Movie Review: DOTGA: Da One That Ghost Away is a Silly, Uneven Spoof Unworthy of Its Cast

TL;DR: This silly, slightly bawdy, spotty spoof of horror movies never gels into something special, but the cast makes it tolerable to watch.

Just taking a look at DOTGA: Da One That Ghost Away’s plot gives off the impression that it’s needlessly complicated than it should be. And you’re absolutely right.

Carmel (Kim Chiu) & Jeje (Ryan Bang) are close childhood friends working as fake exorcists, tricking their clients into thinking they’ve driven away the evil spirits lurking in their homes; which is probably an unintentional swipe at the Warrens, whose supernatural claims are dubious at best. What really happens is the rest of their crew dresses up as ghosts & ghouls they supposedly dispelled from their client’s house, & show the footage to them afterwards. She wouldn’t be doing this if the supernatural powers she inherited from her grandmother has awakened within her. Carmel is only doing this to provide for her grandmother (Marissa Delgado) & her stepsister Serrah (Maymay Entrata).

They will need that money soon. If they don’t pay their overdue debt soon, they will be kicked out of their house. Luckily, a rich, handsome, talented man named Jack Colmenares (Enzo Pineda) asked Carmel’s help to purify his house for the exact amount of money they need. She agrees since it will help them get out of their financial mess, but Jerald is very skeptical of Jack. Carmel & most of their crew were unfazed by the danger – since they really need the money – so they decided to accept the deal & host another fake exorcism. But once they arrive, the phony horror they had set up is set aside for real horror, as they try to survive the vengeful spirits attacking them in the middle of the night.

But that’s not all! Jerald still hasn’t told Carmel that he loves her & Jack’s arrival puts Carmel at the center of a love triangle. There’s also the blossoming relationship between Serrah and her childhood friend Chire (Edward Barber).

This is par for the course with the work of Tony Y. Reyes; a prolific comedic director who blends elements of romance, action, or fantasy & using broad, vaudeville-inspired humor to tie everything together. He has frequently worked with longtime comedians Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, & Joey de Leon throughout his long, fruitful career – including the highly divisive Enteng Kabisote series – who shares the same sensibilities as the trio. He wants us to have fun & be entertained, giving us everything we want & using every opportunity to crack a joke.

Even without his usual collaborators, DOTGA: Da One That Ghost Away fits nicely in his expansive oeuvre. It isn’t interested in creating a fruitful balance between comedy, horror, & romance & it shows in the broad, ramshackle plot allows it to make a ton of jokes, but the whole story doesn’t add up to a satisfying whole. In trying to to reach the widest audience possible, he ends up with a movie that is sloppy & inorganic, overstuffed with stories that end up being tangential to each other – even the ones that are supposed to be correlated – which dilutes the impact of some of the surprises the movie has in store.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the plots are strong on their own, but none of them rise above mediocrity; especially if it focuses on everyone’s romantic entanglements. The blossoming romance between Serrah & Chire is the weakest story of the bunch, because even if Maymay Entrata & Edward Barber gets a chance to throw a few zingers & show off their chemistry that exists, it’s disconnected fron the main plot that the movie drags whenever it focuses on their trials. Jerald’s unrequited love for Carmel & Jack’s role in the love triangle doesn’t go where it typically might have, but it undercuts it by the end.

Even the movie’s jokes are hit-or-miss. It is loud, obvious, & casually offensive, relying on bad puns, mean-spirited insults, & witless references rather than funny jokes. These are more apparent at the beginning, where the weak jokes combine with terrible exposition. Some of the jokes are dirty – as dirty one can be in a PG-rated film in the Philippines – & it revels in it with glee like a child who realized he can get away spouting swears & sexual references; which is oddly endearing. One notable example is Jack Colmenares* – say it aloud at least three times – whose name is repeated ad nauseum until it is sucked bone dry of any humor. At one point, the name is written on a whiteboard as “JACK COLmenares” for those who couldn’t get the joke.

It becomes more fun & interesting once Carmel, Jeje, & the rest of their crew set foot inside the haunted house, because the movies exerts more effort than it did before. It tries to mock or subvert horror movie tropes within Reyes’ sense of humor & it often succeeds, because it taps into a richer vein of material in order to further its own absurdity. It’s still hampered by its worst impulses – one example is a woman with long hair wearing a white dress who crawls out of the TV & gets stuck because she’s fat, get it? – but the movie becomes tolerable to watch compared to where it was before. It helps that this might be Tony Y. Reyes’ most gorgeous film to date, aping the creepy atmosphere of horror movies within its wacky, slapstick vibe & it makes it even funnier.

Buried underneath this uneven movie is a cast who are relishing the opportunity to be in a movie this silly. The performances are pitched higher than they should be, which is exhausting to watch, but the cast makes it work with their talent & enthusiasm for the limp material. It’s been a while since Kim Chiu starred in a comedy that’s not romantic & she fits right at home with the movie’s wackiness. Ryan Bang’s movie roles always end up either playing best friends of the main leads or borderline racist comic relief, but this time he gets a chance to shine on his own, trading quips with Kim Chiu & the rest of the cast. Maymay Entrata & Edward Barber are better at delivering jokes than translating their real-life romance to the big screen. Even Tetay, Lassy Marquez, Chokoleit & Pepe Herrera – who are also comedic actors known for playing sidekicks – are funny, even if they’re not given much to do. There’s a wealth of talent on display here, but the end result is a disappointing comedy that tries to do everything but ends up being tolerable.

*If you don’t understand Tagalog, Jack Colmenares’s name is a bad, dirty pun. ‘Jack Col’ sounds like ‘jakol,’ which means ‘to masturbate.’ Since the next syllable of that is ‘me,’ saying the name out loud is asking people to jack him off. ‘Nares’ doesn’t mean anything.

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Movie Review: Throwback Today is a Fun, Inventive Ride That Takes a While to Take Off

TL;DR: This charming sci-fi film about second chances is at its best when it fully explores its premise.

Stories about being able to find a way to redo one’s life is a rich, thematic vein that’s been done many times before, but rarely have they’ve been brought to life full of clever ideas as Throwback Today. It focuses on Primo (Carlo Aquino), a talented, aspiring production designer who lives an ordinary college life. He has a close relationship with his stubborn father (Allan Paule), who’s the only person taking care of him ever since his mother died. He loves to hang out with his best friends & work together with them on school projects, but the one he’s closest to is Andie (Empress Schuck), his best friend who unbeknownst to him is harboring a crush on him.

Everything seems to be going well until he meets Macy (Annicka Dolonius), a flighty woman with a troubled past. They quickly become a couple that transforms into an intense, passionate romance that consumes them both, causing their lives to go off the rails. They have a nasty break up, & Primo is left reeling from the relationship, losing his direction in life. To make matters worse, his father dies & he might end up homeless soon. But one day, he finds out he can communicate with his past self by chatting with him through an old iMac.

Thus begins his wild journey towards self-improvement, but it takes a while to get there. The movie’s first act is predictable & rushed, which doesn’t give the movie a solid foundation once it takes more risks during its second act. The production values look cheap, but understandable for an independent filmmaker making his feature debut.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable. It takes its conceit & pushes it to it to the limit with boundless energy , affording it with more narrative paths to take. It also helps that Carlo Aquino is a charming presence throughout the movie & Annickus Dolonius livens up a role that isn’t fully formed in the script. While the ending undercuts its message, Throwback Today is a fun, inventive romp about second chances.

Movie Review: Never Not Love You is One of the Best Modern Takes on Love vs Career

TL;DR: Never Not Love You is a beautiful, grounded examination on how hard it is to choose between love & career, with excellent performances from James Reid & Nadine Lustre.

Countless movies have been made about the modern dilemma of choosing between love & career, yet only few of them feel as bracing or as heartbreaking as Never Not Love You. It arrives at a time where Filipinos are more receptive to emotionally realistic romance movies, & Antoinette Jadaone – who’s one of the key people who this style more palatable to audiences – delivers her most mature movie yet, backed up by one of the most popular love teams in the Philippines & real-life couple James Reid & Nadine Lustre.

The duo play Joanne & Gio, a couple who jumps somewhat recklessly into a loving relationship. Joanne is an ambitious marketing assistant who left the province for Makati City, dreaming of ascending the corporate ladder & making her parents proud. She meets Gio, a freelance artist passionate with tattoos known for his playboy streak, when he sold her a pack of stickers. It’s very clear that Gio fell hard for Joanne the moment he saw her, & since he’s the kind of person who chooses to pursue what makes him happy, he starts courting her unofficially. She tries her best to resist his charms due to his reputation, but soon they become so close they start living together; it’s fine if an unwed couple cohabitate, because c’mon guys, it’s 2018.

Here is where JaDine – the nickname for the duo – continues to prove why they are a huge Filipino phenomenon. It’s easy to root for them, since they’re just charming & charismatic as a couple. But this is a more intimate romance compared to their previous work – as much as you can be intimate in a PG-rated – that’s complemented by their childlike intensity. You can see it in how Mycko David & Carlos Mauricio shoot the movie, mostly with close-ups & handheld shots while Gio & Joanne are often bathe in bright, neon colors. Or how the wide shots capture the endless possibilities in front of them. It produces some of the most gorgeous visuals they’ve ever done, turning Makati & Zambales into a rural & urban sandbox they can freely explore. The most outstanding aspect though, is Jadaone’s rich, economical writing, as she explores their dynamic & following it thoroughly as it flourishes, while setting up possible roadblocks in their future without dragging the whole movie into a slog.

And trouble does arrive for the couple. When Gio’s father stops financially supporting him, he starts lashing out at everyone, including Joanne. He can’t live on the few, sporadic jobs alone, he doesn’t want Joanne to support him, nor does he want to work in a corporate environment for fear of losing the freedom to do what he wants. When his friend reveals that he received a job offer from one of his clients to work for their company in London with a huge salary, Joanne asks him why he didn’t take it. Leaving her behind isn’t an option for him, since he wants to have a future with her together. He asks her to go to London with him, but she doesn’t want to since she’s already up for a promotion to assistant brand manager. It causes a big fight, but in the end they both decided that moving to London is the best option for them.

That’s just the beginning of the hardships their relationship will face, & Jadaone details every facet of their journey. Gio & Joanne are clearly in a loving, supportive relationship, but they’re often at each other’s throats due to their neuroses, insecurities, & social backgrounds. Jadaone is trying to reveal something truthful & grounded without wrapping it around a unique hook – which isn’t a bad thing, considering she made some of her best work under that mode – & she mostly succeeds, revealing how frustrating it is to bridge the gap between their love for each other & what they want to achieve in life, while commenting about class & even race; even if the latter isn’t as subtle as it should be. (You can argue that putting JaDine in a serious romantic drama that’s also shot in London is a hook in itself, but I digress.)

It’s during this half of the movie where James Reid & Nadine Lustre clearly step up. James Reid is the obvious standout as the impulsive & temperamental Gio, whose intensity & devil-may-care attitude brings out the best & worst in him. Jadaone is careful not to write him as an awful jerk, but he could still be detestable in the wrong hands. Thankfully, James Reid uses the charismatic bad boy image he’s cultivated over the years to show the flawed, well-intentioned side underneath his cocky demeanor, & watching him grow emotionally over the course of the movie is engrossing to watch. That doesn’t mean Nadine Lustre is slacking off on the sidelines. Joanne is pragmatic & ambitious, & you can see Lustre carefully navigating their tricky relationship, as she moves from supporting Gio’s dreams & begrudging how further she is from achieving hers, with her resentment slowly simmer, until it completely boils over. She also has her own journey to take in the movie, & she reveals the subtle changes she made without her calling attention to it. Even the visuals become more sober & less frentic without losing its beauty, as the same visual language used earlier in the movie turned their world smaller, even as they travel & achieve more success.

It’s a complicated position to be put in, yet Never Not Love You never takes the easy way out. While the events leading up to its conclusion could’ve been tighter, it takes a more realistic stance. Being in a committed relationship is a constant act of negotiation, & as long as the love that brought them together doesn’t curdle into bitterness, they’ll survive any obstacle in their way.

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.

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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.

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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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