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Sinag Maynila 2016   Leave a comment

Sinag

So yesterday I did a marathon of all Sinag Maynila entries. Sinag Maynila is a project close to me since I worked on it in its initial year up until the announcement/selection for this batch (before I left my previous work). I was really interested with the movies this year particularly because I already have a clue with these entries, so to see them translated in the big screen is what made me excited. Anyway, here are short thoughts on the 2016 batch.

  1. TPO (Joselito Altarejos)
    Probably the best in this bunch, Altarejos managed to capture in less than 80 minutes the pain, the process, the aftermath of domestic violence and how this goes beyond the victim and the abuser. Characters weren’t one-dimensional and the use of long shots made the situation linger. If anything, TPO shows how people cope up with this illness and how it’s reflective of our society.

    4/5

  2. Expressway (Ato Bautista)
    Everything in Expressway is flamboyant from its full opening credits to its choreographer stunts. One can make a case that it has a tendency to go style over substance for a paper thin story that’s predictable and excessive, but it was a joyride to see Alvin Anson and Aljur Abrenica navigate through it – the former to get a leading role like this, the latter to totally embrace the batshit character he’s portraying (even if in some scenes, he went full retard). Oh, and for some reason, setting the film during Christmas season somehow added to its appeal.

    3/5

  1. MRS. (Adolf Alix)
    MRS. is a character study for its lead Virignia (what a comeback for the always dependable Elizabeth Oropesa) as she deals with everything happening around her – her older sister wanting to sell the lot of her house, her loyal house helper who’s getting married, her daughter who has joined a cult, her missing child. She’s living in a house situated on a fault line thus her house has cracks and looks old which probably signifies where she is in her life right now. The film contains really powerful moments, and I acknowledge the intent more than I appreciate it. That said, Alix continues to bring out the best in his actors.

    2.5/5

  2. Dyamper (Mes de Guzman)
    What’s exciting about Dyamper is director Mes de Guzman’s humor obviously present in it. When following about the lives of these so-called “dyampers”, the movie is at its peak. The back story of Alchris Galura’s character however, while not cringe-worthy and him totally selling it, felt a bit disjointed than the “dyamper” storyline. It’s not actually bad, but I think there’s a lack of smooth transition between these two parts that’s a tad jarring.

    2.5/5

  3. Lila (Gino M. Santos)
    Philbert Dy summed it best when he said that “Lila feels like a script that Regal rejected.” For what it’s worth, the film was stylishly done and everyone involved seemed so committed with it. That said, not only is the lead character one of the more clueless leads in recent horror film memory, but probably one of the slowest readers… ever? Like if I discovered someone’s thin diary, you bet on it I’m done with it by the second hour, notes and all. Heh.

    1/5

Since the Gabi ng Parangal happens tonight, I’ll offer my personal choices on this batch’s winners. Picture and Directing obviously goes to TPO and Joselito Altarejos. Actor I give to Aljur Abrenica (give or take his really over the top scenes, but playing that annoying young character seems right up his alley). Actress is obviously Elizabeth Oropesa (no contest!). Screenplay and Editing go to TPO, Cinematography is Dyamper, Production Design is MRS, and Score goes to Expressway. Lila probably gets best outfits for Enchong Dee.

Sinag

While we’re at it, I still invite you to watch all five films from this year’s Sinag Maynila. And (heh), avail the Sinag Maynila ePLUS Festival Kit Card because trust me, it’ll save you a lot of money (I think a movie is at Php280 each if I’m not mistaken). Until next year! #SinagMaynila2016

88th Academy Awards: Best Picture Rankings   2 comments

titlecard

This has been some sort of a tradition here at Tit for Tat, wherein I rank all the Oscar Best Picture nominees. This is the closest I can come to filling out a ballot, so imagine how yours would look like. It’s also rather unfortunate that the best American film of the year (among those that legitimately has a chance to get nominated) was criminally snubbed. In case you didn’t get the reference, that was for Todd Haynes’ Carol. The other snub this year is Pixar’s Inside Out, getting lost in the shuffle once guild and critics season began. That said, this season also has the widest Best Picture race since 2006, so that makes up for it at least.

Moving on, in 2012, it was Michael Haneke’s “Amour” which ended up as my #1. The following year, Spike Jonze’s “Her” was my top pick for 2013. Last year, Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” was my personal choice among the 2014 nominees. Which film will join the list? Here’s my take from The Big Short to Spotlight.

The Martian

08. THE MARTIAN (Ridley Scott, director)

Decent popcorn thriller, yup. But Oscar Best Picture caliber it ain’t. In what is deemed as the “comeback” of Ridley Scott to form, we find Matt Damon growing potatoes in space. Of course, it’s really much more than that, and one thing that made The Martian work was how it managed to make its case separate from the two other “space” films of this decade (Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar). In hindsight, this light approach also ended up as a double edge-sword as it was so pedestrian in its predictability. There isn’t really anything to hold your attention here because the movie didn’t have anything at risk. With all the talks about how this was Ridley’s comeback, I’d make a case on how it was more of Matt Damon’s comeback. He’s certainly the star of this show, and the film bogs down whenever he’s not on screen. It’s a performance that relies heavily on an actor’s charisma, and he sure brought a lot to Mars in it. Anything outside of him suffers (all the NASA scenes in particular) and whoever thought that Donald Glover’s character suddenly saving the whole NASA group would surely make Abed from Community shake his damn head off. Even the big ‘saving’ scene in the end pales in comparison from all the other space films. Let’s just be thankful Matt Damon didn’t have a backstory so at least in that aspect, they’re redeemed. The Martian is as direct as one can get that it’s hilarious when it tries to present ‘conflict.’ For that alone, I’m good with its Comedy placement at the Golden Globes.

2.5/5

Brooklyn

07. BROOKLYN (John Crowley, director)

Home is where the heart is, but in Brooklyn‘s case, heart is where the home is. John Crowley’s Brooklyn goes straight to the point in its simple tale of a young immigrant coming to America in the 50s. There is so much heart in it that you can’t help but be swept away by the old-fashioned approach of the movie. But its simplicity is not without flaws. To an extent, it tends to go overboard with its saccharine sweetness. I also had issue with the film’s uneven pacing where there is a clear divide between acts with the last part losing the previous ones’ momentum. I’m also a tad bothered by the faux green screen in some scenes (especially the one in the liner. That said, Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan is a very gifted actress, and her performance is an integral part of why this film worked. Co-star Emory Cohen was such a delightful surprise though; at times, even providing the scene stealing performance in the movie.  With Brooklyn, simplicity is beauty and boy did it elevate that simplicity to certain heights.

2.5/5

The Revenant

06. THE REVENANT (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, director)

As for starters, let me say that I’m really not a fan of Iñarittu’s previous works in general, but I really have some conflicting thoughts about this. Suffice to say, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography remains to be the highlight of it. It’s ironic that a film as “gritty” as this can look so glowing, thanks to Chivo. The Revenant started out really strong with its first 15 minutes or so, but as the movie progresses, so do the themes it tried to tackle. There’s revenge, there’s survival, there’s spirituality and it would have benefited by trimming at least one of those. Leonardo di Caprio’s physical commitment in the film is really admirable, but when you think of the works he has churned out in the last ten years alone (such as his underrated work in Shutter Island, or in Revolutionary Road and The Departed) or against his previous nominated performances in The Wolf of Wall Street and The Aviator, winning for this is a bit anti-climactic. But then again, it is probably for the better as we can finally put a rest to the internet’s claim on how he is the most overdue actor for an Oscar. Also, rearranging Tom Hardy’s name would lead you to DORTY HAM which is probably what he was serving in his performance. As much as the film has impressive moments here and there, my usual gripe with Alejandro’s works is present yet again, as he can’t seem to avoid the overindulgence in his movies.

3/5

Room

05. ROOM (Lenny Abrahamson, director)

There are those films that bring such discomfort while watching them that you find it real hard to revisit, and to a certain extent, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room fits the bill. Based from Emma Donoghue’s novel of the same title, the film is about a young mother and her son trapped and living in a small.. well.. uhm… room. The movie wasted no time in making the audience feel what was going through with Ma and Jack (played to perfection by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, but more of them later) that you’re already invested with the film and their situation. A film like this benefits from having these very detailed small scenes later building up to a huge bubble of emotions just waiting to explode, and as a viewer, there’s just no turning back anymore. At the risk of not being a spoiler, I’d leave the rest of what has happened in the movie, but let me say that this was gut wrenching throughout in a way that isn’t manipulative or forced (except for the musical score in some key scenes which were overdone). Brie Larson is expected to win the Best Actress Oscar at the end of this month, and deservedly so. Her performance is one you’d appreciate not right off the bat, but moreso for its lasting impact. And while I usually have reservations with performances from child actors, Jacob Tremblay is simply a revelation. What a find. Seeing his personality this whole awards season and that being so different than what was showcased in the movie can also be credited to the focused direction by Lenny Abrahamson.  Room is a film that resonates well even after the credits rolled already, and its effect lingers with you.

3.5/5

The BigShort

04. THE BIG SHORT (Adam McKay, director)

I’m probably one of the last persons to be personally affected by the American financial crisis back in 2008, but Adam McKay’s The Big Short was a joyride to watch from start to finish. Where the film’s main strength lies is its energy, outpouring with its quick cuts and use of loud soundtracks and memories of the 2008 fiasco that even if you’re not totally aware of the subject matter, it easily lures you in. What it makes up for its technicality with all its economic jargon thrown here and there are random celebrities ranging from Margot Robbie in a bathtub up to Selena Gomez breaking the fourth wall explaining to you what was really happening. From there, it’s a confident piece of work from someone who probably knew that a film whose theme is as heavy as this must be done in an opposite yet still skillful approach. That’s why when the film suddenly tries to go all in on the dramatic aftermath of the tragedy, the impact, while still there, stales a bit. Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, a film many has compared to this one, has done a much better job in injecting the balance to its energy. The ensemble was good and serviceable, with no one having a huge standout moment (except for the horrible wigs). The one thing that The Big Short excellently accomplished is that it delivered this relevant, thought-provoking message from a tragic time in America by simply capturing your attention to look in it.

3.5/5

Bridge of Spies

03. BRIDGE OF SPIES (Steven Spielberg, director)

When you’re a director as accomplished as Steven Spielberg, sometimes you’d wonder if they still have anything left to prove. Then there will also be those instances when you know they just want to tell a story. That’s how I viewed his Cold War drama Bridge of Spies. This latest Tom Hanks starrer is something that we’ve seen already many times in the past, but Spielberg puts his touch in it and turns into a solid and engaging time at the movies. It’s traditional, but it’s definitely the approach that this film needs. If this was done in the 90s, it probably would have won Oscars for everybody. It was solid and safe throughout from your usual Spielberg staples: Kaminski’s cinematography, Hanks in the lead role. I even find delight in the screenplay written by the Coens, as the output of line readings were enjoyable. If anything, I somehow missed John Williams’ score here (Thomas Newman just doesn’t cut it for me).  Oh and if anything, Mark Rylance was such a hoot, giving the classic supporting actor performance in the movie. Like The Martian, this is a film where you already have an idea on how it will play out in the end, but unlike that one, Spielberg makes it compelling all throughout the duration of the movie. But, he really just can’t help it with the last scene though, no?

3.5/5

Spotlight

02. SPOTLIGHT (Tom McCarthy, director)

Call it whatever you like — straightforward, text book approach, procedural, by the numbers. But these aren’t really negatives when it comes to Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. As a matter of fact, rare is such an instance when someone manages to make these words sound great in the context of a movie. Spotlight is compelling in its topic, its scope, screenplay and its direction but what made it more effective is the restraint it had to avoid obvious tropes just to make it preachy and over dramatic. I understand, however, that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and what I might consider as good can be someone else’s serviceable. The movie also benefits from its ensemble of actors, from Michael Keaton’s low-key subtle leader to the team’s newest member Liev Schreiber. There’s also Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams (oh boy I love saying that!) contributing to the whole group. The only one who stands out differently for me was Mark Ruffalo, and while I feel that there are really people like his character, it’s a bit too outlandish for this usually dependable actor. Having the interest in journalism back from high school also appealed to me and probably is a factor with how I like Spotlight, but one can’t deny that it’s a assured, smart, and tight piece of powerful work.

4/5
Mad Max Fury Road

01. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (George Miller, director)

Only few films take you into one helluva ride, and George Miller’s comeback along with the Mad Max series just sweeps everyone off its feet, dusty sands and all. It’s really insane that a franchise as dated as this one can breathe life even topping its predecessors (though one really doesn’t need to watch all the previous films to identify with this one). As for starters, it’s a visual spectacle on all levels, with its attention to the details a highlight — making you feel as if you’re a part of the whole journey with them. THE.FUN.JUST.WON’T.STOP. But more than anything else, it presents a very important take on feminism (with Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa on the forefront) in this time and age when Beyonce has probably overused the same word to death already. Mad MaxFury Road never gets contented with just fulfilling our visual hunger with its polished colors, guitar players, and endless car chase scenes one after the other; with it, it also thrives to weave moments of tender sincerity and proclaim bold statements both in the world where these characters existed and to the audience’s as well. Everything about this projects seems risky on paper, but it all paid off. Indeed, it’s one of the best moments in cinema this past year (and of the decade too).

4.5/5

So how does your ranking look like? How many have you seen from this year’s batch? Which are your favorites? And who would you be rooting for come Oscar night? Talk to me about it by tweeting me:@nikowl

87th Academy Awards: Best Picture Rankings   2 comments

 

bp 2015

Before the Oscars bestow their list of winners on Monday, it’s time to rank the Oscar Best Picture nominees for film year 2014. Unlike in 2012 and 2013 though though, it’s the first time that the Academy nominated only eight films for the top award. It’s a pretty good batch as a whole, though I have lots of reservations with the films in it, and how I wish Gone Girl made it over some of these clunkers in this batch. Anyway, here are my rankings:

IMITATION

08. THE IMITATION GAME
Director: Morten Tyldum

In first of the two British Oscar-contending films this year, this one is about one of Britain’s uncelebrated heroes of his time. Alan Turing has a very interesting story to tell; his team was able to crack the “unbreakable” Enigma leading to a World War II victory. The achievement would be of no value though as he was prosecuted for his homosexuality. What could have been a narration of such story was put to waste with the film’s very pedestrian treatment to it. Hackneyed dialogue, cliched treatment, and uneven focus on the story made the whole film totally disengaging. As if that’s not offensive yet, Benedict Cumberbatch’s campy portrayal is equally eye-roll worthy. With subtlety not existing in his dictionary, Cumberbatch spits every syllable of every word in every line as if it’s his last. Leave it to the sublime Keira Knightley to save the film, together with Alexander Desplat’s score. What might be the biggest missed opportunity here was the film just glossing over a part of Turing’s life that deserved the most attention. Oh well.

2.5/5

theory of everything

07. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
Director: James Marsh

The second of the two British-Oscar contending films this year, this one is about celebrated science figure Stephen Hawking. His name, probably more known because of The Big Bang Theory above many other reasons, has an equally compelling story to tell, and director James Marsh milked it for all its worth. Theory completed the handbook of how to do an Oscar-baity movie 101 highlighting the romance and the disease and the drama in succession. I have to say that I was initially hooked but easily worn out by the film’s cinematography using endless filters that really doesn’t offer much except to inform us that hey they really do have lots of filters. The film does a successful job of reminding us that it’s the British cousin of A Beautiful Mind, and if you digged that one, chances are you’d really enjoy this as well. Unlike Cumberbatch in Imitation Game, the only thing I appreciated about the film is Eddie Redmayne’s completely dedicated performance as Hawking. There is more than just the physicality of the role that he embraced which made it work. He might not be my pick for Best Actor at the Oscars, but one can’t deny that he did justice with his character.

2.5/5

american sniper

06. AMERICAN SNIPER
Director: Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood, except for that Best Director nomination, is back to Oscar’s good graces with his latest effort. American Sniper is based on the life story of Chris Kyle — known as the deadliest marksman in the US military with 255 bodies credited under his name. Aided by Bradley Cooper’s intense performance of Kyle, he manages to carry the whole film in his shoulders in spite of the noticeable flaws in the writing. While Eastwood delivered on the technical aspects further escalating the tension and making us feel the nitty gritty of it all (the whole sandstorm part in particular), the film weakens every time it shifts to Kyle’s own personal dilemma of dealing with his PTSD. I wasn’t even bothered by its by the numbers approach nor Eastwood’s political (or apolitical, depending on how you view it) favoring of his own take on militarism in the film. American Sniper could have been a more affecting film had it managed to strike the balance of both, but where one aspect Eastwood delivered, the other lacked. For what its worth, it’s still a solid, if not a bit pedestrian, and decent tribute to someone others consider as a figure of their American hero.

3/5

birdman

05. BIRDMAN
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

There’s a lot of things I loved about Inarritu’s Birdman. As for starters, there’s Michael Keaton’s comeback performance. And Edward Norton’s larger than life character. Then there’s the dark absurdity of the whole film which easily grabs your attention. Plus, the one long take approach of it. Lubezki’s cinematography and Antoio Sanchez’ underrated scoring are also top notch. While all of these seem to mesh out well to create a masterpiece, it still feels a bit underwhelming and not that exhilarating cinematic treat for me. The film has been too self-absorbed to the point that its ‘mocking’ of portraying Hollywood is as foolish as its portrayal of such. Birdman for me is a case of the individual parts being better than its sum where the gimmick hasn’t really stayed that much for me.

3.5/5

selma

04. SELMA
Director: Ava Duvernay

What makes the experience of cinema fascinating is when you witness a story, that in no way, shape, or form involves you, but touches your heart with what it presented to you. That is what Ava Duvernay did with Selma. On the outside, one might consider it as another general biopic advocating the human triumph, but what makes Selma much more sophisticated is that there is a raw sincerity with the lines, and the portrayals, and the technical peaks that it is definitely on a higher pedestal. What Duvernay accomplished here is to flaunt her cinematic potential while retelling a story whose effect aligned with the personal journey of the people during its time. Also, David Oyelowo’s snub will easily go down as one of the worst ever in Academy history. Selma is sensible and sincere that you can’t help but be affected by it.

4/5

the grand budapest hotel

03. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Director: Wes Anderson

It’s really difficult to pin down Wes Anderson films since there’s a lot that we can discuss about his efforts, but I guess let’s start with the obvious. In true Anderson fashion, this one is probably his most deliciously looking film ever. One thing I’ve always appreciated about him is how he builds his own world and that it elevates the whole movie watching experience. In here, the Budapest hotel isn’t merely a background because it’s a star of its own with its use of wide space and set. And can we talk about Milena Canonero’s costume design here? ASTONISHING. With that said, the real deal here is Anderson’s storytelling. I’ve felt that it was his own homage to arts in general. His take on loyalty, passionate love, death, first love, and friendship among others was written with both poignancy and silly humor. Plus, of course that ever reliable ensemble with Ralph Fiennes front and center. Budapest is funny yet tragic, charming and whimsical, and a very delightful movie experience. 

4.5/5

WHIPLASH

02. WHIPLASH
Director: Damian Chazelle

A year after his short film of the same title won the Short Film Jury Prize award at last year’s Sundance, Damien Chazelle translated “Whiplash” into a full length feature film and has made the festival rounds from Sundance to Cannes and Toronto the past few months. The film tells the story of aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) who undergoes training under notorious jazz conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) who has an atypical way of mentoring his students. The film did not waste any opportunity to build the intensity as we’ve seen from the interaction of Andrew and Terence in the opening scene. And there’s no stopping from there. Well crafted for the most part, particularly its creative, albeit really showy, editing and the musical score which heightens the tension further. Chazelle directs this with such precision making his audience feel the same discomfort that his characters feel, and his screenplay did not box the people as simply black and white; instead he composed them as larger than life ones — probably juxtaposed with the characters’ ambitions. J.K Simmons was every inch scary as the foul mouthed, no holds barred perfectionist maestro and there’s a level of brutality that his presence exudes. Rhythmically in sync though was Miles Teller, who should be given equal credit as he plays to Simmons’ level letting his Andrew be intimidated yet inspired with his verbal abuse. Whiplash is a painful reminder that greatness is no easy feat and that it literally takes blood, sweat, and tears to be achieved.

4.5/5

boyhood

01. BOYHOOD
Director: Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater’s 12 year in the making masterpiece is as ambitious as one can get, but the simple and organic approach in its depiction of a slice (is it even just a slice?) of life is certainly one of the most emotionally affecting movie watching experience I’ve ever had. This film follows the life of a kid, Mason, for 12 years as he experiences the highs and lows of his life. It wasn’t really alienating per se since Linklater is very much self-aware that Mason and everyone around him are as ordinary as us or the people around us. Its depiction of “life just going by” is probably one of the least pretentious yet most effective I have ever seen not because of the statement that it leaves, but by refusing to dictate such. There’s a line in the film mentioned by Patricia Arquette where she said “I just thought there would be more…”, and that perfectly sums up the film for me – that the experiences and the time that already passed by can either be a memory of what we were before and a reminder of what have become. Despite running for 165 minutes, I would have been more than fine to see two to three more hours of it. Its use of pop culture references (Pokemon! Harry Potter! Lady Gaga!) and music (Coldplay! Aaliyah! Family of the Year!) is a highlight to this experience as well. In the end, more than the achievement of such a “stunt” project (if one can even call it that), what makes Linklater’s Boyhood every inch effective and memorable is that it was able to capture the accuracy of one’s growing up beyond its literal meaning. The feelings you invested in these characters are too much and too deep that you just don’t want it to end. Well in my case, I really don’t.

5/5

How many have you seen from this year’s batch? Which are your favorites? And who would you be rooting for come Oscar night? Talk to me about it by tweeting me: @nikowl

 

 

10th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 5   2 comments

And we’ve finally reached the end. After almost a week of being in CCP, I’ve finally managed to see all 15 films in competition this year both in the New Breed and Director’s Showcase category. As a reminder, here are the four earlier parts of my Cinemalaya coverage:  Part 1 (which has Real Florido’s “1st Ko si 3rd“, Giancarlo Abrahan’s “Dagitab“, and Milo Sogueco’s “Mariquina”), Part 2 (covering Francis Pasion’s “Bwaya“, Gino M. Santos’ “#Y“, and GB Sampedro’s “S6parados”), Part 3 (includes Ida Anita del Mundo’s “K’na the Dreamweaver“, Joselito Altarejos’ “Kasal“, and Louie Ignacio’s “Asintado”), and Part 4 (which is composed of Joel Lamangan’s “Hustisya“, Michael Tuviera’s “The Janitor“, and Derick Cabrido’s “Children’s Show“). As for the last three films of the fest…

Ronda

RONDA
Director: Nick Olanka
Cast: Aiai delas Alas, Carlos Morales, Carlo Aquino, Perla Bautista, Julian Trono
Competition: New Breed

Ronda follows a typical work night for policewoman Paloma Arroyo (Aiai delas Alas) and her partner as they catch thieves and arrest minor prostitutes while going around the metro. The only difference is that her son, Leo, has been missing for days now after telling that he’ll do a school project with one of his classmates.

The film opens with a long continuous shot of a roaming police car getting in and out of random streets maybe to further highlight what’s it like to be in Arroyo’s day work. This seemed like a really long set up for something but there really isn’t anything to look forward to. In between these, we encounter some interesting breaks such as Carlo Aquino’s thief role, Angeli Bayani’s nagging persistent reporter, and Bernardo Bernardo’s pimp to minors, but then again, they’re just that. They’re breaks in between something which wasn’t totally established. Then we’re reminded again that Arroyo still has to look for her son. And that she cares, but no establishment of such has been made for a compelling side story. In the end, when the film finally decided to move the story forward, it suddenly stopped. Whether these two stories are related nor if they’re bound to be connected in the first place, I really have no idea which leads me to believe that the film would have benefited from a balance of some sort in order to either make the first part more solid or the latter part more memorable — neither of which the film achieved to do. I get it though that one of the film’s selling points is Aiai delas Alas’ serious acting, which she really nailed here especially in the last part.  But I think her countless Maalaala Mo Kaya drama episodes have already proven that, so I wasn’t really “shattered” per se by her more serious approach here (which was really subdued). If anything, my main consolation with it were the shots of Manila’s arresting visuals at night that showed the gritty and raw side and it takes a pro to showcase such.

2/5

Hari ng Tondo

HARI NG TONDO
Director: Carlos Siguion Reyna
Cast: Robert Arevalo, Cris Villonco, Rez Cortez, Rafa Siguion-Reyna, Aiza Seguerra, Ciara Sotto
Competition: Directors Showcase

When wealthy man Ricardo Villena (Robert Arevalo) was informed that he’s close to bankruptcy, he decided to go back to his roots and take his runaway bride niece Anna (Cris Villonco) and college drop out nephew Ricky (Rafa Siguion-Reyna) to Tondo to learn how to grow a pair of balls, even if it’s against his offspring’s consent.

Movies nowadays rely on the flashy visuals or twist-y storytelling in order to ensure that they’d be spared from “copycat” or “same old same old” comments. But what’s faulty in that equation is that it doesn’t really need those as long as you’re aware of the limits of your material. That’s probably the biggest asset of Carlos Siguion Reyna’s comeback film Hari ng Tondo. The film, which even borders on too staged at times, doesn’t attempt to be a deeper, more cathartic version of anything. Its approach was direct to the point, and it effectively worked. Sure there are cliches here and there, and the film can’t help itself but to be too much of a Glee episode (during its peak) at times, but these things fit the material and what you get is an earnest depiction of its situations. This is a film that can be picked and tortured to pieces, but how it prevented such is by attempting to be heartfelt and genuine. I can’t help but somehow mirror the situation of Ricardo to the overall appeal of the film. Both the lead character and Siguion-Reyna tried to take a risk by going back to an old route that might or might not work, and the end result just speaks for itself. This is a crowd pleasing film whose cheesy approach will appeal aims to both serious critics and casual movie goers. The ensemble was commendable, and the songs here were really catchy. Dare I say, that by far, the local feel good film of the year.

3.5/5

Sundalong Kanin

SUNDALONG KANIN
Director: Janice O’Hara
Cast: Marc Abaya, Enzo Pineda, Isaac Aguirre, Elijah Canlas, Akira Morishita, Angelo Martinez, Nathaniel Britt
Competition: New Breed

Set in the 40s before the Japanese conquered the country, Sundalong Kanin is about four young lads who all wanted to be a solider when they grow up. The said invasion left an impact on the thinking process of the children when they learned what a soldier really is about.

Indeed, save the best for last. My last film from this year’s competition turned out to be the surprise I’m waiting for. Every year, I wait for that one breakout hit that will just sweep me off my feet like that of last year’s Transit and Purok 7. And I should have already seen it coming that it will be a film that has children on the forefront. Sundalong Kanin is one of the lesser buzzed entries in the film fest, as it has no big stars in it nor the “cool” image some entries had. But what it has up its sleeve is a heartbreaking coming of age tale of what happens when you’re confronted by your dreams at an early stage in your life. Director Janice O’Hara’s approach of opening the film in a somewhat comedic manner before seamlessly shifting to serious made the whole transition more effective. When children are already awaken of the actual concept of the one thing they have wanted, it becomes a battle of reality versus expectation. The film is aware enough to highlight the difference between such and the conflict and impact it leaves to these children. What’s more fantastic about the movie is despite running on a limited budget, none of it looked cheap. The four children ensemble also didn’t disappoint with all of them getting their own moments. Sundalong Kanin is one of the festival’s best entries, and the good word it has received by far is really well deserved.

4.5/5

And that’s it for Cinemalaya X. Whew I finished it earlier than expected. Dagitab and Sundalong Kanin were my favorites from this year with #Y, Mariquina, and Hari ng Tondo as the other solid entries. Both Children’s Show and 1st Ko Si 3rd were good as well. The rest ranged from good but flawed to outright horrible. On Sunday, I will be posting a complete recap of this year’s films including my rankings, picks, and predictions on who’ll end up winning at the awards ceremony.

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

10th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 4   7 comments

You’re still reading Tit for Tat’s Cinemalaya X coverage, and we’re now on the fourth of our short review capsules. As a reminder, you can check the my three previous posts with  Part 1 covering Real Florido’s “1st Ko si 3rd“, Giancarlo Abrahan’s “Dagitab“, and Milo Sogueco’s “Mariquina”, Part 2 Francis Pasion’s “Bwaya“, Gino M. Santos’ “#Y“, and GB Sampedro’s “S6parados”, and Part 3 which has Ida Anita del Mundo’s “K’na the Dreamweaver“, Joselito Altarejos’ “Kasal“, and Louie Ignacio’s “Asintado.” Now let’s add three more films in the list.

Hustisya

HUSTISYA
Director: Joel Lamangan
Cast: Nora Aunor, Rocco Nacino, Sunshine Dizon, Rosanna Roces
Competition: Directors Showcase

Biring (Nora Aunor) has worked for a long time now as Vivian’s (Rosanna Roces) right-hand assistant. The former usually takes care of delivering messages and money that they earn from their human trafficking business. But after an incident in which Vivian frames up Biring, they’re all by themselves at that point.

Hustisya starts strong in which we follow a day in the life of Biring as she does her usual businesses. She switches and delivers money to church officials, politicians, other businessman, and in the middle of it, throws money in the air on top of the Manila City Hall Clock Tower. But it is the supposed game-changing incident of frame up when the film just rolled downhill. At this point, it’s now a parade of the usual Lamangan schtick which probably is his vision of a political statement. He doesn’t dip so much into these so called issues but instead, stays content with just enumerating them. And that’s what he has been doing for the past few years with his foray into such. I don’t doubt that Lamangan can pull off these political statement films (I’m a big fan of 2001’s Hubog as for starters), but Hustisya falls into this lazy OMG-important angle which was the same template as in Dukot… and Sigwa… and Patikul… and Lihis… and even Burgos. The thing that makes Hustisya further down the drain is that there’s a scene in the near end where Biring is walking and hallucinating into a random Manila alley seeing all these “things wrong with out society” and by that time, the last thing we needed is another in your face reminder of such. Nora Aunor is always dependable though, and she knows how to make fun of this role. You can see her totally committed but has a grasp of when to make things light as the situation calls for such. It doesn’t hold a candle to any of the previous Lamangan/Aunor collaborations, and it’s probably her weakest since her 2012 comeback. That said, the less said about the film overall, the better.

2/5

The Janitor

THE JANITOR
Director: Michael Tuviera
Cast: Dennis Trillo, Richard Gomez, Ricky Davao, Derek Ramsay
Competition: Directors Showcase

The Janitor is based from the infamous 2008 RCBC bank robbery that happened in Cabuyao, Laguna which claimed the lives of 10 victims. In the film, Crisanto (Dennis Trillo) was a suspended policeman tasked to be a hitman and eliminate the people responsible for the said bank incident.

For the most part, The Janitor is really entertaining as its approach to the retelling of the incident is straight to the point. But then again, straight to the point can be too straight to the point that it now borders on formulaic. And that’s how the first 3/4 of the film ended up. The format goes something like “torture the lookout”, “let him speak another name”, “hitman goes for that name.” Lather, rinse, repeat. It is undeniably entertaining but can easily get tiring. In between, we witness Crisanto’s domestic problems with his pregnant wife, his non-believer father, and his disabled mother. Once again, lather, rinse, repeat. The film tried to pull off a shift in its storytelling by the last act, and while it indeed changed the monotonous approach of the film, it wasn’t really successful as well in achieving the same impact. There were clearly some notice-able goofs between the film’s concept of day and night with two scenes suddenly changing time frame in a snap, and  that can be really bothering. Other than that, Dennis Trillo is a hoot in this role and made me remember how versatile he is as an actor. It’s probably his best Cinemalaya effort yet among his three films in this festival’s history (2009’s Astig and 2012’s Ang Katiwala). I would have love to see more of his interaction with Derek Ramsay, as I felt their moments were too abrupt given how much they play off each other’s strengths. While one can’t help but wish that the film’s approach wasn’t totally by the numbers, it’s hard to deny that the film itself is really entertaining, and the potential for thrilling action films to come back is really present.

3/5

Children's Show

CHILDREN’S SHOW
Director: Derick Cabrido
Cast: Buboy Villar, Miggs Cuaderno, Gloria Sevilla, Allen Dizon, Nathan Lopez
Competition: New Breed

Inspired by true events, the film focused on brothers Jun (Buboy Villar) and Al (Miggs Cuaderno) who in between pedicab driving earn money by participating in an underground wrestling for teenagers ran by a syndicate. The film focused on how they both try to survive with their grandmother a midst the harsh realities of their poverty stricken life.

As early as the breakthrough of independent film by the mid-aughts, poverty porn is one of those recurring themes. And I know that most of you are gonna go like “WHY. POVERTY.PORN. AGAIN. UGH”, but Children’s Show isn’t really all that. If anything, it flips the usual schtick and injects with it something optimistic and new. The film itself tends to overdo the drama with the situations these brothers are dealing, but it doesn’t forget to counter the despair with the comedic elements (both intentional and otherwise). The movie gives a feel of “the little movie that could”, and it indeed does. The way the film goes back and forth to hopeful and depressing is mostly smooth, and its intensity really crosses the brink and just a little bit beyond. There’s a certain amount of rawness with the two lead actors’ deliveries that make it more affecting than expected, and it just pulls you in. The rest of the ensemble is great as well, and the cinematography is top notch here. I really like the color palette used in the film specifically the underground boxing place and the whole squatters area which reeked of dirty and gritty (and reminded me of Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty music video (I know it’s terrible and I’m sorry but I can’t help insert this. Lol)). If anything, I’m a bit half baked on the slow mo too polished fight scenes. On one hand, it’s really a cool moment for the film, but on the other, I really don’t think its needed anymore. Six days in the fest, and I’m really waiting for a surprise from this year’s batch that’s devoid the hype, and this is certainly one of those.

3.5/5

Last three films (finally whew!) to be posted on Saturday morning before malls open so you’d have a complete guide on what to watch and what to skip if you’re running low on time and/or budget. 😉

As always, you can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

10th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 3   5 comments

It’s only Wednesday, but I still haven’t caught much sleep from the continuous back and forth travels to CCP since Saturday for the 10th Cinemalaya Indepedent Film Festival. After sharing to you my thoughts on Real Florido’s “1st Ko si 3rd“, Giancarlo Abrahan’s “Dagitab“, and Milo Sogueco’s “Mariquina” which you can see here and the one covering Francis Pasion’s “Bwaya“, Gino M. Santos’ “#Y“, and GB Sampedro’s “S6parados” which you can read here, it’s time to add three more films on the list: one New Breed and two Directors Showcase entries.

K'Na

K’NA THE DREAMWEAVER
Director: Ida Anita del Mundo
Cast: Mara Lopez, RK Bagatsing, Alex Medina, Erlinda Villalobos, Bembol Roco, Nonie Buencamino
Competition: New Breed

Young T’boli woman K’Na (Mara Lopez) was poised to be the answer to the warring clans of her village by being anointed to “weave” the patches between the two camps. In the process, she must sacrifice her true love to be the heroine of her people.

I guess it is best to begin my thoughts by praising how the entire cast learned T’boli language and how the whole film used such. It is very refreshing to the ears to hear a whole complete film spoken in T’boli which further exemplifies the rich culture that our country has. The movie’s also really pretty to look at giving this epic scope like feels even if there were a few goofs in it (most notably, there’s a scene where they’re supposed to be rowing in the middle of the waters and the two boaters keep on paddling but it’s obvious that they’re just on the same place). Upon thinking, the “dreamweaver” tag connected to K’na is both literal and figurative. Weaving is a part of the T’boli culture, but then the weaving can also mean of the ending of the village clan wars. If anything, I wish they’d focused more on the T’boli culture rather than the romance. There’s nothing wrong per se about the tale of romance featured in the movie, but it would have ended up with a different effect had it tried to do other instead. I really commend how Mara Lopez continues to choose projects that fits her like a glove. She certainly has this innocent yet mysterious presence that is arresting, and that suits her strengths. I guess  K’Na sits right in the middle of the fest for me. It’s definitely not a clunker nor it’s one of the real breakouts of this season. That said, I’m eager to see what Ida Anita del Mundo does after this.

2.5/5

Kasal

KASAL
Director: Joselito Altarejos
Cast: Arnold Reyes, Oliver Aquino, Rita Avila, Ruby Ruiz, Maureen Mauricio
Competition: Directors Showcase

Director Paolo (Oliver Aquino) and lawyer Sherwin (Arnold Cruz) play a gay couple whose already cracked relationship was put to the test once again when they attended Sherwin’s sister’s wedding in Batangas. In here, they were reminded of the reality of where gay people place in our ever so conservative society.

When you think about it, Kasal‘s premise lives in the harsher reality that a wedding, of all possible events, will further test the relationship of a gay couple when they’re deprived of such in their own country. Where the film completely succeeds is its sincerity in depicting such. I could have lived without the unnecessary additional statements (that of indies and commercial filmmaking as for starters), but when the film shifts back its focus to its main message, it delivers. I’ve noticed that director Joselito Altarejos tends to prolong most of his scenes , and while most parts of it worked and lingered (the initial romance scene, the whole wedding preparations), there were others that didn’t (the initial scene, the stopover fight). A material like this one needs actors who are willing to show off themselves, and I’m not solely referring to the physical demands of the roles. Arnold Reyes is a topnotch here. His role as the closeted of the two as he was put into a really uncomfortable position during their whole visit to his family is just remarkable. I’m quite bothered by Oliver Aquino’s line delivery since it seems like he struggles with this long take approach and couldn’t keep his momentum during their confrontations, but I’d give him props since they share some real passionate chemistry and you could at least see him trying. While Kasal is far from perfect, there is a level of honesty it earns with its attempt, and that’s enough to recognize the overall effort.

3/5

Asintado

ASINTADO
Director: Luisito Ignacio
Cast: Aiko Melendez, Jake Vargas, Miggs Cuaderno, Gabby Eigenmann, Rochelle Pangilinan
Competition: Directors Showcase

In the middle of the preparation for the annual Taong Putik Festival, young lad Tonio (Jake Vargas), considered as literally the brightest kid in their place, was offered to be an unintentional drug courier of the village chairman Carias (Gabby Eigenmann). When one of his deliveries went awry, his mother Julia (Aiko Melendez) steps up to fix things right.

Remember when I told you about Mariquina being a rare case of a good melodrama? Now I guess it’s time to show you what a bad melodrama is. In Louie Ignacio’s first film since 2005’s Lovestruck, his foray into the indie film making is really spotty to say the least. Asintado seems like a late entry from Ignacio to join the poverty porn bordering on social commentary bandwagon that has already gotten old many years ago. Much of it feels contrived and tries way too hard to be taken seriously whether it’s the darker complexion of the characters, their appear one time slash disappear another accents, the situations of the characters up to the pivotal resolution part. There’s also a disconnect between the intended reaction of the people involved from the actual reaction of the people watching. Punchlines fell flat and those obvious attempts at comedic effect failed while serious breakdown moments elicited loud laughter from the crowd. Maybe it’s because of the film’s sudden tonal shifts that really doesn’t sync. It’s really hard to sympathize with Tonio too since he’s one disaster after the other. Is the character even worth redeeming for? I don’t think so. The only good thing worth mentioning here is that Miggs Cuaderno continues to deliver fine work regardless of the material. Last year, he was in two of the better films of the festival (Purok 7 and Quick Change). This year, the first I’ve seen of his works is a bad one, but he manages to rise out of it (I mean he’s better than the whole cast of s6parados combined). Asintado just feels outdated and the problem is I can’t even pinpoint a “time” when this stuff actually fits.

1.5/5

Nine down, six more to go. I understand that it’s taking me quite some time to finish this because I’ve also been watching a lot from the Retrospective showings and most of those are one time screenings. But the next batch will have four films in it on Friday morning. 🙂

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

10th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 2   5 comments

Still celebrating the first decade of Cinemalaya Indepedent Film Festival this week, Tit for Tat continues its rundown of the 15 films participating this year both in New Breed and Director’s Showcase. We began with Part 1 yesterday which turned out to be a good batch of starting films which include Real Florido’s “1st Ko si 3rd“, Giancarlo Abrahan’s “Dagitab“, and Milo Sogueco’s “Mariquina“. Today, we add three more films (all part of the New Breed category) in the mix.

Bwaya

BWAYA
Director: Francis Xavier Pasion
Cast: Angeli Bayani, Karl Medina, RS Francisco,
Competition: New Breed

Based on a 2009 incident in Agusan del Sur about a 12-year old girl who was attacked by a crocodile the day after her birthday, Bwaya remained as truthful as possible in keeping the details of the incident intact. The film focused on the span of ta few days from victim Rowena’s birthday up until the searching and aftermath of the incident.

No doubt about it, the story is affecting and probably one of too good to pass up stories to tell especially in the big screen. It was a larger than life incident that left an impact to everyone who heard about it. That said, I’m really not entirely sold with some of the approach used in it. In Pasion’s previous Cinemalaya entry Jay, the use of a documentary/mockumentary treatment was fitting to know the characters deeper. In here though, I find the actual interviews to the real parents a bit odd and out of place. Every now and then, we’ll hear some commentary from the parents of Rowena and I felt that they were unnecessary, since the writing has already done an effective job in narrating the story. The parallelism of the water crocodiles to the land predators weren’t as effective as well with the use of a red herring that didn’t really work out. However, what faults I find in its approach were almost made up by the fantastic visual scenes in the film. Those wide aerial shots of the rivers and the boats are just breathtaking to see, and given the difficulties and circumstances of shooting there, it was really impressive. Angeli Bayani continues her streak of great performances; her portrayal of Divina is both heartbreaking and vulnerable. And her commitment to the role is really astounding as she shifts from calm and quiet to shout-y and big in a snap. Overall, Bwaya for the most part is moving, even if I obviously had some issues with it.

3/5

Hashtag Y

#Y
Director: Gino M. Santos
Cast: Elmo Magalona, Coleen Garcia, Sophie Albert, Kit Thompson, Slater Young
Competition: New Breed

As Miles’ (Elmo Magalona) attempt of suicide failed, we then follow the lives of four friends from the millennial generation in their adventures which also served as a commentary to what it;s like to be a part of Y generation.

Some parts comedic, some parts dramatic, but definitely cathartic, director Gino M. Santos clearly has a vision of what this film wants to achieve. His humor in dealing what is a sensitive topic for most, reminded me of a crossbreed between Alexander Payne in Election and Wes Anderson in Royal Tenenbaums, is one of the film’s strengths. While one can easily accuse him of having style over substance, I’ve felt that the energy he has shown in his first feature The Animals (a 2012 Cinemalaya entry in the New Breed too) is now more contained this time around, and it compliments the tone of the film. The social commentary isn’t preachy as well, nor is it totally alienating despite probably going inside the theater thinking that it will solely cater to the millennials. And hand it to his mostly newbie cast to deliver. He did it with Albie Casino, Patrick Sugui, and Dawn Jimenez (Dawn Balagot back then) in The Animals, and he does the same in his quartet of actors here. Kit Thompson was ever so playful as the high libido-ed Ping who jerks off his feelings literally and figuratively. Sophie Albert playing the most toned down of the four as someone who still has reservations about her virginity. Then there’s Coleen Garcia’s, who’ll probably give Emma Watson a run for her money in The Bling Ring, as Janna who says what you want to hear and moreso, what you don’t want to hear. Elmo Magalona’s Miles is the main character in it. At first, I was bothered with his narration, but then I think it suits his character. There’s a well directed car scene near the end that has the four characters in it, and what a great ensemble that was. There’s also an (intentional? unintentional?) Mean Girls homage in the film, and at that point, it’s as if I need another reason to love the film. Now after doing two features, Gino M. Santos gives an energetic boost to a mostly complacent field right now. If he somehow ends up representing this younger generation, I actually think that it is more than deserved.

4/5

s6parados

S6PARADOS
Director: GB Sampedro
Cast: Alfred Vargas, Ricky Davao, Victor Neri, Anjo Yllana, Jason Abalos, Erik Santos
Competition: New Breed

Trying for some paradigm shift here by focusing it to the guys, S6parados tells the story of six (as if it isn’t obvious enough) men who all wants to be separated from something. Victor Neri is separating from his wife due to sexual incompatibility, Ricky Davao ends their 26 year marriage thinking it’s now time to unleash his inner self, Jason Abalos wants to start a new life away from his drug addicted live in partner, Anjo Yllana feels trapped to his marriage as his wife wants her to stop from being a seaman, Erik Santos is a battered husband to his over paranoid wife, and Alfred Vargas wants to free himself from his over religious wife.

At this point, I’m bound to have a clunker no? Incidentally, it happened in my sixth film for this year, S6parados, which gave a new meaning to the word overload. I’m pretty certain you got tired from reading the synopsis above because it’s too many stories, too little development. The thing with S6parados is that it is already outdated; there’s nothing about it that we have already seen before, probably even better versions of these stories. And one of the film’s faults is that it did not really present anything new for such “perspective.” Basically, it’s like throwing pies on a wall waiting which of them will stick.  I guess I’ll give them some props for at least even attempting to do the simultaneous multi-linear storytelling (flawlessly pulled off by Transit last year), but then again, all of it just feels contrived and forced that you wouldn’t even bother. The ensemble is probably one of the few saving grace of this film (if you can even call it as such), and even then, you know there’s only too much they can do to save this. Just think of it as a failed spin-off to Desperate Housewives. Separate Husbands perhaps?

1/5

There you have it! The reviews of the next four films will be posted on Wednesday morning. Do not forget that you can also follow me on Twitter: @nikowl