Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A showcase of inanity

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

Still ongoing until the weekend is the Metro Manila Film Festival, which features seven movies as official entries. The MMFF is an annual Christmas tradition in this country and sadly, also an annual showcase of inanity and vacuity.

This year, the combined antics of Enteng Kabisote and Ina Montecillo proved formidable. Enteng Ka Ng Ina Mo emerged as the most watched movie of the filmfest. The film reportedly grossed almost P40 million on opening day, galloping way ahead of its closest competition—Senator Bong Revilla’s Ang Panday 2 and Kris Aquino’s Segunda Mano.

Enteng Kabisote is Vic Sotto’s character from a defunct television situational comedy from the eighties entitled Okay Ka, Fairy Ko. Sotto has been rehashing the same tired and trite comedy routines for almost three decades now. Ina Montecillo is Aiai de las Alas’s character from the Tanging Ina franchise, which produced three successful MMFF movies including that one last year which they promised would be the last of the series (obviously they lied). That the two movies had always been top grossers of the annual MMFF is testament to just how successfully Filipino audiences have been made dumb by movie producers.

The excuse that is being peddled out there is that these movies are made for children—which makes it even worse because it means we really have a very low regard for the intellectual capabilities or potentials of our young since we feed them this kind of drivel. I honestly think the MMFF is a good idea that deserves to be scrapped already. It has become nothing but an opportunity for some people in the local film industry to make money. It has become an exercise in extreme commercialism. In the larger scheme of things, I don’t think the annual MMFF does the cause of Philippine cinema any good. It’s not a showcase of the best in Philippine cinema. Heck, it’s not even a showcase of good filmmaking, period.

What is even more sinister is the fact that the MMFF is obviously being used for political purposes. Two of the most expensive movies in this year’s MMFF are bankrolled and starred in by politicians who are up for re-election (Bong Revilla, senator) or eyeing a national post (Jeorge Ejercito, Laguna governor) in the 2013 elections.

As an avid supporter of the arts, I make it a point to support the annual MMFF by watching as many movies as I could. This year, the lines were particularly long so we failed to watch a movie on Christmas day. But I did get to eventually watch Enteng Ka Ng Ina Mo, Ang Panday 2, and My Househusband. I wished I stayed home instead or did something more productive.

Friends have continuously discouraged me from patronizing the MMFF but I have persisted because of faith – I’ve always believed that Filipino filmmakers are among the best in the world and that they would eventually get their acts together. Well, not this year.

Let’s take Enteng Ka Ng Ina Mo, the top grosser. Because it is a crossover movie, it had the backing of the combined forces of Star Cinema, M-Zet, APT, and Octo Arts Production. The combined resources could have produced a movie in the league of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But all that combined experience and expertise in producing movies could not even guarantee a solid story and a good editor. We’re not even looking for a sensible storyline, one that was logical and sufficiently coherent would have been acceptable. And the editing was so bad even children noticed the gaps.

But then again, anyone looking for cerebral stimulation from the movies of Vic Sotto and Aiai de las Alas probably need more psychiatric help than those who patronize them. Enteng is a TV sitcom showing in a theater, period. It’s a hodgepodge of typical television fare: spoofs of popular Filipino movies, irreverent jokes, sexual innuendoes, slapstick comedy, and awful singing that is being passed off as comedy. In this movie, Sotto continued to act like he was an adolescent, de las Alas acted up a storm, and Eugene Domingo saved the movie by stealing some of the scenes effortlessly. The movie tried to be socially relevant by throwing into the mélange current day issues of gender roles, homosexuality, and changing family values and norms but the writers fail to make it work.

So why was it the top grosser of the filmfest? Because the movie had no pretensions – it just offered people some good laugh and two hours of escapist entertainment. And in this aspect, the movie delivered. I hope, however, that mergers and crossovers will not be a trend. I dread the thought of having Asiong Ka Ng Ina Mo, or Panday Ka Ng Ina Mo next year.

Ang Panday 2, unfortunately, had grand aspirations. The producers went to town proclaiming that this was a movie at par with global filmmaking wizardry. There were some great special effects, but cutting edge they were not. And sadly, the director seemed to have forgotten that there’s a limit to how much special effects the senses could take at any given time.

My main problem with the movie, though, was the fact that it tried to clobber people on the head with its ponderous message about peace and justice. And they were not subtle about it—the repetitive discourse was annoying and too self-serving, Revilla looked like he was preaching from a pulpit. This movie was pure election propaganda material.

The truly ironic thing is that Ang Panday 2 stars a senator who is supposed to be passionate about reviving the lost glory of the Philippine movie industry. Memo to Senator Bong Revilla: If you keep making these kinds of films and in this manner, it’s not going to happen.

The most disappointing of the three MMFF movies I watched, however, was My Househusband, Ikaw Na. This was actually the only movie I truly wanted to watch for personal enjoyment. The others I felt I had to watch out of a sense of duty or responsibility, or as research work for this column. But I sincerely wanted to watch real-life couple Ryan Agoncillo and Judy Ann Santos in the third installment of their own filmfest franchise. I particularly enjoyed their first two movies—Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo and Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo.

KKK and SSS were loads of fun. They weren’t cinematic masterpieces, but they were a rollicking fun to watch. Agoncillo was endearing, Santos’s comic skills were spot on. The idiosyncracies of their respective parents—the snotty Gloria Diaz and Ariel Ureta and the social climbing Gina Pareñno and the philandering Soliman Cruz were a riot. We had great expectations of My Househusband.

Sadly, I found it boring, pretentious and confused. It seemed they couldn’t make up their mind as to whether they were doing comedy or drama. The movie did win Gender Sensitive Award, which was well-deserved because the premise of the movie was commendable. Unfortunately, the change in the formula didn’t fly. The only time the movie became interesting was whenever Eugene Domingo was on screen.

The MMFF should have had a notice set up outside each theater: There are no assurances that the movie you are about to watch is sensible or logical. Check your mental faculties at the door.

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