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Recalibrating MMFF standards to suit festival ‘needs’

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:30 AM December 29, 2017

Rachel Alejandro (left) and Joanna Ampil in “Ang Larawan”

After some enlightened souls’ attempt to steer the Metro Manila Film Festival back to its quality-driven glory days in the ’80s by way of last year’s “Sunday Beauty Queen”-led lineup, the think tanks behind it have chosen to field their brand of “wholesome family entertainment” for Filipino viewers’ compromised delectation—hindi lang pampamilya, pang-isports pa.

True, the refurbished fest had flaws that needed rectifying and fine-tuning (not to mention a film that didn’t deserve to be there), but which “experiment” doesn’t require a period of trial and error, and a chance to iron out the kinks?

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The 2016 edition did make money—that’s on record—but that isn’t good enough for the group, making you think that, sometimes, profit outweighs product in terms of importance.
As Madonna feistily and unabashedly declared in “More” (from “Dick Tracy”): “ … That’s what’s soothing about excess/ That’s just stocking the store/ Nothing’s better than more, except all.”

There’s a suitable adjective for that somewhere, so we’ll leave you, dear readers, to fill in the blank and make your own wild guesses.

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After all, the MMFF screening committee had us guessing and scratching our heads last June when it announced its “best” choices for the fest’s first four finalists, based on their inexplicably “namumukod-tanging” scripts.

Even if the MMFF puts Nobel Prize laureates on its roster of screeners and adjudicators, nothing can change the fact that commercial viability isn’t synonymous with artistic merit.
This year, the festival is back happily lurking behind a great vision and a good cause.

Based on its initial selection, the script of “Ang Larawan”—the 2017 festival’s best film, bar none—isn’t good enough to stand alongside the “brilliance” of “Ang Panday” and “The Revenger Squad.” That, in itself, is very telling. Has the word “quality” been redefined without the whole world knowing about it? We call it “recalibrating” the standards to suit the festival’s “needs.”

Loy Arcenas’ fun but provocative must-see screen musical “Ang Larawan” is the kind of groundbreaking film that the MMFF’s original movers and shakers had in mind when they conceptualized this annual movie fiesta decades ago.

It’s about hard-up spinster sisters (Joanna Ampil, Rachel Alejandro) who defy the odds to preserve their reclusive father’s (Leo Rialp) legacy. (Check out our Dec. 22 review of “Ang Larawan.”)

But, “Ang Larawan” has shockingly fallen victim to the dreaded first-day, last-day syndrome and lost even more theaters on its second day. But, our faith in its musical legs tells us that, one way or another, it could bounce back in time—contra mundum.

The runaway box-office champ “The Revenger Squad” spins a silly, squealy and squishy yarn about a ragtag group of superheroes (Vice Ganda, Daniel Padilla and Pia Wurtzbach) who must settle their differences to beat a fake news-propagating diabolical force.

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Trotted out like sections in a loopy sitcom, the film’s irreverent humor may be episodic, but it is nevertheless boosted by inspired moments of comedic ingenuity, thanks to Vice’s self-deprecating wit, quick-on-his-feet comic flair and knack for cleverly utilizing pop-culture references that tickle the audience’s funny bone.

And, yes, the former Miss Universe, truly a ravishing sight to behold, can hold her own alongside her scene-stealing, scenery-chewing costars. We wouldn’t mind seeing her don Darna’s skimpy costume in the future.

Coco Martin’s protracted and needlessly bloated “Ang Panday” is a desecration of Fernando Poe Jr.’s well-loved action-adventure lore and mythology, and plays out like a big-screen, horror-fantasy version of “Ang Probinsyano,” starring Coco as Flavio’s rough-and-gruff grandson with messianic delusions. But, when he’s in high spirits, he sings and raps with his “tropa” to serenade Bb. Pilipinas International Mariel de Leon.

Devoid of subtlety and aptitude for metaphor, the deafening and vein-popping actioner shamelessly borrows elements from “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Suicide Squad,” “Thor,” “Excalibur,” “The Karate Kid” and the Cinemalaya film “Respeto.”

Its excesses also include Jake Cuenca’s The Joker-channeling demon prince Lizardo, and Coco’s uncouth in-your-face iteration of the beloved celluloid hero.

If FPJ was nurturing, respectful and gentlemanly, the new Flavio takes to spitting out expletives like a duck to water: He keeps calling the bearer of the prophesy (Joonee Gamboa), “Hoy, tanda”—who should have transformed this modern “panday” into a remorseful “pandak.”

Such impertinence immediately brings to mind the statement released by the MMFF the other day, and we quote: “We are committed to continue making quality productions that would satisfy and enrich our film audiences.” Really, MMFF? “Quality” na, “enrich” pa. How noble!

We wonder if Ian Loreños’ “Haunted Forest” was what the festival organizers were referring to when it spoke about the MMFF lineup’s “enriching quality.” The movie is all mood and not enough substance.

As it tells the story of grief-stricken Nika (Jane Oineza, who’s lovely and likable) and her father (Raymart Santiago), who often turns to the bottle for comfort, the headache-inducing chiller banks on the sitsit, a devilish tree elemental that casts its deadly spell on gullible maidens before he devours their hearts, to scare the heebie-jeebies out of moviegoers.

But, the film is weighed down by a glacially paced progression and its characters’ underutilized backstories.

Chris Martinez’s “Meant to Beh” is a step in the right direction for Vic Sotto, who benefits from a refreshing change of thespic pace—and that’s all to the good. Giving the film even more dollops of warmth and relatability is the inspired casting of Dawn Zulueta, who makes the silliest gags charming and palatable.

The movie shows the romantic ruckus that transpires when Ron (Vic) and Andrea (Dawn) agree to call it quits 18 years after they decide to enter an arranged marriage.

But, just when they find eye-candy new love interests (Andrea Torres, Daniel Matsunaga), Ron and Andrea start missing each other’s company.

Bossing Vic eschews the tiresome silliness of his poorly written and product placement-heavy “Enteng” flicks into something more heartwarming and realistic.

Some of the jokes are hackneyed, but that’s par for the course in Vic’s film oeuvre that still manages to generate chuckles and rib-tickling laughter from his ’80s and ’90s comedic style.

Paul Soriano’s lusciously photographed “Siargao” has the enchanting Erich Gonzales boldly matching Jericho Rosales’ depth and indelible screen presence as they breathe life and soul into its tormented protagonists, Laura and Diego, respectively.

The film starts out eventfully as it briskly establishes its protagonists’ respective dilemmas, but eventually ends up going ’round in ruminative circles as it waits—and waits even more—for Laura and Diego to make things right with their heartbroken exes (Enchong Dee and Jasmine Curtis-Smith). The story loses steam halfway through, but it picks up its pace in time for the uplifting finale.

Despite the logistical issues his film fails to address, director Julius Alfonso finds bracing ways to keep “Deadma Walking” sharp and bracingly entertaining—with a lot of help from appealing lead stars, Joross Gamboa and Edgar Allan Guzman, who slinkily sashay and sizzle as gay “beshies” John and Mark, respectively.

Edgar Allan Guzman (left) and Joross Gamboa in “Deadma Walking”

Mark is tasked to help cancer-stricken John fake his death to know what his friends, family and associates think about him as a person.

Because of its novel concept, “Deadma” finds a convenient excuse to showcase Joross and EA’s proficient thespic mettle and parade their stellar friends in the biz—from Gerald Anderson (who plays the love of John’s life) and Piolo Pascual, to Eugene Domingo and Iza Calzado, who gamely ham it up in cheery, cheeky and frisky cameos.

Other than its intimations of mortality, however, there really isn’t much “thematic meat” for viewers to chew on. Despite some unnecessary scenes, the production deserves to be seen because Joross and Edgar Allan, who have proven in previous screen gender-benders (“I Love You, Thank You,” “Pare, Mahal Mo Raw Ako”) that they can turn in fine portrayals even in projects that aren’t as satisfying.

Dan Villegas’ “All of You,” the MMFF’s other significant film, isn’t groundbreaking like “Ang Larawan,” but its been-there-done-that romantic drama is compellingly told and persuasively vivified by the consistently absorbing Jennylyn Mercado and Derek Ramsay, who delivers the best performance of his career.

Derek Ramsay (left) and Jennylyn Mercado in “All of You”

The movie chronicles the ups and downs in the cogently limned relationship of lovers Gabbi (Jennylyn) and Gab (Derek), who start to grow apart when the thrill and excitement of their romance begin to dissipate. But, can their abiding love for each other defy the odds that threaten to break them apart—contra mundum?

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TAGS: Ang Larawan, Ang Panday, Metro Manila Film Festival, MMFF, The Revenger Squad
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