Quick Change (Eduardo Roy Jr.) ***1/2 - I happen to know this director personally so you may think I'm biased but I have to say that this follow-up to his debut work, Bahay Bata, proves that he is a force to be reckoned with in Philippine cinema. This film is about a transgendered woman who, along with her nephew, goes around doing illegal plastic surgery for the lower-class gays/transgendered. It's a fascinating, gripping, very well-made film with touches of drama, thriller and even dark humor. Philippine cinema has made a lot of LGBT films and this one manages to find a new, fresh way to tackle the subject. I highly recommend it. (NOTE: This film won Best Screenplay and Best ACTOR for the transgendered woman who was a first-time non-professional movie actor).
Amor y Muerte (Cesar Evangelista) *** - Set in the rural area of the Philipppines during the 16th century when the Philippines was a Spanish colony, this is about a young Spaniard and his Filipina wife. I have to say I really genuinely admired the ambition of the filmmakers. Making a relatively low-budget period piece is a challenge. Also tackling many heady themes like colonialism, sexuality, religion, culture, etc. is refreshing in Filipino cinema. But the film's a bit flawed. I think casting a mestizo Filipino (Markki Stroem, who unfortunately is not the strongest actor either) rather than a Spanish actor is a mistake. I know enough Spanish that I can tell that it's CLEARLY not his language at all so that gets a bit distracting but it's a solid enough effort that I'm going to recommend it.
The Diplomat Hotel (Christopher Ad Castillo) **1/2 - A traumatized and disgraced TV journalist goes to a notoriously haunted hotel in hopes of making her comeback. There are some genuinely creepy and frightening moments in this film, no doubt shooting in the actual Diplomat Hotel (it's a real place and it also has a reputation for being haunted) helped immensely. Unfortunately the lead actress, Gretchen Barretto, is kind of weak for what is a rather complex role and hampers what could have been a pretty good horror flick. The last scene is particularly almost laughable.
Rekorder (Mikhail Red) ***1/2 - A retired cinematographer with a mysterious past makes his living pirating movies with his analog model camera then his camera captures a crime. The director of this film, Mikhail Red, is VERY young. He's only 21 years old! And a second generation filmmaker to boot (his father is acclaimed independent Filipino filmmaker Raymond Red). Even at his young age, he has acquired a seriously scary confidence in filmmaking (the editing and cinematography are masterful). It's far from perfect but for a 21 year old making his first feature, it's VERY impressive and a sign of greater things to come.
Transit (Hannah Espia) **** - I saved the best Cinemalaya film (based on the six that I was able to see) for last. This film is about five Filipinos living and working in Israel: A housekeeper, her brother, her half-Israeli daughter, a relative who's a newcomer and her brother's young son who's threatened to be deported due to new Israeli laws that requires the deportation of children of foreign workers who are below 5 years old. Writer-director Hannah Espia tells her story in fragments and presents a sad but very humanist story which does not resort cheap melodrama and the stereotypical Filipino histrionics, the emotions feel authentic and honest. The acting is outstanding all around, and creatively edited and beautifully shot. It's a remarkable piece of filmmaking. (NOTE: This swept the awards in the "New Breed" category, taking home Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, Editing and Cinematography).