The young men and women who star in Villa Estrella have apparently been cast for maximum sex appeal, but what good is that if the only nudity is one scene with a shirtless Jake Cuenca? It’s the kind of horror movie designed to drag and tease, to hold out on gratification. You wish for it, but there’s none – whether it’s sex, answers, or actual frights. Call it horror blue balls.
But the reason the movie slacks more than it satisfies is that the potentially fun B-movie premise – a ghost monster beneath a murky swimming pool – is padded by much ado about tasteful “dimensionality”. Long-time director Rico Maria Ilarde, working for the first time with studio behemoth Star Cinema, has made his most polished film, but also one of his least palpable.
The 5th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival -- or Cinemalaya Cinco -- runs July 17 to 26, 2009 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
This year includes a program called "LGBT Specials", which will show the following: Ded Na Si Lolo, Dose, Heavenly Touch, Jay, Quick Trip, Selda, Thank You Girls, and The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela. So much for the "L"; They're all "G", "B", or "T".
For schedules, download this file or check out the official site. But the best guides come from the blog The Persistence of Vision: Click here for ticket prices and tips for beginners and here for directions to the venue.
I'll go right ahead and admit that the first ten minutes had me hooked, in which swarthy hunk Marco Alcaraz makes love to Paloma in the open evening air, squeezing her breasts with his athletic hands, then later, desperately auditions for a movie role in front of two gay men, by macho dancing in his white Bench briefs, the brand the actor endorses. Early buzz surrounding the movie focuses on the trivia that Alcaraz has never done a boldie, but a big part of why that even matters is that the TV regular, with his cold snarl, has always looked like something was plugged up his ass (here no exception), even when half-naked, but is now willing to be objectified, or, okay, made vulnerable. As it turns out, it's a red herring of an intro, because Pitik Bulag is no sexy flick in the usual definition, but a crime caper, sort of.
Alcaraz plays a down-on-his-luck ex-stuntman husband who trips on unbelievable luck when a bag of money falls on his lap. Yes, it's that old plot. We already know that money from the sky brings graver misfortune. But Pitik Bulag doesn't tread the path of last year's Imoral -- or, for that matter, Misteryo Sa Tuwa (1984) or A Simple Plan (1998). We'd been trained to expect the scenario leads to a battle of wits among people who are supposed to split the money between them, thereby releasing each one's personal demons. The refreshing surprise of Pitik Bulag is that the heroes allow their good values to drive their decisions. There's a stretch of good deeds, such as caring for the departed or your pet, that double as thrill highlights -- who knew? Maybe the film is saying that doing "the right thing" complicates our lives.
Director Gil Portes, with screenwriter Eric Ramos, who's a factory of potboiler scripts lately (Walang Kawala, Heavenly Touch), have built a kind of purgatory for their characters. Why else are they making it difficult for themselves if they don't believe it will save them? Even the main bad guy (Victor Neri), a trigger-happy womanizer, is thrust into a testing ground of his own: a dirty movie theater inhabited by gay cruisers and service boys. It's this sly prankishness that gives the film its zing. It also, somewhat cleverly, sneaks in a tribute to departed action star Fernando Poe Jr. and the "dead" genre of Filipino action movies (practically nobody makes them anymore) -- which is likely the icing on the cake that inspired the sentimental folks at the Cinema Evalutaion Board to award the film an "A" rating.
Too bad that the film lacks the lustre of a good action movie. Portes, who, among indie godfathers, is probably the most earnestly conventional, shoots without frills, but with the rudimentary dryness of a teledrama. A couple of key scenes seem stupid and less believable because of hasty execution. But mostly, I fret at how much more suspenseful it could have been if it had a little more pizzazz.