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Tit for Tat Local Film Awards 2014   Leave a comment

I really thought I’d be skipping this year, but better late than never! For the third year in my blog (see here 2012 and 2013 winners) From MMFF entries to Cinemalaya ones, and from Lav Diaz to Andoy Ranay (probably the only time you’ll see them in the same sentence), I’ve finally come up with a list of my own awards choices. This year, barbers, violators, janitors, and coffin makers are on the forefront as we search for tadhana and sparks. After eight months and lots of waiting in between, I present my picks for the best of local cinema in 2014.

best ensemble

gold LORNA
silver BARBER’S TALES

bronzeMARIQUINA

best first feature

gold VIOLATOR
silver DAGITAB

bronzeCHILDREN’S SHOW

visual effects

gold KUBOT: THE ASWANG CHRONICLES 2
silver SHAKE, RATTLE, AND ROLL 15
bronze FENG SHUI 2

sound editing and mixing

gold VIOLATOR
silver KUBOT: THE ASWANG CHRONICLES 2
bronze THE JANITOR

original song

gold “BAHALA NA” (Tak Back and You’re Dead)
silver “KAKAIBABE” (Diary ng Panget)
bronze “SIGLE LANG NANG SIGE” (Hari ng Tondo)

original score

gold MARIQUINA
silver LORNA
bronze DAGITAB

hairstyling and makeup

gold THE GIFTED
silver KUBOT: THE ASWANG CHRONICLES 2
bronze SHAKE, RATTLE, AND ROLL 15

editing

gold BARBER’S TALES
silver #Y
bronze VIOLATOR

costume

gold LORNA
silver THE GIFTED
bronze KUBOT: THE ASWANG CHRONICLES 2

cinematography

gold MULA SA KUNG ANO ANG NOON
silver DAGITAB
bronze  VIOLATOR

prod design

gold BARBER’S TALES
silver  KUBOT: THER ASWANG CHRONICLES 2
bronze ESPRIT DE CORPS

best breakthrough actress

gold NADINE LUSTRE (Diary ng Panget)
silver KARENINA HANIEL (Mula sa Kung Ano Ang Noon)
bronze COLEEN GARCIA (#Y)

best breakthrough actor

gold  SANDINO MARTIN (Esprit de Corps)
silver MATT DACLAN (Soap Opera)
bronze  RAFA SIGUION-REYNA (Hari ng Tondo)

best screenplay

gold  GIANCARLO ABRAHAN (Dagitab)
silver ANTOINETTE JADAONE (That Thing Called Tadhana)
bronze SIGRID ANDREA BERNARDO (Lorna)

best supp actor

gold ANDY BAIS (Violator)
silver MIGGS CUADERNO (Children’s Show)
bronze MARTIN DEL ROSARIO (Dagitab)

best supp actress

gold SYLVIA SANCHEZ (The Trial)
silver MARIA ISABEL LOPEZ (Lorna)
bronze GLADYS REYES (Barber’s Tales)

best actor

gold ALLEN DIZON (Magkakabaung)
silver ARNOLD REYES (Kasal)
bronze  JOHN LLOYD CRUZ (The Trial)

best actress

gold EUGENE DOMINGO (Barber’s Tales)
silver ANGELICA PANGANIBAN (That Thing Called Tadhana)
bronze  SHAMAINE BUENCAMINO (Lorna)

best directing

gold JUN LANA (Barber’s Tales)
silver ANTOINETTE JADAONE (That Thing Called Tadhana)
bronze LAV DIAZ (Mula sa Kung Ano Ang Noon)

best picture

gold BARBER’S TALES
silver THAT THING CALLED TADHANA
bronze  MULA SA KUNG ANO ANG NOON

That was it! As a recap, here are the winners for the 2014 Tit for Tat Local Film Awards:

PICTURE: Barber’s Tales
DIRECTOR: Jun Lana, Barber’s Tales
LEAD ACTOR: Allen Dizon, Magkakabaung
LEAD ACTRESS: Eugene Domingo, Barber’s Tales
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Andy Bais, Violator
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sylvia Sanchez, The Trial
SCREENPLAY: Giancarlo Abrahan, Dagitab
MALE BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE: Sandino Martin, Esprit de Corps
FEMALE BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE: Nadine Lustre, Diary ng Panget
ART DIRECTION: Barber’s Tales
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Mula sa Kung Ano Ang Noon
COSTUME DESIGN: Lorna
EDITING: Barber’s Tales
HAIRSTYLING AND MAKE UP: The Gifted
ORIGINAL SCORE: Mariquina
ORIGINAL SONG: Bahala Na (Talk Back and You’re Dead)
SOUND: Violator
VISUAL EFFECTS:
Kubot: The Aswang Chronicles 2
FIRST FEATURE: Eduardo Dayao, Violator
ENSEMBLE: Lorna

See you again next year! What are your favorites from 2014?

If you want, you can follow me on Twitter and let’s talk about it more: @nikowl

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10th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 4   7 comments

You’re still reading Tit for Tat’s Cinemalaya X coverage, and we’re now on the fourth of our short review capsules. As a reminder, you can check the my three previous posts with  Part 1 covering Real Florido’s “1st Ko si 3rd“, Giancarlo Abrahan’s “Dagitab“, and Milo Sogueco’s “Mariquina”, Part 2 Francis Pasion’s “Bwaya“, Gino M. Santos’ “#Y“, and GB Sampedro’s “S6parados”, and Part 3 which has Ida Anita del Mundo’s “K’na the Dreamweaver“, Joselito Altarejos’ “Kasal“, and Louie Ignacio’s “Asintado.” Now let’s add three more films in the list.

Hustisya

HUSTISYA
Director: Joel Lamangan
Cast: Nora Aunor, Rocco Nacino, Sunshine Dizon, Rosanna Roces
Competition: Directors Showcase

Biring (Nora Aunor) has worked for a long time now as Vivian’s (Rosanna Roces) right-hand assistant. The former usually takes care of delivering messages and money that they earn from their human trafficking business. But after an incident in which Vivian frames up Biring, they’re all by themselves at that point.

Hustisya starts strong in which we follow a day in the life of Biring as she does her usual businesses. She switches and delivers money to church officials, politicians, other businessman, and in the middle of it, throws money in the air on top of the Manila City Hall Clock Tower. But it is the supposed game-changing incident of frame up when the film just rolled downhill. At this point, it’s now a parade of the usual Lamangan schtick which probably is his vision of a political statement. He doesn’t dip so much into these so called issues but instead, stays content with just enumerating them. And that’s what he has been doing for the past few years with his foray into such. I don’t doubt that Lamangan can pull off these political statement films (I’m a big fan of 2001’s Hubog as for starters), but Hustisya falls into this lazy OMG-important angle which was the same template as in Dukot… and Sigwa… and Patikul… and Lihis… and even Burgos. The thing that makes Hustisya further down the drain is that there’s a scene in the near end where Biring is walking and hallucinating into a random Manila alley seeing all these “things wrong with out society” and by that time, the last thing we needed is another in your face reminder of such. Nora Aunor is always dependable though, and she knows how to make fun of this role. You can see her totally committed but has a grasp of when to make things light as the situation calls for such. It doesn’t hold a candle to any of the previous Lamangan/Aunor collaborations, and it’s probably her weakest since her 2012 comeback. That said, the less said about the film overall, the better.

2/5

The Janitor

THE JANITOR
Director: Michael Tuviera
Cast: Dennis Trillo, Richard Gomez, Ricky Davao, Derek Ramsay
Competition: Directors Showcase

The Janitor is based from the infamous 2008 RCBC bank robbery that happened in Cabuyao, Laguna which claimed the lives of 10 victims. In the film, Crisanto (Dennis Trillo) was a suspended policeman tasked to be a hitman and eliminate the people responsible for the said bank incident.

For the most part, The Janitor is really entertaining as its approach to the retelling of the incident is straight to the point. But then again, straight to the point can be too straight to the point that it now borders on formulaic. And that’s how the first 3/4 of the film ended up. The format goes something like “torture the lookout”, “let him speak another name”, “hitman goes for that name.” Lather, rinse, repeat. It is undeniably entertaining but can easily get tiring. In between, we witness Crisanto’s domestic problems with his pregnant wife, his non-believer father, and his disabled mother. Once again, lather, rinse, repeat. The film tried to pull off a shift in its storytelling by the last act, and while it indeed changed the monotonous approach of the film, it wasn’t really successful as well in achieving the same impact. There were clearly some notice-able goofs between the film’s concept of day and night with two scenes suddenly changing time frame in a snap, and  that can be really bothering. Other than that, Dennis Trillo is a hoot in this role and made me remember how versatile he is as an actor. It’s probably his best Cinemalaya effort yet among his three films in this festival’s history (2009’s Astig and 2012’s Ang Katiwala). I would have love to see more of his interaction with Derek Ramsay, as I felt their moments were too abrupt given how much they play off each other’s strengths. While one can’t help but wish that the film’s approach wasn’t totally by the numbers, it’s hard to deny that the film itself is really entertaining, and the potential for thrilling action films to come back is really present.

3/5

Children's Show

CHILDREN’S SHOW
Director: Derick Cabrido
Cast: Buboy Villar, Miggs Cuaderno, Gloria Sevilla, Allen Dizon, Nathan Lopez
Competition: New Breed

Inspired by true events, the film focused on brothers Jun (Buboy Villar) and Al (Miggs Cuaderno) who in between pedicab driving earn money by participating in an underground wrestling for teenagers ran by a syndicate. The film focused on how they both try to survive with their grandmother a midst the harsh realities of their poverty stricken life.

As early as the breakthrough of independent film by the mid-aughts, poverty porn is one of those recurring themes. And I know that most of you are gonna go like “WHY. POVERTY.PORN. AGAIN. UGH”, but Children’s Show isn’t really all that. If anything, it flips the usual schtick and injects with it something optimistic and new. The film itself tends to overdo the drama with the situations these brothers are dealing, but it doesn’t forget to counter the despair with the comedic elements (both intentional and otherwise). The movie gives a feel of “the little movie that could”, and it indeed does. The way the film goes back and forth to hopeful and depressing is mostly smooth, and its intensity really crosses the brink and just a little bit beyond. There’s a certain amount of rawness with the two lead actors’ deliveries that make it more affecting than expected, and it just pulls you in. The rest of the ensemble is great as well, and the cinematography is top notch here. I really like the color palette used in the film specifically the underground boxing place and the whole squatters area which reeked of dirty and gritty (and reminded me of Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty music video (I know it’s terrible and I’m sorry but I can’t help insert this. Lol)). If anything, I’m a bit half baked on the slow mo too polished fight scenes. On one hand, it’s really a cool moment for the film, but on the other, I really don’t think its needed anymore. Six days in the fest, and I’m really waiting for a surprise from this year’s batch that’s devoid the hype, and this is certainly one of those.

3.5/5

Last three films (finally whew!) to be posted on Saturday morning before malls open so you’d have a complete guide on what to watch and what to skip if you’re running low on time and/or budget. 😉

As always, you can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

10th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 3   5 comments

It’s only Wednesday, but I still haven’t caught much sleep from the continuous back and forth travels to CCP since Saturday for the 10th Cinemalaya Indepedent Film Festival. After sharing to you my thoughts on Real Florido’s “1st Ko si 3rd“, Giancarlo Abrahan’s “Dagitab“, and Milo Sogueco’s “Mariquina” which you can see here and the one covering Francis Pasion’s “Bwaya“, Gino M. Santos’ “#Y“, and GB Sampedro’s “S6parados” which you can read here, it’s time to add three more films on the list: one New Breed and two Directors Showcase entries.

K'Na

K’NA THE DREAMWEAVER
Director: Ida Anita del Mundo
Cast: Mara Lopez, RK Bagatsing, Alex Medina, Erlinda Villalobos, Bembol Roco, Nonie Buencamino
Competition: New Breed

Young T’boli woman K’Na (Mara Lopez) was poised to be the answer to the warring clans of her village by being anointed to “weave” the patches between the two camps. In the process, she must sacrifice her true love to be the heroine of her people.

I guess it is best to begin my thoughts by praising how the entire cast learned T’boli language and how the whole film used such. It is very refreshing to the ears to hear a whole complete film spoken in T’boli which further exemplifies the rich culture that our country has. The movie’s also really pretty to look at giving this epic scope like feels even if there were a few goofs in it (most notably, there’s a scene where they’re supposed to be rowing in the middle of the waters and the two boaters keep on paddling but it’s obvious that they’re just on the same place). Upon thinking, the “dreamweaver” tag connected to K’na is both literal and figurative. Weaving is a part of the T’boli culture, but then the weaving can also mean of the ending of the village clan wars. If anything, I wish they’d focused more on the T’boli culture rather than the romance. There’s nothing wrong per se about the tale of romance featured in the movie, but it would have ended up with a different effect had it tried to do other instead. I really commend how Mara Lopez continues to choose projects that fits her like a glove. She certainly has this innocent yet mysterious presence that is arresting, and that suits her strengths. I guess  K’Na sits right in the middle of the fest for me. It’s definitely not a clunker nor it’s one of the real breakouts of this season. That said, I’m eager to see what Ida Anita del Mundo does after this.

2.5/5

Kasal

KASAL
Director: Joselito Altarejos
Cast: Arnold Reyes, Oliver Aquino, Rita Avila, Ruby Ruiz, Maureen Mauricio
Competition: Directors Showcase

Director Paolo (Oliver Aquino) and lawyer Sherwin (Arnold Cruz) play a gay couple whose already cracked relationship was put to the test once again when they attended Sherwin’s sister’s wedding in Batangas. In here, they were reminded of the reality of where gay people place in our ever so conservative society.

When you think about it, Kasal‘s premise lives in the harsher reality that a wedding, of all possible events, will further test the relationship of a gay couple when they’re deprived of such in their own country. Where the film completely succeeds is its sincerity in depicting such. I could have lived without the unnecessary additional statements (that of indies and commercial filmmaking as for starters), but when the film shifts back its focus to its main message, it delivers. I’ve noticed that director Joselito Altarejos tends to prolong most of his scenes , and while most parts of it worked and lingered (the initial romance scene, the whole wedding preparations), there were others that didn’t (the initial scene, the stopover fight). A material like this one needs actors who are willing to show off themselves, and I’m not solely referring to the physical demands of the roles. Arnold Reyes is a topnotch here. His role as the closeted of the two as he was put into a really uncomfortable position during their whole visit to his family is just remarkable. I’m quite bothered by Oliver Aquino’s line delivery since it seems like he struggles with this long take approach and couldn’t keep his momentum during their confrontations, but I’d give him props since they share some real passionate chemistry and you could at least see him trying. While Kasal is far from perfect, there is a level of honesty it earns with its attempt, and that’s enough to recognize the overall effort.

3/5

Asintado

ASINTADO
Director: Luisito Ignacio
Cast: Aiko Melendez, Jake Vargas, Miggs Cuaderno, Gabby Eigenmann, Rochelle Pangilinan
Competition: Directors Showcase

In the middle of the preparation for the annual Taong Putik Festival, young lad Tonio (Jake Vargas), considered as literally the brightest kid in their place, was offered to be an unintentional drug courier of the village chairman Carias (Gabby Eigenmann). When one of his deliveries went awry, his mother Julia (Aiko Melendez) steps up to fix things right.

Remember when I told you about Mariquina being a rare case of a good melodrama? Now I guess it’s time to show you what a bad melodrama is. In Louie Ignacio’s first film since 2005’s Lovestruck, his foray into the indie film making is really spotty to say the least. Asintado seems like a late entry from Ignacio to join the poverty porn bordering on social commentary bandwagon that has already gotten old many years ago. Much of it feels contrived and tries way too hard to be taken seriously whether it’s the darker complexion of the characters, their appear one time slash disappear another accents, the situations of the characters up to the pivotal resolution part. There’s also a disconnect between the intended reaction of the people involved from the actual reaction of the people watching. Punchlines fell flat and those obvious attempts at comedic effect failed while serious breakdown moments elicited loud laughter from the crowd. Maybe it’s because of the film’s sudden tonal shifts that really doesn’t sync. It’s really hard to sympathize with Tonio too since he’s one disaster after the other. Is the character even worth redeeming for? I don’t think so. The only good thing worth mentioning here is that Miggs Cuaderno continues to deliver fine work regardless of the material. Last year, he was in two of the better films of the festival (Purok 7 and Quick Change). This year, the first I’ve seen of his works is a bad one, but he manages to rise out of it (I mean he’s better than the whole cast of s6parados combined). Asintado just feels outdated and the problem is I can’t even pinpoint a “time” when this stuff actually fits.

1.5/5

Nine down, six more to go. I understand that it’s taking me quite some time to finish this because I’ve also been watching a lot from the Retrospective showings and most of those are one time screenings. But the next batch will have four films in it on Friday morning. 🙂

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.

You can also follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

9th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 3   6 comments

Okay guys, here’s part three of the my coverage of the 9th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. For those who missed the previous ones, Part 1 consists of Gil Portes’ Liars, Mikhail Red’s Rekorder,  Carlo Obispo’s Purok 7, and Jeffrey Jeturian’s Ekstra.  Part 2 has Adolf Alix’s Porno, Alvin Yapan’s Debosyon, and Leo Abaya’s Instant Mommy. Here’s four movies from this year’s batch:

SANA DATI
Director: Jerrold Tarog
Cast: Lovi Poe, Paulo Avelino, Benjamin Alves, TJ Trinidad
Competition: Director’s Showcase

The film is a love story about a woman whose wedding is thrown away when a mysterious person arrives and reminds her of the man she really loves.

As the conclusion to his Camera Trilogy, director Jerrold Tarog intimately showcases how love can make a person strong yet vulnerable, how some instances push us to move forward despite wanting to be stagnant, and ultimately teaches us to let go. I’m captivated with how the story unfolds – one does not need a personal experience to feel Andrea’s (Lovi Poe) jitters on her wedding day, but you can clearly identify what she’s going through. It’s difficult to move to another stage of your life when you still attach yourself to the previous one and it’s even more difficult to unlatch yourself from it because you do not know where and how to begin. When Dennis (Paulo Avelino) enters the picture and made his presence be known to her, it makes her confront the lingering feelings that she still has. Probably my favourite scene is when Andrea was on the rails and just closed her eyes and probably gives her the peace of mind she wanted even just for a few moments. Aside from the strong writing and directing, the film benefits from having a great ensemble of actors. Lovi Poe is definitely one of the best actresses of her generation and this is just another addition to her list of memorable performances. Paulo Avelino resembles the “mysterious” person effectively – his curiosity leads you to think what his intentions really are. Both Benjamin Alves and TJ Trinidad were effective too, as well as the whole ensemble of actors who played as family members and friends in the movie. Tarog mentioned that he tried to pitch the movie several times since he conceptualized it seven years ago, and that this was the only time when he felt it was ready. And he surely knows what he is doing. Oh, and plus points for the Up Dharma Down song in the end.

Rating: 5/5

THE DIPLOMAT HOTEL
Director: Christopher Ad Castillo
Cast: Gretchen Barretto, Art Acuna, Mon Confiado, Nico Antonio
Competition: New Breed

Victoria Lansang (Gretchen Barretto) is a popular news reporter who has been requested to mediate a hostage crisis. And in front of a national television audience, something horribly goes wrong.

I really do not know what to make of The Diplomat Hotel. I must admit that it’s one of the more exciting films I have for this year, since the hotel itself is a popular horror destination which is known for its ghosts and other spiritual sightings. I acknowledge that the film wants to go on a different direction – it’s more of a psychological thriller and the ghosts that you probably expect to see are not literal ghosts but the ones people have within. I guess that made the film flat for me. When you have a prominent ghost location, it sets the mood for something that will build up the tension and fear; instead, all those fears came from the characters themselves and it leaves no attachment to the viewers. I can’t pinpoint what is wrong with the film (since I don’t think that WRONG is even the correct word to use for this), but I feel that it was a missed opportunity to highlight something better. The characters weren’t fleshed out interestingly, and as they scare themselves to death already, you won’t care a bit. If anything though, you can see that they tried – the Baguio shots were crisp, the “tour” inside the hotel was also good, and the ensemble is living up for their roles. Mon Confiado’s physically transformed look and Art Acuna were always dependable. As for Gretchen Barretto, you know she’s clearly trying and while certain deliveries still caught me off guard and resulted to some laughs, I see the effort. I guess that’s how I’ll sum the movie: the end result was bleh, but I acknowledge the effort.

Rating: 1.5/5

QUICK CHANGE
Director: Eduardo Roy Jr.
Cast: Mimi Juarenza, Jun-Jun Quintana, Miggs Cuaderno, Francine Garcia
Competition: New Breed

Life of Dorina, a middle-aged transsexual looking for his niche amidst the complexities of the world he is in. This is a story of suffering, acceptance, and hope.

Quick Change is one of the lesser known entries in this year’s filmfest: it does not have big stars in its cast, it does not have the most audience friendly story; however, it’s also one of this year’s biggest surprises. The film follows the life of Dorina, as he offers cheaper collagen injections to transsexuals and young women who want to have bigger breasts or more noticeable cheekbones. He’s particularly known in their community because of that business. Alongside his young nephew whom he calls Kuya, this is how Dorina lives his daily life. Oh, and he has a boyfriend who’s cheating on him with another transsexual. I like how Dorina’s personal predicament is ironic with what he’s doing for a living. Think of how Dr. Gregory House is someone who cures for a living but can’t cure his own. It’s also an interesting look on how this whole business works: who are the usual customers, what are their motives in doing so, and what are its implications to all of them. There is a scene in the near end where we see someone who looks like a frozen mannequin already due to countless injections but then goes on saying “Iturok niyo lang ng iturok, kahit ano. Basta gusto ko ang feeling ng karayom sa mukha ko” and that leads you to an idea that somewhere along the way, it will catch up to all of them. Dorina is a well written complex character supported with a fearless award worthy performance by Mimi Juarenza. It is safe (no pun intended) to say that it is this year’s “little film that could.”

Rating: 4/5

NUWEBE
Director: Joseph Israel Laban
Cast: Barbara Miguel, Jake Cuenca, Nadine Samonte, Anita Linda
Competition: New Breed

Inspired by the actual story of one of the youngest mothers in Philippine history, the film charts the story of Krista, who at the tender age of nine got pregnant from the sexual abuse of her own father.

Nuwebe benefits from having a really interesting premise and something that can speak volumes about an issue in our country considering that it was inspired from an actual story. With that said, it’s really hard to identify your place as a viewer while watching the film. I think the biggest problem of the movie is its writing. It was a big letdown from the film’s intriguing story. The dialogue was cringe worthy, and I know that I’m supposed to feel for Krista, but she left me confused and apathetic. She’s spewing lines to her mother like “Ano ako? tanga?” and “Ayoko ipalaglag ang anak ko.”, and while I give the director the benefit of the doubt that the “real” Krista did say that, it’s just too awkward to be believable. Her character was portrayed as an intelligent person in her class (as she’s the only one reciting – about the sperm and pollens of all topics), yet she admits to her mother that she did not know it was a bad thing that she and her father made a baby. By the near end, I just ended up not caring for any of the characters, Krista included. The premise has really some potential, but I don’t think it was smoothly fleshed out to totally work.

Rating: 1.5/5

Eleven down, four left to review. Last batch consisting of Hannah Espia’s Transit, Jason Paul Laxamana’s Babagwa, Emmanuel Palo’s David F, and Ces Evangelista’s Amor Y Muerte will be posted on Saturday morning.

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

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