Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2018 offers a diverse set of films during its seven-day celebration in time for the Buwan ng Wika.
Now on its second year, Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino offers eight official entries that are being screened in cinemas nationwide until August 21, 2018.
These films are Ang Babaeng Allergic Sa Wifi directed by Jun Robles Lana under The IdeaFirst Company, Bakwit Boys directed by Jason Paul Laxamana under T. Rex Entertainment, Madilim Ang Gabi directed by Adolf Alix Jr., under Deus Lux Mea Films, Pinay Beauty directed by Jay Abello under Quantum Films and Epic Media, Signal Rock directed by Chito Roño under Cape Signal Rock (CSR) Films PH, The Day After Valentine’s directed by Jason Paul Laxamana under Viva Films, Unli Life directed by Miko Livelo under Regal Entertainment Inc. and We Will Not Die Tonight directed by Richard Somes under Strawdogs Studio Production.
Here are reviews on the PPP 2018 entries:
(To read review of Signal Rock, CLICK HERE)
REVIEW: ANG BABAENG ALLERGIC SA WIFI
BY MARI-AN SANTOS
Sue Ramirez topbills this romantic comedy that starts out as sugary-sweet and light like K-Pop but ends up a bittersweet romance. Warning: bring your tissues to the cinema!
As Norma, Sue is the cute queen bee of her university. It seems that she and Leo (Markus Paterson), star varsity basketball player, are the perfect campus couple.
But this story is not just about Norma. It is Norma as seen through the eyes of Aries (Jameson Blake), Leo’s nerdy and shy younger brother, who harbors a secret crush on her “at first sight”, and later, an intense love for her. But this story is not just about the frustrations of unrequited teenage love.
Norma is soon diagnosed with electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome, an illness caused by exposure to electromagnetic radiation—one of the perils of our wired, modern world. Her family explores various treatments for her mysterious disorder. As a result of a suggestion by Aries, her only chance of recovery and survival is to be sequestered far away from her socially, virtually-connected persona in Manila, to a hill in Nueva Ecija. She does not adjust well to being taken from the digital to the analog, from the city to the countryside, from someone she perceives as her one true love. Far from the comforts and ease of telecommunications, her relationships with her friends and her boyfriend suffer.
However, Aries and his best friend Macha (Angellie Sano formerly known as Angeli Nicole Sanoy) keep her emotionally-connected.
Norma's mom (Yayo Aguila) and grandmother (Boots Anson-Roa) constantly remind her what she should be looking for in a guy as she struggles to deal with her condition.
Angellie Sano is a powerhouse. Her comic timing is spot-on, her dramatic turn is moving. She could very well be the best friend all of us want—and need!
Onscreen mothers Yayo Aguila, Candy Pangilinan, and Boots Anson-Roa provide strong acting anchors for the youth-led cast. They are more than believable, but also relatable.
The story by director Jun Robles Lana, takes the format of the romantic comedy, remaining faithful to its tropes, almost lulling us into a sense of comfort—then turns it on its head and provides a twist in the end that serves as a caution against the threat of losing our humanity in favor of and in the midst of all this virtuality.
The scenes between onscreen brothers Leo and Aries are uninspiring. The two pretty boys certainly raise the kilig factor, but there is much to be desired when it comes to their chemistry.
As the story progresses, in the first half, the film feels too much like an attempt to be a clone of all the hit cutesy rom-coms that have become a fad for the past few years. But, as mentioned above, greater depth is revealed later on.
The script is most affecting and effective when Aries turns eloquent, and he has the most insightful lines of the entire film.
The soundtrack is an excellent blend of indie sound and very appropriate scoring for the scenes. I would not be surprised if downloads for it spike immediately!
REVIEW: BAKWIT BOYS
BY MARK ANGELO CHING
Bakwit Boys is that movie that you should watch if you want to uplift your mood. It’s bright, delightful and should inspire anyone who sees it.
This musical drama tells the story of four brothers from Isabela who had to live with their grandfather in Pampanga after their hometown got ravaged by a super typhoon. The siblings turn to music to cope, but little did they know that it is their love for the craft that can help them to rise up when a rich girl from Manila helps them become recording artists.
The movie is a labor of love for director and screenwriter Jason Paul Laxamana. After all, the plot was inspired by his experiences as a survivor of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991.
Laxamana’s passion for the story is easily felt in every scene. Every frame is expertly crafted, and many of them showcase Pampanga’s beautiful landscape. Even the picturesque Darabulbul Falls makes a cameo.
The original songs made for the movie also exude the same emotions. In particular, the title track "Ligtas Ka Na" is very heartwarming. It has the makings of a real radio hit, and should instill hope for victims of real-world tragedies, like the recent flooding brought about by the habagat.
All that is thanks to the movie’s talented cast, who are amazing singers themselves. Much praise must be given to Vance Larena, a theater and indie actor who plays Elias, the eldest among the siblings. He sings and acts so well here, and he looks like a top matinee idol too. You’d wonder why he’s not famous yet.
The actors who play the rest of the brothers should also be lauded. Mackie Empuerto’s Sonny, the youngest brother, is a ball of sunshine. He lights up the screen whenever he’s in the scene, and his singing voice is very very good.
Nikko Natividad’s Philip and Ryle Santiago’s Joey, meanwhile, are impressive in the dramatic scenes. Both celebrities posture themselves as comedians in It’s Showtime, so it is refreshing to see them be adapt at embodying pain and anger in the movie’s most emotional scenes.
Lastly, Devon Seron’s Rose is the girl who helps the boys become known as true recording artists. She also excels here, and she handles the complicated nature of her character very well.
The five characters work so well together that it’s not hard to root for their success. But it’s not all perfect. This chemistry crumbles when the film tries to force a love story between Nikko and Devon’s characters.
You can see Devon’s effort to make the connection work, but it is Nikko that cannot hold his end of the bargain. His scenes where his Philip should appear smitten while Devon is singing are frankly too awkward, like his mind is wandering somewhere else. Nikko needs to work on how to show off romance, so he can fully become a great actor.
REVIEW: MADILIM ANG GABI
BY MARK ANGELO CHING
Sara (Gina Alajar) and Lando (Phillip Salvador) are drug dealers who decide to quit the business because they fear for their lives. But is this the right decision? When their only son Alan (Felix Roco) disappears, the two slowly realize that the drug business may not have any safe way out.
This is the plot of Madilim Ang Gabi, director Adolfo Alix Jr.’s entry to this year’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. It effectively skewers the Duterte government’s nefarious drug war by showing all of its negative side effects: dead bodies due to extra-judicial killings, innocent victims and abusive policemen who are criminals themselves.
The movie is reminiscent of classic Filipino movies that also criticized the government during dark times in our history. Aside from the 4:3 aspect ratio (the square-ish video size usually used in the '90s, before the widescreen boom), Madilim Ang Gabi also has the grim and hopelessness felt in Maynila Sa Kuko ng Liwanag and Orapronobis.
Even the cast expressed the movie’s feeling of despair.
Gina Alajar and Phillip Salvador showed tons of emotions despite the understated acting. There was no over-the-top acting but they were able to affect the audience.
The other members of the cast were also as skillful. Felix Roco, who played the missing son, moved the viewers even if he was onscreen for just a fraction of the movie. Bembol Roco angers as the corrupt police official who terrorizes the couple.
There were also various cameos from notable actors who are known in indie films throughout the movie.
Fans of indie movies (like this reviewer) are likely to be amused at these cameos. Oh, that’s Cherry Pie Picache! Sid Lucero is in this film! Cherrie Gil? Zanjoe Marudo? What a surprise!
These cameos, however, detract from the movie’s serious tone. Instead of focusing on the movie’s message, reviewers are more inclined to fangirl or fanboy when another big-ticket celebrity appears in a scene.
The abundance of cameos also lowered the strength of the story because some of the cameos play major roles in the story, and yet, they only appear once, or without any prior buildup.
Despite these issues, Madilim Ang Gabi should still be considered as a worthy addition to the list of good political movies that chronicles the sign of the times.
REVIEW: PINAY BEAUTY
BY JULIA ALLENDE
Pinay Beauty (She’s No White) starts off cliché enough that you will more or less know how it will unfold but the unraveling process is pretty entertaining if you appreciate theatrics and are willing to suspend disbelief.
Whether Migs (Edgar Allan) lives or dies in three days' time depends on two things: either he pays off a P180,000 debt to his loan shark boss Tito Val (Tikoy Aguiluz) or get him the impossible date with hot young starlet Lovely G (Maxine Medina) whose enormous billboard in a major thoroughfare has stirred warm feelings in his gangster boss’ dead heart.
He got himself in trouble in the first place by spending all that cash on plastic surgery for his long-time girlfriend Annie (Chai Fonacier), a petite young woman, obsessed with transforming herself into the mythical Snow White— despite having all the opposite attributes—so she can get a job in Disneyland like all her friends.
So without telling Annie of the mess he found himself in, Migs confides his woes to his barkada who becomes hell bent on saving his life. With a ragtag band of deviants by his side and the love of his life so close to attaining her dreams, Migs will move mountains to give Tito Val what he wants.
The film directed by Jay Abello is ultimately a dark comedy on devotion to something one fiercely believes in no matter how absurd.
In the same way that Annie is committed to attaining an unnatural goal for herself, Migs is madly love with her for who she is. And even as his own barkada taunts him for his blind devotion to Annie, they stand by the couple through the hardest of times and at a great deal of personal suffering.
Allan and Fonacier registered remarkable chemistry onscreen as your regular odd-looking couple. In silent moments, their union is sincere and serene, and in the tough encounters, the bitterness seeps though.
Mig’s odd bunch of friends: the hypersexual Bas (Nico Antonio), hot lesbian Japo (Hannah Ledesma), nerd Nino (Janus del Prado) and transvestite Isabel (Mariko Ledesma) ramp up the entertainment factor with their antics. Together, they are the barkada to beat.
Even Tito Val is afflicted with an obsession for what he calls a unique brand of Filipina beauty that from time to time, he creepily utters the catchphrase “‘’Yan ang Pinay beauty.”
Even with sufficient suspension of disbelief, its difficult to appreciate the outlandish turn of events that it’s impossible to fully empathize with their struggle.
Had it not been for the strength of the supporting cast—mainly Mig’s barkada—the film would have completely failed.
But they can only sustain the antics long enough before it completely loses steam. And so the film eventually goes down the tragedy and moralizing route so it can finally drive its message though.
What Pinay Beauty really wants to say is be happy for who you are and your inner beauty will radiate. In the last few minutes of the film, we see Annie skipping merrily under the streetlights, sprightly as a young girl without a care in the world, her dark curls faintly illuminated like a halo around her head. She turns to us and we see a calm face with just a hint of a smile.
It’s an image you can summon in times of self doubt.
But there just might be another strong messaging from Tito Val’s creepy catch phrase: that a Pinay beauty has pride and dignity, and is worth dying for.
REVIEW: THE DAY AFTER VALENTINE'S
BY MARI-AN SANTOS
Writer-director Jason Paul Laxamana once again pairs Bela Padilla and JC Santos in a heart-wrenching romantic drama.
The first time was last year’s 100 Tula Para Kay Stella; this year, it is in The Day After Valentine’s. Under Laxamana’s direction, Bela and JC bring life to heavily scarred and deeply disturbed characters who form a strong bond but whose love story is never easy.
JC Santos is Kai, a "broken boy" whose scars are not only but also physical. His "repairwoman" Bela’s Lani, who seems like a strong, independent, very put-together woman.
But all of us can choose what other people see and what we keep hidden, can’t we? With some hesitation and trepidation, she “fixes” Kai but in the process, unravels and reveals her own scars and vulnerabilities.
From the very beginning, their relationship starts out stormy—and in the midst of a rainstorm. Despite the intensity of the story, there are many light, romantic moments between Kai and Lani. That is how they endear themselves to us, how we start to feel kilig, how we start to be invested in how their relationship will unfold and evolve. That is also why we feel desperation and exasperation at the climax of the movie. Thankfully, it is not as stormy as their first meeting, but very relatable—as if it could happen to any of us, or perhaps has already.
Bela and JC take us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and there is no way that we can resist. We feel Kai’s frustrations caused by a heartbreak, we laugh and giggle as the two start to form a bond and spend more and more time together, we feel the blossoming of friendship to romance when they fly off to Hawaii, and we also feel helplessness as their relationship goes through uncertainty with the distance between them aggravating matters.
It is a credit to both actors that we care for them so much that we don’t let go as they take us on the journey.
However intense, there are many lighthearted parts of the story that feel as if it could lead to that hoped-for happy ending.
A highlight of the film, aside from the intense onscreen chemistry between the strong lead actors, is the travel to Lana’i, an island in Hawaii. Filipinos love traveling, after all. There is no doubt in my mind that after this movie’s run, more flights to that small island will be booked from the Philippines.
Maybe it was necessary to drive home the point. But this writer believes that the visualization of pain, the outward manifestation in the scars of the characters, is sufficient to convince audiences of the motivations and the experiences of the characters. Yet, the script had the relevance of the scars explicitly verbalized several times. It seemed a bit excessive.
Jordan Castillo, who plays George, has only one onscreen appearance, but it is so intense that he leaves an indelible mark on the story. He is not only a pretty face but has very good timing and is able to hold his own opposite Padilla’s powerful portrayal. That’s saying a lot!
Baybayin, our ancestors’ alphabet, figures prominently in the film, as Lani is well-versed in it and teaches Kai. It is a strong presence and it will be a great effect if more Filipinos learned it as a result of seeing it in the movie.
REVIEW: UNLI LIFE
BY MARI-AN SANTOS
In Miko Livelo’s comedy-fantasy Unli Life, Vhong Navarro takes on different roles as he travels to different moments in history.
Vhong plays Benedict, whose alter ego is Papa Tak, a love podcast DJ. He is getting ready to propose to his gorgeous girlfriend Victoria, played by Winwyn Marquez.
Despite an elaborately-planned proposal set up, Victoria turns down Benedict and he roams the streets of Metro Manila distraught, that is, until he chances upon the “Turning Point Bar.”
Here, he meets Saro (Joey Marquez), who pours him glass after glass of “wishkey” in order to transport him to a different point in time (from the story of the Garden of Eden to prehistoric men and women to the present) so that he can amend what he did and consequently, affect the present.
Of particular note is the production design by Ericsson Navarro in making each time period as vivid as possible. In general, the mood and milieu of each vignette is close to how the places looked in and throughout history.
Winwyn Marquez is an elegant presence who is a natural onscreen. She is radiant as the lady love around whom Benedict’s world revolves. She does not look out of place among the comedians and the rest of the cast but holds her own.
Dimples Romana, as Benedict’s mother, elicits such strong empathy from the audience. As a devoted mother, she is vulnerable and hugely relatable.
The story by Chito Roño is creative, bringing different elements together and delivering a narrative that in the end, delivers its important, universal message.
The musical score of the film is not only very catchy but it is affective as well. The songs are appropriate for each era and move the story along—sometimes sweeping the audience altogether in the story.
Vhong plays the comic, the clown, as he has his comedic roles, without much variation nor depth. His cute antics have won him a strong fan base and he basically just rides its course.
The script by Ferdinand Aguas and Jan Freud Gallon takes every cheap shot, irony, innuendo, and joke that presents itself without discrimination. Some scenes feel like (and may very well be) an improvised stringing of jokes that came to the actors’ minds. This weighs down the cohesion of the story and takes away from its greater, nobler message. There is also a lot of physical comedy that result in easy laughs.
Of particular note are two scenes that actually make the movie worth your time. One is the love montage, set in the 1970s, as romance between Winwyn’s and Vhong's characters start to bloom.
Another memorable but unhappy scene is when a Benedict is allowed to go back in time to revisit (and possibly have a chance to revise) a tragic event from his childhood. In its unexpectedness, it became the biggest heart-pincher of the movie.
REVIEW: WE WILL NOT DIE TONIGHT
BY MACOY DELOCIENTO
Richard Somes’ We Will Not Die Tonight had its world premiere in the 17th New York Asian Film Festival.
Played brilliantly by Erich Gonzales, Kray is a stuntwoman invited by her ex-boyfriend Ramil (Alex Medina) for a chance to score a big sum of money. She is joined by friends Jonesky (Thou Reyes), Rene Boy (Nico Dans) and Che-che (Max Eigenmann). They are unlucky characters who end up being at the wrong places at the wrong times and find themselves trapped and ended up fighting for their lives after opting out from the offer of Bangkil (Paolo Paraiso).
This is a terrifying look at the humanity implicit in hatred. Flawed, but fascinating. What we get is a series of well-drawn sketches and powerful scenes of survival. This is a great film to film if you're a fan of Pinoy action flicks that were proven to be always mobile, armed with a bladed weapon of some kind, and stalking throughout suburban streets.
This was a tough one to sit through. I love Richard Somes’ work (Yanggaw), but I’ve purposefully stayed away from his fighting movies because I’m allergic to macho dude-bro posturing. Plus, the 110 minutes runtime is a pretty big turn off. But the film’s biggest problem is that it’s lopsided. The first hour is pretty fun, with big acting and the outrageous potential of the material stretched to its breaking point. But at some point the film starts taking itself very seriously, as if suddenly realizing the consequences of thug life.
Pinoy action pictures are nowadays too rare, but We Will Not Die Tonight, with its portmanteau structure, frenetic pace and searing rock soundtrack, proves that the genre isn't just confined to Hollywood.
Combining the best elements of a mainstream blockbuster with low-budget Pinoy sensibilities, Direk Somes has created breathlessly exhilarating cinema that will satisfy multiplex-goers as well as arthouse lovers—in other words, exactly the sort of movie that Philippines ought to be making.
The entries are being showing nationwide until August 21, 2018 as part of the 2018 Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.