Cinemanyak Previews The 2009 Academy Awards

Cinemanyak Previews The 2009 Academy Awards

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'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


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 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 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 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 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 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.