Pixelated Popcorn's Top 12 Filipino Films of 2009

12. Padyak

Director: Aloy Adlawan (Signos, Condo)

Starring: Jay Aquitania, Baron Geisler, Hazel Ann Mendoza, Rita Avila, Irma Adlawan

Padyak explores the mysteries of life and man’s interconnectedness with each other. It is an ode to the circle of life as it bursts with philosophical anecdotes and personal reflections. Aside from the compelling Palanca award-winning script and peculiar narrative structure, the tour-de-force performance from the excellent cast makes this an engrossing mantra to life.

Read the full review here.

11. Last Supper No. 3

Director: Veronica Velasco (Maling Akala, Inang Yaya)

Starring: Joey Paras, Jojit Lorenzo, Beverly Salviejo, JM De Guzman

This Cinemalaya Best Film makes fun of the legal nightmare that is the Philippine judicial system. It’s a boring premise, but because the directors know very well not to take the topic too seriously, they veered away from the tendencies to preach about red tape and bureaucracy, The result? A courthouse comedy that is satirical and socially relevant.

Read the full review here.

10. Himpapawid (Manila Skies)

Director: Raymond Red (Anino)

Starring: Raul Arellano, John Arcilla, Soliman Cruz, Raul Morit, Karlo Altomonte

If you know the true-to-life story that inspired the screenplay, then you already know the fate of our deranged protagonist. But there’s more to the ending than knowing Raul’s fate, Red weaves an intricate story that comes in full circle at the end. Himpapawid does not make excuses for the wrongdoings of Raul. The film doesn’t even demand that we understand him. Because he is not a victim, he had a choice. And so, karma rears its ugly head and he is brought to his final destination.

Read the full review here.

9. Bakal Boys (Children Metal Divers)

Director: Ralston Jover (the writer behind Kubrador and Foster Child)

Starring: Gina Pareño, Jess Evardone, Cherry Malvar, Simon Ibarra

It comes as a surprise that a movie about Baseco children who scavenge scrap metals would end up in my Top 12. I’m not a fan of films that peddle the country’s poverty, but Bakal Boys has a quaint quality that is hard to resist. In its most glorious, the film finds joy in childhood as the murky waters of Manila Bay is transformed into their playground. This realistic docudrama does not make a fuss about child labor or poverty, instead it gives us a glimpse of the innocence of childhood set against a harsh and apathetic society.

8. Engkwentro (Clash)

Director: Pepe Diokno (debut)

Starring: Felix Roco, Daniel Medrana, Zyrus Desamparado, Eda Nolan

Engkwentro walks us through the labyrinth of dingy alleys and shanty houses overpopulated by slum dwellers. We pose as voyeurs as the camera individually follows the exploits of the characters in what seem like a single, continuous take. The inexorable conclusion, punctuated by searing brutality, will shock you. You won’t believe that what you just saw are events lifted from actual news headlines. It will leave you with a dreadful feeling that is difficult to shake off.

Read the full review here.

7. Wanted: Border

Director: Ray Gibraltar (When Timawa Meets Delgado)

Starring: Rosanna Roces

Gibraltar has a knack for non-linear storytelling (read: the narrative is not in chronological order), cutting to different time frames and segueing to different characters. Initially, it seems as if we are presented with random characters set in a hodgepodge of trivial and nonsensical circumstances. Although it isn’t easy to make sense of his message, it isn’t hard to appreciate the film’s dark fantasy. He confidently showcases his bravura in creating a grotesque world reeking of drabness and madness. Wanted: Border is an entertaining and thought-provoking experimental project that will keep you optimistic about Philippine alternative cinema.

Read the full review here.

6. Kimmy Dora

Director: Joyce Bernal (Booba, Don’t Give Up On Us)

Starring: Eugene Domingo, Dingdong Dantes, Zanjoe Marudo, Miriam Quiambao, Baron Geisler

In a time when good Pinoy comedies are of a dying breed, we are reminded that there is still hope. Trading in the bad habits of TVJ and Dolphy movies with snappy witticisms and sheer outrageousness, here comes a comedy that’s actually funny. Thanks to Chris Martinez’s script and Eugene Domingo’s comedic rhythm. Eugene can switch from naïve Dora to fierce Kimmy in a bat of an eyelash, but she does it best when she fused these quirky characters together. Give her a follow-up movie, now na!

Read the full review here.

5. Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe (The Rapture of Fe)

Director: Alvin Yapan (Huling Pasada)

Starring: Irma Adlawan, Nonie Buencamino, TJ Trinidad

The film’s strongest tool in its arsenal is the screenplay. The well-researched story is rich in cultural authenticity and social relevance. Yapan mans the camera with an artistic vision manifested in every frame and every angle. His shots linger, but not to the point of static cinematography. His close-ups suggest subdued intimacy to his subjects whether living or inanimate. The use of repeated scenes and overlapping sequences coupled with the trance-like quality of the shots are effective in confusing viewers as to which scenes are imagined and which are real. This tale tackles domestic abuse and romanticizes Pinoy folklore. It is relevant, original, and stunning.

Read the full review here.

4. Kinatay (Butchered / The Execution of P)

Director: Brillante Mendoza (Foster Child, Serbis)

Starring: Coco Martin, Maria Isabelo Lopez, Jhong Hilario, John Regala, Julio Diaz

Kinatay treads the path of grayscale morality. At a time when horrendous crimes are staples in the news, the corruption of people’s mores is like a plague that offers a future of no redemption. It is a difficult film to watch not only because of the despicable subject matter but also because of the torturous signature style of Mendoza – the unsteady camerawork, the foreboding darkness, and the occasional lull. But this film is not just a film, but an experience in itself. He invites us to walk in his character’s shoes, face the horror, and make some incredibly tough choices. That makes Kinatay exceptional. It is an effective thriller that not only portrays societal realities, but imparts an unforgettable experience that will haunt you like a nightmare you can’t wake up from.

Read the full review here.

3. Jay

Director: Francis Xavier Pasion (debut)

Starring: Baron Geisler, Flor Salanga, Coco Martin

Jay is an interesting depiction of the way manipulative journalists distort the truth to ring in the ratings. Not only does Pasion mock the so-called reality TV, he also scoffs at the willing accomplices – reality TV ‘stars’ who would do anything for their 15 minutes of fame. Welcome to the Philippines, the nation of the showbiz-obsessed Juan dela Cruz. Jay is sarcastic, humorous, and razor-sharp.

2. Dinig Sana Kita (If I Knew What You Said)

Director: Mike Sandejas (Tulad ng Dati)

Starring: Romalito Mallari, Zoe Sandejas

The last three films may hold more weight than this Cinemalaya Audience Choice awardee – both thematically and stylistically, but a personal favorite will always be a personal favorite. No other Filipino film in 2009 touched me like Dinig Sana Kita did. In a little over 80 minutes, it made me cry, laugh hard, and cry harder. The film could have been easily turned into yet another cheesy love story, but we’re lucky that Star Cinema and GMA Films were not involved with the production. Sensible romantic films are a rarity in this country and I’m glad that Sandejas made this.

Read the full review here.

1. Yanggaw (Affliction)

Director: Richard Somes (debut)

Starring: Ronnie Lazaro, Tetchie Agbayani, Aleera Montalla, Joel Torre

The mainstream film industry produces only two kinds of movies – romance and horror. Both are formulaic and uninspired. The latter shamelessly copying the elements of J-Horror, while adapting the schlock of Shake, Rattle, and Roll. It’s a messy combination and I bet no one is amused. But when something as original as Yanggaw comes out, fans of the genre are left in awe by the masterwork behind it. Somes knows the fundamentals of horror. Cheap scare tactics will not get you far. Investing in characters that moviegoers care about spells the difference. More than a horror film, Yanggaw is a family drama about a father who would do everything to protect his kin. If Jason Ivler is an aswang, this would have been his story.

Paano Na Kaya Sticks to the Formula

It’s been more than a year since PEP asked me to attend a premiere of a mainstream movie. Lately, my assignments in PEP have been confined in the independent circuit, so being in the spacious SM Megamall Cinema (instead of UP Cine Adarna where indie films usually hold their premiere nights and press screenings) breaks the habit. In Cine Adarna, I usually get seated next to tabloid reporters who have an opinion on every single scene, nitpicking on the most trivial aspects of the film. During the premiere of Paano Na Kaya, it’s refreshing to sit beside pubescent female fans who screamed at the top of their lungs every time the on-screen personas of Kim and Gerald threw flirtatious glances to each other. The pandemonium is contagious. Well, almost.

In Paano Na Kaya, May (Kim Chiu) and Bogs (Gerald Anderson) are inseparable best friends. Bogs is committed to Anna (Melissa Ricks), a headstrong career woman. On the eve of their first anniversary, Anna breaks the bad news: she’s in love with her boss. May, who secretly loves her best friend, finds a glimmer of hope. Being the ever-supportive friend that she is, she helps Bogs cope with his heartache. When May finally confesses her true feelings, the game changes and the best friends turns into lovers.

As the first act comes to a close, the classic story of best friends in love takes a turn to explore the dynamics of a rebound relationship. This is the part when the narrative picks up. Anna left Bogs because she thinks he isn’t driven or mature enough. He soon realize that he has a lot of growing up to do and finally put his talent with tinkering cars to good use. May helps him secure a loan and set up a car repair shop business. We can’t help but think that Bogs is doing all these to prove Anna wrong, to prove that he is driven and mature. It’s as if his past relationship is taking precedent over his present love without him even knowing. But what if his former flame returns? Can he resist her? Or will he ditch his new love?

Paano Na Kaya has a meaty story to tell, but it suffers from a lack of focus. The entire first act, which romanticizes the idea of best friends falling in love, could have been written off completely. We had enough best friend romances since the salad days of Jolina and Marvin.

Having watched plenty of Star Cinema films, I can’t help but notice the studio’s adherence to their formula. They know what makes the movie-going public tick, so they employ the same strategies to elicit the same reaction. The formula is starting to wear off and soon the audience will get tired of seeing the same tricks being played on them over and over again. Let me enumerate a few staple elements in most of the romantic offerings of Star Cinema.

  • The lead actor will take his top off at one point of the movie.
  • As a secondary conflict to the love story, the characters will have to deal with a family issue – may it be with their strict dad, negligent mom, or abusive kin.
  • There will always be a song montage featuring the theme song, which also happens to be the title of the movie.
  • The theme song will be played one too many times in piano version, ballad version, instrumental version, etc.
  • The first kiss is always stolen. Either the guy or the girl will suddenly jump into the other to steal a kiss. This will happen while the two are not yet ‘officially’ together.
  • The make-up kiss happens just before the end credits roll, usually after a long and hearty dialogue. Most of the times, it is a torrid kiss unless the main actress is pa-tweetums.

Since I’ve been watching a lot of indie films with modest productions, watching the glossy and polished Paano Na Kaya is a welcome change. You will notice that a lot of thought had put on set design, wardrobe, location, make-up, etc. The celebrities look good on every frame. Every once in a while, I can hear the female fan next to me saying: “parang model si Kim” or “ang pogi-pogi naman ni Gerald”. The scenes are likewise grand. One confrontation scene happens on top of a fire truck overlooking a neighborhood that was turned into ashes. The dialogue speaks in metaphors as Anna and Bogs compare their relationship to a house that has been burned.

I had my reservations with how far Kim and Gerald can stretch their acting muscles. I always thought of Kim as a hammy actress. Though this is not a breakthrough performance, I admit that I was impressed. Kim flaunts her range. Guided by her instincts, she is slowly turning into an elegant performer. Unfortunately, the same thing can’t be said to Gerald. The supporting cast is composed of Zsa Zsa Padilla, Ricky Davao, Rio Locsin, Rica Peralejo, Bernard Palanca, Robi Domingo, Alwyn Uytingco, Jon Avila, IC Mendoza, Cai Cortez, Janus Del Prado, and Empoy Marquez. These stars are decent in their little roles, though I feel sorry that they were underutilized.

Paano Na Kaya has a lot of merits. It’s a dramatic love story that echoes the virtues of moving on and growing up. If only Star Cinema would do away with the formula, I would be singing more praises. But as it is, this escapist piece of entertainment will please fans.

Rating: 2/5

* published in PEP.

Is Ded Na Si Lolo Oscar-Worthy?

Ded Na Si Lolo (international title: Grandpa is Dead) was chosen by the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) to represent the country in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 82nd Academy Awards. The dramedy bested 11 other films in contention including Brillante Mendoza’s Lola (2009 Dubai International Film Festival’s Best Feature Film in the Asia-Africa Category), Francis Xavier Pasion’s Jay (2008 Cinemalaya’s Best Film), and Chris Martinez’s 100 (2008 Pusan International Film Festival’s Audience Award).

Why did FAP choose Ded Na Si Lolo despite not having any award or international fimfest exposure under its belt? Will it stand a chance against the likes of France’s A Prophet and Germany’s The White Ribbon? Both films were screened in Cannes. Wouldn’t the country, recently tagged by The Hollywood Reporter as a ‘hotbed of talents’, have more fighting chance if we sent Cannes Best Director Brillante Mendoza’s work instead?

We could only speculate why FAP chose Ded Na Si Lolo, but it isn’t difficult to see why. The film exudes a commanding sense of positivism, an element largely missing from the plethora of Filipino movies being recognized abroad. It isn’t poverty porn. There’s no violence and sex. Ded Na Si Lolo reflects the characteristics and values unique in the Filipino people like close family ties, optimism, and yes, a peculiar sense of humor.

Told through the eyes of a young boy, Ded Na Si Lolo is the comedic tale of a family mourning over the death of their patriarch. Unlike the Filipino-Chinese funerals depicted in the Mano Po series, the family is not well-off so there is no inheritance that the siblings have to fight over with. But they fight nevertheless. During the six-day wake, the brood’s flair for drama becomes apparent as unresolved issues and family secrets resurface.

The plot seems that it’s designed to be an all-out family drama, and it could have easily gone that way. But Director Soxie Topacio injected humor into the story through the numerous superstitious beliefs that Filipinos practice, however ridiculous they may be. When someone died, it’s as if everything is forbidden. You can’t wear red. You can’t sweep the floor. You can’t take a bath. Your tears shouldn’t fall on the coffin. And the list goes on.

The humorous script is backed up by an equally comedic delivery from the cast. Roderick Paulate demands your attention as the loud, cross-dressing sibling. His flamboyant and inane ways will leave you gasping for breath because of laughter. Roderick can easily shift from funny to serious. In the film’s dramatic moments, he shines as he lends enough humanity to what may initially appear as a caricature character. The rest of the cast are Gina Alajar, Elizabeth Oropesa, Dick Israel, and Manilyn Reynes.

Ded Na Si Lolo mixes the right blend of drama and comedy. This crowd pleaser makes fun of our eccentricities and beliefs. But in its heart, it tells the story of a family staying together and getting stronger amid personal differences and hardships.

Rating: 3/5

* published in http://www.pep.ph/guide/5372/PEP-REVIEW:-%3Cem%3EDed-na-si-Lolo-%3C-em%3Emixes-the-right-blend-of-drama-and-comedy

9 Best Movie Posters of '09

Since there are too many great movie posters in 2009, I was forced to 'cheat' in making this list. Although I have my Top 9 picks, I have 16 Honorable Mentions, which brings the movie posters in this list to a grand total of 25. So without further ado, here are the Best Movie Posters of 2009.

Honorable Mentions

9. The Chaser

8. Thirst

7. Brothers

6. Coraline

5. Last Supper No. 3

4. A Christmas Carol

3. 500 Days of Summer

2. Jay

1. Antichrist

3 TV Shows With Kick-Ass Posters

As a prelude to the Best Movie Posters of 2009, let me give you three TV shows with ultra-cool posters.

House, MD

True Blood

Last year's best movie poster, Funny Games, was ripped off by two other horror movies: The Strangers and Unborn. This year, the True Blood poster was imitated by no less than Megan Fox for Jennifer's Body. So who do you think did it better?

And the best TV poster goes to Mad Men. I haven't seen the show, but after seeing how witty these taglines are, I'm dead curious. If the script is half as clever as these taglines, I bet Mad Men can cure my allergy against TV series. At present, the only TV shows I watch are Glee and Gossip Girl.

Mad Men


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