Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Amateur Hour at the Cinemalaya 2017 - Let There Be Light - Please!

This year, nine films brave to navigate the cinematic dark waters for this year’s Cinemalaya film festival. By “dark”, we’re imputing cinematic theme – and technical proficiency or the lack of it.

There’s illiteracy and terrorism (Perry Escano’s “Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa”); a child’s loneliness (Thop Nazareno’s “Kiko Boksingero”); abuse and the government’s lack of empathy for its foreign workers (Zig Dulay’s “Bagahe”); murder and infidelity in a small town (Iar Arondaing’s “Sa Gabing Nananahimik ang mga Kuliglig” and Sonny Calvento’s “Nabubulok”); superstition and drug smuggling in a fishing village (Joseph Israel Laban’s “Baconaua”); obscure definitions of a relationship (Nerissa Picadizo’s “Requited”); artistic struggles in the squalor amidst extra judicial killings (Alberto Monteras II’s “Respeto”) and false hopes and urban legends (Mes De Guzman’s “Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha”).

Despite the provocative plots, there’s scanty good news to be shared from my end. In fact, this was one of the most challenging set of entries I had to endure to watch. I am, in fact, trying to remember the last time it was this bad. But I am getting ahead of myself.


Poor production values, pedestrian direction, clunky writing, cluttered exposition, miscasting and overwrought performances hobble the entries. One common characteristic is darkness. While I understand the preponderancy of atmosphere and dimly lit scenography, it’s a different matter altogether when the silver screen is but a patch of black. One geriatric viewer had to remark: “Wala akong makita”. No, lola, it isn’t your cataract nor your macular degeneration. It’s the film you’re watching.  I’m not talking about a single title. There were several: “Baconaua” leads the guilty parties. Wouldn’t it have been appealing if we actually recognized the color “red” when the sea turned bloody? 

Here’s a trivia about colors: you need light to distinguish them! Isn't the concept basic in photography (cinematography)? When the sea spits apples, and all you find are silhouettes, you’re doing the audience a disservice. From my seat, the apples looked like mounds of excreta! The same affliction characterized “Sa Gabing…” and portions of “Nabubulok”. “Maybe they’re experimental?” quipped one hopeful viewer, I had to laugh in my dark corner.


In the early days of the Cinemalaya, the audience were patient of such film-making gaffes. But, boy oh boy, that was more than 10 years ago. There’s been tremendous advancement in technology, and indies aren’t two-bit artistic inventions anymore. Or are we back to square one?

Let’s take Perry Escano’sAng Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa”, about a farmer who’s tasked to takeover teaching duties at a remote grade school in Muslim Mindanao. Here’s the clincher: Aaquil (Alfred Vargas) is himself illiterate and doesn’t have the foggiest about his three R’s. 

While undeniably an interesting concept, the film is clunky at best, the performances abominable, particularly from Vargas who’s too well scrubbed and healthy to represent a marginalized sector of the countryside. This is a curiosity because we’ve always considered Vargas an adequate performer. In this movie however, Vargas’ demeanor is reduced to being “pa-cute” and juvenile. And don’t let him scamper for his life by dodging bullets. Five paces later, he’s breathless. The scenes are awkwardly blocked, you feel like watching an old flick in Piling Piling Pelikula. Mostly, they are turgid and amateurish. Is this a Cinemalaya film we’re watching? I had to ask myself. In the end, the whole narrative conceit is as fraudulent as the ineptitude of the movie’s general direction. Who read this script and thought this was festival-grade? Aren’t there quality-control measures to assure the inclusion of legitimate film makers?

Sonny Calvento’sNabubulok” follows the train of events after the disappearance of Luna, wife of Jason and mother of three, after her cousin Ingrid (Gina Alajar) starts sniffing around. The story takes the tedious and impudent style reminiscent of Carlo J. Caparas. In fact, every character is suspicious or annoying. Each scene screams the obvious. So much for elements such as foreshadowing. It could have benefited from Gina Alajar’s erstwhile astute dramatic insight. Alajar remains to be one of the industry’s best actresses of all time. Unfortunately, time has rendered Alajar shrill and irritating. When she eventually delivers her “Tang ina nila” line (uttered thrice) in bravura look-at-me-I’m-acting moment, I was awash with regret. How has passing time reduced Alajar to sheer mediocrity. 

The movie likewise fails to make use of promising Jameson Blake and the ubiquitous JC Santos. There were several conspicuous lapses in the story. A farmer inadvertently witnesses the unplanned burial in the dark night. The American patriarch is buying cement at the hardware shop. Ingrid and the neighborhood smell the overpowering stench of a rotting carcass in the household premises. Are you following this? Wasn’t Luna’s body buried in the fields? What was rotting away inside the house? Were there multiple bodies worth checking out? Where was cement used? At the farm? Sometime in the story, police officers suddenly arrive at the scene bearing a search warrant. Right away? Instant warrant, you blink and it’s there. As I’ve mentioned earlier, this takes Carlo J. Caparas’ storytelling sensibilities!

Employing the backdrop of a religious festivity (ho-hum!), Iar Arondaing’s provocatively titled “Sa Gabing Nananahimik ang mga Kuliglig” is a whodunit piece that involves two murders and spotlights the comeuppance of perfidy. 

Madga (Angel Aquino) confesses to Father Mike (Jake Macapagal) the murder of her friend Dolores (Mercedes Cabral), her husband Victor’s mistress. On the same night, Victor (Mark Dionisio) is found bludgeoned to death. Hector (Ricky Davao), Magda’s husband, is then arrested for the crime. Unfortunately, Father Mike is bound to the seal of the confessional. What to do?

The film is hampered by borderline production values, as the story interposes the unraveling events with religious chants and the ensuing festivities. Most of them seem disconnected to the moving picture taking place before you. It’s like hearing Manny Pacquiao quote another biblical passage and realize that something is amiss in the silly exercise. In the first hour alone, scenes successively show Angel Aquino navigate the darkness: at the bathroom, in the kitchen, then inside the bedroom while she gets dolled up! We are baffled by the perversion of darkness to frame a more urgent story that needed telling. If this isn’t a case of style trumping substance, I don’t know what is. 

Direction, camera work, lighting (or the lack of it) are just baffling, if not stifling. All these atmospheric scenarios muddle an already-messy story. Moreover, there are grave flaws in the artistic choices: Jess Mendoza, looking like he’s fathered 5 already, plays the subservient son of Mercedes Cabral? Seriously? Is this suspension of disbelief? I had to tap my heels silly to knock me some patience in the midst of the film’s inanity.

“Matt and I has separate rooms.” (wink wink)

I heard the loudest chorus of chuckles as Nerissa Picadizo’sRequited” drew to a close. The road movie, reminiscent of Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil’s “Lakbay2Love”, has less drone shots and a lot more verbal scuttle between its two characters: Matt (Jake Cuenca) and Sandy (Anna Luna). Matt is afflicted with alopecia. Errr. No, something else that’s more lethal, thus he embarks on a journey from Manila to Mount Pinatubo to end it all. But shrill Sandy, the once-popular volleyball star, decides to tag along to “not define” her relationship with the unemployed architect.

“Ang relikang yan ay galing doon.” 
(Baybayin at bigyang kahulugan ang salitang “relika”.)

Let’s just say that when the suicidal loverboy pushes his mi amor down the cliff, then walks away while we see her abdomen heaving for air, we couldn’t help but suspect that this wasn’t a romantic drama after all. Picadizo apparently confuses her genre every so often. She eventually allows her protagonist to walk away, as though catharsis is to be had once he buries the love of his life. 

Too bad – because Jake Cuenca seems to have invested his heart and soul to breathe life to Matt. Cuenca is one of this festival’s most committed performers. (And listen, I’m trying to “unsee” Matt pleasuring himself among the rocks as final homage to his requited love.) Now tell me: what keeps people from committing to each other if their affections were mutual? This movie does not have the answer. Go fish elsewhere. Hah!

Joseph Israel Laban’s Baconaua” auspiciously starts out with riveting scenes by the shore. 

It has been 90 days since Divina’s (Elora Espano) fisherman father got lost at sea. People believe that a sea serpent (“bakunawa” – a mythical sea dragon believed by old folks in the Visayas region to devour moons thus causing eclipses) has taken him away. Soon thereafter, the sea turns red. Supposedly. The screen was almost in pitch darkness to appreciate this,

Shall I then bestow it with a special award: Dark Picture Award. This movie takes the cake. However, this isn’t the only issue dragging the movie down. Not only are there expendable biblical references (apples wash ashore, a serpent crawl through the mangrove), numerous narrative elements sloppily pile up: an illegal Chinese alien (whose face you can’t even see), drug trafficking, military operations against terrorists; an unlikely romantic triangle; and, yes, a sea monster that selectively chooses his victims. The latter even sounds like Nessie of the Scottish Highlands. Gather these elements and you have one ambitious, but blotchy yarn. 

The film reminds me of Kristian Cordero's "Hinulid" (starring Nora Aunor). In it, the director floods his narrative with a thousand-and-one quotations from so many references. You suspect he has 3 dozens of encyclopedias full of philosophical, biblical and scientific sayings. I just cringe. Laban tries to inject numerous disparate elements to spice up his cinematic palette. Mas maraming sahog, mas masarap, debah? Tee hee.

The good thing about this film: you can finally use your imagination to try to make out what’s on your screen. It’s a good cognitive practice, if you ask me. It's like closing your eyes and allowing your mind to soar. But in this film, your eyes are wide open as you stare at a Cimmerian shade of celluloid. Just a thought here - the director will probably be able to tell a more focused tale if there's a little more light? .

The festival's most irritating performance.
Zig Dulay’sBagahe” feels like masochism-porn the way Mercy (Angeli Bayani) handles her sticky situation. 

The 35-year-old OFW was caught leaving a newborn child on her flight back home from overseas employment. A high profile investigation soon follows with every political personality wanting a piece of the limelight, including a Social Welfare secretary, a senator, the media, the NBI, the church and her family from Kapangan, Benguet. Her demeanor leaves much to be desired in the ensuing circus.


Dulay’s script, usually engrossing and insightful in previous works, is a sloppy parody of the OFW distress story. Each personality is written like cardboard characters. It doesn’t help that Bayani’s portrayal is painfully passive, you feel the unease of being manipulated into sympathizing with her. There’s something pretentious, even deceptive, in her depiction of the ultimate victim. If you’re easily bamboozled by woeful facies, you’d proclaim her queen of the cinematic ball. Kumbaga, nang uuto! For me, hers was one of the festival’s most irritating turns.

Alberto Monteras II’ s “Respeto” is this festivals most technically accomplished entry. It is insightfully casted and cleverly crafted by Monteras who, prior to this, has been directing hundreds of music videos. 

Set in a chaotic urban neighborhood, amateur rapper Hendrix (Abra) crosses paths with reclusive poet Doc Fortunato Reyes (Dido de la Paz) when the former decides to rob the old gentleman’s book shop. Thrown together by circumstance, the two start a mentor-protégé relationship, one that would soon get tested by the spate of killings happening around town. 

Rapper Abra turns in a more-than-decent performance worthy of, at the very least, a citation. He will give Jake Cuenca a tight fight in the lead actor category, though, in my book, Cuenca delivered the more substantial and consistent performance. Dela Paz’s poetic number at the rap competition was amusing. It was also awkward, misplaced and rough around the edges. Nevertheless, dela Paz gives his career-best in “Respeto”.

Thop Nazareno’s Kiko Boksingero” tells the story of Kiko (Noel Comia Jr.), a lonely 11 year old boy who pines for the affection of his father. After the demise of his mother, the young boy is left under the care of his nanny (Yayo Aguila). One day, George (Yul Servo) shows up at the empty apartment that Kiko frequently visits. Kiko's life is never the same.

The cool temperatures of Baguio adroitly frames the young protagonist’s longings in a story affectionately told. This bittersweet tale demonstrates that you don’t need a lengthy exposition to tell a good story. Nor does one require loud bickering or convoluted plot to engage your audience. The movie is a calm emotional discourse about grief and the ties that bind. Servo is charismatic as the former boxer who welcomes his most loyal fan in his temporary home. Yayo Aguila is an affectionate presence. Young Noel Comia Jr. is perfectly cast as the hopeful boy who forges a relationship with his noncommittal father.

"Kiko..." is a balm of hope and inspiration. It mirrors kindness and affection in a world that has embraced discord and indifference. If your idea of cinema is one that lifts your sagging spirit, look no further. This is the perfect vehicle.

The festivals’ most charming entry is Mes de Guzman’sAng Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha” which stars Megastar Sharon Cuneta who’s aptly back in the indie scene after the whimsical comedy “Crying Ladies” (2003). What’s with Cuneta and “crying”? But I'm not complaining. The movie is a departure from one of my favorite indie directors' style who’s known for his glacially-paced introspective dramas usually set in the back roads of small towns. Pamilya takes place in Laguna.

In the story, Cora dela Cruz (Cuneta) is a former broadcast journalist wallowing in the doldrum of her solitary life. She has lost everyone important to her, including her husband (Richard Quan), her children (Michelle Vito and Philip Olayvar) and even her career. With the help of her oftentimes-discombobulated maid Bebang (the irrepressible Moi Bien), Cora hires the services of Biboy (Nino Muhlach) to find the mythical “Family that Doesn’t Weep”. The family of four is an urban legend believed to bring back lost object or person – for a fee, of course. Cora’s dilemma isn’t an easy one. Moreover, she's just too desperate to doubt. She has pinned her hopes up on this strange family. Cora's penultimate journey abruptly ceases when fate swerves to a dead end. Her desperation almost kills her, as she eventually ends up at the emergency room.

Cora’s story is a cautionary tale about hope and deliverance. Happiness and success aren’t attained by subscribing to superstition nor should they be dependent on the mere presence of others. Sometimes, our contentment is defined by what we think we need when, in truth, happiness could be had with so much less. 


A story like Cora's is fodder for maudlin caterwauling, but De Guzman decides to take an unexpectedly light approach to tell his story. "Drama" would have easily benefited Cuneta more, but the narrative path veers away from inexorable sentimentality. If anything, this artistic choice is fortuitous. After all, both De Guzman and Cuneta more familiarly tread the dramatic genre. Comedy, then, becomes an "extraordinary" choice. In this respect, we applaud De Guzman more than ever - and can't wait for his next film. 

I initially didn't expect a lot from the movie after watching some scenes from the trailer; none of which made it in the final cut. 

But such is the joy of unexpected surprises. The movie is funny, but ultimately heart breaking. It’s probably inappropriate to say that this vehicle is a return to form for the iconic actress. After all, she isn’t known for quirky comedies (Wenn Deramas’ “BFF” notwithstanding). Cuneta is treading unfamiliar waters. There are awkward moments of improvs, but Cuneta’s character is completely delineated and bravely depicted. This is a comeback of sorts for Cuneta whose last cinematic foray was Joel Lamangan’s “Mano Po: A Mother’s Love” eight long years ago. There were SRO crowds in the two screenings we've managed to catch (long story!), but this was expected, considering she’s the only stellar name in the current festival. 

Thank God for the few good movies. This has been a challenging experience at a Cinemalaya festival. There were moments that felt like self-flagellation, to be honest. But watching “Pamilya…”, “Kiko Boksingero” and “Respeto” made the whole drill worth the time I invested.

Honor Roll

To cap this post, here is our honor list for this festival:

Best Picture: Alberto Monteras II’s “Respeto

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Jake Cuenca (“Requited”)

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Sharon Cuneta (“Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha”)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Dido dela Paz (“Respeto”)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:  Chai Fonacier (“Respeto”)

Best Director: Alberto Monteras II (“Respeto”)  


As an addendum, the shorts fielded this year were quite impressive. Their directors displayed more technical proficiency than many of the main features’ megmen. Carl Adrian Chavez’sSorry for the Inconvenience” told a complete tale of vengeance and the lopsided face of justice. Ronwaldo Martin is engrossing as the perennially bullied student. Karl Glenn Barit’s Aliens Yata” is viewed above ground (drone) so the perspective is ground-breakingly alienating, but nevertheless fresh and provocative. Juan Karlo Tarobal’sIslabodan (Free Men)” is told through multiple frames (as though watching a comic book) about warring gangs. Though the technique used is occasionally disorienting, you can’t deny the dynamism of such storytelling. E del Mundo’sManong ng Pa-aling” is told (mostly) underwater. How's that for new perspectives?

The visual techniques employed are varied, adequately using them to move their stories. On the whole, it’s important to remember that no cinematic element is more important than the story itself. On his diatribe about film school, celluloid maverick Werner Herzog once remarked, “Academia kills the cinema.” It is important to hone one's story telling acumen. Otherwise, technical proficiency will not amount to much.  


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Philippine Industry Report - The Best Films and Performances of 2016

There was a time when the ordinary Filipino’s favourite and most affordable past time was movie watching. People could clear their minds and get lost in the confines of a dark cinema hallway. But things have changed, SM, Ayala and Robinsons made sure of this. In fact, the cost of watching movies between December 2015 and December 2016 has obscenely gone up from between P190-P220 in 2015 to P250-280 this year. Between P190 and P280, this increase is a staggering 47.3%. And who regulates these increases?

For a country where 25.2% of the population (roughly 26 million Filipinos) lives below the national poverty line, current cinema rates are just impossibly steep. In fact, the unapologetic plagiarist Senator Tito Sotto myopically puts to task the new rules set by the MMFF Committee as reason for the dismal earnings at the 42nd edition of the beloved film festival. MMFF 2016 just grossed a measly P500 million, which is half of 2015’s overall earnings. But there are several factors attributable to this.


One, this obvious dichotomy between mediocre mainstreams and indies makes people nervous or unsure. Two, poor information drive about the entries. While this is debatable, it is common knowledge that trailers for Nora Aunor’s “Kabisera”, Rhian Ramos’ “Saving Sally” or Irma Adlawan’s “Oro” were hardly seen on Philippine television, the most influential medium for information dissemination in the new millennium. Forget social media. The United Nations has reported that only 37% of Filipinos have internet access. Of this percentage, access is intermittent. 

The MMFF committee should finance a unified scheme that gives television airtime to promote their entries, particularly because many of these movies are being starred by non-marquee names. Three, this paradigm shift requires time to thrive. It’s like a surgeon’s skills. One doesn’t become an expert of a procedure overnight. Four, inclusion of a documentary was too radical. Since when is a documentary pitted for excellence against mainstream features? Not in Cannes, the Golden Globe, BAFTA or the Oscars. Only in the Philippines! Five, this ridiculous 47.3% increase in cinema admissions limits the capacity of the ordinary Pinoys to watch more movies than they’re usually able to. It’s very prohibitive. After all, we are far from having the earning standards of Singapore, Hong Kong or even Malaysia to impose such ticket prices. Bottom line: MMFF earned much less. Greed of these cinemaplex mafia is clearly contributory to the poor box office earnings.

There are adjustments needed for the new MMFF system obviously, but to call for its abolition is premature; the observation too myopic. And this is from a senator whose claim for cinematic excellence is as part of a zany trio of comedians with “Iskul Bukol”, “Bilibid Gays”, “Si Ako at ang Tres Muskiteros” and “Mang Kepweng” in their resume. The call is self-serving. And for what? So we can have another dose of “Enteng Kabisote”? Heavens forbid.


Look at the bright side. The beneficiaries of the recent MMFF are actually rejoicing because they have received a LOT MORE from the earnings than the past years. What does one do with a billion earning if they don't even reach the beneficiaries' coffers? Even with less financial haul, the earnings have been put to good use. Obviously, something good has come out of the revamped MMFF, unless your sole indicator of success is the size of box office return.


Star Cinema once again lorded it over other production companies with majority of their releases making the year’s biggest blockbusters. Vice Ganda leads the pack with “The Super Parental Guardians” nearing the P600 million mark. 

Vilma Santos is the only movie queen, almost 45 years from her rise to stardom, who’s still able to carry a film that actually makes a lot of money. Santos' “Everything About Her” grossed P208 million and counting, the year’s 4th biggest haul. The same movie showcased Angel Locsin’s box office clout. Locsin impressively manages two box office hits in 2016 with gender-bender, “The Third Party” earning P110 million. This should effectively hint of an explosive box-office magic in a new Darna flick if Locsin decides to “swallow the extra-terrestrial stone” and once again fly the cinematic skies.

The most unexpected blockbuster is Angelica Panganiban's "The Unmarried Wife", a vehicle she single-handedly carried with grit and grace. Of course there's Dingdong Dantes, Paolo Avelino and Maricar Reyes in the cast, but it's easy to attribute the film's success to Panganiban. The titular "wife", wasn't she? The film is also expected to earn more than others, once cost is subtracted from its gross earning.


Some people scoff at mainstream productions, but to be fair, this is an industry that allows artists to earn money and provide for their family. The same can hardly be said about the indie community where, often times, people are paid so much less than industry rates. Some even work for free. This makes for an unsustainable livelihood in a society. The great divide in the debate against the concept of dichotomy rests in this salient feature. Artists need work where they’re paid adequately for services rendered. Director Marlon Rivera (“Ang Babae sa Septic Tank”) once bemoaned about the dichotomy between mainstream and independent productions. But until proper financial arrangements are laid out or professionalized, this concept remains valid and can’t be swept under the carpet.


In 2016, Superstar Nora Aunor was in (hold your breath!) 6 feature films: (Adolfo Alix Jr.’s “Padre de Pamilia” and “Whistleblower”, Roderick Cabrido’s “Tuos”, Kristian Cordero’s “Hinulid” and Real Florido and Arturo San Agustin’s “Kabisera”). If we include cameos, the list will include Joven Tan’s “Pare, Mahal Mo Raw Ako” where La Aunor portrayed Edgar Allan Guzman’s mother. Unfortunately, none of these features showcased the legendary actress’ superior acting chops, except for “Tuos”. Most of these films were either predictable, pretentious or forgettable. Isn’t that a waste of talent?

This could have been 7 if Ms. Aunor wasn’t kicked out of Alvin Yapan’s “Oro”. The official reason stated by the production was schedule difficulties, but the grapevine has a more unpalatable story: Aunor allegedly refuses or cannot memorize Yapan’s kilometric lines. Remember Irma Adlawan’s protracted monologue in the film? The director hails from the academe and wants the script followed to the letter. The story is a film maker’s vision, after all. Ate Guy, who already filmed a few scenes, would allegedly adlib her way through a scene. Regardless, one cannot just remove THE Superstar without personally discussing this with her. This smacks of grave disrespect. Now, the veteran actress is in fighting form. Hell hath no fury like a Superstar scorned indeed.


Andi Eigenmann starred in a remake of Lino Brocka’s gut-wrenching “Angela Markado” (1980), this time directed by its original novelist Carlo J. Caparas. The result wasn’t bad. It was horrible! 

But this didn’t stop the Famas from giving a best actress trophy for Eigenmann. How is it like receiving an award for a performance that doesn't even deserve a citation? Oh how she cried! While I understand the different criteria that various award-giving bodies stand for, the new cinematic version of “Angela Markado” was execrable:; it was messy, amateurish and mostly incoherent. 

Easily, the movie was among the year’s worst. Giving an award of excellence for a bad film gives a wrong signal to an industry beleaguered by a variety of problems. The same award-giving body handed out its Best Film to the unnecessarily long and unexceptionalFelix Manalo”. To make matters worse, its Best Supporting Actor and Actress plum went to Gabby Concepcion and Lorna Tolentino, both for “Crazy Beautiful You”. In the aforementioned film, Gabby and Lorna were mostly decorative. No one in their right mind would even cite these actors for their turn in this movie. This makes FAMAS nothing but a humongous joke. No one believes their choices, but themselves. No one cares for the FAMAS anymore. They’re a demented bunch who probably just saw 10 local films in a film year that had 140 film features.


In terms of output, the struggling industry churned out, roughly, about 140 movies. Star Cinema released 12 titles; Viva had an impressive 7; Regal had 4; and the obscure BG Production International had 5, including the Nathalie Hart-starrer, “Siphayo”. Even Matteo Guidicelli became an action star in a film produced by BGP - Rod Santiago’s old school actioner, “Tupang Ligaw”.

Most of BG’s films, however, would get screened for a day, then pulled out the next. I’d say the bad luck comes from the producer’s robotic cameos in many of her films. In Joel Lamangan’s “Siphayo”, for example, a scene involves the producer sitting inside a car and looking so stiff, it looked like she got inflicted with either of the Clostridia species: botulinum or tetani. Or torticollis! Take your pick! She’s the perfect specimen!


There were several local film festivals: ToFarm films, the agriculture-advocating festival, were mostly mediocre works, but it had a couple of gems: Dulay’s “Paglipay” and Villaluna’s “Pauwi Na”. 

Brillante Mendoza’s “Sinag Maynila” wasn’t that impressive, but it screened Adolfo Alix Jr.’s “Mrs.” To a minor degree, Mes de Guzman’s “Dyamper” was serviceable. 

Cine Filipino had more variety, but my favorites were the unabashedly romantic and poetic ouvre of Ice Idanan, “Sakaling Hindi Makarating”, Lem Lorca’s “Ned’s Project”, Jason Paul Laxamana’s “Ang Taba Ko Kasi”, and the eerily suspenseful “Ang Tulay ng San Sebastian”, directed by beleaguered megman Alvin Yapan (of the notorious “Oro” fame).

The grand dame of local festivals, Cinemalaya, makes a grand comeback. However, most films weren’t as accomplished as the past years' entries. Our favorites include Corpuz and Palomares’ “Kusina” with the sublime Judy Anne Santos; Eduardo Roy Jr.’s “Pamilya Ordinaryo”; and Jason Paul Laxamana’s “Mercury is Mine”. 

Some Cinemalaya entries managed to annoy us: Atom Magadia’s “Dagsin” was difficult and almost unbearable to watch, it taunted me to walkout several times, but Tommy Abuel’s performance convinced us to stay put; Cabrido’s “Tuos” meandered in its own artistic conceit, but Nora Aunor was fascinating in her flowing grey tresses; then there’s Ralston Jover’s “Hiblang Abo” which takes the cake as one of the year’s most atrocious ensemble. Almost every “lolo” in this story was gratingly irritating. We weren’t alone with this sentiment. A guy seated beside us kept whispering, “Die already.” Jun Urbano was just too resplendently tawdry. 

QCinema Film Festival emerged as the best mounted festival last year. It’s almost hard to pick favorites from their competition films. However, the weakest entry would have to be Cordero’s quotation-heavy “Hinulid” which starred Nora Aunor. Cinema One was the year’s most disappointing. This is mostly because we expected so much from it. Petersen Vargas’ “2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten” is its lone shining star. Then there’s the MMFF. I feel that there’s a problem with the selection of movies, but enough of that. Boborol’s “Vince & Kath & James” was a huge surprise, aside from Jun Lana’s “Die Beautiful”. Oh, there’s that dog-clubbing film too, but let’s avoid mentioning it further.


During the last quarter or the year, foreign film festivals were screened one after the other: Eiga Sai, Chinese, South Korean, Argentine, Spanish, German, Cine Europa, Danish, Asian, etc. There was even an Israeli Film Festival. While I was thrilled of these developments, the whole experience was eventually exhausting when we tried to watch most of them. My suggestion to the organizers: please try to coordinate with each other and spread these festivals across 12 months instead of fielding them all at the second half of the year. 

From these festivals, we saw Frederikke Aspock’s “Rosita”, a fish-out-of-water Danish film that starred beautiful Mercedes Cabral as a mail-order bride who finds herself in a frigid fishing village north of Copenhagen. 

I also caught Pepe Diokno’s “Above the Clouds”, starring Ruru Madrid, one of my favourite movie-going experiences last year. Iconic rocker Joey Pepe Smith was featured in two superior movies: Diokno’s “Above the Clouds” and Malaysian-Filipino director Bradley Liew’s “Singing in Graveyards”. Theatre luminary Anton Juan fielded his messy “Hinabing Palpak ng Ating mga Anak” which was a punishing watch for me. It starred JC Santos and Agot Isidro, among others.


Finally, Lav Diaz’s films are making a killing at the box office, particularly for “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis” which screened before SRO crowds all over the metropolis, Davao and Cebu included. Charo Santos’ “Ang Babaeng Humayo” was the same, although interest eventually dwindled. But, boy, what a screen comeback for a screen luminary!


I also hope that, in the spirit of transparency, cinema owners and movie companies release correct box office returns because real numbers can be used to study the attitudes of people – their movie watching habit. This will ultimately benefit film makers. I remember watching Gino M. Santos’ “Love Me Tomorrow” (Dawn Zulueta, Piolo Pascual, Coleen Garcia) on its opening day. There were only 3 of us inside a huge Megamall cinema. That night, Boy Abunda proudly proclaimed the movie’s fantastic first-day gross to the tune of P13 million pesos! I almost fell off my chair. Three people in one cinema = P13 million first day gross. Talk about exponential padding, right? Of course, a single movie house isn’t an adequate gauge in the overall box-office earning of a film. Maybe there were thousands in other theatres, debah? I rest my case!


Our choices for the year’s best was simplified this year. For best performances, we chose 10 of the best performances in a lead role, and another 10 for supporting role. Arranged in descending order, this should easily point to who we think deserves the top plum. We had a hard time deliberating the best performers, but let it be known that Vilma Santos (“Everything About Her”), JC de Vera (“Best.Partee.Ever”), Angelica Panganiban (“The Unmarried Wife”), Ronwaldo Martin (“Pamilya Ordinaryo”) and Judy Anne Santos (“Kusina”) were in serious contention. For some actors, other factors, like the material they appeared in, eventually figured in the elimination.  

This is 2016’s Best Films and Performances (in descending order):

Best Films of 2016

1. Lav Diaz’s Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (Best Film)
2. Brillante Mendoza’s Ma Rosa 
3. Jun Lana’s Die Beautiful 
4. Petersen Vargas’ 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten
5. Sheron Dayoc’s Women of the Weeping River  
6. Eduardo Roy Jr.’s Pamilya Ordinaryo 
7. Lav Diaz’s Ang Babaeng Humayo  
8. David R. Corpuz and Cenon O. Palomares’ Kusina 
9. Theodore Boborol’s Vince and Kath and James 
10. Ice Idanan’s Sakaling Hindi Makarating

Best Performance in a Lead Role (Actor and Actress) in 2016

1. Jaclyn Jose (Ma Rosa) - Best Actress in a Lead Role
2. Charo Santos (Ang Babaeng Humayo)

3. Tommy Abuel (Dagsin) - Best Actor in a Lead Role

4. Paolo Ballesteros (Die Beautiful) 

5. Hasmine Killip (Pamilya Ordinaryo)

6. Jasmine Curtis-Smith (Baka Bukas) 
7. Cherry Pie Picache (Pauwi Na) 
8. Jaclyn Jose (Patay na si Hesus)

9. John Lloyd Cruz (Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis) ties with                  
   Joshua Garcia (Vince and Kath and James) 

10. Angeli Bayani (Ned’s Project) 

Best Performance in a Supporting Role (Actor or Actress):

1. Christian Bables (Die Beautiful) - Best Actor in a Supporting Role

2. Meryll Soriano (Pauwi Na) - Best Actress in a Supporting Role

3. Jameson Blake (2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten) 
5. Jordan Herrera (Best.Partee.Ever)

6. Kean Cipriano (That Thing Called Tanga Na)

6. Pepe Herrera (Sakaling Hindi Makarating)
7. Lotlot de Leon (Mrs.)  
8. Ina Raymundo (Vince & Kath & James) 

9. Enchong Dee (Mano Po 7: Tsinoy) 
10. Barbie Forteza (Tuos)   
Best Director

1. Lav Diaz (Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis) 
2. Brillante Mendoza (Ma Rosa)  
3. Sheron Dayoc (Women of the Weeping River) 
4. Petersen Vargas (2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten)
5. Eduardo Roy Jr.(Pamilya Ordinaryo)  

Best Screenplay

1. Lav Diaz for "Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis" 
2. Troy Espiritu for "Ma Rosa"  
3. Jason Paul Laxamana for "2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten"
4. Lav Diaz for "Ang Babaeng Humayo"     
5. Daisy Cayanan, Kim Noromor, Anjanette Haw for "Vince & Kath & James"   

Best Cinematography

1. Larry Manda (Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis)   
2. Odyssey Flores (Ma Rosa)   
3. Mark Limbaga and Rafael Meting (Baboy Halas)   
4. Alan Banzon (Paglipay/Crossing) 
5. Lee Meily (Ignacio de Loyola) ties with
    Vanz Lavado (Lakbay2Luv)

Best Editing

1. Lav Diaz (Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis)
2. Diego Marx Dobles (Ma Rosa) 
3. Carlo Francisco Manatad (Pamilya Ordinaryo) 
4. Paolo Villaluna and Ellen Ramos (Pauwi Na)  
5. Mycko David and Cesca Lee (Purgatoryo)          

Best Ensemble:

1. 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten (Khalil Ramos, Ethan Salvador, Jameson Blake)

2. Vince and Kath and James 

3. Sunday Beauty Queen

4. The Unmarried Wife

5. Frederikke Aspock’s Rosita (Denmark)

2 Cool to be 4gotten

Vince and Kath and James

Sunday Beauty Queen

The Unmarried Wife


Best First Feature:

1. Petersen Vargas (2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten) 
2. Bradley Liew (Singing in Graveyards)

3. Ice Idanan (Sakaling Hindi Makarating) 
4. Sunshine Lichauco de Leon and Suzanne Richiardone (Curiosity, Adventure and Love)
5. HF Yambao (Best.Partee.Ever)       

Best Documentary: Lichauco de Leon and Richiardone's "Curiosity, Adventure and Love"

Best Short Film: Lav Diaz's "Ang Araw Bago ang Wakas" 

Most Annoying Films of the Year (because we suffered while watching them):

1. Anton Juan's "Woven Wings of Our Children" (Hinabing Pakpak ng Ating mga Anak)

2. Atom Magadia's "Dagsin"

3. Ralston Jover's "Hiblang Abo"

4. Sheron Dayoc's "The Crescent Rising" - The Moro community utilizes the same argument that China uses to claim ownership to Mindanao. That it won in Korea really is a bigger disservice because it legitimizes erroneous claims. Historical revisionism at its worst. Period.

5. Jose Johnny Nadela's "Pilapil"

6. Kristian Cordero's "Hinulid" - The director makes use of a thousand quotations from mathematicians to philosophers diluting what could have been a fascinating story of a mother who comes to terms with her son's untimely demise. The film ultimately lost its own voice. Oh, and there's this train that travels from Manila to Bicol and terminates at the constellation! 

Best Struggle in Online Criticism: Cinema Bravo

-   Here’s why!

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