Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Film Reviews: On The Job and Ekstra

.:Film Review: On The Job:.
OTJ Poster
In this movie, Joey Marquez demonstrates how "putang ina" can be used in 200 different ways.

On The Job

Finally, Pinoy action done right.

Unlike most of my film reviews, I will try my best to keep this review spoiler-free, perhaps even more so than I tried to with my 8List about this film. True, this movie wasn't the reflection of perfection, but you know what? I'm glad it was made. Did it make some deep commentary about the disturbing realities facing a crime-infested country? No. But did it keep you on the edge of your seat with each twist and turn, never quite knowing what to expect? Absolutely.

OTJ is a noir-inspired crime thriller by Erik Matti, focusing on two hired killers, Tatang (Joel Torre) and Daniel (Gerald Anderson), as they try to earn a living, while hotshot NBI agent Atty. Francis Coronel, Jr. (Piolo Pascual) and well-meaning but underachieving cop SPO1 Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez) try to stop them from doing just that. With a lurid and engaging tale of betrayal, deception, and subterfuge, can our investigators figure out what has been going on right under their noses?

It's an amazing byplay in methods, personalities, and even ideologies, as the two hired killers attempt to elude detection and capture, all while already remaining as prisoners who are snuck in and out of their cells on day passes to accomplish their work.

But let's not discuss the plot. Everyone knows it if they've seen it, and I'd only be doing it a disservice to those who didn't if I gave it all away here. Let's talk about the fact that this film was a revelation to anyone who had little faith in the acting prowess of Gerald Anderson and Piolo Pascual, and anyone who may have not given Joey Marquez a second look solely because he's better known for comedic roles.

What really impressed me the most about this film is how tight the film was, all around. There was rhyme and reason to pretty much everything they did, and though many people would say it's flawed, very few would be capable of pointing these out, much less suggesting ways it could have been handled better. In fact, the notion about how flawed OTJ was as a Pinoy action film could be summed up in this image...
Also, why was there no pancit in a brown paper bag? Or someone giving a three-minute monologue while dying in someone else's arms?
OTJ breaks the mold for Pinoy action films, and it is through this that the film succeeds where Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga failed miserably. Not to say that the latest take on Asiong Salonga was a bad film by any means, but this was simply superior, and shows us a direction that Philippine cinema can and should take, rather than to simply rehash another Enteng Kabisote mashup with some other franchise this December. It's noir, so if you know how that works, you know the one trope it will always follow for the ending, but it isn't nearly as Debbie Downer or as completely anticlimactic as a lot of Pinoy indie flicks happen to be (Which, again, does not mean they're bad films.).

I would daresay that in my book, except for one jarring instance of bad editing (the first time you see Joey Marquez running around), this film was perfect on pretty much every level that mattered to me. I didn't need deep commentary about corruption. The fact that it's touched upon merely pays homage to its noir influences. I didn't expect there to be a very clean way to wrap the whole film up. That's not what the director was trying to do, clearly. Ultimately, all I expected from the film was to be entertained by fine performances from the cast, see some very good pacing for buildup and action, and hey, they absolutely delivered on that count.

This film is worth watching, and if the rumors that they plan to adapt this to Hollywood happen to be true, I will definitely want to go and see it, much in the same way I appreciated comparing Infernal Affairs to The Departed back in the day.

This is definitely a great film that shows Pinoy flicks can generate amazing output in action, to complement all our likewise excellent films in poverty porn, Asian horror, and romantic comedies. To me, this wasn't just a great Pinoy flick: this was a great movie, period, and something I will always cite as a counterpoint to anyone who believes Philippine cinema is dead.

Fun Rating: A+ (I hate to sound like those stupid blurbs you see on movie posters, but I was on the edge of my seat the whole time!)
Critical Rating: A+ (We Filipinos deserve to have films  as good as this. Your move, Ang Tanging Ina Part 33.)

.:Film Review: Ekstra:.
poster - ekstra
You know you're watching a Pinoy Indie film, when...
Read all about it!

An entry for this year's Cinemalaya, I watched Ekstra without really knowing what to expect. It was definitely a different Vilma Santos I saw in this flick, and you can't say a single thing about her acting prowess, but I have to admit that the entire film left me feeling deflated because the ending just came at a point too anticlimactic for me to appreciate. I understand people would feel differently about this, but I guess that's why I prefer mainstream films more, in general. This ending just left me cold.

Ekstra follows the tale of Loida Malabanan (Vilma Santos), a bit player in television shows, making a living as a single parent. It pretty much follows a day in her life, showing in loving detail every little thing she has to do just to make the money she needs for her daughter's tuition while scrounging up what she can through her work. On top of that, she experiences a brush with greatness, and just when things are looking up for her, things come crashing back right down - with surprisingly mundane results.

Again, I won't belabor to spoil the film here, but I would be very quick to point out that this film definitely has indie written all over it, and I don't mean that derogatorily. The lingering shots where nothing really happens, the banality of poverty and hardship for the average person trying to strike out in the world, all of these things are too real, and too close to home for many of us, but the plain-as-day presentation, stripped of most of the bombast and pomp and circumstance, definitely makes the relatively minor twists and turns in the story hit us just that harder when they do come. It's as slice-of-life as can be, and if you watched it without actually knowing who Vilma Santos is, you might even argue that it was a documentary of sorts, given how the movie progressed. It was natural. It was the epitome of no-acting acting, and while that definitely works for people, I suppose I was hoping for something a little less banal to wrap things up, as sort of a nice "reward" for following Loida's story until the very end.

Alack and alas, I didn't quite get that.

Fun Rating: B+ (Comedic moments here and there, a lot of insight into the industry of the bit player, but definitely revels in its being mundane a little too much.)
Critical Rating: A+ (Great acting, great script, definitely a strong sense of realism, but I come to movies to be entertained, not to be lectured, so for once, this takes a bit of a backseat to my "fun" rating.)

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