The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
The British director Sean Ellis won an audience award for “Metro Manila” at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. Finally, viewers can see for themselves what kind of sensitivity and style Ellis has brought to a migration story as ancient as Exodus and as timely as “A Better Life” and “Sin Nombre.”
A farmer named Oscar (Jake Macapagal) and his wife, Mai (Althea Vega), unable to make a living on rice fields of Banaue Province in the Philippines, make the arduous trek to Manila to find work, with two young children in tow. They hitch a ride on a cramped produce truck and, upon arriving in the city, almost instantly succumb to the wiles of a black-hearted real estate swindler.
A quietly stalwart survivor, Oscar moves the family to a slum outside of town, and by dint of his disarming honesty manages to win a modestly paying job as an armored car driver. For her part, Mai finds work in a bar where she’s routinely exploited by the male clientele.
Tutored by his driving partner, Ong (John Arcilla), Oscar is soon schooled in the ways of downtown, or “metro” Manila, presented in the film as a roiling pit of bewildering temptations and venal snares. Skillfully photographed by Ellis, who co-wrote the script, “Metro Manila” offers a street-level view of a crammed, chaotic, cacophonous place where the good-hearted Oscar and Mai stoically struggle against Darwinian indifference. Manila is so unforgiving, and their poverty is so desperate, that it comes as no surprise that when they finally seem to get a warm welcome, it winds up having dire, potentially deadly strings attached.
Perhaps inevitably, the complications that ensue in “Metro Manila” begin to look a little contrived and exaggerated. But Ellis has nonetheless created an absorbing, poignant portrait of contemporary life in the Philippines, here pessimistically depicted as a place of cruelty and greed, but also courageous striving. And he’s enlisted a superior group of actors to ground his sometimes schematic story in unguarded sincerity. Macapagal and Arcilla are both solemn and attractive as a young couple the audience never hesitates to root for, and Arcilla handles his character’s own complexities with talky, charismatic flair.
“Metro Manila,” finally, is a sobering portrayal, not just of the abuse of power, but the abuse of hope, which might be even more unforgivable. As Mai tells Oscar at one point, “sometimes the only thing left to hang on to is the blade of the knife.” It cuts even deeper when there’s another human being holding the handle. -- A.H.
Unrated. Contains profanity, violence, smoking, adult themes and brief nudity. 115 minutes. Available via Amazon Instant, Google Play, YouTube and Sony Entertainment Network.
Filmmaker Darren Wilson wrote and directed “Holy Ghost,” but as he explains at the beginning of his faith-based documentary, he doesn’t claim to be the one calling the shots. Rather, he says he waited for signs from God to tell him where to go and what to film, and those directives took him to Salt Lake City, Morocco and Varanasi, India, among other spots. There, he captured on camera various pastors as they approached strangers and purportedly healed sore knees, broken backs and impaired wrists using nothing more than the Holy Spirit.
“Holy Ghost” won’t win over skeptics, who may be turned off by Christian evangelists descending on a city so important to Hindus that they believe dying there will bring salvation. (“We’re not sitting here and trying to convert thousands of people,” one of the proselytizers says, even though that appears to be exactly what he’s trying to do.)
But non-believers aren’t the target audience for this movie, which blends testimonials, Bible verses and scenes of healing. Rather, Christian millennials are, and Wilson woos them with charismatic protagonists speaking in a youthful vocabulary of “bros” and “dudes,” including the dreadlocked pastor Todd White and the tattooed, born-again members of the band Korn. Lenny Kravitz even shows up in leather and sunglasses to talk about his relationship with God.
The creative funding and distribution of “Holy Ghost” also speaks to a younger demographic. The filmmakers raised all of the production costs using Kickstarter, and they will screen “Holy Ghost” free online for two days. The movie also will get one-time screenings worldwide, mainly at churches, before it comes out on DVD Sept. 16. -- S.M.
Unrated. Contains nothing objectionable. 113 minutes. Available to be streamed for free Friday and Saturday at www. holyghost.wpfilm.com. The Web site has information about select screenings.
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