a manger, but also the Three Kings, a caravan of camels, shepherds and sheep, goats, cattle, a rooster (!), and an angel floating over the manger and holding a ribbon that said “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”.  These plaster figurines fascinated me endlessly, introduced me to Bethlehem, and fuelled my imagination as I fondled them, in the same way that maybe a little boy today would play war games in his mind with plastic soldiers or “Star Wars” figurines.
The “belen” would since then accompany me through life.  When I was a young girl, Christmas decorating was a family affair where everybody had an assignment; I was expected to help make the “parol”.   When I reached my teens, I was put in charge of the “belen”, but my creations were nowhere near Tita Chol’s elaborate tableau—just a few cardboard cut-outs of the most important characters propped up on a bed of “hay” on top of the television cabinet, or a ready-made “scayola” set placed beneath the seven-foot Christmas tree, among the gift-wrapped empty boxes.
 However, there was one Christmas I was too busy to keep up with the “belen” tradition—being in the thick of preparations for a wedding.  In fact, on Christmas night, my fiancé and I were in Quiapo, ordering flowers for our wedding the next morning.  
The time came to bring Bethlehem to our own cozy home through a “belen” for our little son.  It was fun to craft my own nativity scene from cardboard cones and crepe paper, at times supplementing the catechesis with an assortment of pretty nativity-themed Christmas cards collected through the years.
It was exhausting for me in my 20s to braid together career and homemaking (I was wife, mother, tutor, nurse, yaya, diplomat, psychologist, etc.) so that there were Christmases without any manger scene at all in our house—just a white Christmas tree fashioned from tissue paper and shiny balls, or worse, a foldaway meter-tall plastic evergreen, a mere ghost of the fresh pine Christmas tree of my childhood.  (By then it was already a crime of sorts to cut down Baguio pine trees).   But what we didn’t have in the house we enjoyed outside of it; we would drive around to gawk at life-size crèches in town plazas and churches, and the motorized Christmas tableau that was then the pride of COD Department Store in Cubao, and years later, Greenhills.
One day we received a Balikbayan box from the United States; inside was—Wow!—a 19-piece ceramic nativity set my mother-in-law Flor de Liz had painted at an arts-and-crafts class for senior citizens!  How sweet of her!  With lights, décor, and props added, it was to become a conversation piece for many many years in our modest home, so gorgeous even Tita Chol would have loved it!  But now… what’s left of the set is stashed away in a storeroom; I don’t think I’ll ever want to put it up again.
I had lent the whole set to a retreat house, putting it up myself.  I was happy to share my joy to so many retreatants and guests, but when it came back to me, the Baby Jesus was missing, and a lamb, and a camel, too!  Were they broken?  Pocketed by some child who couldn’t resist their cuteness?  None of the staff could tell—as though the trio merely vanished into thin air.  It saddened me a bit, for what’s a crèche without Baby Jesus?  Never mind the sheep and the camel. 
Now that I’m recalling its glory days, and about to savor my 73rd Christmas, I find that the nativity’s magic can still transport me back to the age of innocence, imagining that the Baby Jesus (after years of being displayed in our living room) had grown tall enough to mount a camel and look for the lost lamb.  “That’s why they disappeared,” I tell myself and muse, “for all I know I was the lost lamb, with one leg caught in quick sand, slowly being sucked into a system that served many gods but had no time for the One True God.”  Irony of ironies, in reality I’d gotten lost while looking frantically for God, unaware that in my meandering He was looking for me.
Do I now have a nativity scene at home?  No, I don’t.  Tell me if it’s due to old age.  In the Holy Land where over several years I have escorted pilgrims five times, I have strolled in the Shepherds’ field in Bethlehem, venerated the place of His birth, walked down Via Dolorosa bearing a token cross, done the whole pilgrim route over and over again it’s like the classic “been there, done that”.  It matters little to me now whether or not I have a crèche in my “hermitage”, but I do seriously wonder how Jesus would feel about the state of Bethlehem today, in the light of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this endless fight over borders.  A carol rings between my ears: “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…”  I cannot say Bethlehem today lies still.  Peace is elusive in the place where the Prince of Peace was born.  Were Jesus to revisit Bethlehem today as man, would he weep over it as he did over Jerusalem before he was crucified?  And would he be welcome there?
We can outgrow Santa Claus, but we should never outgrow Bethlehem.  In spite of all that Bethlehem has been through, we continue to celebrate the fact that our Savior was born there, and pray that one day we can say to the Lord Himself, “I am Bethlehem; come, be born in me.”  The carol reverberates inside my head: “O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray.  Cast out our sin and enter in, be born to us today…”  As I write this, I pray that each of us may become a Bethlehem without borders, witnessing to the love of God for all mankind.  And that's the truth.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Ang Panday

DIRECTOR: Rodel Nacianceno  LEAD CAST: Coco Martin, Jake Cuenca, Gloria Romero  SCREENWRITER:  Joey Mercado, Rodel Nacianceno  PRODUCER: Coco Martin  CINEMATOGRAPHER: Odie Flores  DISTRIBUTOR: Star Cinema, Viva Films  GENRE: Action/Fantasy  LOCATION: Manila, Philippines  RUNNING TIME: 128 minutes
Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 3
MTRCB Rating: G
CINEMA Rating: V13 (Ages 13 and below with parental guidance)
Si Flavio ang Panday sa ikatlong henerasyon. Matapos mapatay ang kanyang mga magulang ng mga aswang na kampon ni Lizardo, inilayo si Flavio sa lugar na iyon ng kumadronang si Rosa Batungbakal (Jaclyn Jose) na nagpaluwal sa kanya, inako at inangkin bilang tunay na apo.  Lumaki si Flavio sa Tondo na isang tindero ng mga itak at kutsilyo—kasama ang ilan pang mga batang inampon ng kanyang “lola Rosa” (Gloria Romero)—at bagama’t mabuti sa pamilya ay palagi naming nasasangkot sa kaguluhan at basag-ulo.  Samantala si Lizardo (Jake Cuenca) ay magpapakawala ng mga alagang asuwang upang mambiktima ng mga tao at dumami sila hanggang sa masakop nila ang mundo.  Sa pagsalakay ng mga asuwang at nalalapit na kabilugan ng buwan ay maaring magtagumpay si Lizardo na sakupin ang mundo kaya darating ang isang matandang ermitanyo at sa tulong na kanyang Itim na Aklat ay papayuhan si Flavio na magsanay na upang makuha nito ang mahiwagang balaraw na tanging siya lamang ang  makakagamit, at tuluyang pigilan ang balak ni Lizardo.
Sanga-sanga ang kuwento ng pinakahuling hain ng orihinal na epic sa komiks ni Carlo J. Caparas na Ang Panday. Parang pinilit lang ang konseptong tagapagligtas ng mundo sa karakter ng sangganong si Flavio lalo na ang bigyan siya ng partner na tila isa lamang dekorasyon sa pelikula.  Gayunpaman makikitaan ng pagsisikap ang direktor at manunulat na bigyan ng bagong trato ang epiko tulad ng rap music, motorsiklo para kay Flavio, pinaghalong aksyon-komedya, at makabagong visual effects na nakadagdag  ng aliw sa pelikula.  Pamilyar ang mukha ng mga gumanap sa pelikula na pawang mga kasama ni Martin sa kanyang palabas sa telebisyon.  Nakalito naman ang casting sa komadronang si Rosa pagkat sobrang layo ng hitsura ng batang Rosa (Jaclyn Jose) sa matandang Rosa (Gloria Romero).  (Bakit kaya hindi na lang pinatanda ng makeup si Jose para gumanap sa matandang Rosa?)  Magaling ang direktor dahil sa kabila ng mahinang istorya at predictable na wakas ay naging kasabik-sabik ang mga eksenang may aksiyon at visual effects (maaaring makatakot sa malilit na bata ang mga aswang), gayundin ang mga sinasambit na linya.  Maayos ang kuha ng kamera sa pagpapakita ng  kapaligiran sa Tondo na kinalakhan ni Flavio at ang mga aerial shots na ginamit sa pagpapalit ng mga eksena.  Samantala tila hindi nabigyan ng pansin ang mga tunog at sound bites na inilapat—maingay masyado ang pelikula lalo na ang mga eksena sa kalsada, halos hindi maintindihan ang mga diyalogo. Sa kabuuan ay nakaaliw naman panoorin ang Ang Panday kahit maraming katanungan sa istorya na walang kasagutan.  
Ang kasamaan ay nilalabanan at di dapat hayaang manaig sa lipunan. Ito ang misyon ni Flavio na mapagtagumpayan gamit ang isang mahiwagang espada na kinailangan nyang maglakbay hanggang sa mundo ng mga engkanto upang mapasakamay niya ito at magamit. Nahasa sa gulo at pakikilaban si Flavio kaya madali niyang inako ang misyon na labanan ang naghahasik ng kasamaan at iligtas sa panganib ang mga tao. Determinado naman sa misyon si Flavio lalo na ng bigyan siya ng pangalawang buhay. Subalit higit sa mahiwagang espada, ipinaunawa kay Flavio na ang dalisay na puso at hangarin ang pinakamagaling na panggupo sa kasamaan.

Ilang puna mula sa CINEMA. 

Tungkol sa kapangyarihan.  Malinaw at mahusay na naipakita ng pelikula na ang anumang bagay (materyal man o itinuturing na agimat ng sinuman) ay walang halaga at taglay na kapangyarihan kundi ang pananampalatayang taglay ng taong naniniwala pa rin sa kapangyarihan ng Lumikha.  Nang halos ay papatayin na ni Lizardo, si Flavio—na nabitiwan ang mahiwagang espada at nakahandusay na sa lupa—ay nanalangin at buong pananalig na ipinasa-Diyos na ang lahat.

Tungkol sa pagiging isang bakla.  Ipinakita ng pelikula ang isang mukha ng isyu ng mga LGBT sa lipunan. Bagamat hindi gaanong pinalawak ang usapin tungkol dito, pinilit nitong isama sa tema ang usapin ng “pagtanggap” sa kanila ng pamilya at lipunan.  Pilit na isiningit ng pelikula ang perspektibong “walang masama sa maging bakla, ang masama ay ang magsinungaling… ang mahalaga ay maging mabuti kang tao”—at ginawa pang isang bayani ang batang bakla na nag-alay ng buhay upang iligtas ang kanyang mga kapwa-ampon mula sa mga aswang.  Malabo ang magiging epekto nito sa pananaw ng manunood; makadagdag lamang ang sinambit na ito sa kalituhan ng tao tungkol sa pinagtatalunan.  Ang isyu ay hindi ang pagiging bakla mismo, kungdi ano ang ginagawa mo sa pagiging bakla mo, at ano ang ibinubunga nito sa iyong katauhan, sa pamilya, at sa lipunan. 

Tungkol sinematograpiya ng Maynila.  Napakahusay na naipakita at nai-showcase ng pelikula ang kakaibang kagandahan ng Maynila (bukod sa maduming Divisoria at slum area ng Tondo), tulad ng mga magagandang tulay (Mabini at Jones Bridge ), ang tore ng Manila City Hall, ang Luneta at Luneta grandstand, ang Roxas Blvd. at tabing pasyalan sa Manila Bay.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Deadma Walking

DIRECTOR:  Julius Alfonso  LEAD CAST:  Joross Gamboa, Edgar Allan Guzman, Dimples Romana, Candy Pangilinan, Nico Antonio SCREENWRITER:  Eric Cabahug  PRODUCERS:  Eric Cabahug, Vanessa de Leon  EDITOR:  Vanessa de Leon  MUSICAL DIRECTOR:  Von de Guzman  GENRE:  Comedy, Drama  CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Lee Briones  DISTRIBUTOR:  T-Rex Entertainment Productions  LOCATION:  Manila  RUNNING TIME:  109 minutes
Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 2
CINEMA rating:  V14
Napag-alaman ni John (Joross Gamboa) na gawa ng cancer niya ay nalalapit na ang kanyang kamatayan.  Ang huling hiling niya sa matalik niyang kaibigang isa ring bakla, si Mark (Edgar Allan Guzman) ay ang magkunwari silang namatay na siya para habang buhay pa siya ay marinig na niya ang mga eulogy at sasabihin tungkol sa kanya ng mga tao sa burol niya.  Bagama’t sa simula ay asiwa si Mark sa gustong mangyari ni John, papayag na rin siya bilang pagbibigay sa kaibigang malapit nang pumanaw.  Bibili sila ng isang bangkay na siyang isisilid sa ataol at paglalamayan nang limang gab.  Tataba ang puso ni John sa mga maririnig mula sa mga naglalamay ka kakilala’t kaibigan, pero may mangyayaring hindi niya inaasahan.
Ano ito, kabaklaan na naman?  Maaaring iyan ang itanong ng manonood na nagsasawa na sa palasak nang presensiya ng mga bading sa pinalakang tabing.  Pero, ang Deadma Walking—na inakala ng iba sa simula ay isang zombie movie gawa ng pamagat nito—ay hindi lamang daw isang ordinaryong “gay movie” na nagpapatawa sa pag-iingay at kalaswaan, ayon sa mga gumawa nito.  Sa isang banda, tama ito, pagkat ang pelikula ay tumatalakay sa mga damdaming dinaranas ng lahat nang tao, maging lalaki, babae, bakla, o tomboy man siya—ang tapat na pagkakaibigan, halimbawa—na buong husay namang naitawid nila Guzman at Gamboa.  May isang elemento lamang na nakakadiskaril sa Deadma Walking, ang mga eksenang mapantasiya ni Eugene Domingo, na bagama’t amusing ay wala namang gasinong naiambag sa takbo o lalim ng kuwento, maliban sa… iyon na nga, ang hindi maiwasang dampi ng kabaklaan.
Bakit maiisipan ng isang taong pekein ang sariling kamatayan marinig lamang ang mga sasabihin ng iba tungkol sa kanya?  Sa pelikula, ipinapakitang ito ay dahil sa matinding pangungulila.  Si John, sa kabila ng kanyang kayamanan, ay may terminal cancer, ulila sa magulang, nangungulila sa kapatid na hindi man lamang dumalaw sa burol ng kanilang ina, at higit sa lahat, mamamatay siyang walang love life.  Gusto niyang malaman kung ano ang tingin ng tao sa kanya—ano ba ang pagkukulang niya at siya ay hindi maging masaya.  Ubod marahil siya ng lungkot kaya’t nagawa tuloy niya ang isang pagtataksil sa taong nagmamahal sa kanya nang dalisay.  Sa dulo ng pelikula ay ang mga katanungang: Ano ang ibinunga ng kanyang pekeng burol?  May maituturo ba sa kanya o sa manunuod ang pait na naidulot nito sa kanya? Tatalikuran na ba niya ang kabanidosahan niya at matutunang kilalanin ang tunay niyang sarili at ang halaga ng tunay na pagkakaibigan?
Tanong din ng CINEMA: makatarungan bang gamitin ang mga labi ng isang tao—ang pagbili ng isang bangkay—para lamang sundin ang luho ng isang nabubuhay?  Ang kalungkutan at pangungulila ng isang tao ay nag-uugat sa kakulangan ng Diyos sa kanyang buhay; hindi ito mapapawi ng anumang solusyon ng tao hangga’t hindi kinikilala ang ugat nito.  Iyan po ay isang katotohanang kayang unawain ng kahit sinong tao—girl, boy, bakla, o tomboy—ngunit kailangan ang katapatan upang lubos na magkahalaga ito sa pagbabago ng iyong buhay.