Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2009 – Agony Amidst the Holiday Season

I have a small family of six, but everyone lives a very hectic year-round schedule. And we only get to bond as a family during the Christmas holidays. In fact, we only become complete a couple of times a year. This makes the Christmas season’s protracted holidays meaningful for us. We follow a very simple, albeit festive tradition of celebrating this season with things that we share together – Noche Buena, Media Noche, and then we troop to the cineplex to watch movies featured at the annual Metro Manila Film Festival.

As a child, I always remember the frantic rush to secure good seats for a good number of movies. It used to be fun, taking into heart that admission rates used to be affordable to the general public. But times have changed. Watching films has evolved into a budget-busting endeavor. Fortunately for the movie producers, the annual film festival has become part of a Christmas family tradition. Like many Pinoy families, we have programmed our activities around this festival, shelling out a considerable slice of the financial pie to patronize these films. Like the Simbang Gabi, we’ve also vowed to try to watch every entry. This year, we decided to get them over with just before the Awards Night. And boy! As we were nearing completion, we started feeling the psychological strain of cerebral malaise.

Laurice Guillen’s “I Love You Goodbye” is a throwback to the maudlin sentimentality and glossy melodramas that Viva Films used to churn out back in the ‘80s. The movie is riddled with scenes that gratingly linger on romantic mush and exorbitant emotionality. Notice the protracted verbal tussles, and the constantly coincidental situations that are conveniently utilized to manipulate an already confounding narrative; a storyline that heavily relies on chance and coincidences. This is not the “pinakahihintay na obra maestra ng taon” that its makers say it is. Star Cinema has done better flicks than this one. It is a puzzle why a lackluster cast is being fielded to topbill a festival entry. Simply put, “I Love You Goodbye” would probably suffer at the box office if this were shown outside its festival play date. But being one of the only 2 dramas in a field of mostly fantasy/action/adventure, it has more chances of earning here. For some reason, lovebirds Angelica Panganiban and Derek Ramsay don’t make sparks fly onscreen, as they do on TV or in tabloids. Neither do Gabby Concepcion and Panganiban, nor Kim Chiu and Ramsay.

Aside from poor chemisty among its main cast members, the movie is rife with mind-boggling scenarios. When Gabby’s patient eventually succumbs after a risky cardiac operation and guarded condition at the ICU, his hospital suddenly suspends him without even showing probable cause. Hospitals don’t just suspend a brilliant and hard-working surgeon (who’s on his way to heading the cardio-thoracic unit) without tangible proof of incompetence or misdeed. Or did I blink and miss a scene? A cardiac operation is in itself risky. The chance of mortality is always high! Don’t we all know that? Once again, Derek Ramsay dies in a movie he is in, a convenient way out of a situation where he is the main protagonists’ third wheel. After all, you don’t compete with Gabby Concepcion – or Sam Milby (“And I Love You So”). Prime-time darling Kim Chiu is likewise out of her league here. Her portrayal of a needy spoiled brat is half-baked and strained. It is easy to believe why Derek’s character find her utterly charmless. In this movie, Chiu teeters on looking plain and uninteresting. Angelica Panganiban, on the other hand, is luminous. She embraces her character and gives it some insight. She must be comfortable working with Guillen who directed her very first adult role in Unitel’s “Santa Santita”. Panganiban reminds me of Bea Alonzo (“And I Love You So”) – she delivers a seering, sincere performance in a mediocre film!

Joel Lamangan’s “Mano Po 6: A Mother’s Love” suffers from a trite and implausible story. Foremost of its problem is its lead star, Sharon Cuneta. In an epic scope that tells the story of several generations of Chinoys, Cuneta conveys conviction and grit, but it is hard to suspend disbelief that someone who looks as robust and satiated could be impoverished and “inaapi” by someone like Zsa zsa Padilla who is only a third Cuneta’s girth! A slap from her fists may easily lead to cervical dislocation! Cuneta's character looks eternally “busog”, even when she undergoes the dreaded chemotherapy sessions. Yes, Hodgkin’s Disease has a high cure rate when detected early, but an “unexplainable weight loss” is a salient feature of this malignancy. Moreover, chemotherapy further aggravates patients' “weight loss” which obviously isn’t the case with the Megastar. Furthermore, their uneven slit-eyed make-ups suffer a case of “here today, gone tomorrow”. And let’s not even start with the accents. There is not a second that I believed Cuneta was Chinoy. It felt awkward watching her suffer. If this observation isn’t universal, this may explain the reason why the festival’s biggest star suffers a disappointing box office showing – a measly 6th spot (in the festival's 1st 3 days), besting only the horrible “Wapakman,” which languishes as the tail-ender.

As to its A-rating from the Cinema Evaluations Board (CEB), stranger things have happened. After all, CEB has consistently proven that it is mainly made up of dim-witted imbeciles who can’t winnow good from bad films. Among its superbly graded films: “Pitik Bulag”, "Ang Manghuhula" and “Mulawin” earned an “A”, KC Concepcion starrers “For the First Time” and "When I Met You", Toni Gonzaga’s banal “My Only U”, the ridiculous “Desperadas 2”, “Tanging Ina Nyong Lahat” and “Iskul Bukol” all got a “B”. As if that wasn't enough, the brain-dead “I.T.A.L.Y’ got a resounding “B”. Isn’t it time to rethink the raison d’etre and the existence of R.A. 9167?

Bong Revilla plays the iconic “Panday” role, but in one of the action highlights where Revilla scampers off and runs to retrieve his sword buried in the sand dunes, the slow-mo magnifies a painfully dyspneic hero – with a potbelly (and a huge belt masking the flab) juggling in wild abandon. It is disheartening to see a demystified Panday, and if this pays homage to FPJ, this reincarnation of a well-loved komiks character should have been left alone. No amount of CGI-effects can uplift a physically unfit hero. Moreover, if a Carlo Caparas flick such as this one qualifies for a “Best Picture” standard, then this country is really going to the dogs! The government needs to start building kennels - fast!

Ruffa Gutierrez was surprisingly watchable in Don Michael Perez’s vengeful wedding gown tale , “Ukay Ukay”. Thank heavens for this campy story that has the voluptuous Gutierrez wielding a chainsaw. Cristine Reyes in “Ang Darling Kong Aswang” revisits the role of a well-meaning aswang who must find true love to become human again. Unfortunately, we later found out that Vic Sotto’s love isn’t enough to do the magic! LOL. She had to get herself inside the church! Most monsters we know who would touch a crucifix disintegrate into smithereens. Cristine Reyes meanwhile turns into a bombshell. Didn’t we see Reyes play the same reluctant aswang (“Patient X”) a month ago - with the same cast playing monsters (Rafael Rosell, Gian Sotto)? In “Nobody, Nobody But Juan”, Willie Revillame gets a baffling best actor nomination - for playing Willie Revillame hosting Wowowee! There is too much homage to the host and his noontime show, Thankfully, Dolphy is around to bestow a degree of tolerability to this otherwise puke-enducing drivel. The comedy king obviously deserves a trophy more than the video-scandal riding, girl-hopping senator who ought to make ripples more as a law maker.

Lastly, I was in plain agony as I sat through Topel Lee’s “Wapakman”. Topel Lee is a veteran of commendable low-budget special effects thrillers (“Dilim”, “Gagamboy”), being an early player in the thriving indie scene. So, we expected something acceptable. Unfortunately, what does one do with an unimaginative script, too many loose ends and a lead actor who wears a single facial expression and an incongruous delivery that bears no emotion. An American expat accompanying his fiancé at the cinema rightfully asked, “This is a festival of your best films?” I cringed as he waited for his companion’s reply, but she was at a loss for words! Fact is, only Filipinos were supposed to experience such world-class excellence! That “Wapakman” suffers its worst fate at the box office is testament that there is still justice in the world. It is one of the worst films this year, period!

My small family of six forked out PhP7,560 for our two-day agony marathon in the confines of Greenbelt 3, the setting of my post-traumatic stress. On point of economics, PhP7560 is serious money for the daily-wage earners; it is a lot of money to spend on mediocrity!

At a time when the economic climate is unstable (the government deficit is up by a staggering 300%), the implications of spending your hard earned money on trash is a serious matter to consider! Or may pera nga ba sa basura? During the MMFF, the answer points to the affirmative! In fact, this begs the question if we really owe patronage to a mainstream industry that considers “Wapakman” a contender to a best picture trophy; an industry that continuously affirms Philip Salvador’s downward spiral into over-the-top theatrics; an industry that proudly bestows Manny Pacquiao a best actor nomination!

If this mainstream industry is truly on its death bed (something that’s been predicted for the last 2 decades), may it rest in peace!

This is the Eye in the Sky, recovering from a traumatic MMFF movie marathon!

No comments: