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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

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9th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 2   9 comments

Hi everyone! The 9th Cinemalaya Film Festival is still on going so in case you still want to watch this year’s entries, you can do yourself a favor by going to CCP, Greenbelt 3, Trinoma, or Alabang Town Center. So far, there’s some really good stuff from what I have seen. Anyway, I will now share with you the second batch of my reviews. Yesterday, I already tackled Gil Portes’ Liars, Mikhail Red’s Rekorder, Carlo Obispo’s Purok 7, and Jeffrey Jeturian’s Ekstra which you can access here. Now I’ll add three more reviews in the list:

PORNO
Director:Adolf Alix
Cast: Angel Aquino, Carlo Aquino, Yul Servo, Rosanna Roces
Competition: Director’s Showcase

An assassin, a porn dubber, and a transgender. Three souls, on explicit illusion: to find the ultimate joy in their lives. A safe haven, where passion and love means enlightenment and the soul is the ultimate arbiter of the truth.

Coming off from Kalayaan from last year’s Cinemalaya, it’s somewhat of a hard task to see what Porno will bring to the table. The trailer doesn’t give a clue on what this is about, though the title does give one. There’s actually a lot to like about Porno. For one, Alix’s style has continues to evolve over the years, and this one is yet a new addition on the list. Then you also have the riveting performances of the cast with everyone delivering an array of performances from Angel Aquino’s physically transformed role, up to Carlo Aquino’s bold one and the sensual chemistry of Yul Servo and Rosanna Roces. Alix’s production design is also a stand out here, particularly the one in the earlier motel scenes. The heart shaped mirror with the shining curtains and the blue lights set the mood in the beginning of the film. I like how it’s contemplative that the porn in the film goes far deeper than the erotica of the human body, especially in Angel Aquino’s storyline, but this is probably a case of me acknowledging the film’s merits than loving it.

Rating: 3.5/5

INSTANT MOMMY
Director: Leo Abaya
Cast: Eugene Domingo, Yuki Matsuzaki, Luis Alandy, Rico J. Puno
Competition: New Breed

In order to solve a personal predicament, Bechayda (Eugene Domingo), a wardrobe assistant in TV commercials pretends to be pregnant.

Instant Mommy has a really good story in it. Bechayda’s predicament when she pretended to be pregnant was a highlight in this film. However, in order to get to the good story, you’d have to go through weaker ones first. That’s what pulls the film from achieving what it actually intends to do. It suffers from a lot of tonal inconsistencies and you’d get confused with where they want to bring the story. While there are certainly humorous scenes in the film (with the birth giving scene a top highlight), the uneven writing makes it difficult to identify where the film wants to stick. At times, it’s a glimpse of what happens in advertising agency, then it shifts to Bechay’s problem, then it shifts to loyalty issues between her and her Japanese boyfriend. I’m also probably nitpicking here, but there are very visible goofs within the film (with the taxi direction standing out a lot). If anything, watch out for Eugene Domingo who gives a very humanizing performance here that perfectly balances comedy and drama, but even she can’t save this one.

Rating: 2/5

DEBOSYON
Director: Alvin Yapan
Cast: Paulo Avelino, Mara Lopez, Ramona Raneses, Roy Dominguiano
Competition: New Breed

Mando (Paulo Avelino), a Bikolano devotee of Ina, Virgie ng Penafrancia, injures himself in the middle of the forest. A mysterious woman, Saleng (Mara Lopez), found and nursed him back to death. They soon fell in love. But when Mando invites her to come with her to the plains, Saleng refuses. She holds a secret that will devastate Mando’s love for her.

If there’s one word that I’d describe the film, it’s hypnotizing. I like how straight forward the film is: we just follow the film and watch Mando at the beginning with what he’s doing, until he meets Saleng and how he was smitten by her, and what the implications of this to both him and her were. The movie rests solely on the shoulders of Paulo Avelino and Mara Lopez, but they sure did one hell of a job in doing so. So far, Avelino is 2/2 when it comes to his performances from Yapan’s direction, and I’m looking forward to more collaborations. Mara Lopez is an inspired casting choice as she was perfectly suited for Saleng’s character. The movie also boasts of really impressive technical achievements with the captivating cinematography and visual effects. I always have a penchant for directors who include big crowd scenes (such as the Nazareno feast in Brillante Mendoza’s Tirador), and Alvin Yapan does the same feat here in the near end with the Ina, Virgie ng Penafrancia. Supported by the haunting musical score of Teresa Barrozo, the juxtaposition of the feast and the final scene is one that speaks volumes about the faith and acceptance we have of a certain thing – may it be love or commitment or just one’s mere existence. It’s definitely one of the best so far from this year’s batch.

Rating: 4.5/5

There you have it! I am to release the third batch on Friday. And as always, you can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

Top Local Movies of 2012   8 comments

2012 in cinema is probably one of the most enjoyable in a while. I liked a lot of the movies that I’ve seen this year, (though maybe I really avoided the bad ones? LOL), and a lot of these films would have topped any other weaker years. On top of that, we’ve also seen a lot of impeccable performances from these films. Mind you, while I have seen 60+ local films this year, there’s a lot left still to be seen. Despite that, I feel that 2012 is one of the better years in recent Filipino cinema, and here are 12 reasons why:

Unofficially Yours

12: UNOFFICIALLY YOURS

Arguably, the best output from commercial filmmaking this year is this Cathy Garcia Molina’s relationship story between two people that sprouted from a one night stand. Molina has really mastered how to make supposedly conventional studio produced films more engaging and interesting. Also, watch out for John Lloyd Cruz and Angel Locsin’s palpable chemistry here.

MNL 143

11. MNL 143

I’m a sucker of travel/road movies. With that said, Emerson Reyes’s first feature length film is a poignant love story of a man (Allan Paule) who’s looking for the woman of his life is something that’s easier to relate to; not the search per se, but the longing and the optimism for it to finally arrive is a familiar feeling that can resonate well to its viewers.

Requieme

10. REquieme!

Loy Arcenas’ consecutive Cinemalaya entry is a dark comedy that focuses on Swanie, a barangay captain who involves herself as a relative of a suspect in an international murder case. With a witty screenplay and Shamaine Buencamino’s effective portrayal as Swanie and breakthrough talent Anthony Falcon, the movie is definitely one of 2012’s brightest spots.

Pascalina

09. PASCALINA

This Cinema One Originals winner which was also Pam Miras’s feature debut about one’s self discovery about her monsters within is one of the surprise entries in my list. Not because it is bad, but because I liked and appreciated it better days after seeing it. Oh, and if Maria Veronica Santiago’s performance in the title role won’t charm you enough, then I don’t know what will.

Ang Nawawala

08. ANG NAWAWALA

Another first feature effort this year, this time by Marie Jamora, Ang Nawawala is bound to be a cult classic. Yes, it probably caters to a younger crowd, to those in the middle status, or to those who are into local music scene, but one universal thing that I sure can relate to is how it connects you back to yourself. Plus points for the eye candy production design and the compilation soundtrack.

Bwakaw

07. BWAKAW

The Philippines’ submission to the Oscar Foreign Language Film category this year (and its best submission in years, I must say) is this little gem by Jun Lana about an old gay man living alone with only his dog named Bwakaw, and how he tries to make the most out of his remaining days. It’s just one of the most heartfelt films of the year that makes you laugh and cry while watching. Also, Eddie Garcia’s performance is to watch for here.

Thy Womb

06. THY WOMB

Brillante Mendoza’s Venice entry this year is also the comeback vehicle of one of the Philippines’ greatest actresses to date, the Superstar Nora Aunor. I guess my favorite aspect of the film is how it showcased to us this little gem of a place called Tawi-Tawi, and how the film introduced us to its culture. That, and of course La Aunor’s towering performance in it.

Ang Paglalakbay ng Mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim

05. ANG PAGLALAKBAY NG MGA BITUIN SA GABING MADILIM

My favorite from the whole Cinema One Originals bunch this year is Arnel Mardoquio’s feature about the escape of three Muslim rebels, together with a ten year old child in the midst of the Bangsa Moro issues in Mindanao. But unlike any previous Mindanao related war-themed films, this one stands out because it’s  does not lecture you. And within this silence is where the actual emotions linger.

Give Up Tomorrow

04. GIVE UP TOMORROW

This Filipino/Spanish/American production directed by Michael Collins on what was labeled as the trial of the century in the Philippines (the involvement of  Paco Larrañaga to the disappearance of the Chiong sisters) is one film that probably triggered the most emotions while watching. The film for the most part was half maddening and half heartbreaking. But it probably contains one of my most favorite quotes of the year when Paco said “If you want to give up, give up tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, then give up tomorrow.

Aparisyon

03. APARISYON

Vincent Sandoval’s Cinemalaya entry about the secluded lives of nuns in a monastery in 1972. The film’s strength lies in its capability to build an atmosphere that was intense and arresting that once the movie hits it middle part, you just feel as if you’re a part of it. If you’re into the technical aspect, this movie also boasts of a complete top notch production values: neat production design,  applicable costumes, captivating cinematography, polished editing, and haunting score.

Graceland

02. GRACELAND

Ron Morales’s Tribeca entry about a loyal driver caught in the middle of his congressman employer’s paying of sins is as intense as one can get. Fifteen minutes in, there’s already a shooting scene. And the rest of the movie was packed with emotional punches, as it dwells with questions about one’s choices in life. Is this the correct choice? What happens when it’s not? Where do we go next? Also, Arnold Reyes’s terrific performance as the driver is a must see.

Kalayaan

01. KALAYAAN

And my top pick for local cinema this year is Adolf Alix’s Kalayaan. On the outside, it’s about a soldier solely stationed in the Kalayaan islands and a run on his daily activities, until two additional soldiers were sent there with him. The first hour of the film solely shows on the day to day routine of Julian. Rarely any dialogue was spoken in it, but the message was effectively sent. Once the credits rolled, you feel that you’ve known enough yet it will also prompt you to ask some more. Definitely my favorite film of the year!

Well that’s it! What are your favorite local movies of the year? In case you are wondering, the reason why there’s no top international picks yet is because I’m still catching up on a lot of the Oscar movies til the next two months. So I guess, you can expect my list by March.

And as always, you can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

8th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 1   7 comments

The biggest Philippine independent film festival has already begun, and this year marks the 8th edition of Cinemalaya. I’ve been going back and forth at the CCP for the last few days, so I can watch all the participating movies both in the New Breed and Directors Showcase categories. Here’s the first of my four part Cinemalaya reviews:

MGA MUMUNTING LIHIM
Director: Jose Javier Reyes
Starring: Judy Ann Santos, Iza Calzado, Janice de Belen, and Agot Isidro
Competition: Directors Showcase

When Mariel (Santos) died, she left a box to her best friend Carla (Calzado) containing all of her diaries back when she started writing one. As Carla reads all of them, secrets between her, Mariel, Sandra (Isidro), and Olive (de Belen) started to affect their friendship.

This is Jose Javier Reyes’ first foray into indie filmmaking, and this shows some potential. I have issues with the treatment of the movie as a whole, and the sound seems to inconsistent at times. However, whatever issues you have with the film won’t bother you that much when you focus on the two greatest aspects of the movie: the writing and the acting. Reyes’s lines seem straight out of his personal journal as well, and it’s pretty obvious that he has a lot of inspiration when he was writing this. While one may think that it may be exaggerated, I claim to say that it is rather truthful. The other strength lies within the acting; the four leads can carry the whole film on their shoulders and yet remain as interesting. The chemistry was prevalent, and whether it was Iza’s stares, Judai’s facial expressions, Agot’s delivery, or Janice’s cussing, it was all very natural. Part of me thinks that they did cast lesser known actors as it’s difficult to hold up with this great ensemble. That alone is worth the ticket. All in all, it was a very realistic portrayal of friendship that is relatable to everyone.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

KAMERA OBSKURA
Director: Raymond Red
Starring: Ping Medina, Joel Torre, Nanding Josef
Competition: Directors Showcase

A man locked inside a cell for many years finally makes his way out and as he gets to see the reality of the world when he mysteriously traveled a building with a video camera in hand as he sees activities of betrayal and corruption left and right.

I admit that this is the film that I’m excited the most; thus, it has the highest expectations I have for the whole festival, and it certainly did not live up to its expectations. For one, the potential was there; but the treatment was pretty redundant especially the first and last scene where they almost used the same script, as I feel it did not gel well with the rest of the film. For a silent film, I find it too loud with all the unnecessary sound effects used. Add the fact that it was too wordy as well. I also had issues with the too much “in your face” with the message that it wants to deliver. Still, there were also great spots that the film possesses. One, Pen Medina was charismatic in the lead role and suits with the direction Red wants to be in to. Even his son Ping Medina (who played the young Pen) was a treat albeit short appearance. I also like the visuals of the film, as they were detailed, and parallel to the message it wants to present. For what it’s worth, this one suffers from some issues but still brings in a pretty much enjoyable film watching experience.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

INTOY SYOKOY NG KALYE MARINO
Director: Lemuel Lorca
Starring: JM de Guzman, LJ Reyes, Joross Gamboa
Competition: New Breed

Intoy (de Guzman), now living alone, learns that the love of his life Doray (Reyes) is the town’s prostitute. Now he tries his best to earn an extra amount of money so they can both start life anew, until a new set of unsolvable problems lead their way.

At times, the movie tends to be pretty formulaic with the sequence of events happening in the film. I also noticed some repetitive shots in various scenes in the movie. However, the heart and soul of the film is Intoy himself. JM de Guzman was captivating and heartbreaking as the lead character. You can feel the energy, the enthusiasm, the heartbreak, and the innocence in his face. He was perfectly casted, and he definitely delivered. LJ Reyes was also excellent as Doray Langaw, and his chemistry with de Guzman is palpable. I also particularly liked how they made Kalye Marino as another character in the movie bringing it to life and translating it to the audience. The movie somehow can’t prevent itself from going poverty porn at times, but I totally bought the emotions they showed especially the one between the two leads.

Rating: 3 / 5

KALAYAAN
Director: Adolf Alix Jr.
Starring: Ananda Everingham, Zanjoe Marudo, Luis Alandy
Competition: Directors Showcase

A soldier living alone in Kalayaan Islands deals a daily repetitive schedule as he spends his last few remaining days in the middle of the Erap impeachment trial.

I was surprised to learn that this is already Adolf Alix’s 20th movie, but seeing this shows that he has already mastered his craft and has achieved growth if you go way back to his earlier films. I actually find this film very therapeutic; each scene brings you right where the character is, and the good thing about it is that it lingers. I particularly liked how we just go with the flow with Victor (Everingham) feeling for him, understanding him, and living with him. Once the characters of Zanjoe Marudo (who definitely brought humor and comedic relief) and Luis Alandy, we tend to get more intrigued, yet understand the life that they are living in Kalayaan Islands. This one has part fantasy, part horror, and part comedy, but the sum is greater than all of its parts. I really like the cinematography, and the musical score above everything else. Once the credits rolled, you feel that you’ve known enough yet you ask some more. This is probably my favorite film for this year’s festival, and for the year (so far) as well.

Rating: 4.5 / 5