Cinemanyak Previews The 2009 Academy Awards

Cinemanyak Previews The 2009 Academy Awards

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

LOVE OF SIAM: The Best Asian Film I've Seen In 2008!

I want to write a review about "Love Of Siam" (to invite friends to the 1st Salcedo Cinema Night).

But after reading Oggs Cruz write-up on the movie (http://oggsmoggs.blogsport.com/), I felt that it is better to just post what he wrote. It captured the essence of the film very well.

I've worked in Bangkok for almost 6 months, and my favourite place then was Siam...it may be the reason why I find this film extra special.


Warning: with spoilers!


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Love of Siam (Chukiat Sakveerakul, 2007)
Thai Title: Rak haeng Siam


To label Chukiat Sakveerakul's The Love of Siam as simply a gay teen romance is to misjudge its power and intention. Within the two and a half hour running time (the director's cut is reportedly four hours long) of the film, Sakveerakul essays not only the two young leads' reunion and inevitable attraction but also a family's slow and painful road to accepting a long-delayed reality. I would like to think that The Love of Siam, above everything else, seeks to reaffirm the life-affirming values of loving and being loved without sacrificing the portrayal of the very palpable pain that usually accompanies the emotion.

The twenty-minute prologue tracks the histories of young Mew (Arthit Niyomkul) and Tong (Jirayu La-ongmanee), who are both schoolmates and neighbors. They form a very close friendship which was abruptly ended when Tong's family had to move out when Tang (Laila Boonyasuk), Tong's elder sister, went missing during a trip in Chiang Mai, causing the family tremendous and irreparable sorrow. Years later, Mew (Witwisit Hirunwongkul), lead singer and composer for an up and coming boy band, again crosses path with Tong (Mario Maurer), who is struggling at home with his domineering mother (Sinjai Plengpanich) and alcoholic father (Songsit Rungnopakunsri). The two reconnect and inevitably fall for each other, disrupting whatever peace they have grown accustomed to.

To make matters more complicated, Mew's Chinese neighbor Ying (Kanya Rattanapetch) is hopelessly in love with Mew, not knowing of his homosexual tendencies. On the other hand, Tong is currently dating Donut (Aticha Pongsilpipat), presumably not knowing of his own homosexual tendencies too. Tong's family, more specifically the father who's been spending days and nights drinking, is still suffering from the loss of Tang. June (also played by Boonyasuk), Mew's band manager who looks a lot like Tang, is then recruited to pose as the long lost daughter, momentarily easing the father of his staggered pains.

The Siam in the title refers to Siam Square, a shopping district in Bangkok where most teens hang out to shop, dine, meet, and have fun. Siam Square, in the eyes of the Bangkok youth, has become both the place for welcomes and farewells, of declarations of love and hurtful break-ups, of chance encounters and scheduled meetings. In the film, the popular venue is not only the setting for Mew and Tong's reunion and the numerous other events in the story but it also represents the unpredictability of the many facets of love which the film so intricately paints. While Siam Square or any other shopping mecca are ordinarily thought of as accessories to the bastardization of love and romance because it commonly equates blatant commercialism with the love's outward depictions like dating, gift-giving, and hanging out, The Love of Siam uses that very element to depict love's many wanderings and permutations. Underneath the glow of the traditionally amiable romance, The Love of Siam strives to say something more about the act of loving, whether romantically or familial: that it is more a nebulous network-like journey to maintain hope than a straight path to the assumed happy ending.

In fact, The Love of Siam ends without any of its characters fulfilling the traditional conclusions of a love story. There are no happily-ever-afters or expected closures. Instead, the film ends with a mere spark of hope. That hope that closes the film actually opens up million of possibilities for its characters, as numerous as the countless fortuitous encounters in Siam Square that initiate relationships between strangers or abruptly conclude long-standing affairs all within the fateful movement of time. Sakveerakul drafts a bittersweet ode to the complexities of loving, which commercial cinema has tended to avoid throughout the years. What he exclaims in The Love of Siam is that daringly traversing outside the common simplicities of love is far more gratifying than safely assuming formula.

Through the interconnected lives of two boys who are on the verge of self-awareness amidst their own individual conflicts and the people surrounding them, Sakveerakul notes that love survives notwithstanding the dilemmas that pervade the world. As Ying translates from a Chinese song, "as long as there is love, there is hope." Corny as it sounds, the Bangkok of The Love of Siam thrives on that noble aspiration, without knowing that it does so.





OSCARS 2009 PREVIEW: Gus Van Sant's "Milk"

When I learned that they will show Gus Van Sant's MILK in the Manila this April, i said I'll just pay for a ripped DVD. It turned to be the most "sulit" 40 pesos I paid to a pirate! And I'm not exaggerating.

If I'm a film maker...this is the film I want to do!!

Sean Penn's delivery, and the power of Van Sant's storytelling technique is as deadly as Manny Pacquiao's lethal combo.

I can say that the film is perfectly balanced:

  • Reality and "Fiction" - balance through news interstitials and canned footage of the San Francisco gay movement
  • Cause and Sensation - the message the film carries is very relevant now - gay rights. The beauty with MILK is that it was able to balance the cause Harvey Milk is fighting for, and his sensational/controversial gay life
  • Narration and Documentation - Harvey Milk's life is well known, but the film was able to present it in a way that it tells the story like you never know Harvey at all

Gus Van Sant proved again that he is a master of this craft. Watching the film gave me goose bumps in the beginning and middle, then tears at the end. Gus was able to move my emotions with every pan, tilt and slide of his camera.

Gus was also able to play in the film. It is not as stiff as Good Will Hunting, or as straight Finding Forrester. In MILK I see the Gus in Cannes. The Gus of Paris Je 'Taime and Elephant. You can see some creative indie touches to it, like the scene where they were calling each other for a "gay riot" (which eventually became the first Gay Pride Parade). The approach is Hollywood...but also experimental.

The grainy, low-fi finish of its cinematography doesn't just give the 70's era effect, it makes you feel the characters and issue au naturelle. It's like watching them in a news footage, making them real to you.

The nice thing about MILK - it didn't focus on the iconic activist of the 70's, but on the thousands of people, gay or straight, he touched.

A review said: "Once in a while, a film arrives at such a perfect moment, its message and meaning so finely tuned to the current zeitgeist, that it seems less a cinematic event, and more of a once-in-a-lifetime moment needed to seized in the silverscreen"...and that film is MILK!


My name is Dennis...and I'm here to recruit you (to watch MILK!). :-)




Saturday, December 27, 2008

2008 MMFF Winners: BALER got 10, DAYO got 4, ONE NIGHT ONLY got 2.

2008 MMFF Awards Night Results!


BEST PICTURE: Baler *

2nd BEST PICTURE: Tanging Ina N'yong Lahat *

3rd BEST PICTURE: Iskul Bukol *

* We must however note that MMFF decides on the best picture by adding up the jury's score and the box-office results...thus the ranking above. Some find this unfair and absurb. But MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando vowed not to change it as MMFF is a festival by the people and for the people, ie they decide which one is the winner.


Putting box office results on the side, i think the ranking should have been:

  1. Baler
  2. Dayo
  3. One Night Only

BEST DIRECTOR: Mark Meily (Baler)

BEST ACTRESS: Anne Curtis (Baler)

BEST ACTOR: Christopher De Leon (Magkaibigan)

BEST SCREENPLAY: Roy Iglesias (Baler)

BEST STORY: Jose Javier Reyes (One Night Only)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Lee Meily (Baler)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Manilyn Reynes (One Night Only)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Philip Salvador (Baler)

BEST CHILD STAR: Rober Villar (Shake, Rattle and Roll X)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Robert Quilao (Dayo)

BEST MUSICAL SCORE: Jessie Lasaten (Dayo)

BEST THEME SONG: "Lipad" by Jessie Lasaten & Artemio Abad Jr performed by Lea Salonga (Dayo)




BEST SOUND: Albert Idioma & Wally Dellosa (Dayo)

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: Aped Santos (Baler)

BEST EDITING: Danny Anonuevo (Baler)

GATPUNO ANTONIO VILLEGAS CULTURAL AWARD: Baler



ONE NIGHT ONLY: "Indie" Thriving In A Commercial Film Festival

Just like sex, the more "over-the-top" you do it...the more fun it would be.

Just like sex, the idea of an orgy may sound fun...yet it could be physically and emotionally tiring at the end.

Just like sex, it may be taboo to some...though we chuckle everytime we talk about it.

Just like sex, it sells...no matter how you package it.

Sex is just like MMFF entry One Night Only (a story about 12 individuals whose lives became connected because of one sleazy motel). And believe it or not, I think its better than Baler!

Interesting huh?

Let try to take it one at a time:


1) One Night Only went over-the-top! Sex was packaged in a very ridiculous, humorous, funny way. And it worked! Instead of irritation, you will feel admiration (for Jose Javier Reyes). They have converted something taboo to something very..err...human.

That's the best way to go around it, Filipino mainstream directors. If you know you can't handle a subject matter...go over board and exaggerate. It would be more palatable than pretending to be deep.


2) One Night Only is an "orgy"...figuratively. They juggled 12 stories in 1.5 hours! And they did it with much success.

I find the editing fantastic: cut-to-cut loads of characters without losing the audience...it's a feat! The only problem is that the story lacks a unifying, solid tension. Thus there is a tendency for viewers to get tired of the characters even before the middle of the film


3) One Night Only is the most indie-looking MMFF entry I've seen in years. This worked for their advantage as they suddenly had the excuse to be experimental in a very commercialized film festival.

The most indie about the the film? The screenplay...which I consider indie class A!


4) Aside from the tiring character build-up, another flaw I saw was how they ended the multi-layered/charactered film. But this is a common problem to the genre, case in point...Paris J T'aime (thanks to a song by Feist, they were able to end it, uhm, well).

I was about to fall from my seat from laughing in the end..but the "bomb" Katrina Halili gave brought me back to the comfort of my Rockwell Cinema seat.

But overall, it find the movie very refreshing and entertaining. This is definitely a wild card for the Best Picture race.



BALER: A Flip-Flopped Historical-Drama

Pearl Harbor, Titanic, Australia, etc. -- putting in romance to historical stories became a proven formula to box-office and (sometimes) Oscar success. This "postulate" is etched to Hollywood guidebooks and should never be challenged.

But Filipinos like breaking laws. Baler is Mark Meily's attempt to challenge the Hollywood formula.

The tweak Baler did: make history revolve around the romance...instead of romance adjusting to history. Clever huh?

To explain further, in most historical-romantic films...love is the palabok (maybe to make history easier to chew) But in Baler, history is the "rekado" and romance is the rice...the carbs, the one that will fill you up.

But it's main source of discrimination over other historical-romantic films is also its pitfall. Baler's approach can be polarizing. You will either find it too cheesy...or an inaccurate, half-baked historical film. I'm in the middle of both, cause I struggled in enduring Anne Curtis' lines (e.g. "Gusto kitang makapiling ngayon, bukas at magpakailanman") and in getting more details of the events in Baler (which I consider as the one of the most significant events in Philippine history).

But aside from this flaw...what irritates me most was the inconsistent cinematography.


Example: in the first attack in the church of Baler, i was confused if it happened during the day or during the night. From inside the church, it appeared night...from outside, the sun was as intense as hell.

There is one scene in the film that I admire, and I think it will be etched in the image bank of Philippine cinema: the holy mass being delivered by Michael De Mesa just by the door of the church...with Filipinos hearing it from the outside, and Kastilas hearing it from the inside, with only one thin wooden door separating them. We are united in Christ no matter what.

But we must all watch our for Mark Meily. He showed in Baler that he is ready to take on bigger and better projects. He showed in Baler that he could be the director to beat in the future.

Oh by the way, a Hollywood film challenged the historical-romance law na pala...Atonement, which I still consider as one of the best films of 2007!





DAYO Reinvents Philippine Animation

I don't have anything against DAYO, the only animated entry to this year's MMFF. In fact...I love it! It will not be a surprise if the jury will "surprise" us by choosing this low-budgeted, but well supported, cartoon as best picture.

Low-budgeted: they need sponsors to finish the film. They even tried to get some Unilever brands in it.

Well supported: given the cast/talents in the animation (Lea Salonga, Laurice Guillen, Peque Gallaga, Michael V, Johnny Delgado, Pokwang and many more)...it is obvious that they did it because they believe (and love) the project.


I admire the film's simplicity: easy to understand (for the young)...yet not too simple for the "young once".

The other thing that worked for the film was the explosive combination of Filipino sentimentality and the animation as medium. The two blended perfectly like Nescafe and Coffee Mate. This is something Hollywood lacks now...they can't maximize the power of animation because they don't have a powerful story to tell.

But in spite of the simplicity, the director didn't forget his film making techniques. Even with animation, they were able to integrate great camera angles, nice color grading (ie lighting in a live action feature) and brilliant story telling. This is also the only film in the festival which used Dolby 7.1 technology, and a fully orchestrated musical score.

He was amazing with details: a last supper photo in the dining room, an altar in the living room, and exact replica of EDSA. He was also able to critic Filipino culture by integrating jokes like:

(both lines by a manananggal) "ang polluted pala ng hangin sa Maynila", "ang hirap naman lumipad dito, ayaw kasing ayusin ng Meralco tong mga kable na to".


And unlike your typical animation feature, DAYO has no clear line between the good and the evil.

For example: (1) the manananggal sidekicks admit that they eat people, (2) the lead character did something wrong to a balete tree, (3) the engkantos (kontrabidas) did something bad to the lead's lolo and lola cause they were just reacting to the boy's balete burning.


So who's evil? EVERYONE! Who's good? EVERYONE! DAYO showed the moral cycle of sinning-repenting-evangelizing. It showed that we all create mistakes, and a person doesn't need to be as white as snow to be a saint.


DAYO is the sartorialist of the netherworld. If the manananggal, tikbalang and kapre can walk freely on the streets, how will they look and act? By making the mananaggal speak Taglish (kris aquino style), the tikbalang egoistically funny, and the kapre Bisaya...DAYO transformed these mythical figures to your normal Filipino on the street.


I have a lot to say about DAYO. But to end, I would like to share with you the funniest line in the film:

(tikbalang after his hair was touched) "My MANE! My MANE!" :-)

http://www.dayomovie.com/



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brillante Mendoza's Opus: SERBIS


In a letter to Brilliante Mendoza:

SERBIS is extraordinary! - Sean Penn (Cannes 2008 Jury President)



Extraordinay indeed! SERBIS is a leading edge Filipino art film.

SERBIS is about a family run-down porno movie house in Pampanga. The family has taken up residence in the cinema as well. The matriarch of the family had filed a case against her estranged husband and is attending the court hearing today when, after a number of years, the decision will be finally handed down. It is within this context that the story unfolds. As the rest of the members go about their daily activities, we get a glimpse of how they suffer and deal with each other’s sins and vices - relational, economic or sexual.

SERBIS is the first Filipino film (since 1984) to qualify in the Cannes Film Festival (last one was Lino Brocka's "Bayan Ko: Kapit Sa Patalim").

Just like his past films, Foster Child and Tirador, Brillante Mendoza placed aside the film plot and focused on the how the character acts and reacts to certain situations. For a normal film goer...this film will not make sense at all. But for people who are in tune to reading a person's emotions and psyche, this film will be of interest.

A man preparing tapsilog, a goat running inside a theater, a guy cleaning the bathroom, people having sex inside the cinema, a girl naked saying "i love you" repeatedly in a mirror, a boil popped with a bottle of coke. Doesn't make a story, isn't it? But if you place it in the context of how the character developed throughout the film, these scenes will be of value to you.

Again, this film is not for everyone.

Slice of Life - that's Brillante's strength. He will place you in the scene like a voyeur. It's like him saying, "Just watch them. See what they'll do next." Just let it flow through and the effect of the film will be felt in the end...you'll just miss all the characters you've watched! You will not be able to explain why, but you know for sure you got hooked (unconciously).

Cinematography for SERBIS was brilliant. The color of the film will make you feel uncomfortable in your seat. You'll feel the heat the characters are feeling in the cinema. But the sound was irritating...ambient louder than dialogues. And the most irritating thing of all...the crowd around the scene who kept on looking towards the camera!

Acting...SUPERB! Nothing more I could say.

Watch out for the ending. It is....uhm, better not tell.

I'm not surprised as well that some critics lambasted the film in Cannes. Some even walked out while saying the movie was so gross. Oh yes, it is gross. But we must understand that they presented a microcosm of the Philippines in the film. I believe that the film was made for Filipinos to be awakened, rather for foreigners to be informed.

My interpretation: the movie house is our country, the Philippines. People inside the movie house are whoring around...involving themselves in corruption, drugs, vices and sex. In the end: someone decided to just leave the porn house, another one decided to paint over graffitis which reminds her of old memories, another one decided to stay and live with the condition.

What kind of Filipino are you?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

CINEMALAYA 2008 WINNERS!

Best Film: "Jay"

Special Jury Award: "Brutus" for depicting culture collisions in the context of environmental exploitation

Best Director: Chris Martinez for "100"

Best Actress: Mylene Dizon for "100"

Best Actor: Baron Geisler for "Jay"

Best Supporting Actress: Eugene Domingo for "100"

Best Supporting Actor: Yul Servo for "Brutus"

Audience Choice (Full Length): "100"

Best Short Film: "Andong"

Special Jury Award: "My Pet" for the brave use animation as a medium of storytelling

Special Jury Citation: "Angan-Angan" for its depiction of the mindanao culture and their people's desire for education

Best Director (Shorts): Mark Reyes for "God Only Knows"

Best Screenplay (Shorts): "Andong"

Audience Choice (Shorts): "God Only Knows"

Best Screenplay (Full Length): "100"

Best Cinematography: "Brutus" and "Huling Pasada"

Best Production Design: "Baby Angelo"

Best Editing: "Jay"

Best Musical Score: Joey Ayala for "Brutus"

Best Sound Recording: "Ranchero"













Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cinemalaya Day 6: Ang Ibang Mga Pamilya, Diamante Sa Langit, Angan-Angan, God Only Knows, Andong


Cinemalaya Day 6. Was able to screen 2 films in exhibition: the world premiere of "Lukaret" and the digital film of our National Artist for Film, Eddie Romero's "Teach Me To Love".

I'll talk about Eddie Romero's film in a separate blog. So in this entry, I'll be finishing my reviews by featuring the last batch of short films in competition.




ANG IBANG MGA PAMILYA (by Joel Ruiz) is about a woman who overcomes the grief of losing her adopted son.

Ang Ibang Mga Pamilya displayed excellence in film making technicals. Colors were saturated, but muted in a way...reflecting the somber mood of the funeral. Framing was perfect, especially in the scene where the mom saw the child sleeping in the pews. Pace was perfectly slow. The only problem I have with the film is the clarity of the story. I personally didn't get the ending. But after Sine Taktakan awhile ago, Joel Ruiz explained that there is another film in tandem with this, which takes on the perspective of the dad and the child. If that was approved by the Cinemalaya Screening Commitee, this film would have made more sense.



DIAMANTE SA LANGIT (by Vic Acedillo Jr.) is about two brothers' journey to compete in a kite flying contest. But getting there takes some time.

I like this short. The plot was simple and straight forward. There were no pretensions in the film, but impactful. The kite flying scenes may be a bit too long, but I see the importance of it in the story. This film is all about letting your dreams soar in the sky, no matter how small and crap it appears relative to others. During the Sine Taktakam, Vic Acedillo Jr said that the overall budget for the film was "nothing". They just had a trip and saw the kite festival...there and then they decided to make this film. Diamante Sa Langit is a wild card for best short this year.



ANGAN-ANGAN (by Sheron Dayoc) centers on a mute nine-year-old girl named Satra. whose determination to secure a good education reverberates clearly amid the strictness of her Yakan culture. Angan-angan means "dreams".

Brilliant material for a short film. Angan-Angan was an opener on how culture can hinder to relevant, basic and important things like education. The problem with the film was the editing. Transitions were an irritant. I like the ending as well...you felt the freedom of the lead character.






GOD ONLY KNOWS (by Mark Reyes) focuses on the disturbing and gut wretching tale about the realities of life in the sprawling metropolis of Manila.

The film with a jaw dropping ending, according to Joel Ruiz. I agree. The ending was a shocker. It was also a wise decision to just cut it there. The cliffhanger made the audience utter moans of "inis" making them more engaged to the film. The cinematography was perfect. Acting was fantastic as well (congrats to Angel Aquino). The story line was simple yet powerful. Good decision for the filmaker to focus on the relationship of the mother and the child. That placed the heart into the movie.





ANDONG (by Milo Tolentino) is a story about a six-year-old boy's obsession, family dynamics, and the real value of a hard-fought twenty pesos.

Andong is the audience's favourite. The child's addiction to television was cleverly exploded by Milo to something very hilarious, yet dramatic and serious. I commend the director casting the perfect talents and leading these non-actors to act. Very natural. I also admire the screenplay for this film...it was fantastic! Very, very funny! I wouldn't be surprised if tihs film gets the top prize for shorts this sunday.





Photos from Sine Taktakan (Day 2), where you could ask anything to the directors.





Friday, July 18, 2008

Cinemalaya Day 5: Concerto

Cinemalaya Day 5. Screened 2 films: 1 full feature in competiton (Concerto) and 1 film in exhibition (Tambolista).

With Concerto screened, I have completed watching the 20 finalists of Cinemalaya 2008. I'll post my last reviews tomorrow (last batch of shorts).

CONCERTO (by Paul Alexander Morales) is about how, in the last part of World War II, a special piano concert is held in the forests of Davao. In these boondocks, a displaced Filipino family becomes acquainted with a group of Japanese officers, similarly camped nearby. Based on true stories from the director's family, Concerto celebrates a family whose reverence for life, expressed through their love of music and friendship, can survive even war, and shows how beauty and compassion can grow in even the harshest of situations.

Concerto is the era, epic film of Cinemalaya 2008. Ticking at almost 2 hours running time, I believe that this is the longest film in competition. The film is technically proficient. Cinematography was at its finest. Editing was brilliant. Concerto was able to bring the audience to the past which much success, which is seldom for Filipino era films. Production design was flawless.

The story itself is very unique, you'll never know where it would lead you. Though sometimes that works well...sometimes (or most of the times) it drags the film. I also felt that the film was not able to create an emotional connection, making the interesting plot line a bit irrelevant and boring to me.




Photos from Sine Taktakan (Day 1), where you can ask the competing directors anything you want.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cinemalaya Day 4: Brutus, Boses and Namets

Cinemalaya Day 4. I was able to screen 3 full length films in competition. Brutus, Boses and Namets.

BRUTUS. (by Tara Illenberger) tells the tale of two Mangyan children, hired by illegal loggers to smuggle wood from the mountains of Mindoro, as they embark on a dangerous journey to deliver the goods to the lowlands. In the process, they discover a world run by the greed of men, a world governed by ideologies that bring about the armed conflict that plagues the Mindoro highlands, the home of their own people.

I didn't know what to expect when I entered the theater for BRUTUS. True enough, I got surprised on how thick the plot went towards the middle of the film. It is not a linear environmental film, it is about looking for your own identity amidst all the flaws of the society and people around you. The film was well crafted. Stunning was the cinematography. The story was unconventionally great as well. It was able to put enough turns for people to remain attentive to the movie.I have nothing against the film. It was well made. I just can't see the push that could bring it to the festival's top prize.

BOSES. The film that got a standing ovation. The film was so good I decided to make separate blog for this. Click here.

NAMETS (by Emilio "Jay" Abello) is a colorful celebration of food as well as love, and the love of food above all, which is central to being Negrosanon and being Filipino. It follows the flirtation between Jacko and Cassie, two Negrenses who grew up in Bacolod, and whose lives revolve around food. The film will be shot on location in Negros Occidental and will be primarily in Hiligaynon, the language spoken in that region.

After the movie...I was so hungry. If over-the-counter fast food can be considered as comfort food, NAMETS can be considered as a comfort film. The film was not too fancy. The story was simple and easy to follow. It was light and funny. I have nothing much to say...it was just ok. One things that made NAMETS interesting for me were the interstitials in the movie...4 hilarious sub plots which were not connected to the film. It's a nice film to watch if you just want to enjoy...and feel hungry.





Photos: Cast of Namets, Christian Vasquez and Angel Jacob









Standing Ovation for "BOSES"





The film got three minutes of standing ovation. Four encore applause during the end credits. Two national artists cheering for more. And 1,800 people shouting "bravo!".


BOSES is one of the best films in Cinemalaya this year.



BOSES (by Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil) is the story of a musician, who regains back his humanity by giving violin lessons to a child who is abused by his father. In turn, the child, through the instrument, is able to get back his voice from a muted, abused and desensitized existence. This is a story of a friendship founded on the sublime beauty of music.

The film is close to perfection.

The story line is very unique and properly layered. It tells the story of an abusive father's conversion, a devoted social worker running a safe house for abused children, a musician who lost passion due to a tragic accident in his life, and a kid who found his lost voice through the strings of a small violin. Layered but not confusing.

The screenplay was well written. It was able to balance in its story telling drama, humor and hope. The character transformation was well laid in the script...making the movie not too "over-acting". Magnifiers were also properly distributed in the plot, weaving it scenes seamlessly (like the act of hiding in the closet whenever he's afraid).

The cinematography was almost perfect. The film was properly lit, with clear distinction between current settings and flashbacks. Color was well saturated, but not to glaring to the eyes. Night scenes were well lighted as well. Camera movements, smooth.

The actors were fantastic. Kudos to Coke Bolipata and Julian Duque. Fantastic duo which made the film so appealing to see.

Editing was great as well. And since this is a film about music, the musical score was just right.


And lastly, the direction was flawless. Combing the elements I mentioned above was not an easy task. Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil was able to put everything together to create a masterpiece.










Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cinemalaya Day 3: Huling Biktima, My Pet, Panggaris, Trails Of Water, Tutos

Cinemalaya Day 3. Screened 5 films in competition. All shorts (Shorts Set B: Huling Biktima, My Pet, Panggaris, Trails Of Water, Tutos).

Reviewing short films is quite difficult due to the unconventional nature of the medium. So I'll just share with you how I felt after watching this set.

HULING BIKTIMA (by Vitaliano Rave) is a film noir about a detective's last minutes.

The shortest amongst the shorts in competition, Huling Biktima has the simplicity of a night time ghost story and the excitement of a good suspense movie. In just 5 minutes, the director was able to tell the story in full...from establishment to the climax to the denouement. Story telling well done. This proves that if you're movie has soul, it wouldn't suffer even if you cut all the extra "fat".





MY PET (by Anna Bigornia) is a 7-minute animation about an 8-year-old girl and her relationship with her first pet, a chick, the subject of a class experiment.

My Pet is the only animation picture in competition in this year's Cinemalaya. But surprisingly, I think this film has the most solid story line amongst all short entries. I was even amazed with the quality of animation. The film has the balance of the "animation lightness" and "cinemalaya seriousness". Thus, My Pet is definitely a short film to beat. The "Persepolis" of Cinemalaya.





PANGGARIS (by Dexter Cayanes) is about a prostitute whose life changed when her mute sibling learned to talk, uttering only the word "panggaris".

Initially, you may find this movie very silly. Imagine a man turning silver...and turning the lives of people around him. Feels like a myth? Well, that's the point of Panggaris...to show how myths are formed and how real they are (even if they appear so fiction). Panggaris was able to effectively pull away from the Cinemalaya clutter by using a different approach...a rigged documentary. Clever...but often times, I need to remind myself during the film that I need to suspend my disbelief.




TRAILS OF WATER (by Sheron Dayoc) is an experimental film about a young boy's emotion as seen through his make-believe story.

Honestly, this film appealed to me. The story may not be that clear (and each one of us in the theater may have a different interpretation on it), but the way it was told was fantastic. The technical aspect of the film was great as well...great cinematography, great sound design, great acting. In fact, amongst all the shorts director, I'm most excited to see Sheron make a full length.



TUTOS (by L.A. Yamsuan) tells about the dynamics and complexities of a single father-daughter relationship in a post-modern patriarchal Filipino society.

The story line is predictable and formulaic. The parallelism between the father-daughter relationship and clothe-making was supposed to be its discriminator...but rather than pulling it away from the norm, it confused most of the people in the theater. Is it to deep? Is the writing bad? Is the sound not that clear? I don't know. Basta it was difficult for me to keep my attention to the screen.


Cinemalaya Day 2: Baby Angelo, Huling Pasada, My Fake American Accent

Cinemalaya Day 2. I was able to scree 3 full length features in competition.


BABY ANGELO (by Joel Ruiz and Abi Aquino) centers on an investigation that ensues when an aborted fetus is found in the dumpster of a run-down apartment complex. The lives of the tenants—a reclusive old man with curious ramblings, a landlord with overzealous thirst for justice and a young couple whose past threatens to unravel their marriage—are suddenly exposed in the hunt for the perpetrator of the baby's death.

"Baby Angelo" is not a film on abortion. It is a film about hidden secrets and rotten personalities. As the characters dig into the aborted fetus' case...the deeper they go within themselves, revealing their imperfections. The film was able to convey its message, but I felt that there are a lot of loose scenes that either dragged the movie or made us confused & bitin. Almost there, but not enough.





HULING PASADA (by Paul Sta. Ana) follows the creative process of Ruby, a prolific writer, abandoned wife and protective mother. She writes about Mario, a taxi driver and father figure to a street child. As she tries to resolve Mario's story, she seeks refuge in her own creative output and the line between reality and fiction is blurred. Mario's past becomes entangled with her own inevitable future.

I admire the film maker's decision to take the risk of asking us to follow two stories (which, aside from all those taxi scenes, "appeared" so exclusive from each other). Good that the ending was well made that the two plots suddenly fitted each other perfectly like jig-saw pieces. Risk paid off. I admire the film's editor. He was able to put the proper pace to the film, making two stories easy to watch. Sana lang the link between the stories was made earlier, para naman early namin na feel na may sense yung pelikula.







Photos: "Huling Pasada" cast


MY FAKE AMERICAN ACCENT. (by Onnah Valera and Ned Trespeces) is a slice-of-life workplace comedy following the lives of technical support call center agents in the span of six months. Speaking with a fake American accent is a prerequisite for the job. This ensemble comedy is an inside look into the maddening, sleep-deprived, caffeine-fuelled lives of those who ply their trade in the call center industry.

Congratulations to the cast and crew, but I'm sorry, I didn't like the film. It was on the line bewteen being humorous and being irritating. Acting was sub standard, and the plot had "twisted" twists that brought me to the brink of insanity. I would however like to commend the filmaker for bringing to the screen a very relevant part of Filipino pop culture today...the call center industry.














Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cinemalaya Day 1: 100, Jay and Ranchero

Cinemalaya Day 1. I was able to screen 8 films in competition...3 full features and 5 shorts.


DEATH. "100" (by Chris Martinez) is about a stern, uptight and exacting woman with a terminal illness who tries to accomplish a list of 100 things to do before she dies. Her tasks vary from the simple to the complicated, from the practical to the mundane, from the ordinary to the extraordinary. In the process, she accepts the truth that even if death is something personal, dying never is.


"100" has a great narrative that can hook audiences. Sequence treatment was well thought of, and the director was able to use a great yet simple visual device...the Post-It. Great acting from Mylene Dizon and Eugene Domingo. The only thing that bothered me was the over-use of the Post-It magnifier, it became an irritant in the end lalo na when her list of "to do's" went longer and longer because people kept on adding into it. "Will this end?" you'll say. The film is longer than the average 1.5 hours in Cinemalaya...but the story will keep you posted in your seats (just like Mylene's Post-Its...hehe).

Photos (from top): "100" Director Chris Martinez, "100" Actress Eugene Domingi and fellow art film buff Bianca

MURDER. "Jay" (by Francis Xavier Pasion) is the name of the two protagonists in the film, one is living, the other dead. The living Jay is producing a documentary of the dead Jay, a gay teacher who was brutally killed. As Jay recreates and examines the life of his subject, his own life is affected when he unravels his subject's hidden life and secret love.


"Jay" is the most experimental Cinemalaya film I've seen since "Tulad Ng Dati" (Cinemalaya 2006 Best Picture). At first I thought it would be another Sherlock Holmes/Nancy Drew "who-killed-Jay" story...but NO! As in NO! The film will surprise you as it takes another twist in a murder story. So twisted it will make your jaw drop in awe and laughter. "Jay" was able to execute the films experimental plot without losing the viewers' attention. Clever screenplay...no wonder it won last year in the Cinemanila Screenplay Writing Contest. Jay is my first choice for the top Cinemalaya prize so far. The only thing I didn't like...the ending sequence.

Photos (from left): "Jay" Actor (and my favourite Indie Actor) Coco Martin, "Jay" Lead Actor and Producer Baron Geisler


KULONG. "Ranchero" (by Michael Christian Cardoz) is the story of convicts who serve a special role inside the jail-they prepare the meals everyday. But in a jail where some inmates see no reason to continue living, what is the role of food? Is the food's role to extend life or to prolong the pain of those who don't want to live?

"Ranchero" was so baaad! The problem with a "slice-of-life" film is when you don't have a life to slice at all. The film's approach was a disaster because the characters don't have a character. It appeared like a cooking show in a prison! The material used is more like a short, but extended to 1hr and 15mins! The film had a chance to redeem itself by putting in a story conflict, but it happened after 1hr and 14mins...just when the film was about to end. Sad.











I'll be reviewing the shorts in another day. Cinemalaya is still ongoing at the Cultural Center Of The Philippines.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2008 BEST PICTURE: No Country For Old Men


Cinemanyak Rating: 9.0/10
IMDB Rating: 8.6/10
Tomatometer: 94%
Rotten Tomatoes Critics' Rating: 8.3/10

What's your rating? Post a comment below.

Awards and Accomplishments:
Best Picture, 2008 Oscar Awards
Best Direction, 2008 Oscar Awards
Best Supporting Actor (Javie Bardem), 2008 Oscar Awards
Best Adapted Screenplay, 2008 Oscar Awards
Nominated for Best Cinematography, 2008 Oscar Awards
Nominated for Palm D'or, 2007 Cannes Film Festival
Nominated for Best Picture, 2008 Golden Globes
Nominated for Best Director, 2008 Golden Globes
Best Supporting Actor, 2008 Golden Globes
Best Adapted Screenplay, 2008 Screen Golden Globes
Outstanding Cast Performance, 2008 Screen Actors Guild Awards


The Oscar Best Picture for 2007.

No Country for Old Men is extraordinary. It even touched the line of weirdness. It feels like seeing Tarantino and Hitchcock in the same movie.

This is not your typical Oscar Best Picture. It is not an epic, neither your common dysfunctional film. It is dark and gloomy. But i personally find it uplifting, not because of its story or its plot. Its uplifting because it shows you how film making can be done with so much art. No Country stands out amidst the chaos of conventional Hollywood films. It's so refreshing to see.


Instead of going through each element in the film, I would like to write what I find interesting in No Country:

1) It's ok NOT to explain everything -- they even bothered to explain why those men were killed. Or who owns the money. The point is a psychopath wants to get that suitcase, and he would kill anyone who will prevent him from that. Forget the "why". Just hug the suspense and enjoy.

2) Acting is very important -- without the proper actors, No Country would look like Friday the 13!

3) End with a punch -- start a debate right after the film, even during the credits. A lot of eyebrows went up right after the abrupt ending of No Country. But hey, that made it so memorable. And i'll go back to point #1: know where to focus and be single-minded. Focus on the essentials and prevent too much side story. A film should not always cover a whole lifetime, know what point in a character's life you want to start -- and end -- your storytelling.

4) Hold the suspense -- i was literally covering my eyes with pillows in some scenes. This is how the film was able to hold the suspense. Without the Coen brothers' skill in directing, No Country will be a film full of non-sense. The way the film glues you in your seat is its strength (and it may be the reason why it won Best Direction and Best Picture).

No Country For Old Men is not an easy film to watch or appreciate. If ever you do watch it, remember that it is an art film. It must be seen with an open mind.



Monday, February 25, 2008

DAYBREAK: Respectable Gay Flick

Cinemanyak Rating: 7.0/10
IMDB Rating: N/A
Tomatometer: N/A
Rotten Tomatoes Critics' Rating: N/A

What's your rating? Post a comment below.

Seldom do I see a Filipino indie gay film that carries a solid storyline, bears fantastic acting and shows stunning cinematography. DAYBREAK by Adolfo Alix Jr. proved that "gay-topic'ed" films can go beyond sex and can go deeper.

Known for his picturesque approach to films (watch Donsol, Kadin and Batanes), Adolfo's awesome camera treatment was in DAYBREAK (see the trailer below). A Cinemalaya regular, Adolfo was able to create another film which defies formula. The screenplay is simple, but very powerful. It is not pretentious. Very subtle, but it will hit you hard in the end. Coco Martin is an indie expert. Few actors can do such a role, bold yet respectable.

DAYBREAK is definitely one of the best Filipino gay oriented film I've seen in years.

DAYBREAK happens entirely in one place: a rest house in Taal, Batangas. In a single narrative time, we discover what happens to two men spending one night contemplating whether to break up or continue their relationship. William and JP allow us to know their biggest lies. Memories and dreams, truths and lies, fears and desires, betrayal and honesty, love and hate are all closely entwined in this night. Will the light of the sunrise bring this intimacy to an end?

Adolfo always treats the screen as his canvas, and he is not afraid putting colors over it. I once thought that this approach will not work commercially (after Donsol and Kadin in Cinemalaya). But after Batanes and Daybreak, I could fearlessly say that Adolfo Alix Jr. will be one of the biggest names in Philippines cinema.

2008 ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS

UPSET! No Country for Old Men won over There Will Be Blood in this year's Oscars.

No Country for Old Men - 4 Oscars
There Will Be Blood - 2 Oscars
Juno - 1 Oscar
Atonement - 1 Oscar
Bourne Ultimatum - 3 Oscars (big winner in the technical category)
La Vie En Rose - 2 Oscars
Michael Clayton - 1 Oscar
Sweeny Todd - 1 Oscar
Golden Compass - 1 Oscar
Ratatouille - 1 Oscar
Elizabeth: The Golden Age - 1 Oscar


Best Motion Picture of the Year
Winner: No Country for Old Men - Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Scott Rudin

Best Achievement in Directing
Winner: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen for No Country for Old Men

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Winner: Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Winner: Juno - Diablo Cody

Best Documentary, Features
Winner: Taxi to the Dark Side - Alex Gibney, Eva Orner

Best Documentary, Short Subjects
Winner: Freeheld - Cynthia Wade, Vanessa Roth

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Winner: Atonement - Dario Marianelli

Best Achievement in Cinematography
Winner: There Will Be Blood - Robert Elswit

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Winner: Once - Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová(“Falling Slowly” )

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Winner: Fälscher, Die (Austria)

Best Achievement in Editing
Winner: The Bourne Ultimatum - Christopher Rouse

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Winner: Marion Cotillard for Môme, La (La Vie En Rose)

Best Achievement in Sound
Winner: The Bourne Ultimatum - Scott Millan, David Parker, Kirk Francis

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Winner: The Bourne Ultimatum - Karen M. Baker, Per Hallberg

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Winner: No Country for Old Men - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Winner: Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton

Best Short Film, Animated
Winner: Peter & the Wolf - Suzie Templeton, Hugh Welchman

Best Short Film, Live Action
Winner: Mozart des pickpockets, Le - Philippe Pollet-Villard

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Winner: Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men

Best Achievement in Art Direction
Winner: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Winner: The Golden Compass - Michael L. Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris, Trevor Wood

Best Achievement in Makeup
Winner: Môme, La (La Vie En Rose) - Didier Lavergne, Jan Archibald

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Winner: Ratatouille - Brad Bird

Best Achievement in Costume Design
Winner: Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Alexandra Byrne

THERE WILL BE BLOOD: This Is How An Epic Should Be Made


Cinemanyak Rating: 9.0/10
IMDB Rating: 8.8/10
Tomatometer: 91%
Rotten Tomatoes Critics' Rating: 8.3/10

What's your rating? Post a comment below.

Awards and Accomplishments:
Nominated for Best Picture, 2008 Oscar Awards
Nominated for Best Direction, 2008 Oscar Awards
Best Actor (Daniel Day Lewis), 2008 Oscar Awards
Best Cinematography, 2008 Oscar Awards
Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, 2008 Oscar Awards
Nominated for Best Picture, Berlin Film Festival
Nominated for Best Picture, 2008 Golden Globes
Best Actor, 2008 Golden Globes
Best Actor, 2008 Screen Actors Guild Awards

2 hours and 45 minutes. Extreme production design. Heavy screenplay. Eye candy cinematography. World class acting -- all the ingredients for an epic are in There Will Be Blood. The great thing with the movie is that they have just put in the right amount of each: not too sweet yet not to sour.

Touching a very timely and sensitive topic -- Oil -- the film brilliantly showed how people fight for black gold in the 19th century. Paul Thomas Anderson intriguingly held information during the film that it keeps you guessing and awake the whole time. "How will this film end?". This is how an epic should be done. Dramatic, yet interesting. Heavy, yet fulfilling at the end. Critics say that this is the best film of the year, or even a decade. I seem to agree, by not abosolutely.

Daniel Day Lewis is amazing! He was able to hold his character from beginning til end, and was able to manage the drastic tansformations of "Daniel Plainview" in the middle -- from the charismatic oil-man to a repentant christian, from a good father to a cold-hearted dad, from a businessman in the right mind to a tycoon murderer.

"Set in the early 20th century, the film follows the rise to power of Daniel Plainview -- a charismatic and ruthless oil prospector, driven to succeed by his intense hatred of others and psychological need to see any and all competitors fail. When he learns of oil-rich land in California that can be bought cheaply, he moves his operation there and begins manipulating and exploiting the local landowners into selling him their property. Using his young adopted son H.W. to project the image of a caring family man, Plainview gains the cooperation of almost all the locals with lofty promises to build schools and cultivate the land to make their community flourish. Over time, Plainview's gradual accumulation of wealth and power causes his true self to surface, and he begins to slowly alienate himself from everyone in his life." (written by Denny Gibbons)

An Oscar favourite, There Will Be Blood got the most nominations this year.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

JUNO: MY BEST PICTURE PICK

Cinemanyak Rating: 9.0/10
IMDB Rating: 8.2/10
Tomatometer: 93%
Rotten Tomatoes Critics' Rating: 8.0/10
What's your rating? Post a comment below.

Awards and Accomplishments:
Nominated for Best Picture, 2008 Oscar Awards
Nominated for Best Direction, 2008 Oscar Awards
Nominated for Best Actress, 2008 Oscar Awards
Best Original Screenplay, 2008 Oscar Awards
Nominated for Best Picture, 2008 Golden Globes
Nominated for Best Actress, 2008 Golden Globes
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay, 2008 Golden Globes
Best Actress, 2008 Screen Actors Guild Awards

JUNO started with a chair...and from there, everything was just brilliant.

Juno MacGuff (played Ellen Page), finds herself pregnant, knocked up by her best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) on their first attempt at sex. Juno, with the help of her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), takes it upon herself to find some adoptive parents. Courtesy of the local Penny Saver, she soon finds childless couple Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner).

The power of this teenage pregnancy feature is just overwhelming. The story is very clever. The screenplay is not pretentious. The emotions were real. It definitely placed a spin on how pregnancy is presented in movies. Aside from the well-awarded screenplay. Ellen Page's acting kept us glued to the movie. It's like she's telling you "Watch what will happen to me". And true indeed, she held our hands as we go through the flat but very colorful life of a confused pregnant teenager. She would definitely be a force to face in tomorrow's Oscars.

The director, Jason Reitman, knows how to treat black comedy with respect. He was able to make people laugh in the theater without destroying the somber mood of the whole film. He deserves his Oscar nomination, yet he's too weak to compete with the epic experts in the race.

But all-in-all, JUNO has the elements of what a great movie should have. With that, I wouldn't be surprised if I see Jason with an Oscar tomorrow for Best Picture.