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.

Advertisements

Can We Still Be Friends? is Not The Movie Its Title Makes It Out To Be

TL;DR: The title may be misleading, but this is a charming romantic comedy honed in on the specific struggles of long-term relationship.

It really doesn’t.

This movie doesn’t tackle the hotly debated question in its title. Rather, it uses that idea to examine a relationship at a crossroads.

Digs & Sam, both played by Gerald Anderson & Arci Muñoz respectively, have been together for eight years, living in a condo unit together both of them are still paying for. Sam is an ambitious, hardworking creative getting passed over for promotions. She mostly takes care of her boyfriend Digs, an illustrator who often freelances. He’s a charming, irresponsible slacker who doesn’t even clean up their condo. Sam wants Digs to be more responsible by doing his fair share of house work, help her pay the bills more often, go on exciting dates, propose to her, & refill empty pitchers with water while Digs wants to maintain their seemingly idyllic life. They both love each other, as their playful banter & Digs’ ability to defuse the simmering tension between them shows, but they are reaching a breaking point. Both of them finally snap & decide to end their relationship.

Digs is supposed to stay at his friend’s house, but when Sam offered him to stay in the condo out of courtesy – since they both own the condo unit – he took her up on her offer. Not only that, both of them decided they should be friends, creating one of the most awkward living situations in Filipino cinema.

And this movie milks the awkwardness for every last drop. Both of them try their best to be friendly with each other, even if the wounds from their break up are still fresh. It doesn’t help that Sam clearly loves Digs but can’t put up with his immaturity, while Digs is hoping for an easy reconciliation. It’s how they end up ogling at each other when working out at their condo & going on awkward Tinder dates.

The movie might sound farcical, but it’s the exact opposite. It’s a grounded tale that asks what happens when one person in a relationship changes & one doesn’t, whether we can be patient enough to wait for our partner to overcome his/her shortcomings & if love is enough to solve these issues. This is one of Star Cinema’s toned down efforts. It is more attuned to the specifics of their relationship, where every interaction is the result of the years they’ve been together with all of the baggage it carries. This means it could focus on the messy emotions onscreen.

In fact, this feels more like a Prime Cruz movie with a Star Cinema budget. There’s the heavy focus on urban life, cramped living spaces & the alienation that’s packaged with the former – this time heightened by an ineffectual partner & the subsequent breakup – scored with a spare synth reminiscent of BP Valenzuela – who scored Cruz’s debut Sleepless – that’s atypical of Star Cinema. His movies are always gorgeous & emphasize the spaces between the characters & the environment, but it gets a step up with his move to a major studio, making it his sleekest film visually. One of the best scenes in the movie highlight these qualities, where Sam is suddenly a part of marriage proposal & she tries to dance away her loneliness.

And he’s blessed with actors who can pull off the material with ease. Gerald Anderson has the boy-next-door charm that can make the audience overlook Digs’ flaws, but he’s capable of carrying a dramatic scene when needed. Arci Muñoz has the meatier role & she’s completely astounding in it. She’s captures the confidence, longing & sadness of her character without betraying what makes it tick, & can make you laugh with a simple facial expression. And the chemistry they have together can warm up the coldest of hearts, which the movie exploits, since they don’t spend majority of the movie as a couple. It makes us want to root for them even more.

But it’s not without its hiccups. It has the typical third act problems Star Cinemas usually have when its movies are forced to come up with a happy ending. This movie mostly avoids these flaws without betraying the movie’s themes by sticking its focus on the characters, yet it’s still rushed, skipping a few beats in order to get them back together.

However, it doesn’t tarnish the movie at all. It’s a small flaw in one of the best movies released by Star Cinema in recent years, & another excellent movie from Prime Cruz. It may not answer whether exes can be friends, but it takes something relatable & cringy & uses it as a springboard for something specific & real, with a more than capable couple at the center. It’s not the movie we expected, but it is better for it.

Vince & Kath & James is Full of Formulaic Pleasures & Pitfalls

TL;DR: Vince and Kath and James is a sweet & fizzy confection from Star Cinema that almost rises above its predictability.

This article contains slight spoilers to Vince & Kath & James. It reveals the movie’s first half, but it doesn’t discuss the movie’s second half.

People often complain about formulaic, cliched movies, and with good reason. These movies are lazy, soulless, cynical cash grabs aimed at attracting the biggest audience possible without giving them something of value. Or at least a different experience.

Star Cinema’s romantic movies are often relegated to this category, because majority of their movies are manufactured from a very rigid template. A heterosexual love team, either a new or established pairing, who slowly fall in love, fall apart during the third act, & reunite just in time for the ending. The protagonists have best friends whose purpose is to advise them in their problems. Moments of kilig are scattered throughout the movie, whether if it’s done naturally or forced. Cornball lines are delivered that are written to be quotable. Don’t forget that it should always have a theme song. The studio may be trying to add other elements like hugot, family drama, & LGBTs into the mix so it won’t get stale, but they’ve never strayed away from their established formula.

But predictability does have its advantages. Formulas can help writers provide a solid foundation to their stories. And watching something predictable is akin toeating your favorite comfort food: It triggers your pleasure centers & you know exactly what you’ll get.

Comfort food is exactly what Vince & Kath & James aims to be and it mostly succeeds, which is a miracle, considering this is a Star Cinema romantic comedy adapted from an online series presented as a series of text messages, which itself is a version of Cyrano de Bergerac updated for millenials. This movie is very derivative in its core, yet it manages to rise above it.

It does this by fleshing out its characters & ensures that the whole Cyrano act is tied into something more than just a romantic farce. Vince (Joshua Garcia) has a crush on Kath (Julia Barretto) for a while, but he hasn’t had the guts to tell her. The only thing he does is constantly tease her, which she finds annoying, & write an anonymous blog dedicated to her where he writes pithy hugot lines. He lives with his cousin James (Ronnie Alonte), one of the best varsity players in their campus, because due to a complicated past related to his mother. James often depends on Vince to save from trouble, whether cozying up to James’ parents or making up excuses for James’ behavior or completely taking the blame for his problems. When Kath wins Miss Engineering, James sets his eyes on her & asks for Vince’s help to talk to her through text as a secret admirer, without knowing Vince’s feelings for her. Vince reluctantly agrees & soon finds himself courting the woman of his dreams for his cousin.

But Kath has her own set of problems. She’s a boyish student working on her uncle’s auto repair shop as a mechanic in order to provide for her mother & brother’s needs after her father left them for another woman. Her mother is still heartbroken about it. She also has a crush on James, but she hasn’t had the guts to tell him. When she gets these text messages, she is intrigued & she suddenly finds herself falling for her secret admirer. When she finds out it’s supposedly Vince texting him, she presents herself more as the woman who won Miss Engineering, instead of who she really is.

This setup works very well for the movie’s favor for many reasons. Kath’s personal life & act of deceit turns her more into an actual human being, instead of a woman who’s just pursued by two men. It gives her something to do besides being lied to. Vince’s complicated relationship with James & his family shows his behavior of staying behind the background & hiding his true self isn’t just an endearing quirk, it’s a way of life forced by the people around him & his insecurities.

Thankfully, a deeper dive to its characters doesn’t make for a serious movie; this is still a Star Cinema rom-com after all. The movie still maintains a bubbly vibe that’s very contagious. It captures the feeling of falling in love for the first time, with all the innocence, naivete & sweetness that comes along with it, updated for the millenial era. The characters may be in college, but it’s also endearing to see a group of people who are almost adults go through an adolescent version of love. Text messages & conversations through chat are displayed as though it were written in chalk, while our protagonists smile & let the kilig wash over them. No other scene epitomizes this more than a montage of Vince, posing as James, texting cheesy one-liners with Kath & bonding over Star Cinema’s Got 2 Believe to the tune of O Pag-ibig; a catchy, upbeat ode to the wonders of love.

All of these improvements would’ve been for nothing if not for the almost stellar trio. Ronnie Alonte is the weak link of the bunch, using his charisma to make up for his stiff & unnatural acting. It’s as if he was a robot built as the latest heartthrob by Star Cinema programmed to mimic an irresponsible playboy & failing completely. Julia Barretto is great as Kath, who delivers a lively performance that matches the movie’s tone. But Joshua Garcia is the obvious standout with his breakthrough performance. He’s completely charming as a Vince, playing the shy boy-next-door with ease & he’s able to give weight to his dramatic scenes. When Julia Barretto & Joshua Garcia are both onscreen, they have the kind of chemistry that can warm the coldest of hearts. It’s youthful love at its finest.

However, its insistence on following its formula is its biggest failing. It starts to fall apart in the third act, when it rushes towards its inevitable happy ending. While it does attempt to continue its nuanced take on such a tired premise, there’s a lack of space for these scenes to breathe. And the instigating incident that begins the movie’s third act is jarring & offensive for something this light.

Because in the end, formulas are only guides for filmmakers to generate stories, & it’s up to them to create something special out of it. Vince and Kath and James almost achieves this feat, but falls short on that. Disappointing as it may be, that doesn’t detract from its charms. It’s like eating a bowl of hot champorado on a cold, rainy day. It’s a simple, foolproof way to warm you up on the inside.