A Love Letter To Philippine Geeks

Let’s get this out of the way.

The last time I really raved about a local movie the Juan Tamad/Mongolian Barbecue movie a long time ago. It was an under-appreciated satire on Philippine politics.  That was waaaayyyy back in college. Since then, nada. Some really minor blips, but that’s it. Been a long time since I was so floored by a local movie to even write about it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzIDObRbsQQ&w=560&h=315]

And so the trailer for RPG:Metanoia showed up a couple of months ago. I dismissed it as a rip-off to cash in on Toy Story 3’s or TRON: Legacy’s draw. Waved it off it as yet another local movie where the whole story was telegraphed in the trailer. Casted it out thinking it was going to be a dumbed down movie that will pander to the masses. And lastly, pooh-poohed it as another ATTEMPT.

There are days I’m ecstatic to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. This is one of those days.

I did not read any reviews of this movie. Though it was available in 3D, I didn’t bother to watch it in 3D. Glorietta did not show it in a 3D theater and I felt (at the time) that it wasn’t worth it. Thus, I went into the theater with somewhat lowered expectations. It’s the first locally made CGI movie. As a geek, I was duty bound to support it.

Short review: I enjoyed this a lot more than TRON: Legacy. Now, go out and watch it!

Long-ish rave and some major rants:

Technically, the movie is several years behind PIXAR. The visual vibe kind of reminded me of Jimmy Neutron. Environments were a bit too sterile without the dirt and grime. However, if you look closely enough, you can see the passion of the filmmakers shining through the details.

The problem with CGI movies is that everything has to be built from scratch. It’s just way too easy to build a lifeless world. What these guys have succeeded in doing is building a living breathing world. And it’s because of the details. Often details that are on screen for several seconds but takes hours and days of rendering time to make.

Where to begin? Grains of rice on plate. “How’s My Driving? LTFRB Hotline” decal on a dead jeepney resting on hollow blocks. Softdrink decals. Detailed designs of characters which have only seconds of screen time. Tricycles, cars, and jeepneys whizzing by in the background. Clippings. Computer screens. Stitches and patterns on the mom’s duster. I could go on and on. It’s the little details that make the RPG: Metanoia’s world quite believable. It takes an amazing amount of OC-ness to get this done.

The other thing about RPG:M is that they got the character’s eyes right. Can’t say much but they weren’t dead.

But where this movie succeeds where I was underwhelmed by TRON:Legacy is the storytelling. Dare I say it but RPG:M had heart where TRON:Legacy had a digital soul. TRON:Legacy dazzled but RPG:M charmed. I think that they got a lot from the PIXAR playbook. Angles and supplementary scenes reminiscent of Toy Story and UP!

The movie had a message and it succeeded without being preachy about it.

Again, taking a cue from PIXAR. I think that the movie has something for everybody. If you’re a kid, the cartoony visuals will delight and entertain. For adults, the storytelling, the children’s games sequences will bring you back to your days of Teks and Touching Ball.

But for the d20 rolling, WASD abusing, DC/Marvel/Manga/Anime collecting,  the movie’s numerous winks and nods to geekdom increases the film’s charm a thousandfold. From Steampunk, to Mecha, to Naruto, to Avatar, to Grim Fandango. This film’s geek cred just oozes by the barrelful. The film avoids being a ripoff by just making these easter eggs and adding distinctly Filipino elements to make it their own. The Crisostomo Ibarra Mage and that Guardia Civil (yes, it’s Spanish but it’s still part of the our History) power armor just left me with a goofy smile when the film was done.

And now THE rant:

Sadly, a lot of people I know who will get a kick out of this movie WILL NOT WATCH THIS. Why? Because it’s a TAGALOG movie. There are some people whom I really had to restrain myself from knocking on the head. The mantra of  “I won’t watch it because it’s a Filipino movie” became very irritating.

The other laudable thing about this movie is that it assumes that the viewer is intelligent. It does not have to go on long and winding simplified expositions on viruses, subliminal messaging, artificial intelligence and MMORPGs.

For something as ground breaking as this, why was this not shown in the 3D theaters? And more tragically, why the heck did the MMFF awards snub this movie?

Peeps, you really owe it to yourself (and Philippine Cinema) to catch this on the big screen. On 3D if possible. It’s not perfect but it’s much much more than an attempt. It was crafted with loving OC-ness that only a geek can have. The times when local cinema comes up with  something geeks will watch are few and far between. Here’s hoping that RPG:Metanoia is a sign that times are soon a’changing.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Brrn8Kx8oGo&w=420&h=315]

“The Food Wars” is No “No Logo”

The blurb by Naomi Klein made me want to read this. I’m a big fan of “No Logo”, her shocksposé on the unethical practices in the third world of the leading consumer brands. I was expecting something akin to that book.

The Food Wars is not exactly like No Logo. No Logo, in some way, can appeal to the casual reader because of the wealth of human condition stories exposing the evils of globalization. Except for some stories about the peasant activists in the final chapter, The Food Wars is mired in figures, numbers and percentages that would probably make it daunting for the casual reader.

It’s written in a very academic fashion. Food crisis stories from Africa, China, the Philippines are written as case studies. Each chapter begins with a statement of the problem, progresses with LOTS of numbers, and percentages and wraps up with a neat conclusion at the end. The casual reader can actually get away with just reading the conclusions and still have a semblance of understanding as to what the book was about.

Buried within the numbers and the academese is a very frightening situationer of why the world is going hungry and possibly why it’s going to get worse. According to Bello, The root of the problem are the conditions behind the seemingly generous loans to third world countries. Behind these loans are “economic reengineering” conditions that stipulate that the country abandon agriculture for some “forward-economy” industry. Like call centers and BPOs (sound familiar)? Thus, because of these policies, government has to remove subsidies and tax breaks for farmers and reallocate them elsewhere. The rationale is that third world countries can earn more to buy “cheaper” food from first-world countries like the US. Unfortunately, this is not working according to the best-laid plans of the armchair economists in the World Bank. There is also an interesting chapter on BioFuels and their contribution to the global hunger problem. In a nutshell, corn and other grains are being allocated to feed fuel tanks than stomachs. Fuel is more profitable than food and thus a more lucrative product to produce than cheap food.

Books like these are meant to give the reader insight and maybe shock the the reader out of his comfortable reading chair. Insight, tons of em buried beneath facts and figures. Not enough shock of the lack of the human side of the problem. I’ d recommend watching the documentary “Food Inc.” as a companion to this book.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eKYyD14d_0&w=560&h=315]
There are a few issues in “The Food Wars” which are mentioned assuming the reader has sufficient background to understand what Bello is talking about (e.g. The on-going Monsanto GMO seed controversy in the US). This also fleshes out the problem for those wanting a human side of the story.

The book concludes with a call to action to go back to peasant agriculture. That is, for each locale to produce its own food to cut down costs on transportation and dependence on first-world producers. The world has to shift the power of production from the armchair policy makers and give it back to people who till the fields and harvest the crops. Maybe then, this hunger problem will be swept off the table.”