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89th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   6 comments

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It’s the time of the year! By September, the Film Academy of the Philippines will submit one movie to the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts, and Sciences (AMPAS) that will be our bid to the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards. This will be our 28th participating year and we are yet to receive a nomination.

To qualify as an eligible submission, the Academy’s rule states that “The motion picture must be first released in the country submitting it no earlier than October 1, 2015, and no later than September 30, 2016, 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.

Currently nine countries have already announced their submissions with our likely winner, Germany’s Toni Erdmann, in the longlist already. So which film will be our best bet to advance forward? I’ve divided them in three different categories.

DISCLAIMER: It has to be cleared that this ISN’T the final shortlist from the Film Academy of the Philippines yet, and are just mere speculations and recommendations.

FRONTRUNNERS:

anino sa likod ng kahapon

ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN
Director: Jun Lana
Screenplay: Jun Lana
Cast: LJ Reyes, Luis Alandy, Anthony Falcon
Philippine Release Date: July 20, 2016

Amidst conflict between the military and communists, three people are confronted with a difficult dilemma.

Jun Lana, no stranger from Oscar representative (he directed our 2012 submission Bwakaw), is in contention yet again for his latest effort which is a one-long two-hour take staged just like a play with only three characters interacting all throughout the movie. The film also has participated alongside many different international festivals both in Asia and Europe (though none in the Big 4 major film festivals). That said, the film is unanimously considered as one of the best from 2015 among local critics.

felix manalo

FELIX MANALO
Director: Joel Lamangan
Screenplay: Bienvenido Santiago
Cast: Dennis Trillo, Bela Padilla, Gabby Concepcion
Philippine Release Date: October 7, 2015

Felix Ysagun Manalo is a sprawling historical epic that traces the origin of Iglesia Ni Cristo (The Church of Christ) which is established in the Philippines from its humble beginnings in 1914 through the present day.

Definitely one of the most divisive films of last year, Felix Manalo is epic in its landscape detailing one of the most important personalities among Iglesia ni Cristo’s history. This almost three-hour movie boasts so much of its lavish production design and staging, that it would tick all boxes in an “baity Oscar film” checklist. But beyond the grandeur is a straightforward storytelling, and one that was considered as “weak” and “safe” by most critics. That said, never underestimate the taste of the FAP to include this in the shortlist, as they’re one easily swayed by buzz regardless if those were organic or fabricated.

hele sa hiwagang hapis

HELE SA HIWAGANG HAPIS
Director: Lav Diaz
Screenplay: Lav Diaz
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Piolo Pascual, Susan Africa
Philippine Release Date: March 26, 2016

In the midst of revolution, a young poet and the man that ruined his life travel through the jungle in search of safety. At the same time, a grieving widow encounters mystical beings on a mountain while searching for the body of her beloved revolutionary.

Winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year (with jury president Meryl Streep awarding them), there’s no doubt that this is one of the two most-buzzed films we have in world cinema for this year. Imagine if we submitted this and have Oscar winner Meryl Streep and Oscar nominee Clive Owen campaign this right? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves as that’s a bit of a reaching. The thing with Hele is that we have already attempted to submit a Diaz film back in 2014 via Norte which is half the running time of this one and arguably his most universal effort thus far, and yet the Academy didn’t give in to it.

honor thy father

HONOR THY FATHER
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Erik Matti, Michiko Yamamoto
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Meryll Soriano, Tirso Cruz III
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2015

A family is caught in a financial ruin after being involved in a ponzi scheme.

With an Erik Matti film in contention yet again, it reminds me of probably the biggest miss we had not submitting On the Job back in 2013. What made that more infuriating was the committee’s response that they don’t want to submit a film that shows a negative image of the Philippines. Yeah, right. Anyway, Matti is back again this time with the MMFF entry Honor Thy Father which made its premiere a year ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. Honor‘s best shot is that I can see the film appealing to the Western crowd with its theme and execution. That said, the film feels bit of an after thought by now, but with every controversy that the film has encountered, it just ended up soaring higher. Maybe, FAP atones to Erik Matti this time around?

ignacio de loyola

IGNACIO DE LOYOLA
Director: Paolo Dy, Cathy Azanza
Screenplay: Paolo Dy
Cast: Andreas Munoz, Javier Godino, Julio Perillan
Philippine Release Date: July 27, 2016

In 16th Century Spain, a soldier born of nobility gives his life of luxury to become a pilgrim devoted to God and his people.

Watch out Felix Manalo, there’s another religious biography in contention. Kidding aside, I can already imagine the FAP members creaming themselves over this one. For one, the casting of a foreign star in lead role will make them think it can add extra buzz to our own entry (this isn’t an Oscar rule after all. Lots of foreign actors starred in films from other countries which ended up as submissions. Case in point: French star Emmanuelle Riva in Austria’s Amour, Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal in Chilean film No, and even our own Angeli Bayani in Sinagpore’s Ilo-ilo). Plus, the religious theme somehow gives it more importance and a “good image” per se in representing the country (which apparently is an unwritten rule; see: On the Job again in 2013).

ma'rosa

MA’ROSA
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Screenplay: Troy Espiritu
Cast: Jaclyn Jose, Andi Eigenmann, Julio Diaz, Felix Roco, Jomari Angeles
Philippine Release Date: July 6, 2016

A poor family scrambles to find the money to pay off the corrupt policemen that have arrested the parents for dealing drugs.

Sure it was one of the least buzzed entries at Cannes main competition this year, until the great Jaclyn Jose earned the coveted Best Actress win and the rest, as they say, is history. Ma’Rosa is currently participating now at Toronto International Film Festival and I think it has the most buzz for any Filipino film competing for this year when it comes to foreign exposure. And at this stage, after all his trips to Cannes and Berlin and Venice and TIFF, isn’t Brillante Mendoza overdue for a Filipino Oscar submission? I lobbied that Taklub was our best shot last year, but they can make up for it with Ma’Rosa this year.

pamilya ordinario

PAMILYA ORDINARYO
Director: Eduardo Roy Jr.
Screenplay: Eduardo Roy Jr.
Cast: Ronwaldo Martin, Hasmine Killip, Sue Prado, Moira Lang
Philippine Release Date: August 31, 2016

Jane and Aries are teenage parents. They make a living out of stealing on the streets… until fate hits back at them.

After sweeping major awards at the recently concluded Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival including wins for Best Picture, Best Director for Eduardo Roy Jr., and Best Actress for newcomer Hasmine Killip, this runaway favorite is getting an instant cinema release in time for the Oscar cutoff. Add the fact that it’s also heading to Venice under the “Venice Days” sidebar (think of it as their answer to Cannes’ Directors Fortnight section), and it’s on the right track. This also has the makings to appeal to an international audience,

POTENTIAL SHORTLIST MENTIONS:

tier 2

Don’t be surprised to see any of these films in this group make it in the final shortlist.

DUKOT
Director: Paul Soriano
Screenplay: Froilan Medina
Cast: Enrique Gil, Ricky Davao, Christopher de Leon, Shaina Magdayao
Philippine Release Date: July 13, 2016

With Paul Soriano helming it (one of the producers of our 2013 Oscar submission “Transit“), this suspense drama about an abducted son also brags of an ensemble composed of some of the biggest names in the country both newbies and veterans.

ANG HAPIS AT HIMAGSIK NI HERMANO PULI
Director: Gil Portes
Screenplay: Enrique Ramos
Cast: Aljur Abrenica, Louise delos Reyes, Enzo Pineda, Menggie Cobarrubias
Philippine Release Date: September 21, 2016

In the tradition of our love for hero films — some of which are deserved (last year’s Heneral Luna), some of which are good (Supremo), and some which are just flat out terrible (El Presidente), let’s say hello to Hermano Puli.

MAGTANGGOL
Director: Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez
Screenplay: Henrie Enaje, Henry dela Cruz, Sigfreid Barros Sanchez
Cast: Dina Bonnevie, Ejay Falcon, Joonee Gamboa, Tom Rodriguez
Philippine Release Date: June 8, 2016

Only because of its serious topical theme (with them even doing special screening this National Heroes Day), I can see this political themed film making a (not so) surprise appearance in the shortlist. Think of how Kamkam by Joel Lamangan made it to the Top 4 in 2014.

A SECOND CHANCE
Director: Cathy Garcia-Molina
Screenplay: Henrie Enaje, Henry dela Cruz, Sigreid Barros Sanchez
Cast: Carmi Raymundo, Vanesssa Valdez, Cathy Garcia-Molina
Philippine Release Date: November 25, 2015

We have that one slot, almost always reserved to those box office hits that tackle more serious topics than the usual. Not to say that they aren’t deserving since most of them actually are, but they  happen to end up in the shortlist. Examples include 2008’s Caregiver, or 2010’s Sa’yo Lamang, maybe even last year’s That Thing Called Tadhana can somewhat be considered.

TANDEM
Director: King Palisoc
Screenplay: Zig Marasigan
Cast: JM de Guzman, Nico Antonio, Rochelle Pangilinan
Philippine Release Date: February 17, 2016

As for starters, the producers of this film were also the producers of our previous submission Heneral Luna, so if anything, they;d sure be willing to campaign. This film got good to great reviews with solid performances from the leads, but if you compare it to other entries, it’s a tad low-key (in terms of buzz and not of film quality). And if it’s already low-key here, can you imagine how it would fare to the foreign market?

WALANG FOREVER
Director: Dan Villegas
Screenplay: Paul Sta. Ana
Cast: Jennylyn Mercado, Jericho Rosales, Lorna Tolentino
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2015

For an MMFF film, this one got solid reviews and even swept the Gabi ng Parangal of last year. This is also from the Dan Villegas and Jennylyn Mercado team-up, which reminds us that English Only Please, was part of the short-list that year.

ELIGIBILITY ISSUES:

tier 3

So these movies have appeared in different indie film festivals but haven’t fulfilled the seven-day commercial distribution yet. This does not mean that these movies are bad obviously they’re not because there have been buzz for some of them to be submitted. Well, they still have the whole month of September to book a screening if they plan to be considered eligible. Or they can wait for next year instead. For what it’s worth, some films who made it in the shortlist the previous years aren’t from the same year where they participated in festivals. As for examples, the 2008 Cinemalaya film Boses only got a commercial screening in 2012, and thus was included in the shortlist for the 2012 Oscars. Same goes for Ian Lorenos’ Alagwa which gave Jericho Rosales his Urian in 2012 but was in the 2014 shortlist.

FINAL VERDICT:

For this year, I think we can trim it down to three films which would all be decent submissions by any means. For starters, there’s the John Lloyd starrer Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis with its Berlin victory, but is simply hindered by the 8-hr running time. Not that Lav Diaz needs Oscars anyway to validate his impressive work; it’s just that sometimes the Academy just doesn’t fit into a certain director’s style. Then there’s the other John Lloyd starrer Honor Thy Father, which I can see a scenario with it connecting to a foreign audience, if they’re gonna push it hard and run aggressive with it. That’s a big if, by the way. In the end, maybe Jaclyn Jose’s Cannes win can also be Brillante Mendoza’s first RP submission to the Academy. It’s doing its assignment by participating in TIFF and its Cannes win, but us submitting a Mendoza film for once won’t do us any harm, regardless of the end result if it gets in or not.

Share your thoughts with me! You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

39th Gawad Urian Winner Predictions   Leave a comment

The Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP) are bound to reward their picks among the best of 2015 local cinema with the 39th Gawad Urian Awards this Tuesday, June 21. But who are poised to take home those huge silver trophies? It’s a strange year in predicting, but here’s where I’ll bet my money on.

best picture

BEST PICTURE
“Anino sa Likod ng Buwan”
“ARI: My Life with a King”
“Bambanti”
“Da Dog Show”
“Heneral Luna”
“Honor Thy Father”
“Imbisibol”
“Taklub”

Unlike previous years when there’s one clear frontrunner to win the top award (2003’s Magnifico, 2005’s Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, 2009’s Kinatay, and 2013’s Norte), this year, the race is a bit up in the air. As for starters, there’s the now iconic pop culture effect of Heneral Luna, which dominated critically and commercially. Then there’s also Taklub, which was Brillante Mendoza’s comeback to Cannes (albeit in the Un Certain Regard competition) since 2009. Anino sa Likod ng Buwan and Imbisibol both live up to the name of their previous stage adaptations. And Honor Thy Father got pretty much the same enthusiasm that Matti’s (also Best Picture nominated) On the Job received. The three other films nominated are much low-key in nature, but I can also foresee a case of the Manunuri going with the cultural importance of the arts in “Ari.” I guess I’ll go with Jun Lana’s “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan“, as I find its one shot narrative up right the Manunuri’s alley. Besides, Lana is someone I see who’s finally breaking through with the Urian considering they also went gaga with Barber’s Tales last year (despite ending with a 0-11 shutout).

PREDICTION: “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan
ALTERNATE: “Heneral Luna

best director

BEST DIRECTOR:
Carlo Enciso Catu, “ARI: My Life with a King”
Mario Cornejo, “Apocalypse Child”
Zig Madamba Dulay, “Bambanti”
Lawrence Fajardo, “Imbisibol”
Ralston Jover, “Da Dog Show”
Jun Lana, “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan”
Erik Matti, “Honor Thy Father”
Brilliante Mendoza, “Taklub”
Kidlat Tahimik, “Balikbayan #1: Memories of Overdevelopment”
Jerrold Tarog, “Heneral Luna”

I have this previous theory (which I shared last year) that when someone is up for the Best Director award yet the film isn’t nominated for Best Picture, that totally eliminates the director’s chances to win at all. After all, no director has won in this category without the corresponding film being nominated for the top award too. That said, if there’s one filmmaker who can defy that statistic, it’s Kidlat Tahimik. After all, the narrative is there already. I’m sure the Urian won’t shy rewarding him especially now that the opportunity is there. Then again, I noted two years ago that in a field of 12 Best Director nominees, the only ones with no Urian are Erik Matti and Hannah Espia and while I predicted the former, it’s the latter who won. Thus, I’ll reserve my alternate this time for Matti to nab his first Urian here.

PREDICTION: Kidlat Tahimik, “Balikbayan #1: Memories of Overdevelopment”
ALTERNATE:
Erik Matti, “Honor Thy Father”

best actor

BEST ACTOR
Luis Alandy, “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan”
John Arcilla, “Heneral Luna”
John Lloyd Cruz, “Honor Thy Father”
John Lloyd Cruz, “A Second Chance”
Ricky Davao, “Dayang Asu”
Anthony Falcon, “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan”
Francisco Guinto, “ARI: My Life with a King”
Sid Lucero, “Apocalypse Child”
Junjun Quintana, “Water Lemon”
Jericho Rosales, “Walang Forever”
Dennis Trillo, “Felix Manalo”
Lou Veloso, “Da Dog Show”

While it’s a strong year for lead actors with everyone getting in meaty roles here and there, this is one category where the Manunuri channels their inner Oprah and hands out nominations like Santa Claus. From this bunch, chances are we won’t see a repeat winner so that leaves out Ricky Davao, Sid Lucero, Junjun Quintana, Jericho Rosales, and Lou Veloso already. In the event that it will be though, bank on John Arcilla’s prominent pornstache to win this. That said, the double nominations signify strong support for our perennial frontrunner John Lloyd Cruz to finally receive his first Urian. Only once in the history of Urian did an actor compete against herself that lost (FYI it’s Nora Aunor x2 (both ‘Merika and Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit) losing to Vilma Santos in Sister Stella L.). So unless Manunuri trolls out in the end, it’s John Lloyd’s to lose.

PREDICTION: John Lloyd Cruz, “Honor Thy Father”
ALTERNATE:
John Arcilla, “Heneral Luna”

best actress

BEST ACTRESS:
Nora Aunor, “Taklub”
Angeli Bayani, “Iisa”
Mercedes Cabral, “Da Dog Show”
Alessandra de Rossi, “Bambanti”
Anicka Dolonius, “Apocalypse Child”
Jennylyn Mercado, “Walang Forever”
Ces Quesada, “Imbisibol”
LJ Reyes, “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan”

Last year, it was easy to dismiss Nora Aunor’s chances simply because she’s already winning the Natatanging Gawad Urian and if there’s one thing that Urian loves, it’s to spread the wealth. This year however is a more difficult one to predict. That said, Taklub is minor Aunor, and I don’t think this is the performance that will tie her with rival Vilma Santos for the 8th Best Actress win. Both Angeli Bayani and Alessandra de Rossi won Urian the past few years, so I don’t see the Manunuri rushing to give them second wins (they have no problem giving out nominations but a win is a different talk). Quesada, Dolonius and Cabral are all borderline supporting characters in terms of screentime or story, though Ces Quesada, a veteran with no Urian win yet can easily overcome this narrative as compared to the two others. Jennylyn Mercado, a previous Urian nominee for Blue Moon back in 2005, is nominated for #WalangForever, seems more of a statement on the Manunuri’s part that they also acknowledge romance/commercial format stories. I mean if Angelica Panganiban couldn’t win with Tadhana last year, I doubt they’re touching this. That leaves me with LJ Reyes, and while in any other year, I wouldn’t have made this prediction, maybe the “boldness” of the role would be enough for her to take home the trophy.

PREDICTION: LJ Reyes, “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan”
ALTERNATE:
Ces Quesada, “Imbisibol”

best supp actor

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
RK Bagatsing, “Apocalypse Child”
Bernardo Bernardo, “Imbisibol”
Tirso Cruz III, “Honor Thy Father”
JM De Guzman, “Imbisibol”
Julio Diaz, “Taklub”
Alion Ibanez, “Da Dog Show”
Micko Laurente, “Bambanti”
Lou Veloso, “Taklub”

Opposite of the Oscars where they reward the older vets in Supporting, the Urian likes them young and fresh with up and coming actors winning here going as far as 1986 champ Aga Muhlach up to last year’s Martin del Rosario. The only one who fits the bill is 4x nominee JM de Guzman for Imbisibol. But then, I think this is one year where they can skip that as I think it’s a battle of the three vets: 1980 Best Actor Bernardo Bernardo, 1992 Best Supporting Actor Tirso Cruz III, and still Urian-less Julio Diaz. I have a hunch they’re going with Tirso’s over the top religious zealot in here to give him his overdue second career Urian.

PREDICTION: Tirso Cruz III, “Honor Thy Father”
ALTERNATE:
Julio Diaz, “Taklub”

best supp actress

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Liza Dino, “Toto”
Mylene Dizon, “Heneral Luna”
Rio Locsin, “Iisa”
Anna Abad Santos, “Apocalypse Child”
Tessie Tomas, “Water Lemon”
Cecil Yumol, “ARI: My Life with a King”
Gwen Zamora “Apocalypse Child”

I can’t remember the last time they rewarded a supporting performance from a full comedy movie, so I feel that Liza Dino’s nominations is the reward itself already. Same goes for Urian winner Mylene Dizon. I personally prefer Ana Abad Santos over Gwen Zamora in Apocalypse Child, but a part of me thinks that it’s a film they showered with acting nominations but will give no wins (which in Urian history isn’t always a bad thing. There’s a long list of films that reap 4-5 acting nominations that will lose all of its acting bids. Case in point, last year’s Best Picture Mula sa Kung Ano Ang Noon, or Barber’s Tales.). I’ll call this a race between two underrated veterans: Rio Locsin vs. Tessie Tomas, and I’ll give the edge to the latter just because she have more Urian losses, so maybe the Manunuri might make up for it.

PREDICTION: Tessie Tomas, “Water Lemon”
ALTERNATE:
Rio Locsin, “Iisa”

Now as for the rest of the nominations:

SCREENPLAY:
Prediction:
Herlyn Gail Alegre  and John Paul Bedia, “Imbisibol
Alternate:
Michicko Yamamoto, Honor Thy Father

PRODUCTION DESIGN:
Prediction: Harley Alcasid, “Bukod Kang Pinagpala
Alternate: Ben Payumo, “Water Lemon

CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Prediction: Ber Cruz, “Honor Thy Father
Alternate: Pong Ignacio, “Heneral Luna

MUSIC:
Prediction: Jerrold Tarog, “Heneral Luna
Alternate: Diwa de Leon, “Taklub

EDITING:
Prediction: Lawrence Ang, “Anino sa Likod ng Buwan
Alternate: Kats Serraon, “Da Dog Show

SOUND:
Prediction: Mikko Quizon, “Heneral Luna
Alternate: Mikko Quizon, “Honor Thy Father

The 39th Gawad Urian Awards will be shown live on Cinema One this June 21 at 8PM.

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:

10

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.

09

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.

08

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.

07

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.

06

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.

05

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.

04

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.

03

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.

02

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.

01

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

Tit For Tat Local Film Awards 2013   6 comments

May used to be the awards season here in the Philippines, but that tradition has been long since gone. But not for me. This is when I reveal my top picks for the best in Philippine cinema. 2013 is a very difficult one, not because there are only few films to choose from, but because of the many selections the year gave us. Granted I still missed some few films here and there, I’ll share to you my picks in 20 different categories (including my three top choices per film component.) And without further ado, here’s my 2013 Tit for Tat Local Film Awards:

first feature

GOLD: BLUE BUSTAMANTE (Miko Livelo)
SILVER: TRANSIT (Hannah Espia)
BRONZE: PUROK 7 (Carlo Obispo)

ensemble

GOLD: the cast of Iskalawags
SILVER: the cast of Norte
BRONZE: the cast of Transit

visual effects

GOLD: KUNG FU DIVAS
SILVER: DEBOSYON
BRONZE: PAGPAG

sound

GOLD: RIDDLES OF MY HOMECOMING (Arnel Barbarona)
SILVER: ON THE JOB (Corrine de San Jose, Mikko Quizon)
BRONZE: NORTE (Corrine de San Jose)

song

GOLD: INDAK (Sana Dati)
SILVER: SCARED TO DEATH (Tuhog)
BRONZE: SEA OF TREES (Shift)

score

GOLD: DEBOSYON (Teresa Barrozo)
SILVER: SANA DATI (Jerrold Tarog)
BRONZE: RIDDLES OF MY HOMECOMING (Gauss Obenza)

hair and make up

GOLD: Quick Change
SILVER: Kung Fu Divas
BRONZE: Boy Golden

editing

GOLD: ON THE JOB (Jay Halili)
SILVER: BADIL (Carlo Francisco Manatad)
BRONZE: TRANSIT (Hannah Espia, Benjamin Tolentino)

costume design

GOLD: Boy Golden
SILVER: Kung Fu Divas
BRONZE: Ekstra

cinematography

GOLD: NORTE (Lauro Rene Manda)
SILVER: ON THE JOB (Ricardo Buhay III)
BRONZE: DEBOSYON (Dexter dela Pena)

art direction

GOLD: ON THE JOB (Richard Somes)
SILVER: BLUE BUSTAMANTE (Marielle Hizon)
BRONZE: PAGPAG (Luis Custodio IV)

breakthrough actor

GOLD: MIMI JUAREZA, Quick Change
SILVER: JUNJUN QUINTANA, Philippino Story
BRONZE: VINCE TANADA, Otso

breakthrough actress

GOLD: KRYSTLE VALENTINO, Purok 7
SILVER: JASMINE CURTIS, Transit
BRONZE: YENG CONSTANTINO, Shift

screenplay

GOLD: NORTE (Lav Diaz, Rody Vera)
SILVER: SANA DATI (Jerrold Tarog)
BRONZE: BABAGWA (Jason Paul Laxamana)

supporting actress

GOLD: ANGELI BAYANI, Norte
SILVER: BING PIMENTEL, Kabisera
BRONZE: IRMA ADLAWAN, Transit

supporting actor

GOLD: DICK ISRAEL, Badil
SILVER: JOEY MARQUEZ, On the Job
BRONZE: JOEY PARAS, Babagwa

lead actress

GOLD: KRYSTLE VALENTINO, Purok 7
SILVER: LOVI POE, Sana Dati
BRONZE: VILMA SANTOS, Ekstra

lead actor

GOLD: SID LUCERO, Norte
SILVER: JHONG HILARIO, Badil
BRONZE: JOEL TORRE, Kabisera

directing

GOLD: LAV DIAZ, Norte
SILVER: CHITO RONO, Badil
BRONZE: ERIK MATTI, On the Job

picture

GOLD: Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
SILVER: Badil
BRONZE: Sana Dati

Whew, there you have it! 🙂 As a recap, here’s the complete list of my 2013 winners:

BEST PICTURE: Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
BEST DIRECTOR: Lav Diaz, Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
BEST ACTOR: Sid Lucero, Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
BEST ACTRESS: Krystle Valentino, Purok 7
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Dick Israel, Badil
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Angeli Bayani, Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
BEST SCREENPLAY: Lav Diaz, Rody Vera, Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
BEST BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR: Mimi Juareza, Quick Change
BEST BREAKTHROUGH ACTRESS: Krystle Valentino, Purok 7
BEST ART DIRECTION: Richard Somes, On the Job
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Lauro Rene Manda, Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Boy Golden
BEST EDITING: Jay Halili, On the Job
BEST HAIR AND MAKE UP: Quick Change
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Teresa Barrozo, Debosyon
BEST SONG: “Indak” from Sana Dati
BEST SOUND: Arnel Barbarona, Riddles of my Homecoming
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Kung Fu Divas
BEST ENSEMBLE: the cast of Iskalawags
BEST FIRST FEATURE:Blue Bustamante” by Miko Livelo

Until next year! 🙂

Also, you can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

Top Local Movies of 2013   3 comments

Last year, I opened my list by saying that 2012 was an enjoyable year in local cinema. Turns out, I was speaking way too soon because 2013 turned out to be an even better one. To say it is great is probably a hyperbole, but at the same time, I say it with much conviction (and even an understatement). The medium of cinema has never been more exciting and adventurous in the past few years than what the 2013 batch has offered. That goes without saying that it didn’t have its share of misfires and mess, but then again, this year is too strong to focus on that. Three titles you wouldn’t see on the list, however, are Lav Diaz’ Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, Alvin Yapan’s Mga Anino ng Kahapon, and Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Ang Huling Chacha ni Anita, because I was foolish enough to miss them during their run. With that said, here are my 15 picks for the best in 2013 local cinema:

15. Tuhog

15. TUHOG (Veronica Velasco)

Maindie is one of those terms that sounded so forced you don’t want to hear it ever again, but this Veronica Velasco film of three intertwined stories connected by an unfortunate incident gives it a free pass to be used just this time. Each of the three sub-stories provided interesting characters and back stories that any of them could have been further fleshed out to a whole film. But then again, maybe that’s one of the film’s asset? The movie also boasts of a fitting soundtrack to its story, and the end result is one of 2013’s most fresh mainstream or in this case, maindie, offerings.

14 Otso

14. OTSO (Elwood Perez)

Otso is director Elwood Perez’ first film in ten years, and in this case, it is really worth the wait. I think that doesn’t apply on waiting for Elwood’s comeback only, but for the film as well. Otso started in scenes that were still in multicolor, but it just sets up for an even better film once it turns black and white. I don’t think I’ve necessarily picked up everything that the film wants to show, but it’s part of its appeal. It lures you to its world where the crazy and the wicked happens, and you’re simply hooked.

13. Babagwa

13. BABAGWA (Jason Paul Laxamana)

One of the two Audience choice winners at last year’s Cinemalaya, it’s easy to see why a lot fell in love with this film. Its humor is one that appeals to everyone. But digging deeper, I think it speaks a lot to the curious and inquisitive nature of ourselves. In here, we see two people fleshing out two different personas of each, and we, as the audience, are the witness to all of it. It’s such an engaging scenario that by the time the slow reveal at the end happens, you probably have an idea of what’s about to happen yet you still want to see it happen. It also boasts of an inspired screenplay and one that speaks of the current times.

12. Boy Golden

12. BOY GOLDEN SHOOT TO KILL: The Arturo Porcuna Story (Chito Rono)

I’ve been quite dismissive of this MMFF entry just because it’s Jorge Estregan with a leading lady almost half his age yet again, but I guess surprises do come when you least expect it. Not only does this film serve as a perfect throwback to the yesteryears of enjoyable action flicks, we’re also served with its topnotch technical achievements. The twists and turns of thew characters here, plus that out of nowhere scenes that provided the camp makes it a good reminder that every now and then, never judge a movie by its horribly made poster.

11. Kabisera

11. KABISERA (Alfonso Torre III)

Yes I’m not here for that Breaking Bad comparisons simply because they are two different films that happened to have some similarities. it happens, but I don’t see any “copying” between these two. In Borgy Torre’s directorial debut, Kabisera shows us how one family man’s dreams happen and its good and bad repercussions not only to him but to the people around him. Anchored with a commanding performance by Joel Torre (one of his two this year) and a really great supporting ensemble, Kabisera is really thrilling as it can get.

10. Quick Change

10. QUICK CHANGE (Eduardo Roy Jr.)

Eduardo Roy Jr.’s follow up has a dark humorous tone in it that is simply irresistible. Just like how the characters in the film get totally pumped over having those “shots” that lead character Dorina provides to them, we are really drawn and addicted to what happens. It gives us a peak into this world which not many of us are particularly adept about, and it does a great job in doing so. That of course, and lead actor Mimi Juareza’s haunting turn in it.

09. Bukas Na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na

09. BUKAS NA LANG SAPAGKAT GABI NA (Jet Leyco)

One of the common themes I noticed among the Cinema One Originals entries this year is that the films are more experimental in nature. Jet Leyco’s Bukas Na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na provides a mysterious atmosphere that makes you more interested as the film goes on. It is weird and eerie and that’s what make it work. The film, in its own nature, has a great grasp of what it wants to show in a really inspired manner (the handheld camera effect, black and white parts, gunshot sounds), and it  makes the whole viewing more enjoyable. It’s one film I think I’ll enjoy more in repeat viewings.

08. Purok 7

08. PUROK 7 (Carlo Obispo)

A portrait of an optimistic girl living in small rural town was vividly depicted in Carlo Obispo’s debut feature Purok 7. As we follow the story of 14 year old Diana and her younger brother, we were given an escape, thanks to the eye catching scenery of the country side. But more than that, we witnessed and felt the agony of two kids who have long wanted to be a part of something and be a part of a family. The simplicity of it all is what makes this whole thing fresh, endearing, and leaves a lasting impression.

07. Transit

07. TRANSIT (Hannah Espia)

As the overall winner of last year’s Cinemalaya New Breed category, Hannah Espia’s debut effort Transit is an achievement on so many levels. Not only does its display of technical achievements noteworthy, but its storytelling was also seamlessly interwoven. It’s not everyday that we see this kind of potential on a first time full feature, but for this particular effort, Espia manages to hit the right buttons. And as a bonus, it even ended up as the country’s Oscar Foreign Language Film submission.

06. Blue Bustamante

06. BLUE BUSTAMANTE  (Miko Lovelo)

OFW movies have been done to death already during the past decade, but first time director Miko Livelo puts a new spin on it in his Cinema One Originals entry Blue Bustamante. The expected dramatic scenes were instead replaced with an earned sentimentality that just wins you over. As main protagonist George, Joem Bascon was such a delight to watch as he finds a replacement work in Japan that will not only bring in the money but an even closer bond to his son and family who are miles apart. It’s definitely one of the most fun times I had at the movies for 2013.

05. Debosyon

05. DEBOSYON (Alvin Yapan)

Hypnotizing right from the start, this tale of one’s faith and acceptance  – may it be because of love or commitment or just one’s mere existence – is one that lingers even after the credits roll.  The film, which also is aided by minimal dialogues but really magnificent visuals, takes its viewers to some breathless imagery. The movie rested solely on its two lead’s but they did more than what they were asked for. Plus, the last 20 minutes of this film is still one of the bests I’ve see for this year.

04. Iskalawags

04. ISKALAWAGS (Keith Deligero)

Like OFW films, coming of age films have been done to death now, but Keith Deligero’s refreshing approach in the Cinema One entry Iskalwags puts a more inspired approach to it. It’s not hard to fall for the film as it certainly evokes an environment that is light and not totally sentimental. It sparks a certain touch of youth and playfulness that is rarely captured this well on screen. The voice over also adds a more interesting spin, and it features an ensemble whose innocence translates in a totally natural manner.

03. On the Job

03. ON THE JOB (Erik Matti)

Probably one of the most buzzed films of the year, this picture depicts a setting of a dirty and very complex government; one which needed more than just a person who has an optimistic view to eradicate it and start anew.  It is through this core notion where these characters live and breathe, as Erik Matti gives us a more than satisfying crime action thriller that is gripping and at at the same time, really, really timely. It’s one of the rare movie experiences that makes you even sadder as you come out of the theaters because of how easy one can reflect and connect it to what’s really going on.

02. Sana Dati

02. SANA DATI (Jerrold Tarog)

The cinema has given us lots of love stories. Most of them with happy endings, while some were flat out tragedies.  In Jerrold Tarog’s closing effort to his camera trilogy, he uses the notion of whether to stay stagnant or to let go as a path to understand how love really works. In the case of Lovi Poe’s Andrea, it’s a hard task, especially when you’re ready to move on yet a reminder of the past shows up hours before you’re ready to take the jump. Sana Dati is one of the best stories about love I’ve seen in a long time. And there’s no other way to end the film that with Up Dharma Down’s Indak.

01. Badil

01. BADIL (Chito Rono)

At one point, it doesn’t even seem that this would make it at the Sineng Pambansa festival last August. But thankfully, it did. Chito Rono’s entry which focuses in a small Samar town on the eve of election day is as arresting as one can get. Like On the Job, it’s a depiction of what’s wrong in a society, but this one is less technically polished but of the same, if not even more, intensity. It’s a film that has a lot of long continuous shots, probably making the whole experience more captivating. It also has a good ensemble with a very intense Jhong Hilario leading the ship.  Badil was an entry in the All Master’s Edition of the Sineng Pambansa, and with his controlled and almost restrained direction, Rono definitely lives up to the challenge.

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86th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   9 comments

Yesterday, the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) has already released the shortlist on what the country’s likely submission for next year’s Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. As of press time, nine films are included in the list which will be decided by the eight-person committee. While these films are already assured as a part of the shortlist, September released films can still be late additions to it, as the AMPAS eligibility extends up to September 30 of this year.

Last year, I decided to put my two cents on what the country will submit as an entry which you can read here. I suggested Alvin Yapan’s Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa from the field of seven that was announced earlier. The country ended up with Bwakaw, which wasn’t part of the initial list, but nevertheless, a competent and most inspired submission we had in years. This year, I’ll be doing the same based on the initial shortlist of nine films included and suggest what I think should be our country’s entry. One thing you have to remember though is that it’s not solely about the film’s quality, as politics and buzz also play a big part when it comes to choosing our Foreign Language Film submission. Anyway, here’s how I see each of the nine contenders:

boses

BOSES (The Voice)
Director: Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil
Screenplay: Froilan Medina, Rody Vera
Cast: Julian Duque, Coke Bolipata, Cherry Pie Picache, Ricky Davao

Boses tells the story of Onyok, an abused son, who was brought to a children’s shelter to be protected from his abusive father. In there, he develops an unlikely mentor with Ariel, the brother of the shelter director, who saw his potential to play the violin.  Through these lessons, both Onyok and Ariel managed to find an escape from their individual traumatic experiences.

Films with child/ren as the main character work well within the Academy, especially in the Foreign Language Film category. Think of France’s The Chorus or Brazil’s The Central Station. Add the music factor, and I can see this inspirational drama working well to the voters of this category. The production values, while not the top notch in this field are still commendable (I remember in 2005 when reception re: Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros was that the production values, particularly the sound, was poor). The downside of this film though is that if chosen, if they’re willing to do a campaign because otherwise; it will just get lost in the shuffle.

dance of the steel bars

DANCE OF THE STEEL BARS
Director: Cesar Apolinario, Marnie Manicad
Screenplay: Cris Lim, Michael Villar
Cast: Dingdong Dantes, Joey Paras, Ricky Davao, Patrick Bergin

While the story of the friendship among the three inmates (two Filipinos, one American) is fictional, one central part of the movie incorporates the dancing inmates based from that viral video of the real dancing inmates (jiving to Michael Jackson’s Thriller) from one of the provinces here in the Philippines.

I don’t see this making much of a fuzz, as its reviews here locally are mixed to negative. It’s a very divisive film that also did not make waves commercial wise. When most of reviews range from “thin plot” to “melodramatic”, it probably fits more for a Lifetime TV of the week spot than an entry at the Best Foreign Language Film. I suspect that the friendship angle between a Filipino and an American is what paved its way in the shortlist.

ekstra

EKSTRA (The Bit Player)
Director: Jeffrey Jeturian
Screenplay: Jeffrey Jeturian, Zig Dulay, Antoinette Jadaone
Cast: Vilma Santos, Ruby Ruiz, Tart Carlos, Marlon Rivera

The movie follows a day in the life of Loida Malabanan, who works as a bit player in films and television show. For this particular instance, she works in a soap opera while still dreaming to have that one big break she has long been waiting for.

Definitely the most buzzed about entry at this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, Ekstra is a critical and crowd favorite with its humorous take not only on the roles of bit players, but with its satirical portrayal of a television production as well. The good thing about it is that it’s one of the more recent entries this year and is already starting its run at different international film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival. It also stars one of the country’s most important stars, Vilma Santos, in the main role. However, with this being a major comedy, I wonder if the FAP is adamant to submit a comedy once again, especially one that pokes fun at the entertainment scene, too soon (after 2011’s Ang Babae sa Septic Tank). It can go either the way of 2003’s Crying Ladies which gained serious buzz or 2009’s Ded na si Lolo which gained none at all.

el presidente

EL PRESIDENTE (The President)*
Director: Mark Meily
Screenplay: Mark Meily
Cast: ER Ejercito, Nora Aunor, Cesar Montano, Christopher de Leon

A historical epic about the life of one of the Philippines’ most prominent heroes, Emilio Aguinaldo. It does a full circle depiction from his early childhood days up to his last few days highlighting some of the most important days in Philippine history.

Every now and then, the Foreign Language Film recognizes entries which are of significant and cultural impact to its country. Thus, the committee can’t help but bite into the bait by inserting not only one, but two films into the mix. The first one being El Presidente. While winning Best Picture in a lot of local award giving bodies earlier this year helps it chances, critical response wasn’t as kind as the others. However, I’d say that with ER Ejercito behind it, once chosen, they’ll probably try to pull off an aggressive campaign for it. I don’t think it’ll be enough though.

on the job

ON THE JOB
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Michiko Yamamoto, Erik Matti
Cast: Piolo Pascual, Gerald Anderson, Joel Torre, Joey Marquez

Inspired by true events, the movie shows the struggle of good vs. evil from different perspectives: jailed hitman Tatang and his protege Daniel, police officer Acosta, and NBI agent Francis. How all their paths crossed and the circumstances that bind them together is the main core of this action thriller.

After participating in the Directors’ Fortnight section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, On the Job is already the best local reviewd film from this bunch. It also has the most buzz being the latest to be shown in this group. Local critics are rallying behind it and the word of mouth is really good.  Commercial wise, it might end up as the second biggest hit in the shortlist, and I think that makes it the most viable contender. The film’s appeal is also universal, as proven by a confirmed Hollywood remake. Since it’s produced by the country’s biggest film production, a campaign is definitely feasible for it. Needless to say, it should be the most viable option from the bunch.

supremoSUPREMO
Director: Richard Somes
Screenplay: Jimmy Flores
Cast: Alfred Vargas, Mon Confiado, Nicco Manalo Alex Medina

The movie gives a historical depiction of another Filipino hero, Andres Bonifacio, as he leads the Katipunan into a struggle for independence.

As for the other “hero” movie, while it’s the lesser buzzed movie between the two, it’s the one that got better reviews. With that said, it also suffered from lack of overall impact, as only a handful of people saw it during its run. Part of me thinks that with these two heroes in the mix, if they’ll cancel each other’s chances in order to avoid controversies about the chosen film in case one of them gets to be the top pick? I know that sounds ridiculous, but you’ll never know. Not that I think either of the film will actually end up as our submission, but one can’t  help but think it can affect such.

thy womb

THY WOMB
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Screenplay: Henry Burgos
Cast: Nora Aunor, Bembol Roco, Lovi Poe, Mercedes Cabral

Set in the beautiful village of Tawi-Tawi in the farthest island of Mindanao, the wife of a childless couple , Shaleha, suffered her third miscarriage. Out of frustration, it gave her an idea to find another wife for her husband Bangas-an. As she finally saw the perfect wife, conflict ensues when young lady Mersila gives her condition in exchange of this agreement.

Thy Womb was part of the official competition of last year’s Venice Film Festival. Aside from that, it also participated as part of Toronto International Film Festival as well. While this gives it a great advantage among other competitors, the fact that it already had its festival run last year gives it less buzz as compared to the newer ones. Sure, it i still under the same eligibility period, but it leaves a “been there done that” feel already. And while the raves for Nora Aunor’s performance is unanimously positive, there is a discrepancy with its reviews locally and internationally. It got great reviews here while it’s more mixed abroad, so that speaks volumes about its universal appeal. It’s also noteworthy to mention that Brillante Mendoza isn’t an FAP favorite with no previous entries submitted, despite getting worldwide accalim for some of his previous films.

tiktik aswang chronicles

TIKTIK: ASWANG CHRONICLES
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Erik Matti, Ronald Monteverde
Cast: Dingdong Dantes, Lovi Poe, Janice de Belen, Joey Marquez

Shot in the fictional town of Pulupandan, an overconfident Makoy hopes to win back the heart of his pregnant girlfriend.  But when his arrogance irked some people of the said town who happened to be a group of aswang (Filipino term for “monster like ghost creatures”), Makoy and his girlfriend’s family fight for survival.

This one is probably the easiest to eliminate here. The movie showed a great stylistic approach (and an effective one at that), but other than that, there’s nothing that’s gonna make sense to put this as the country’s submission. There will be a huge barrier to even explain the concept of aswang to a foreign crowd, and this one suits for an enjoyable popcorn flick than an Oscar submission. Besides, Erik Matti has another submission here which has the better odds of getting chosen.

tuhog
TUHOG
Director: Veronica Velasco
Screenplay: Veronica Velasco, Jinky Laurel
Cast: Eugene Domingo, Leo Martinez, Enchong Dee, Jake Cuenca

A bus accident left three strangers literally connected to a pole, and as they are waiting for their fate in the hospital, we get a glimpse of their individual lives prior to the said incident.

Tuhog‘s chances can actually go either way. On one hand, it’s the quirky film that can inspire a lot of passion among voters with its multiple storytelling. On the other, it might be seen as too light to stand out in a field of 70+ films worldwide. While the FAP hasn’t shied away from lighter films before (Ang Babae sa Septic TankDed na si Lolo), but end results did not bode well for the country’s chances.

All in all, I’d say On the Job is far and away the best option to be submitted this year. It has the buzz, the great push, the reviews, and the festival experience to make a mark in this category. A runner up position goes to Ekstra since it can follow Bwakaw‘s footsteps last year starting with its TIFF inclusion already. I think Boses can be a good submission as well, as I think it will work well among AMPAS voters. Tuhog and Thy Womb will also be decent picks, though not necessarily the strongest we can offer. With that said, there will probably be two to three more additions to this given that the Sineng Pambansa will be held mid-September.

*unofficial English titles

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REVIEW: OTJ (On the Job)   1 comment

on the job

Fresh from their successful run at the Directors’ Fortnight section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival last May, Erik Matti’s crime thriller finally find its way into Philippine theaters, as Star Cinema and Reality Entertainment release OTJ (On the Job) which stars Piolo Pascual, Gerald Anderson, Joel Torre, and Joey Marquez among others.

Inspired by true events, the film gives an extensive depiction of how some jailed members were being released from prison every now and then as they’re assigned with the task of killing people under orders from the wealthy and influential.  In the film, the specific gunmen happens to be Tatang (Joel Torre) and his protege Daniel (Gerald Anderson) who is being groomed to be his replacement once he retires. Tatang takes and trains Daniel under his wing as they do their assignments. On the flipside, there’s NBI official Francis Coronel, Jr. (Piolo Pascual) who was tasked to take over these said cases, as well as police office Acosta (Joey Marquez).  Once their paths crossed provides conflict in the film.

There’s a lot of great things to say about this, but If there’s a clear standout in it, no doubt it is Erik Matti. His slick direction is the main core which holds the film together and gives it the necessary oomph. I like how he weaves these scenes and events seamlessly which makes for an intense and thrilling ride. The rest of the technical achievements were on point as well, with Richard Somes’ production design and Francis Buhay III’s cinematography portraying Manila in a very artistic and sensible manner, that of a series of tasteful photographs that’s well done.

The story and pacing smoothly complimented each other. I like how the intensity just builds up right from the get go during the first scene up until the last one. The chase and fight scenes were tastefully pulled off. It’s also great to see characters that were fleshed out especially that of the three main characters. We get to know them more instead of simply just following what they do. This is one of the things I like about the film in terms of characterization, we get a glimpse of their individual lives as opposed to just going right at the center of the conflict.

This film pretty much shows what an ensemble really is. There are really no small roles here, as everyone’s given something to do and they all did their parts well. Gerald Anderson’s greatest acting achievement prior to this is a television stint as mentally challenged Budoy, but this character suits him like a glove and challenges his acting chops for the better. It’s nothing new to claim that Joel Torre is a great actor, but this will probably end up as one of his most memorable turns in his discography. Piolo Pascual is the good guy of course, so this isn’t much of a stretch for him, but it’s great to see that he wasn’t phoning it in. But, I like how Erik Matti brings out the best in Joey Marquez. He already gave us a glimpse of it in last year’s Tiktik, but this was more prevalent in here. Special props to Vivian Velez’ kick ass role.

Given everything that’s actually happening in the country right now, one can somehow juxtapose this with the events in the film too. This will probably make the experience more insightful for others in terms of understanding the events or the aftermath of it. Films that make a statement is a hit or miss for me, but I like that this one doesn’t spoonfeed it to the audience.

I would have loved to see the version that was shown at Cannes since I’ve learned that it was slightly different from what was shown here. Nevertheless, On the Job is such a breath of fresh air in terms of current Philippine cinema effectively combining style and substance in a savvy manner. I might as well say it’s one (if not the) movie event of the year.

Rating: 5/5

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