Archive for the ‘star cinema’ Tag

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

REVIEW: OTJ (On the Job)   1 comment

on the job

Fresh from their successful run at the Directors’ Fortnight section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival last May, Erik Matti’s crime thriller finally find its way into Philippine theaters, as Star Cinema and Reality Entertainment release OTJ (On the Job) which stars Piolo Pascual, Gerald Anderson, Joel Torre, and Joey Marquez among others.

Inspired by true events, the film gives an extensive depiction of how some jailed members were being released from prison every now and then as they’re assigned with the task of killing people under orders from the wealthy and influential.  In the film, the specific gunmen happens to be Tatang (Joel Torre) and his protege Daniel (Gerald Anderson) who is being groomed to be his replacement once he retires. Tatang takes and trains Daniel under his wing as they do their assignments. On the flipside, there’s NBI official Francis Coronel, Jr. (Piolo Pascual) who was tasked to take over these said cases, as well as police office Acosta (Joey Marquez).  Once their paths crossed provides conflict in the film.

There’s a lot of great things to say about this, but If there’s a clear standout in it, no doubt it is Erik Matti. His slick direction is the main core which holds the film together and gives it the necessary oomph. I like how he weaves these scenes and events seamlessly which makes for an intense and thrilling ride. The rest of the technical achievements were on point as well, with Richard Somes’ production design and Francis Buhay III’s cinematography portraying Manila in a very artistic and sensible manner, that of a series of tasteful photographs that’s well done.

The story and pacing smoothly complimented each other. I like how the intensity just builds up right from the get go during the first scene up until the last one. The chase and fight scenes were tastefully pulled off. It’s also great to see characters that were fleshed out especially that of the three main characters. We get to know them more instead of simply just following what they do. This is one of the things I like about the film in terms of characterization, we get a glimpse of their individual lives as opposed to just going right at the center of the conflict.

This film pretty much shows what an ensemble really is. There are really no small roles here, as everyone’s given something to do and they all did their parts well. Gerald Anderson’s greatest acting achievement prior to this is a television stint as mentally challenged Budoy, but this character suits him like a glove and challenges his acting chops for the better. It’s nothing new to claim that Joel Torre is a great actor, but this will probably end up as one of his most memorable turns in his discography. Piolo Pascual is the good guy of course, so this isn’t much of a stretch for him, but it’s great to see that he wasn’t phoning it in. But, I like how Erik Matti brings out the best in Joey Marquez. He already gave us a glimpse of it in last year’s Tiktik, but this was more prevalent in here. Special props to Vivian Velez’ kick ass role.

Given everything that’s actually happening in the country right now, one can somehow juxtapose this with the events in the film too. This will probably make the experience more insightful for others in terms of understanding the events or the aftermath of it. Films that make a statement is a hit or miss for me, but I like that this one doesn’t spoonfeed it to the audience.

I would have loved to see the version that was shown at Cannes since I’ve learned that it was slightly different from what was shown here. Nevertheless, On the Job is such a breath of fresh air in terms of current Philippine cinema effectively combining style and substance in a savvy manner. I might as well say it’s one (if not the) movie event of the year.

Rating: 5/5

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REVIEW: Tuhog   7 comments

Tuhog

Skylight Films, the indie army of Star Cinema, does their own celebration of the film outfit’s 20th year by coming up with a comedy that plays with intertwined fates of three strangers. Written and directed by Veronica Velasco, and starred by Eugene Domingo, Leo Martinez, Enchong Dee, and Jake Cuenca, Tuhog is a take on the connection of me, you, and everyone else you know.

Due to a highway bus accident, three strangers Tonio (Leo Martinez), Caloy (Enchong Dee), and Fiesta (Eugene Domingo) are literally connected by a piece of steel bar; unfortunately for them, the small hospital where they were directed has only two operating rooms, and before the decision can be made, we get a glimpse of their own lives prior to the said incident. There, we see Tonio, a retired family man, whose aim is to put up a bakery.  Fiesta is a cranky female bus conductor who’s being haunted by her past, while Caloy is a typical college student whose world revolves with the notion of finally having her long distant girlfriend deflowered.

On the outside, it’s easy to dismiss the definition of the film’s title from the main conflict that the film presented. If you’re a fan of Grey’s Anatomy, you’ll have a clear idea of what I’m referring to in the Season 2 episode Into You Like a Train. However, it goes deeper than that. We were then presented that even before the accident, there were already instances where the three characters have intertwined in the past. And I think that’s where the movie clearly succeeds – that there were already some puzzle pieces even before the picture was made.

Veronica Velasco really knows how to connect the story to the audience and vice versa. I like how each of the backstories were tackled, though it’s safe to say that Caloy’s story was the weakest of the three. Not because it was the lightest, but because it’s the one that comes close (but definitely didn’t) from being a filler. The most interesting one is hands down the first one with Tonio. It’s stories like his that personally strikes the most interest for me because it’s  a scenario that others can possibly see themselves at. Fiesta’s segment is the perfect middle story; it might not be the most original story, but it is successful in what it presented, and the crowd I was with definitely ate all of it up. If anything, the only thing I wasn’t particularly fond of was the resolution part as it tends to become preachy, and it seems sort of out of place to what the build up did.

I’ll dedicate a paragraph of my review to say this, because I want them to get the much deserved props, but the visuals in here is really fresh and well thought. The opening credits is one of the best I’ve seen in local cinema for a long time, and it is talents like such that convinces me that we need more avenue to expose them because the talent is clearly there.

With three different stories to tackle, a large ensemble is needed, and for the most part, I think all of them were okay. I don’t remember anything that strikes as an odd man out. Eugene Domingo was her typical charismatic self, and while most people know her for her comedic skills, her dramatic ones were equally good too. Enchong Dee is the definition of a boy next door and this role plays right up his alley. My favorite though is Leo Martinez, as one who is still in denial of his current state and simply aims for his dream to push through, you’d feel for him and what he’s going through. Martinez together with his barkada in the film (Bodjie Pascua, Jon Achaval, Menggie Cobarrubias) is one of the most enjoyable portrayal of friendship I’ve seen.

Tuhog is a very competent and inspired take on life’s many possibilities and how fate can possibly bring us to see that. It’s one that can make you ask questions about yourself despite not getting the answers instantly.

RATING: 4/5

REVIEW: Four Sisters and a Wedding   3 comments

Four Sisters and a Wedding

As an opening salvo to Star Cinema’s 20th anniversary celebration, they certainly opened it with a bang by coming up with a family drama that combined some of the most popular actor and actresses of this generation. Helmed by ultimate box office director Cathy Garcia Molina and starred by Toni Gonzaga, Angel Locsin, Bea Alonzo, Shaina Magdayao, and Enchong Dee, Four Sisters and a Wedding tackles family issues in both comedic and dramatic fashion.

After announcing that the youngest (and the only male) Salazar sibling, Ceejay (Enchong Dee) is getting married, his four other sisters   Teddie (Toni Gonzaga), who works in Spain, Bobbie (Bea Alonzo), working now in New York, Alex (Angel Locsin) a production assistant for indie films, and Gabbie (Shaina Magdayao) teacher and the one in charge to live with their mother, come up with a master plan to halt the said occasion.

On one hand, it’s actually refreshing to see a Star Cinema family film that is not a straight up drama (think of Tanging Yaman or Sa’yo Lamang) and not a straight up comedy as well (think of Tanging Ina or Tanging Pamilya). It lends more freedom for the director and the writer to flex where the vision of the film wants to go.  Some of these concepts were highlighted in the film such as the complex relationship of sisters Alex and Bobbie, or the competitive nature of oldest sibling Teddie juxtaposed with the complacent and content stature of youngest sister Gabbie. Then you’d have the voiceless feeling of the only thorn among the roses, Ceejay. This is where the major strength of the movie kicks in.

I’d also note that it’s refreshing to see a product placement that does not bother me the same way that usual local films do. Rebisco biscuits product placements were scattered all throughout the movie, but it’s not as forced as it was carefully inserted in films and does not scream blatant product insertion, to me at least.

With that said though, the comedic themes were less inspired, as compared to the dramatic ones. As for one, the main premise of the film is ridiculous itself, but the approach could have been much tighter, so as not to make it look lamer when compared to the themes on the paragraph above this. I also noticed lack of full characterization especially in the characters of Alex and Gabbie. While Teddie and Bobbie’s stories went full circle, the other two sisters are just going around in circles. It’s probably a case of editing issues, but I would have wanted to learn more of them too, or at least, give them the spotlight every now and then.

But of course, I know what you’re here for. You want to know who’s the best among all the actresses in this film. Okay so I’ll try to break it down for you. Toni Gonzaga is my favorite in the film. I already saw how she goes back and forth with comedy and drama still back from My Amnesia Girl, but this vehicle lets her sashay from one genre to the other instantly. She knacks you off with her comedic timing, and she knocks you as well when it comes to her more dramatic ones. I think the reason why I like her most is because I still think that the film leans more on comedy, and she’s the best in show in terms of that aspect. Bea Alonzo, on the other hand, is the reliable dramatic actress that delivers, and she benefits from playing a character that was complexly written, and she pays that off by giving it justice. Her moment during the family’s confrontation (albeit too long and overdone) is really effective and one of the film’s highlights. And I know I have already said this in my past reviews of her previous films, but hers is a face that the camera really loves. Angel Locsin might not have the most moments, but she certainly makes the best of what she has to do. It is not the type of acting that screams awards, but the way she switch emotions in seconds is a testament of how much growth she has achieved already. What I particularly like about her performance is that she’s not getting all the forefront in terms of scenes, and she usually is relegated to  reacting in most of them, but she plays the same intensity to all of them. One might consider Gonzaga’s character as bordering on cartoonish, and Alonzo’s as too TV type, but Locsin’s is the most human in my opinion. More characterization from the writers would have made her character more impactful though.

The rest of the actors were also necessary but given mostly smaller to almost thankless roles (Shaina Magdayao’s Gabbie comes to mind), but they were all serviceable. Coney Reyes was inspired casting though as the family matriarch, while Carmi Martin was a hilarious scene stealer and gets the best character entrance in the film.

All in all, the main flaw that I see in this film is that despite being half comedy and half drama, the stories they used in order to cater both are not in the same vein. We see inspired storytelling in the dramatic parts of the movie, while the comedic ones were usually rehashed and less inspired. But since they’re promoting it more as a comedy, it could have used much better material in that context. That said, it’s an enjoyable film that is saved by the cast’s chemistry and one that caters to most members of well… the family.

RATING: 3/5

5 Underrated Star Cinema Movies   5 comments

Now celebrating its 20th year as the country’s premiere film outfit, Star Cinema has been delivering a lot of the most memorable movies  during the past two decades. The latter half of its 20-year production, though, mostly has been more on coming up with box office hits, as it now fills up all ten of the ten highest grossing films in the country. With that said, here are five reminders that every now and then, Star Cinema is still able to deliver quality potential films instead of the usual moneymaking ventures.

Dreamboy

05. DREAMBOY (2005)

DIRECTOR: Gilber Perez
CAST: Piolo Pascual, Bea Alonzo
PLOT: Hopeless romatic Cyd (Bea Alonzo) met three versions of the same man (Piolo Pascual), until she was in for a rude awakening.
WHY IS IT UNDERRATED: It was 2005, and television is slowly taking over the cinema as the basis of celebrity popularity. With artista search happening left and right, the people weren’t particularly interested with the approach that the film did. It was brave for Star Cinema to pull off something like this during the peak of cutesy loveteams (and Piolo-Bea is an experiment pairing to say the least), and while it was not seen as total success during its time, I appreciate the risk they did with it.

My Amnesia Girl

04. MY AMNESIA GIRL (2010)

DIRECTOR: Cathy Garcia-Molina
CAST: John Lloyd Cruz, Toni Gonzaga
PLOT: When Apollo (John Lloyd Cruz) thinks that the answer to his great love is ex-girlfriend Irene (Toni Gonzaga), he finds her back only to find out she is now suffering from amnesia (or so we think).
WHY IS IT UNDERRATED: Sure it was the biggest hit of 2010, and John Lloyd and Toni were robbed of Box Office King and Queen titles during that year, but let’s take some few steps back and reminisce that during the release of the first trailer, everyone already dismissed it as a 50 First Dates rip-off. And boy they were wrong. While box office receipts were always mentioned, the out of the box  approach of the film (especially during the first 40 minutes of the film) is a fresh take on Star Cinema love story standards.

Forever and a Day

03. FOREVER AND A DAY (2011)

DIRECTOR: Cathy Garcia-Molina
CAST: Sam Milby, KC Concepcion
PLOT: Strangers Eugene (Sam Milby) and Raffy (KC Concepcion) met in the lovely place of Bukidnon for different reasons. He wants a break from work; she wants to prove something to herself. Once they start to get to know each other, true secrets were revealed about Raffy.
WHY IS IT UNDERRATED: By this time, Cathy Garcia Molina is already the perennial box office director that she is now, and everyone expects that she will deliver the same combination that makes all of her previous hits box office success. While this is the mere exception from the group, it’s an exception that gives her room to try other approach when handling stories, and one that’s rare to see in mainstream filmmaking.

Nasaan Ka Man

02. NASAAN KA MAN (2005)

DIRECTOR: Cholo Laurel
CAST: Claudine Barretto, Jericho Rosales, Dietehr Ocampo
PLOT: Set in the haunted and mystical city of Baguio, it tells the story of three adopted children (Rosales, Barretto, and Ocampo) who grew up under two spinster sisters (Hilda Koronel, Gloria Diaz). Life has been pretty good to all of them until Pandora’s box of their family secrets were unveiled.
WHY IS IT UNDERRATED: UP graduate Cholo Laurel’s first foray into mainstream directing seemed to be a double edged sword. On one hand, this was a great debut for someone of his caliber. To be given this chance was definitely overwhelming for him. After all, its powerful storytelling (written by Ricky Lee himself), together with his direction, is a combination that made this one of the best films that year. It sucks that this did not perform too much commercially, as it was a good risk that should have paid off.

RPG Metanoia

01. RPG METANOIA (2010)

DIRECTOR: Luis Suarez
CAST: Zaijan Jaranilla, Vhong Navarro, Aga Muhlach, Eugene Domingo
PLOT: When a virus from online games started to affect society, it will be up to this generation of computer game-loving kids to save the day.
WHY IS IT UNDERRATED: Animated film fans in the country are definitely many, and this is actually more than qualified to be the first local animated 3D film we have ever produced. That alone would have made this an “event” not to miss. Add the fact that it was a part of the annual Metro Manila Film Festival, and Star Cinema behind it, and I’m still not sure why it just didn’t reach its audience. Their loss, I guess, since it’s one of 2010’s best films.

Now entering their 20th year of producing and distributing local films, I hope that Star Cinema will still give focus to quality filmmaking even only every now and then. They used to do this more often, and it’s quite saddening how it has fallen way way below now. But with Erik Matti’s On the Job as one of their features this year, there’s still hope I guess.

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

REVIEW: Menor de Edad, Seduction, A Moment in Time, The Bride and the Lover, Bromance, Juana C. The Movie   5 comments

Hi everyone! I have been terribly busy the last few weeks, but I’ll try my best to catch up on local cinema for this year. So instead of doing full reviews for each, I’ll try to tackle them in small dosages. Most of these I’ve seen during their release but doesn’t have the time to write a full review, some I caught up on, and some via other sources *wink*. Anyway, here are six more films from 2013’s collection:

MENOR DE EDAD

Director: Joel Lamangan
Cast: Meg Imperial, Ara Mina, Wendell Ramos, Jaycee Parker, Chynna Ortaleza

2013’s kick off local movie is Joel Lamangan’s socio-political drama Menor de Edad which aims to provide an honest and raw look of the slum life by focusing on a story of juvenile teenagers living in the squatters area. While the intention was there, viewers might get lost as Lamangan goes back and forth to documentary approach and the melodramatic aspects of the film. Scenes were mostly contrived and there were too many plots running that it’s hard for anything to stand out; in the end, all seemed half baked versions of what they really wanted to achieve. The cast was okay, though I can’t help but see them relying on scenery chewing approach of acting which made the over the top story… more over the top.

RATING: 1.5/5


SEDUCTION

Director: Peque Gallaga
Cast: Richard Gutierrez, Solenn Heusaff, Sarah Labhati, Jay Manalo, Al Tantay

Fatal Attraction meets Unfaithful is the theme of Peque Gallaga’s 2013 drama which centers the character of fireman Ram in a choice between two babes: Trina, the one he likes, and Sophia, the one he’s concerned about. It also did not help that Trina is reserved while Sophia can be the answer to his family’s financial obligations. I appreciate the fact that this could have been a good character study of the main characters (particularly Ram and to a certain extent, Sophia), but it wasn’t as interesting as what I expected it to be. I saw some of the classic Peque Gallaga shots in terms of the angles and framing in his shots which maintained interest to say the least, but his actors let him down. It seemed as if it was a battle of “Who can act the worst?” among the three lead stars. It’s a case of seeing the film go one step forward, then two steps behind, and by the time the movie ended, we’re there at the same place where it started.

RATING: 2/5

A MOMENT IN TIME

Director: Emmanuel Palo
Cast: Coco Martin, Julia Montes, Gabby Concepcion, Cherie Gil, Zsazsa Padilla

Star Cinema’s Valentine’s offering this year is composed of one of 2012’s television’s favorite couples: Coco Martin and Julia Montes via A Moment in Time. This story of “strangers getting to know each other though bounded by fate before they even met each other” is a hit or miss for me. For one, Coco Martin and Julia Montes really has a chemistry that was visible in the movie, but on the other hand, I don’t think I already have recovered from their age differences. More than that though, once the back stories of both their characters were revealed (which happened during the earlier part of the film), it’s pretty predictable already. Sure Coco Martin made the whole audience kilig, I still don’t think he has found the suitable mainstream project for him. Plus points though since Amsterdam was really good to look at, and for Cherie Gil’s straight faced delivery of the line “Mukha ba akong kontrabida sa isang pelikula?

RATING: 2/5

THE BRIDE AND THE LOVER

Director: Joel Lamangan
Cast: Paulo Avelino, Lovi Poe, Jennylyn Mercado, Joem Bascon, Hayden Kho

In the never ending tradition of “two women fighting over one man” films that still shows no signs of stopping (everyone… sigh) comes another from the vault. This time, about  best friends who both took the characters of the bride and the lover. That’s also probably the most this movie can offer in terms of standing out among all these kerida films, and while that’s not saying too much, I appreciate that they even tried doing it. The movie is, indeed, entertaining with its shift to comedic and dramatic tones though it also gets tiring by the time we’ve reached the latter part of the film. There were also too many unnecessary characters (the best friend/bodyguard storyline is one that can be eliminated already), but the climax part is enjoyable and almost made up for the rest of the clunks. Jennylyn Mercado stood out the most in this trio, and I hope she gets movie roles because she really has the chops to be even better.

RATING: 2.5/5

BROMANCE: MY BROTHER’S ROMANCE

Director: Wenn Deramas
Cast: Zanjoe Marudo, Cristine Reyes, Arlene Muhlach, Nikki Valdez, Joey Paras, Lassie

If there’s one thing that I like about Bromance is the fact that Wenn Deramas was mostly in a clean slate in this: no Vice Ganda, no Tanging Ina jokes, no DJ Durano to be seen. This gives a fresh new energy that makes most of the film work. Zanjoe Marudo still continues to challenge himself as an actor, and his last few movie projects continue to shape him as an all around actor. I like how committed he was in it, and it shows in his performance. Cristine Reyes also seems to have a knack at comedy, and I think this type of role suits her better than let’s say El Presidente. The cameos in the film were a lot, but most worked for me (especially the one who played the doctor). This movie made me laugh more than what I expected, so if this is what we can expect from the next few Deramas outings, then he might have mastered the type of comedy for his audience after all? But then again, it’s hard to speak that early. 

RATING: 3/5

JUANA C. THE MOVIE

Director: Jade Castro
Cast: Mae Paner, John James Uy, Jelson Bay, Angelina Kanapi, Annicka Dolonius, Mads Nicolas

From the same group that gave us Zombadings,  Juana C. is a political satire that gives us a funny and honest glimpse of the wicked world of politics. It’s pretty obvious that the movie has a lot to offer, and while some of the subplots didn’t work for me, the main message of the film stood out in the end. It’s a pretty enjoyable ride that sometimes tend to go overboard, but manages to stay still and in the end, ultimately reached its destination. Juana Changge (Mae Paner) is an engaging lead character that serves as the glue that holds all of them together, but the whole ensemble is top notch, giving you endless riots and bundles of laughter. You can see the commitment that the people gave this film, so it’s easy to forgive the noticeable flaws in it.

RATING: 3/5

Whew that’s a handful. There are still some films left to be seen from the first half of the year before we go overboard with the Cine Filipino and Cinemalaya contenders this month and the next, so it’s good to finally put this out already. 🙂

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

REVIEW: It Takes A Man and a Woman   17 comments

It Takes A Man and A Woman

Sidenote: Finally! I’m back to reviewing. Yay! 🙂

Four years after we last witnessed the dream love story between Miggy Montenegro and Laida Magtalas in You Changed My Life, Cathy Garcia-Molina closes the whole story, this time with the third installment of the prominent fairy tale story via It Takes A Man and a Woman (which is already killing the box office after only one day of release).

In this story, we see couple Miggy (John Lloyd Cruz) and Laida (Sarah Geronimo) go separate ways, as each recovers from their break up two years ago. Miggy is still a disappointment to his family’s business reputation, while Laida, now with an accent and a  better fashion sense (though still donning a wig), moved to work in New York. A special assignment that involved the two of them stands as a test on whether they’ve finally moved on or if they’re still stuck with their relationship from the past.

Well, let’s get this one out of the way: I’m a big fan of the Miggy-Laida pairing. So I do think that the moment I entered the cinemas, I’ve already expected that I’ll like it.  But it was exactly what I was looking for. The first few minutes of the film set up the “relationship over” part between the two of them, but when the Laida Magtalas version 2.0 started to speak, I don’t think that you can still resist to not smile and laugh all throughout. As a matter of fact, I think that’s what the film’s biggest asset is, despite Sarah and John Lloyd’s antics in it, the whole movie has this sense of familiarity that is easy to warm up to. It stayed in its comfort zone, and that definitely worked for the best. I particularly love all the mentions and tribute to the first two movies. By now, you already probably know that director Cathy Garcia Molina has mastered what it takes to bring out the kilig and sweetness in the scenes in her movies, and the movie is another testament of that. They just know when to push the buttons and how to make the audience laugh, cry, and say “aww.”

If there are things that I’m not highly keen about the film, it’s probably the long screen time. The movie clocks in at a few minutes post two hours. There were also too much contrived scenes in it (particularly the one at the near end of the film) when you know that it really has zero chance of happening in real life. But of course, I’d still give in. It was cheesy, contrived, and forced, but I’d be damned if I’ll deny that I wasn’t smiling throughout. The pairing of John Lloyd and Sarah knows how to work this thing off, and their sweetness was thisclose in making me give them a free pass.

Another thing I liked is the ensemble nature of the movie. The characters of Matet de Leon, Joross Gamboa, and Gio Alvarez were more in demand here than the two previous movies, and the chemistry among the group is just on an all time high that it was just fun to watch them interact on screen. Isabelle Daza was in a very thankless and limited role, so she was decent to say the most, but there was one scene when she “competed” with Laida that made the whole theater laugh. Then again, I don’t think I can let this review pass without reiterating (time and again) how John Lloyd and Sarah’s impeccable chemistry is the heart and soul of this film. They really just know how to make this work.

If this is really the ending to the trilogy, then I’d say it ended on a really high note. The pairing of Laida and Miggy is definitely in for the books and deservedly so. It Takes A Man and a Woman is one of those films that highly succeeded in what it wanted to portray, bringing in the smiles, the tears, and the kilig, while also serving the perfect closure to both their love story and the film installment itself.

Grade: 3.5/5

Top Local Movies of 2012   8 comments

2012 in cinema is probably one of the most enjoyable in a while. I liked a lot of the movies that I’ve seen this year, (though maybe I really avoided the bad ones? LOL), and a lot of these films would have topped any other weaker years. On top of that, we’ve also seen a lot of impeccable performances from these films. Mind you, while I have seen 60+ local films this year, there’s a lot left still to be seen. Despite that, I feel that 2012 is one of the better years in recent Filipino cinema, and here are 12 reasons why:

Unofficially Yours

12: UNOFFICIALLY YOURS

Arguably, the best output from commercial filmmaking this year is this Cathy Garcia Molina’s relationship story between two people that sprouted from a one night stand. Molina has really mastered how to make supposedly conventional studio produced films more engaging and interesting. Also, watch out for John Lloyd Cruz and Angel Locsin’s palpable chemistry here.

MNL 143

11. MNL 143

I’m a sucker of travel/road movies. With that said, Emerson Reyes’s first feature length film is a poignant love story of a man (Allan Paule) who’s looking for the woman of his life is something that’s easier to relate to; not the search per se, but the longing and the optimism for it to finally arrive is a familiar feeling that can resonate well to its viewers.

Requieme

10. REquieme!

Loy Arcenas’ consecutive Cinemalaya entry is a dark comedy that focuses on Swanie, a barangay captain who involves herself as a relative of a suspect in an international murder case. With a witty screenplay and Shamaine Buencamino’s effective portrayal as Swanie and breakthrough talent Anthony Falcon, the movie is definitely one of 2012’s brightest spots.

Pascalina

09. PASCALINA

This Cinema One Originals winner which was also Pam Miras’s feature debut about one’s self discovery about her monsters within is one of the surprise entries in my list. Not because it is bad, but because I liked and appreciated it better days after seeing it. Oh, and if Maria Veronica Santiago’s performance in the title role won’t charm you enough, then I don’t know what will.

Ang Nawawala

08. ANG NAWAWALA

Another first feature effort this year, this time by Marie Jamora, Ang Nawawala is bound to be a cult classic. Yes, it probably caters to a younger crowd, to those in the middle status, or to those who are into local music scene, but one universal thing that I sure can relate to is how it connects you back to yourself. Plus points for the eye candy production design and the compilation soundtrack.

Bwakaw

07. BWAKAW

The Philippines’ submission to the Oscar Foreign Language Film category this year (and its best submission in years, I must say) is this little gem by Jun Lana about an old gay man living alone with only his dog named Bwakaw, and how he tries to make the most out of his remaining days. It’s just one of the most heartfelt films of the year that makes you laugh and cry while watching. Also, Eddie Garcia’s performance is to watch for here.

Thy Womb

06. THY WOMB

Brillante Mendoza’s Venice entry this year is also the comeback vehicle of one of the Philippines’ greatest actresses to date, the Superstar Nora Aunor. I guess my favorite aspect of the film is how it showcased to us this little gem of a place called Tawi-Tawi, and how the film introduced us to its culture. That, and of course La Aunor’s towering performance in it.

Ang Paglalakbay ng Mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim

05. ANG PAGLALAKBAY NG MGA BITUIN SA GABING MADILIM

My favorite from the whole Cinema One Originals bunch this year is Arnel Mardoquio’s feature about the escape of three Muslim rebels, together with a ten year old child in the midst of the Bangsa Moro issues in Mindanao. But unlike any previous Mindanao related war-themed films, this one stands out because it’s  does not lecture you. And within this silence is where the actual emotions linger.

Give Up Tomorrow

04. GIVE UP TOMORROW

This Filipino/Spanish/American production directed by Michael Collins on what was labeled as the trial of the century in the Philippines (the involvement of  Paco Larrañaga to the disappearance of the Chiong sisters) is one film that probably triggered the most emotions while watching. The film for the most part was half maddening and half heartbreaking. But it probably contains one of my most favorite quotes of the year when Paco said “If you want to give up, give up tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, then give up tomorrow.

Aparisyon

03. APARISYON

Vincent Sandoval’s Cinemalaya entry about the secluded lives of nuns in a monastery in 1972. The film’s strength lies in its capability to build an atmosphere that was intense and arresting that once the movie hits it middle part, you just feel as if you’re a part of it. If you’re into the technical aspect, this movie also boasts of a complete top notch production values: neat production design,  applicable costumes, captivating cinematography, polished editing, and haunting score.

Graceland

02. GRACELAND

Ron Morales’s Tribeca entry about a loyal driver caught in the middle of his congressman employer’s paying of sins is as intense as one can get. Fifteen minutes in, there’s already a shooting scene. And the rest of the movie was packed with emotional punches, as it dwells with questions about one’s choices in life. Is this the correct choice? What happens when it’s not? Where do we go next? Also, Arnold Reyes’s terrific performance as the driver is a must see.

Kalayaan

01. KALAYAAN

And my top pick for local cinema this year is Adolf Alix’s Kalayaan. On the outside, it’s about a soldier solely stationed in the Kalayaan islands and a run on his daily activities, until two additional soldiers were sent there with him. The first hour of the film solely shows on the day to day routine of Julian. Rarely any dialogue was spoken in it, but the message was effectively sent. Once the credits rolled, you feel that you’ve known enough yet it will also prompt you to ask some more. Definitely my favorite film of the year!

Well that’s it! What are your favorite local movies of the year? In case you are wondering, the reason why there’s no top international picks yet is because I’m still catching up on a lot of the Oscar movies til the next two months. So I guess, you can expect my list by March.

And as always, you can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

REVIEW: 24/7 in Love   4 comments

247 in Love

24/7 in Love is every Kapamilya’s dream come true. It combines a lot of their favorite Star Magic artists which makes it a dream come true for these teen and network driven audience that seems to be the film’s target. Just when you thought that Cinco is already crowded when it fits five stories in a film, then you’d be surprised to find out that this one incorporated seven stores in it.

The main story involves Jane (Kathryn Bernardo) who wants to meet her biggest crush who happens to be singing heartthrob Billy Fernandez (Daniel Padilla). In order to do that, she must enter a video contest that begs the question “What will you do if the world ends on December 21?” The approach Jane used in it is to interview random people to ask for their answers, and that served as the common link to the other six categories. Not the laziest methinks, but not the most creative as well.

The first interviewee happens to be forty year old virgin Virginia (Pokwang), and knowing that the world is about to end, the only thing she wants to do is end the drought as well. Coming from a heartbreak from long time boyfriend, her friend set her up on a male prostitute hiring site which led her to meet Charles (Sam Milby). Apparently, it was Charles first time in the business as he’s only doing it for fast cash. Among all the stories, this seems to be the most loyal to the recurring theme of what will you do til the world end. Pokwang and Sam Milby has this fun chemistry that it’s not weird to watch at all.

The second story involved Barbara (Maja Salvador) who’s head over heels over his playboy bachelor boss Ken (Diether Ocampo). There’s not a lot that happened in this part, though it’s always a joy to see Maja Salvador on screen. She’s just so natural and comfortable to watch. Diether Ocampo, on the other hand, has already proven himself before, but it seems that not being on the screen for quite some time can make your acting look dull especially when you’re paired with an energetic actress like Maja.

Next story is about a gay and a girl bestfriend between Isabella (Bea Alonzo) and Butch (Zanjoe Marudo). As Isabella realizes that she’s starting to like her bestfriend who happens to have the same preference with boys as her. This one is a case of friendship and where one draws the line in pursuing the next step. While watching this episode, I’m just really amazed with how beautiful Bea Alonzo is. I have already mentioned it before in my The Mistress review, but she really just radiates the screen. Zanjoe Marudo was convincing at most times, and their chemistry works. I just find the story too long especially since after it’s two predecessors were fast and resolved quickly.

The fourth story involves heartbroken Verna (Angelica Panganiban) who mends a broken heart in Vietnam, and there she meets Pinoy bartender Elvis (John Lloyd Cruz). It was a fast encounter; too fast that things ended real fast as well. With that said, this is my favorite among the series, and probably one that can stand as a lone film. There’s too much that one can explore here, and this gives a tight and mature portrayal that stands out among these bubblegum love stories. Angelica and John Lloyd clicked naturally, and both were good in their individual scenes.

Piolo Pascual headlines the next part as Pipoy, which is reminiscent of the famous Gerald Anderson character Budoy. He and his constant buddy Jomar (Zaijan Jaranilla) are the closest of them all, and that involves him doing all the tricks for Jomar’s crush Ayee (Xyriel Manabat) to like him. When a confused Ayee thought that it was Pipoy who was doing the movies to her, Pipoy and Jomar’s friendship was put to a test. This is one of the fun episodes in the series, as it showcases how Zaijan and Xyriel are the best child actors of their generation and has cemented their status to join the club of the best child stars ever. Piolo, despite not being totally relegated to supporting status, was good as well. This is probably the episode that will leave you with a smile when it ends.

The last one is about childhood sweethearts Patty (Kim Chiu) and Alvin (Gerald Anderson). After graduating from high school, Patty left to pursue his dreams leaving Alvin behind. Now as an intern in an ad agency, she gets the task of finding the local town hero who happens to be Alvin. The material they worked on was one of the weaker ones in the series, but it was fun seeing over the top Maricar Reyes as the boss from hell, and the Kimerald team together. However, it seems as if the whole episode was just focused on exploiting Gerald Anderson’s body by making him run in slow mo with only his undies on, or have him take his shirt off.

The whole movie closes by going back to the first story which involves a song number and a not so surprising appearance by all the previous couples in the venue with Kathniel taking the spotlight in this one. I’m not surprised but I’m stunned that every time either Daniel Padilla or Kathryn Bernardo appears on screen, the whole cinema goes crazy.

All in all, the movie was uneven at best, and that’s because of the too many stories which were unbalanced. With that said, it was definitely entertaining with some premises worth of being uncovered better. I find it more of a Valentines Day than a Love Actually.

Grade: 3/5

REVIEW: Suddenly It’s Magic   6 comments

After a string of horror, comedy, and flat out drama movies the past few months, Star Cinema goes back to one of its strongest genre by doing a romance film. Suddenly It’s Magic stars Filipina Erich Gonzales and Thai superstar Mario Maurer and helmed by one of their top notch directors, Rory B. Quintos.

Thai superstar Marcus Hanson (Mario Maurer) is in a personal and professional burnout, so he escaped to the Philippines in order to get much deserved rest. There, he met provincial lass Joey (Erich Gonzales), whom he felt a strong connection with. Joey was mending a broken heart, and the two find each other’s company special. Once Marcus goes back to Thailand, the two must adjust to the conditions of their previous lives in order to maintain their relationship.

As for starters, this film was obviously greenlit due to Maurer’s sudden popularity in the Philippines. With that said, I already left my expectations before I entered the cinemas. I knew this will have the same predictable and recycled subplots especially since there seems no room left for a more creative one or interesting story to tackle. And boy was I surprisingly correct. One can see what will happen a mile away, and the only thing that will make you gasp is… how correct you are! Fiesta scenes? Check. Upstaging gay best friend? Check. Girl falling over the boy? Check. It’s as if someone was tasked to collect different scenes from past rom-coms and combine them here.

There also seems to be some major continuity issues here and there, such as hair colors and the language used. Are we supposed to believe that when Joey’s character speaks Taglish, Marcus’s character will really understand the whole context of it? Some storylines were also just dropped off in the middle of the film, with no signs of even coming back.

Despite that, I still find a handful of interesting things to see in the film. I like the scene where Marcus’s mother is talking to Joey. This highlights what the different approach in acting we have from them. A scene that could have been histrionically portrayed here was calm yet full of impact delivered by the Thai mother. There was also the language play with Thais being forced to speak in English in some parts that sacrifices the impact of the movie. I also notice how Rory Quintos has this knack of showing beautiful cinematographic scenes to envelope the watchers to be a part of it (though it was done better in Kailangan Kita)

The camera really loves Mario Maurer’s face, and there’s no bad angles of him. I recall the whole cinema going wild every time he has a close up scene. Time and again, Maurer has proven that he has the chops (Love of Siam anyone?), though it still depends on the material he was given to. In here, he was not required to do much except to be cute and charming, and that’s not difficult for him to do. Erich Gonzales captures the naive woman effectively, and she seems to be a fit to Mario’s mestizo features. The supporting characters were alright, and while Joross Gamboa’s gay best friend was a crowd favorite, the role has been done a thousand times now and has already lost most of its magic. My favorite though is every scene that involves Thai actress Baifern Pimchanok, as I was smitten by her.

All in all, this one seems predictable as the other romance movies, but one thing that it genuinely and successfully achieved is the charm of the two lead characters. With that, there’s no wonder, it will be a hit to its definite target audience.

Grade: 2.5/5