MMFF 2014 Movies: The Amazing Praybeyt Benjamin, Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo, and English Only, Please

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Note: The grading is done relative to the different featured films, and also done lovingly (because we have to support Philippine cinema!!!).

The Amazing Praybeyt Benjamin

Plot Development and Premise ●●○○○
Characters and Acting ●○○○○
Design (Music, Tech, Costume and Props) ●●○○○
Humor ●●●○○
OVERALL ●●○○○

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The sequel to the record-breaking box office hit The Unkabogable Praybeyt Benjamin had big shoes to fill. It probably won’t disappoint, at least in terms of sales. But if we’re talking about plot, content and entertainment value —The Amazing Praybeyt Benjamin has a lot to answer for.

The plotlines were well-meaning, if predictable: a returning hero who thinks too much of themself (resulting to estranged family dynamics) and a strict workaholic military general who can’t relate to his children and housemates (also resulting to estranged family dynamics). But the way TAPB emphasized the conflicts at exposition –repetitively and insistently, and not in a good way, since there were no developments– and then left the resolution rushed and unsatisfying is unforgivable. And as for the supposed bigger arc (there are bombs planted in the country by a terrorist group called UTO-UTO!!!), there aren’t enough words to express what a disservice the whole sham was to the Filipino intellect.

I can even take a whole essay to dissect how unrealistic the movie is. There are crack movies, and then there’s TAPB, which begs us to believe in incredible gadgets (unregulated by the government, unpatented and used exclusively by a group of “special ops”), a mission in France (just to add in some foreign eye candy, I’m sure, because everything else about that first joke made zero sense), in the ability of Benj to be late to a Presidential Invite event, in the fact that anyone would ever wear those clothes, and ultimately the incredulous amount of abs in the film.

The lack of serious writing aside, the humor also fell sideways, no thanks to Bimbi and Richard Yap’s acting and the whiplash from VG’s character’s fluctuating emotional drive. The saving grace of this movie is probably Alex Gonzaga’s quips and the memories of the film’s first half –when TAPB was still funny, because at some point it just stopped being entertaining.

The thing is, TAPB had such potential: it was a sure hit (so no financial worries there) and it’s in the right position to evolve from the cheap gags and logic-defying premises of its prequel. It can afford to be smarter. But nope, TAPB proved once again that here in the Philippines, comedy films that sell need neither a coherent plot or well-written characters. The audience will consume it anyways.

Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo

Plot Development and Premise ●●●●○
Characters and Acting ●●●○○
Design ●●●●○
Historical Value ●●●●○
OVERALL ●●●●○

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We had high hopes for what was awarded Best Picture in the 2014 MMFF Awards. While Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo isn’t necessarily a movie I’d watch again and again, it was definitely not a disappointment. I enjoyed soaking up all sorts of patriotic feelings, crying my heart out because of pride and sadness for our nation’s history and amusing myself with the historic quality of the whole film.

The best parts of the film were its technical and artistic design; the music, the cinematography and the old-fashioned aesthetic all join together to give that inspiring revolutionary filter to the pseudo biopic. It was closely followed by its apparent faithfulness to the source material –though correct me if I’m wrong– and the interplay of well-loved historical figures like the fathers GOMBURZA and Jose Rizal.

But execution and aesthetics aside, both the content and delivery could have still been improved. The movie lacks substance, and it felt like it –as if it were a passing short feature on a hero (who, admittedly, lived a very short life), stretched out too thin and yet stuffed with unnecessary dramatic shots. They could have done more with the exposition; the movie could have delved more on the character of Bonifacio removed from being a battle hero.

They did quite well on Oriang and Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa. They could have done more.

Lastly, while the dialog was mostly well-written, the delivery and acting chops of the lead and several secondary characters often fall short. The film, grand and dramatic as it was, suffers from inconsistencies in acting and soul, so while some scenes were inspiring, others were flat. (I may or may not be pointing at the convenient transition scenes via musuem artifacts).

Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ve watched a more moving historical piece in recent memory. Definitely something I’d recommend to others (as a call to arms…?!).

English Only, Please

Plot Development and Premise ●●●○○
Characters and Acting ●●●●○
Design ●●●○○
RomComNess ●●●●○
OVERALL ●●●●○

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It takes a lot of coaxing and rationalization before I can willingly make myself watch a romcom flick, mostly because it’s a bit difficult to endure the resulting gross amount of secondhand embarrassment. But I’m kind of glad I watched English Only, Please. I don’t know for sure if it deserves its many accolades, but it was a cleancut, light and fun movie.

The premise of the whole film is slightly unbelievable: rich half-Filipino American Julian wants to go to the Philippines to deliver a hate-driven slut-shaming letter in Tagalog (with a perfect accent) to his ex, and so needs to find a perfect translator and speech tutor, i.e. Tere. So like…. what? why??? It’s questionable, but by the laws of romcom, we just go with it.

The acting was believable, but not particularly inspired nor commendable in bringing life to what I’m pretty sure were lovingly written caricatures (which makes you wonder about their Best Actor and Best Actress awards…), and the story progression (TRUE LOVE under thirty days, over language and social barriers, and with lot of love induced stupidity) was the literal stuff of dreams. But the movie survived because of its subtle and slice-of-life humor, its acceptable chemistry, awesome stylists, and the hope underlying everything (that things will obviously work out).

It’s still not something I’d look for again and again, but if it happens to be on the telly, I won’t say no.

xxx

Have a happy holiday!

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Timmy says:

    So sad I wasn’t able to watch Bonifacio!! D: (read: my date bailed on me). Awesome reviews tho, Jari. c: Same sentiments regarding the other two films although I’d prolly give English Only, Please a much lower overall score. Haha hi!!

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