Hi everyone! It’s Cinemalaya time of the year again. It’s the time when we get to see some of the most exciting and most promising independent films produced by directors both veterans and new ones. This year’s crop of films are really interesting as they varies from different genres and with more big stars having their first Cinemalaya entries (coughVilmaSantoscough). Over the next few days, I’ll be posting my reviews of this year’s entries, and weigh in my thoughts about the ninth batch of indie films. Let’s get the ball rollin’ shall we? 🙂
Director: Gil Portes
Cast: Alessandra de Rossi, Jan Harley Hicana, John Michael Bonapos, Arnold Reyes
Competition: Director’s Showcase
The film tells the story of journalist Eloisa (Alessandra de Rossi) whose expose’ of the truth results in life-changing consequences to a baseball team of poor boys. It is inspired by a true story.
It is interesting to note that the director claims that the movie is a fictional take just based from a true to life story that happened in 1991. While the whole film gives you a lifetime TV movie of the week feels, this is a familiar territory that combines two concepts that Gil Portes excels at: children and inspirational story. The tandem of writer Senedy Que and director Gil Portes already did it before in Mga Munting Tinig, and they successfully did it again with Liars. The story, as told from a series of flashbacks, recounts the step by step process of the fictional Smokey Mountain team, though what’s special with this is that the two main characters (played by Jan Harley Hicana and John Michael Bonapos) were given ample attention in the story and they certainly delivered. Alessandra de Rossi was dependable as always, and the ensemble consisting of Arnold Reyes, Cris Villanueva, and Sue Prado were all given moments to work on. The movie is not something that hasn’t been told before, but it goes on point with the message that it wants to deliver successfully.
Director: Mikhail Red
Cast: Ronnie Quizon, Mike Lloren, BuboyVillar, Earl Ignacio
Competition: New Breed
The film tells the story of a former 1980’s film cameraman who now currently works as a movie pirate operating in present day Manila. He routinely smuggles a digital camcorder into movie theatres in order to illegally record films. One night, he records something else… and the footage goes viral.
The premise of this film is one that simply strikes me as interesting when I first read the synopsis. But I guess that ended up as its strongest downfall, as it did not live up to what I was expecting to see. Helmed by Raymond Red’s son, Mikhail Red, there seems to be a lacking in terms of storytelling. The perceived impact of what Maven (Ronnie Quizon) has captured did not totally live up to the build-up of the film’s intensity. With that said, the style of the direction is commendable here, and if anything, Maven was written and portrayed as a complex and intriguing character that really holds your attention. I like the film’s opening and ending shots, and for some reason, some of the earlier parts with the police reminded me of Lawrence Fajardo’s Posas from last year. Quizon was awkward but that’s what made his performance engaging and convincing, and his portrayal gave justice on how his character was written. If only the viral video was more engaging, it would have been an overall better film.
Director: Carlo Obispo
Cast: Krystle Valentino, Miggs Cuaderno, Arnold Reyes, Julian Trono
Competition: New Breed
The film follows Diana (Krystle Valentino) and her younger brother as they strive to relieve their longing for a family.
Pronounced as Purok Siyete (or its English translation “Zone 7”), the movie depicts and creates an atmosphere of its own – something that gives you a clear description of how it feels like for Diana and her brother. The concepts of waiting and longing to be a part of a family were on full display effectively, thanks to the endearing performances of both Krystle Valentino and Miggs Cuaderno. I admit that this is one of the few great surprises I have seen so far, and most of it is credited to director and writer Carlo Obispo. Diana’s character is one that is probably more known in movies: the optimistic barrio lass who despite the trials and being the breadwinner of her and her brother do not lose an inch of hope that someday, they too will finally get what they long have wanted. What makes this one different though is that Diana was more humanized; she’s very much transparent that it’s easy for the audience to smile, laugh, and feel for her. I also like how this one ended when it puts the whole story on a full circle. And yes, let me reiterate that you have to pencil in Krystle Valentino bas she showcased one of the best performances of the year by far.
EKSTRA (The Bit Player)
Director: Jeffrey Jeturian
Cast: Vilma Santos, Tart Carlos, Marlon Rivera, Vincent de Jesus
Competition: Director’s Showcase
A socio-realist drama-comedy film, it follows a seemingly usual day in the life of Loida Malabanan (Vilma Santos), as she embarks on yet another shooting day of a soap opera as an extra.
Probably the most buzzed about film in this year’s batch, Ekstra will surely go on to be one of the more prominent and memorable films this year. On one hand, it gives us a glimpse of how it feels like to be an extra – how they’re treated in TV production, what they do in between takes, how they get the roles that they do among others. It’s this kind of “backstage peek” that makes the audience get really interested in. And Ekstra showed that comprehensively in a funny and humorous manner. On the other, if you’re not into that kind of thing, then this one is not for you. It’s too overstuffed that it just went on and on and on. There are parts that can still be trimmed down from it, and it just felt too long. The truth is despite the normal people enjoying the glimpse of what it’s like in a soap opera set, it does cater more to those people who are really a part of it with inside jokes thrown endlessly left and right. With that said, this is a Vilma Santos vehicle, and Santos certainly delivered. More than the witty one-liners or the endless lines, one thing that I’ve always like about her is her great physical acting, and she does that lot in here. She really commands the screen, and it’s nice to see her show it again. I guess my favorite is the one near end of the film when the camera just stares at her – that’s when her emotions are on full display, stripped of the environment where she was just the day before. This somehow reminded me of Ang Babae sa Septic Tank¸ and while both contained impeccable lead performances, it just tends to go beyond the line of too much over the top every now and then. If anything, I enjoyed Antoniette Jadaone’s solo feature Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay as a better vehicle to see a day in the life of a bit player.
Expect the second batch to come during the next few days. And as always, you can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl