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Giving the MMFF a new lease on life

By: - Entertainment Editor / @InqEnt
/ 12:50 AM December 30, 2016

We didn’t think we’d see the day when the reforms for the Metro Manila Film Festival we’ve been advocating for so many years would actually be implemented. Change has come, indeed—and while it isn’t the seamless festival we hoped it’d be, it’s a significant work in progress that requires moviegoers’ patronage, not just perfervid yammering and voluble noise in social media.

Yes, patronage. It’s time to walk the walk. We’re issuing this clarion call to movie buffs who should support films in the bottom-half of the box-office race, particularly two of the MMFF’s best bets—Baby Ruth Villarama’s “Sunday Beauty Queen” and Avid Liongoren’s “Saving Sally.” We were down with the flu last Sunday, but we finished six films on opening day to show our support for the “rebooted” festival.

So, what are you waiting for? Go out and watch all the eight entries this year, because it’s an endeavor worth investing in.

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The 42nd edition of the MMFF has six very good reasons to make a beeline for the box office—and even the underperforming two deserve to be seen for their lead stars’ prodigious screen presence.

It’s time to do away with procrastination and the “pera-pera lang ’yan” mentality we’ve been conditioned to accept long after kwela but substandard (and product placement-heavy) vanity projects eventually eased out the prestige films of old. For starters, the finalists aren’t the conventional formulaic movies we often see in our cineplexes.

Take Theodore Boborol’s feel-good romcom, “Vince & Kath & James,” about cousins, poor boy Vince (Joshua Garcia) and rich school jock James (Ronnie Alonte) and the campus beauty, Kath (Julia Barretto), they’re attracted to.

Joshua Garcia in “Vince & Kath & James”

Joshua Garcia in “Vince & Kath & James”

Far from the dour and grim themes often associated with indies, the production proves that you don’t have to tackle big themes to be relevant, relatable and moving. It cleverly incorporates social media to keep its story absorbing. It entertains as much as it reminds viewers of the ties that bind them to the people they love—and those who choose not to love them back.

The film is deceptively light and fizzy, but it’s made more compelling by the exceptional and charming turn of Garcia, who is the film season’s most impressive breakout star. He has Alden Richards’ good looks and John Lloyd Cruz’s sensitivity—a formidable combination for someone so young (he’s only 19). And his scene with the similarly award-worthy Ina Raymundo, who portrays his distant mother, is one of the best single dramatic moments we’ve seen this year.

There are 190,000 Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Villarama’s disarming “Sunday Beauty Queen” follows Pinay college graduates-turned-maids who join beauty pageants—from the contestants (Mylyn Jacobo, Cherie Bretaña, Hazel Perdido and Rudelie Acosta) who take part in them, to the lesbian (Leo Selomenio) who’s been helping organize them since 2008—to shake off the drudgery of their arduous and sometimes very lonely lives.

Behind their lovely smiles are alternately heart-breaking and inspiring tales about love, sacrifice and abuse: One of them is allowed to take a bath only once every three to five days to save water, while another is often seen counting the planes that fly by, hoping she’d someday be on one of them when she finally gets the chance to return to her family for good.

With more than 10 percent of our population now part of that “troubling” diaspora because of the Philippine government’s inability to provide well-paying jobs for its people, it’s easy to see why these women’s stories are hard to ignore.

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The claustrophobia-inducing true-to-life tale, “Oro,” also doesn’t disappoint. Unlike many films in  director Alvin Yapan’s cerebral and carefully calibrated oeuvre (“Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa,” “Mga Anino ng Kahapon”), his latest film takes an appropriately in-your-face approach to the story of a gold-mining island in Camarines Sur overrun by bandits.

The film makes wise use of Irma Adlawan’s time-honed theatricality to dramatize its urgent plea for action, resolution and closure. In it, Sue Prado also delivers a fine portrayal of a shrewd gold appraiser.

Despite some slow and awkward stop-and-starts and a nonlinear storytelling style that isn’t as clearly delineated, Jun Robles Lana’s “Die Beautiful” demands to be seen for a powerful and provocative tale that astutely revisits the colorful and vivid life of trans woman Trisha (Paolo Ballesteros, in one of the year’s most textured portrayals).

Paolo Ballesteros in “Die Beautiful”

Paolo Ballesteros in “Die Beautiful”

Trisha succumbs to a ruptured aneurysm after she finally bags the top plum in a “beau con.” To honor her dying wish, it’s her BFF Barbs’ (Christian Bables, who’s equally outstanding) responsibility to make Trisha look beautiful during her wake, so we see the dead queen transform into different celebrities (Beyoncé, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, et al.) from one night to the next.

The film deserves a hearty pat on the back for proficiently channeling the cycle of violence and abuse that gay and transgender individuals continually hurdle—discrimination, physical and sexual abuse, etc.—in exchange for the unconventional lifestyle they pursue.

“Saving Sally” fuses live action and animation in Liongoren’s simple but inventive fable about animator Marty (Enzo Marcos). He falls for his feisty friend, 17-year-old gadget inventor Sally (Rhian Ramos, who’s perfect in the role), but doesn’t know how to save her from her abusive parents and her 28-year-old self-obsessed boyfriend, Nick (TJ Trinidad).

Enzo Marcos and TJ Trinidad in “Saving Sally”

Enzo Marcos and TJ Trinidad in “Saving Sally”

The film is sluggish in some sequences and looks dated in others, but this doesn’t make Liongoren’s feat any less remarkable. He creates a gorgeously imagined and ingeniously realized parallel universe to tell his well-told tale.

Erik Matti’s “Seklusyon”—about four deacons (Ronnie Alonte, Dominic Roque, John Vic de Guzman, JR Versales) staying in a seclusion house a week before their ordination—deftly captures the mood and chaos of the wartime period it depicts.

But the quartet’s priestly preparation is soon derailed by their creepy interactions with the house’s cranky caretaker (Lou Veloso), a mysterious nun (Phoebe Walker), a young faith healer (Rhed Bustamante) and the priest (Neil Ryan Sese) tasked to investigate the authenticity—and source—of the child mystic’s miraculous healings. Is she angel or demon?

The visually stunning film’s narrative clutter is sometimes too hectic and incomprehensible, but Matti knows how to create an atmosphere of doom and gloom that scares the bejesus out of viewers—and, for a thriller that for the most part aims to scare viewers out of their wits, that’s more than enough.

We’re thrilled to see Eugene Domingo back on the big screen—and, the good news is, she doesn’t disappoint. But we must note that her entry, “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2,” is neither as funny nor as satisfying as its laugh-out-loud 2011 predecessor.

We’ve missed seeing Eugene strut her thespic stuff onscreen, and we can’t think of any other actress who can pull off something as needless as this movie—like, did she have to sing “Forever’s Not Enough” from start to finish? The scene felt more like a filler than a situation that truly necessitated a showcase of her singing and ukulele-strumming ability.

Having said that, watching the movie is still an instructive experience for actors who want to see how to “sell” scenes, even those that aren’t all that crucial for the film’s story to come alive. And that’s exactly what Uge accomplishes in the film. She executes even her complex scenes with ease, flair and swishy bravado—and that’s no easy feat!

Joel Torre and Jericho Rosales, particularly, are superb as the actors who are being considered to portray Eugene’s leading man in her proposed comeback movie.

Finally, Nora Aunor’s presence always makes any film viewable—and Real Florido and Arturo “Boy” San Agustin’s “Kabisera” is no exception.

Nora Aunor in “Kabisera”

Nora Aunor in “Kabisera”

The film hits the ground running, but quickly meanders when widow Mercy de Dios (Aunor) is forced to take over her slain husband’s (Ricky Davao) questionable affairs.

The film examines relevant issues—like extrajudicial killings—but ends up raising more questions than answers.

Unfortunately, the Superstar isn’t required to do something we haven’t seen before—and the film’s directors simply rely on her to react to situations her character implausibly finds herself in. Even Jason Abalos (moving as a struggling nursing student) and JC de Vera are grossly underutilized.

We hope that the legendary actress would be more discerning about her movie projects from here on in, because an actress of her impeccable caliber deserves better roles that she can truly sink her thespic teeth into. No excuses.

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TAGS: Die Beautiful, Enzo Marcos, Indie Films, Joshua Garcia, Movies, Nora Aunor, Paolo Ballesteros, Saving Sally, tj Trinidad, Vince & Kath & James
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