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37th Gawad Urian Winner Predictions   2 comments

The glory days of local Philippine awards night have been over, and right now, there are only two remaining interesting citation giving bodies: the Young Critics Circle and the Manunuri (and my own Titties awards of course lol). That said, the YCC already gave their citation last April while the Manunuri will be handling out their awards tomorrow. And in line with that, I’ll be going on a limb and try to predict who’ll end up with those huge silver trophies tomorrow in all 12 categories.

best pic

BEST PICTURE
Badil
Dukit
Ekstra
Ang Kuwento ni Mabuti
Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan

On the Job
Porno
Riddles of my Homecoming
Transit

With how huge Norte was last year, I think it will be an easy win for this Cannes Un Certain regard entry to receive the top prize for tomorrow’s ceremony. Besides, it’s not as if Lav Diaz has been over-rewarded here before (his films only won twice, for 2001’s Batang Westside and 2004’s Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino). To add more confidence in its side, it’s also the top nominated film for this year, and you’d notice the trend that it is indeed one of their most loved films this year. That said though, if they want to spread the wealth, I can see the other top nomination receiver, Dukit, getting the most coveted award instead.

Prediction: Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
Alternate: Dukit

best directing

BEST DIRECTING
Whammy Alcazaren, “Islands
Adolf Alix Jr.. “Porno
Mes de Guzman, “Ang Kuwento ni Mabuti”
Lav Diaz, “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
Hannah Espia, “Transit
Peque Gallaga, Lore Reyes, “Sonata
Jeffrey Jeturian, “Ekstra
Armando Lao, “Dukit
Arnel Mardoquio, “Riddles of My Homecoming
Erik Matti, “On the Job
Chito Rono, “Badil
Alvin Yapan, “Mga Anino ng Kahapon

Choosing in a field of twelve is already a difficult task to do, though I guess I have to remove those previous winners already: Adolf Alix, Mes de Guzman, Lav Diaz, Peque Gallaga, Jeffrey Jeturian, Arnel Mardoquio, Chito Rono, and Alvin Yapan. Then you also have Urian winners Armando Lao and Whammy Alcazaren (despite in other categories). That leaves us with veteran director Erik Matti and Hannah Espia. I have a hunch that Espia has more chance in Editing for Transit (and I’m predicting her there), so I guess I’ll be going with Erik Matti. I mean he’s overdue for an Urian right? Plus, On the Job is a very flashy directorial work that I can see the Manunuri going for. If not him though, I expect a second win for Lav Diaz because really, it’s quite a shame that he has only won here only once yet.

Prediction: Erik Matti, “On the Job
Alternate: Lav Diaz, “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan

best actor

BEST ACTOR
Mark Gil, “Philippino Story
Jhong Hilario, “Badil
Mimi Juareza, “Quick Change
Sid Lucero, “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
Alex Medina, “Babagwa
Ping Medina, “Transit
Joel Torre, “On the Job

Speaking of repeat winners, this surprisingly short line up (remember the 15 nominee group last year?) I think is between two past champs: 2001 champ for Batang Westside Joel Torre and 2010 champ for Muli, Sid Lucero. Lucero has the longer role and one that is very demanding as well that I won’t be surprised if the voters fall in love with such. That said, Torre’s 2013 is some sort of a career best comeback that let him lead not only one, but two brave performances of the last year (the other was for Borgy Torres’ Kabisera). Having that advantage would make me predict him for the win. Outside of those two though, I guess I’d go with Alex Medina as the other feasible winner. The Urian has a history of proclaiming the hot young handsome actor in this category (see Christopher de Leon in 1978, Philip Salvador in 1979, Richard Gomez in 1991, Aga Muhlach in 1995, Jason Abalos in 2007, Sid Lucero in 2010, Paulo Avelino in 2011, and Jericho Rosales last year) and Alex Medina fits that bill. But I’m still going with Joel Torre on this one.

Prediction: Joel Torre, “On the Job
Alternate: Sid Lucero, “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan

best actress

BEST ACTRESS
Nora Aunor, “Ang Kuwento ni Mabuti
Angeli Bayani, “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
Rustica Carpio, “Ano Ang Kulay ng Mga Nakalimutang Pangarap?”
Eugene Domingo, “Instant Mommy
Cherie Gil, “Sonata
Agot Isidro, “Mga Anino ng Kahapon
Teri Malvar, “Ang Huling Chacha ni Anita
Vilma Santos, “Ekstra
Lorna Tolentino, “Burgos
Vivian Velez, “Bendor

Definitely the most talked about and interesting category of the night (I won’t even be surprised if this one is handed out after Best Picture because it’s the Philippines after all), but this one revives the Nora-Vilma rivalry in a big way. Currently though, Vilma is all time Urian champ here with 8 wins, but Nora is closely behind her with 7 wins. If Vilma wins, she’d inch farther with 9, but if Nora wins, they’d both be tied at 8. Do you think they’ll just give them a tie and call it a day? I think there’s a probable chance of that happening. After all, it will please everyone and the mileage will really be huge. And despite the two being nominated alongside with each other during the 80s and early 90s, this possibility is unprecedented yet. In the event that happens, everyone leaves happy. However, they can also do a cop out and instead reward the eight other women here. I think the biggest possible spoiler is Angeli  Bayani whose 2013 is definitely a career best for her. Making waves at almost all film festivals here, an Urian Best Actress is a nice cap off to her 2013 achievement. And that’s who I’m predicting to win here. If not her, then I expect Vilma to receive her ninth win here. Nora just had her spotlight last year, I’m sure they won’t hesitate shifting the momentum to Vilma this year.

Prediction: Angeli Bayani, “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
Alternate: Vilma Santos, “Ekstra

best supp actor

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Art Acuna, “Kabisera
Archie Alemania, “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
Carlo Aquino, “Porno
John Arcilla, “Metro Manila
Victor Basa, “Lauriana
Joey Marquez, “On the Job
Cesar Montano, “Ang Alamat ni China Doll”
Bor Ocampo, “Dukit
Junjun Quintana, “A Philippino Story
Yul Servo, “Porno

As for the supporting actors, unless Art Acuna pulls off a threepeat (which I doubt happens but I won’t be surprised if he actually does), I think it will be a battle of the two overdue Porno guys (that sounded wrong no? lol). Both Urian-less Yul Servo and Carlo Aquino are the ones I’m confident about in this category. Carlo Aquino is now on his sixth bid for a win while Yul Servo is on his fifth. You can really just toss a coin with this one, but I guess I’m going with the latter – no reasons why.

Prediction: Yul Servo, “Porno
Alternate: Carlo Aquino, “Porno

best supp actress

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Angel Aquino, “Porno
Angel Aquino, “Ang Huling Chacha ni Anita
Jasmine Curtis, “Transit
Ruby Ruiz, “Ekstra
Michelle Smith, “Angustia”
Raquel Villavicencio, “Dukit

Call it the “Johnny Delgado Rule”. When it comes to Urian, compete against yourself in one category and you’d end up winning the trophy. It was in 1980 when Johnny Delgado competed against himself for for Brutal and Kakabakaba Ka Ba? and he ended up with a Supporting Actor win for the latter. Then in 1986, Jaclyn Jose was nominated twice for Best Actress: Private Show and Takaw Tukso, also winning for the latter. Fast forward to last year in this same category where Alessandra de Rossi was nominated for both Mater Dolorosa and Santa Nina, and she finally clinched her first Urian for the former. As a matter of fact, this statistic is so strong that it only faltered once (Nora Aunor who was nominated for both Bulaklak sa City Jail and ‘Merika only to lose to a threepeat Vilma Santos win for Sister Stella L.) Why am I writing about this though? It’s because I think this rule will apply again to twice nominated Angel Aquino.  I had her both as a prediction and alternate and I’ll just wait which one sticks. Like de Rossi last year, Aquino hasn’t won an Urian yet, and I’m choosing Porno by a hair since they seem to like the overall film better and that it’s her flashier and more “physically demanding” work.

Prediction: Angel Aquino, “Porno
Alternate: Angel Aquino, “Ang Huling Chacha ni Anita

Now as for the rest of the categories…

SCREENPLAY:
Prediction:
Lav Diaz, Rody Vera,Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
Alternate:
Michicko Yamamoto, Erik Matti,On the Job

PRODUCTION DESIGN:
Prediction: Adolf Alix, “Porno
Alternate: Richard Somes, “On the Job

CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Prediction: Rene Manda, “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
Alternate: Albert Banzon, “Porno

MUSIC:
Prediction: Gauss Obenza, “Riddles of my Homecoming
Alternate: Perry Dizon, “Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan

EDITING:
Prediction: Benjamin Tolentino, Hannah Espia, “Transit
Alternate: Jay Halili, “On the Job

SOUND:
Prediction: Armando Lao, “Dukit
Alternate: Arnel Barbarona, “Riddles of My Homecoming

DOCUMENTARY:
Prediction:
 Jazz in Love (Baby Ruth Villarama)
Alternate: Nanay Mameng (Adjani Arumpac)

SHORT FILM
Prediction: 
Onang (JE Tiglao)
Alternate: May Dinadala (Giancarlo Abrahan)

Let’s wait how these predictions will turn out tomorrow when the Manunuri holds the 37th Gawad Urian Awards to be hosted by Piolo Pascual and Bianca Gonzalez. The special will also be shown on Cinema One multiple times this month.

You can also follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

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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

Philippines’ 86th Oscar Submission: Transit   11 comments

1001587_708370515842957_1956497868_n  Just yesterday, the Philippines announced their official pick as to what the country will submit for the Best  Foreign Language film category at the 86th Academy Awards. First time feature director Hannah Espia’s Transit, a drama about an OFW family in Israel having to deal with the current policy of deporting non-Israelian kids from the country. It is a late inclusion from an original field of nine shortlist which you can find here.

Transit is definitely one of the year’s best films, there’s no doubt about that. It is a great film and I even personally have that as one of the five best films of the year (by far). It managed to sweep last month’s Cinemalaya Film Festival ending up with ten trophies. It has great technical achievements and is an exceptional debut feature from young director Hannah Espia. I’m also glad that the FAP is responding more to female directors, as she becomes the third female director (after Marilou Diaz Abaya and Rory B. Quintos) to have a film being submitted for this. In short, it’s a great film. Period.

But quality can only take you so far.

We all know it’s just not about the quality. Arguably, one can even say that it’s more on the campaigning of the film. With 70+ contenders from films all over the world contending. an all out big campaign must be launched. After all, Transit, hasn’t been a part of the big three festivals (Cannes, Venice, Berlin) nor a participant of the other smaller festivals like Toronto, Tribeca, Sundance, or Telluride. When it comes to Oscar, those are all the only festivals that matter. And an exposure to any of that (and a film’s performance in that said participation) is the kickstarter for its buzz.

This is the type of film that benefits only in the voting process of the actual winner already, since there’s no doubt that it has a huge appeal to the demographics of Oscar voters. But before reaching that stage, it needs an aggressive campaign that will lead it to the said position, which I’m skeptical of it achieving. That is the film’s biggest hurdle. How can they handle to make everyone consider to see it and prioritize it among the dozens and dozens of films in contention.

Now last year I wrote it here, that if I will sum up Bwakaw‘s chances, I’d say its biggest and farthest road that it can travel is the top nine shortlist. After all, same time last year, it already had a Toronto screening, thus the Oscar prognosticating sites (particularly Nathaniel Rogers’ The Film Experience raving about it) keep its small buzz alive. So unless they have some tricks left up in their sleeves, then yes, I guess it’s possible. If I have to make a prediction this year, a top nine is a long shot and it will take a huge miracle of some sorts if it managed to do that.

All in all, while there’s no doubt that we submitted a great film, if we’re really in it to finally get the country a nod, then we should consider more how this policy really works. This is no beauty pageant, we don’t need a film that shows the good side of the country to represent us. If we really want to nab an Oscar nod, then they must start to learn how the tricks of the trade work. This is not a year that we must just get contented that we submitted a great film. We already did that last year with Bwakaw. This year, we have something in contention that could have done much better. Oh well, off to next year I guess.

9th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 4   4 comments

As the 9th Cinemalaya closes tonight with the awards night ceremonies, I now post the last batch of reviews for this year’s filmfest. If you have been following this blog, you’ll know that I have posted eleven reviews already. Part 1  has 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, while Part 3 consists of Jerrold Tarog’s Sana Dati, Christopher Ad Castillo’s The Diplomat Hotel, Joseph Israel Laban’s Nuwebe and Eduardo Roy Jr.’s Quick Change. Now I present the final piece of the puzzle with the last four movies of this year’s Cinemalaya entries:

BABAGWA
Director: Jason Paul Laxamana
Cast: Alex Medina, Alma Concepcion, Joey Paras, Kiko Matos
Competition: New Breed

An internet scammer falls in love with a wealthy old maid while trying to swindle her using a fake Facebook profile.

The whole concept of Babagwa is probably one of the more relatable ones in this year’s batch. While one does not need to do fake profiles in order to relate to the film, it tackles the unveiling of one’s identity in this time of social media obsession. Laxamana’s screenplay is one that’s fresh and inspired. During the first two parts of the story, we were introduced on how this whole bogus scam works – we see the step by step process of how they pull off this shenanigan and how they successfully pulls off money from their targets. The last act is the weakest one though; by the time it started, everyone already has a hunch of what will happen and how it will end up. But two things make up for it: first, everyone still waits for the reveal despite knowing how it will end up. Second, Laxamana’s effective build up and depiction as Paras’ narrates while it shifts back and forth to Greg (Alex Medina) to support the narration. It’s a build up that can easily hit or miss, but in this case, it definitely worked. I’ve learned that this won the Audience Choice in the New Breed category, and I’m actually not surprised at all. The way the director held up the audience at the edge of their seats without going backwards is a feat of itself. We’re also treated to mighty fine performances of Alex Medina and Joey Paras, as they are probably frontrunners for awards on Sunday night.

Rating: 3.5/5

TRANSIT
Director: Hannah Espia
Cast: Irma Adlawan, Ping Medina, Jasmine Curtis Smith, Mercedes Cabral, Marc Justine Alavarez
Competition: New Breed

The film begins and ends in an airport during a father and son’s transit flight from Tel Aviv to Manila.

One of the best things about Transit is how it connects its characters and stories seamlessly. I like the approach director Hannah Espia used in order to present to us the five characters in the movie. She clearly knows how to intricately weave all these similar and shared events from different points of view and how each and every one of them is affected by it. That same approach works perfectly well in the context of her storytelling, and it’s one that I will appreciate the most here. With that said, the movie also boasts of technical and acting achievements. The cinematography here is gorgeous, and even in small scenes like the one of Yael in the playground is very much inspired. The ensemble is also really commendable. All characters feel very natural from their speaking manners up to their interactions with each other. Irma Adlawan portrayal of a mother is one that can make you see your own mother too. Jasmine Curtis’ has these raw acting chops that were well showcased here. It’s one that surprised you with her depth. But the heart of the movie probably lies with the four year old kid, Joshua. And he exudes this innocence that will certainly leave an impression on you. By effectively combining both the emotional tug and effective presentation of the story, there’s no doubt that Hannah Espia’s debut feature is one of the year’s best films.

Rating: 4.5/5

DAVID F
Director: Emmanuel Palo
Cast: Eula Valdez, Rocky Salumbides, Daxx Martin, Shamaine Buencamino
Competition: New Breed

David F weaves three stories that look into the lineage of African-Americans in the Philippines –from American soldiers in the Fil-Am war to the “Amboys” in the former Clark Airfield.

The premise of David F somewhat reminds me of Stephen Daldry’s The Hours. While that may really be arguable, the Af-Am connection is probably the Mrs. Dalloway counterpart. On the first part, we travel back to see a David Fagel being captured by two Filipinos and is on his way to become beheaded when his Filipino partner suddenly appears to free him. The next part is during the Japanese occupation when a deaf woman carries the child of a Filipino soldier. The last one is during the present time when a comedy act performer wants to find his father who is named David Fagel and is being helped by a volunteer to trace the steps in doing so. The thing with David F. is that it seemed that the three stories are somewhat disjointed and tends up to either overwhelm or underwhelm the audience, depending on how you enjoy each segment. While there are some strong aspects in each of the three stories, the whole is not the sum of its parts here. You can see some good storytelling in each part but it wasn’t totally fleshed out to leave a mark to its viewers. With that said, the director’s attempt is appreciated and the film has believable production design especially during the two earlier parts. I was actually invested the most in the third one, but it did not leave enough room for me to cling on to the story and the whole movie just felt half baked.

Rating: 2.5/5

AMOR Y MUERTE
Director: Cesar Evangelista
Cast: Althea Vega, Markki Stroem, Ama Quiambao, Adrian Sebastian
Competition: Director’s Showcase

An erotic 16th Century period drama, the film examines the initial encounter between the indios and their colonizers and their conflicting views on love, passion, religion, and sexuality.

The trailer of the film suggests that it will be some sort of a no holds barred level of eroticism in the context of the 16th Century. On one hand, they actually did portray that, as it showed the different views of the characters in the film, and how they conflicted with thoughts on the said aspects. But the approach it did will make the viewers feel like “That’s it?” once the credits roll. Probably because it left viewers conflicting whether it’s a tongue in cheek or a serious approach. That’s how I see it. Others expecting it’s a serious film will probably remember the tongue in cheek ones while those who find it light will look for the depth of what the movie wants to offer. However, the redeeming factor of the film is its technical achievements. The music adds more interest, and some shots were memorable, albeit way too overdone. Althea Vega is really good here, capturing the conflicting character of her natural feelings with the adjustments that she has to undergo now. It is a very physical role and she showed no signs of inhibition at all. All in all, I’d say that Amor Y Muerte’s strength lies in Vega’s performance and its technical achievements than what it wants to say in its story.

Rating: 2.5/5

There you have it. Whew, finally it’s over! The awards night will happen tonight over at the CCP as they hand out the best of the best (really? LOL) from this year’s batch of films. Good luck to everybody!

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

8th Cinemalaya Film Festival Review: Part 1   7 comments

The biggest Philippine independent film festival has already begun, and this year marks the 8th edition of Cinemalaya. I’ve been going back and forth at the CCP for the last few days, so I can watch all the participating movies both in the New Breed and Directors Showcase categories. Here’s the first of my four part Cinemalaya reviews:

MGA MUMUNTING LIHIM
Director: Jose Javier Reyes
Starring: Judy Ann Santos, Iza Calzado, Janice de Belen, and Agot Isidro
Competition: Directors Showcase

When Mariel (Santos) died, she left a box to her best friend Carla (Calzado) containing all of her diaries back when she started writing one. As Carla reads all of them, secrets between her, Mariel, Sandra (Isidro), and Olive (de Belen) started to affect their friendship.

This is Jose Javier Reyes’ first foray into indie filmmaking, and this shows some potential. I have issues with the treatment of the movie as a whole, and the sound seems to inconsistent at times. However, whatever issues you have with the film won’t bother you that much when you focus on the two greatest aspects of the movie: the writing and the acting. Reyes’s lines seem straight out of his personal journal as well, and it’s pretty obvious that he has a lot of inspiration when he was writing this. While one may think that it may be exaggerated, I claim to say that it is rather truthful. The other strength lies within the acting; the four leads can carry the whole film on their shoulders and yet remain as interesting. The chemistry was prevalent, and whether it was Iza’s stares, Judai’s facial expressions, Agot’s delivery, or Janice’s cussing, it was all very natural. Part of me thinks that they did cast lesser known actors as it’s difficult to hold up with this great ensemble. That alone is worth the ticket. All in all, it was a very realistic portrayal of friendship that is relatable to everyone.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

KAMERA OBSKURA
Director: Raymond Red
Starring: Ping Medina, Joel Torre, Nanding Josef
Competition: Directors Showcase

A man locked inside a cell for many years finally makes his way out and as he gets to see the reality of the world when he mysteriously traveled a building with a video camera in hand as he sees activities of betrayal and corruption left and right.

I admit that this is the film that I’m excited the most; thus, it has the highest expectations I have for the whole festival, and it certainly did not live up to its expectations. For one, the potential was there; but the treatment was pretty redundant especially the first and last scene where they almost used the same script, as I feel it did not gel well with the rest of the film. For a silent film, I find it too loud with all the unnecessary sound effects used. Add the fact that it was too wordy as well. I also had issues with the too much “in your face” with the message that it wants to deliver. Still, there were also great spots that the film possesses. One, Pen Medina was charismatic in the lead role and suits with the direction Red wants to be in to. Even his son Ping Medina (who played the young Pen) was a treat albeit short appearance. I also like the visuals of the film, as they were detailed, and parallel to the message it wants to present. For what it’s worth, this one suffers from some issues but still brings in a pretty much enjoyable film watching experience.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

INTOY SYOKOY NG KALYE MARINO
Director: Lemuel Lorca
Starring: JM de Guzman, LJ Reyes, Joross Gamboa
Competition: New Breed

Intoy (de Guzman), now living alone, learns that the love of his life Doray (Reyes) is the town’s prostitute. Now he tries his best to earn an extra amount of money so they can both start life anew, until a new set of unsolvable problems lead their way.

At times, the movie tends to be pretty formulaic with the sequence of events happening in the film. I also noticed some repetitive shots in various scenes in the movie. However, the heart and soul of the film is Intoy himself. JM de Guzman was captivating and heartbreaking as the lead character. You can feel the energy, the enthusiasm, the heartbreak, and the innocence in his face. He was perfectly casted, and he definitely delivered. LJ Reyes was also excellent as Doray Langaw, and his chemistry with de Guzman is palpable. I also particularly liked how they made Kalye Marino as another character in the movie bringing it to life and translating it to the audience. The movie somehow can’t prevent itself from going poverty porn at times, but I totally bought the emotions they showed especially the one between the two leads.

Rating: 3 / 5

KALAYAAN
Director: Adolf Alix Jr.
Starring: Ananda Everingham, Zanjoe Marudo, Luis Alandy
Competition: Directors Showcase

A soldier living alone in Kalayaan Islands deals a daily repetitive schedule as he spends his last few remaining days in the middle of the Erap impeachment trial.

I was surprised to learn that this is already Adolf Alix’s 20th movie, but seeing this shows that he has already mastered his craft and has achieved growth if you go way back to his earlier films. I actually find this film very therapeutic; each scene brings you right where the character is, and the good thing about it is that it lingers. I particularly liked how we just go with the flow with Victor (Everingham) feeling for him, understanding him, and living with him. Once the characters of Zanjoe Marudo (who definitely brought humor and comedic relief) and Luis Alandy, we tend to get more intrigued, yet understand the life that they are living in Kalayaan Islands. This one has part fantasy, part horror, and part comedy, but the sum is greater than all of its parts. I really like the cinematography, and the musical score above everything else. Once the credits rolled, you feel that you’ve known enough yet you ask some more. This is probably my favorite film for this year’s festival, and for the year (so far) as well.

Rating: 4.5 / 5