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

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Hobo With a Shotgun


Hobo With a Shotgun

Whaddaya mean they’re remaking Blade Runner?

(2011) Action (Magnet) Rutger Hauer, Brian Downey, Molly Dunsworth, Nick Bateman, Drew O’Hara, Jeremy Akerman, Tim Dunn, Duane Patterson, Brian Jamieson, Robb Wells, Agnes Laan , Pasha Ebrahimi, Gregory Smith, Andre Haines, Juanita Peters. Directed by Jason Eisener

 

Things are tough all over. In some places, they are much rougher. Some places are ruled by anarchy, corruption and violence. The weak are defenseless. Places like that require a hobo. With a shotgun.

Hope City is exactly a place like that. It is ruled, effectively, by Drake (Downey), a gregarious hoodlum who likes conducting his executions game-show style, executions carried out by his sadistic sons Ivan (Bateman) and Slick (Smith). Into this carnival of chaos comes the Hobo (Hauer) who rides the rails into the one town he probably should have kept going at. He witnesses the public execution of Drake’s brother Logan (Wells) but as this isn’t any of his business, he simply moves on.

When he sees a lawnmower in a pawnshop window for $50 (okay, $49.99 – puh-leeease, it’s fifty dollars okay? Friggen retailers) it rekindles dreams of owning a lawn mowing business. Of stability. A future. He aims to buy it but being a hobo he has no money. So he goes panhandling. That night he witnesses Slick and Ivan harassing a young man in a video arcade before a heart of gold prostitute named Abby (Dunsworth) tries to intercede. The psychos turn on her, intending to kill her for her temerity but the Hobo knocks out Slick and takes him to the police station to place him under citizen’s arrest.

Except that the Police Chief (Akerman) is as corrupt as they come. He and his goons carve the word “Scum” in the Hobo’s chest and throw him in a dumpster behind the police station. Abby comes upon the Hobo as he stumbles through town, delirious and dripping blood. She takes him to her apartment and nurses him back to health. Once he is healthy, he decides to finish what he started. He finds a cameraman (Ebrahimi) who films homeless people doing degrading things. After the Hobo performs several acts of humiliation (including chewing on broken glass), the cameraman pays him enough to cover the lawnmower.

The Hobo goes into the pawn shop to purchase the mower but as he does, three hoods come in and rob the place. When they threaten a new mother and her baby, the Hobo snaps. He grabs a shotgun off the rack and proceeds to ventilate all three of the thugs. When he discovers that the firearm is the same price as the lawnmower, he opts for the shotgun.

Pushed to his limit, he decides to clean up Hope Town. He takes out pimps, drug dealers, pedophiles and the cameraman who he chewed broken glass for. His actions unite the townspeople who begin questioning the order of things. This is something Drake cannot allow so he orders Slick and Ivan to bring him the head of the Hobo. In order to get him out of the open, they deliberately set fire to a crowded school bus. They also put a bounty on the Hobo’s head, hinting that further atrocities would be in the town’s future if someone didn’t find him and kill him. Looks like the Hobo’s going to need an awful lot of shells.

This movie started life in a peculiar way. When Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino made Grindhouse back in 2007 (complete with faux trailers), the studio held a contest to find the best fan-made exploitation trailer. The winner was Eisener, whose trailer for Hobo With a Shotgun was famously made for $120 and was included on the Blu-Ray edition of the film as well as in some parts of Canada with the theatrical release. As interest in the fake trailers being made into movies increased, screenwriter John Davies penned a full-length version of the contest winner and Eisener was able to gain enough financing to get it made.

Even though he had limited filmmaking experience, he made a solid decision in casting Hauer in the title role. One of the most admired actors of the ’80s (who can forget his performance as Roy Batty in Blade Runner or Navarre in Ladyhawke?), he has been consigned to a lot of made for cable movies and supporting roles in medium-sized films, having a reputation not unlike Jean Claude van Damme and Steven Seagal. This is one of his better performances of the last 20 years of his career; there is a strange gravitas to the Hobo and even though he goes batcrap on us, he is still believable even at his most outrageous. The dialogue he has to deliver is pretty cheesy and full-on Times Square B-movie but that’s part of the charm.

The gore and nudity are very reminiscent of the splatter movies of the 70s and early 80s. That’s a double-edged sword; it carries all the visceral thrills of those films and all the drawbacks – the hackneyed dialogue, the improbable plot, the woeful acting. Besides Hauer, Bateman and Dunsworth rise above. Bateman (no relation to Jason) is an ex-Abercrombie and Fitch model who turns out to have some decent acting chops; he plays the amoral, psychotic Ivan with gusto and just enough restraint to keep the character from sinking into caricature. Dunsworth is a fresh and pretty face who turns from hooker with a heart of gold into a legitimate badass and if you think that’s an easy transition, guess again. She does both aspects of Abby convincingly.

There is a good deal of gratuitous gore and sex here, as you would expect from a grindhouse film. There are also some drawbacks; some incredibly cheesy dialogue (some of which is just plain painful)  and a plot that beggars description. It goes incredibly over the top which can be a very acquired taste; in all honesty I usually like this kind of thing, but I found it to be uneven in terms of performance other than those specified. I get the sense that Eisener was trying to make a grindhouse film rather than just referencing them, but in the end he succeeded too well. What we tend to forget about those films we remember with such affection is that most of them were pretty bad.

WHY RENT THIS: A great reminder of ’70s exploitation films. Hauer gives the character gravitas.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Also a great reminder of the flaws of ’70s exploitation films.

FAMILY VALUES: Extreme amounts of gore, violence and bad language; a good deal of sexuality and some partial nudity. Oh, and drug use too.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although the movie was shot digitally, it was digitally processed during post-production to look as if it had been shot and processed the same way B-movies were in the ’70s, resulting in a look that’s oversaturated with shifted colors.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is an interview by Fangoria magazine editor Michael Gingold with Hauer and Eisener. There is also a documentary on the making of the film from its beginnings as a $120 fan trailer to its Sundance premiere.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $703, 372 on an unreported production budget; I’m pretty sure the movie lost money, although it’s possible it did not..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Machete

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: The Last Samurai

Magic Mike


Magic Mike

Matthew McConaughey practices pointing to the exits on the plane.

(2012) Drama (Warner Brothers) Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn, Matt Bomer, Riley Keough, Joe Mangianello, Kevin Nash, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Camryn Grimes, Kate Easton. Directed by Steven Soderbergh

 

The world of the stripper is one that most of us have little understanding of. What would cause a person to want to take their clothes off publically, letting complete strangers stuff dollar bills in their g-strings? What does it take to maintain that kind of exhibitionism?

Mike (Tatum) is a busy guy. He owns a mobile detailing service and during the day installs roofs. Three nights a week, he is Magic Mike, a male exotic dancer – a stripper, if you will – for Xquisite, a male revue run by Dallas (McConaughey) who is fully aware that Mike is his star attraction. Dallas wants his show, which has to rent space in a Tampa nightclub, to have a permanent home in Miami, a much more lucrative market. He’s working on that very thing and will give Mike a percentage of ownership when it happens.

While working on a roofing job one day, Mike meets Adam (Pettyfer), a somewhat lackluster roofer and a bit of a screw-up who is accused of stealing a can of Pepsi and quits. Adam, who once had a football scholarship to a major Division I school, had gotten in a fight with his coach on the first day of practice and lost his scholarship; now he sleeps on the couch of Brooke (Horn), his sister.

Mike takes a liking to him against all odds and brings him around Xquisite to do some menial work. When Tarzan (Nash), one of the strippers, is unable to perform, Mike herds Adam – whom he bestows the stage name of The Kid on – onstage and while Adam shows a distinct lack of technique, he has a certain raw sexuality and great instincts, enough so that Dallas is impressed enough to take him on as a dancer.

Mike and Adam become close friends. As Adam becomes more proficient a dancer, his popularity grows. Mike is okay with this because he has a plan – he wants to own his own custom furniture business, and just needs a bank loan to do it in but sadly, his credit is undesirable to banks. His frustration begins to grow in that his life isn’t turning out the way he wants but he develops a kind of love-hate relationship with Brooke who recognizes that he is a decent sort but is concerned about the lifestyle of non-stop sex, partying and drugs which are beginning to take over Adam’s life. As Adam becomes more popular, he begins to change and Mike realizes that he can’t be Magic Mike forever.

I admit to being a little bit surprised by this one. A movie about male strippers starring Channing Tatum? I don’t think so. But a funny thing happened on the way back home from the theater; I found myself actually liking the movie. How unlikely was that? As unlikely as a performance of emotional depth from Channing Tatum. Wait a minute, we got that too.

Tatum has been an actor that I’ve never particularly cared for. He always seemed to be kind of flat, emotionally; he’s certainly got the good looks but he never connected with me – until now. For the first time ever, I saw something that indicated to me that he has the ability to be a big star instead of just a matinee idol for action films and romantic comedies, which is what he’s been to my mind up to now. The audience gets a sense that there is much more depth to him, as well as to Magic Mike. You see the regrets and frustrations that are boiling over in him. As the movie opens he’s easy-going, sexy and really not too deep but as it progresses we see the layers. It’s not an Oscar-worthy performance by any means – but it could very well be the kind of work that lands him some more challenging roles that might get him there someday.

McConaughey who is well known for being shirtless anyway shows a lot more off than his chest (in fact most of the actors who play strippers do, as well as a number of the women that play their girlfriends/partners for the evening). Dallas is a manipulative, conniving bastard and McConaughey, an easy-going East Texan by nature, has done those types of roles and done them well throughout his career. This is some of his best work yet.

In earlier films like I Am Number Four Pettyfer showed some promise but has since stumbled. Once again, he shows a great deal of presence and raw talent; it’s not enough to catapult him into the next level quite yet but certainly shows that he could go a long way if he gets the right roles. This is the kind of thing that really stretched him from the previous work I’d seen him in and he does credibly well. Like Tatum, we might well be seeing him top-billed for years to come.

This is much more than just guys strutting themselves onstage. There is a surprising look at the cost of stripping when it comes to the lives of those who are engaged in it. It’s a great big party, yes, but in many ways ultimately an empty escapade. My understanding is that many actual strippers are gay, but we don’t see any of that in the film, possibly to keep the fantasy of the potential straight female audience intact. Still, it might have been nice if the filmmakers had given the potential gay male audience a bit more than they did as well.

I have to admit that I am not too familiar with live male exotic dancing shows or of the behavior of women who attend them but I got a glimpse at the theater I saw this in. The women in the audience (who were quite frankly the vast majority of the audience, arriving in groups of three and four, generally without boyfriends or husbands) were cheering and screaming and at times watching with rapt attention, sighing audibly when someone’s naked butt came into view. Gentlemen, if you want to rev your ladies up for a night of romance…no, might as well say it – for hardcore sex, this movie makes some pretty prime foreplay.

REASONS TO GO: Lots of bare skin and abs for the ladies. Tatum shows surprising depth.

REASONS TO STAY: Definitely geared more towards the ladies.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a ton of sexuality and plenty of nudity, both male and female. There’s all sorts of foul language and some drug use here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The current Warner Brothers opening sequence is not used here; they use instead the Saul Bass-designed sequence from the 1970s, somewhat modified.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/5/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100. The reviews are surprisingly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Showgirls

MALE EXOTIC DANCE LOVERS: While most of the actors have no game whatsoever, Tatum – who has a background in it – actually performs in a fairly spectacular manner.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

A Beautiful Life (2008)


A Beautiful Life

When Jesse Garcia tells Angela Sarafyan that he loves her for more than her body, her expression makes it clear she’s heard that one before.

(2008) Drama (New Films International) Debi Mazar, Dana Delaney, Bai Ling, Angela Sarafyan, Jesse Garcia, Jonathan LaPaglia, Walter Perez, Enrique Castillo, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Rena Owen, Meltem Cumbul, Bill Lithgow, Ho-Jung. Directed by Alejandro Chomski

 

Desperation leads people to doing things that they wouldn’t ordinarily think of doing. Sometimes, being driven to that state can be a very short trip indeed.

Maggie (Sarafyan) gets off the bus in Los Angeles underage, scared and alone. Seeing the population of hookers and junkies, she finds herself a dumpster to hide in and get some sleep. There she is found by David (Garcia), a dishwasher in a strip club. He marches her to see Esther (Ling), a stripper with an eye towards a singing career but also one with the proverbial heart of gold. She cajoles David into taking Maggie in until she can get back on her feet.

The two approach each other warily at first but Maggie eventually gets work at a Korean market while David makes steady cash at the club. However, a raid on the club leaves David without a job (did I mention he was here illegally?) and things begin to get desperate. Maggie isn’t making a lot of money at the grocery and soon is let go from that job too. Still, it is when you are in desperate straits that strong bonds are formed and Maggie and David begin to fall in love.

However, sex between them is odd. Maggie can’t do it unless David is hurting her – this stems from a trauma that caused her to run away in the first place (bet you can’t guess what it was) and this frustrates David who wants to express more tender feelings towards his girlfriend. The two, no longer able to afford rent, squat. And getting to the point where they can’t afford food, David takes to selling drugs which leads to problems of their own.

This is based on a play by Wendy Hammond called “Jersey City.” I haven’t seen the play or read it, so I must assume that based on the title the movie has been relocated on the opposite coast, perhaps to highlight an area where illegal immigration is much more of an immediate problem.

The characters here are living on the edge of society. For the most part, they are completely marginalized, although Mazar plays a sympathetic librarian who gets Maggie interested in learning and earning that G.E.D. while Delaney plays Maggie’s mom who lives conveniently nearby and comes through with timely assistance. Beyond that, this is about people who are as poor as the people in this country get, barely subsisting and never quite sure what the future holds.

The movie is mostly about Sarafyan and Garcia, and they do fairly well. Sarafyan’s character isn’t always sympathetic; she’s pretty messed up (and understandably so) but like many messed up people she lashes out at those who care about her and sometimes makes decision based on the maximum amount of harm that can befall her when she’s in a state of self-loathing. This isn’t a movie about role models necessarily, although you can make a case that their advanced survival instinct is admirable but then again most animals have a survival instinct.

The movie gets the grim reality of homelessness and poverty right but for some reason – whether scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, or because there is a lack of responsible continuity checking in the writing – characters drift in and out of the film without explanation. In fact, one of the main characters essentially disappears from the movie for the final third of it as the film focuses on David’s drug dealing. That final third almost seems like an entirely different movie.

This is one of those movies that drives me crazy. On the one hand, there are portions of it that are extremely well-written but then there are things that just seem like the screenwriters just weren’t paying attention or just didn’t care. There are moments here that shine and others that made me roll my eyes. I kind of want to recommend it – and I kind of don’t. If you do elect to see it, be prepared to be driven crazy by it – or to have it stick with you for a very long time. Maybe both.

WHY RENT THIS: Suitably grim and grimy. Reasonably well performed by the young leads.. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot lacks direction and cohesion. Characters appear and disappear from the story without explanation.

FAMILY VALUES: The is some drug use, more than a little sexuality, nudity, depictions of masochistic sex, an attempted rape and a bunch of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The original play this was based on, “Jersey City,” was first produced at the Second Stage Company in New York City in 1989.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Data not available..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Saint of Fort Washington

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: White Material