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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

If you like, you can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

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9th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 1   8 comments

Hi everyone! It’s Cinemalaya time of the year again. It’s the time when we get to see some of the most exciting and most promising independent films produced by directors both veterans and new ones. This year’s crop of films are really interesting as they varies from different genres and with more big stars having their first Cinemalaya entries (coughVilmaSantoscough). Over the next few days, I’ll be posting my reviews of this year’s entries, and weigh in my thoughts about the ninth batch of indie films. Let’s get the ball rollin’ shall we? 🙂

LIARS
Director: Gil Portes
Cast: Alessandra de Rossi, Jan Harley Hicana, John Michael Bonapos, Arnold Reyes
Competition: Director’s Showcase

The film tells the story of journalist Eloisa (Alessandra de Rossi) whose expose’ of the truth results in life-changing consequences to a baseball team of poor boys. It is inspired by a true story.

It is interesting to note that the director claims that the movie is a fictional take just based from a true to life story that happened in 1991. While the whole film gives you a lifetime TV movie of the week feels, this is a familiar territory that combines two concepts that Gil Portes excels at: children and inspirational story. The tandem of writer Senedy Que and director Gil Portes already did it before in Mga Munting Tinig, and they successfully did it again with Liars. The story, as told from a series of flashbacks, recounts the step by step process of the fictional Smokey Mountain team, though what’s special with this is that the two main characters (played by Jan Harley Hicana and John Michael Bonapos) were given ample attention in the story and they certainly delivered. Alessandra de Rossi was dependable as always, and the ensemble consisting of Arnold Reyes, Cris Villanueva, and Sue Prado were all given moments to work on. The movie is not something that hasn’t been told before, but it goes on point with the message that it wants to deliver successfully.

Rating: 3/5

REKORDER
Director: Mikhail Red
Cast: Ronnie Quizon, Mike Lloren, BuboyVillar, Earl Ignacio
Competition: New Breed

The film tells the story of a former 1980’s film cameraman who now currently works as a movie pirate operating in present day Manila. He routinely smuggles a digital camcorder into movie theatres in order to illegally record films. One night, he records something else… and the footage goes viral.

The premise of this film is one that simply strikes me as interesting when I first read the synopsis. But I guess that ended up as its strongest downfall, as it did not live up to what I was expecting to see. Helmed by Raymond Red’s son, Mikhail Red, there seems to be a lacking in terms of storytelling. The perceived impact of what Maven (Ronnie Quizon) has captured did not totally live up to the build-up of the film’s intensity. With that said, the style of the direction is commendable here, and if anything, Maven was written and portrayed as a complex and intriguing character that really holds your attention. I like the film’s opening and ending shots, and for some reason, some of the earlier parts with the police reminded me of Lawrence Fajardo’s Posas from last year. Quizon was awkward but that’s what made his performance engaging and convincing, and his portrayal gave justice on how his character was written. If only the viral video was more engaging, it would have been an overall better film.

Rating: 3/5

PUROK 7
Director: Carlo Obispo
Cast: Krystle Valentino, Miggs Cuaderno, Arnold Reyes, Julian Trono
Competition: New Breed

The film follows Diana (Krystle Valentino) and her younger brother as they strive to relieve their longing for a family.

Pronounced as Purok Siyete (or its English translation “Zone 7”), the movie depicts and creates an atmosphere of its own – something that gives you a clear description of how it feels like for Diana and her brother. The concepts of waiting and longing to be a part of a family were on full display effectively, thanks to the endearing performances of both Krystle Valentino and Miggs Cuaderno. I admit that this is one of the few great surprises I have seen so far, and most of it is credited to director and writer Carlo Obispo. Diana’s character is one that is probably more known in movies: the optimistic barrio lass who despite the trials and being the breadwinner of her and her brother do not lose an inch of hope that someday, they too will finally get what they long have wanted. What makes this one different though is that Diana was more humanized; she’s very much transparent that it’s easy for the audience to smile, laugh, and feel for her. I also like how this one ended when it puts the whole story on a full circle. And yes, let me reiterate that you have to pencil in Krystle Valentino bas she showcased one of the best performances of the year by far.

Rating: 4/5

EKSTRA (The Bit Player)
Director: Jeffrey Jeturian
Cast: Vilma Santos, Tart Carlos, Marlon Rivera, Vincent de Jesus
Competition: Director’s Showcase

A socio-realist drama-comedy film, it follows a seemingly usual day in the life of Loida Malabanan (Vilma Santos), as she embarks on yet another shooting day of a soap opera as an extra.

Probably the most buzzed about film in this year’s batch, Ekstra will surely go on to be one of the more prominent and memorable films this year. On one hand, it gives us a glimpse of how it feels like to be an extra – how they’re treated in TV production, what they do in between takes, how they get the roles that they do among others. It’s this kind of “backstage peek” that makes the audience get really interested in. And Ekstra showed that comprehensively in a funny and humorous manner. On the other, if you’re not into that kind of thing, then this one is not for you. It’s too overstuffed that it just went on and on and on. There are parts that can still be trimmed down from it, and it just felt too long. The truth is despite the normal people enjoying the glimpse of what it’s like in a soap opera set, it does cater more to those people who are really a part of it with inside jokes thrown endlessly left and right. With that said, this is a Vilma Santos vehicle, and Santos certainly delivered. More than the witty one-liners or the endless lines, one thing that I’ve always like about her is her great physical acting, and she does that lot in here. She really commands the screen, and it’s nice to see her show it again. I guess my favorite is the one near end of the film when the camera just stares at her – that’s when her emotions are on full display, stripped of the environment where she was just the day before. This somehow reminded me of Ang Babae sa Septic Tank¸ and while both contained impeccable lead performances, it just tends to go beyond the line of too much over the top every now and then. If anything, I enjoyed Antoniette Jadaone’s solo feature Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay as a better vehicle to see a day in the life of a bit player.

Rating: 3/5

Expect the second batch to come during the next few days. And as always, you can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl