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Friday, December 30, 2011

Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story

For the past 10 years, the Metro Manila Film Festival has provided with several repeating genres that would surely make money. It is sad to say that most of the entries in the festival are recycled every year, from the Ina series, to Panday, to Enteng, Agimat and Shake Rattle and Roll series - Mano Po at least rested this year. It is just frustrating to know that we are out of good ideas when there are actually good ones just waiting to be discovered. Asiong Salonga is not even fresh, it is more of a re-envision of the classic Asiong Salonga movies back in 1961 when Joseph Estrada once had the role. However, it is also timely to bring back the series after it has been long-forgotten in this fantasy-driven festival.

Nicasio "Asiong" Salonga is a notorious gang leader back in the late 40s to 50s in Tondo, Manila. Having been feared by most of the people there, he also have gang rivals and one of the most noted nemesis is Totoy Golem. The movie Manila Kingpin, depicts the life of Asiong and his struggle to power to become the most feared Gang leader of Tondo up to his murder in October of 1951. 

The film is presented in black and white, which is a first in Philippine Cinema. I would like to coin the word "presented" since I believe that this movie is shot entirely in full color and was digitally altered to black and white which is totally different on how Schindler's List was shot. This alteration was very obvious on some scenes where instead of having a total black and white frame, one can see that it sometimes shift in Sepia tone. 

Asiong is like a breather from the usual fantasy, comedy and horror movies that are shown during MMFF. It is the first time that I was drawn in an action movie in a festival. The last entries of the action genre seemed to lack the ability to convince me to watch their flicks (Lapu-lapu, etc.). What made me decide to watch this 2 weeks ago is the promise of a good movie from its trailer. This, ladies and gents, is a perfect example of good advertising. 

Manila Kingpin as a film is a classic. Director Tikoy Aguiluz provided a new door for the fading Action genre of Philippine Cinema with this film. It has reignited a dying flame of action heroes we once had. We have Joseph Estrada, FPJ, Rudy Fernandez among others who are considered to be our heroes and not the flashy ones. This is an indication that Filipino Action movies are not yet dead. With the right people working on a project, they can come up with a great picture and that is what Manila Kingpin is all about. I am impressed primarily with the cinematography. I particularly love the Karetela Scene. The movie is treated with much attention with every frame. It is surprising enough that with  good cinematography, it has also provided a very cohesive story that would not drag their viewers. 

It also fresh to see Jeorge Estregan Jr. to play the character of Asiong Salonga. As for my childhood memories of Estregan, I always see him as the nymphomaniac/psycho/villain in most of FPJ's movies and with Manila Kingpin, I saw a different actor. Carla Abellana and Phillip Salvador also gave solid performances as Asiong's wife and older brother. Baron Geisler provides a natural performance having been acting the same role for most of his movies or television appearances. Ping Medina, on the other hand, could have more frame time if I were to ask. John Regala's performance as Asiong's rival Totoy Golem stole the show as he deliver a consistent sinister gang rival. With a cast of veteran actors, the movie could never go wrong. 

But what do we really want during the MMFF? Quality movies. We need a good story. We need an effective story telling whether it is Comedy, Action, Fantasy or Drama. Manila Kingpin has quality. It may not be as good as Himala or Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang but it sure has achieved a goal to be called as a classic Filipino movie. 



Thursday, December 29, 2011

Enteng ng Ina Mo

Image DetailSpin-offs are trending right now. It seems that we are also affected of lack of fresh new ideas that we have to recycle great ideas from the past. It all started last year when Panday and the Enteng Kabisote series tied up to make Si Enteng at ang Panday, and this idea is not that far-fetched since they both have shared a common theme: Fantasy. With Enteng ng Ina Mo, it would be really hard to combine two genre which seemed to have very little in common, and that is a feat that the writers of the film will have to surpass.

Enteng Kabisote is originally a Filipino version of the US television show Bewitched which was shown back in the 90's as Okay Ka, Fairy Ko! Ina, on the other hand, is a series of movies made after the success of the first movie. This unlikely combination of themes is considered to be impossible, not until Vic and Ai-Ai, both considered to be Blockbuster Royalties during Festival Seasons, decided to team up to make the blockbuster movie that would surpass their own movies.

I won't be spilling up the plot. It is predictable. Nonetheless, what makes this movie special is that it pays tribute to classic Filipino comedies by returning to the basics of what makes our comedies really amusing. Although the movie does not contain much of the slapstick humor that the usual comedies that we have, it managed to retain its crowd with witty lines and perfect comedic timing provided by its lead characters. Yes, some lines are very old and cliched, yet I commend Vic Sotto and Ai-Ai Delas Alas with their perfect comedic timing which somehow lacked in most of the comedies we have seen during the past years. There was a song number but it was not awkward. There is a central theme about family but it was not overrated.

Image DetailAlthough the movie was able to achieve its goal to entertain, there are some points which I find to be disappointing. First and foremost, I would like to point out the greatest problem in in-movie endorsements. We know that movies need product endorsement in order for them to have considerable amounts for movie production but please, do not make it so obvious. I cringe every time that there are products slapped in my face while watching a flick, and if there is really a need, do it with subtlety. Second: Improve the special effects. How much time do you need to perfect the craft when this is already the 5th Enteng Kabisote film.

It was nice to have Tony Reyes direct this film and was not given to Wenn Deramas who is obviously tired of the Ina Series (the third film is the worst). Reyes, together with the screenwriters did a good job by providing a very cohesive plot. Kudos to Eugene Domingo who provided one of the humorous scene in the movie - The Wall Scene.

Indeed Enteng ng Ina Mo succeeded in combining two themes without making it awkward to watch.



Segunda Mano

The Metro Manila Film Festival kicked off last December 25 and sadly, I was in Aklan and I was not able to give out first hand reviews of the movies shown in the Festival. All I have is twitter to update me on how good the movies were and by the likes of it, Segunda Mano has been trending my timeline with retweets from Ms. Kris Aquino herself with the praises from the moviegoers who have seen the movie. This was enough to build up a hype that the movie is good and yes, it was a great strategy - it hurled me into the cinema where Segunda Mano was shown.

This is my first acquaintance with Joyce Bernal doing a horror movie and I am very prepared to scrunitize her way of directing a movie by a director known to make good romance-comedies in the past decade. One thing crossed in my mind while watching it: I could not help to compare the film with The Road and they do not measure up with the same level - Segunda Mano fell short in various aspects.

One of my complaints with the film is that it was poorly written. The whole 2 hours was spent in misconstrued numbers of scenes that does not even add up to the plot. I hate how horror movies nowadays are made with startling scenes from a cat, a hand, from someone who just walked through the frame and occasional appearance in the window panes. This gimmick has got to stop. Learn from The Road when good cinematography, acting and direction meets halfway to tell a good story.

The story and the plot also has flaws. While the screenwriters are busy finding ways to startle the crowd, they missed to leave points for their twist at the end. Twists are good but that does not make the entirety of the movie to be great. I can still recall "The Sixth Sense" on how effective it was able to leave obvious hints during the movie however leaves the audience still amazed on how they dismissed those hints which actually plays a vital role in the whole plot. In Segunda Mano, the twist is hurriedly written and that it does not have a good foundation. It seems that the idea for the twist was just at the spur of the moment while they were making the movie.

I commend Dingdong Dantes' performance as the psychotic (ooops! Spoiler) boyfriend of Kris. He reminds me of Richard Guttierez's performance in a Maricel Soriano movie back in the 90's where Richard plays the psychotic killer. Bangs Garcia provides a comic relief and has been well received by the audience. Angelica Panganiban may have very little screen time but she made it sure that she shi Kris Aquino, on the other hand, remains her usual acting performance ever since she was nominated for Mano Po for Best Supporting Actress - tired and weary. It is utterly unconvincing to see Kris play a role as the introvert type. However, I give credit to Kris for the effort of controlling her usual tactless persona - that may be acting but it is painful to watch.

Cinematography-wise, Bb. Joyce Bernal tried various attempts for good cinematography and she succeeded somehow on the mirror approach, however, there might be more than that and I know she can deliver more.

Segunda Mano may have hyped everyone. Dingdong Dantes may have bagged the award for Best Actor this MMFF but Kris Aquino, as @krisaquinoSTD may put it into her tweets bagged the Best in Retweet awards for the most number of retweets that may caused me and some of the other people to join in the hype.