Respeto


Rapping is worldwide, son.

(2017) Drama (Arkeofilms) Abra, Dido de la Paz, Loonie, Kate Alejandrino, Silverster Bagadiong, Brian Arda, Thea Yrastorza, Nor Domingo, Yves Bagadion, Chai Fonacier. Directed by Treb Monteras II

The Philippines have had a rough go of it. After enduring years of dictatorship under Ferdinand Marcos, it seemed like they’d finally gotten past that and were on the right track – until they elected Rodrigo Duterte. Now it’s the bad old days all over again.

In the poverty-stricken Pandacan district of Manila, young Hendrix (Abra) aspires to be a rapper. He lives with his sister Connie (Yrastorza) and her drug-dealing boyfriend Mando (Arda). When Hendrix takes money from Mando without permission to use as an entry fee into a rap battle (and which he loses somewhat ignominiously), Hendrix and his posse Betchai (Fonacier) and Payaso (Bagadion) attempt to rob a local bookstore which ends up badly. Hendrix is ordered to help clean up the mess he made. Doc (de la Paz), the proprietor, is a poet himself and wrote protest poems during the Marcos regime. The two form an odd bond, as Doc becomes a mentor to the young would-be rapper.

There are parallels in their lives; Doc had to watch helplessly while his family was abused by Marcos’ thugs while Hendrix was forced to watch impotently while the object of his adolescent desire (Alejandrino) is raped by his biggest rival (Loonie). The frustrations of poverty in a crime-ridden world of drug lords, apathy and hopelessness lead to a shocking conclusion that even veteran moviegoers might not see coming.

First, the pluses; I was impressed with the social commentary here and frankly a little bit surprised; Duterte doesn’t exactly have a reputation of tolerating criticism very well. The film nonetheless got critical acclaim on the overseas festival circuit and even a brief theatrical release in the Philippines. I would expect that being compared to the rule of Marcos probably doesn’t sit well with Duterte.

Young Abra is also a very charismatic performer who on top of being ridiculously handsome also has a natural intensity that makes me think he could have a very distinguished career ahead of him. He keeps the audience’s attention whenever he’s on screen (which is most of the time). He stands out well above most of the rest of the cast, even de la Paz who has a couple of really good moments with the young actor.

Where there are pluses, there are often minuses and this being the debut feature for Monteras there are some of those. The most glaring of these is that in any ways this feels like an urban rap drama from the 1990s; it has a lot of the same clichés and while the ending of the film really rescues it, the rest of the movie feels very much like we’ve seen it all before. The movie also starts out a little bit bumpy as the plot feels a bit disjointed. Finally, the friendship between Hendrix and Doc feels very forced and while the characters have a lot in common, I never get the sense that Hendrix has the emotional maturity to befriend someone so much older. It just doesn’t feel natural.

Folks who aren’t into rap should be warned that there’s an awful lot of it on the soundtrack although to my definitely unpracticed ear it sounded pretty authentic and pretty good. This will be playing the New York Asian Film Festival on the 24th of July; while there are no immediate plans for an American release this may well eventually get something if a fearless distributor is willing to take a chance on it. There is certainly a market for this kind of film and even though I found it very flawed there is a lot that’s positive about it as well, if for nothing else to learn more about Filipino culture in the era of Duterte and Abra could well be a star in the making.

REASONS TO GO: Abra has a compelling screen presence.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie feels a bit dated. The friendship between Hendrix and Doc doesn’t feel organic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some sexual references, a rape and some other disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the rap battle sequences, actual underground Pinoy rappers are used.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/3/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 8 Mile
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Age of Blood

Apocalypse Child


The Aquaman audition went very well.

The Aquaman audition went very well.

(2015) Drama (Arkeofilms) Sid Lucero, Ana Abad-Santos, Gwen Zamora, Archie Alemania, RK Bagatsing, Annicka Dolonius. Directed by Mario Cornejo

NYAFF

Some of the choices we make in life are based on the hand we’re dealt with before we’re even born. Then again, it’s pretty easy to blame stuff that’s not in our control, when a choice implies that our decisions are well within our control; we just choose not to be accountable for our own actions.

Ford (Lucero) is a surfing teacher in Baler in the Philippines. He was once a surfing champion, but after choking in a championship event he just kinda hangs out, living on past glories and what might have beens. His perky girlfriend Fiona (Dolonius) has some talent in that area as well, and she seems content to lead the life of a surfer; all about the party and the beach.

Ford is thus named because his mother (Abad-Santos) is positive that his father was none other than Francis Ford Coppola, who was filming Apocalypse Now in the area at the time. In fact, local legend has it that young women in the area gave birth to a lot of babies nine months after the cast and crew of the film left; these were called “Apocalypse Children.”

When Rich (Bagatsing), an old surfing buddy and friend who has recently been elected as the local congressman returns to town, Ford is forced to confront the transgressions of his path, his own lack of inertia, and the trajectory his life has taken. Ford doesn’t handle it very well; he starts to develop a relationship with Rich’s girlfriend Serena (Zamora) which threatens not only his existing relationship but basically his standing with everyone he knows, including his mother.

The theme here is that most of the characters are running away and avoiding the consequences of their actions (or inaction). Whether it’s the mom’s refusal to escape from her past which has long since left her behind, Rich’s dwelling on things that Ford has done, Ford avoiding commitment and responsibility whenever he can, everyone seems to be coping with life by not living it – or rather, living a semblance of it that mostly consists of the parts that involve partying, getting wasted and getting laid. All lovely pursuits and certainly young people of that age group are going to have a certain fixation on those things, but it feels like they are using it like a narcotic, to block out all the unpleasant things that they have been doing to each other.

The cinematography has a curiously washed out look, as if it were filmed through a fish tank – although to be fair that might have been the screen I was watching it on. The dialogue is a mix of English and Tagalog/Filipino and the subtitles were so small as to be virtually unreadable, often flashing by before I could see what they said. After awhile, I gave up, so the film suffers in the review because of it – make the subtitles just a smidgen bigger.

Cornejo clearly has an affection and respect for American indie films, and this one carries many of the cliches of that idiom. Montages set to mournful indie folk, complicated romantic relationships, hipsters (or the Filipino version thereof) gathering at parties and acting insufferably…the whole gamut is here. Fans of indie cinema may well look at this as an homage but it feels a bit like a knock-off as well.

I just never connected to the movie. I felt myself losing interest the longer the film went on. The movie is supposed to follow the characters’ growth and to be fair there was some, but it didn’t feel like it was earned. Any growth that any of the characters had seems more because the writers deemed that they did rather than in an organic, believable way through learning from their mistakes. Ford, in particular, seems hell-bent on destroying everything he has yet at the end of the film his reconciliation seems to come out of the blue and for no apparent reason. I know I’d have decked him a lot more often than he got punched out in this movie.

I will admit that the lifestyle doesn’t appeal much to me and the negative review here might be as much a product of my own prejudices as it is any filmmaking sins on the part of the filmmakers. There are some lovely scenes (but again that washed out quality, like everything is filmed on a cloudy day…on a defective camera whose lens aperture is nearly shut) and Zamora is the kind of beauty that will make your heart stand still. Otherwise though this is one festival film you might choose to avoid.

REASONS TO GO: Gwen Zamora is absolutely gorgeous.
REASONS TO STAY: Makes its points over and over again until the audience screams. Too much like a soap opera. Washed out cinematography and too-small subtitles.
FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of profanity, drug use, nudity and graphic sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Surfing was popularized in the Philippines when Francis Ford Coppola filmed the infamous surfing scene of Apocalypse Now on Baler beach in the Philippines and locals became more obsessed watching the surfing experts and instructors ride the waves.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/22/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Big Wednesday
FINAL RATING: 3/10
NEXT: The Priests