Movie Review: Ang Pambansang Third Wheel Charges Forward With Charm But Doesn’t Know When to Stop

TL;DR: Ang Pambansang Third Wheel (The National Third Wheel) charges forward with charm & energy, but that proves to be its greatest strength & weakness.

Trina (Yassi Pressman) has never had it easy when it comes to love. She’s the eternal third wheel; cheated on by men multiple times & constantly surrounded by her friends who have their own romantic relationships, as if rubbing her singlehood in her face. She finds hope when she meets the handsome Neo (Sam Milby), an aspiring applicant in the marketing agency she works for. She’s immediately smitten to his charms, but they don’t get along easily due to her stubborn nature & her bitter view of relationships. Once she starts to open up, they become a couple; with Trina celebrating that she’s finally stopped being the third wheel. That celebration is short-lived when Neo reveals that he has a son Murphy (Alonzo Muhlach) from his ex-girlfriend Monica (Sam Pinto). At first, she’s mad that Neo didn’t reveal he has a son & scared at the prospect of becoming a stepmom, but once she decides to continue dating Neo, she finds herself trying to adapt to Neo’s complicated family arrangement.

What makes Ang Pambansang Third Wheel (The National Third Wheel) notable is its pacing. It zips by with the help of Trina’s narration; allowing her to comment about the events unfolding in her life, & at times, cut away to her fervent imagination. It makes for a bouncy, energetic movie that gives life to well-worn tropes, & pushes the movie towards more interesting material; exploring the various ways one can be a third wheel & the different dynamics of a separated family. Unfortunately, it doesn’t know when to stop. It’s apparent in the latter half, where it continues to push forward without giving it time to breathe. While it makes a bit of thematic sense & it never forces its characters to act unnaturally, it feels like the movie contorted itself towards its inevitable conclusion.

Thankfully, the cast keeps it from spinning out of control. This is a total showcase for Yassi Pressman, whose bubbly energy & prickly nature doesn’t belie how stranded she is when trying to ingratiate to Neo’s family. Sam Milby isn’t just here to display his charm & his beautifully sculpted abs either. He gets to shine as a man trying to atone for his past mistakes, but finds himself stuck between two priorities. Sam Pinto isn’t painted as Neo’s spurned, vengeful ex, but as a smart, responsible single mother who finally gets a shot at achieving her dreams. And while Al Tantay gets an undercooked subplot, he’s a warm presence as Trina’s father, & their paternal pairing is the best relationship in the movie. It’s not a slight against the movie nor its charming leads, but their loving, supportive relationship is endearing & provides the movie a fascinating way to view Trina’s circumstances.; especially when it leans into this by the end. This would’ve helped it resonate more, but Ang Pambansang Third Wheel has moved so fast at that point that it ends up as a fizzy confection with fascinating layers, never coalescing into a satisfying whole.



Movie Review: Magbuwag Ta Kay Gives Us Many Reasons To Watch Another Breakup-Focused Romantic Comedy

TL;DR: Not only does Magbuwag Ta Kay (Let’s Break Up Coz) prove that Cebuano cinema is alive & well, it’s also a novel, bittersweet take on breakups.

It’s always a blessing when regional cinema reach audiences outside where it came from. There are lots of stories waiting to be told to a wide audience, using a language rarely heard in our Tagalog-centric Filipino media. 

That’s why the commercial release of the Magbuwag Ta Kay… (Let’s Break Up ‘Coz) is already a cause for celebration. It’s a Cebuano independent film that didn’t go through the festival circuit for it to get made & it’s being distributed by Viva Films; one of the biggest Filipino movie studios. It’s a Cebuano film that can easily resonate to people outside of Cebu, proving that using Visayan & Mindanaoan languages is not a hindrance in telling relatable stories.

And you couldn’t get more relatable than a movie about breakups. The couple at the center of this funny, bittersweet romantic comedy comprises of Kaye (Akiko Solon) & Roy (Rowell Ucat a.k.a. Medyo Maldito). Both of them are college sweethearts & their love for each other remains strong. However, Kaye will be migrating to Canada in a month. Roy is shocked & devastated by this news. She wants to continue their relationship even if they are a million kilometers apart, but he doesn’t want to pursue their relationship without her by his side. So they both decide to split up by the end of the month, & enjoy each other’s company before she leaves the country for good.

It’s a fresh take on a genre filled with heartbroken men & women trying to move on from their pain & sorrow. Their separation isn’t caused by infidelity or an irreparable mistake. These two well-adjusted people are devoted to each other, but decided to split up because one of them wants to forge a new path for herself. It’s a grounded, emotionally mature take on breakups, & it mines this rich thematic vein for all its worth. That means even the movie’s funniest scenes – which includes Kaye revealing the bad news to Roy & the two of them hanging out on the beach – are undercut by a sense of uncertainty & sadness looming over them.

Rowell Ucat & Akiko Solon are a huge key in making it work. With the help of a hilarious, emotionally incisive script, they are able to make us root for a relationship on the verge of its demise. Both of them have a charming, easygoing presence & their chemistry feels warm & natural. You could easily watch them talk & joke  around for hours. Rowell Ucat gets to show off his great comic timing. Akiko Solon absolutely nails her dramatic moments.

They also keep the movie in focus, even as it adds a seemingly irrelevant plot in the middle of the movie. It isn’t integrated properly to the movie & it feels tacked on, even as it adds another layer to its themes. Still, Magbuwag Ta Kay never loses sight of the main couple & their problems, even as it goes through its bittersweet end. While breakups are painful, there’s more to life than romantic love & we’d be better off sharing that love to those who need it.

      Movie Review: Amnesia Love’s Likability Keeps It From Being Forgettable

      TL;DR: Amnesia Love may be good-natured & respectful to its characters, but it’s not funny or clever enough to rise above mediocrity.

      It’s disappointing that Amnesia Love isn’t as great as it should’ve been. It has a promising conceit that could’ve explored the complexities of gender & sexuality in a cheery, hilarious manner, but the whole movie just isn’t up to the task.

      Kimmer (Paolo Ballesteros) is a famous social media blogger with an abrasive attitude. He is overwhelmed by work, causing him to lash out at others. His boyfriend Macky (Polo Ravales) suggested he should go on a hiking trip to clear his mind. But while trying to pick a wildflower blooming near the edge of a cliff, he falls through the sea & washes ashore on a faraway island bereft of internet access. A group of kids rescue him & bring him to Ka Andeng (Lander Vera-Perez) & Aling Mareng (Maricel Morales); a friendly, highly respected couple on the island. He survived the fall, but he is afflicted with amnesia. While adapting to his new life on the island, Ka Andeng & Aling Mareng’s daughter Doray (Yam Concepcion) arrives at their home during her college break. She’s  deeply suspicious of Kimmer’s motives, but they form a romantic bond once they get to know each other better; where he’s even fighting her annoying suitor Edwin (Vandolph Quizon). But flashes of his past life keep haunting him, including an attraction to a hunky fisherman Isdanny (Sinon Loresca) that he keeps hiding.

      Amnesia Love is a broad romantic comedy that plays with the idea of gay man struggling with his sexuality caused by his amnesia for laughs, but it does so without being cruel. It never demonizes Kimmer for being gay & his relationship with Macky is never treated as a joke. Even Kimmer’s attraction to Doray is even treated seriously, even as Kimmer has doubts about his sexuality; subtly supporting the idea that gender is a spectrum. The humor stems from contrasting Kimmer’s life before & after being beset with amnesia on an island with very traditional gender norms.

      Unfortunately, the movie just isn’t funny or clever. Most of the jokes are hacky & clichéd & the situations Kimmer finds himself in aren’t clever. It’s stuck using stereotypes as a source of its humor, & while it retains its genial tone, it’s just shallow & tired. It also has an annoying tendency to use overbearing music to punctuate some of the jokes, which makes it worse. It can also be needlessly contrived at times as it tries to come up with ways to keep Kimmer from staying on the island, including a third act twist that never makes an impact besides making the movie’s running time longer. Amnesia Love may be amiable, but the whole movie coasts on its charms to deliver a movie that is completely mediocre.

      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.


      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.


      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.


      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.


      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.


      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.


      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.


      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.


      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.


      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.


      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.