Monday, December 15, 2014

LPFF 2014 reviews: The Patriarch, Iskalawags, When the Rooster Crows

The Patriarch (Kabisera)

Walter White, meet your kindred amoral spirit from the Philippines. In The Patriarch (Kabisera), he's Andres, a humble fisherman who rows out to sea one morning, hears gunshots and then discovers several floating crates. Upon inspection, he finds the boxes are full of crystal methamphetamine. What to do? The best thing would be to leave them and forget about them, but then there wouldn't be a movie. So Andres hauls in his illicit catch. If he can unload the drugs, he stands to make millions of pesos, but more importantly the ex-con Andres would finally be able regain control of his family from his domineering wife, a college-bound son who is desperate to leave the nest and headstrong daughter who is ready to get married and also move out. To sell the drugs, Andres turns to his slick gangster best friend Jose (Arthur Acuña), who has a ragtag band of street-level idiots peddling the meth. A bent local cop becomes another partner in the scheme. Soon there are federal drug agents sniffing around, and there's that pesky Muslim cartel, which wants its drugs back. It's a pressure-cooker situation that's as heart-pounding as an episode of Breaking Bad. Ultimately, Andres betrays everything he believed in. Leading man Joel Torre, a veteran actor with a list of credits that makes him the Bryan Cranston of the Philippines, except more kick-ass, is amazing, and I want to seek out other stuff he's been in, such as John Sayles' Amigo or Erik Matti's hitman drama On the Job. The debut feature by Alfonso "Borgy" Torre (a nephew of the leading man), Kabisera scooped up three prizes at least year's Cinema One festival, including best director, best actor and supporting actress for Bing Pimentel as Andres' wife. The film is very, very dark, not only with its subject matter of ambiguous morality, but in terms of lighting. Many of the action scenes were so low lit, it was frustratingly hard to see what was going on. But perhaps that was a technical problem with the projector setting at the Luang Prabang Film Festival's daytime venue? (4/5)


Fun-filled and nostalgic, the childhood friendship drama Iskalawags is a lively recounting of the adventures of a club of boys in a small town on the island of Cebu. It's a partly autobiographical effort by director Keith Deligero, who appeared at the Luang Prabang Film Festival to explain he aimed to recapture the atmosphere of an outdoor movie festival he organizes in his Cebu hometown. Along with the usual shenanigans by the ragtag group of boys, they share a love for the gritty Filipino action films of the 1990s and act out their various shoot-out scenes. These are the types of movies that were popular during the Betamax era, when communities would attend outdoor screenings of the videotapes. A Cinema One entry, Iskalawags is also notable for its use of the local Cebuano dialect, making it part of the regional dialect movement in Pinoy film. Among the mysteries in this coming-of-age story is that of the boys' stern teacher, Ma'am Lina (Dionne Monsanto), whose estranged husband is ominously hanging around, trying to fix his broken motorcycle. With a crucial role to play, he's portrayed by none other than Jeric Raval, the leading man of many of the old action flicks the boys are fans of. (4/5)

Southeast Asian Cinema: When the Rooster Crows

From Thailand to the Philippines, the crowing rooster is the often-heard soundtrack of Southeast Asian films, the plucky spirit of which is captured in the documentary Southeast Asian Cinema: When the Rooster Crows. A last-minute entry to the Luang Prabang Film Festival, the documentary was a fine complement to the fest's panel talks with regional filmmaking talents and its selection of the best of Southeast Asian films. And, fittingly, it was accompanied by a soundtrack of the actual roosters and hens that live next door to the festival's daytime screening venue in an old-style wooden house on the grounds of the Hotel de la Paix, a colonial-era edifice that used to be a prison. Italian Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso, who previously did Through Korean Cinema, was inspired to look Southeast after the surprising 2009 best director win by Filipino Brillante Mendoza for Kinatay. He starts with Mendoza and then picks Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Singapore's Eric Khoo and Indonesia's Garin Nugroho. Each of the four countries are given standalone segments, which in addition to the interviews with the directors are supplemented by generous film clips – even Pen-ek's hard-to-find debut Fun Bar Karaoke is highlighted. And there is testimony from film producers, actors, crew members and film critics, among them Kong Rithdee. Pen-ek's regular cinematographer Chankit Chamnivikaipong recalls that time when Pen-ek collaborated with lensman Christopher Doyle on two career-changing landmark features, Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves. And Pen-ek's regular sound designer Koichi Shimizu offers an added treat, plugging wires into his magic box. Electronic bleeps and bloops emanate and pretty soon it's music. For regular fans of Southeast Asian cinema, the documentary will likely offer little in the way of new information, but it's still essential viewing. Already a huge fan of Pen-ek and Mendoza, the segments on Khoo – a versatile auteur – and Nugroho were eye-openers and piqued my interest in seeking out more of their films. (4/5)

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