Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Next year's Best Picture Race to Be Among 10 Films

Could Oscar-related news get any bigger than this? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has announced that for the first time since the rule changed in the early 40s, there will be 10 nominees in the Best Picture race starting in the 82nd Academy Awards.

Click HERE for the official AMPAS press release.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pinoy Film Focus: Minsan Lang Sila Bata (1996)

(Children Only Once)

Directors: Sadhana Buxani, Ditsi Carolino

Runtime: 50 minutes

Few students and graduates of private high schools in the Philippines have not been exposed to the harsh realities of child labor in the country through the powerful and indelible documentary Minsan Lang Sila Bata. It is a testament to the sheer strength of the film--and of the documentary genre, a form of full-length feature rarely made and discussed in this celebrity-obsessed country--that schools use it to open the eyes of more privileged students and that, more importantly, it works.

The documentarists capture the struggles of severely young children forced by their social standing to work at ports, slaughterhouses, and sugarcane fields, even as they clearly express their desire to become educated and make better lives for themselves. And yet through the heavy lifting of sacks of cement, the unintentional bathing in the stench and blood of butchered animals, and the scorching heat of life by the sickle, the children maintain a sense of humor that endears them and their fate to the viewers as much as their hardships do.

Minsan Lang Sila Bata is easily the definitive, most well known, and perhaps most seen Filipino documentary. For good reason. They are, indeed, children only once, but there are generations more of them that have been and could further be saved by such rare, socially conscious gems as this.

Image source: Database of Philippine Movies

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Pinoy Film Focus: Magnifico (2003)

Director: Maryo J. De Los Reyes

Writer: Michiko Yamamoto

Cast: Jiro Manio, Lorna Tolentino, Albert Martinez, Gloria Romero

Runtime: 122 minutes

A lot of modern Philippine cinema is exemplified by melodrama: overly saccharine, histrionic, overblown portrayals of family squabbles and against-all-odds romance. The actors that fill the roles are beautifully polished matinee idols, many of whom have little to speak of besides their striking looks.

And then there is the rare film that relies instead on an intelligent, moving screenplay and an endearing central performance by an unknown actor. Magnifico is all that, and then some. Quite simply, it is one of the most superbly crafted of Filipino films.

The title character (Jiro Manio) is a jovial, optimistic boy born into a poor family saddled with hardships that go beyond financial difficulties: his sister (Isabella De Leon) is mentally handicapped, his brother (Danilo Barrios) has lost his scholarship, and his grandmother (Gloria Romero) is ailing. It is when his grandmother is hospitalized and he hears his parents (Lorna Tolentio and Albert Martinez) argue about where to get the money for her burial and their other needs that he decides to do his part. Unbenownst to his family, he and his friend (Joseph Robles) begin to construct a coffin for his grandmother and hatch plans to raise funds for her burial. Throughout this process, which provides some of the most touching scenes of the film (that of Magnifico innocently taking his grandmother's measurements with her active and all-too-understanding participation is heart-aching), he never loses his enthusiasm for life or his overwhelming love for his family. The film ends on a devastating note--unusual for a Filipino film--but it is an appropriately powerful close to a film that grabs the heart and mind from the start and never lets go.

Director Maryo J. De Los Reyes elevates this film to something much more substantial than a typical tearjerker, but due compliments must go to the brilliant writing of Michiko Yamamoto, who went on to write the screenplay to the similarly excellent Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros. There is also no false note in the acting of the principals or the supporting cast, with Manio providing a bravura performance that has won him accolades and assured his status as a highly dependable young actor. The film itself has garnered many awards both locally and internationally, major prizes from the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival being the most significant among them. Magnifico is a film with a lot of heart, and it proves that Philippine cinema is capable of producing films that are both technically excellent and emotionally satisfying.