Movie Review: Mama’s Girl’s Sweetness Covers Up Its Flaws

TL;DR: Despite its fascinating structure, Mama’s Girl is deeply flawed, but the mother-daughter duo at its core makes up for it.

It’s so frustrating to watch a movie like Mama’s Girl. Its heart is in the right place, & has all the ingredients of an unforgettable movie that you can’t help but root for it to pull it off. However, the movie’s faults are hard to ignore, nearly overwhelming whatever merits it has in the first place.

Abby (Sofia Andres) is college graduate with low self-esteem, adrift about her place in the world & easily backs down when life gets rough. She has a close bond with her mother Mina (Sylvia Sanchez), a single mother who raised Abby on her own while cooking & managing an Italian restaurant called Mama Mina with her best friend Neila (Arlene Muhlach). Mina is always there to support & protect Abby at all costs, even if Abby pushes her away at times. Meanwhile, Neila’s son Nico (Diego Loyzaga) is Abby’s best friend who hides his true feelings for her. Unfortunately, he gets upstaged by Zak (Jameson Blake), the singer of a famous band Abby is a huge fan of. Everything seems normal, but it turns out Mina is trying to hide her ovarian cancer from Abby until it couldn’t be shrugged off. She dies, leaving Abby even more depressed than usual, but with the help of her mother’s packages she prepared for Abby before her death, she might just find her calling in this world.

But the movie doesn’t tell this story in a straightforward manner. It kills off Mina early in the film & jumps into the future, where Abby is still reeling from her mother’s death, the end of her relationship with Zak due to his philandering, & the dire straits Mama Mina is in thanks to the loss of her mother’s cooking. It jumps back & forth from the past & present to fill in the gaps. 

It’s an audacious gambit that unfortunately doesn’t work. It is executed sloppily, at times turning the movie into a series of dramatic moments without building up to it. It also pushes Abby’s worsening dour outlook into the spotlight, without providing new insights about her character or her mother. It also flattens Abby’s rocky relationship with Zak into hacky territory, since it jumps far too ahead without giving us reasons to care. And since the movie pits Abby’s lingering feelings for Zak & her blossoming feelings for Nico as the basis of a love triangle, it removes any tension that would’ve served as one of the movie’s main conflicts. There’s also a subplot involving Abby’s grandmother that pops up out of nowhere in the climax. The messy execution of the film’s novel narrative makes it harder for its emotional moments to land.

Thankfully, the movie redeems itself through the tender relationship between Abby & Mina. It is sweet & infectious, as the movie reveals the love & affection they have for each other, even if they get on each other’s nerves. It’s also anchored with great performances from the main duo. Sylvia Sanchez showing Mina’s sweetness, understanding, & strength amidst all her problems. Sofia Andres gets bogged down by Abby’s repetitive downward spiral & still makes it count, but she shines when Abby shares touching moments with Mina. Even she livens up her Mina’s tired romantic subplot, especially since her chemistry with Diego Loyzaga is electric. There are also some creative shots & energetic long takes that liven up the movie.

But it just highlights how close the movie was in making something special. Mama’s Girl is deeply flawed, but it’s clearly trying to do something different & do justice to its heartwarming material. While it failed, its ambition, sincerity & commitment to showing the ups & downs of Abby & Mina, even after death, comes through that it’s easy to overlook its flaws. It may not be enough to make a great movie, but it can make for a decent one.

Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: Haunted Forest’s Glossy Sheen Couldn’t Disguise How Bland & Undercooked It Is

TL;DR: Great ideas & high production values are abound in Haunted Forest, but the sloppy execution renders it fruitless.

Haunted Forest has all the trappings of an excellent horror movie. Aris (Raymart Santiago) is a cop who is reassigned to his hometown, bringing his only daughter Nica (Jane Oineza) with him at his sister’s home. Both of them have a rocky relationship ever since Aris’ wife died, with Nica acting out or ignoring his demands. Aris helps out his friend & chief of police Nardo (Joey Marquez) in investigating a series of chilling murders inflicted on women, supposedly caused by a sitsit, an aswang-like creature lurking in the forest. When Nica finally opens up to her cousin & her friends, she joins their outing in a nearby river; including a cute boy named RJ (Jameson Blake) who clearly likes her. After the trip, she starts acting irrationally & prone to fainting. Soon she finds herself slowly reeled in by the sitsit and her friends & family will do everything they can to save her.

Unfortunately, the whole movie is completely dull. There’s a drought of scares due to its sloppy staging & generic nature, especially once it descends into the typical third act confrontation that’s neither thrilling nor fun. This extends to the whole film, where each scene feels perfunctory, shallow & oddly paced. There are also unfortunate scenes involving the village’s mentally disabled local named Voltron – who is the only witness to the murders – where Aris & Nardo beat him up senselessly for comic relief, that stands out for being hateful & ill-suited to the movie.

But glimmers of what could’ve been can be seen throughout the movie. Instead of becoming a metaphor for every father’s nightmare for their daughter taken to its extremes – like the Taken series – it wisely focuses on the father-daughter bond at its core, trying their best to rebuild what was lost after a horrible tragedy. It’s easier to root for these characters when it’s grounded in something painful; compared to Regal Films’ previous Haunted Mansion, where every character is either bland or despicable that you start rooting for their deaths. Raymart Santiago & Jane Oineza both shine in these roles as they reconnect after failing to communicate for so long. The rest of the cast elevate what could’ve been staler material in the wrong hands. Joey Marquez is doing his “gruff dad” shtick he’s been doing recently & it works. Jameson Blake sells his growing relationship with Nica as RJ thanks to their undeniable chemistry. Even if Maris Racal & Jon Lucas aren’t given much to do, they still enliven the film with their presence. There are also two standout sequences – Nica’s violent freakout & its aftermath in her bedroom – for managing to be creepy, but it’s pretty much downhill afterwards.

That’s not even mentioning the movie’s polished production values, so even when the movie isn’t working at all, at least it:s beautiful to look at. Rommel Sales’ cinematography creates eerie images in the dark. Ericson Navaro’s production design deserve praise for adding a foreboding atmosphere, like the creepy tableaus the victims end up in after their deaths. The CG special effects are also well done, but it distracts from the movie’s overall vibe.

Despite all this, it never rises above its middling quality. There are seeds of a better horror movie surrounding the movie, but it is in dire need of a more assured hand to pull it off. What we have instead is half-baked movie that never reached its full potential.

Just The Fucking Worst: 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten Receives an R-18 Rating

Yes, it’s good to remind ourselves of what’s making us happy every now & then, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore horrible shit. So here’s what is hopefully an occasional feature that highlights anything that is just the fucking worst.

The Filipino indie movie 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten, the winner of Best Picture in Cinema One Originals 2016, is released in theaters & more people should watch it while they still can. It’s a provocative, bittersweet coming-of-age tale of first love set during the 90s in a post-eruption Pampanga about Felix, whose ordinary life is rocked with the arrival of Magnus & Maxim, his two new Filipino-American classmates. It is also an exploration of American imperialism in the Philippines, the diaspora caused by Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption, & broken families. It is all of these things, mixed together in a unforgettable brew, without forgetting that the heart of this story is a boy who falls in love with another boy, who may not love him back.

And MTRCB decided that it should get a rating of R-18 in cinemas. You can see the complete rating below, but it contains few spoilers.

It’s an infuraiting, disappointing result struck down by the Movie & Television Review & Classification Board (MTRCB) on Petersen Vargas’ excellent film debut written by Jason Paul Laxamana. In response, Petersen Vargas wrote a long, passionate Twitter thread that is worth reading in full:





Don’t get me wrong: 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten has acts of sex & violence throughout the movie. But most of its run-time is dedicated to the main characters’ struggles. Of course, when the movie does veer into adult material, it does so with maturity & restraint. There’s not even a trace of full frontal nudity here!

But the main sticking point appears to be the fact that its supposed propagation of murder, which is a flabbergasting read of the movie. Without getting revealing much of the film’s plot, it doesn’t propagate murder. There’s not even a scene here that can top Logan in terms of gratuitous violence, a movie full of blood & gore, including a child named Laura rolls a decapitated head to her captors.

And yet somehow Logan got a rating of R-16, continuing the double standard that acts of brutal violence are more tolerable in our conservative Filipino society compared to any depictions of sex, from the tame to gratuitous, especially if it concerns those in the LGBTQ+ community.

But what’s infuriating about this decision is it severely limits the movie’s audience, and it’s not just because of the rating. R-18 movies are almost non-existent in the Philippines thanks to SM Cinema’s draconian rule of banning R-18 movies in their malls, due to its owners’ insistence of delivering clean entertainment for the whole family. The problem is SM Malls are the largest mall chain in the country, and it has more provincial cinemas compared to its competitors. In a country where the movie-going experience barely exists outside malls, it’s a huge handicap to producers wanting to deliver movies with mature content to a bigger audience. Local producers were less hesitant to make films that might get an R-16 rating & international distributors stopped delivering movies that might get an R-18 rating; except for notable exceptions like the Fifty Shades of Grey & Fifty Shades Darker. It created a cinematic ecosystem where family-friendly entertainment is valued more, which limits the kinds of movies people can watch. It’s a huge problem that the MTRCB made the R-16 rating just so movies containing adult material can get shown to a bigger audience.

Add to the fact that it’s a Filipino indie movie means its survival in theaters will be a steeper uphill climb, making it hard for the movie break out with the right audience.

And queer movies are more prone to receive harsher ratings, which is a huge shame. What Petersen Vargas wrote above making”every single boy whose confusions become their life sentence” less lonely is completely true. Not only that, these stories create diversity not just by representing an oft-maligned members of society, but also in the kinds of stories that can be told.

In the end, the losers here are not just creators who want to make risky, adult fare, but the audience losing out on a chance to watch it. The combination of MTRCB’s harsh, conservative ruling, SM Cinemas’ ban on R-18 movies, & theaters’ continued eagerness to pull out Filipino indie movies ensure that most Filipinos will live only on Hollywood blockbusters, romantic comedies, & the latest movies from Vic Sotto, Vice Ganda, & Mother Lily who excuse their mediocre output by saying it’s great for the whole family. That’s not good for the country’s artistic & cultural growth in the long run.

And that’s just the fucking worst.