Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thank you Ekstra, On the Job!

I don't normally go out to watch a movie here in the US for two reasons: 1) The Mrs. is not a big fan of watching movies, and b) Movie theater tickets here are relatively more expensive compared to the most posh cinema theater in the Philippines. I so miss Eastwood, Trinoma or Gateway's reclining seats, and great legroom. 

But just last month, I was compelled to watch two Pinoy movies: Vilma Santos' Ekstra, and Papa P's On the Job. I got interested with these two movies following a rash of positive remarks over social media. Thanks to Star Cinema and ABS-CBN, the movies had their privilege to be shown in various theaters around the US. I was lucky to be near the cinema theater where the movies were shown. 

The two movies give you a portrayal of the two faces of show business, comedy and tragedy. Although I must say both have shown those two faces at specific points of the movie. 

The first movie I watched was the Cinemalaya masterpiece Ekstra, a "tragicomedy" starring Governor Vi and directed by the critically-acclaimed Jeffrey Jeturian. Ekstra revolves around the story of Loida Malabanan (Vilma Santos), a regularly irregular ekstra, or a bit player who strives hard to make ends meet and carry on as a solo-parent to a college-student daughter. I called it a tragicomedy as the plot clearly identifies the movie as a comedy as it will definitely give you a doze of Pinoy laughter at its finest, many thanks to the Associate Director's tactless lines and Ate Vi's astounding performance (or non-performance -- she is an Ekstra!). It's also a tragedy of sorts as towards the end, when Loida was given this big break to make it big, stutters and nervousness took the best of her leaving her with... status quo. From an ekstra, to an ekstra. I so loved how this movie took us to the other side of the movie/tv set: the side that no viewer sees, with people that no viewers remember, or even care about. One specifically striking line that Loida said to the other ekstras was "Kung walang Ekstra, walang bida. Sa tingin mo ba makatotohanan ang bukid na walang magsasaka? (There are no lead roles if there are not bit players. Can you portray a farm without farmers?)" Ekstra is some sort of a special tribute to those people. 

From that feel-good type of a movie in Ekstra, the following week I went to watch On The Job, which had an all-star roster starting from Gerald Anderson and Piolo Pascual, supported by the acting prowess of movie vets like the great Joel Torre, Michael de Mesa, Joey Marquez, Leo Martinez, among others. On the Job takes you to the country's underground organized crime system, which incidentally couples with dirty politics. "On the Job" refers to two rookies, Gerald Anderson and Piolo Pascual, in training under two professionals in two opposite ends of the crime spectrum. Gerald is being trained by professional killer Mario Maghari (Joel Torre), who are both prisoners in a city jail in Manila. On the other hand, Piolo is a freshman NBI agent married to a daughter of a prominent politician. What more can I say about this movie? Critics have praised it, while scores a whopping 100% tomatoes for this movie. It gives you a bit of a "Infernal Affairs-The Departed" feel, but its distinct Filipino flavor will make you say that it is a league of its own. My wife and I so loved this movie we couldn't stop talking about it until a day after. It became a subject of our breakfast conversation, and to some extent a topic for debate. I have nothing bad to say about how this movie was done except for the fact that Piolo was way too handsome and clean-looking for the role. But maybe you can also debate that it was intended to be that way as he portrays a "clean" NBI agent only to be tainted by his beloved Father-in-law. 

These two movies just made me realize that the new breed of filmmakers, directors, writers, cinematographers and producers are now ready to take the risk to make more seriously thought of movie plots outside the usual risk-free teeny-bopper or Mano Po/ Enteng Kabisote/ Panday/ Shake Rattle and Roll sequel. We are now on the crossroads of going back to professional filmmaking. Looks like we'll be seeing new Brockas, Bernals, Diaz-Abayas, or Lamangans in the coming years. 

I specifically thank the Filipino independent film industry for reintroducing these new breed of films and filmmakers. Ekstra is an independent movie and On the Job is commercial, but I am sure the latter was much influenced by the craft created by these new independent filmmakers. With that, I salute and thank you. 

I was so proud of these two movies and I hope to see more of this calibre of filmmaking in the near future. 

Mabuhay ang Pelikulang Pilipino!