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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

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

8th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 3   8 comments

Hi everyone! How’s your weekend? In case you have no idea how to spend today and tomorrow, I’ll suggest you head over at the CCP (or even Glorietta and Trinoma) to catch the movies of Cinemalaya 2012 for this year. They’re worth the admission price that you”ll pay. In line with that, this part will cover the next four movie reviews of films from this year’s edition.

As a guide, here is the first part of my review covering Mga Mumunting Lihim, Kamera Obskura, Intoy Syokoy ng Kalye Marino, and Kalayaan. The second part is this one and covers The Animals, Bwakaw, Mga Dayo, and Ang Nawawala.

OROS
Director: Paul Sta. Ana
Starring: Kristoffer King, Kristoffer Martin, Tanya Gomez
Competition: New Breed

This one gives viewers a look on the business of buying claimed bodies and holding wakes in order to gain more money via different means of gambling specifically sakla and tongits.

Oros gives a pretty accurate and specific portrayal of the topic that it covered, though I can’t help but notice that it tends to go overboard with its poverty porn treatment. For what its worth though, there’s a lot of discovery that one learns while watching the film. Ending is pretty much a give away though; thus, it lessened the actual impact that it was hoping to achieve. Kristoffer King gave a very competent leading performance, while Kristoffer Martin was a surprise as King’s younger brother. I’m not a fan of the shaky camera, but the movie is still serviceable with some commendable highlights in it.

Rating: 3 / 5

REquieme!
Director: Loy Arcenas
Starring: Shamaine Centenera Buencamino, Rez Cortez, Anthony Falcon
Competition: New Breed

REquieme tells somewhat related stories involving a funeral: the first one deals with a barangay captain (Centenera) who wants to bring home the body of a claimed distant relative who is a suspect in the killing of a famous world designer. The second one is about Joanna (Tolentino) who gives a neighbor, who served as his father figure, a deserving funeral. In between this, there’s also a story of a body that can’t seem to find its way home.

This one comes off as a surprise for me, as I certainly loved every minute of it. While the hilarious moments are indeed tummy aching, I find it more as an inspired avenue to tackle, highlight and realize Filipino characteristics especially those that involves connecting one’s name to fame. Anchored by the great Shamaine Centenera Buencamino (who’s 2 for 2 now in terms of giving memorable Cinemalaya performances after last year’s Nino), and a breakout performance by Anthony Falcon (who steals every scene he’s in), REquieme is one of those movies in this batch that definitely stood out.

Rating: 4.5 /5

SANTA NIÑA
Director: Emmanuel Palo
Starring: Coco Martin, Alessandra de Rossi, Anita Linda, Irma Adlawan
Competition: New Breed

When Paulino (Martin) discovered that the remains of his two year old daughter Marikit did not even decay a bit, this led to the questions of one’s faith and unraveling of secrets that were kept too long already.

It is difficult to tackle themes of faith in Filipino movies especially since there’s this one movie called Himala that set the bar too high for others to follow suit. However, Santa Nina does a good job in covering the said theme while adding layers of family drama and secrets of the past in the mix. The shots and technical aspects were very commendable; I specifically like the palette that they used in the movie. Coco Martin was serviceable in his job, though signs of too much television drama appear every now and then. His chemistry with Alessandra de Rossi is very natural though. Anita Linda and Irma Adlawan both have vital roles that managed to stand on their own during some parts of the movie.I felt that the movie was some minutes longer, and it could have ended on a different manner, but this one possesses good merits in it for me not to appreciate the film as a whole.

Rating: 4/ 5

POSAS
Director: Lawrence Fajardo
Starring: Nico Antonio, Art Acuña, Bangs Garcia, Jake Macapagal
Competition: New Breed

A day in the life of a thief as we get to see a blow by blow account of what happens once he gets under the fingers of police authority.

I feel this one has a been-there-done-that feeling, as the first film that comes to mind was Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay. Both movies follow one momentous day in the life of the main character when he gets under a circumstance that he doesn’t want to be into, and he faces the consequences of the said situation. Having said that, this one (like Oros) gives a specific and detailed portrayal of the topic that it wants to cover. The saving grace of the film was Acuña’s terrific acting as the head police officer, and John Lapuz’s storyline as another victim, but it lacks the impact that will make the movie memorable enough once the credits roll.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

12 down, 3 more left. Last batch contains the last three movies left in the festival (Aparisyon, Diablo, and Ang Katiwala). Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @nikowl