In the 1980’s, everyone still wanted to come to the United States and chase the American dream. If you lived in the Philippines, the U.S. probably looked especially enticing, as the dictator Ferdinand Marcos watched while his country’s economy fell apart. The Year I Did Nothing begins in 1985, when the Santos family finally gets news of their decade-old application for U.S. citizenship. An aunt who had previously moved to the states had agreed to sponsor them, but thanks to the glacially slow pace of government red tape, it’s taken this long to hear anything back. Now, however, it seems as though things are finally starting to move.
The story is told through the eyes of oldest daughter Christina (Nora Lapena), now fifteen, who’s been obsessing about U.S. pop culture her whole life, watching Laverne & Shirley and The A-Team with younger siblings George Washington (Jared Xander Silva) and Elena (Faith Toledo). Yes, George Washington — mom Lucy (Maria Noble) thought it might help speed up their application, though I’m sure she soon realized the futility of that idea. Elena wasn’t even born when the whole process started. But now they have medical exams and interviews scheduled, and soon they might finally be able to leave — though there’s no telling how soon.
School is just about to start up again, however, and Christina manages to persuade her parents that it’s no use sending them back to school when they might have to pack up at any moment. So begins the longest and strangest summer vacation ever, as the kids wait — and wait — finding ever more creative ways to keep themselves occupied. From wild rides in their neighbor’s Honda Accord, to hanging out at the mall, to facing the ultimate hurdle when their allowances are cut off to save money for the trip, every day is a new adventure. As their last days in the Philippines count down and the political climate begins to heat up, the Santos family find themselves with a front row seat to history as Marcos finally begins to lose control of the country he seized.
The film does a masterful job of blending the larger picture with the daily lives of one family that is both ordinary and unforgettable, trying to move ahead with their plans while still being loyal to the country of their birth during this crisis. Despite some very young actors carrying much of the movie, the performances are realistic and charming, with the interplay among the siblings particularly well done. And there’s also a good sense of place, creating a vivid portrait of Manila in the eighties as well as three kids facing a huge upheaval in their lives. Writer / director Ana Barredo shows us that a year of doing nothing can sometimes lead to some very big events indeed.
It’s one of the oldest stories in the world: Two people are getting to know each other, and while one couldn’t be more smitten, the other just isn’t that interested. This nearly always leads to some awkward moments, though sometimes it doesn’t play out in quite the way you might expect. In The Story of 90 Coins, Wang Yuyang (Dongjun Han) tells Chen Wen (Zhuang Zhiqi) that he wants them to be together forever, but all she can say in reply is that she doesn’t feel the same. In some stories this would be the end, but here it’s only a beginning.
Quietly convinced that they are meant to be, Wang Yuyang makes one last effort to win her heart, asking for just 90 days in which to change her mind. Something makes Chen Wen agree, and the quest begins. At the end of each of the 90 days, Wang Yuyang presents Chen Wen with a coin folded into a note he’s written to her. The 90 coins add up to about nine dollars, conveniently the cost of a marriage license. After the 90 days are done, Chen Wen, while not so sure she’s ready for marriage, is sure that she doesn’t want to lose Wang Yuyang. But romance always ends up giving way to real life, and sometimes we get so wrapped up in work, running errands, and paying bills, we lose sight of more important things. When Chen Wen is faced with a major decision that might take her away from Wang Yuyang, the beautiful promise of those 90 days might be lost.
Dongjun Han is both earnest and intense as Wang Yuyang, while Zhuang Zhiqi couldn’t be more charming as a young woman trying to stay true to her heart and find her place in the world, never an easy balancing act. The film also has a balance to strike and manages it beautifully, portraying a relationship that is both romantic and realistic. And the things that come between them are equally real, leading to the sort of dilemma anyone might find themselves facing. There is also more than a hint of magic to the film, however, a spell woven in those 90 days that changes the characters’ lives forever. It does sometimes seem like there’s less hope out there than there used to be, but The Story of 90 Coins asks us to believe that the world is still a beautiful place, and that a promise can mean everything.
Somewhere — perhaps in an isolated old basement — is a kitschy, neon-lit room where a tattooist turns skin into works of art. A tattoo of such quality is no doubt very expensive, perhaps in more ways than one. For this tattoo parlor holds many secrets, almost as many as its owner.
The Tattooist is an award-winning micro-short horror film from Michael Wong, so I can’t tell you much more about it other than that it’s probably the creepiest minute and a half of film you’ve seen in a while, with both screaming, in your face terror as well as undertones of more subtle psychological fears. The tattooist takes great pleasure in all aspects of his work, and he has something of a dream job for those who enjoy inflicting pain — but above all else he is a true artist, and his medium is pure terror. This teaser film hints at great and terrifying things for the extended version which should hopefully follow soon.