MMFF 2019: Unexpected hits, befuddling misses | Inquirer Entertainment

MMFF 2019: Unexpected hits, befuddling misses

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:15 AM December 28, 2019

Judy Ann Santos (left) and Allen Dizon in “Mindanao”

Judy Ann Santos (left) and Allen Dizon in “Mindanao”

Through the years, we’ve always let the vacuous content (“Fantastica”) and neuron-decimating titles (“Gandarrapiddo: The Revenger Squad”) of Vice Ganda’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entries slide because they’ve always been their own excuse for being.

Laughter is the best medicine, so they say. And it’s hard to look past the gender-bending comedian’s ability to make even the silliest sight gag or comedic inanity connect with viewers—and that is no mean feat for any performer worth his salt.


This was the reason why Vice consistently bested the once-invincible likes of Vic Sotto and Coco Martin at the tills. His “meme-worthy” romps could plug into the zeitgeist like no other flick in its genre.


But this year, Vice has fallen victim to the laws of diminishing returns. Barry Gonzalez’s moribund “M&M: The Mall The Merrier” squanders a likable cast that also boasts stellar cameos from heavy-hitters—like the dashing Enrique Gil, the “very game” Regine Velasquez, a miniature Maja Salvador, the Maria Clara-channeling Yassi Pressman and the consistently advice-ready Charo Santos, who enlivens her quick appearance with a deliciously winking turn.

With a pat and predictable progression fueling a paint-by-numbers story, the film pits siblings Moira and Morisette Molina (Vice, Anne Curtis) against each other as they wrestle for power and proprietorship.


Unfortunately, the production takes the lazy and lethargic route by rehashing jokes that sink more than they soar—after all, just how many times do we have to be reminded that Anne has humongous lips, or that Vice is no raving beauty?

Vice Ganda (left) and Anne Curtis in “M&M: The Mall The Merrier”

Vice Ganda (left) and Anne Curtis in “M&M: The Mall
The Merrier”

It doesn’t help that “M&M” lets its overzealous actors deliver far-from-funny wisecracks that fail to hit their mark. Sample: “Huwag mo akong ma-Knorr-Knorr d’yan, hindi ako seasoning!” At this point, we could hear more crickets than the sound of rip-roaring laughter.

Jennylyn Mercado (left) and Coco Martin in “3Pol Trobol: Huli Ka Balbon”

Jennylyn Mercado (left) and Coco Martin in “3Pol Trobol: Huli Ka Balbon”

For its shallow pool of gimmicks, the movie throws everything but the kitchen sink—and quickly overstays its welcome. Is Vice just temporarily “distracted,” or has he lost his Midas touch as a funnyman? (Full disclosure: We have yet to see Coco Martin’s “3Pol Trobol: Huli Ka Balbon” and Vic Sotto’s “Mission Unstapabol: The Don Identity.”)

On the other end of the festival’s uneven “artistic” spectrum is Brillante Ma Mendoza’s “Mindanao,” as much an urgent plea for peace as it is a prayer for succor. It is the Cannes-winning auteur’s most accessible film to date (along with 2006’s “Kaleldo”)—and easily the festival’s best film. It doesn’t acquiesce to crowd-pleasing gimmicks just to win over its intended audience.

Framed by the story of Princes Raja and Sulayman’s valiant battle against a pair of abusive dragons, the movie follows Saima Datupalo (Judy Ann Santos), wife of military medic Malang (Allen Dizon, as insightful as he is charismatic) who must endure a torturous trip from Maguindanao to Davao to seek palliative care for her cancer-stricken 4-year-old daughter, Aisa (Yuna Tangog).

More than its musings on war and peace in battle-ravaged Mindanao, Mendoza’s gut-wrenching drama is made more intimate and universal by a central character whose love for her sick child transcends race, ideology or religion.

Cairo fest best actress Judy Ann has found a role worthy of her formidable dramatic chops, aided by a transfixing mien that requires no dialogue to express a wide range of emotions. Other actresses would do well to watch this seasoned actress’ understated grace at its finest.

Juday, hard to beat in a role that plays well to her strengths as a performer, plumbs deep into Saima’s hopes and fears, but never succumbs to the lure of mushy melodrama—a high-wire act in itself!

Xia Vigor (left) and Aga Muhlach in “Miracle in Cell No. 7”

Xia Vigor (left) and Aga Muhlach in “Miracle in Cell No. 7”

You won’t find anything as “kwela” as Nuel Naval’s “Miracle in Cell No. 7,” about the tragic circumstances that strike Joselito Gopez (Aga Muhlach), an “intellectually challenged” man who’s cruelly separated from his only daughter Yesha (Xia Vigor) after he’s accused of a violent crime he didn’t commit.

We wouldn’t be surprised if this Pinoy adaptation of a Korean blockbuster ends up edging out the execrable “The Mall The Merrier” at the MMFF box-office race because its zany and feel-good antics, courtesy of the prison mates (Joel Torre, JC Santos, Soliman Cruz, Jojit Lorenzo, Mon Confiado) Lito crosses paths with, strike a chord with viewers.

But there’s something gravely flawed and doesn’t ring true about Aga’s performance, despite the acting awards it’s predicted to haul off. It’s a portrayal that is in dire need of subtlety, consistency and restraint: Lito gets more lucid as his situation becomes more “urgent,” ushering in “perfect” opportunities to show off his “acting” prowess, in all its cuddlesome, in-your-face glory.

Hey, it’s hard to argue with success, especially in a festival whose “triumph” is measured by a film’s box-office gross. But its focus on kindness and change is worth commending, nonetheless.

We must, however, single out Bela Padilla’s short but striking performance as the grown-up daughter of Lito—notable for earnestness that is devoid of superficial artifice.

We always manage our expectations when watching MMFF entries. For example, we don’t really leave the theater expecting Vice Ganda movies and Coco Martin-helmed films (his version of “Ang Panday” still gives us nightmares) to raise the bar in Pinoy filmmaking.

From left: Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Iza Calzado and Meryll Soriano

From left: Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Iza Calzado and Meryll Soriano

But the biggest disappointment for us this year is “Culion,” directed by the guy behind such deeply provocative dramas as “Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa,” “Debosyon,” “Mga Anino ng Kahapon” and even the controversial “Oro”—in fact, they’re some of our favorite indie films in the past decade or so.

But “Culion” has turned out to be an embarrassment for its trio of fine actresses—Iza Calzado, Meryll Soriano and Jasmine Curtis-Smith portraying Hansen’s disease-stricken women in the country’s former leper colony.

Set in 1937, the gorgeously photographed drama written by Ricky Lee plays out like a horrendously blocked high school play, inhabited by self-conscious and awkward actors who “indicate” every bit of their characters’ motivations. Talk about playing to the peanut gallery, this film takes the cake.

We see “unsatisfying” films all the time, but the “quality” of this production, or lack of it, given the stellar talents behind it, is a huge puzzle to us.

If there’s something worth remembering about the film, it’s John Lloyd Cruz’s dialogue-free but award-worthy portrayal that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Come on, Lloydie, it’s high time for your big comeback!

Carmina Villaroel in “Sunod”

Carmina Villaroel in “Sunod”

Carlo Ledesma’s gothic chiller “Sunod” is also a veritable surprise—albeit a satisfying and refreshing one.

It tells the story of desperate and cash-strapped mother Olivia Sazon (Carmina Villaroel) who is thrust into a horrifying situation when her daughter Annelle (Krystal Brimner) falls ill. Liv ends up working at a call center located in an old and strange building in Escolta, under a strict boss (Mylene Dizon, reliable as usual) and a predatory supervisor (JC Santos, believably creepy).

By turning the horror genre on its head, Ledesma delivers a brisk and brawny chiller that bristles with terror and sinister menace—a metaphor for power in a world inhabited by people haunted by their sinful, ambitious past.

It’s also a showcase for Carmina, who was just as memorable in another atypical horror flick, Yam Laranas’ 2011 thriller “The Road,” with Alden Richards.

Cast of “Write About Love” (fromleft): Rocco Nacino, Yeng Constantino, JoemBascon and Miles Ocampo

Cast of “Write About Love” (fromleft): Rocco Nacino, Yeng Constantino, Joem Bascon and Miles Ocampo

The MMFF’s other gem of a film is Crisanto B. Aquino’s “Write About Love,” an out-of-the-box rom-com about writers (Miles Ocampo, Rocco Nacino) tasked to do urgent revisions for a love story that is being fast-tracked by a big production company.

As their characters are being acted out by Yeng Constantino and Joem Bascon, both writers “discover” more to like about each other, come to terms with pain, illness and rejection, and learn a thing or two about love and its vagaries.

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Despite its leading quartet’s occasionally “limited” chemistry, “Write About Love” will win you over with its simplicity and affable earnestness.

TAGS: Coco Martin, Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), Movies, Vic Sotto, Vice Ganda

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