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YouTube, the quintessential video sharing website has spawned a host of curiosities; from initiating million dollar megastars like Justin Beiber and Koreaís Psy to novelties like cats Maru and Grumpy, Tay Zonday and the CPDRC Dancing Inmates of the Philippines boogieing down to Thriller.  Unlikely success via YouTube also came to another Filipino, lifting him from the slums of Manila to the arenas of the world stage by the incredible power of his voice.  Arnel Pinedaís amazing story is the focus of the documentary Donít Stop Believiní: Everymanís Journey.

Whatís an internationally famous rock group to do when they want to hit the lucrative oldies touring circuit, but the person who possesses the bandís single most recognisable feature wonít play along?  Such was the quandary for 1970ís prog-rock-turned-MOR legends, Journey.  Long past the age of relevance, the groupís songs remained beloved and turned up in Oscar-winning movies and commercials all around the world.  Their problem was that their former lead singer during their halcyon days, Steve Perry, bore a voice of singular and devastating virtuosity that wasnít easily forgotten and seemingly impossible to replace.  How could the Perry-less band lure audiences without resorting to an embarrassing Elvis-like imitator?  The answer was delivered via YouTube where Journeyís creator and lead guitarist, Neal Schon spent countless hours trying to unearth a voice that might suit their needs.  A series of hard rock covers by a teeny little fellow in Manila finally showed in the search results and intrigued Schon enough to bring Arnel Pineda over to LA for a look-see.  Pineda, whoíd before never left the Philippines was determined to embrace this unbelievable development as the one shot in a lifetime it seemed to be and was prepared to let it go at that.  He never dreamed that the band would actually ask him replace the iconic Steve Perry, but in a matter of weeks, the skinny Filipino, who had lived hand-to-mouth in dire conditions in Manila and had never sung before more than the small viewership of local Manila variety shows, was suddenly thrust before a crowd of screaming thousands. Pinedaís stunning voice, bearing an uncanny similarity to that of Perry, stunned doubters and gave new touring life to the forty-year-old band and garnered a whole new wave of fans from all over the world.

Donít Stop Believiní: Everymanís Journey, features a number of classic themes; the rags to riches story of Arnel Pineda, who lived in abject poverty, sometimes homeless on the streets of Manila, and the triumph of the manís pure talent.  The exploration of the way modern technology has affected our lives and communications: It was Pinedaís biggest fan who uploaded all of the singerís camcorder videos of the to YouTube, which brought Pineda to the attention of Journey and made him an ďovernight sensation.Ē  We even witness in a worryingly short amount of time, images of the normally chipper, bright-eyed Pineda seeming increasingly tired and discomfited by his sudden fame and the rigours of touring life. Director Ramona Diaz keeps her focus strongly on Pineda; his rise from the slums and his strong ties to his Filipino roots.  Indeed the voraciously proud new Filipino Journey fans are some of the most entertaining parts of the film.  They love them some Pineda, sometimes a little too much; following every Journey gig and practically tearing the tiny man apart in their adoration.  Who can blame them for being puffed up for the elfish tenorís success?  After all, how many Filipino rock stars are there?  

Pineda lives up perfectly to the Everyman title: With his impoverished roots, his deep love and sacrifice for his family, the adoration and comfort of his tough, bemused, yet supportive wife, and the joy we initially see when his talents takes him farther than he could have ever dreamed.  He is an immensely enjoyable presence; a humble yet puckish figure who is experiencing so much for the first time, itís impossible not to identify and root for him to succeed. 

This is also the crux of the storyís drama as Pineda is now travelling with a group of men in or nearing their sixties, approximately twenty years older than himself, who have seen it all.  We can see their amusement with their new bandmateís puppylike enthusiasm (Drummer Deen Castrovonovo seems to genuinely adore Pineda), but this is no scrappy, young band starting off through the bar circuit: Journey had set records and lived the life for decades, so thereís precious little the awestruck Pineda has in common with the rest of the group and it occasionally seems to weigh on him.  His loneliness as their first big tour rolls on is palpable and one can almost see the feelings of isolation creeping up on him in the same way Steve Perry implied in previous Journey docs that led, in part, to his departure.  Itís sad to see the buoyant Pineda, so overjoyed at first, so quickly seem drained and unhappy.  There is also the mountainous spectre of Perry looming over everything, but as the film goes on we witness more fans not only embracing Pinedaís renditions, but cheering for his energetic stage presence in his own right. 

Diaz doesnít dwell on the negative at all, though it seems evident, between Pinedaís dwindling energy and some of the stresses of being away from home for so long.  She chooses to present the story as irrepressibly upbeat, which along with some drags in momentum around the filmís middle, might be the documentaryís only flaws.  Diaz lets the music be the engine, packing her movie with all Journeysí big hits (Yes, including the title track, thankfully employed with well-timed restraint.) as well as early footage of Pineda singing other hard rock anthems; an indication of the polished performer he would quickly become.  Pineda is a natural charmer and his sweet, easygoing personality and impish sense of humour is a jolt to the other membersí laid back vibes.  The joke he makes at his own expense about the groupís first publicity photos looking like heíd been Photoshopped in, is a riot.  Pinedaís self-deprecating remarks, along with Castronovoís similarly candid and hilarious observances help add energy to this movie set around a bunch of senior citizen rock stars. 

The film ends with a triumphant show in Manila; a homecoming concert welcoming back the cityís favourite son, who is now a rare beacon of hope to every poor Filipino.  The band had never played there before and the Filipinosí palpable excitement and eagerness to please is touching.  Seeing Pinedaís experience through his own eyes; visiting the slum he was raised in and the city park he slept in with a gang of other homeless boys, moves the band to see what their spritely singer endured, as well as the struggles of the countryís poor.  When the big concert does come together, it is a predictable, but no less touching watershed moment. 

Donít Stop Believiní: Everymanís Journey is an inspiring and truly entertaining fairy tale you really can believe in.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

March 8th, 2013





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