San Lazaro
Directed and Written by Wincy Aquino Ong

Wincy Ong’s first film feels like one all right, but not in the sense that it comes together crudely as if under the nervy thumb of some self-entitled film school amateur groping sloppily for a clue and passing it off as style. He’s put in the hours, Wincy, directing a tonnage of music videos and a television show before this. And all that toil shows in the restraint and temperament, in the shape and sheen, of the film.

No, it’s more in the way it seems to be organized around the twin notions of this being something he’d been waiting and wanting to do for so long and that the next one may not be as easy to come by, and the way he leaves nothing out, throwing in what feels like the entire filmography he's already shot and dubbed out in his head, as if they’ve been pent-up and gestating all these years and maybe they have, as if he might never get the chance and who knows if he will. But by cleverly parsing them out as flashbacks, flashbacks that frankly have far more vigor and crackle and weirdness than the one-note present-day through-line it all hangs on and feeds, he calms down the tendency of everything to violently shift tones. It does still buckle a little here and there, but mostly it fills out the characters and the piece, giving both density and cartilage.

San Lazaro is a no-brainer: a horror slash road movie slash buddy comedy. Pitched somewhere between Chito Rono and Edgar Wright, albeit with little of the former’s visual acumen but thankfully even less of the latter’s slavish and annoying geekiness. And prone as these things are to the self-referential hubris of such geeky impulses, it’s first grace note is in how all of that is reined in to zero, how it takes the time to build its own universe, contains everything there, and not nod to some pop-cultural in-joke for comfort every time things get iffy - - -even Ely Buendia’s too-brief cameo is sharply hewn, doesn’t feel extraneous nor like a wink, probably could fork off into a subplot with more legs than the plot on top.

It’s a spindly one, such as it is, that plot on top, with Wincy himself multitasking as a flighty slacker roped in to help old high school classmate Ramon Bautista drive his possibly demonically possessed brother to the eponymous small town of the title. Ramon and Wincy do play their odd coupling, the wacky lout and stoic foil respectively, with all the chemistry and dynamics, the thrust and parry if you will, of the stalwart comedy duos, from the Dolphy and Panchitos to the Maverick and Ariels, if not as given over to the funny as you’d want, the volume never cranking up above room tone, the repartee never getting as spry nor as gregarious. If nothing else, though, this measure of sobriety does make the twist it all boils down to more lancing, gives it brunt. But there's an even more piercing but far subtler twist in the epilogue that might shark under your radar if you so much as blink. San Lazaro is not much but not bad, a genre mashup with much pop torque and a load of fun, but that last line has a creepy poignancy that gets under my skin a bit more.

*Originally published in Philippine Free Press



Zombadings 1: Patayin Sa Shokot Si Remington
Directed by Jade Castro
Written by Raymond Lee, Jade Castro and Michiko Yama

Zombie screwball should cover it if you feel the need to wrap a code around Zombadings 1: Patayin Sa Shokot Si Remington, the way it runs on the same odd tracks as both the lowbrow tomfoolery of Chiquito movies and the affectionate B movie crudities of Sam Raimi and all the self-aware postmodernism such a mashup implies makes it so spot-on it's as if that was the actual log-line Jade organized his film around, except it only really turns zombie on us in its final third and is more a werewolf film up until then, in which our eponymous homophobe falls under a hex that gradually turns him gay even as a serial killer is picking off everyone in town who is.

Homosexuality as a curse can be misconstrued as demeaning and actually has, as the off-point and far-fetched outrage flung this way bears out. But the germ that feeds it is that old and old-fashioned Frank Capra trope - - - the comeuppance and enlightenment that comes from walking in the shoes of what you abhor, and more than anything, it's really subverting the very stereotypes it only seems to condone, much as it's hard to tell sometimes from the breathless velocity of the gags and the caricatural swish and swagger of gay argot and affectation it relies on to make it fly. The character actor stalwarts, from Janice De Belen to John Regala with his game face on to the mighty but under-used Odette Khan, buttress the superstructure to prop up what they can of the third act sag that besets it. And for the shapeshifting by degrees at the heart of matters, Martin Escudero is like some one-man army of goofy, a bravura act of pitch. But it's Eugene Domingo who detonates every scene she's in with surreal delight. And Roderick Paulate is stunt-casting that's both preordained and genius. The queer act he's made his metier should've by rights gone stale after all this time but somehow it's even gained nuance and range. It's a shtick, sure, but it's a shtick that never ever gets old.



Directed by Lawrence Fajardo
Written by John Bedia

"What,like a bullet, can undeceive?" (Herman Melville)

Amok is well-oiled tumult, a chaos mechanism of wrong place-wrong time dynamics fed through a portmanteau that has everybody looking to Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu as point of reference, if only for how both hew to similar tropes of threading a line through disconnected lives suddenly thrown in the glare of blood and harm. But where Inarritu gets overwrought in preaching a grand design, not to mention a troubling hard-on for closure, Amok is more haphazard, has little to say that hasn't been said before, but so much to say it with, neither overreaching nor belaboring. If nothing else, it's a technical feat, of logistics and guerilla tactics and cutting. It's rigorous, precise.

The bustling intersection where it all comes down is both milieu and metaphor, and the one thing shared by the motley ensemble of has-beens and also-rans it corrals: they all just happen to be in the area. The cocky cop on the walkway waiting to rendezvous with an asset (Efren Reyes Jr., funny), the faded stuntman living alone with his rancid nostalgia and a rent girl sleeping in his bed (Mark Gil, funnier), the put-upon brother driving his cranky sister around and stuck in traffic (Archi Adamos), the ex-cop with a baby on the way and a chip on his shoulder (Dido De La Paz, a walking tour de force). If it wobbles here and there, it's mostly from spasms of bad acting and the patois ringing false. But in never lingering on one character longer than it should, it blurs the chinks into forgiveness. Brief snatches are all we get to see of these brief lives, not so much arcs as they never get to complete any. It's the point of everything here: how our stories don't so much end but are cut short halfway through the telling and often in a random blast of doom. There's a weariness to its nihilism that's more wounding for being so resigned. The world is a clusterfuck. And God is a bullet.