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10th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 1   6 comments

Now on its tenth year, Cinemalaya continues its tradition of showcasing the potential of Philippine cinema with its annual film festival that has been the venue for some of the most promising filmmakers and a reminder of the greatness of the veteran ones. And as it celebrate its first decade, there’s no other way to go but up as this year combines some of the biggest stars from Nora Aunor to Richard Gomez and newer ones like Mara Lopez and Martin del Rosario to name a few. Within the next few days, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the 15 films participating this year both in the New Breed and Director’s Showcase categories. Let’s begin with the first three!

1st ko si 3rd

1st KO SI 3rd
Director: Real Florido
Cast: Nova Villa, Freddie Webb, Dante Rivero, Ruby Ruiz, Lara Morena, Ken Chan
Competition: New Breed

Days after she retired from her work, Cory (Nova Villa) is still adjusting from her new lifestyle staying at home with her husband Andong (Dante Rivero). Mostly bored and irritable, her attention shifted upon realizing that Third (Fredi Webb), her first love and childhood sweetheart is back in town. The film then went back and forth in portraying their early days together and how they react to each other four decades after.

1st Ko si 3rd was the first film I’ve seen from this year’s batch, and it couldn’t have been more fitting to begin with it. The film was charming all throughout with its very natural and grounded humor in portraying a post mid-life crisis (if that type even exists) of a newly retired woman. The number 1 plays a significant theme in the movie, as it is through these one time incidents that led to where Cory is now: her first love, their supposed first date, the first man she met after, their first bonding together. For Cory, the first option really matters, and now that she had the opportunity to have a second one is where her conflict lies. The good thing however, is that in this love triangle, no party is a villain; it wasn’t merely black or white thus, we understand these harbored feelings that Cory has. Writer and director Real Florido managed to come up with characters (Cory surely reminded me of my own grandmother) and situations (revisiting your first love, how your life changes once you retire) that are relatable which made the whole film feel organic. Given that, Nova Villa was able to raise the material even higher with her performance here. Sure one would expect that she’ll nail the comedic parts effortlessly, but her performance certainly wasn’t just that. She was both funny and heartbreaking, sometimes even simultaneously. 1st ko si 3rd might have old characters in its forefront, but it’s appeal is far more beyond that. It’s bittersweet and charming, and I won’t be surprised if this crowd favorite went on to win the Box Office New Breed category.

3.5/5

Dagitab

DAGITAB (SPARKS)
Director: Giancarlo Abrahan
Cast: Eula Valdez, Nonie Buencamino, Martin del Rosario, Sandino Martin, Max Eigenmann
Competition: New Breed

UP professors Jimmy (Nonie Buencamino) and Issey (Eula Valdez) has been married for decades now, but both are aware of how dysfunctional their relationship is. Issey knows that Jimmy still can’t let go of his previous flame Lorena, who suddenly went missing many years ago. After going to a writer’s workshop in Makiling, coincidentally with her god son Gab, things have changed between Issey and him, and not long enough, has made a crack on the couple’s marriage as well.

To say this film is interesting might be an understatement. Its portrayal of what I call a “functional dysfunctional relationship” is so raw and mysterious that you’ll be captivated by it, probably the way Jimmy was captivated of Lorena’s fate. In Dagitab, the dynamics of a relationship was complexly portrayed by highlighting that some relationships probably require more of patience and acceptance and less of intelligence and romance. There is a certain poetic approach with how lines are written and thrown here, and I don’t think I have grasped them all yet after watching, but I’m smitten. As if I’m not sold yet with that, the visual aspects of the film are really stunning. There’s one scene where the characters of Eula Valdez and Martin del Rosario are just lying on the sand and you see the waves surrounding them, and it reminded me of that moment in Michel Gondry‘s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when Joel and Clementine were just lying on the snow watching the stars. I adored the use of Side A’s “Tuloy Pa Rin Ako” in the near end of the film as a statement of how the lives of these characters were amidst what happened to all of them. The performances of Nonie Bucamino, Eula Valdez, and Martin del Rosario are not the type of acting that win awards here in the country, but I’ll surely reserve a spot for them in my personal year end list since they’ve perfected the combination of confidence and craziness required of their characters. I really think I’ll catch this another time before the festival ends, as I think it’s a film that will ignite more insights when seen repeatedly, but needless to say, this did not disappoint and it will likely end up as one of my favorite entries from this year.

4.5/5

Mariquina

MARIQUINA
Director:
 Milo Sogueco
Cast: Mylene Dizon, Ricky Davao, Dennis Padilla, Barbie Forteza, Bing Pimentel
Competition: New Breed

Upon learning that her father who she had a rocky relationship with has died, Imelda (Mylene Dizon) tried to pick the perfect shoes for his once esteemed master shoemaker dad (Ricky Davao). It is within this agenda that Imelda reminisces the ups and downs and memories of her parents during the heydays of their shoe making business back when she was still a child.

Mariquina feels a bloated MMK episode for me, and while I’m aware that using that comparison usually connotes something negative; in this particular case, I tend to disagree. After all, the film revisits the life of Imelda starting from her childhood in depicting how things have changed between her and her father. Is it melodramatic? Well one can easily accuse of it as such. But what’s far more interesting in it is how it never lets the melodrama take over by injecting humorous punches during the more dramatic scenes. It was careful and aware enough of its material to know where to control the drama. And that’s rare to happen since in the hands of another writer, they would have highlighted the drama more. I particularly liked the witty use of symbolism in here with the color of the shoes and who owns what. Those small clever details aren’t necessarily a big deal for most, but I’m fond of them. It is also commendable how director Milo Sogueco managed to make use of space — literally. There’s a continuous shot of a young Imelda bringing a pair of shoes from the third floor of their warehouse down to their basement and we just follow her go around juxtaposed with the present day where the current Imelda does the same in her fabric business. If anything, I guess the part that bogged it down a bit for me was the last act where it seemed like it just went on and on in putting the closures one after the other. Also, the acting in here is particularly strong. I’m aware that it was Judy Ann Santos who was supposed to play the title role, but her close friend Mylene Dizon was fantastic in it. I’m also happy that Ricky Davao was finally maximized again since he is one fantastic actor and while he has played supporting roles for quite some times, this is probably his best since 2001’s Minsan May Isang Puso. The teen Imelda, anchored by a good performance from Barbie Forteza who was quite a revelation since she had the longest flashback in the movie. This is the second Jerrold Tarog written film in Cinemalaya where in a pair of shoes played a meaningful part in the film. Maybe a shoe trilogy to complete it in the future perhaps? 🙂

4/5

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

REVIEW: Maleficent   Leave a comment

In the history of fairy tales, there is a lot of prominent female villains from Cruella de Ville to Ursula up to The Queen and Lady Tremaine. But there’s one name that probably tops them all: Maleficent. This year, Robert Stromberg brings the biggest of them all into the big screen in Disney’s film title of the same name.

Forced to act the way she did, Maleficent’s back story was tackled way back from she was once a sweet naïve girl up to the moment where she started to cause havoc and cast a spell on a young Aurora. It is then when she discovered that maybe there’s more than casting a spell to regain back what is hers.

At first, I find the approach quite refreshing. The past few years we’ve seen darker versions of other prominent fairy tale stories via Jack the Giant Slayer, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Oz: The Great and Powerful. So seeing that they went the other way around is an exciting take on this tale…

…or so I thought.What potential they could have amassed with this approach suddenly went awry when the film decided not only to tone things a bit, but to tone it AT ALL. This is as sugary sweet as one can get. But I think Maleficent is not the character to use for that type of total sweetness. I want my Maleficent to be flat out cruel and live up to her villainess image. I prefer her to be portrayed as how she was accustomed and not to be a sweetheart. I appreciate that there were some feminist undertones in it, but I think they were applying too much of the Frozen meets Wickedpackage for it to totally work.

Pacing seems to be an issue as well. I’m surprised to know that the film runs only at 97 minutes and it seems like the rumor of them cutting 38 minutes from the actual cut hurt the film’s ability to be smooth flowing. The third act in particular seems to be so rushed and everything just happens so quickly. It also did not help that the earlier acts weren’t on the same beat as the last one.

But leave it to the magnificent Angelina Jolie to be the film’s saving grace. She perfectly captured Maleficent’s coldness and her performance fits like a glove. Those protruding cheekbones – which could slice some apples – were so on point and her lines were deliciously delivered that I could have watched two hours of her just speaking random lines in Maleficent tone. If only she was asked to be more villainous, I think I’d love her performance even more. Elle Fanning was alright, and her accent did not bother me even a bit.

The film used a narration style which is reminiscent of when children were read with fairytales.  Janet McTeer’s narration, albeit a bit unnecessary, was captivating, and James Newton Howard’s score was quite good as well, if not a tad late to be appreciated.

Some fairy tales are meant to be portrayed the way they originally were, and Maleficent belongs to that camp. It was too toned down for me to gush about and it left me wanting for an altogether different tone to it. One thing I’d take from this film though is Angelina Jolie and her cheekbones which will definitely reach classic status in the future.

Rating: 2/5

86th Academy Awards: Best Picture Rankings   Leave a comment

best pic 2014

Now that I’ve finally seen this year’s line up, it’s time to do the obligatory rankings of the Best Picture nominees. Last year, Michael Haneke’s Amour is my top pick while Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables is my least favorite of batch 2011. Now with nine nominees again, this is how my Best Picture ballot will look like from least to best.

09. PHILOMENA
Director: Stephen Frears

An old woman’s 50-year journey to find her son taken from her when she was serving in a convent, Philomena is probably a film that’s easy to dispose. It’s one that’s safe and straightforward and funny and predictable even channeling all of that at once. Yet one can find himself easily falling to all of it. Call it the charm I guess. It’s not a film for serious movie critics (nor those who consider themselves as such) since it’s sappy and plays by the book. The screenplay and the whole film suffers from some tonal inconsistencies, but the main issue I had with this one is it’s reluctance to tackle topics (like that of one’s atonement, the issue of sexuality and religion, forgiveness and redemption) that were present, yet sacrificed for laughing device or some witty one liners. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of things that worked here. Judi Dench, despite being physically miscast (those close up shots of her convinced no one that she’s only 65 years old), tugs your heart and makes you root for her in this journey. Even Steve Coogan worked an effective relationship with Dench here, and their banters made this less painful. This is one movie that works more effectively to a certain audience (obviously not me), but I can’t deny the appeal that it has. I do think that this will be one of the films that will be forgotten in five years tho. 2.5/5

08. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

A biopic dealing with an AIDS patient set in the mid-80s screams “OMG serious!”, and indeed it is. However, it took me quite some time to settle in with the whole film, as I’m no fan of this straight from the awards bait book approach. The whole approach was so safe and monotonous, and I wonder how it would have fared if it would have dug deeper given this interesting topic. What elevates the film though are the fearless performances of its two leads. Matthew McConaughey, whose filmography the last two years puts most actors to shame, is really undeniable here. The commitment goes further than the weight loss, and he deserves all these nominations he received for this. Jared Leto, on the other hand, lives and breathes Rayon. One can accuse his character of being baity, but it is his quieter scenes that inhibits how fantastic he is in this film. The chemistry between these two leads is what makes this whole thing better; otherwise, it’s just a decent but serviceable output. 3/5

07. NEBRASKA
Director: Alexander Payne

Let me start off by saying that Sideways is my top film of the 2000s and that Election is there near the top of my 90s lists, so Payne will always have a place in my film loving heart because of those two. With that said, he comes back this year to take us all on a road trip all the way to Montana, Nebraska to join an aging father with his son to claim the million dollars that he won from a sweepstakes raffle (that’s what he said!). I really don’t know what to make of this film. On one hand, it’s nice to see a father-son dynamic that is complex and heartwarming. I believed every minute that was shown of Woody and David’s interactions. The old man’s insistence and the son’s reluctance but that he still gave way for his father’s dreams to happen. I also happen to like both Bruce Dern and Will Forte in here. But everything else seemed like it was taken out of the sitcom context. Every delivery and every punch line was dictated that it sounded at times robotic and forced. There’s rarely anything left to discover with all the other characters (especially those in Nebraska) once they’re done spewing their lines. The only sane person in it is Kate Grant, but even June Squibb (who was a fucking hoot! That cemetery scene I tell you is damn hilarious) whose delivery is right on the spot sometimes succumbs to this character weakness. To be fair though, Payne managed to introduced the place of Nebraska as a character quite well (miles better than what he did to Hawaii in The Descendants), but this whole film feels like a cop out. I’m aware that it’s difficult to follow your most critically praised work, but this isn’t even a follow up. I fear that we’ve seen the best in Payne already because Nebraska is such a lazy offering. If anything though, I guess my main take from this is that it’s better than his weakest output to date, The Descendants, so I hope his next one follows an upward trajectory. 3/5

06. 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Director: Steve McQueen

Compelling. That pretty sums up this two hour plus journey of Solomon Northup as he clings to his survival (not in uncontrollable situations from the seas nor in space) but for freedom as he was abducted and forced into slavery during the pre-Civil War. Director Steve McQueen first two features were mostly cold and while those attract human responses, I don’t think he mellowed down the way he did here in this film. It was a tough pill to swallow not only in terms of the violence portrayed but the fact that you know it really happened. Probably something about the raw storytelling as you all see the horrors of what these slaves have to put through. I have to say though that I wish McQueen lessened more of the lingering shots of Ejiofor’s face, since I think they already did a mighty fine impression of the horrible situation he’s been into. Speaking of which, Chiwetel Ejiofor is aces here. His performance stands out in a sea of “me, me me” performances this past movie year. As the main anchor of this film, he was able to convey the big scenes but maybe even moreso effective in his quieter ones. I find the online reaction to Lupita Nyong’o’s performance a bit too much. She was really good here, but it’s not as relevatory as what I was probably expecting. The same can be said about Michael Fassbender who is one inch closer from being a caricature here, though his commitment to the role is commendable. A lot has been talking about Brad Pitt’s character here, and it’s hard to go against it since it really has happened and his character do exist. I’d probably say that I understand the commotion over his character’s inclusion, but it’s a situation that no one from the film people can really do control. I particularly like the costume design of the film; all these little details actually worked for me. I also didn’t see the point of the opening scene, but that’s just me nitpicking. 12 Years a Slave is a competent effort from Steve McQueen that will surely give you an emotional one two punch. 4/5

05. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
Director: Paul Greengrass

Reminds me a lot of Zero Dark Thirty last year, Paul Greengrass is really a master of all these blockbuster thrillers no? He knows the perfect balance of satisfying the commercial audience while providing topnotch effort into it. It’s pretty much a straight by the book suspenseful output, but I love how Greengrass paid too much details into it. The characters weren’t simply black and white, and I appreciated that we got a glimpse of the Somali pirates prior to the attack. Sharply edited and boasting of great technical achievements, this is as intense as one can get. If I have to nitpick though, they could have trimmed down the last act by at least ten minutes. Like Zero Dark Thirty last year, it is lovely to watch but went a bit longer since you know what’s gonna happen. Tom Hanks was sensational here, and his last 30 minutes or so sealed the deal for a pretty low key performance at the start of the film. He was on fire this, and he should have been nominated for the Oscar. Barkhad Abdi was great as well considering this is his debut film performance. This is an adventurous, thrilling, and engaging time at the movies. 4/5

04. AMERICAN HUSTLE
Director: David O. Russell

So… this was really fun. The movie opens with the disclaimer that “Some of this actually happened”, and that pretty much signals how crazy this is gonna be. Sure the plot could have been tighter, and I won’t take it against you if you didn’t like it that much because of that, but then there’s the characters to root for! In a year where the critics basically liked everything (and I mean everything except Diana), it’s nice that a film lives and breathes through its characters. J.Law was a hoot and Russell continues to give roles that are more mature for her age, yet she nails them with her wit and delivery. The same happens for Bradley Cooper who’s sporting a perm (which I called The Cooperm) here. Srsly you have to watch out for his Louis CK impersonations in the end. It’s tough for lead star Christian Bale to stand out in a sea of over the top big characters, but I felt that he held his own and is just as deserving as the others. Jeremy Renner got the shortest part here, but I thoroughly enjoyed his turn as well. He counterbalances the craziness of the other characters. But this film’s MVP is definitely Amy Adams. It’s like she broke out of her shell once again and showed another facet of her as an actress. It says a lot that her two best performances (this and 2005’s Junebug) are characters on different ends of the stick, and yet she ‘s both fantastic in them. I think this is my favorite of Russell’s last three Oscar efforts as I felt that he finally pins the atmosphere of his story smoothly (a big part goes to the film’s awesome soundtrack). There’s a lot that I liked about the film and is definitely one of 2013’s best offerings. 4/5

03. GRAVITY
Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Gravity is certainly one of the most memorable and best cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. Having the pleasure of watching it in IMAX makes it all the while better. And it just delivered. All these intricate details that took Cuaron years to finish is all worth it. It was captivating to watch and it is one that the experience will speak for itself. Watching it in the small screen though reminded me of the issues I have (which I assumed would be compensated by the marvelous movie making experience) which is the weak screenplay. I know it’s best to shut up since it’s a film whose themes are more contemplative in nature, but in this particular instance, the continuous and repetitive misfortunes she had were tiring as well. But hey, that’s just me. Aside from that and the overpowering (re: deafening) score, it is an adventurous film watching experience that deserves all the love it receives (albeit too much hyperbolic love). Oh and Sandra Bullock carried this in a career best performance. That scene of her barking while crying? That’s golden for someone of her caliber.  I’d always be in love with Children of Men and will consider it as Cuaron’s finest still. 4/5

02. WOLF OF WALL STREET
Director: Martin Scorsese

2013 was known as the year of survival movies — thanks to Captain Phillips and Robert Redford in the middle of the sea or Sandra Bullock stuck in space. But that wasn’t the only recurring theme of last year. There’s also the notion of the American dream as shown in films like Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” up to Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” and David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.” Martin Scorsese tackles the same niche though it is more biographical in nature by focusing on the story infamous Wall Street figure Jordan Belfort. The less said about the story of the film or of Belfort’s life is probably better to maximize your enjoyment of the film. Running at exactly 183 minutes, Scorsese’s latest entry did have some length issues in it, though it’s the other way around. It was clear that there’s lots of parts that were botched up from the movie, and it would have been more compact had it been given a longer running time. But those three hours we got were clearly the most energetic and entertaining for this year. As opposed to a lot of other comedic films this year, this did not suffer from any tonal shift and was focused in its approach. Sure the drugs and the sex and the nudity might overwhelm you, but it did not forget to incorporate its commentary. Marty, at 71, seems like he still has a lifetime ahead of him with the way he injects energy into this film. Leonardo di Caprio, now more known (at least in the online community) as the man who badly wants that Oscar, gives his career best performance here. It’s one that relies on charisma and he wasn’t running out of it. I like how he just immersed himself and got lost with the character of Belfort that it clearly shows he had so much fun in this role. His physical commitment to it is also commendable with all the demands of the character. Jonah Hill, though more reactionary, was the perfect buddy to di Caprio and they share a natural chemistry. Heck even Matthew McConaughey’s five minute role was put into maximum use here. I don’t know about you, but I think we’ve seen a new star born via Margot Robbie. She played this role with so much sass that it’s more impressive that she held his own to Leo. The film’s way of depicting a society that is willing to swallow and inhibit a man’s success despite knowing that it wasn’t the best road to success is indeed chilling. This is the type of picture that’s more enjoyable to watch on the big screen and the most entertaining time I had at this movies this year.  4.5/5

01. HER
Director: Spike Jonze

I guess I’ll begin by warning you that a lot of what you’ll read might be pure hyperbole since I really loved this film. Love it because it’s one that strikes a personal connection with me. It was funny, sad, and heartfelt, sometimes prompting all these emotions at the same time. Spike Jonze has this really intriguing approach of building a world and sucking you in it. It’s a world that is just so creative and imaginative and as Joaquin Phoenix’ Theodore falls into this scenario, it’s one that he was optimistic about, but when it hits him and he starts to entertain the notion that this might not be forever, it’s really devastating. I’ve always been a sucker for characters that deal with loneliness and desolation and how they live their lives from there and rebuild relationships, and this was it. And boy was this really great to look at. It’s not as if Jonze just introduced a world, he lets us feel it more by giving us this visual spectacle to look at. The production design, and the cinematography go hand in hand here. Don’t you just love the color palette they used? I’m living for Joaquin Phoenix’ costumes too, and if I can only dibs my way to use it as the perfect Halloween costume. Speaking of, Phoenix was marvelous here. I love him in The Master, but this is a totally different platform and he made this work. Scarlett Johansson, despite no physical appearance, managed to flesh out a living character. And Amy Adams is probably having her career best year between this and American Hustle. The rest of the ensemble were really good too from Rooney Mara to Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt. I also like how it’s some sort a statement to this current age of modern technology and how despite all these advancements in these innovating times, the raw physical connection has its way of sticking it out. “Her” struck a very intimate personal place in my life, and not only do I think that this will be my favorite film of the year, it’s also one that I think will be one of my all time favorites.  5/5

Whew that was overwhelming. Anyway, have you sen all best Picture contenders this year? What are your favorites? And yes, Inside Llewyn Davis was robbed, but more than that, how would you rank this year’s batch?

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

 

 

2013 Metro Manila Film Festival Review: Part 2   5 comments

Hi! here’s the second part of my Metro Manila Film Festival reviews. The first part which you can read here includes Marlon Rivera’s My Little Bossings, Frasco Mortiz’ Pagpag Siyam na Buhay, Wenn Deramas’ Girl Boy Bakla Tomboy, and Chito Rono’s Boy Golden. Here’s the other four films of this year’s batch:

Kimmy Dora

KIMMY DORA: ANG KIYEMENG PREQUEL
Director: Chris Martinez
Cast: Eugene Domingo (x2), Sam Milby, Ariel Ureta, Angel Aquino, Joel Torre

A prequel of this prominent movie twins, this shows how newly grad Kimmy GoDongHae and then theater actress Dora GoDngHae trained under their father’s wing only to later save the company itself.

The Kimmy Dora film experiments this time, as it’s under the guidance of Chris Martinez since original director Joyce Bernal was unavailable due to a commitment to another MMFF entry. On one hand, it’s an interesting move to inject something fresh about the series after that so-so second film. On another, it gives some sort of a stale feeling to the franchise already. Sure it’s nice to see a throwback references to the first movie, and all the cameos were cute. This (at least) tried to embrace a story, but while they give a clear explanation of the turn out of the events, this futuristic approach seems so left out and ahead of its time from the first two films. I was pleasantly surprised seeing Joel Torre and Angel Aquino for the nth time here (I think their pairing is one of my favorite 2013 discoveries), though they weren’t given much to do. Speaking of nothing much to do, Sam Milby was pretty much in a thankless role as well, though with all the amount of kicks and punches he gave here, he and KC Concepcion should be given an action project soon. The roles of Kimmy and Dora will definitely go down in history as Eugene Domingo’s career defining role, and I think she’s really great in it. It’s just that this time she has more inferior work to do. I like the intricate production design and costume design of the film; they’re really lavish, but then again it always brings me back to “Wait this happened before the first movie right?” Don’t get me wrong, this one still provided the laughs , and Eugene Domingo is still a hoot (I think I can watch her doing nothing for hours), but at times you question of this is still necessary. I think I like this better than that horror sequel.

Rating: 2.5/5

Pedro Calungsod

PEDRO CALUNGSOD: BATANG MARTIR
Director: Francis Villacorta
Cast: Rocco Nacino, Christian Vasquez, Ryan Eigenmann, Jestoni Alarcon, Victor Basa

Biopic on Pedro Calungsod, the second Filipino canonised by the Catholic Church. The film shows how he assisted Fr. Diego San Vitores in Marianas Islands in introducing Christianity there.

Oh boy this is as straightforward as it gets. We follow their journey back from the Jesuit house in Cavite until they reach the Marianas Islands. From then, we see Rocco Nacino’s bad wig, then Father Vitores’ leading an example of a selfless act, followed by some Chamorro natives killing one of the volunteers, then Pedro getting hallucinations seeing his father. Lather rinse repeat for about five times, and there you have your movie. This is by no means an attack on Saint Pedro Calungsod or for his contributions, but the film is so repetitive that I won’t take it against you if you zone off by the half of the film. You can see Rocco Nacino’s dedication to the role, but not even him can save it. Nor does Christian Vasquez’ one note written role. Not the fault of both actors as they were given stagnant things to do. I’m sure the intent was to show how selfless and giving Pedro was, but then again, it does not necessarily translate that it was what the movie achieved. It’s either you feel bad for yourself that you’re not as nice as him or you appreciate Father Vitores more since he did the bigger sacrifices in the movie. And it’s never a good thing if you leave the movie house thinking that the lead character, coincidentally the title of the movie, played second fiddle to the supporting character.

Rating: 1.5/5

Kaleidoscope World

KALEIDOSCOPE WORLD
Director: Eliza Cornejo
Cast: Sef Cadayona, Yassi Pressman, Mayton Eugenio, Alma Concepcion

Inspired from the music of the great late Francis Magalona, the movie shows the romance that transpired between rich girl Elsa and poor boy Lando in the midst of their hip hop dance crew contest rehearsals.

This concept of a hiphop dance film probably looked good on paper, but everything about this movie isn’t. Intent can only get you so far. I feel bad for everyone involved in it because I don’t think this is what they intend to produce, but this film is just not ready to be seen yet. Okay so where do we begin? Let’s start with the story where all the possible drama cliches are inserted in it. A love story between a rich girl and poor boy? Check. A history check that the poor boy was actually rich before but fate led them to their current state? Check. The rich girl is under the supervision of her strict aunt who does everything to contradict her niece? Check. And there are lots more as the movie progresses. Sadly, the film can’t depend on its technical accomplishments as the transition of the scenes just fades in and out. The dance numbers weren’t even shown in whole due to bad camera angles which only usually shows the upper part of the body. And the worst offender is the sound. There are literally scenes with no sound while there are some scenes where the dubbing screwed it all as you hear both the dubbed and the actual lines of the actors. It’s really painful to watch it on a technical standpoint and the less said about it, the better. The acting isn’t even commendable as well since they were all acting on a different platform. If not amateurish (which most of them were), you have Alma Concepcion whose sheer dedication should be commended, and while Sef Cadayona and Yassi Pressman share some sort of chemistry, it’s not even enough to save even a tenth of the movie. The discography of Francis Magalona is the only bright spot in this otherwise mess of a film, but I feel more sorry because it seems that it was rushed just to make it in the festival. Continuous polishing could have fixed at least the technical issues, and I think they’d even get a longer release period had it not been a part of the MMFF.

Rating: 0.5/5

10000 Hours

10,000 HOURS
Director: Joyce Bernal
Cast: Robin Padilla, Mylene Dizon, Michael de Mesa, Pen Medina, Bela Padilla

Loosely based on the life of Panfilo Lacson, then prominent senator Gabriel Alcaraz leaves the country and turns to be a fugitive when he was accused as a part of a big political pandemonium.

And to cap it off is Joyce Bernal’s entry in this year’s film fest. It’s the reason why she had to drop off Kimmy Dora ang Kiyemeng Prequel, and it’s actually a good trade. Time and again, the movie has to remind us all that it is a fictional one despite being loosely based on a politician, but I don’t get why the movie keeps on giving us winks every now and then such as a female president, some shout outs to current national issues etc only to remind us again that yes, it’s not a close adaptation. But other than that, it’s a pretty solid and well done effort. Production of the film is top notch here. Cinematography, sound, and stunts all factored in to come up with a really thrilling output. Instead of using some old fashioned tricks when it comes to pulling action scenes, Bernal decides to give it a refreshed spin, and it shows. I also like Ketchup Eusebio’s character’s throwback to the infamous Michael Fajatin viral reporting video in one of his earlier scenes. I guess if there’s another qualm about it is that of the uneven turn of events especially with the countdown clock showing every now and then. It was fairly quick in the earlier parts only to get longer as the movie enters its second half. We’re also treated to some commendable acting here especially that of Robin Padilla’s. His stature as an action star figure in the country will never get old, and I like that he showed restraint by not going all on his usual mannerisms here. Both Michael de Mesa and Pen Medina share a chemistry with Padilla that worked well in the film whether as a sidekick or an arch rival. Bela Padilla was also a surprise here, though I can’t remember if this is the first I’ve sen of her in the movies. She exudes a natural charismatic vibe that fits in the movie. I guess in the end, the film’s biggest achievement is that it proved we are still capable of coming up with solid popcorn action thrillers, probably in the veins of Taken or Prisoners, without always going back to the 60s or 70.

Rating: 3.5/5

There you have it! What are your favorites from this year’s batch? Mine’s Boy Golden and 10,000 Hours by a mile. This year, the action flicks delivered and they both deserve to be seen more.

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

2013 Metro Manila Film Festival Review: Part 1   12 comments

In the last three decades, Christmas time in the Philippines is not complete without the celebration of the Metro Manila Film Festival. The history of this festival might have been very shaky at best, but this one produced some of the best films our country ever produced ranging from Ishmael Bernal’s Himala and Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon Paano Kayo Ngayon. Other notable films include Marilou Diaz Abaya’s Jose Rizal, Jose Javier Reyes’s May Minamahal, and last year’s entry Brillante Mendoza’s Thy Womb. With that said, the last decade of the festival has focused mostly on commercially viable films with the same actors, producers, and even stories to watch every single year. Now on it’s 39th year, here’s the first half of my reviews for the MMFF entries of this year’s batch.

My Little Bossings

MY LITTLE BOSSINGS
Director: Marlon Rivera
Cast: Vic Sotto, Kris Aquino, Ryzza Mae Dizon, Bimby Aquino Yap, Aiza Seguerra

For his eleventh consecutive year in the film fest, Vic Sotto takes off his superhero costume and lays down all the swords and the magic as he now portrays Torky, who lives alone now after his wife died four months into their marriage. Working as a bookeeping accountant to a wealthy single mother Barbara (Kris Aquino), all he wanted was to travel around the world and leave where he’s at. Tides change when Barbara’s life was put into danger as her stepsister puts the blame on her on a pyramid scam and she relied on Torky to take care of her son, spoiled kid Justin (Bimby Aquino Yap).

The film is actually a feel good one in terms of emphasizing the role of the family and while it did not offer anything new, it was engaging and at times, really funny. There were some inspired approaches used in the film such as that of the Ili Ili montage in the first half hour of the movie involving mother Barbara and son Justin. I guess one of the movie’s most valuable asset is the chemistry: Aiza Seguerra and Vic Sotto has one, Kris Aquino and Vic Sotto has one, Ryzza Mae Dizon and Bimby Aquino Yap has one. Vic Sotto’s schtick (and his looks) really never gets old. He might have been doing the same act for years now both in TV and film, but he has that charisma that appeals to the movie goers. I like it more when Kris Aquino pokes fun at herself (confession: I love her in Sisterakas last year), so when she keeps doing all these drama scenes here opposite a very campy Jaclyn Jose shows her awkward kunot noo theatrics. Aiza Seguerra’s doing more mother roles now no? I think it actually suits her as she gives an affecting mother figure here. But then again, the stars of the show are the kids. Ryzza Mae Dizon is really a natural. She’s such a blast to watch as she’s not conscious in front of the cameras. On the other hand, Bimby Aquino Yap has been mostly relegated to scenes where he does the “reaction face” (think of the person reacting after the punchline was thrown in gag shows), but the kid has the charm that’s lovely to watch. He does not look awkward and it seems like he’s enjoying this acting stint. If anything, I think this film perfectly encapsulates the usual feel good family movie of the earlier MMFF days, and it’s this season that fits the vibe of the film the most.

Rating: 2.5/5

Pagpag

PAGPAG
Director: Frasco Mortiz
Cast: Daniel Padilla, Kathryn Bernardo, Paulo Avelino, Shaina Magdayao, Clarence Delgado

The film tackles the different superstitious beliefs that one should not do after visiting a wake, with Death knocking at your doors if you fail to do so. When a group of five teens accidentally visits a wake that a funeral wake service group prepared for, things start to get eerie for both camps.

Another mainstay genre at the MMFF is that of the horror one. I don’t know why people love to scare themselves on Christmas day, though “scaring” them is quite a task since most of the horror films failed to deliver. Pagpag is an interesting one. When the film starts to be get predictable, the writers still inject something twisted or new in order to balance it. And for the most part, it actually works. The superstition niche is one that never gets old, and we’re given a rich serving of that in the movie. The Final Destination deaths were actually hit or miss with some really interesting deaths and some senseless lazy ones. The movie also opens with an interesting short story explaining the concept of pagpag. If anything, I guess the final act went on too long and it just.doesn’t.die.down. And of course in the middle of scaring us all, there’s the obligatory kilig scenes, since this stars the top love team for Christ’s sake. But that’s countered with the great visuals offered by the movie. The editing, production design, and cinematography were really great. I love the colors palette used, and the crisp editing was put into good use in the death scenes. Overall, I felt this one is a very competent film style wise, and whether you’ll actually be scared is up to you. But it’s one of the better ones did the past few years.

Rating: 3/5

Girl Boy Bakla Tomboy

GIRL BOY BAKLA TOMBOY
Director: Wenn Deramas
Cast: Vice Ganda (x4), Maricel Soriano, Joey Marquez, Ruffa Gutierrez, Kiray Celis

Quadruplets representing each possible gender preference reunite, and it’s not as warm and loving as one actually thinks it is.

Disclaimer: I actually enjoy most Vice Ganda movies. Maybe I share the same humor with him, but when he starts to do his schtick, I really end up cracking. I laugh with him while watching Showtime  and Gandang Gabi Vice, and I laugh a lot in his past films. However, this one is really tiring and overkill. I give him props though for playing all these four characters, as I find it a really daunting task, but it’s just too much for me. He made the mannerisms work somehow by sticking one quality per character, but I did not buy the boy and girl part at all. There’s a reason I guess why bakla is the narrator and center of the film, as it is his most natural. His tomboy used this lower voice which he held on until the end. Of course, there are still some hilarious parts. Bakla’s scene in the near end is one for the books and it’s really funny, but everything else feels so dated and tired. And I won’t even begin with the black face character of Kiray Celis and how many endless jokes were done about it (though I guess it’s sadder that the audience bought it a lot and we’re hilariously dying at it). Meh. I’m indifferent on this one, but I expect it to be this batch’s top grosser.

Rating: 2/5

Boy Golden

BOY GOLDEN
Director: Chito Rono
Cast: ER Ejercito, KC Concepcion, Eddie Garcia, John Estrada, Gloria Sevilla

Based on the Arturo Porcuna story, ER Ejercito plays the title role of Boy Golden as he partners with dancer Marla Dee (KC Concepcion) in taking revenge against the biggest mafia in town.

Color me surprised, but boy is this my favorite so far. I’m surprised because I don’t even have any idea what the film will be about, but this is an enjoyable as one can get. It has camp!!! I mean how can you not love it when there’s a white face character named Boy Putla. There’s Boy Putla, there’s an endless Elvis references, there’s Gloria Sevilla pulling her underarm hair while talking to Roi Vinzons. There’s even a Valentina motel with an unguarded big yellow python crawling on the tree near its entrance. I guess the lack of hype over this one is what wins me over. Manila Kingpin was good for the most part, and I like the black and white approach used. I’m simply not here for overdone El Presidente. But I think this one manages camp and action smoothly that it’s an enjoyable watch. I enjoyed the twists and turns in the story, and the fight scenes were for the most part, well done. As always though, my main problem with an ER Ejercito film is ER Ejercito himself. He’s really just awkward and it was painful to see him jumping off the roofs with his bulging belly in tow. But then he gets saved by the wonderful ensemble as KC Concepcion enjoying her role as Marla Dee, Eddie Garcia in an Eddie Garcia performance, and John Estrada, Jhong Hilario, Baron Geisler, and Tonton Gutierrez delivering as well. I guess the person most responsible here is director Chito Rono. He made this thing more interesting with the shots, and the production design and costumes here are top notch. He could have trimmed 10-15 minutes here as it’s quite long, but I’m living for the camp of this film. Whether it’s intentional or not, I don’t know, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Rating: 3.5/5

There you have it. What where your favorites this year? You can click here to see the second batch of MMFF reviews which includes Chris Martinez’ Kimmy Dora ang Kiyemeng Prequel, Francis Villacorta’s Pedro Calungsod, Eliza Cornejo’s Kaleidoscope World, and Joyce Bernal’s 10,000 Hours. Happy post Christmas day everyone, and happy MMFF season! 🙂

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

REVIEW: Beyonce   Leave a comment

beyonce-visual-album

A day after, and Beysus still leaves me slaying for her.

I have been very critical of Beyonce for the longest time. I find her too manufactured, to say the least. But I’ve always been vocal that she’s the best entertainer among all her contemporaries. Gurl can pull off a show like no other. However, after yesterday, I’ve developed a new found admiration of her. She just schooled all these lesser pop gurls how it must be done. I guess I’ll credit this to Beyonce the entrepreneur. She ain’t playing around this time. She knows how mainstream pop for female artists this year has been underwhelming hype (Artpop), safe (Prism), or too PR dependent (Bangerz). So for her to drop an album out of nowhere is some genius marketing on its own. And I’m glad its paying off.

More than that, I like that she also evolved with her sound and her music. Beyonce, the album that is, is more mature. She comes from a different personal place with the material here. No more singing about precums or Jay Z’s dick. Nothing about satellites or overlong belting. She has moved on from that, and it shows. It comes from a place where she is comfortable enough to share a part of herself devoid from the glitz and the glamour of of the world where she belongs. To come up with a genius marketing ploy is one thing; to back it up with a quality album is another.  A part of me doesn’t eventwant her to release a single anymore. Her album provides the complete experience that it’s better to listen to it as a whole.

At this stage in her career, it’s wise of her to do such risks. She’s not competing with all these other girls now; she’s on an entirely different level. Beyonce isn’t playing by the rules this time. She’s setting it. And I’m pretty certain that years from now, this will always be one of the most innovative steps ever done in the pop world. And Beyonce deserves all the credit for that. When all is said and done, she always can be summed up in one word – ICON.

2013 Sineng Pambansa Review: Part 1   3 comments

Hi everyone! Aside from Cinemalaya and Cinema One Originals, there are two newbie local festivals that will offer other possible venues for local cinema to be seen. The first one is the Sineng Pambansa: All Masters Edition which is hosted by the Film Development Council of the Philippines. This year, ten outputs from some of the most memorable names in the local filmmaking scene participated to be a part of this (hopefully) annual festival. SM Cinemas served as the venue partner of the FDCP this year, and each movie ticket is only for a hundred pesos. Anyway, I’ll be dividing my coverage into three parts (especially since three films are still in post-production status). Here are the first three films I’ve seen during the festival’s opening day.

Sonata

SONATA
Directors: Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes
cast: Cherie Gil, Chart Motus, Joshua Pineda, Chino Jalandoni

Set in the beautiful and photogenic lands of Negros Occidental, Sonata tells the story of an aging opera diva dealing with an breakdown caused by the slow losing of her voice. When the son of their family caretaker joins and spends his vacation there, an unlikely friendship develop between the two as they both continue their journey to self-discovery.

Sonata is a lovely way to start my Sineng Pambansa experience this year. It is a light-hearted drama that a lot of people can find themselves enjoying because of the film’s simple but heartfelt approach. It somehow reminded me of Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil’s Boses on how two opposites (an adult and a child) managed to  help each other in discovering more about themselves and life in particular. However, you can replace the violin with opera here. It is within these heartfelt scenes that the movie find its best footing. With that said, I could have lived without that ending, as it veered away from what worked in the initial parts of the film. If anything though, it was already predictable given the lots of context clues scattered in the film up until that ending. Cherie Gil was marvelous in her take of Margo Channing meets Norma Desmond. The parts where she’s talking about all the previous operas she starred was a hoot. It could have been an easy way out for an actress of her caliber to phone it in, but she refused to take that route, and instead give a satisfying and effective performance. Also, Negros Occidental is so beautiful to look at. Gallaga and Reyes’ collaboration here was satisfying for the most part; it’s not a masterpiece per se, but it gives an effective and poignant take on what it has to offer.

Rating: 3.5/5

Lauriana

LAURIANA
Director: Mel Chionglo
Cast: Allen Dizon, Bangs Garcia, Victor Basa, Adrian Cabido

Going back to 1955, the movie captures pretty barrio lass Lauriana (Bangs Garcia), and how she left an impact to two of the closest men in her life: the soldier who treated her as his “wife”, and the child who used to teach her the English language.

In this film, director Mel Chionglo served too much in the film that resulted to an over of some sorts. First, the story felt disjointed and forced despite being overwhelmed with everything that’s happening in it (and I’m telling you there’s a looooot that’s happening in it). If some movies usually weaken because of abandoning minor plots, this film does the opposite and discussed all possible areas they possibly can. What resulted is a combo of messy plotting and a very uneven pacing. It seems to go back and forth into different perspectives without a smooth connection (well I guess Lauriana’s character) that actually works. This is disappointing since there are some parts in the film that can be focused longer to come up with a more interesting end result. Instead, it just went on and on and on during the last act showing no signs of stopping. Add the fact that the acting here is all over the place with mostly everyone’s acting motto is described in one word : histrionics. I guess the film’s lack of focus is the root of all these problems; otherwise, there would have been a different (and probably better?) product.

Rating: 2/5

Lihis

LIHIS
Director: Joel Lamangan
Cast: Jake Cuenca, Joem Bascon, Lovi Poe, Isabelle Daza

In the midst of the Martial Law years, two NPA rebels find not only sharing ideologies and beliefs, but feelings for each other. The film is told in a flashback approach as the daughter of one of them find more information about her father.

I wasn’t initially sold by the approach that Lamangan used in order to narrate the story, but the end product did not have any problem translating it to the viewers. After seeing a lot of Lamangan’s more recent features (from 2009’s Dukot up to Burgos from earlier this year), I am reminded that he probably fancies this niche too much lately, because I think the whole NPA stuff was just a background piece in this story. The focus of the film actually deviates more than what I expected. What I mean is that the love story between Ador and Cesar could have been set in a ranch and they’d be sheep herders (wink wink) and what you’d get is practically the same story. i saw that the film tried to go deeper than that to address the said concern (by leaving it to the present day scenes), but it just didn’t completely work out. With that said, there were commendable performances especially from the 1970s part with Joem’s Ennis and Jake’s Jack having no inhibitions with each other. And Lovi Poe is always a treat to watch. Issues aside, I think it’s a decent enough effort from Lamangan that you can see.

PS: Is it just me or the middle image of the film’s poster reminds you of the near end part of 2000’s Plata Quemada? Or for a more common reference, the bottom part of the poster of Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa. 

Rating: 2.5/5

Anyway, that’s it. Next batch hopefully by Saturday. I urge all of you to go watch and support the Sineng Pambansa Film Festival. The whole fest will run from September 11-17 in all SM cinemas nationwide for only 100 pesos!

Also, you can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl