Features on love and war, and short films from the charming to the profound.
Toto (Tim Castillo), a teenage orphan, is recruited by a notorious death squad. Irma (Eula Valdez), the group’s leader, soon becomes a maternal figure to the young boy. As the two form a familial bond, their loyalties will be put to the test when one of their targets turns out to be a familiar face.
In the wake of Birdshot’s tremendous success, young filmmaker Mikhail Red takes on a rather ambitious project. His debut feature Rekorder demonstrated his careful, patient craft as he told an intriguing underworld story, taking the distinct perspective of a movie pirate. Birdshot, the triumphant mystery-thriller, ventured into the past and out to the countryside, finding in the national eagle a symbol for social injustice. Now, with Neomanila, Red faces the challenge of entering familiar territory—the city’s criminal underworld—without as much of a fresh element as those found in his first two films. Local independent filmmakers have been scrambling to portray the drug-war-torn society of present-day Philippines, the same milieu that Neomanila tackles head-on. There have been more creative approaches; the topic has even found its place in a monster story, 2016’s Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B.
Neomanila mostly succeeds. It is a solid film. Red proves to be a truly confident and capable filmmaker, and his latest product has it all: well-written, well-acted, and well-designed. It is his most thrilling film so far, with impressive set pieces, displaying his definite talent for building tension.
Like a forgettable vacation: the movie suffers from an uninspired premise and poor storytelling.
I Found My Heart in Santa Fe is a movie with an efficient title. All the information you need to set your expectations—on the film’s genre, tone, sensibilities—can be inferred from those choices of words.
It is also a film proud that it was independently produced, yet it has an overwhelmingly mainstream flavor. In aiming to please crowds, it refuses to strive for originality, even when its mode of production gives it all the freedom to do something different. The freshness of its setting is therefore lost in the familiarity of its tricks.
I Found My Heart in Santa Fe is a self-assured rom-com about a half-Filipino tourist, Viktor (Will Devaughn), falling in love with a morena islander, Jennifer (Roxanne Barcelo). In this film, there are provocative slow-motion shots of the leading man taking off his shirt, as well as of the leading lady emerging from the sea in a bikini. Jennifer has a support group of friends, with stock, cartoonish personalities, who have no discernible life of their own and exists in the story only to cheer our protagonist in her quest for love. Early in the film, people burst into dance, in the town and on the beach, to the tune of Roxanne’s catchy and pun-filled ‘Morena’. (“Mamahalin mo rin, mo rin, morena ‘ko…”) Later, when it is time to bring out the kilig, the film conjures another song by Roxanne, this time a yearning cover of ‘Morning, Noon and Night Time’.
None of these are bad elements, and for the most part the film pulls them off with technical skill. But neither are they memorable, and any viewer’s enjoyment (or at least tolerance) of this film hangs on acceptance of such tropes. They add nothing to a film that, from its conception, is already challenged with leaving a mark.
We were on the deck of a ferry named MV Beautiful Stars, on a drizzly Saturday morning before the grand Sinulog festival day. It was the traditional fluvial parade, but not much was happening and we were uncertain of what we were waiting for. We’ve been on the ship since before dawn, idling the time away on the cramped passenger bunk beds while Mass was celebrated in the ship’s main hold below. Though people lined up the length of the deck’s railings, I could see through just enough to watch Cebu City in the blue overcast dawn. The city is decidedly distinct from Manila in how it is so close not just to the sea, but to the mountains as well. Cebu’s tallest towers are eclipsed by the mountains beyond when viewed from the sea. In Manila one could spend days without noticing the distant mountains, if one were to be completely lost in the urban jungle as I often am.
Someone in the group eventually found a way for us to get out onto the foredeck. While I was carefully stepping over the pipes and valves on the metal floor, a band started playing the festive notes of that trademark Sinulog melody to the channel’s salty air. That was when I saw the most remarkable of the many dances I was to witness in Cebu that weekend: a young lady, in casual shirt and jeans, swaying and swiveling while firmly holding with both hands a diminutive image of the Santo Niño. It seemed like someone merely handed her, a random passenger, the image and asked her to dance to fill the gap while the professional dancers were still preparing. It was a pure, spontaneous dance; not unique as it was the same dance that any lady holding a Sto. Niño would perform during the festival, but it was personal. Eventually the dancers in María Clara dresses and barong arrived, and performed their choreographed dance to everyone’s satisfaction.
A few days ago I had the delightful experience of being in Cubao, the metro’s Bus Terminal District, just when the annual Holy Week exodus to the provinces was starting. I was stuck in traffic for nearly an hour, and during that time the bus I was riding was able to cover a grand total distance of about 50 meters. That corresponded to one corner of a mall (featuring McDonald’s) to the next (featuring Jollibee). The view was fantastic. I later found out that the cause of the negligible, forgivable delay was not some terrible road accident as I initially thought, but simply the mass of people swarming the bus terminals lining the Cubao portion of EDSA.
It was already late in the evening, but being the nocturnal person I am, I was wide awake the whole time the bus was speeding from McDo to Jollibee. I enjoyed seeing my fellow passengers in various stages of consciousness: from wide-eyed to sleepy-eyed to nodding off and to asleep and snoring (or so I imagined). My sight-seeing was interrupted at one point when I sensed that everyone in the bus was peering and chuckling at the bus to our left. A gap had developed in the lane, because the driver had fallen asleep while the vehicles in front had moved on. It didn’t take long for someone in that bus to bother waking him up. I thought about what could’ve happened if, upon falling asleep, the driver stepped down on the gas pedal. I guess professional drivers don’t do that.