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REVIEW: Six Degrees of Separation From Lilia Cuntapay   3 comments

One of the more prominent entries from last year’s Cinema One Originals finally gets a cinematic release this year, and Antoinette Jadaone’s first feature offering is definitely worth of all the accolades it has received. Six Degrees of Separation From Lilia Cuntapay does not only strike someone’s pop culture knowledge (it’s Lilia effin’ Cuntapay for chrissakes), but it also manages to go deeper into the life of a very taken for granted actress in Philippine movie history.

The movie, which applies the documentary approach, follows the life of prominent showbiz extra Lilia Cuntapay who played roles of  aswangs and other horror creatures every Halloween specials of [insert TV show here]. Form there, we learned that she received a Best Supporting Actress nomination, and we follow her every step of her journey to the awards ceremony including choosing the perfect gown, coming up with the speech, and conducting interviews from others.

The film shifts from mockumentary at one part to a probable good look of what her life was about to the next one, and Jadaone’s direction does a perfect job of not confusing the watchers. It’s a pretty good study of Nanay Lilia’s character as one can see the  juxtaposition of  the “nominee Lilia” from the “day in the life of Lilia.” There were also a handful of celebrity cameos that re-assures the impact that she has already left in the industry.

Amidst all that, probably the best thing I love about it (and I warn you, as this will definitely be cheesy) is that the movie has a heart. For someone who has been taken for granted for the longest time, it’s really not difficult to attach yourself with Nanay Lilia. You find yourself rooting for her every step of the way, and the movie does an exceptional job of achieving that. Nanay Lilia with the aswang costumes and the thick make up is already a fascinating character, yet the one behind it does make a more interesting character. In the end, everyone benefits.

I’m really saddened that this did not make a mark awards-wise this past year (aside from the Urian nominations), as it clearly deserved some recognition. Lilia Cuntapay deserves some Best Actress awards (and she was my personal pick last year for that title), and Geraldine Villamil should have at least a nomination. Well I guess, we can cherish the fact that they were, at least, triumphant at the Cinema One Originals Awards night last year.

I know by now that I’ve already sounded like a broken record, but in case you still want to hear it one more time: Six Degrees of Separation From Lilia Cuntapay is the best film of 2011. To add to that, it’s also the best one in years. It does a lot more than just telling a story; it presented us this persona of a tour de force woman that will forever remain immortal in our eyes sans the aswang portrayals.

Grade: 5/5

SHAMELESS PLUGGING: Please please do catch this film. It deserves to be seen by a looooot of people.  You can see it in the following theaters: SM Megamall, Sm City North EDSA, SM Southmall, and Robinson’s Galleria.

REVIEW: Argo   Leave a comment

Oscar season is right up the corner, and before it goes crazy with the non-stop campaigning and critics awards given left and right, it is rightful to start it with the current Oscar Best Picture frontrunner (see current Oscar predictions here) by Ben Affleck entitled Argo. This is Affleck’s third directorial job after 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and 2010’s The Townand if it’s any indication, he keeps getting better and is on his way to become one of the greats of his generation.

After the Iranian revolutionaries attacked the US Embassy in 1979, six workers luckily managed to escape the venue and seek refuge to a Canadian ambassador. Back in the US, the government through the help of CIA Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) planned a device on how to rescue the six employees without the whole world identifying it. The only possible way is to come up with a plan so bad that it will be good. Mendez then contacted Oscar winning make up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and a veteran has been producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) enters the picture to finalize the plan of doing a fake Hollywood movie entitled “Argo” that will use the six employees as “members” of the film production who visited Iran, and in the process, escaping from Iran.

With a very interesting topic to tackle, director Affleck wasted not a single thing to come up with an extensive and tightly packed direction which is still the movie’s strongest aspect to boot. Seriously, Ben Affleck might not be the best actor in all of Hollywood, and Gigli jokes might never even disappear, but his directorial skills are top notch surpassing each of the previous films that he has done. In Argo, one of my main concerns is that it might get sucked up by the material that it tackles, but Affleck ensured that the the direction will highlight the story and not the other way around.

The screenplay is also strong, though I don’t think there’s a need to include Mendez’ personal struggles, as it is too minor to be included, but I tend to understand where the inclusion is coming from. The flow of the story can tend to go borderline procedural in the middle of the film and sappy in the last part, but the first part and especially the climax were too strong enough to elicit reaction from it viewers, and it succeeds in doing so. The other aspects of the film were strong as well. Costumes and production design were noticeable and cinematography, in particular, was excellent.

The reason why I think this is the frontrunner for the Oscars is that it’s the type of movie that has social relevance (especially with cultural misunderstandings), and shows that a business like Hollywood is not totally detached from the real world. If anything, the industry will eat it up, and I see wins for Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Editing among others.

Ben Affleck has vastly improved with his acting skills, usually letting the eyes and the emotions act for themselves without battling a word, and he was a charismatic and believable enough in the lead role. However, it’s the three supporting actors that stole the show: John Goodman as make up artist John Chambers who was every bit enjoyable and lights up the screen, Bryan Cranston as Edward’s supervisor Jack O’Donnell who was in charge with the dramatic acts especially in the climax part of the film. But it was veteran Alan Arkin who was the scene-stealer as the foul mouthed producer. Arkin’s role is the type that usually gets accolades, and I’m seeing another nomination for him next year.

It is safe to say that Argo is one of the best thrillers of the past few years, and it certainly deserves that distinction. If anything, this is a solid impressive film that benefits from a lot of good characteristics that mix together. That’s enough to be considered as one of the best pictures of the year.

Grade: 4.5/5

REVIEW: Captive   1 comment

Cannes Best Director Brillante Mendoza’s first shot at the Berlin Film Festival involves a familiar territory that he has long been covering. In “Captive”, we get a closer look and a blow by blow update of a national issue that once hogged all the spotlight here in the Philippines. The only difference is that it has Isabelle Huppert here.

Inspired by the events during the 2001 Dos Palmas kidnapping of tourists, we get to see the struggle they have to endure when they get dragged in the fight between Muslims and the government in order for them to give in to what the Muslims wanted. The hostages ranged from cliche casting to effective ones with Isabelle Huppert leading the pack as the French missionary assisting old woman Soledad.

Mendoza effectively makes the viewers feel as if they were there with them combining  vivid portrayal of what the hostages experienced during that year long captivity and commendable technical aspects particularly Odyssey Flores’ cinematography and Teresa Barrozo’s score. With that said, one can’t help but think that there are times when you see style over substance as the treatment left something more to be desired. I see symbolism everywhere (giving birth scene, animals in the forest, two Muslims playing spiders, the colorful eagle) and some parts were just overdone. One can also recognize the similar Mendoza trademark that he used in his previous films, so if you’re someone who’s familiar with his filmography, there’s sort of a “been there, done that” approach with his treatment. Supposed to be pivotal scenes were also scattered that it’s hard to digest every thing so when you see one, it does not leave that much mark to the readers.

Huppert’s role, like the rest of the cast, was very physical, and I applaud how she was so “game” with everything that was required of her to do. While there are times when her character was relegated to do the typical histrionic touch when attacking the Muslims, I find her at her best when she was interviewed for a semi-documentary where she just gave her all when asked about the hostage experience. The local cast were good as well but there’s no real highlight for the rest of them that makes one a standout.

All in all, while it’s hard to nitpick about Mendoza’s visual output, it sadly didn’t leave the same amount of impact that the director intended his viewers to feel once the credits rolled.

Grade: 3 / 5

REVIEW: I Do Bidoo Bidoo   1 comment

Homage movies to great Filipino musicians have been on a roll lately. Just a month ago, The Reunion used material from the Eraserheads, and now here comes another one. Chris Martinez’ I Do Bidoo Bidoo featured music from the APO Hiking Society and starred some of the greatest we have in music and the up and coming ones that should be the next big stars in the industry.

When fresh graduate Rock (Sam Concepcion) unexpectedly got his rich girlfriend Tracy (Tippy delos Santos) pregnant, it opened a Pandora’s Box in terms of how their respective families handled it. Both the mothers of the teens are adamant about the rushed wedding plans. The fathers were more tolerant about it, but things got more complicated when Tracy’s grandfather openly said how he does not like the wedding to push through. Chaos, musical numbers, and a blue moon ensues in between.

The movie runs two hours long, and it’s pretty much long by any standard if the premise isn’t really that much complicated. However, it is really hard to complain when it’s the musical numbers that fill in most of the screentime. While there’s a lot that I saw that can be left in the editing room, it’s not that big of a deal to the point that it will make your viewing pleasure be affected with the overlong (and some unnecessary) numbers.

Technical aspects were hit or miss. While the editing was choppy, the production design was really a highlight. Seeing colors left and right is a real visual treat. I also like the details in terms of the sets used. One of my favorite numbers is the Blue Jeans (though I think that it can be shortened) especially since the flash mob and the choreography in here was top notch. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty much impressed with the choreography in this film. I like that it’s not only in the numbers where we see that, but even in blockings and positions of the actors in their scenes.

The acting was also commendable. I bought the relationship between Ogie Alcasid and Eugene Domingo, and the coldness of Gary Valenciano and Zsazsa Padilla. Jaime Fabregas is always a treat especially when he’s given vital characters to play (last I’ve seen him in a vital role is 2010’s Here Comes the Bride). I also like the casting of Eugene Domingo’s friends (Frenchie Dy and Sweet Plantado) as the three possess a real chemistry that was effective. Sam Concepcion showed real star potential here, and I really think that this will probably be his best role to date, though I’m curious where will he go from here. I’m a little adamant about Tippy delos Santos because I’m somewhat annoyed with her character, but she did okay in my book I guess. Neil Coleta was also a surprise mixing combinations of typical gay stereotype portrayals and the closeted persona he had.

If anything, the movie’s primary strength lies within how the director and the writer really collaborated to work the APO songs into the story of the movie. This is a win-win mutualism scenario as both benefited from each other; thus, it is not really hard to fall in love with this endearing entertaining film.

Rating: 3.5 /5

REVIEW: Amorosa: The Revenge   4 comments

Sky Light Films’ follow up to the very uneven Corazon: Ang Unang Aswang is from the same vein, a horror psycho-thriller helmed by Topel Lee entitled Amorosa: The Revenge. If anything, at least I’d give them credits for finally promoting this one right, unlike its predecessor which was promoted as a straight our horror film, only to see a love story when you watch the actual movie itself.

After a life changing incident that involved both of her kids (Martin Del Rosario, Enrique Gil), Amorosa (Angel Aquino) decides to start anew and move to Tagaytay to manage an inn that a relative tasked her to do. It also means that she will be staying there permanently. However, once there, she started to see a revengeful ghost that keeps on bothering her, as she also tries to fix her relationship with one of her sons who was deeply affected by the childhood incident.

The premise of the movie tends to be half stupid and half unbelievable. The characters were pretty much one note and involves them making one stupid action one after the other. Case in point: if you are in the door and you see a killer inside the house, would you run to the stairs instead of going out and locking him inside the house?  The primary question that they want to pose to readers involves a Sophie’s Choice type of consequence which actually leaves them in a lose-lose situation; hence, they are probably pretty much subjected to end up with the fates that they had.

The movie tried to cover all areas. Revengeful ghosts? Check. Hide and seek inside the house? Check. Ghostly apparitions? Check. Hallucinations? Check. It’s as if they came up with a list of the most cliched horror ingredients, and they accomplished all of that in one film. I noticed that there are some areas that actually worked, but they got overshadowed with the attempt to do everything in it. The movie also suffered from continuing to open a lot of stories that weren’t closed which made the movie overlong. I swear to God, this is one movie when you can already see it ending, yet it still goes on and on and on and on.

Angel Aquino tries her best to overcome her character, and she actually did. She was emotional and convincing; she makes it feel for you what she’s feeling. And of course, it’s always a delight to see her take lead credits in the big screen. Martin del Rosario wasn’t given that much to do, but I like that he’s being given all these breaks because he certainly deserves it. Enrique Gil shows some potential, but tends to resort to overacting in the latter parts of the movie. I find Ejay Falcon’s hair ridiculous, but I think it worked on his advantage in this film. Empress was meh since she wasn’t given a lot of things to do.  I somewhat enjoyed the character actors in this film despite limited screentime, though Nanding Josef was very effective in his two scenes in the film.

The potential with Amorosa was actually there. It just got lost with everything that is happening in the film. If they only focused on one instead of trying to fit in every single thing they can think of, I’m certain we could have seen a better version of this one.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

REVIEW: Hope Springs   Leave a comment

Hope Springs is a very interesting film, to say the least. It’s material is not the same as your usual rom-com, it does not have two young leads on the helm, but it has Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep in it. The result is more than the sum of its parts, and this is one gem of a film that rarely comes on our screen.

Husband and wife Arnold and Kaye (Jones and Streep respectively), are on their thirtieth year of marriage, and while Arnold has been pretty much contented with the way their life and relationship turned out to be. On the other hand, Kaye is expecting more. She feels the need to spice one aspect of their marriage that has long been absent. And so, they travel all the way to a week long counsel session with Dr. Feld (Carell)where they discovered more than what they asked for in terms of their personal lives.

I like the simplicity of the narrative especially since it dwells and opens a lot of possibilities in terms of story development. I also think that there’s a certain sense of maturity with the writing; one that suits the atmosphere of the movie perfectly, as it does not totally overdo the cutesy scenes, yet still finds room to insert them in the scenario.

The tandem of Jones and Streep was such a delight to see. Their chemistry is very existent, and they play off the characters assigned to them very naturally. When they’re sweet, it’s sweet, and when they’re awkward, you feel for the two of them. It’s already a given for Streep since she does have chemistry with… well everyone, but I particularly like to see Streep play a “normal” character devoid of all the wigs and the accents and the make up that she has been doing a lot the last few years. Jones was a revelation though; it’s as if he was actually the role he portrayed, and he deserves equal, if not more, credit than what we give to Streep. Carell was there in a very thankless role (anyone could have played that actually), but I enjoy watching him in the big screen so good for him.

All in all, this is a film full of heart. This type of film is rarely given the opportunity to be produced and made, so it’s such a delight to see this one made.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Revisiting Titanic   Leave a comment

It was in 1997 when the whole world witnessed not only the love story between poor guy Jack Dawson and rich girl Rose Dewitt Bukater, but the sinking of what they call the “unsinkable” ship via James Cameron’s epic masterpiece Titanic. 13 years later, with 11 Oscars and almost 2 billion dollars in the box office, we revisit one of the most phenomenal movies to ever hit the big screen.

First thing first, the 3D version, while I appreciate the repackaging, is nothing to brag about. Cameron and team managed to make it interesting with the 3D versions of the bubbles of the water, the utensils, and the title logo, but they weren’t not that vital in the overall film output. After all, it was just a repackaged 3D version, and it wasn’t really made with 3D effects in mind. However, like all the other fans, this is a rekindled chance to witness an ultimate movie watching experience.

Now, I know most serious critics trash Titanic. After all, what’s there to like about it? It is an effin’ love story. At the end of the day, they can rant about how it was how two people of opposite circumstances developed a relationship in Titanic. The ship, bearing the symbol of dreams, is a huge interpretation of making it in and reaching your dreams. Sure, it did not make you think like LA Confidential (it’s closest competition at the Oscars for Best Picture that year), but Titanic is a film I respect and root for many reasons.

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

I don’t think the film has earned the respect it deserves to get. Yeah sure, it has 11 Oscars on it’s mantle (majority, if not all are deserved),and it has a box office record that it held on for over a decade. What I’m referring to that is that despite those things mentioned above, bashers fail to realize that it is doing pretty well in one aspect: the impact. Whether it’s the “I’m the king of the world” howl by Jack Dawson, the nude painting of Rose, or the actual breaking of the ship itself, you can ask a lot of people and there’s something that they can remember from the movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I am, by no means, a Titanic fanboy, but I understand and appreciate where fans are coming from. I notice how thin the screenplay is, and while the last part is merely nothing but visual orgasm, there’s this something about the whole package that made me appreciate and focus on its merits more. That’s probably why I reiterate more on my claim that this is a film that I respect more than I love.

For the longest time, I have been scratching my head off the raves (and Oscar nominations) for Gloria Stuart and Kate Winslet. Stuart still does not make sense to me, and how she was a frontrunner that year alongside eventual winner Kim Basinger is still a head scratcher (She also won the SAG for that, mind you). I found a new admiration for Winslet’s performance, though, and I now see why she got the nom. It was a performance that is clearly impressive especially if you  juxtapose the physical and emotional layers she brought to Rose. However, years later, and I still say that di Caprio was robbed of a nom. His Jack is raw and captivating, and there’s this feeling of making Jack a natural character that Leo pulled off with such ease and charisma.

I still prefer this by a mile to Avatar, and while I understand that there’s no need for a competition whatsoever, I feel that Cameron was more in his element here. The third part of the film  never lost its magic, and seeing it on the big screen (it was my first time!) earlier this day made me appreciate it more. While in no way does this film makes us think nor does it improve our intellectual capabilities, Titanic made us feel as if we were there with them on their journey. And it was just fantastically spot on in doing that.

Posted April 9, 2012 by Nicol Latayan in Films

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