Citizen Jake (Directed by Mike De Leon)

My rating: 4 of 5

WARNING: (Indirect) spoilers. Read at your own discretion.

I initially thought that Citizen Jake was esoteric given the impression that getting insight from the film would need some political context. It is now I only realise that anyone with an open mind can engross himself/herself in the movie’s political depth.

The film starts with a metafictional introduction, most probably to remind its viewers that, in the end, it is just a story. Jake Herrera, the protagonist, begins his narration in a rather bleak room—introducing himself first. He is not your ordinary citizen. Ironically, he is a freelance journalist who looks into the corruption within the Philippine government, but is more often regarded as the son of the powerful Senator Jacob Herrera. Immediately, he gives the impression that he is trying to stray away from his family which he considers as corrupt and dishonourable. Throughout the entire film, Jake keeps running away from his family, who tracks every bit of his actions, and their dirty laundry, and it is clearly implied that he only communicates to them whenever he needs answers for either himself or his work. The narrative’s cohesiveness relies on the death of Grace, his lover’s (Mandy) student and friend. From there on, the death is investigated (occasionally at first), but his family continues to intervene with his life, and through that, the depth of the film emerges.

Contemporary politics is the central theme of the film—it glares at your face and speaks of the director’s “truth”. The Marcoses, corruption in the government, and hypocrisy within the officials are the common subjects, but viewers are always exposed to the dirty laundry of Jake’s family and other government officials. This is composed of their self-interested, ruthless intentions that exhibit misconduct such as killings and prostitution. It is clear that De Leon tries to make a statement indiscreetly, though it doesn’t cross the line of dropping names. As such, the film is a manifestation of the political situation of the Philippines now, like “Noli Me Tangere” during Rizal’s time.

Also presented was the role of media, particularly of journalism, by showing the nature of Jake’s work. It shows that, usually, credibility is achieved when you have a strong personal background. Jake, however, gives the impression that he writes only what will fulfil his desires, such as ruining his father’s reputation—using his blog as a threat. This also shows just how family isn’t always the strongest relationship one can achieve, so Jake puts his trust to his caretakers and their son, but he is soon slapped by the reality of the relationship between those of different social classes. He also realises that everything goes back to his father, and with everything that is happening to him at the same time, he soon experiences a strong turmoil that leads him to become what he is against at in the first place—corrupt. There is no justice with the crime he does in the end.

The profundity and voice of the film stand up for it and prove itself to be a significant masterpiece in this day and age, not to mention the cinematic elements that contribute to the film as an art form. It speaks to your political consciousness and gauges how much you have of it. It is also worth noting that, despite lasting for 2 hours, anyone can easily invest himself/herself to the film and not find it dragging. The complexity of it all prove to be simple–politics is supposed to meddle with your life.

Unfortunately, the film appears to be one-sided—the perspective of the protagonist is given a spectrum whereas the others are given a dichotomy—they are either good or bad, and the film urges you to choose the latter. Consequently, most of the characters other than Jake aren’t as three-dimensional as he is; all-throughout the movie, government officials are portrayed as the enemies. Perhaps these characters could have been given more attention that is less biased.

Regardless, the film is brave enough to speak of the director’s truth and compel its viewers to realise it. De Leon urges us to break the silence and do something about the oppressors, and perceiving it is the first step.

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Siargao (Directed by Paul Soriano)

My rating: 2.5 of 5

I honestly don’t have a lot to say for Siargao aside from its fitting soundtrack (with the choice of indie OPM songs), impressive cinematography, promotion of Siargao as one of the beauties of the Philippines, and its attempt to stray away from the generic romance films that are prevalent in the Filipino film industry. However, I can’t let go of how the plot was really dragging and plain boring. I can see that it tried to prove itself to be unconventional by straying away from the love team trope, but there really was no buildup or development. There were several times when I felt like sleeping instead, but I was hoping for something stimulating to happen, though that wasn’t fulfilled. Still, at least it’s a small step up for the Filipino film industry. The best I can say is that it had a lot of potential that could have been executed.

Ang Larawan (Directed by Loy Arcenas)

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Before I begin my review, it needs to be known that the film is an adaptation of Larawan, The Musical (1997, music by Ryan Cayabyab), which is based on A Portrait of the Artist as a Filipino (1950) by Nick Joaquin.

As an adaptation, the film is impressive. It gives the Filipino audience a chance to love musicals more, let alone the historical context or the socially relevant message it tries to deliver. The story seamlessly flowed too; it felt like a lot of things were about to happen despite the fact that most of the scenes took place in only one setting (the Marasigan House). The means to deliver an aesthetic appeal can be seen as well–in costume, set, makeup, and the like. Nonetheless, there were two things that stood out the most: the actors and the music. Both components brought life to the movie–the actors were not only arresting with their singing but also alive with their acting. There were a lot of high notes to be hit and many emotions to be conveyed, but they did a good job in executing both of these. Also, the music was beyond astounding; it set an atmosphere that defines Ang Larawan as its own, which contributed greatly to keeping the viewers’ eyes glued to the screen. Although the music is based from Ryan Cayabyab’s scores from Larawan, The Musical, I can’t neglect the beauty of the execution behind the scenes. As a matter of fact, the producers claim to have prepared 5 years for this film, which explains why a lot of the film’s components were executed properly.

I would want to praise the film’s story and message too, but that needs to be credited to Nick Joaquin. I praise the plot’s themes of family, sacrifice, and even colonialism. There are more themes that can be surfaced, though it’s not as if it’s being spoon-fed to the audience; no, the plot was written in a way that the end is satisfying and gets you thinking at the same time. What happens to the portrait is not unpredictable, though the plot doesn’t make you think about that because it keeps you captivated to where you are in the story. The working concept of the portrait as the drive of the story is well-thought too–not many can pull that off.

All in all, the movie contributes to the rise of better, masterfully-made films. I’m looking forward for more Filipino musicals, and considering to read more of Nick Joaquin and his works.

Dormitoryo (Directed by Emerson Reyes)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dormitoryo is an executed concept; it involves 8 characters sharing their part of the story under one roof in one, long night. The point of view shifts from one character to another–dealing with their own problems or wants that is neither too serious nor too trifling, and a slice of what it’s like to be in their room is presented in each character or pair of characters.

The present events revolving around the characters drive the plot of the movie. Although they are nothing too special, the movie maintains to be true to life. Sexual involvement and nudity are recurring motifs too, which are revealed to be subjects that are grounded to disaster. In the end, the movie reaches a turning point that reveals the true colors of the characters, all of which are associated to some sort of immorality. This shows how Dormitoryo can be seen as an allegory of human nature–that, at the very core of our intentions, we seek to find rebellious acts. However, this “turning point” isn’t justified well enough; it seems too forced just so that the movie can put on a climatic ending that is (supposed) to justify the first few scenes that are driven without a proper narrative. Nonetheless, there is something chilling in Dormitoryo, and Emerson doesn’t need to provide an explanation for it.

Neomanila (Directed by Mikhail Red)

My rating: 4 of 5

Neomanila follows a classic noir that features a perspective behind the extra-judicial killings in Manila: one that is caught in the middle of the drug war. This is of the hitmen. Two of them, Irma and Raul, work together as a partner until “saved” by a Makati boy named Toto, whom they recruit eventually. The story then continues as Toto enters the world which he is not supposed to as a boy, thereby losing his innocence in the process.

Following Birdshot, Red’s personality as a director can be seen even more in this movie. Comparing these two works I’ve watched from him, Red likes to tackle politically-relevant issues in a subtle but critical way. He’s not preachy on this, too; he takes an issue, presents it on a different light, and leaves the audience to answer questions for themselves. In Neomanila, Red does these by starting in medias res, where the drug war is rampant and the EJKs never stop. The main characters, caught between the whole mess, choose to get involved even more just for the money they earn, and maybe even for passion. A lot of the scenes take place at night, and the movie’s artistic cinematography proves itself to be praise-worthy with several aesthetic shots of the lights of Makati.

However, despite Red’s attempt of delivering a message through the whole film, his style of ambiguity brings the movie down. It’s clear that he wants to make the audience answer questions for themselves, but lack of proper context combined with several “supposedly-implied” meanings make the movie dragging until it nears the end, which apparently has a turn that raises a new question to be answered again. While it is true that not everything has to be spoon-fed to the audience, it is also worth noting that not everything has to be restrained. Furthermore, the characters who are supposed to be bold and raw turn out to be loosely formed–it’s, then again, up to the audience to decide who they really are and what’s behind them.

Unlike Birdshot, which has enough context and enough ambiguity to deliver a message that can be concluded by the audience on the same level, Neomanila provides either a satisfying or unsatisfying intellectual value, and it is up to the audience how they would receive the “impact”. Personally, Neomanila is excellent as an art, but not as a movie.

Respeto (Directed by Treb Monteras)

My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

A masterpiece, “Respeto” is a relevant movie in the Philippine film culture that is worthy of what its name suggests–respect.

The film starts with the life of a poor teenager, Hendrix, and his group of friends as they live a life of poverty, opression, but most importantly–fliptop, a type of Filipino hip-hop where two opponents bash and “burn” each other with witty and rhyming lines. It also introduces Doc, a writer-turned-doctor in his old age, who happens to clash into the lives of Hendrix and his friends. The story continues as the characters, their families, and other people involved face certain issues; while Hendrix struggles to continue his passion as a hip-hopper.

Piror to the movie, I thought that it was only about hip-hop with a typical plot: a talented individual with passion who struggles at first but manages to get to the top in the end. This is not the case, and that’s what made me enjoy the movie–it strays away from the unexpected and tackles subjects you’d think that wouldn’t get mentioned at all. Poverty is one of these subjects, and it’s impressive that the creators of the film actually put their viewers in the perspective of the low-class members of the society, which makes up a big percentage of the Filipino population; whereas most Filipino movies would put viewers in the perspective of the middle-class or high-class members of the society. It also tackles police opression, drug distribution, coercion, and even the Martial Law. All of these topics are covered under a flawless storyline and in only one hour and thirty minutes, not to mention how hip-hop is integrated here too! I can’t give enough praise on those fliptop battle scenes that can stupefy you out of awe in wit, humor, and talent in rapping.

With that being said, “Respeto” is truly a masterpiece and is one of the most “Filipino” movies I have ever seen that seamlessly combines music, drama, culture, issues, and rapping! I highly recommend this as a movie worth watching, even if it is worth the risk. 😉

Loving in Tandem (Directed by Giselle Andres)

My Rating: 1.5 of 5 stars

Typical mainstream Filipino film. Only wins itself through humor or “kilig” moments.

Loving in Tandem follows one of the typical narratives: (1) girl likes guy, (2) guy abuses girl in a way but girl likes it, (3) guy falls for girl in the process, and finally, (4) they end up together and live happily ever after. Over-simplified, but true.

Also, what’s with those unrealistic, cringey moments? How does Luke emerge just when Shine is being “held up”? Why would Shine resort to selling her organs for debts, when it is clearly the last resort? There’s more, but I don’t even want to bother.

The only plus I can give for the movie are how it shows how Luke comes into terms with his Filipino identity after being in abroad for so long, and how they don’t use a too-beautiful actress for the Shine’s character. Other than those, the whole thing is just a sequence of predictable events that hopes to please the masses.