Ang Beerhouse review
Independent film is supposed to be painful to watch, isn't it? It's supposed to be chock full of obstacles to viewing it painlessly and never enjoyed. Last night was the premiere of a film that contradicts those preconceived notions of independent film - if you happen to preconceive tham as above. Welcome to the world of Beerhouse by Jon Red and how dare he make an independent film that is actually fun to watch and a real treat. It's a funny movie with a touch of warmth but don't call it a comedy or a dramedy. It will only allow itself to be referred to either merely as deference to being assigned a genre.
The Moulin Rouge in Squalor
Independent film has long been broad and even fun, but that reputation of the dark and dreary still sticks. As part of Cinemanila 11's Digital Lokal competition, Beerhouse would seem to offer similar fare. After all, the entrance greets you with a poster of a naked Gwen Garci - right next to a Christian concert in the theater next door and a Children's Church right after that, no less. The poster's image declares this film as T&A (Tits & Art) but as cinematic viewing life teaches us, the poster and trailer of a film aren't necessarily reflective of it's contents. You will definitely find Gwen in various manner of undress, but the film is so much more interesting that Jon Red wisely avoids the full mammary and genital spectacular that she is capable of providing. The one time you see her splay out her boobs in all their glory is actually a cue for something much more vital to the proceedings. Beerhouse is a load of fun and a barrel of monkeys worth of laughs.
Inspiration for Beerhouse hit director Jon Red, actor/producer Ronnie Lazaro and introduced actor in Beerhouse, Herbie Vetus when they were having drinks one night in a nearby actual beerhouse. They got the idea of making a movie about such a place and they all said as all adventurous minds do, "why not?". Produced by Joel Torre and according to director Jon Red during introductions at the premiere was finished two years ago, Beerhouse is the tale of a lifelong peeping tom named Noynoy who spends his day selling isaw with his best friend and housemate, Brad. Their place of business is strategically located in front of their place of worhsip, the Disneyland for manyaks known as the Red Light Beerhouse. Jewel, the love of Noynoy's life and object of his fantasies lives and works there and he and Brad are determined to become patrons.
Beerhouse begins oddly enough with a complaint about the nature of our local entertainment scene and you might expect the film to start off from there but the movie really starts right after that. There are moments where social commentary makes an appearance but only touch on the subject. It never turns preachy other than that initial complaint. So dreary are the lives of our two heroes that they don't bother to long for wealth or excess. They dream of going into the Red Light Beerhouse and enjoying what they expect will be the time of their lives. Noynoy himself has an agenda as he wants one girl in particular and not just the momentary pleasures of whoever happens to be available.
So well conceived is the film that at the points where you expect it to take the dive into indie film darkness, it skirts the cliff. It teases you with it as it stays true to course. Even the first time a gun is pointed at another character is funny. There is no unexpected twist to give it artificial depth and no surprise ending where oops, one of them turns out to be a werewolf or a serial killer. Surprise! Beerhouse needs none of those. The things that make it funny are never forced, either. They are never tacked on. Every part that makes you laugh is another step forward in the film and not one that goes sideways. There isn't even any death in Beerhouse as one would expect from something supposedly dark. The only person that dies is merely assumed to be killed but we never see it happen or even get clued to it. The only trigger pulled is Joel Torre's awesome line.
The story has a definite course and it never deviates and never disappoints. Even with such a glaring oversight as the isaw vendors apparently being the most successful one-stand isaw vendors in the country by having such a nice and well appointed apartment, there are no deal-breaking elements to the film. Nothing leaps out from the screen screaming "I cannot possibly happen!". Beerhouse will require no great stretch of your imagination nor tax your will. It isn't a film that requires your endurance, merely your presence as you sit back and enjoy it.
The dancers on what can only be jokingly referred to as the stage in the Red Light Beerhouse aren't the only ones dancing naked. The other characters in the film strip away layers of themselves while dancing their own little dance. Every actor in this film turns in their primo performances and that's punctuated by the fact that they did this for free. That's a pleasant surprise as some talents would require a five figure fee just to show their cleavage or pretend to be naked. Gwen Garci plays Jewel, the primo stripper at The Red Light. You would expect a Viva Hot Babe to just be the resident flesh-barer of the film but she actually plays her Jewel with some sensitivity. There is even a playfulness to her and sometimes strength. Such varying traits for a single character to have but she shows up ready to play with the big boys and she does this while half naked or less. There is a slight stiffness occasionally to her delivery but it never distracts from Jewel's character. It might even be part of the character. You almost wait for her to slip up, but she never does. Her sensitivity as Jewel is in full bloom where she asks Noynoy for something and you really need to do a double take just to check if that's really Gwen Garci. Like they used a stunt dramatic actor to fill in for the dangerous stuff, but yeah it's really her.
As anybody who watches independent local fare knows, you need at least one of three things for a young male lead. An Eigenmann, A Quizon or Ping Medina. Beerhouse not only provides us with Ryan Eigenmann as Noynoy the lifelong perve, it also gives us Epi Quizon as Harry The Pimp. Hell, even Ping was at the premiere so they've got it all covered. Ryan Eigenmann's impoverished Noynoy is far too pretty a pauper but his acting DNA is used well. This sosi-looking brown-eyed buff lad more than passes himself off as a guy who has no money, life or purpose. We might even take it for granted how good he was because his performance never draws attention to it. We just accept him as all of that. If there was going to be a surprise character who turned out to be the guy who likes tearing skin off women, this would be it. But Ryan never displays that menace. His is the character that undergoes the most changes and his body language reflects it.
The alpha male in his household while submissive in front of the pimp. Ryan's Noynoy with Jewel is at times covetous, erotic and caring. It takes two to tango and Ryan with Gwen as Noynoy and Jewel play it as a couple, not a loveteam. His boss/friend/enemy in the Pimp with a chronic earwax problem as played by Epi Quizon is both funny and dangerous. He never plays it like a bumbling cartoon villain. He's a real goon, alright. He's all the things your guidance counselor tried to keep you from becoming. No overcooked villainy here. He is a person who does some really bad things. He knows the biz well as he's literally been in it all his life and that's an apt description of both Epi and Harry.
The elder male cast is equally impressive. Joel Torre and Ronnie Lazaro are both producers of the film and Joel plays one of the big supporting characters while Ronnie is a silent film star. Even Soliman Cruz is present. Big guns in indie film. Tado of the Brewrats not only provides barfly residency but background music as well. Hector Macaso is a face familiar to anybody who's seen his commercial as the unfortunate depositor at a public toilet of a number 3 with only a handful of bus tickets as substitute for toilet paper. His comedic relief as Noynoy's aptly named Brad is a highlight. Do wait for him to implore you to kiss his black ass as it's the climax to some of the best lines exchanged in Beerhouse.
There are notable debuts made here as Che Ramos plays one of the strippers looking like a young Tetchie Agbayani and acting with a look of "I will kill you in your sleep" to her. Herbie Vetus, one of the brains behind the movie makes his movie acting debut here as the floor manager and choreographer of The Red Light. He too provides comedy in great form and as interruption to one dream sequence. Raul Morit as the hapless waiter and indecipherable DJ are priceless with the near geriatric DJ being an accurate depiction of the language impaired announcers at beerhouses - or so I'm told. Kalila Aguilos is the girl who screws and screws with the boss with a bisaya accent and Catherine Racsag help round out the female entertainmeners of The Red Light. Catherine providing the funny slap of reality to Brad's visit on his birthday. The list of notables jsut goes on and on.
The names are familiar and so are the faces. Even if you don't recognise all of them, you've seen them before or seen their work before. Ensemble Cast is an understatement. The cast is bulletproof. Their performances give the impression that they took this funny film seriously with a refusal to disappoint or fall short. If there are any flaws in the actors, Jon Red never lets them be revealed and only shows their strengths onscreen. They certainly weren't doing this for the money so their motivation is a far more substantial one and the result is a far more substantial performance. It's ironic that these people who didn't get paid turn in better performances than most people who actually do get paid.
The music of the film is the sort of stuff you would expect the strippers to be performing to. One of the reasons why the film begins after that complaint about local entertainment's state is that it's after that scene where the music starts. The movie is a burlesque pageant and the songs are the background music. All thruout the film, that music tells you that you are right now in a Beerhouse. Even if the scene happens to be elsewhere, it's all one giant beerhouse and the music keeps the dancers dancing. Obviously as part of Digital Lokal and the fact that 35mm is prohibitively expensive, the film is shot on video. The artifacts and flaws of the medium are apparent onscreen with scanlines and interlacing visible. While the sensation of watching a really big television instead of a film screen is initially distracting, if we saw the resolution and depth of field of 35mm it would be as if they spent TOO MUCH money on it. Digital video is just about right.
There was one technical glitch where the film actually stops while the operators continued on another media. It was like the old errors in film projection where the synchronisation of reels would sometimes fail and you'd see a white screen. Here, it was a blue screen. Not the fault of the filmmakers of course and it really shouldn't be their problem but it will be up to them to find it's solution for screening in more mainstream venues. This is a film that deserves to be seen by the mainstream. Speaking to several friends afterwards, they mentioned that part of the experience of the film that made it enjoyable for them was the audience. Not necessarily because there was a large group of friends there but because the audience were lively enough to laugh right there with you among other things. The live laugh track. The fact that the filmmakers and actors were also there did help but the fact that the film is a shared experience adds a great deal. This isn't just a movie, this is a FILM to be seen with other moviegoers in a theater. It's an experience that will be lost if seen on a tiny television and your DVD player - and unless you're as rich as a pollutician, your television will be tiny compared to a film screen.
Beerhouse does share a few common flaws with other local indie fare. It has a dependency on narration and explanation. This is usually used as a means of repair in lesser films but is unnecessary in a film so well done as Beerhouse. In a moment of reflection, Brad laments about why he does what he does after it's already been illustrated so well onscreen by his character's actions. There was no need to explain it again in words right after. There is also the initial statement of complaint at the start that has absolutely nothing to do with anything at all in the film and really feels like a trailer for something else altogether. The narration tends to be a bit excessive at the start, describing the patrons from a disembodied voice when the person speaking is right there in the scene already with another character he ISN'T telling all of this to. These flaws are unnecessary and it's as if the filmmakers intentionally put them in for familiarity's sake or for fear of making Beerhouse TOO good. They never hurt the film however and Beerhouse needs nothing to forgive. At the premiere, they even treated us to free beer. On a sunday church nite, in front of a naked poster of Gwen Garci right next to the Christian concert and children's church. That just made things funnier.
Personally the only things wrong encountered at the premiere were the technical issues and the fact that it started way late. None of these were the fault of the film nor it's makers. It's an excellent film. According to Ronnie Lazaro, if it makes money then it will surely have a follow up soon. With a budget of reportedly close to 2 million, that seems to be a daunting task. Judging by the turnout at the premiere and in fact all of Cinemanila this year, the mountain is now a little shorter. It's so refreshing to see an artist actually reflect the reality of film's business side. For far too many, the money to produce independent films seems to magically grow on trees and that they're supposed to lose money in the name of 'art'. The producers of Beerhouse funded the film thru their own savings and gave us a product worthy of our patronage. They deserve every ticket bought and then some for making a film as good as Beerhouse.