Here’s the first part of our report on ‘Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2018’ in which we cover Bakwit Boys, Madilim Ang Gabi, Pinay Beauty, and Unli Life. The 2nd edition of PPP runs from August 15 to 21 in Philippine cinemas nationwide.
For such a small-scale indie film, Jason Paul Laxamana’s Bakwit Boys manages to inspire a generation with its different themes on brotherhood, young love, aspiration and resilience. The band of underdogs to root for in this story are the Datul brothers – eldest Elias (Vance Larena) and youngest Sonny (Mackie Empuerto) on vocals, Joey (Ryle Santiago) on guitar and Philip (Nikko Natividad) on lyric composition. After having their home devastated by a super typhoon, they seek refuge in their grandfather’s farm in Pampanga where they are eventually discovered by a musician/talent scout Rose (Devon Seron). Her offer to help them produce their music may look promising, but the brothers can only keep their head up in the clouds for so long. Because the truth is, poor people often don’t have the luxury of chasing their dreams.
As Philip’s idealism clash with Elias’ pragmatism, the other obstacle that proves to be more difficult is the music industry’s bias against unknown artists. Talent alone is not enough and the film depicts the struggles of aspiring artists when it comes to composing, recording and gaining a radio airplay. As the plot unfolds more, issues on social class privileges and corruption are also shed into light. The love subplot that goes along might not entirely sell but the film makes up for it with a strong and genuine dynamic between the brothers. The main cast are commendable for their captivating acting and vocal performances.
For a musical, Bakwit Boys, at times, feels like it’s still in a demo version, with areas of improvement needed when it comes to injecting creativity in its production values. Not that it needs to have a dance number or some sort – the original songs here (courtesy of Jhaye Cura) are all acoustic-based – but the film sometimes fall into the trap of being a pure jam session, with characters singing in an open field, reacting to each one’s performances. Otherwise, the songs work well in the context of the story, its heartfelt lyrics and catchy melody make the viewing experience memorable enough. Among its lineup, “Ligtas Ka Na” and “Patibong” are the sure standouts.
Despite its rushed ending, Bakwit Boys teems with passion and good intentions, the script empathic enough to reflect the sentiments and desires of each character. Showcasing both OPM heritage and deeply-rooted Pinoy family values, this truly belongs in PPP.
Written and directed by Jason Paul Laxamana
Cast: Vance Larena, Nikko Natividad, Devon Seron, Ryle Paolo Santiago, Mackie Empuerto, Nanding Josef, Cai Cortez, Kiray Celis, Sebastian Castro, Alma Concepcion, Eagle Riggs, Albie Casiño, Menggie Cobarrubias, Jeric Raval
Run Time: 105 minutes
4 out of 5 stars
MADILIM ANG GABI
Adolf Alix Jr.’s Madilim Ang Gabi (Dark Is The Night) is an exposition of the very ripe, war on drugs situation under Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s strongman rule. From the get-go, Duterte’s voice of reason plays over the radio – his threats to enforce extrajudicial killings will serve as the film’s brush to paint a nationwide tragedy.
The chosen perspective is that of Sara’s (Gina Alajar), a morally ambiguous character who can be labeled both as a victim and a culprit. She wears a Duterte wristband, suggesting that she’s a supporter of his cause yet she earns extra income from selling drugs concealed on washrags. It only gets more disturbing once it is revealed that she has more participation in the syndicate than we expected to.
Anyway, she’s on the government’s watchlist and the moment she and her husband Lando (Philip Salvador) decide to quit the trade, their addict son Alan (Felix Roco) goes missing. The film then spends most of its time on Sara’s search, further unraveling a complex network of people whose lives are impacted by the current administration one way or another.
Whereas Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’Rosa achieves depth by following four main characters, Madilim Ang Gabi gives an expansive view of the situation through an arsenal of cameo appearances from indie veterans. The film’s decision to prioritize quantity over quality ultimately plays at a disadvantage. Family members, concerned neighbors, corrupt policemen, pushers and addicts, henchmen and overlord – the canvas gets overpopulated with loosely-plotted characters that their sequencing feels random and the situations their in feel repetitive.
It’s not exactly a new sight to behold considering most of the”exposes” here have already found its way in the media. If you read the news, nothing here will shock your senses. Also, the main conflict itself lacks tension. By the time Sara’s son disappears, you’ll pretty much have a good gauge on what happened to him.
The filmmaking choices such as the apparent absence of music, the 3:4 frame presentation, and the handheld camerawork succeeds at selling realism but it makes the overall output look somehow dull and monotonous. The film’s greatest asset is Alajar who once again delivers a masterclass performance.
Considering Madilim Ang Gabi premiered last year at Toronto International Film Festival, this cry for help is really more suited for international viewers. In the context of local cinema, it remains to be topical but when it comes to providing fresh insights? Not so much.
Written and directed by Adolfo Alix, Jr.
Cast: Phillip Salvador, Gina Alajar, Bembol Roco and Felix Roco with special performances from Jason Abalos, Archie Alemania, Angel Aquino, Angeli Bayani, Perla Bautista, Iza Calzado, Sebastian Castro, Manuel Chua, Alessandra de Rossi, Julio Diaz, Flora Gasser, Cherie Gil, Laurice Guillen, Ben Isaac, Mailes Kanapi, Kristoffer King, Anita Linda, William Lorenzo, Sid Lucero, Zanjoe Marudo, Jess Mendoza, Mikoy Morales, Kenken Nuyad, Kenneth Ocampo, Elizabeth Oropesa, Allan Paule, Ross Pesigan, Cherry Pie Picache, Rosanna Roces, Jeremy Sabido, Arvic James Tan, Erlinda Villalobos, Cris Villonco and Kirst Viray
Run Time: 115 minutes
2.5 out of 5 stars
In Jay Abello’s Pinay Beauty, Annie (Chai Fonacier) represents the face of insecurity among some Filipinas. She desires to have fairer complexion, sharper nose, bigger breasts, etc. and she chants her mantra, “I am happy, when I’m beautiful” in preparation for a plastic surgery that is supposed to change her life. Little did she know, her boyfriend Migs (Edgar Allan De Guzman) who shouldered her expenses is now being hunted by a loan shark named Tito Val. He gives Migs two options: pay him Php 180,000 in the next few days, or score him a date with A-list celebrity Lovely G (Maxine Medina).
From the premise itself, you could easily tell what the film is gunning for – self-love and acceptance. But before it reaches that goal, the film takes several detours on gags as Migs and his ragtag friends (a lesbian, a transgender, a nymphomaniac and a geek) devise several methods to raise the required amount of cash and get near Lovely G. It’s a welcome distraction when you see likable supporting roles like Nico Antonio and Janus Del Prado getting on with it but it’s only a matter of time before the film should remember the story that it tries to tell.
And this is where it gets disappointing. Pinay Beauty knows what it wants to say but the direction and screenplay would often jump from point A to point B, seemingly confused on what it wants to prioritize. The two main characters are not given much exploration when it comes to their motives. Migs loves Annie so much that he will do anything for her while Annie hates her face so much that she’s too absorbed with her Snow White transformation until she realizes the trouble that Migs got into. In place of character exploration, we are served with odd dream sequences to depict their troubled state of minds. It serves little purpose and the same can be said with Lovely G’s story arc that has little connection to the general plot. The film comes out as tonally incongruous. In the end, Annie reverses her chant to “I am beautiful, when I’m happy,” signifying that she has learned her lesson. That big moment of epiphany, however, doesn’t feel earned.
Directed by Jay Abello, written by Alpha Habon and Rod Marmol
Cast: Edgar Allan Guzman, Chai Fonacier, Janus del Prado, Nico Antonio, Hanna Ledesma, Mariko Ledesma, Maxine Medina, Tikoy Aguiluz, Allan Paule, Lou Veloso
Run time: 95 minutes
2.5 out of 5 stars
Miko Livelo’s Unli Life makes a mark in this year’s competition being as a high-concept comedy that’s not usually found in local cinema. Internet podcaster Benedict (Vhong Navarro) who specializes on giving love advices finds himself sober after a break-up with his girlfriend Victoria (Wynwyn Marquez). Out of the blue, a mysterious night bar called “Turning Point” appears and there a bartender named Mang Saro (Joey Marquez) serves him a shot of “Wishkey” that will allow him to go back in the past and fix his mistakes. However, by drinking too much he gets transported to the different eras of Philippine history. He meets different reincarnations of Victoria, giving him multiple attempts to make things right with her.
Wherever Bene goes, the film makes sure that he takes along with him his anachronistic brand of humor. The five screenwriters credited in this film (including Navarro) makes no pretensions in sounding smarter. The script indulges mostly on pop culture references and “tito jokes” which are really corny. This might deal a huge chunk of patience for all the grumpy viewers out there. But Unli Life is self-aware on what it wants to be and relentlessly attempts to generate laughs from its audience that you will eventually have to surrender to its charm.
The concept itself gives room for the film to provide different forms of entertainment. There’s a tracking shot of a vaudeville performance that’s remarkable. Acting-wise, these are serviceable performances and the ensemble mostly consists of familiar faces from It’s Showtime led by Donna Cariaga. With the amount of comedians here, you can bet one good laugh at least.
Unli Life commits to a bonkers execution but by the third act, it throws a curveball and reveals its heart beneath the silliness. You can question the enjoyment factor, but the film delivers a profound effect better than what’s expected.
Directed by Miko Livelo, written by Jeps Gallon, Easy Ferrer, Ferdie Aguas, Alex Calleja, Vhong Navarro, story by Chito S. Roño
Cast: Vhong Navarro, Wynwyn Marquez, Joey Marquez, Ejay Falcon, Donna Cariaga, Jon Lucas, Alex Calleja, Isabella De Leon, Kamille Filoteo, Red Ollero, Jun Urbano, Jun Sabayton, James Caraan, Jet Leyco, Anthony Andres, Dimples Romana, Joem Bascon, Jhong Hilario, Bella Mercado
Run time: 95 minutes
3.5 out of 5 stars