Friday, January 09, 2004

Film Reviews again, this time two of the many films for the Metro Manila Film Festival. As per usual, SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Crying Ladies:
About as funny as a funeral…

Crying Ladies, from what I saw, was indeed worthy of the acclaim “Best Film” attached to its name. While some would insist that the film’s plot was simple, the simplicity of the plot did not deter from its power to stir one’s emotionality while viewing the film. The story was simple because it was meant to relate to those viewing the film, and I for one did not find any serious gaffs that could’ve taken anything away from my enjoyment of this film.

The plot revolves around three women: Sharon Cuneta, Hilda Koronel, and Angel Aquino. The name of Sharon’s character escapes me at the moment, so I’d rather refer to them by their real names here. Sharon breaks her own stereotype in this outing by not portraying an eternal virgin archetype. Instead, she becomes a streetwise unwed mother who is looking after her son, yet ended up competing with the father when she got imprisoned for fraud. Hilda Koronel portrayed a former actress who never really had a stellar career to begin with, yet her own delusions of grandeur are fueled by unexpected events around her. Angel Aquino was a religious woman who ended up being a mistress to a married man. In the course of the film, all three end up working at a particular funeral as crying ladies: a Chinese belief wherein people are hired to cry at a funeral in order to speed up the deceased travel to heaven (Or the Chinese concept of heaven, at least.).

The three ladies were hired by Eric Quizon, who was the son of the deceased. Amusingly enough, this man happened to be the one who had Sharon imprisoned for fraud, and thus ebbed away some of her motivation to do her work. She had enough on her plate as is, what with her son about to be taken by his father to Cagayan De Oro, where he finally found a job with his wife. Thus, while making the most out of her time with her son, she also had to cry at the funeral of the man who had her put in jail.

The comedy in this film is rather witty and does not seem in the least bit forced. The funny situations, especially running jokes like Hilda Koronel’s very minute role in “Darna and the Giants” being built up as though it were an Oscar-winning performance, to Angel Aquino’s repeated confessions about her affair to a priest who already knows her by voice, to Sharon Cuneta’s attempts to get free rides in jeepneys, all these certainly were worth a lot of laughs. Moreover, the comedy, while indeed top-notch, considering the quality of Filipino comedy (Particularly in films as of late.), is very much complementary to the emotions being embodied throughout the film. With all the joking going around, there was more significance in the scene where Sharon actually cried for real when she realized how loved the deceased was by his family. For once throughout the whole affair, she actually cried real tears and it was rather significant. Even Eric Quizon’s subdued performance was praiseworthy, albeit I felt he was more of a supporting actor than a lead actor.

The shining moment of the film, for me, was the epilogue. Hilda Koronel was cast in a comeback movie as Darna’s Mother in “The Return of Darna and the Giants”, Angel Aquino ended up giving marriage seminars after turning down her lover the last time he tried, and Sharon finally made use of her acting talent as an actress- for videoke songs. That last one had to be seen to be believed, as it was simply hilarious.

Huge development of character for Sharon in the film, as she slowly gained a conscience throughout the event. Eric Quizon learned to love his father through it, and even the child actor acted well and was not the least bit annoying, unlike most child actors. I loved how they made the story flow, simply because it was better than most other attempts at character development. The scope of this film, while far from epical, was certainly adequate to actually be representative of certain Chinese sensibilities, arguably those that are better than Mano Po or its sequel. If you have to catch one film for story and fun, Crying Ladies, without a doubt, is the way to go.

Marcelle’s Evaluation: A+

Captain Barbell:
More like a dumbbell, actually.

Let’s face it: dialogue-wise, Daredevil blew it. It had the most asinine amount of cheesy lines, and the only thing that saved it were the actors who were fed the lines, because they knew how to make the best out of what they were handed.

Captain Barbell makes no such headway.

Based on the Mars Ravelo classic, Captain Barbell is the story of Enteng, an average 90-pound weakling, who, in spite of his hard-luck life, has a good heart. He stumbles upon a mystical barbell one day that grants him the power to change into the superhero known as Captain Barbell. At the same time, some super-powered villains also materialize, and he must defeat them while trying to win over the heart of his lady love, Cielo, both as Enteng and as Captain Barbell, as they end up being rivals for her heart. Like Crying Ladies, this sure is a very simple plot.

But Captain Barbell failed miserably in the “witty comedy” department, as nearly all of its comedy was forced. These are the jokes you usually see on television, such as a guy talking to another with his back turned, asking why he keeps on leaving and leaving, only to find that the guy he was talking to already left. Juvenile, even infantile comedy. Considering this is a children’s film. I could even let the lame comedy and the preachy dialogue of “Captain Barbell must use his powers for good.” slide. I can actually excuse the predictability of the story, or the lack of acting talent from Bong Revilla (Is he aiming for the strong but silent effect? I’ve seen petrified wood with more personality, even during his “emotional” scenes.) for that matter. What I cannot do, however, is to let these huge objections to the film go unchecked:

1. In one scene, Captain Barbell was too busy having a good time with Cielo. He then realizes that he has to leave, and then goes off to rescue some people from a fire. After rescuing a kid from a fire, an old woman lambasts Captain Barbell for not saving her child, as though Captain Barbell was practically obliged to do it, when he is not the police, nor is he any official peacekeeping force on anyone’s payroll. It’s pretty much how most people view, say, the president, that they require him or her to do everything for them without them doing anything themselves. They become so dependent on this hero, and we see that even the policemen are grossly guilty of this. Granted that Captain Barbell should’ve heeded the call of duty instead of gallivanting around with Cielo, but that doesn’t mean he should be obliged to do everything for everyone.

2. The special effects team mastered their effects, all right. They mastered the Superman special effects twenty years ago. Hooray for progress. In terms of special effects, Agimat was certainly better; though, for the life of me, I cannot understand why someone with an amulet would have to dodge bullets ala the Matrix when he could just take them and shake them off. Worse, every time they used special effects, the screen would be noticeably darker, probably because it was rendered in computer, whereas the other scenes without special effects did not get the same treatment, hence, the glaring difference.

3. I watched Captain Barbell in hopes of finding a nice crossover sequence involving Lastikman and Darna. I was disappointed severely to discover that not only was it merely a dream sequence, it was extremely short, as well. There was no point to the whole thing, and it did nothing to push anyone’s character in any direction. I never thought I’d say this, but it looks like Fantastic Man might’ve been the better movie. And as predicted, Regine Velasquez as Darna was a horrible idea.

4. Worst of all, Captain Barbell kills. The other offenses were somewhat tolerable, but for a movie aimed at children, Captain Barbell’s merciless demeanor was downright disturbing. Which one of us didn’t feel sorry for Jeffrey Quizon’s character, who was being maligned by everyone except Sarah Geronimo’s character (And yeah,, I didn’t like her character, either. Inconsistent little bastich.)? When he turned into Dagampatay, he was twisted because of all the mistreatment he went through. I cannot comprehend why Captain Barbell, who was pretty much immune to Dagampatay’s power, would then toss back the acid to him, thereby killing Dagampatay. Why would a “hero” do this? He knows the situation. He knows why Dagampatay ended up like that. Why did he have to do that? And why would Sarah Geronimo’s character only think about it for one moment, then never bring up why Captain Barbell had to kill him at all? Huge chance for character development, blown out the window. They never even addressed the small debate that ensued between Enteng and Captain Barbell when the latter was about to kill Lagablag, who was Enteng’s father. That, ladies and gentlemen, was parricide, any which way you look at it, and they never bothered to address it? Far be it for you to consider me a moralist (Because I’m not.), but this is not something you market to kids.

What a disaster this film turned out to be, especially since I was hoping for so much from it. If anything, I find this part of Captain Barbell to be an injustice to the late Mars Ravelo, and I do believe Herbert Bautista and Dolphy, given rather limited resources and special effects, actually did a better job than Ogie or Bong could’ve ever hoped to do.

Marcelle’s Rating: C-

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