“Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral” Review: The Hero as a Character Falls Short

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Let me start off by saying that Heneral Luna (2015) and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (2018) are being compared for a good reason. The former captures Antonio Luna as a military general. He is characterized as an impulsive, foul-mouthed, and ill-tempered general whose love for his country crosses the extremes that enrages those in authority. On the other hand, the latter recounts a part of the Philippine-American war—featuring Goyo. Unlike Heneral Luna, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral portrays Goyo as a character with insufficiency. The difference between the two is the character development; in Heneral Luna, it is no doubt that Antonio Luna as a character is depicted excellently, while in Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, the protagonist remains questionable.

Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is the sequel to Heneral Luna. It tells the events of a portion of the Philippine-American War, particularly those leading to the Battle of Tirad Pass in 1899. Throughout the film, it tries to fit in the role of Goyo as a general, along with Joven as the film’s narrator, Emilio Aguinaldo’s frustrations, and Apolinario Mabini’s sentiments on the current situation.

While the film is close to being historically consistent by capturing the key events wherein Goyo played a significant role, it fails in developing the character of Goyo himself. Although he is depicted as a lady’s man and a general whose love for his country is blinded by his loyalty to his president, there is less to dig deep because the film fails to properly concentrate on his character. The film’s narrative tries to revolve around Goyo and develop his character through the events where he is thrown into, but this is done poorly. In fact, the film isn’t about Goyo; it’s about the events leading to the Battle of Tirad Pass.

There is an attempt to centralize the narrative on Goyo as a character. The film present bits and pieces of his personality—his anxieties, his way of leading, his flirtatious attitude toward girls, and more importantly, his loyalty for Emilio Aguinaldo. However, these are the only things that we get from him; other than that, he is a one-dimensional character. For one, his anxieties toward his “blindess” are not justified; they are presented for no reason. What then is the purpose of his anxieties when they are not resolved? Was Goyo really loyal to Aguinaldo? We can see, that, based on how he performed in the film, yes, he was. However, his anxieties acted as a foreshadowing of nothing. Doubts are supposed to signify some form of change in the future, but we didn’t get this from Goyo, and his anxieties are left hanging. If the director’s goal is to present Goyo as one who is blinded by his loyalty, why not delve deeper on that? If the director’s goal is to present Goyo as a questionable man, why not delve on how he was confused and unfixed on his loyalty? With that, his character can be more detailed with much further depth.

Furthermore, the main message of the film does not contribute to the development of Goyo as a character. If the message were really Mabini’s sentiments, which reflects on genuine loyalty vs. blind loyalty, then this is where the film fails. If Goyo were supposed to represent “blind loyalty”, it was insufficient. In fact, the film tries to compensate for this flaw by sharing Joven’s feelings and Mabini’s sentiments on the Philippine-American War. This, however, avoids the development of Goyo’s character by putting the audience in other perspectives that contribute not to Goyo’s character but to the main message of the film—a message left inadequately justified by Goyo’s character. Thus, the movie isn’t about Goyo; it’s about part of the Philippine-American War. It now fails here because it tries to delve deeper into Goyo as a general, but the film leaves him as a protagonist that lacks the depth that the audience deserves.

I am not attacking the overall message or theme of the film; rather, I am criticizing the narrative that forces Goyo as a well-developed character, when in fact, he is only there just to look deficient as a character. The title of the film has Goyo’s name and the film attempts to explore on his character, but we are only presented a scattered flow of events due to the underdeveloped character of Goyo that does not fit well in a narrative that has so much more potential. In the end, the film had many things to say, but it fails to portray Goyo with profundity.

Personally, Heneral Luna was more successful simply because Luna’s character was properly “materialized”; he was there. The audience can feel him. Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, on the other hand, tries to develop Goyo’s character, but instead compensates with the narrative and the sentiments of other characters. There are two approaches that the film could have taken: (1) it could have focused on the Battle of Tirad Pass and give a few main characters an equal and adequate share of character development, or (2) it could have unearthed more of Goyo’s character and demonstrate his blind/unfixed loyalty with greater detail, which could potentially result to a more unique narrative. In the end, I didn’t ask “who is Goyo?”; rather, I asked, “where is the character development?”

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Character and Poetry: A Film Analysis of Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa through the Characterization of Dennis as Portrayed by Poems

My rating: 4 of 5

In the Filipino “indie” film scene, it is rare to see a masterpiece that merges the beauties of film, poetry, music, and dance. Much even rarer is when it fuses feminism and gay representation into an art that can leave its spectators open-mouthed. Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (2011) is such the case, a Filipino “indie” film directed by Alvin Yapan that explores the dynamic among three main characters: Karen (Jean Garcia), a literature professor and dance instructor, and Marlon (Paulo Avelino) and Dennis (Rocco Nacino), who are both Karen’s students in literature and dance classes. Marlon is heart-struck for Karen, and he attempts to win her praise by hiring Dennis as his tutor, not knowing the implications of this very endeavor—one of which is the developing feelings of Dennis for Marlon. The film, however, is not heavy on dialogue; in fact, one of the key aspects that propel the narrative forward are the poems that are either used musically or not to represent certain aspects of the narrative. Because of this, I assert that the poems used actually exhibit the characters’ inner feelings and motives. One of the characters who struck me the most was Dennis, whose character speaks through subtle actions, expressions, and especially dance. However, his character is mostly exemplified through the accompanying poems during the scenes that capture him, and it is through these poems where we can see his character development.

In a scene where Dennis recites a poem for Karen [2|6:30], it is implied that his current feelings are seized by the very words that he is reciting. This segment is directly after Dennis tutored Marlon well enough for him to impress Karen in their dance classes, thus giving the two of them less opportunities to bond given that Marlon needs no more personal tutoring. The poem recited by Dennis exhibits his sentiments for such a loss, in which Karen is fully aware of: “O di kaya ako / ang lumikha sa’yo / sa aking pananampalataya (Or am I not / the one who crafted you / in my faith)” [2|6:41]. Here, the poem portrays Dennis’ grief towards the loss of interaction between him and Marlon that occurred because Dennis finished his “craft” to Marlon’s capability, and maybe even love, for dance.

There is also one of the most iconic scenes of the film that demonstrates Dennis character: his interpretative dance accompanied by a sung poem [2|15:50]. In this segment, there is only dance and poetry, and it is clear that Dennis is liberating his underlying frustrations over the boy he has fallen for. This is due to Marlon’s sudden departure from the dance classes because of his presupposition that Dennis broke his trust and revealed to Karen of the tutoring sessions and, especially, of his fondness for her. Similar to the former poem, this also demonstrates loss; however, it is not merely the loss of interaction but the (potential) loss of the relationship that the two have just built. This is especially exemplified in the lines: “Nais kong mabatid / ang lahat ng iyong / tinangay at iniwan (I desire to comprehend / everything that you / brought with you and left)” [2|17:38]. As a poem that accompanies Dennis’ interpretative dance, his character is developed as one who has a deep longing for Marlon.

Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa is worthy to be appreciated because of its intricate features that must be analyzed individually—one of which is character development through the accompanying poems, which I have shown to be applicable for Dennis. Because Dennis is one of the main characters yet one who rarely reveals his inner self, he must not be overlooked. As a rather silent character, whose subtleties to Marlon always remain unnoticed, it is only through the poems that accompany the scenes involving him where he can be better understood. From the presented poems, it is uncovered that his character develops as he longs for Marlon in stages where he finds himself deeply affected by. This longing is the result of a loss of something; in the cases presented above, it is of interaction and of Dennis and Marlon’s relationship with each other. It is thus shown that through the poems, there is character, and through them, Dennis is given a voice.

Liway (Directed by Kip Oebanda)

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Liway is a film based on true events that tries to capture the realities of a life during Martial Law. It doesn’t, however, focus on the tragedy of the Marcos regime; rather, it presents a blissful innocence within a dark era.

Liway is about a family imprisoned in a camp. The parents, Day and Ric, are captured rebels with two children born in the same camp—one of which is Dakip, an innocent child whose curiosity of the outside  introduces him to the tip of the realities of the Marcos regime. At such a young age, he is exposed to the harshness of it all, while his parents try to give him the best childhood that they could offer.

Liway is unexpectedly a heart-warming story as the viewers are drawn to the life of Dakip, who has gotten used to his life in prison. Because of this, viewers would empathize and try to put their feet in Dakip’s shoes, which gives the film and its viewers a one-of-a-kind connection. It also gives the story of his parents, and how they have come to be in their situation. As a film that aims to portray a life in a prison camp of criminals and rebels, it does it well.

There are, however, faults that must be mentioned. As much as I liked the narrative, I also turned my nose up at the order of presented events. I am most especially disappointed at the flashbacks, which did not have proper transitions that would bring viewers back to the present, and I’m sure they could have done better. There were also issues that were introduced—only to be left unaddressed—such the specifics of Day’s past, particularly her firstborn who is only seen or mentioned a few times. Moreover, I was irked with some of the music that are rather too common-sounding or even cheesy, and the cinematography was a run-of-the-mill one.

Although the film’s story could never fail to touch the heart of its viewers, it is nowhere near perfect. I admit that I was tug at the hard strings and had several goose bumps, but I cannot avoid criticizing what disappointed me. It really could have been better.

Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma (Directed by Iar Lionel Arondaing)

My rating: 2.5 of 5

The trailer of this movie caught my attention because of the mysterious quality it gives off. After having watched the film, it still remains a mystery.

Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma is a tale of symbols. It is an allegory set in a forest in Marawi that features the story of Eshal, who is conflicted within her family and its dispute with other clans. In the midst of this, she has the responsibility to take care of her newborn brother—all the while meeting a new friend, Fahran.

This film is a lot of things. It strays from the conventional, though its moral remains presentist in nature. The narrative, which involves two time periods and a few dreams here and there, would be hard follow for some viewers, but it still captures the idea it tries to portray. The cinematography and music blend well together as well—putting the audience in a culture unknown to them (if this is the case)—exemplifying Islamic values and scriptures that make the film a peculiar one.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of me to say that prevent me to fully like the film. For one, there were many dragging scenes set at night where I lost my interest; it would take a dedicated and critical watcher to actually stay awake. Aside from that, there is a line between vague and mysterious, but unfortunately the film crossed that one. Personally, I would much rather watch a film with adequate context than staying in the unknown till the end. Some of the acting were also bad, especially when Eshal’s mother was giving birth as if it were a breeze. The interaction between the two men who share the conversation of Eshal’s tale was also a disappointment—some of the questions and answers seemed to forced. Apart from that, the viewers had too much time to contemplate at still scenes—it’s as if it’s trying to be a Lav Diaz film. Although it works, I’m not much of a fan of lengthy stills.

I could praise the film for its genre and it’s exceptional cinematography, but those alone could not override its loud flaws. It’s a film that is good to analyze, but not everything should be analyzed.

Ang Panahon ng Halimaw (Directed by Lav Diaz)

My rating: 3 of 5

For this movie, I will not be doing a proper review; rather, I will only be giving my takeaway insights upon watching the film, so it’s kind of like a page from a movie-diary.

For one, this was my first Lav Diaz film. Did I like it? I’m not so sure. In all honesty, I don’t think his style clicks with me. Not really a fan of long films–it becomes dragging. Nonetheless, I’m sure I can appreciate it as an art, though it’s not something I find enjoyable. Or maybe it’s because it’s something I have to get accustomed to?

I don’t really have background in the technical elements of film, but, for sure, Diaz had superb ones in this film, especially in his style: the still-shots, monochrome, emphasis on the actors’ acting, angles, etc. I also appreciate how it has a lot of symbolisms that the watcher can contemplate on. He/she has plenty of time to do so, anyway.

Back to his style. As a first impression, it appears that Diaz tries to integrate relevant social issues into his films, but really, how would his ideas propagate if the style itself does not appeal to everyone? I’m not saying it’s bad–it’s just that it becomes exclusive. People would need to have some sort of will to actually finish 4 hours worth of the film, and I think this is a rather bourgeois kind of thinking. If there is really propaganda involved, why not target the masses? Sure, this can bring about inspiration one way or another, but I think it wouldn’t be as potent. It will be one of those films for the sole purpose of art-appreciation or for competitions.

But that’s what makes it indie. The masses like the mainstream. Ugh, what a dilemma. (P.S. I’m trying to figure out how to have a film/literary output that has social relevance and that would appeal to the masses. Time to research!)

I’m no enthusiast of Lav Diaz, and if I really did like the film, I would have made a better or more comprehensive review. Right now, I’m only giving my response. So I guess his style isn’t effective for me. It’s something I would watch for an academic paper, not for natural appreciation.

This review is only shows how I have mixed feelings for Lav Diaz’s style I can’t fully unravel (yet). Perhaps I need more exposure. Maybe I’ll get back to this review in the near future, though. However, one thing is for sure: Lav Diaz isn’t for everyone.

Cheers.

Citizen Jake (Directed by Mike De Leon)

My rating: 4 of 5

WARNING: (Indirect) spoilers. Read at your own discretion.

I initially thought that Citizen Jake was esoteric given the impression that getting insight from the film would need some political context. It is now I only realise that anyone with an open mind can engross himself/herself in the movie’s political depth.

The film starts with a metafictional introduction, most probably to remind its viewers that, in the end, it is just a story. Jake Herrera, the protagonist, begins his narration in a rather bleak room—introducing himself first. He is not your ordinary citizen. Ironically, he is a freelance journalist who looks into the corruption within the Philippine government, but is more often regarded as the son of the powerful Senator Jacob Herrera. Immediately, he gives the impression that he is trying to stray away from his family which he considers as corrupt and dishonourable. Throughout the entire film, Jake keeps running away from his family, who tracks every bit of his actions, and their dirty laundry, and it is clearly implied that he only communicates to them whenever he needs answers for either himself or his work. The narrative’s cohesiveness relies on the death of Grace, his lover’s (Mandy) student and friend. From there on, the death is investigated (occasionally at first), but his family continues to intervene with his life, and through that, the depth of the film emerges.

Contemporary politics is the central theme of the film—it glares at your face and speaks of the director’s “truth”. The Marcoses, corruption in the government, and hypocrisy within the officials are the common subjects, but viewers are always exposed to the dirty laundry of Jake’s family and other government officials. This is composed of their self-interested, ruthless intentions that exhibit misconduct such as killings and prostitution. It is clear that De Leon tries to make a statement indiscreetly, though it doesn’t cross the line of dropping names. As such, the film is a manifestation of the political situation of the Philippines now, like “Noli Me Tangere” during Rizal’s time.

Also presented was the role of media, particularly of journalism, by showing the nature of Jake’s work. It shows that, usually, credibility is achieved when you have a strong personal background. Jake, however, gives the impression that he writes only what will fulfil his desires, such as ruining his father’s reputation—using his blog as a threat. This also shows just how family isn’t always the strongest relationship one can achieve, so Jake puts his trust to his caretakers and their son, but he is soon slapped by the reality of the relationship between those of different social classes. He also realises that everything goes back to his father, and with everything that is happening to him at the same time, he soon experiences a strong turmoil that leads him to become what he is against at in the first place—corrupt. There is no justice with the crime he does in the end.

The profundity and voice of the film stand up for it and prove itself to be a significant masterpiece in this day and age, not to mention the cinematic elements that contribute to the film as an art form. It speaks to your political consciousness and gauges how much you have of it. It is also worth noting that, despite lasting for 2 hours, anyone can easily invest himself/herself to the film and not find it dragging. The complexity of it all prove to be simple–politics is supposed to meddle with your life.

Unfortunately, the film appears to be one-sided—the perspective of the protagonist is given a spectrum whereas the others are given a dichotomy—they are either good or bad, and the film urges you to choose the latter. Consequently, most of the characters other than Jake aren’t as three-dimensional as he is; all-throughout the movie, government officials are portrayed as the enemies. Perhaps these characters could have been given more attention that is less biased.

Regardless, the film is brave enough to speak of the director’s truth and compel its viewers to realise it. De Leon urges us to break the silence and do something about the oppressors, and perceiving it is the first step.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way DownTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Turtles All the Way Down Review

I read this just for John Green since I’ve read all of his works. So far, this has been his most insightful novel; not because of the overall message, nor the plot, nor even the story, but because he manages to discuss, in context, his perceptions on the self, on existence, and on the world. I [liked] Aza’s rather dreadful thinking that her self is based on circumstances instead of choices, because there’s a lot of truth in choices being highly situational. There are also more insightful thoughts thrown here and there, and that’s what I liked best about this book.

The book’s downside, however, is that John Green’s voice is everywhere. Sometimes, when Aza and Daisy or Aza and Davis talk, it feels like one person is talking to himself. This is one thing I’ve noticed from John Green’s writing—his voice overpowers his characters. A lot of them think things throughly and are intellectual and philosophical like him. I’d want to read a unique character’s voice, not John Green’s voice, since I know enough of him.

Other elements, like plot and characters, were not so bad. They weren’t predictable, but a lot of these could have been conceptualized better. Or perhaps not, because then again, YA books should be easy to digest. Which brings me to another point: I think John Green needs to start writing books with other genres. Sci-fi, mythology, or even adult. His insights have a lot of potential, and I can see them being applied not just to the YA genre. But then again, YA is his strength, I guess.

2.5/5

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