• 2 Cool 2 Be 4Gotten (2016)

    Khalil Ramos, Ethan Salvador, Jason Blake
    Petersen Vargas

    Sometimes, movies become something more than what it usually is. This happens when a movie tells a story that really strikes something inside the audience, which in turn, reminds them of a memory, a feeling, a person, or a moment from their lives. The audience then starts to live the story being projected on screen, seeing themselves in the protagonist's shoes. They see, hear, smell, taste, and feel every single thing that the main character encounters. They live in the moment, in the thrills, and in the excitement of what unfolds next. But this instance come so very rare. But then, at one point in your life, you get that once in a lifetime chance to experience one, that you just have to grab every opportunity to feel that same feeling again.

    I've always had a penchant for watching independent Filipino films ever since, but after seeing Ice Idanan's Sakaling hindi Makarating last year at UP Cine Adarna, my craving for indie films grew more and more. Ever since then, I frequently watched indie films every once in a while or when I get the chance. Honestly, I think most of the time, indie films are better than mainstream movies. This is mostly because indie films tend to have better quality than the ones produced by big film companies. There is freedom with what the director can do with his/ her film without the worry of being controlled by the studio producer. But I have never imagined that an indie film can actually have the power to affect me this much and change my entire life. I know that sounds too much but it is true. That is what happened to me after I experienced the emotional roller coaster of Petersen Vargas' 2 Cool 2 Be 4Gotten. I honestly have no idea what the whole film was all about not until I actually watched it during it's gala premiere at Cinema 1 of Trinoma last year, November 17, 2016. It was my first time watching a Cinema One Originals entry during the festival run itself. It was also one of my most memorable movie experience ever. This prompted me to watch the film multiple times. Let me tell you why.

    2 Cool 2 Be 4Gotten follows Felix Salonga (in an unforgettable performance by Khalil Ramos) a friendless, overachieving top notcher in a typical public high school in the province of Pampanga during the late 1990s. The whole film is told from his point of view, and is usually narrated through passages from his daily journal (which was supposed to be a project for their English class). He looks over his classmates as inferior to him because he is intellectually inclined, unlike the rest of them who usually spends their dull time playing sipa, basketball or hanging out with their barkadas in the vicinity of the campus. "I am in a conundrum... It's not my fault that I'm stuck with these unremarkable individuals in this forlorn school," he writes in his journal. He even calls them "little brown monkeys", forgetting the fact that this term used by Spanish and American colonists to call Filipinos like him during the era of their occupation. His daily routine is all about coming to school, getting the top spot in class, and nothing more. But Felix' life is then turned upside down after the Film-Am brothers Magnus (Ethan Salvador) and Maxim Snyder (in an award-winning performance by Jameson Blake) transfers to his his school. Felix becomes curious at the two mestizos, particularly with elder Magnus, after his first glance of the boys. Later on, after failing the test from one of his subjects, the elder Snyder boy decides to ask for help from Felix. Although he was a bit adamant at first, he eventually gives in and agrees. Magnus then brings him to his home, where he meets their mother (Ana Capri) and the other Snyder brother. They start off a bit awkward, with Magnus calling him a weirdo after seeing him checking out his Omegaboy TShirt (or his chest, maybe?). But as days passed, he soon develops a strong, unusual friendship with the brothers. He gets to know more of their background, particularly their family. As things get more complicated, this relationship with the Snyder brothers ultimately leads him to be entangled in a dark path involving a plan for murder, his sexual awakening and his first heartbreak.

    Two brilliant minds combining their forces is what lies behind this little indie gem.The clever script which was originally titled Dos Mestizos, was written by Jason Paul Laxamana (director of the savagely entertaining dark comedy Mercury is Mine, 2016). Laxamana's script mixes social satire with nostalgic yet humorous references from the 1990s era something that a lot us can really relate to. From references to Noli de Castro's Magandang Gabi, Bayan, The Flor Contemplacion movie, and the Backstreet Boys. Felix, a teenage boy that symbolizes the common Filipino, is mystified and attracted to the mysterious Fil-Am Synder brothers- a stab on the Filipino mindset that Americans and other Western nations are superior to us. We Filipinos look up to them. We worship them. We want to look like them. We are obsessed with them. Every Filipino's American Dream. This theme is the same recurring theme of his previous work, Mercury. The setting of the story, the province of Pampanga, also reflects our view on the Americans. The Clark Airbase, a modernized community that has been improved by the US. "Our little America with picturesque houses and fascinating individiuals, like Magnus Snyder," as he wrote down in Felix' journal. A reflection on how the West is controlling the country's economic aspect. The director, Petersen Vargas, in his full-length debut, breathes life to this complicated story of a teenage boy as he goes through one of the hardest phases of life, growing up. A point in every teenager's life where he/ she starts to discover who he/she really is. Vargas, who have been making short films and music videos before, has been using this theme in some of his works. His short film, Lisyun Qng Geografia, which I am yet to watch (hopefully), has been making rounds with different film festivals and has entered competition at Cinemalaya before. The film, which is also about love and friendship between two high school boys, shares a similar theme with 2 Cool. In this movie, as Felix starts to get to know the Snyder brothers more, he also discovers a lot of things about himself. As director Petersen explained in one of his interview, here we have Felix, a blank person. He doesn't have any friends, even though he keeps on telling himself that he's not disconsolate, as he haven't met anyone "worth befriending." But after meeting the Snyder boys, he learns how great the feeling of having a friend. He discovers how it feels to fall in love for the first time. Yes, the film also plays themes of young love. According to it's producer, Alemberg Ang, during their Q&A sessions in UP Cine Adarna (which I was so lucky to catch), they originally envisioned the film to be a little love story between two boys, with a coming-of-age backdrop. But after further revisions, there were a lot of things that were changed. Some new scenes were added. And the themes were changed.

    To be honest, I have no idea of what to expect when I first watched the film during it's premiere night in Trinoma last year. I've only seen the trailer once and thought it was a good coming-of-age film (which I'm a big sucker for), more of a barkada-type of movie. But as I watched the film and slowly realizes the underlying themes of the film, I can't help but feel nervous for the characters as things get awry for them. I felt somewhat connected to them. At one point of the film, I suddenly realized that I've been seeing myself in Felix' shoes all along. It was like I was watching selected moments from my life being projected into the screen. Yes, I admit that there were a lot of moments in my life that was exactly the same with what's happening in the story (with the exception of the sexual awakening thing and the murder plot). I guess that is one of the main reasons I got drawn into watching it over and over again, five times to be exact. (Updated 2/ 16/ 2017: I have just watched the film again after the 5th Freedom Film Festival for the sixth time already). It's because Felix' character speaks to me. I understand him and somewhat felt that he's someone that I've known for a very long time. I remember a classmate of mine telling me before that it's better to fall in love with fictional characters unlike loving a real person. Real people can hurt you, unlike these fiction characters. But I don't agree with that. To me, Felix and Magnus felt like they were real people. And their characters have induced pain and heartache to me which I never expected the first time I went to see the film. I know it sounds crazy but even though I've seen the film so many times already, somehow, deep in my heart, I'm still wishing that they would have a happy (or a better) ending for Felix. Although it's obvious that the ending will not change after repeated viewings. I guess it's just me wishing myself (as I see in Felix' shoes) to have a better ending too.

    The film's young actors, led by singer-actor Khalil Ramos, is also what makes the film so raw and realistic. Ramos as Felix has the exact looks of a typical Filipino teenage boy. But don't get fooled by his young looks. His acting prowess is undeniable in his portrayal of the main character. His eyes says it all, from the very first frame after the genius opening credits of the film which features his character, as he stake a beetle with his compass and smiles after seeing his work, to the shot of him as he walks out of the Snyder household after a confrontation with one of the brothers. He captures all the emotions with his body language. Those slow, quivering movements of his lips when Magnus compliments him. Those innocent stares from his eyes that hide his true feelings. All of these things capture all the emotions of every scene. One of my favorite moments from the film involved him as he curses one of the Snyder Brothers, screaming "Putang-ina mo!" (You son of a bitch!) and punches him brutally. I really love how he acted out that scene to the point that I would whisper his same words along with him every time I watch that moment of the film. Ethan Salvador, a singer-actor who was part of the talent competition Pinoy Boyband Superstar plays Magnus Snyder. No one would usually expect an amazing performance from this young artist thinking that this film is his first acting role. But you would be amazed after seeing him in this film. He plays his role with gusto and he shows great chemistry with his co-actors. He proves that he is not just your average eye candy but is also an actor who's serious with his craft. Jameson Blake, a former Pinoy Big Brother housemate, a product endorser, an actor and a member of the dance group #Hashtags from the noontime show Showtime, portrays Maxim Snyder. Blake plays his character with an unbelievable amount of angst and wickedness, as his character soon pushes Felix into a darker path in the story. He bravely takes on the role that most young actors would refuse to accept. His controversial and most talked about masturbation scene is equally sexy and disturbing and makes the whole totally unforgettable (including the infamous line from Felix, "Make it hard"). His passion for acting is definitely outstanding, as seen in his praise-worthy and award-winning performance in the film. I met him last December 2016 and he told me that he has a new project this year, a Cinemalaya entry, if i'm not mistaken. Hopefully that will push through because he is one talented actor that has a lot to offer to the industry. Then, there's the very talented Ana Capri. Her short but very effective quips brought everyone in the theater to laughter. But aside from her humorous scenes, she also proves to everyone her acting prowess during one of the most emotional moments of the film. I can't help but shed a tear in that scene where she said to Felix how she can no longer remember her husband's face, after he left them.

    Aside from the powerful acting talent, no one would also miss the technical creativity behind the film. Shot in a perfect square frame, an aspect ratio of 5:4, the film looks like an old photograph, like a Polaroid picture coming to life. This unusual framing of the film, according to what I've heard, also adds up to the multiple symbolism in the film. The square frame stands for Felix' world, a small and enclosed space of loneliness. That is until he meets the Snyder Brothers. Whenever he and Magnus gets a close-up shot together, Magnus always takes over a big portion of the frame. I also noticed this after seeing the film three times now. Magnus' image is always overlapping Felix during their close-ups, evoking a feeling of congestion. From the scene after the two of them had a short race to a lamp post, the scene where they were talking about the day that Mt. Pinatubo erupted, and the part when Magnus was lying beside Felix in the latter's bed. It signifies that Felix's growing obsession with him, and that the Snyder Brothers have taken over his space, his life and his world. The color palette used all throughout the film, a mixture of light blue tones, evoke the sense of nostalgia. A lot of items, sometimes even their wardrobe, are colored blue which were all carefully handpicked. The music that accompanies the film adds up and completes the over-all feeling and atmosphere of the whole movie. Sometimes mysterious, sometimes nostalgic of the old times.

    I recall asking director Petersen about the first thing he thought about when he watched the film's final product. To my surprise, he said he was actually disappointed with his film the first time. But I beg to disagree. This is a full-length debut that it's director and actors can be proud of. This coming-of-age film is sweet, humorous, romantic, yet turns dark and disturbing as it moves along, dragging the willing audiences back into one of the hardest phases of a person's life-growing up. Despite it's period setting, any teenager or young adult of this generation can definitely relate to this film as it bravely tackles themes of friendship, love, sexual awakening, teenage angst, death and adulthood mixed with social satire. No wonder it won the Best Picture award for the 2016 Cinema One Originals. It's an experience not to be missed.
    An experience that's too cool to be forgotten. No pun intended.

     Wed, 15 Mar 2017 3:36 AM  |   More Reviews

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