Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ekstra (Jeffrey Jeturian, Cinemalaya 2013 NETPAC Winner)

When my sisters asked me to buy two passes for Vilma Santos’ first indie film Ekstra, I thought to myself, 'Cinemalaya has made a mark on my siblings.' They are no longer contented to wait for commercial runs of Cinemalaya films. They also know what films to watch on their initial day-long Cinemalaya experience at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

Their feedback on Ekstra was positive. They had a blast laughing and one sibling thought it the best of the three feature length films they saw that day, 27 July. The two other films were Instant Mommy (their choice because it’s a Eugene Domingo starrer) and Debosyon, which was my blind recommendation to them. It is worthwhile to note that Ekstra and Instant Mommy were box-office hits, which suggest that most Cinemalaya viewers still prefer films with big names.

The next day, I watched Ekstra (aka The Bit Player) during its star-studded gala premiere. Sure enough, there was boisterous laughter all over the fully-packed Main Theater at CCP. But, how come I barely find anything funny with the film? After much rumination, I recalled producer Joji Alonso’s request to people who dislike the film to be fair. She usually is upbeat and confident with her Cinemalaya films, most of which are award winners and audience favorites. So when Alonso made the unusual plea, I thought it was a red flag.

On the last day of Cinemalaya 2013, I reluctantly gave the box-office champ Ekstra a second chance. I’m glad I did because it was a much better film experience for me. I’d zoned out on the clunky jokes and focused on the story. Boy, the film’s satiric barbs really, really stings. I laud the film's courageous, no-holds-barred depiction of ruthlessness in the telenovela industry.

Ekstra does a decent job of showing the hardships faced by an extra like Loida Malabanan (Vilma Santos). The life of a bit player is not a bed of roses. Movie and television extras are subjected to various types of abuse. They belong to the lowest stratum in the hostile showbiz jungle. Loida and her colleagues were shooed away by various groups while in search of a place to rest and put their things.

The film's scriptwriters, Jeturian, Zig Dulay, and Antoinette Jadaone, won an award for their poignant take on those unheralded heroes of the film and TV industry. 

Jadaone, however, has written and directed a better, funnier film on a lowly bit player. Feeling sorry for Loida at the end of Ekstra? The film Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay has a more poignant scene. Horror film fixture Lilia Cuntapay, along with her neighbors and friends, huddle in front of the television waiting for her interview by the TV Patrol news program. She waits and waits...

Bit players yearn for a place on the screen, big or small. Loida dreams of breaking out from being a mere part of a crowd. Lilia prepares a speech in case she nabs the best supporting actress award. They patiently wait for their big break. In case they fall, they will wait for their next booking.

As Lilia bluntly observes, 'patience is a must for bit players. Otherwise, they ought to kill themselves.'

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Last Journey of Ninoy (Jun Reyes, 2009)

A co-production of the Ninoy & Cory Aquino Foundation and Unitel Productions, this wonderful docu-drama takes a look at the last nine days of Senator Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr. It chronicles his last day in Boston, Massachusetts until his fateful return to the Philippines on August 21, 1983. Interspersed with the running account of Ninoy's trip back home is an inspiring tale of the late senator's spiritual journey. How Ninoy overcame adversities and vicissitudes in his latter years is an inspiration and source of hope for downtrodden people.

Ninoy was a jolly, extrovert person who loved crowds. His political star shone early in Tarlac. In 1967, the 35-year old Ninoy ran for and won a seat in the Senate. A fearless and risk-taking politician, Ninoy took on the task of exposing the abuses and crimes of his Upsilon Sigma Phi brother, President Ferdinand Marcos. When Marcos declared martial law in September 1972, Ninoy and most of the opposition figures were sent to jail. Ninoy vowed to helped restore democracy.

A bittersweet recollection dealt with the visit of Cory Aquino and her children to Ninoy at a military camp in Laur, Nueva Ecija. The usually jovial Ninoy was now a sobbing, emaciated man holding on to his pants. He was full of emotions because of his unexpected meeting with family members. He had given up hope of ever seeing them again. Three of his daughters were also crying. He was ashamed because here he was crying his hearts out while Cory did not shed a tear at all. Little did Ninoy knew that Cory was given a tranquilizer shot that numbed her feelings.

A sprinkling of delicious humor spiced up the documentary. If you've ever marveled at the glib of tongue of Kris Aquino, then you'll be impressed more with the sense of humor and public speaking skills of her father, Ninoy. He truly loved giving speeches. He can easily crack funny jokes about his experiences in a military camp or at a hospital. Watch out for his tale of a visit by the 'beautiful one.' He can shift from English to Filipino in a flash.

The docu-drama utilized restored videos, photos, and interviews with the late Senator Ninoy and the late President Cory. Among the most memorable vignettes were those prophetic interview with Ninoy at the Grand Hotel in Taipei and the hunger strike incident. There were some recreated scenes depicting the last days of Ninoy. Several of the latter scenes though looked like commercials for a telephone company.

One of the most valuable lessons from the documentary is that things happen for a reason. The 7 years and 7 months-long incarceration of Ninoy brought him closer to God and his family. The hunger strike incident made him realized that the Filipinos are worth living for. The wonderful three years of family bonding in Boston, Massachusetts rejuvenated his love for his country and fellow Filipinos.

All these things and more prepared Ninoy to undertake the fateful journey back home. Watching Ninoy coolly describe what will happen to him in a few hours sends chills to the bones. His peaceful demeanor at the China Airlines jet is an amazing, unforgettable sight. 

He had really made peace with himself and his Creator. An assassin's bullet interrupted Ninoy's mission of restoring democracy. However, his death sparked three years of protests and rallies that culminated in the Edsa People Power Revolution of 1986. Marcos and his family was exiled to Hawaii. Thus begin, the journey of Cory as President of the Philippines.

*original online posting in 2009

Monday, August 12, 2013

Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Lino Brocka, 1975)

My first attempt to watch the newly-restored Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag was futile. SM Megamall allocated only two screenings for the film on Thursday, 8 August. Dang, this is one of the greatest Filipino films and it merely gets a pair of early screenings?

I finally caught up with Brocka’s masterpiece yesterday, a rainy Sunday afternoon. There’s nothing like watching a great, almost-mint film on the big screen. The gorgeous colors come alive. The neon lights are truly dazzling and seductive even from afar. The gleaming yellow hard hat on slimy Balajadia’s head effectively exposes the lack of hard hats for the poor workers.

The restoration is surely worth it because of small, important things being uncovered by viewers. The best new thing I’ve discovered is that the story of star-crossed lovers was set in pre-martial law Philippines. A calendar on the background has December 1970 on it. This kind of information will surely be missed out when the film is seen on a small screen. Clodualdo del Mundo Jr. originally wrote the screenplay in 1970 for a scriptwriting course handled by Nestor Torre.

Another discovery for me is identifying the movie being watched by the two lovers. The film King of Kings alludes to the heavy cross borne by a suffering Ligaya Paraiso (Hilda Koronel). Ligaya takes care of her child with a man she does not love, Chua Tek. The cross can also refer to Ligaya's recruiter, Miss Cruz, who is the person responsible for bringing her to the infernal city of Manila.

Images of Manila in this film have been copied countless times in other movies. Maynila shows Luneta as a place frequented by sex workers. There is even a scene showing doves flying freely in the area. Maynila nga ang pugad ng mga kalapating mababa ang lipad. Manila By Night also features the city as a breeding hotspot of sex workers and shadowy characters.

Viewing the film (aka Manila In the Claws of the Neon) is easily one of the best film experiences I’ve had in a long time. The feeling I had is akin to seeing Gilas Pilipinas win over the South Korean basketball team or watching Manny Pacquiao knock out Ricky Hatton. All those great images and moments are etched firmly in my mind along with the film's final scene showing a cornered Julio Madiaga at a cul-de-sac.

I believe that the Taiwanese film Rebels of the Neon God has a few nods to Manila In the Claws of the Neon. Both films have the word Neon on their titles. Kang-sheng Lee's Hsiao-Kang is similar to the built and countenance of Bembol Roco's Julio Madiaga. The films' street chases are similar.

Brocka's film will be shown at the Sineng Pambansa Film Festival in September 2013.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Rekorder (Mikhail Red, Cinemalaya 2013 New Breed)

The Reds invaded the hallowed halls of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I’m not talking about communists although documentaries on two prominent rebels, Yanan and Ishma, were shown at Cinemalaya 2013.

The Red invasion I’m referring to deals with Cinemalaya screenings of films made by Raymond Red, Jon Red, and Mikhail Red. All three films are a veritable feast for the eyes. It is not a Red film if the production design and cinematography are sophomoric. Raymond Red’s Kamera Obskura won the Special Jury Prize at the Cinemalaya 2012 Directors Showcase competition.  Rekorder’s Roy Red nabbed the production design award at the Cinemalaya 2013 New Breed competition.

Jon Red’s loony film Ang Pirata may not win an award but it may have lent an image and a major idea to Mikhail Red’s Rekorder. Both films prominently showed the Video Regulatory Board’s warning about video piracy. Both films featured video pirates.

In Rekorder, a former cameraman named Maven (Ronnie Quizon) dabbles in illicit recording of films shown in movie theatres. Using an old video camcorder, he partners with a teenaged boy while doggedly capturing on tape the movie Manila Skies (Himpapawid).

One night, after barely eluding several security guards, he stumbles onto a lynching of a young man on the streets. Instinctively, he records the incident and captures the fatal shooting of the lad. He agonizes later on whether to share the contents of the tape to the police. 

Rekorder is a mature, skillful piece of work dealing with loneliness, grief, and world-wearied apathy. I can’t believe that a 21-year old directed this film. Well, the genes may have something to do with it. His father, Raymond Red, at the young age of 17 years, dealt with the heavy subject of immortality in the classic short feature, Ang Magpakailanman.

Mikhail Red had a fantastic scene showing a wasted young lady vomiting. A male friend, instead of lending a hand, records the incident on his cellphone. He is no different from the documentary filmmaker in Himala, who recorded the rape of Elsa. The video pirate Maven also had several bouts of indifference to crimes. It took some time for him to eschew his apathetic behavior.

Unlike most New Breed films that are obviously stretched, the film's pacing and running time is just right. There is just one scene though that needs some modification. Three people as witnesses may have sufficed for the crowd scene during the street lynching. A dozen people lined up as witnesses are just too neat. A large number of people may congregate after but not during a brutal street beating.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Purok 7 (Carlo Obispo, Cinemalaya 2013 New Breed)

Purok 7 is receiving some buzz from the crowds at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The film featured a pair of siblings left to fend for themselves after their mother went to work abroad. The audiences lapped up the puppy love of a dreamy, dusky Diana to Jeremy.

It could have been a top contender on my recommended list but its uncanny similarity to Magnifico lessened my admiration for the film. Both films show a sibling carrying another sibling on his/her back. The kids are then shown having fun at their respective town's carnival. Both films featured a person with disability that hinders speech. And, the two films highlight the innate goodness of neighbors.

There's also a problem with the way the OFW incident was introduced. Isn't it that family members should be the first ones to receive news on such grave matter?