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.

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.

#52FilmsByWomen 2017 Film # 10: Love You to the Stars and Back

Who took a pledge to watch 52 films directed by women this year? This guy! Full-length & short films are eligible as long as a woman directed it; co-directing credits count too. We’re going to jump ahead to the 10th movie on my list, which is Antoinette Jadaone’s Love You to the Stars and Back.

 

TL;DR: Love You to the Stars and Back is a hilarious romantic comedy with lovable leads at its center, that doesn’t forget the emotional pain at its core & treats cancer with the nuance it deserves.

After the success of Vince & Kath & James, it’s fascinating to see what Julia Barretto & Joshua Garcia’s next movie would look like. Better known as JoshLia, they are one of the best, if not the best, love teams working right now. Both of them are oozing with charisma & romantic spark that can remind you how great it feels to find yourself falling in love in the first place.

Thankfully, their latest movie Love You to the Stars and Back has them working with Antoinette Jadaone – best known for her funny yet tempered romantic comedies, like the influential hugot-inducing That Thing Called Tadhana (That Thing Called Destiny) – and it results in one of the best movies of the year.

Nica is a stubborn teenager who has a close relationship with her deceased mother (Carmina Villaroel). They both share a strong belief in the existence of aliens, & her mother believed that once she passes, she will be taken by extra-terrestrials. Their bond is why she isn’t happy with her father (Ariel Rivera) having a new partner (Maricar Reyes). But when Mika finds out her stepmother is pregnant, she takes it as the final straw. She sneaks out of their house & goes on a road trip to Mt. Milagros so she can be abducted by aliens. While stopping by an open field to pee, she finds out there’s a man near her pooping. She flees to her car out of panic, but accidentally runs over the man’s foot while he’s trying to explain what happened. After seeing him lying on the ground in pain, she offers him a ride. She finds out his name is Caloy (Joshua Garcia), a happy-go-lucky man with leukemia going on a bike ride to meet his absentee father for the first time. At first, they get on each other’s nerves, but slowly they’ll form a bond that will change their lives forever.

loveYouToTheStarsAndBackMika

That’s a lot to go over, but the movie lays it all out masterfully. It takes its time to introduce both leads by spacing out their scenes neatly, allowing us to understand the pain they’re going through. It always linger in the background, even as their initial encounter leads to some of the funniest scenes written by Jadaone, events brought by the leads’ clashing egos that escalate into pure chaos. It even softens the blow of Star Cinema’s usual third act problems: taking shortcuts to the script in order to provide a happy ending. She injects enough looseness the road trip genre allows her without turning the movie into a series of sketches. But once the comedown from the hilarity sets in, it dives deep in their emotional scars brought upon by their dysfunctional families while finding solace in one another & opening themselves to hope.

This is especially true of Caloy, who has to deal not just with his lack of paternal love, but the effects of leukemia on his body & relationships. Thankfully, the movie handles it all with finesse. Using cancer would be an easy way to turn this into a cheap tearjerker, but the movie smartly avoids that impulse by working hard to get those tears. It reveals how much his sickness has taken its toll on his family’s dynamic. It’s excellently handled, but Caloy’s story slowly takes over the movie’s narrative that by the end, Nica’s story becomes an afterthought. It’s a shame since there’s interesting emotional territory it ignores. There are some faint traces of it in the movie, but it’s undeveloped compared to how Caloy’s story is treated.

loveYouToTheStarsAndBackCaloy

It’s great that Julia Barretto & Joshua Garcia are becoming excellent actors in their own right, since they can cover the gaps left by the script. It’s also a more dramatic movie compared to Vince & Kath & James, & they stepped up to the challenge. Julia Barretto is excellent as another one of Jadaone’s strong-willed, witty female protagonists, while Joshua Garcia plays the same charming, happy-go-lucky joker in Vince & Kath & James, but with better dialogue. Both of them harness the sadness their characters feel & it pays off in its dramatic scenes, where their worries & disappointments are on full display without devolving into an overblown melodrama; the handheld cinematography shot with close-ups helps a lot. Not only that, their chemistry continues to be off the charts. It’s still chaste – they don’t even kiss! – but every longing stare & touch are full of romantic tension, it’s hard not to feel kilig. It’s like watching a powder keg on the verge of explosion.

It’s impressive to see how Joshua Garcia & Julia Barretto are turning into great actors themselves, but Antoinette Jadaone’s impressive material & command of tone certainly helps. It’s a symbiotic relationship, one that I hope we’ll see again soon. Love You to the Stars and Back isn’t just a charming, hilarious romantic comedy that doesn’t ignore the leads’ emotional realities, but a confirmation that a love team will not rise to greatness without highly capable people leading them.

loveYouToTheStarsAndBackGesture