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10 Best MMFF Movies of the Last 10 Years   Leave a comment

Last week, the Metro Manila Development Authority headed by Francis Tolentino has announced the entries for this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. And as expected, MMFF staples such as Vice Ganda, Robin Padilla, Vic Sotto, Kris Aquino, and Aiai delas Alas all have entries this year.

Once the festival home of films such as Himala, Burlesk Queen, Karnal, Itanong Mo Sa Buwan, Magic Temple, and Dekada ’70, there has been a paradigm shift in terms of the criteria on how films are chosen the past decade. Commercial appeal has been the primary agenda now and box office as a main factor on which entries will make it.

And while this has elicited a lot of criticisms, particularly the idea of prioritizing box office over “quality” films, the MMFF has still treated us with some notable films quality films over the years. This coming year, entries from Gil Portes, Antoinette Jadaone, Jose Javier Reyes, and Dan Villegas have been chosen while those of Erik Matti’s and Jeffrey Jeturian were in the waitlist categories.

Before I reveal my picks of the ten best MMFF films of the last ten years (New Wave section excluded), here are five that came close from being included:

11-15

“Ulam” from Shake, Rattle, and Roll XV (director: Jerrold Tarog, 2014) – Ulam made good use of every minute we’ve seen on screen to show the horrors and tension of a marital relationship.

“Katas ng Saudi” (director: Jose Javier Reyes, 2007) – Probably the most memorable OFW movies in local cinema depict those of a mother leaving their children behind. Here’s from a father’s perspective of coming home and realizing it isn’t what he expected.

“Pagpag” (director: Frasco Mortiz, 2013) – It’s horror by the numbers, but it tackles such a Filipino ritual one can’t help but to give in to its scares.

“Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story” (director: Daryl dela Cruz, 2011) – It got its reputation as the one that started the action comeback, but its behind the scenes director mishap got in the way for  the film to move from being good to being great.

“One More Try” (director: Ruel Bayani, 2012) – Rip-off or not, the film brags of solid performances from its four leads, particularly that of its lead actress Angel Locsin.

And as for the top 10:

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10. “Parola” from Shake, Rattle, and Roll 13 (director: Jerrold Tarog, 2011) – Parola is the perfect throwback to the early heydays of the Shake, Rattle, and Roll franchise, only with better production and technical achievements. Its scares mixes that of the old and the new, giving the type of scares that the audience will definitely bite.

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09. “English Only Please” (director: Dan Villegas, 2014) – It’s easy to dismiss English Only Please from the get go, it’s not from the manufactured Star Cinema factory of kilig, not does it star a tandem that has a solid following. But it has proven that it doesn’t need any of those. It gives the same kilig and “feels” without the need to fall trap to the usual rom-com clichés.

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08. “Blue Moon (director: Joel Lamangan, 2005) – During the last few years when Regal Films was still obsessed with this big star-studded ensembles in family dramas comes Lamangan directing a Palanca-winning screenplay about three generation of family members with the patriarch searching for his one true love. The film is mostly fluff hiding in between the big war backdrop, but its attempt is earnest one can’t help but fall in love with it.

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07. “Lihim ng San Joaquin (director: Richard Somes, 2005) – When Shake, Rattle, and Roll made a comeback in the mid-Aughts, a lot expected to feel the throwback of the early 90s horror franchise. Instead, we got that ridiculous “Poso” episode and an uneven “Aquarium” one. Then comes “Lihim ng San Joaquin”, about a young , newlywed couple transferring to a rural town. This one will keep you on the edge of your seat with its silence.

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06. “Kubot: The Aswang Chronicles (director: Erik Matti, 2014) – Sure, the MMFF has been a commercial venue for the whole family to enjoy, but with Kubot, the follow up to 2012’s Tiktik, Erik Matti proved that a sequel isn’t an alibi to come up with a lackluster addition to a franchise (which most MMFF franchises are guilty of doing). While it doesn’t necessarily have to beat its predecessor, it doesn’t have to be a downgrade as well.

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05. “Boy Golden: Shoot to Kill (director: Chito Rono, 2013) – The best thing about Boy Golden is that it doesn’t want to prove anything. It doesn’t take itself seriously and just wants to have fun. And boy was it a fun movie-watching experience mixing camp and action we haven’t seen in a long time.

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04. “Punerarya” from Shake, Rattle and Roll 12 (director: Jerrold Tarog, 2010) – Hands down, this is one of the best episodes ever in the whole SRR franchise. Jerrold Tarog’s first output stars Carla Abellana as a private tutor to two kids from the neighbor’s funeral parlor. And as secrets were slowly revealed, the tension just escalates further. This one doesn’t get old and is a must watch.

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03. “RPG Metanoia” (director: Luis Suarez, 2010) – Not for lack of trying, the MMFF has welcomed local animation in the festival. Twice, even (the first one was 2008’s “Dayo sa Mundo ng Elemento”). RPG can brag about being the first Pinoy 3D animated film, but more than that achievement, its dedication in tackling a theme highlighting the rich Philippine culture is admirable.

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02. “Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo” (director: Jose Javier Reyes, 2006) – On the outside, Kasal’s biggest achievement is how it managed to be a crowd-pleasing film, yet one that critics will positively respond as well. Digging deeper, it’s really not difficult to fall in love with this film. It touches the topic of a traditional Pinoy family whose value for marriage and relationship is as valuable to the whole family, maybe even more so, than to the actual couple. Obviously, the great ensemble elevated the already strong material further.

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01. “Thy Womb (director: Brillante Mendoza, 2012) – It’s silly when you think about it, that the best film of the festival of the last decade, was just a replacement choice of that year. Shot in the farthest village of Tawi-Tawi, “Thy Womb” wasn’t just the story of a midwife attempt to provide her husband a child, but it also opened us to a culture we aren’t particularly familiar with. I believe this is one of the films that will go down as the best in the history of the festival. Plus, it gave us Nora Aunor’s comeback performance.

So as much as we rant and complain about the MMFF every year, chances are there are one or two entries that will really be worth of our money. This year has the potential to deliver as well.

You can tweet me if you want to talk about this list: @nikowl

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87th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   8 comments

Within the next few days, the Film Academy of the Philippines will release the shortlist for the country’s Oscar submission in the Foreign Language Film category, and it has been a tradition over here at Tit for Tat to dissect and analyze the shortlist of what the Philippines will submit as its entry. As you may know, the country still hasn’t been nominated for the said award despite submitting 25 times in the award’s 57-year history. Before we go straight to the discussion, let’s specify the necessary requirements to be eligible for this award:

As per the Academy of Motion Arts and Pictures Science’s official rule book, any country’s submission must be:

The motion picture must be first released in the country submitting it no earlier than October 1, 2013,
and no later than September 30, 2014, and be first publicly exhibited for at least seven consecutive
days in a commercial motion picture theater for the profit of the producer and exhibitor.

As a reminder, these are my predictions and opinions on what I think will make the shortlist and NOT THE OFFICIAL SHORTLIST YET. In order to determine which will make the shortlist, I have divided the list into three groups:

FRONTRUNNERS:

Alagwa

ALAGWA (Breakaway)
Director: Ian Loreños
Screenplay: Ian Loreños
Cast: Jericho Rosales, Bugoy Cariño, Leo Martinez, Carmen Soo, Smokey Manaloto
Philippine Release Date: October 2, 2013

This local thriller which was inspired by an urban legend about the disappearance of a young Chinese-boy and the lengths his single father did in order to find him back.

Despite the film being produced and finished as early as 2012, Alagwa was able to land its local commercial screening October of last year. The film garnered good reviews with mentions about its balance of intense thriller with the emotional punches in between. It has also made its way to some international festivals, albeit the smaller ones, such as the Tallin Black Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival, Guam International Film Festival, and ASEAN International Film Festival to name a few. Not to be outdone, it was also recognized locally sweeping at the PMPC Star Awards for Movies including Indie Movie of the Year and a Gawad Urian Best Actor for lead star Jericho Rosales. While I think the film can be a good submission, it needs a bigger push than our last two entries to maintain buzz once the bigger heavyweight countries announced theirs.

Barber's Tales

MGA KUWENTONG BARBERO (Barber’s Tales)
Director: Jun Lana
Screenplay: Jun Lana
Cast: Eugene Domingo, Shamaine Buencamino, Gladys Reyes, Iza Calzado, Nicco Manalo
Philippine Release Date: August 13, 2014

Set in 1975, widow Marilou (Domingo) continues the business of her late husband as the female barber in their town. This opened to her being involved with the different issues in her town including that of the mayor’s wife.

The film, which premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival late last year, gave Eugene Domingo a Best Actress victory over there which followed nominations from the Asian Film Awards and participation at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and Udine Far East Film Festival. It also has some sort of good will since this team already has some sort of Oscar submission experience since Domingo was the star of the county’s 2011 submission Ang Babae sa Septic Tank while director Jun Lana is the director of the 2012 submission Bwakaw. The film also boasts of great technical achievement and a story that is universally appealing but still has distinct Filipino touches. I won’t be surprised if this ends up as the country’s submission in the end.

Mula sa Kung Ano Ang Noon

MULA SA KUNG ANO ANG NOON (From What is Before)
Director: Lav Diaz
Screenplay: Lav Diaz
Cast: Perry Dizon, Roeder, Hazel Orencio, Karenina Haniel, Mailes Kanapi
Philippine Release Date: September 24, 2014

Running for 338 minute, this black and white film leads to the two years before Martial Law was proclaimed in the Philippines.

If anything, the film is earning so much good will after that sweep at the Locarno International Film Festival winning four awards(!) and the Boccalino de Oro Independent Critics Award Best Actress win for its star Hazel Orencio. Prior to that, the film was also the pioneer champ of the newly established World Premieres Film Festival taking both the Best Ensemble and the Grand Festival Prize. Ir has to be said though that the length of the film plus its black and white feature might be too alienating to sit through for this small Foreign Language Film committee. This isn’t a knock on the film’s accomplishment but more on the category we’re sending it to. The Oscar is as “mainstream” and “accessible”  as one can get in terms of recognizing films, so that might give the FAP some second thoughts if they’re gonna go with this.

Norte

NORTE, HANGGANAN NG KASAYSAYAN (Norte, The End of History)
Director: Lav Diaz
Screenplay: Lav Diaz, Rody Vera
Cast: Sid Lucero, Angeli Bayani, Archie Alemania,
Philippine Release Date: September 10, 2014

A take on the Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, the film showed the story of  three people: an innocent man being put to jail of a crime he did not commit, the real perpetrator guilty of the crime is very much free and continuously frustrated of his country’s political system, and the wife of the wrongly accused man dealing with everything that has happened to her family.

The shorter of the two Lav Diaz films, Norte runs at a measly 250 minutes. While it’s still relatively long, comments about this as being Diaz’ most accessible film is definitely encouraging. It also has the festival experience as well competing as part of the Un Certain Regard section of last year’s Cannes Film Fest and getting raves after raves as well. It also helps that the film has been released, despite via limited format, in the United States and getting great mentions there as well. Locally, the film has garnered many acclaims here as well even sweeping at this year’s Gawad Urian awards. I think this is the type of film that can benefit from the short committee’s three picks outside of the top vote getters.

POTENTIAL SHORT LIST MENTIONS:

Shortlist mentions

Of course the shortlist can go as many as 12 like that from 2009 or as few as 2 like that in 2006. Since the past few years’ shortlist have given us WTF mentions (remember Baler in 2009? How about The Witness three years ago? Or Dance of the Steelbars last year?), so I guess these films can find their way in the shortlist this year.

10,000 HOURS
Director: Joyce Bernal
Screenplay: Ryllah Epifania Berico, Keiko Aquino
Cast: Robin Padilla, Pen Medina, Bela Padilla, Michael de Mesa, Mylene Dizon
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2013

Sweeping last year’s Metro Manila Film Festival, this action thriller which was very loosely based on a Philippine senator’s fugitive story. While the possibility of this being chosen is slim to none, I wouldn’t underestimate this being a part of the short list.

BANG BANG ALLEY
Director: Ely Buendia, Yan Yuzon, King Palisoc
Screenplay: Ely Buendia, Yan Yuzon, Zig Marasigan
Cast: Art Acuña, Perla Bautista, Gabe Mercado, Bela Padilla, Jimmy Santos, Joel Torre, Althea Vega, Megan Young
Philippine Release Date: April 9, 2014

Last year, the trilogy Tuhog also made the shortlist, so I don’t see why they’ll skip this a mention since this is one of the better reviewed films of the first quarter of 2014. The film featured three different stories all relating to violence.

BOY GOLDEN
Director: Chito Roño
Screenplay: Catherine Camarillo, Guelan Luarca, E.R. Ejercito
Cast: ER Ejercito, KC Concepcion, Eddie Garcia, John Estrada, Gloria Sevilla
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2013

To be honest, this is the best of the three ER Ejercito MMFF films, but then again, that doesn’t mean it needs to be submitted. This is more of a guilty pleasure action flick than an Oscar contender, but hey! If those two films were shortlisted, then this better be mentioned as well.

KAMKAM (GREED)
Director: Joel Lamangan
Screenplay: Jerry Gracio
Cast: Allen Dizon, Jean Garcia, Sunshine Dizon, Jackie Rice
Philippine Release Date: July 9, 2014

Lamangan has been shortlisted many times before (Dukot, Sagrada Familia) so he’s a familiar name from the FAP. That said, this is another of the socio-political statements that he has been doing lately about a powerful man in the slums balancing his power and dealing with his three wives.

PEDRO CALUNGSOD: BATANG MARTIR
Director: Francis Villacorta
Screenplay: Francis Villacorta
Cast: Rocco Nacino, Christian Vazquez, Jestoni Alarcon, Marc Justin Alvarez, Ryan Eigenmann
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2013

Really though. As if the flop box office nor bad reviews would stop them from considering this, but it’s the story of the Filipino saint, so I’m expecting the worst and see this in the shortlist even if it doesn’t really merit a mention at all.

UNFRIEND
Director: Joselito Altarejos
Screenplay: Zig Dulay
Cast: Allen Sandino Martin, Angelo Ilagan, Boots Anson-Roa
Philippine Release Date: February 26, 2014

An ordinary day in the life of a 15 year old teen upon learning that the love of his life loves someone else and his intense reaction to profess his love.

Pink films haven’t done so well the past few years (even Blue is the Warmest Color did not make a splash), and I don’t even remember the last one to get nominated (at the top of my head, All About My Mother? Unsure though), and this is too low key to seriously be considered.

ELIGIBILITY ISSUES

Ineligible

While these films least worry is their quality, it seems like eligibility would prevent them from being shortlisted. Chito Rono’s Badil among the other Sineng Pambansa entries were released September of last year so they’re not eligible. The same can be said for Ang Huling Chacha ni Anita and the Cinefilipino entries as well. Borgy Torres’ Kabisera got an extended day of release after the Cinema One Originals last year, but that doesn’t fit the seven day commercial screening. And among the MMFF New Wave entries last year (including Armando Lao’s Dukit, only Gino Santos & Aloy Adlawan’s Island Dreams managed to follow it up with a commercial release. Jerrold Tarog’s Sana Dati‘s commercial release was September 25, 2013 so six out of its seven commercial release dates were ineligible as well. Perci Intalan’s Dementia starring the Superstar Nora Aunor is a tricky case. It premieres last week of September which means it qualifies for this year, but the FAP usually announces its pick by mid-September, so unless they got a special screening to see it, then I think it’s still possible to make it to the list. Otherwise, by the time we see Dementia in theaters, there’s a large chance there’s an announcement made already.

FINAL VERDICT

I think it boils down to two films: Jun Lana’s Barber’s Tales and Lav Diaz’ Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan. And both films I see can possibly make a splash. Diaz has the good will and the name recognition plus Norte’s reviews will surely make it in the conversation against other countries’ entries. Barber’s Tales, on the other hand, seems like the more traditional entry, and Bwakaw managed to gain steam during its year (and I think the closest we ever was mentioned since Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros in 2005) so it would be a fit as well. Anything between the two would be fine by me, so I do hope we end up with one of those. Come on FAP, make it happen.

Either way, I’ll keep you updated once the official shortlist and the official submission is revealed.

You can also 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