Monday, January 06, 2003

Metro Manila Film Festival 2002

by Reymundo Salao

(The one that won) the Best Picture
MANO PO is a fine movie that chronicles the story of a Filipino-Chinese family, their trials, struggles, and their destiny. It was indeed sort of an eye-opener that would make many of us understand more the life of the tsinoy community, their culture, and their relationship with the country that they lived and loved, the Philippines.
The movie resorts to a number of flashbacks which tell the tales of the members of the family. From their roots which originated in China, up to the stories of the sisters played by Maricel Soriano, Kris Aquino, and Ara Mina. The story and the script was well-written with many dialogues which I may consider as prolific, and at the same time, subtle enough for it to not to sound too preachy. Maricel Soriano delivers a fine performance, enough to give life to a simple role. Kris Aquino, on the otherhand, does give a convincing performance, it was a role fit for her cheerful and caring image. Her performance on this film may be very good, but she sometimes does give away a teeny-tiny flaw here and there, especially when she delivers minor lines. But Ara Mina was indeed the one which has given shine to the film, no doubt about it, since her character seems to be the main protagonist of the story (But one may take notice and ask questions, was her character intended to look like Rosebud?). On this film, Amy Austria is the underrated actress as she plays a tragically desperate woman who never ceases to wonder (and wander), looking for her long lost love. Her performance touched our hearts. But not as dramatic as the scene between Eddie Garcia and Boots-Anson Roa, which I may describe as one of the most tragically romantic death scene in Philippine cinema.
The film was directed by Joel Lamangan, who did a nice work. But still, his work is never free from minor flaws. The sequenceing may be a bit too jumbled up, fortunately, it wasn't too confusing. Like his colleague Chito Roño, Lamangan lacks an additional sense of cinematic style and spice. His direction stresses too much on glamorous sets and costumes, that he often neglects the dimensions of the camera to give more life and drama to those sets. Minor flaws makes us see this. From the ridiculous Chinese soldier who was waving the flag in the truck passing by. The extra who was grinning with a very happy mood during the funeral scene. In addition, the way how the character of Richard Gomez tried to rescue the characters of Kris Aquino and Ara Mina was done recklessly. The choice of Jay Manalo playing Maricel's object of love, was inappropriate. His performance (and/or lack of it) ruined the drama of his relationship with Maricel. Although he is a good actor, he never fit the character, nor the dialogues that went with it. His death scene was abrupt and emotionless too. At the end, I was scratching my head as to why they chose the title "Mano Po". Okay, there indeed is a connection at the end, but I still cant get over the thought that they could have thought of a better title. There were also moments in the film when it got a bit too preachy about the whole connection of Chinese roots to Filipino heroes, heroines, and martyrs. Too preachy that the end looks like a sequence from the old Kulit Bulilit, thereby giving another minor flaw to the beauty of this film.
But at least, I DID use the term "Beauty", for indeed, it is a beautiful film. There is no doubt of that. And yes, they do deserve the bets picture award. Although other critics attack the movie for its focus upon the Chinese community, this film proves that they are a part of us. That they should not be victims of our little prejudices, for they are our neighbors, our friends, our relatives, and maybe the love of our life. Like any film about the relationship, not only of a family, but of a wider family that tells us all that we are all humans, brothers and sister, and race should never divide us, "Mano Po" is the festival's best picture.

The Better One
(January 7, 2003)

This novel of Lualhati Bautista always caught my eye whenever I find myself on a decent bookstore. Its mysterious appeal tickled my interest in one of the most dramatic eras of Philippine history, the Marcos era. The writer is one of the most respected writers of our time, and is a Palanca award winner.
It's been a big question mark why it hasn't won as the best screenplay in the Filmfest (which is now the scandal squabbled over by Star Cinema and the MMFF). No doubt as to say that Dekada 70 has a most heart-wrenchingly brilliant storyline. It let's us be witness to the events in the life of a simple family during the tumultuous time of the 70's. During the Marcos rule, the Martial Law, and during the struggles of the subversive fugitives. Piolo Pascual, (who deservingly won as best supporting actor) played the son who was adamant on foregoing with his leftist idealisms and his nationalist struggle, despite the risk of tragedies which may strike and affect his entire family. It was particularly heart-wrenching during the scene (spoiler alert) when Piolo is seen coming out from a detention cell, damaged with marks of torture. It was far more wrenching when we see Christopher De Leon, the padre de pamilya, going berserk and screaming "Pinatay nila ang anak ko!" (it was stupid of the trailer to show this scene as to reveal the idea that one of the children would surely be killed, a common idiotic mistake of trailers of pinoy films). De Leon convincingly played a father whose emotions and decisions played a large game of risk and endure. Vilma Santos, who played the mother of the children, the only woman in a family of men, is the central character of the story. It seems that she has been the only strong character among the men in his life: his husband and his children, all of which has been clouded by their own weaknesses, their emotions and how they try to desperately hide it.
Marvin Agustin, delivers a simple performance as the child who gets into writing and arts instead of being as subversive as his brother. While Danilo Barrios plays a memorable character who carries the sunshine among the family with his bubbly humor and amusing innocence. (On the other hand, I found it idiotic and was laughing at those faggish critics who made a fuss and praised Carlos Agassi for his performance, when he did not really do some acting. All he did was grab his crotch, attempting phone sex. A CGI Dobey can act far more better.)
Now for the downer parts. Although the film Dekada 70 is a must see movie with impressive acting and a storyline which could go down in literary history, the direction of Chito Roño was plainly unimpressive. The director of the Dragon Katol commercial may have done a better job. He did not really do some extra art to beautify the film. And if he ever did some, it was so plain and overused that we did not even notice it. The welga scene was so disappointing as it was ridiculous. It was so obvious to see that the welga extras were a bunch of corny, bored, and "kulang sa motivation" actors, who did not really act as if they were working their way through the riot police. IF you recall the scene, there was one part when only the first row were pressing to march forward, while there was a vacant space at their back, disqualifying the effect that the crowd was really pushing forward. The sequence of the scenes and the acts was also bad and lacked style in timing. Dekada 70 was like cooking paella. Youre sure you have a good recipe, and good ingredients, yet the cook you chose is somebody who cannot even make a good tinola. It was such a waste of talent. It could have been delicious. But since youre hungry for some new exotic food, you try to enjoy it as you can. But it will haunt you, wondering if it was done by somebody better.

The Awful Ones
(January 8, 2003)

My friends were scolding me that I might give Agimat a bad review merely because I always found Bong Revilla to be a silly actor and whenever he portrays an action hero, I would laugh and sneer to find how a butod actor sporting a Tom Jones look tries desperately to look like an action hero. But no, I actually had high hopes for Agimat, especially since I am a fan of action-adventure-fantasy movies.
My early enthusiasm was sparked by the eye-catching poster of the film but broke in a brief chuckle to find that the complete title of the film is actually Agimat: Ang Anting-anting ni Lolo. Daw ka HUPS lang gid ya! To add up to my chuckle was Ramon Revilla who (was maybe made to) looks like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.
Which leads me to suspect that this maybe another film which copies the storyline and the style of some Hollywood film (it has become the common stain among tagalog films).
The film had impressive special effects, rendered by computer graphics. It also had an array of beautiful costumes. Except for the manananggal who looked silly. The sound effects were also magnificent, and magnified the effect of suspenseful moments in the film. Jaime Fabregas did a good performance as some kind of researcher who was coerced by evil forces to do their bidding. And Mylene Dizon was a convincing manananggal, that you would definitely get shivers being with her with the way she looked and acted. It was rather smart of them to make the manananggal be a longganisa maker at the same time, so as to play with the grisly effect of her role. Unfortunately, that's the least good I can say about this film.
The story is lame and has obvious resemblances to The Mummy Returns. To make it worse, the story as to the what, when, why of the villain character is never revealed. Basta may kontrabida lang a! It was a moronic story which never made much sense. Who was that corpse that the researcher was trying to resurrect? Why was she so angry? When resurrected, what did she intend to do? Why was Maria Makiling there all of a sudden? Who was the father of the central character? Why is it that the manananggal was also working for the main villain? Was she really collecting hearts for the main villain, or just having her nightly appetite? The characters had no dimension. The film was a virtual palagpat.
Bong Revilla Jr. could also use some basic acting workshop. The dubbing was obvious. The sequencing also bad. The sudden appearance of two cruel fellows hurting a leper in some forest on an evening never made sense.
Bong Revilla himself is a major stain in the film. Why such a bad actor take on three roles? He plays the (butod) hero in a roman armor, the old janitor, and the leper who was rescued by the main character. I remember him preaching that piracy damages the film industry by depriving actors and actresses with jobs. But on this film he unfairly takes on two extra roles, which could have been jobs for two other people (butod and dalok are two words that go hand-in-hand).

The rule "Don't judge a book by its cover" cannot apply in FPJ's "Alamat ng Lawin". For it is as silly as its poster, which resembles Carlo J. Caparas films. Sa poster pa lang, you can see that the horns of one of the demon characters were Halloween pussycat horns which can be bought from Toy Kingdom for less than 50 pesos. Maybe the costume designer had just one afternoon to prepare.
This film is as funny as it was stupid. It followed the typical tagalog film which, regardless if it was an action-fantasy, it still had to have a musical sequence. I cannot understand why we have to make our films look like the Bollywood movies of India. The story follows the adventure of 4 typical kids who find themselves hurled into a different world. A world filled with evil creatures that roamed the land. Not until they become heroes that would aid in the victory of the main hero, Lawin, played by Fernando Poe Jr. In doing so, the four kids become heroes themselves. Who later turn into the Philippine flag that endowed powers to Lawin to ensure his success. When this happened, our crowd burst into laughter with how immensely silly the scene was.
Yes, the film is one big stupid movie that would make you laugh aloud. The world of Lawin never made sense as to why there are these evil creatures, and why our heroes just suddenly found themselves atop the chocolate hills of Bohol singing "Mga Kababayan Ko". All the costumes were laughable. The masks were obvious as to take note that whenever they talk, their mouths do not move according to speech. It is interesting to note how all these fantasy movies seem to be made in spirit of the fad that Lord of the Rings has been making. The sequences never made sense. It was laughable when they were serious, and irritating when they tried to make us laugh. Even the sword of Lawin looked like it was just some plastic toy sword, and made a ridiculous sound effect that sounds exactly like the kumukutitap of the Happy toothpaste commercial. It is stupid of FPJ to make an awful film if he thinks that pinoy standards of film appreciation is as low as he sees it to be, he is awfully wrong.

Here's another tagalog movie that makes us kalot-ulo why it was included among the nominations of the filmfest. It is a typical tagalog comedy movie that does not need to be elaborated. Funny? Yes. Worth my time to write a review and eat space in this paper? No. It is just another typical slapstick comedy, which injects a preachy little moral lesson so that it justifies being included in a film award giving body which struggles to possess the characteristic of being "decent". If you have any idea of what tagalog slapstick comedy is like, you would know exactly what to expect in Home Along… And yes, they have the Kanta-kanta too.

The Must-See
(January 9, 2003)

This was one movie that I underestimated, with low expectations of being slapstick, corny, and awfully far-fetched. I was wrong. SPIRIT WARRIORS: THE SHORTCUT hits the spot, and I consider it the most entertaining, neatly done, action-adventure-fantasy film. By far this is the best adventure-fantasy movie I have seen to come out of the Tagalog movie industry.
Unlike the other adventure-fantasy movies that were included as entries to the 2002 MMFF, THE SHORTCUT has a more harmonious storyline that makes a bit more sense, and takes the logic and balance of a fantasy movie seriously. It is the sequel to the first SPIRIT WARRIORS movie, and continues to follow the adventures of a group of young men who are knowledgeable and familiar with the ways of the supernatural and the spirit world, simply since they have psychic gifts that enable them to be attune with supernatural forces, one way or another. The central adventure of the story began when the barkada are summoned by a wealthy and powerful collector of ancient supernatural artifacts, played by Jaime Fabregas, to retrieve for him the fragment of a broken agimat, from the world of spirits and elementals (tiyanaks, tikbalangs, etc…). In return, Jaime promises the barkada a million pesos each and promises that the agimat will have the power to cure the very ill grandmother of Red, who is one of the barkada, the central character among the group, played by actor Danilo Barrios. There, in the bizarre world, they encounter various creatures of darkness and light, as they are chased by tiyanaks, hunted by orc-like creatures, and made chika with mermaids.
THE SHORTCUT has won where the other tagalog movies lost. I don't mean the awards they bagged for their special effects. But they won for making a film, which truly has made everyone well entertained. Sometimes, some Tagalog movies are really good if they have the capacity to entertain those skeptics who aren't even used to watching the usually-lame adventure movies that the likes of Carlo J. Caparas make. The usual problem (even with Hollywood directors) is that when a director gets a fantasy film, he instantly treats it with a childish style rather than first reaching out to what the core of the story really is, if it was meant to be serious or not. They made the movie serious to the story without being too preachy, and it did not even try to be corny like some movies which try too hard to insert a cheesy moral lesson that only sounds annoying at the final cut. Plus, it was a delight to find the fun-filled comedy of this film without being too slapstick.
The acting in this film is enough to satisfy the perfection of the story. It has had enough scares, suspense, and the very witty humor, which was spearheaded by the film's comic relief Vhong Navarro. The director, Chito Roño, did better on this movie (his other film this week is Dekada 70), but it was the special effects team who deserve all the congratulations. They have made visual effects that can actually compare with that of Hollywood's. Even the creatures looked so convincing. The bat scenes were beautiful, and the spirits were breathtaking. Truly, this is a visually rich film. You cannot just easily blink your eye, for you might miss another fantastic scene. This is a film filled with adventure extravaganza. I would call it a huge step ahead from the stereotype of Tagalog cinema.
The only flaw on this film is that the storyline, no matter how really good it is, has a few loopholes. Maybe as small as pinholes. Even though there were scenes that explained the many aspects of the storyline, the concept of the "shortcut" to the spirit world need to have an epilogue. And one also could not help but notice that many scenes were copied from films such as "Jurassic Park" and "The Mummy". But that's beside the whole point. SPIRIT WARRIORS: THE SHORTCUT is the most entertaining among the batch. It is the kind of Tagalog movie that we can be proud of. You can pay to watch the movie over and over, and not regret watching it again. I suggest bring along a skeptic. He might change his mind about the future of the local movie industry.

The Family Treat
(January 10, 2003)

I remember the Plasticman cartoon series on Channel 12 during my childhood years, it was during the 1980's, and it used to make me laugh out loud at his zany antics and marvel at his courageous heroism. I immediately mistook LASTIKMAN as a rip-off of that old cartoon series. But never did I realize that LASTIKMAN actually appeared earlier than that, on a classic pinoy comic book series. So I was kind of proud to watch a superhero that was from our old pinoy comic book history.
If there was one thing that LASTIKMAN won during this filmfest season, it was the hearts and fandom of pinoys young and old everywhere. All of a sudden, Lastikman was a superhero idol, which stands proud along giants like Spiderman, Batman, and Superman. It is such a hype that many people are actually talking about it. From the praises that parents reiterate from their children, up to the elder people who just couldn't help but notice the silly, jesterlike superhero costume that Vic Sotto wears with his Lastikman persona. Whenever they talk of the MMFF film, it seems that Lastikman is never omitted from the conversation. Even those who haven't watched it yet are yakking about it.
LASTIKMAN is a superhero-action comedy, which topbills Vic Sotto as a nerdy science professor who gained elastic superpowers in a meteorite collision incident, where particles found in a rubber tree melded along with his body. This led to him becoming the superhero Lastikman, who uses his powers for good, and to fight crime. Meanwhile, his childish-but scientifically-brilliant friend, Jepoy (played by Jeffrey Quizon), was deceived into going against Lastikman. He then turned into a killing machine, which would seek out Lastikman for a duel. In the end, Lastikman succeeds, but was saddened with Jepoy's fate.
The story is wholesome, and should not be taken with serious skepticism. But there can be truly less skepticism since the storyline of Lastikman is well-balanced with action and comedy, that mixes well like that of an ideal superhero storyline. The movie is innovative and attempts to truly create a decently perceived superhero concept. The problem with the film is that some special effects are still too imperfect to compare with a decent sci-fi movie. Sure, there were many scenes that have impressive CGI (computer-generated imagery), but almost half of the number of SFX (Special Effects) shots here are done inadequately. The explosive scenes are a consolation since it truly gave the audience an awesome reaction to witness the post office in Metro Manila being blown by the bad guy, Jepoy. Unfortunately, Jepoy's hoverboard seems like an obvious copycat of the Green Goblin's hoverboard (from the Spiderman movie). Nevertheless, Jeffrey Quizon shines as a twisted villain in the tradition of comicbook villains. Although Vic Sotto may look too old for playing a superhero role, he still is effective on this film. His antics may be a bit corny at times (especially the "Hey Boy!" expression that annoys me), but at least his humor here does not cross the line to being slapstick (which would have ruined the film). Even the preachy portions weren't so preachy at all; as they were done subtly as to effectively transmit the morals that it wants to teach. The appearances and the roles played by Joey De Leon and Michael V. are also hilarious, and you can never miss them. Donita Rose and Anne Curtis also played some cute and adorable roles as the love interests.
LASTIKMAN is truly a movie that kids and adults would love. The humor is satisfying, and the action amusing. We can surely hope for a better sequel, hopefully, one that can stand out from the flaws that we see here. Lastikman is a fave among all. A good masa film indeed.

The Guardian
January 6, 2003