Movie Review: The Significant Other Gets Too Caught Up in the Tropes of Infidelity Dramas to Work

TL;DR: The Significant Other is a bland infidelity drama that wastes a novel idea, by focusing how the infidelity happened, instead of why it happened.

I wouldn’t begrudge anyone rolling their eyes if they found out The Significant Other is released. Melodramas focused on infidelity have already reached a point of exhaustion, & it looks plain compared to the stylish & trashy Sin Island; which was just released last week by the same studio. But The Significant Other has a nugget of an idea that can make it stand out, if only it wasn’t executed so poorly.

Nicole (Erich Gonzales) is at a beauty pageant when she was scouted by a prominent head of a modeling agency in Metro Manila. She’s delighted, because she aspires to be a famous fashion model just like her idol Maxine (Lovi Poe) & the man who contacted her trained & mentored Maxine. She decides to pursue the opportunity, but her recruiter requests that she visit the cosmetic surgeon Edward (Tom Rodriguez) in order to remove the birthmark in her neck. It’s obvious both are attracted to each other, & soon both of them are in love. But unbeknownst to her, Edward is actually married to Maxine. Maxine disappeared in the public eye for years & raised their son in America. She purposefully hid her marriage to have a quiet life with her family & has no plans to reveal it now that she’s staging a comeback in order to keep the media’s focus on her career. While she’s back at work, she is also in charge of mentoring Nicole to become a successful fashion model like herself. They form a close bond that’s threatened by Maxine’s secret & Edward’s infidelity.

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The movie has an interesting structure that seems to make it different from other infidelity dramas. It tells the story from Nicole & Maxine’s explosive confrontation & flashing back to the past from each other’s point of view to show how it all happened, but unfortunately it doesn’t work. It’s more focused on setting up the infidelity without interrogating the reasons why it happened. So yes, there are catfights peppered with witty remarks & moments of heightened drama that the genre supposedly requires – with a sprinkle of sex scenes – but it’s less interesting when it follows the already trodden path. The movie livens up when it gives us brief glimpses between Maxine & Edward’s marriage & Nicole & Maxine’s blooming friendship, but there aren’t enough of it to create a complicated portrait of their lives. It also muddles the story by not diving deep into Edward’s perspective. He’s the man who created a whole mess of problems for everyone, but he’s almost removed from it. We’re stuck watching two women fight over a man without fully revealing why he cheated on his wife in the first place.

And even when the movie indulges in its campy tropes, it all feels tired & cliched. The confrontations aren’t as witty or memorable as they should be. Even the sex scenes aren’t as titillating as it should be. You could blame the movie’s R-13 rating, but a movie can still be sexy by employing a “less is more” approach through foreplay & knowing glances. However, it doesn’t use this tactic, favoring to show the actors kissing, moaning, & caressing each other’s bodies. These scenes feel rudimentary & lack the passion or verve to arouse audiences. It wastes great performances from Lovi Poe & Erich Gonzales, while Tom Rodriguez tries his best to make his character work. A memorable cameo by Ricci Chan deserves a shout-out, as he pops out of nowhere to deliver a speech so catty & feisty that it’s easy to see why it’s included; even if it’s completely removed from the plot.

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A huge surprise comes from moments of odd ineptitude that somehow made the final cut. There are two notable shots that are out of focus. At one point, you can see a cow’s muscles convulse in front of a camera & release urine from its body during an establishing shot while Edward’s car drives on the road; and of course, it’s not relevant to the plot. It’s flabbergasting to watch this happen in a major commercial release from one of the most notable film directors in the Philippines.

Add an excellent ending that would’ve made an impact if it weren’t rushed, & you’ve got another bland & perfunctory infidelity drama. In spite of its novel narrative structure, The Significant Other runs on auto-pilot & in the process, reveals how minor it really is.

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Movie Review: Fun, Trashy Sin Island Just Wants to Get Your Blood Pumping

TL;DR: Sin Island may be dumb & ridiculous, but that’s only part of what makes this sexy, trashy erotic thriller so much fun.

It’s still shocking to think that Star Cinema would release Sin Island as their Valentines’ Day offering. Instead of a lighthearted romantic comedy, they decided to bankroll on something darker & sexier; it’s their first sexually charged movie since Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya (The Man in Selya’s Life) released in 1997. While we could only theorize the reasons behind this move as either influenced by the success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, an act of commendable risk-taking, losing out on a bad bet, or something else entirely, this is a laudable effort that doesn’t prepare you to how trashy it’s going to be.

David (Xian Lim) is a passionate photographer who found success shooting magazine covers & weddings. He’s married to a flight attendant named Kanika (Colleen Garcia), & both of them have a loving, passionate marriage. But when he’s forced to close his business due to his assistant’s mistake, he spirals toward despondency & loses his self-esteem that goes on for two years. Meanwhile, Kanika is becoming more attracted to Stephen (TJ Trinidad), one of the pilots she’s working with. It’s obvious that Stephen feels the same way, but it’s only physical & she never crosses the line; even if her best friend goads her about it. David figures this out & they have a huge fight. At the request of his friend, he decides to go on an exclusive resort on Sinilaban Island; or Sin Island as it’s also called. That’s where he meets Tasha (Natalie Hart), a broken-hearted swimsuit designer who decided to take a break when her husband cheated on her. Both of them had an awkward start, but once they slowly get to know each other, it sets off a series of events that will endanger his current marriage, & their lives.

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Let’s circle back to the inciting incident that caused David to ruin his life. His assistant carelessly put a bag containing all of their SD cards they used for the wedding beside the fountain, which was subsequently kicked by a kid into the water while the assistant was taking a picture. They couldn’t recover any of the images in the SD cards. The client sued them for ₱ 10 million. His brother, who’s also a lawyer, tells him he has no choice but to take the deal. The incident caused him to lose all of his clients, compelling him to close his business.

The movie asks us to believe that a man like David, who runs a successful wedding photography service, did not have any emergency contingencies just in case something like this would happen. It also asks us to believe that his supposedly skilled brother couldn’t find a way to retaliate against the couple or lessen its impact on the business. Finally, it also thinks that this sole incident will cause David to lose his clients. This is just a taste of how unbelievably stupid this whole movie is going to be. It has lots of moments where people are acting like incompetent idiots so the movie can reach its next plot point, or the supporting characters encouraging the leads’ bad behavior & castigating them for following their advice to create conflict without probing the reasons behind it. It also embraces toxic monogamy culture in the way it explores a spouse’s attraction to people who aren’t their partners & the jealousy that results from it without examining the behavior nor its effects on a relationship.

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That’s fine, since it’s the furthest thing from the movie’s mind; & the only thing it has on its mind is a pulsating id. Star Cinema & director Gino M. Santos made a melodrama focused on infidelity with flashes of camp that turns into a trashy erotic thriller, that feeds on our insatiable desire to watch conventionally attractive people with gorgeously toned bodies to fight & fuck each other out of love – often in ridiculous ways – with the high production values that’s expected from the studio. It’s a very racy film oozing with sex, violence & style, presenting it without any shame, & maximized to titillate audiences without going over the R-16 rating; which include the torrid sex scenes that spreads the pleasure & objectification to both sexes & a “cheat day” discussion with Stephen that ends with him eating a mussel while Kanika & him exchange sordid looks as David realizes what is happening. While it focuses solely on the internal struggles of David & Kanika’s marriage without blaming it on their sex life, it’s not above embracing the tropes of the genre; which are often problematic & clichéd. That’s only part of the charm, since the movie dives headfirst into it with gleeful relish.

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You can even see it from everyone in the cast. Xian Lim may be lackluster when he deals with David’s downward spiral, but he works best when he’s embracing the movie’s sleazy tone. Colleen Garcia reveals the depth of Kanika’s sadness & disappointment to David, & she gets a chance to join in the movie’s shenanigans too. But the center of the movie’s jagged, seedy heart is, well, Nathalie Hart. She is funny, charismatic, & sexy, using her charm to hide her cunning, nutty self. She will try her best to hide it, but once the facade drops, she will snarl, seduce, or strike anyone if it will help her get what she wants.

But what elevates this to something special are the stylish visuals shot by Mycko David & the spot-on production design by Aimi Geraldine R. Gamboa. The sets switch from extravagant to intimate without toning down the movie’s excesses. Mycko David spruces it up with low-key cinematography that relies on fewer light sources that often cast shadows on the actors’ faces, or backlighting the actors to turn them into silhouettes, creating a sense of mystery & danger that boils under the surface until it explodes in the third act. He also captures every knowing look, sensuous touch & deep moan within the constraints of its movie rating. It just emphasizes how much of the movie’s pleasure are skin-deep, which is fitting for a movie filled with naked bodies. While there are trashier movies out there, that doesn’t make this any less fun. It’s completely upfront to what it is & executes it with such style, it’s hard to resent it. It only wants to please your primal instincts, & if you give it a chance, there’s a chance you couldn’t resist its charms.

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Movie Review: Enjoyably Buoyant My Fairy Tail Love Story Takes Aim at Fairy Tale Endings

TL;DR: My Fairy Tail Love Story is a fluffy romantic comedy that riffs on Disney’s The Little Mermaid to reveal the complicated nature of love & sacrifice. It takes a while to show its true aims, though.

Early on in the cute & pleasant My Fairy Tail Love Story, an old woman named Lola Gurang (Rubi Rubi) warns Chantel (Janella Salvador), a spoiled, selfish woman who bosses everyone around her, about the mermaid’s curse. She tells the story of a mermaid who frolicked around the island & fell in love with a local fisherman. Chantel barely listens to her story & would rather have fun with her friends, so she cuts her off & claims she knows what happens next: the mermaid turns into a human thanks to a “true love’s kiss.” Chantel leaves in a huff, & under Lola Goreng’s breath, she declares that this isn’t an ordinary mermaid story.

She isn’t lying though. My Fairy Tail Love Story is a clever riff on Disney fairy tales, specifically The Little Mermaid, stuffed within a light romantic comedy for all ages. It’s a full of smart ideas about love in the context of fairy tales that’s already been tackled before, including by Disney themselves, but that doesn’t make it a less admirable effort.

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When Chantel was ignoring Lola Goreng’s advice, she was on an island bought by her father for her 18th birthday; her parents are definitely rich but have separated, & her new stepmother is a nice, caring woman who used to be her nanny. When she picks up a heart-shaped stone at the bottom of the sea, she is cursed to become a mermaid who can never stop singing when she speaks. Both Chantel & her childhood friend Noah (Elmo Magalona) try to find a way to get her body back to normal. Chantel insists she needs to receive a “true love’s kiss,” while Noah insists they return to the island & ask for Lola Goreng’s help. She relents, but in a stroke of luck, the plane of famous international DJ named Ethan – who played in her birthday party – crashed on the same island she was cursed. She decides she’d rather get a true love’s kiss from Ethan & rescues him, which angers Noah, since she’s fallen in love with Chantel but has never told her yet.

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It turns into a cheery, straightforward romantic comedy with elements of farce, as Chantel hides her mermaid form with the help of Noah from everyone, while the three leads are trapped in a typical love triangle. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s delightful enough that it never becomes a bore. Janella Salvador does her best impression of a privileged woman who demands everything to be about her, yet she never pushes Chantel into a grotesque caricature that she becomes overbearing. There’s an innate sweetness to Chantel that makes it easy to root for her. Both Elmo Magalona & Kiko Estrada are fine partners for Salvador & share great chemistry with her.

But it only delivers on Lola Gorang’s promise near the end, when it finally reveals its true intentions. It takes a while to get there, but it’s worth it, as it finally ties every thread in the movie into a treatise about the complicated nature of love & sacrifice in the real world; where a “happily ever after” isn’t always achievable. It does have the unfortunate side effect of piling on everything by the end that it feels rushed. That doesn’t make it less effective. Even if My Fairy Tail Love Story acknowledges that life isn’t a fairy tale, that doesn’t mean happy endings aren’t achievable. A love that ends is a chance to forge a new one that hopefully would last a lifetime.

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Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2017: Bar Boys Get a Passing Grade

TL;DR: At its best, Bar Boys captures the rich tapestry of college life through the unique lens of law school.

The titular Bar Boys are far from the drunk slackers you’d expect them to be. It refers to the four close friends who love hang out & play DOTA on internet cafes. All of them applied in the same law school, but only three of them were accepted. Erik (Carlo Aquino) struggles early on once he enters law school, which he feels guilty about since his father works very hard as a security guard just so he could study. Torran (Rocco Nacino) is doing much better than Eric, but he’s also alloting some of his time at a fraternity for the connections it could bring. Chris (Enzo Pineda) is a studious, intelligent man who comes from a rich family & receives good grades. But his life is far from perfect: he’s trying to juggle his studies, his relationship with his girlfriend, & trying to hide said relationship from his controlling father who wants him to study in America. The only one who didn’t make it is Joshua (Kean Cipirano), who only applied for law school to please his parents & would rather use this opportunity to become an actor.

From there, it follows Erik, Torran & Chris as they try their best to survive law school without tearing each other apart, especially since only few students get to graduate with a law degree. It does this by mixing the internal struggles of the main ensemble & broad, funny yet relatable moments familiar to those who went to college, or even studied; from the old student that easily stands out, terrifying professors, and trying your best not to get called on by the aforementioned professors during recitation. It’s similar to other nostalgic coming-of-age movies such as Bagets, but the uniqueness of its milieu & its specificity makes its stand out. The approach gives it a chance to flesh out the world of law school & its inhabitants; it doesn’t shy away from the more violent impulses of fraternities either. At its best, these two elements are combined with ease & reveal the rich tapestry of being a law student, but at its worst, it slows down an overstuffed movie & takes our attention away from the movie’s more interesting stories.

But the main ensemble keeps the whole movie from spinning in multiple directions. All of them are excellent, especially Carlo Aquino as the striving underachiever who slowly becomes jealous of his friends. The most memorable role comes from Odette Khan as the strict yet caring Justice Hernandez, who understands more than anyone that the path to becoming a lawyer is stressful, because of the responsibility they will yield in the future. Bar Boys is cognizant of this, even if they are faced with so much obstacles. Whatever happens, their friendship will carry them onto graduation & beyond.

Movie Review: Meet Me in St. Gallen Makes It Hurt So Good

TL;DR: Meet Me in St. Gallen is a wistful romantic comedy that’s not afraid to look at the cost of choices we make to become adults.

Celeste (Bela Padilla) is a graphic artist working under an abusive manager who dreams of becoming a successful artist. Jesse (Carlo Aquino) is a college student who moonlights as a frontman of a fledgling band without his parents’ approval. After he was caught by his parents performing at a concert, they scold him & demand that he finish his studies. He’s left feeling frustrated, but when he inadvertently listens to Celeste quitting her job over her boss’ unreasonable demands on the phone, he decides to follow her. Celeste notices & doesn’t take it lightly that someone is tailing her. But when she finds out that he’s a harmless man looking for someone to bond with his failing artistic ambitions, she calms down & they bond over the course of one night; talking about their childhood & the similarities of their name to the movie Celeste & Jesse Forever. Their lovely night is even capped off with a passionate kiss.

But Celeste decides it would be better not to ruin the moment & leaves Jesse without exchanging their personal details & promising not to add each other on Facebook. From there, Meet Me in St. Gallen becomes a wistful romantic comedy about chance encounters, missed opportunities, & the compromises we make as we find ourselves. It takes the “Before Sunrise” template – two people who found each other & slowly falling in love in the process – that’s been so popular nowadays & takes it even further, injecting it with a heavy dose of melancholy & pragmatism that’s comparable to the rest of the Before Trilogy. That makes it sound like a downer – and it is! – but it doesn’t lose the witty, captivating discussions & great performances that makes romantic two-handers like this so enjoyable. Bela Padilla is once again the blunt, guarded, yet compassionate artist full of ambition & resentment, similar to her role as Stella in 100 Tula ni Stella, but instead of Stella’s recklessness, she ingrains Celeste with maturity. Carlo Aquino is charming as the equally ambitious & friendly Jesse, whose pained expressions reveal the depth of his regrets in life. Both have a cackling chemistry that makes it easy to understand how quickly they’re pulled in each other’s orbit.

But that’s not enough to commit to a relationship. Meet Me in St. Gallen understands that the weight of all of our decisions in life will leave us reeling if we made the right choice, haunting us even as we’ve already carved a space for ourselves in the world. It doesn’t shy away from the realities of adulthood, even as it takes the form of a romantic comedy, which makes for a very satisfying watch. That’s why even as the movie presses on to its inevitable conclusion, it hurts so good.