“Okja”: Occasionally obnoxious, mostly provocative

OKJA
D: Bong Joon-Ho
S: Ahn Seo-Hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal
121 minutes
RATING: Ratings copy 5

South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s journey to this year’s Cannes Film Festival was anything but smooth. Just ask any audience member who booed his latest film when the Netflix logo appeared onscreen. Their main beef – or should I say pork (?) – is that it will never be released in French cinemas, or any cinema outside the US, UK, and Korea, for that matter. Instead, it will be largely available online, as part of Netflix’s original line-up.

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Enthusiasm keeps problematic “Ponching” afloat

Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching
D: Inna Salazar Acuña and Dos Ocampo
S: Janus del Prado, Ketchup Eusebio, Lollie Mara, Joyce Burton Titular, Odette Khan, Ricardo Cepeda
RATING: Ratings copy 7

Hitches abound in Inna Acuña and Dos Ocampo‘s joint directorial debut. For the most part, Ang Bagong Pamilya ni Ponching plays like a 90s local sitcom. It’d feel no different filmed in a shoddy set, replete with laugh tracks. Save for a hilarious Snapchat reference, most of the gags feel generic and passé. But what this earnest morality tale lacks in freshness is counteracted by its overall enthusiasm.

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“Dagsin” drags

Dagsin
D: Atom Magadia
S: Tommy Abuel, Lotlot de Leon, Janine Gutierrez, Benjamin Alves, Sue Prado, Marita Zobel, Rolando Inocencio, Alex Diaz
RATING:  Ratings copy 6

The title of Atom Magadia‘s directorial debut translates to “gravity”. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of it to pull us in. It opens with Tommy Abuel trying to shoot himself Deer Hunter-style to no avail. With that debilitating image, Dagsin goes off on a promising start but barely takes off.

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“I America”: A more calculated sophomore effort

I America
D: Ivan Andrew Payawal
S: Bela Padilla, Rob Rownd, Elizabeth Oropesa, Kate Bautista, Lui Manansala, Matt Evans, Joe Vargas, Rhyzza Kafilas, Raflesia Bravo, Thou Reyes, Julz Savard
RATING: Ratings copy 5

The pursuit of patriarchal acceptance takes centerstage in Ivan Andrew Payawal‘s I America. This is the budding director’s first Cinemalaya entry and his second full-length feature following 2015’s The Comeback.

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Tidbits from the “I America” Gala Night

It’s only fitting that I started this year’s Cinemalaya binge-fest with my friend’s entry. I America is Ivan‘s first Cinemalaya-nominated piece and his second full-length feature in 10 months. Most of all, it’s the actualization of his decade-long dream.

Last Saturday’s gala screening wasn’t short of surreal! Ten years ago, Ivan was just one of many enthusiasts watching from the CCP balcony, aspiring to become a filmmaker himself. Fast forward to 2016, and there he was, onstage, candidly introducing his piece!

Bela Padilla topbills this humorous and heart-wrenching saga. Here, she plays Erica, a half-American from Olongapo who hopes to move to the U.S. with her long-lost father. Complications arise when her progress yields more questions than answers. I America also stars Elizabeth Oropesa, Rob Rownd, Kate Bautista, Lui Manansala, Thou Reyes, Raflesia Bravo,  Rhyzza Kafilas, Matt Evans, Joe Vargas, Sheena Ramos, and Julz Savard.

 

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Barangay Napalm

I spent my last few hours in Baler exploring a fragment of film history. This was where portions of Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now (1979) were filmed. And while majority of the film’s sequences were shot in Pagsanjan, it was in this very town where they did this iconic scene with Robert Duvall:

Production was marred by several delays: The set was ravaged by a typhoon, Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack, and Marlon Brando‘s eccentric behavior drove Coppola nuts, just to cite a few unfortunate incidents. Fortunately, the film did go on racking up several accolades, including Oscars for Cinematography and Sound Editing. More importantly, it’s now considered as one of the quintessential Vietnam War movies. But for the then-untapped town of Baler, Apocalypse Now‘s legacy transcends the realm of cinema.

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“Ang Taba Ko Kasi” Starves for Resonance

Ang Taba Ko Kasi
D: Jason Paul Laxamana
S: Cai Cortez, Ryan Yllana, Mark Neumann
RATING: Ratings copy 6

No other CineFilipino 2016 finalist enjoyed more pre-festival hype than Jason Paul Laxamana‘s Ang Taba Ko Kasi. The teasers were intriguing, the memes were hilarious, and its Facebook page amassed more than 73,000 fans. Those fans likely cried foul when the trailer was slammed with an “X” rating. Couple that hype with widely relatable subject matters like weight struggle and unrequited love and we’ve got ourselves a potential sentimental favorite. Now, if only the follow-through was as heavy.

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Black Bites Back: Oscars 2016 Highlights

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As expected, Chris Rock took no prisoners in addressing the #OscarsSoWhite controversy surrounding this year’s Academy Awards. “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right it’s racist!”, he said at the beginning of his epic introductory monologue. Just like any other Oscar host before him, Rock also had spotty moments: The jabs at Will and Jada went a tad too far, the girl scout cookie bit was borderline NPH’s prediction box gag, and don’t get me started on Stacey Dash. But overall, the ceremony benefitted from Rock’s energy and I won’t mind seeing him host again in the future.

Here are the rest of my 2016 Oscar highlights:

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My Oscars 2016 Fearless Forecast

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The 88th Annual Academy Awards is less than 24 hours away, but it already made history early this year – for the wrong reasons. For the second year in a row, not a single person of color was nominated in the acting categories, leading to boycotts from Spike Lee, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and many more. The outrage also fuelled the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, further prompting the Academy to mull over major changes. Whether or not these will address and eventually rectify the diversity issue, only time will tell. 

Despite the uproar, comedian Chris Rock decided to push through with his hosting duties anyway. This marks his return to the Oscars stage after 11 years. And judging from his opening monologue from the 2005 ceremonies (where he relished the presence of 4 black nominees), he will not mince words:

So, expect tomorrow to be full of snide references.

But for now, here are my picks:

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“Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising”: A Dream Revisited

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Last Wednesday (February 10), I was invited to the premiere of the digitally-restored Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising by Mike de Leon. Originally released in 1977, this poignant and exquisitely filmed romance starred Christopher de Leon and Hilda Koronel – back when cinematic love tandems didn’t have amalgamated names. It was shot mostly in Baguio City and Sagada. (Sorry, Tadhana fans: No cliff theatrics here.)

As part of this year’s REELive the Classics line-up, the remastered KMKM boasts a revitalized color palette, clearer cinematography, and a reinstated soundtrack, among other things. Not all retouches work (the restored music was too loud, sadly), but all in all, worthy homage to masterful storytelling.

My full review now up at NOOD.PH , with additional inputs by the team.

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Actress Iza Calzado shares her thoughts on the restored classic.
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Cast member Bibeth Orteza jazzed up her dedication by quoting her character.