To watch or not to watch: The 38th Metro Manila Film Festival

Francis Quina
Here are suggestions on which films deserve your money's worth

CHRISTMAS SEASON, PINOY FILMS. It's that time of the year, and we give our suggestions on which you should see no matter what — and which might be better seen on DVD. Image from the official MMFF Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – To say that the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), which is now on its 38th year, has become a staple in our local Christmas celebration like ham and queso de bola would be selling it short.

It has become the local cinematic event, drawing in thousands and thousands of local moviegoers and raking in millions and millions of pesos.

Admittedly over the years, the festival has morphed from a showcase of Philippine cinema’s finest to that of local cinema’s most crowd-pleasing and commercially viable.

But it’s hard to begrudge the MMFF, especially since it gets Pinoy moviegoers into the cinemas to watch local movies. And that is always a good thing.

Here now is our recommendation for this year’s MMFF:

MUST WATCH AT ALL COST

1) Thy Womb

Cast: Nora Aunor, Bembol Roco, Lovi Poe, Mercedes Cabral

Director: Brillante Ma Mendoza

Local critics who’ve already seen Thy Womb are calling it Brillante Ma Mendoza’s finest movie to date. It has also been making the rounds of international film festivals and has already picked up several awards, including one for Ms. Nora Aunor’s portrayal of a barren midwife who searches all of Tawi-Tawi to look for a suitable second wife for her husband (Roco). 

Those seem reasons enough to go and watch this one. But those unfamiliar with Mendoza’s work might be more drawn in by the fact that this is Ms. Aunor’s umpteenth comeback movie. Whatever your opinion is of Ms. Aunor’s recent personal troubles, there’s no doubt that she remains one of our finest actresses and to see her onscreen once again is cause for celebration. 

How well people will react to Mendoza’s in-your-face brand of social realism, especially in light of the holiday mood, is another matter entirely.  

2) El Presidente

Cast: E.R. Ejercito, Cesar Montano, Cristine Reyes, Nora Aunor

Director: Mark Meily

After sweeping last year’s major awards with Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story, producer and star E.R. Ejercito tries to capture lightning in a bottle again with El Presidente, a biopic following the life and times of General Emilio Aguinaldo, our country’s first president. 

Local historical movies have always been a hit-or-miss affair, ranging from the great (Eskapo), the okay (Jose Rizal) to the laughably bad (Tirad Pass). With Meilly’s sure hand behind the camera, this one looks to be one for the “great” column. Also, the fact that there has been no behind-the-scenes drama over this production — as opposed to Manila Kingpin — indicates that this might be a better and more cohesive film.    

History buffs might also want to see this to see which side the filmmakers take in the whole Bonifacio vs. Aguinaldo debate.

3) The Invasion: Shake Rattle and Roll 14

Cast: Janice de Belen, Arlene Muhlach, Herbert Bautista, Dennis Trillo, Martin Escudero, Paulo Avelino, Vhong Navarro, Lovi Poe 

Director: Chito S. Roño

Since its resurrection in 2005, the Shake Rattle and Roll franchise has showcased some of the country’s best up-and-coming filmmakers. This savvy move has re-energized the franchise enough to make it a staple of the MMFF in the last seven years, although admittedly the results have been mixed. 

So it’s a surprise that seasoned director Chito Roño has taken on the task of directing all 3 episodes in the franchise’s latest installment. It’s the first time the franchise has been given over to a single director, and it’s going to be interesting how Roño, who in the last few years has been making mostly horror movies, will fare. 

The material he’s working with seems interesting to begin with. “Ang Pamana,” set in the ’80s and features ’80s stars Bautista (now mayor of Quezon City), de Belen and Muhlach, is about a family haunted by the characters of their deceased uncle’s comic book collection. “Lost Command” sees Trillo, Escudero and Avelino battling fellow soldiers who’ve been turned into zombies. And finally, “Unwanted,” has Navarro and Poe battling creatures from another planet.   

Watching how Roño work with such varied material alone might be worth the price of the ticket, but there’s bound to be something here for everyone as well.   

MIGHT BE WORTH A SHOT 

1) The Strangers

Cast: Cherry Pie Picache, Enchong Dee, Enrique Gil, Jaime Fabregas, Julia Montes

Directed by: Lawrence Fajardo

If The Strangers’ plot sounds somewhat familiar — a family on a road trip is marooned in a small village that houses a dark, evil secret — I’m going to tell you it is. It has been a basic horror story plot for years now. And whatever twist and turns the movie has in store for audiences are practically telegraphed in the movie’s ill-advised trailer. 

That said, there’s reason enough to give this film a chance. For one, it looks visually interesting. Second, this is director Lawrence Fajardo’s first stab at a mainstream project, and that’s always interesting to see.

And finally, it’s always a treat to see Cherry Pie Picache and Jaime Fabregas onscreen, and in a horror movie, no less.

2) Sosy Problems

Starring: Bianca King, Heart Evangelista, Rhian Ramos, Solenn Heussaff

Director: Andoy Ranay

The 4 leads in Andoy Ranay’s Sosy Problems don’t play characters so much as ciphers — they’re stand-ins for the imagined, and maybe not-imagined, things we loathe about the young, rich and privileged. 

From the trailer alone, you can tell that the movie works off of schadenfreude — joy at the suffering of others — by putting all of its so-called sosy characters in various uncomfortable situations. That seems wrong, but I’m sure many of the people who’ve already made a resolve to watch this movie will be watching for that same reason.

That said, the movie looks like it’s going to be a blast, what with Cherie Gil, who’s made a career out of playing sosy characters, thrown into the mix. Also, it doesn’t hurt that King, Evangelista, Ramos and Heussaff are easy on the eyes. 

3) One More Try

Cast: Angel Locsin, Angelica Panganiban, Dingdong Dantes, Zanjoe Marudo

Director: Ruel S. Bayani

The plot of One More Try is the stuff of melodrama. The mother (Locsin) of a terminally ill child is forced to contact the child’s estranged father for help (Dantes). The help she seeks is not financial, but biological; she wants to have another child by him, who can then supply their dying child with bone marrow.

To complicate matters, both of them are now in seemingly loving relationships with other people. To make matters more complicated, the father’s current beau (Panganiban) is unable to give him the child he so badly wants.   

Ruel S. Bayani, who is coming off the success of last year’s No Other Woman (a movie that has spawned a thousand copycats), seems like a perfect fit for the job of directing yet another potentially controversial melodrama. Meanwhile, leads Locsin, Dantes, Marudo and Panganiban have proven themselves capable actors who, given the right material, shine. This might be one of those times. 

One more reason to watch this: seeing how the movie wraps it overly-complicated story. Honestly.   

WAIT FOR THE DVDs, IF YOU MUST SEE THEM

1) Sisterakas

Cast: Ai-Ai de las Alas, Kris Aquino, Vice Ganda

Director: Wenn V. Deramas

A movie studio brings together 3 of its most bankable lead stars and one of their most commercially-successful comedy directors in a film about feuding half-siblings in the corporate world. On paper, that seems like a recipe for success. The fact that the movie stars Ai-Ai de las Alas, Kris Aquino and Vice Ganda, should make it an unqualified box-office success. 

And yet, judging by its trailer, Sisterakas seems like a mess. Deramas has never been a particularly strong director, but he has been successful because his movies are wacky enough diversions with a bit of heart. Sisterakas, however, seems all surface with its too-in-the-now jokes, stale physical comedy, wacky over-the-top costumes, and its 3 leads playing to type (or in the case of Aquino and Vice Ganda, stereotype). 

I’ve no doubt that this will make a lot of money, given how popular the stars are. And I’m sure it will be a riot. But there are honestly better ways to spend your time and money like watching other the movies in the festival, with the exception of… 

2) Si Agimat, Si Enteng at Si Ako

Cast: Judy Ann Santos, Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla Jr., Vic Sotto

Director: Tony Y. Reyes

In the same way that Sisterakas brought 3 big stars together, so does Si Agimat, Si Enteng at Si Ako. It brings 3 MMFF staples in one big movie: an Enteng Kabisote movie, a Bong Revilla fantasy movie and a Judy Ann Santos movie. It isn’t hard to imagine that the movie will end up a mess, and the trailer easily gives that impression. 

The plot involves the 3 heroes banding together to stop what looks like an alien invasion. It really doesn’t matter, as this is just pretense to have the 3 stars running around swinging swords and using their magical powers to dispatch of the bad guys. And when they’re not doing that, they’re doing the dumb, broad physical comedy that is a staple of a Tony Y. Reyes movie. (Quick question: What is not a staple of a Tony Y. Reyes movie? A well-composed action scene.) 

This isn’t the first time that Revilla and Sotto have teamed up cinematically, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, because this will no doubt make a lot of money, as their previous collaborations have done. So really, this movie’s very existence is our entire fault. 

Take the money you’re going to use to watch this movie and give it to charity instead.

The 38th Metro Manila Film Festival will run from December 25, 2012 to January 7, 2013 in cinemas nationwide. For more information, visit the official MMFF website. – Rappler.com

 

(Francis Quina teaches Creative Writing, Literature and English in UP Diliman.)