Geeking Out On Saving Sally

 

I first ran across “Saving Sally” on Facebook with an appeal from its creator, Avid Liongoren, appealing for funds to finish the film’s post-production. A short trailer with unfinished special effects and at times, black and white animatics, gave funders a preview of the movie.

Even then, it was obvious that it was going to be something special. Live actors composited on animation were somewhat reminiscent of the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Mirrormask.” But after much excitement from the local geek community, it disappeared from the scene.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m glad to say “Saving Sally” was rescued through Liongoren’s blood, sweat and tears as he literally gave up almost everything just to finish this movie.

The movie does not disappoint. The crowdfunding trailer did do justice to the end result, and at the same time, tempering expectations for an indie special-effects laden movie.

The movie’s tagline, “A Very Typical Love Story,” is true to the plot. That is, if a typical love story involves nightmarish monsters, steampunk inventions, and geeky parents. Told mostly in English, the love story has beats from the Japanese anime’s “will-they-won’t-they-someone-say-something-already” plotline.

Enzo Marcos plays artistic Marty, a comic-book artist who falls for the titular Sally, a quirky “inventor-mercenary” played with much gusto by Rhian Ramos. We follow Marty’s quest to save Sally from the monsters he sees in the world and, ultimately, from herself. A shout out to Bodjie Pascua, who plays Marty’s dad. Any computer-game- and gadget-loving geek would love to have him as a father figure in the few moments he’s on screen.

The world we see is through Marty’s comic-book fueled eyes. And what a world it is! Off-kilter shapes, dazzling colors and cartoony extras with touches of Filipino culture like jeepneys, a certain masked character that goes around UP, and street food vendors make the Manila Enzo and Sally live in familiar yet otherworldly at the same time.

The film’s age shows a bit because of the lack of dynamic moving shots. Most, if not all, of the scenes with CGI backgrounds were done with the characters in just one place. This is where the creators really showed off their quirkiness, passion and creativity. The phallic CGI character of Sally’s boyfriend, Nick, was borderline juvenile but in the end, still was used to make a point.

The film proudly shows off its geek and comic book inspirations. A reference to the death of a certain robot leader in a particular animated movie decades ago back drew a laugh from the audience members in-the-know. Shots of local Filipino comics “Trese” and “Elmer” were a nice touch. Even the gadgets that Sally uses are cobbled together with bits of steampunk and robotics.

But special effects do not make a complete movie. I thought there were some dragging sequences. At times, the two leads seem to disconnect. I thought the resolution of one of the major subplots of the movie felt jarring. What I liked was the way the movie ended with sequence to wrap everything up.

This movie really reminded me of “RPG: Metanoia” (read my review here) from the 2010 Metro Manila Film Festival. With its heart and brain on its sleeve, “Saving Sally” is like Liongoren writing a love letter to its intended geek audience. Even Sally outrightly says she prefers geeks to the athletic types. Geeks will love the easter eggs, the cultural references, and certain scenes that pay homage to other fantasy and sci-fi movies. Everyone else will be wowed by the effects and the love story.

I really wish we had more Filipino films like this. It is not a perfect movie but, in the moments where it shines, it absolutely dazzles. Highly recommended for the audacity to tell a very typical love story in a very atypical way. Stay until after the end credits for a really nice animated short.

NOTE: This was originally published as http://news.abs-cbn.com/life/12/26/16/review-geeking-out-on-saving-sally

Go run and watch “Thelma”

I unabashedly admit that I watched Thelma because it’s a movie about running. I was  feeling pretty down when I saw this but came out of the theater having a little more hope for local cinema.

Thelma is loosely based on the story of Elma Muros. The first act is set around Thelma’s life in the simple but poverty stricken fields of Ilocos Norte. Certain events force Thelma out of school and join a 5k “marathon” <cringe> to win some money for the family. She wins by a mile and is discovered by the local track coach. We follow her journey from being a newbie barefoot athlete to one of the elite runners in the country.

Some of the shots in this movie took my breath away. The last 500m of the first 5k “marathon” <cringe> was jaw-droppingly amazing to watch. Vigan, Pagudpud, the twilight streets of Manila and the University of Makati Running Oval were  beautiful backdrops for the movie. I’d say that the locations even became supporting characters.

I liked the product placements. Kudos to adidas for supporting the movie. Though the rival bitchy runner’s “swooshed” >:) runner’s singlet was a tad too obvious among a sea of three-striped attired athletes. I could expect a Milo tent on the track, but Yellow Cab Pizza? <scratching head>

What I really loved about this movie is that the filmmaker’s respect for running really shone through. I have to give them a big pat on the back to have a minute of Maja Salvador running in super slo-mo at the end showing very good (if not perfect) running form.

Highly recommended. Go watch this in the theater and support Philippine cinema!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1oGnYihAHo&w=560&h=315]

Nothing’s nothing! (or what I enjoyed about “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank”)

“Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” is an award winning indie-mockumentary following the production of an indie documentary “Walang Wala”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqDG_P96Rb0&w=420&h=345]

Let me get this out of the way: It’s one of the best Filipino movies I’ve ever seen. One of the Filipino movies I really enjoyed was “Juan Tamad” with Eric Quizon and Leo Martinez a long time ago. It was brilliant in its day satirizing Philippine politics. “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank”  does for the local film industry what “Juan Tamad” did for Philippine Politics.

It hits everyone! From pretentious filmmakers, to pretentious graphic designers (Hey, even I could make that winning poster design!), to pretentious diva-ish stars. The movie pokes fun at everyone in the film industry. Even the process of indie film-making is not spared. Eugene Domingo does such an awesome self-deprecating job at portraying… ummmm… well… Eugene Domingo. That expression on her face during the last scene is priceless!

They say the best way to criticize is to make your point through humor. “Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank” does this on so many levels. From absurdly slapstick to intelligently sarcastic. Laugh a minute in so many ways.

Highly recommended! Please do watch this in the cinemas. Philippine Cinema needs your support to justify making movies like this!

 

Reliving SENIOR YEAR

I didn’t know what to expect from Senior Year. I’m not really a fan of mushy local movies.

The movie projectionist made a gaff by showing the UI of the digital projector. It looked a lot like one of those home DIV/X players. After several minutes of fiddling (with snarky comments about downloading the movie through torrents), they finally got the movie rolling.

SENIOR YEAR opens with a “10-years-later” high school reunion. We get introduced to the class valedictorian who’s sitting in his car really not wanting to go in. And amidst his angst, we get transported back to high school. We get to know his classmates and teachers and we get to know what led them to that high school reunion.

First off, it’s a beautiful movie. The digital HD format is Godsend to indie filmmakers. SENIOR YEAR was crystal clear where we saw it and it just helped to make those out-of-the-ordinary shots shine even more. The shots used in this movie are uncommon in local cinema. The big studios can learn a thing or two (or three) from these guys. I was struggling to find a similar local movie and the best I could come up with were the real-world sequences of RPG:Metanoia. They used establishing shots to set the mood of scenes. A few seconds seemingly wasted on a shot of the roof with clouds going by made a nice transition to a following poignant scene.

The film is cinema verité-ish in the sense that the audience feels that they are students casually mingling with the cast or some uzisero who’s just observing these characters live their lives.

Casting wise, they couldn’t have done better. The kids are so real. The teachers are so real. No big name stars though I recognized some PETA people whom we saw at CareDivas. Though i felt at times that the cast of characters was so large that I couldn’t keep track of everybody.

I like the fact that these guys didn’t idealize high school. They showed the pettiness, the pseudo-politics, the overall weirdness of that phase. (though that location where they shot this movie, That was a pretty school!)

This movie reminds me of a little known singaporean movie – “The Teenage Textbook Movie” shown back in the 1990’s. TTTM Almost has the same feel but was more comedic in tone. Where Senior Year makes it mark by being real, the Singaporean movie sometimes lapses into absurd comedy. Still a nice way to while away a couple of hours, TTTM should be floating around in YouTube somewhere.

Oh yeah, another similarity between The Teenage Textbook Movie and Senior Year is that they both have really nice soundtracks. Nothing wild or anything but nice poignant acoustic songs

SENIOR YEAR is triumph in local indie filmmaking. These guys have shown that indie need not be esoteric and unreachable.

Even if your high school experience was a memory better left forgotten, SENIOR YEAR makes remembering worthwhile.

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]