LADY BIRD (Greta Gerwig, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Lady Bird:

1. Whenever my mom and I would have an argument, her go-to line of defense was “Pinapasok pa naman kita sa Catholic schools…”. Which might also be her disappointed way of saying that this early, my soul was already burning in hell. Sometimes I’d wonder what happened to me as well. Did I not learn anything from all the years of Christian Living classes from grade school to high school plus the twelve units of required Theology in college? Were these schools being oppressive in shoving religion down our young throats that some of us ended up being rebellious? Or was I just being pa-cool in thinking that these teachings were way beneath me? One thing was for sure, though. My mother would always be in Church every Sunday to pray for my burning soul.

2. I really loved the depiction of the mother-daughter relationship here. When the film opened with Christine aka “Lady Bird”(Saoirse Ronan) and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) bonding over an audiobook of The Grapes of Wrath inside their car, it was a picture of love and happiness. In a matter of seconds, the harmonious atmosphere turned into a passive-aggressive verbal showdown with one of them jumping out of the moving vehicle. It was hilarious, frighteningly real, and completely relatable. Seriously, how many times have we considered flinging ourselves outside of a car just to avoid the nastiest sermons from our mothers? Getting run over on a highway would probably hurt less than hearing the worst sumbat coming from them.

3. The screenplay (also by Greta Gerwig) was infused with so much wit that I was reminded of Juno (the one where Ellen Page played a heavily opinionated pregnant teen) and peak Diablo Cody. Some of my favorite lines were:

• Lady Bird speaking the truth: “The only thing exciting about 2002 is that it’s a palindrome.”

• Marion on sticking to the shopping budget: “That’s what rich people do. We’re not rich people.”

• Brother Miguel when her date arrived to pick her up for prom: “Lady Bird wants to make an entrance. She’s mad we don’t have a spiral staircase.”

• Sister Sarah during the school dance: “Six inches for the Holy Spirit!” (Thank goodness I went to a co-ed school!)

• Post-sex Lady Bird after learning that her boyfriend (Timothée Chalamet) wasn’t a virgin: “I was on top! Who the fuck is on top their first time?”

• Boyfriend’s response as consolation: “You’re going to have so much unspecial sex in your life.” (Soooo true!!)

4. Hand in my Pocket, Crash Into Me, Cry Me a River, The Crossroads. The soundtrack of my life.

5. Ronan was terrific in the lead role (acne and all). Although she had some noticeable slips with her Irish accent, she fully captured the essence of Lady Bird that I was crying along with her when she received the school letter saying that she was waitlisted.

Metcalf was the perfect foil for her, with every line and movement capturing the mother we all loved and hated. Her airport car scene alone that didn’t require any dialogue, just her face showing a range of emotions, deserved an Oscar nod. She wasn’t even in the scene with the letters and I kept thinking about her and bawled my eyes out.

And what else to say about Chalamet exuding so much charisma that I just brushed off the fact that his character climaxed after just five seconds?

6. On her eighteenth birthday, Lady Bird excitedly purchased a pack of cigarettes and a copy of Playgirl. I could easily relate because I spent my entire teenage years wishing to be eighteen so I could finally watch an R-18 film in cinemas. (Wait, did you think that I wanted my own copy of Playgirl?)

7. Essential viewing if your mom’s also your best friend. Watch it with her and share a box of Kleenex.

Rating: ★★★★★

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I, TONYA (Craig Gillespie, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on I, Tonya:

1. Very much like Tonya Harding, I had always used my asthma as an excuse to get out of any sport requiring physical contact (or just about any sport really). Maybe that was the reason why I never had any interest in basketball or baseball or soccer, not even volleyball. Although I watched a little bit of tennis, the events that made me switch channels from HBO to ESPN involved gymnastics (more artistic than rhythmic) and figure skating (ladies’ singles mostly).

There was just a certain level of excitement while waiting for these tumbling and spinning girls to properly stick their landing. For me, these two were the only things that made the quadrennial Olympics worth watching (plus diving, but for different reasons obviously).

2. My favorite figure skater of all time would have to be Michelle Kwan since she was able to perfectly merge the technical and artistic requirements of the sport (her signature spirals were to die for!). I also loved her personality and would never forget her inspirational line when she ended up second in Nagano (“I didn’t lose the gold. I won the silver!”).

My other favorite would be Surya Bonaly, the infamous bad girl of skating who would always raise a middle finger to the judges with her illegal, signature backflip. Will & Grace actually had an episode devoted to her and it was one of the funniest in the series.

3. Which brings me to the villains of figure skating, the women that I really hated and secretly wished that they would land on their butts after their salchows and axels. One would be Tara Lipinski, who never did anything bad really except that I found her incredibly annoying. The other would be convicted felon Harding, who was definitely involved in the kneecapping of close competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

4. I still remember that incident like it was yesterday, the images of a wailing Nancy breaking my heart into pieces. So I was really surprised when that exact same scene was recreated here and my reaction was… a giggle. I knew that I was going straight to hell because of that, but it was just too hard not to let out a guilty reaction when it was played for laughs and it was detestably, weirdly funny.

Maybe that was the entire point of this “irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true” story. It wanted to change the perception that Harding wasn’t just the spoiled diva that whined about her loose skates in Lillehammer, that she was also a victim of circumstances and had no involvement in the crime. I never believed any second of this film, but it successfully made me cry. And laugh. A lot. And full of guilt.

5. Most of its success relied on the phenomenal, career-defining performance of Margot Robbie. She looked nowhere near the real Harding (and reminded me more of Jamie Pressly), but she made the character more understandable. You could see her motives and weaknesses and how some of her faulty choices were due to an overbearing mother and a troubled marriage (that included domestic violence). It was very much like watching Black Swan on ice, except that only the star’s career died in the end.

This woman blamed everything from puberty to her faulty laces for all the disappointments in her life, and yet I still felt an ounce of sympathy for her. Again, a pure testament to Robbie’s acting. Her courtroom scene alone when she learned the verdict that she was banned from skating again was simply heartbreaking (“I’d rather do the jail time!”). Feeling bad for a criminal? A testament to the power of this film.

6. “Behind every successful woman is a pushy mother” had never been more true. As Harding’s mother, Allison Janney was vicious, despicable, and relatable to any Asian kid that had a Tiger mom. I was thankful that I didn’t have to pee in my pants because my mother didn’t allow any bathroom breaks during my karate lessons and I never had a knife thrown at me for talking back at her, but I knew exactly where LaVona Golden was coming from (her line of “Oh please! Show me a family that doesn’t have their ups and downs” after that knife scene was a killer.) She even actually complained directly at the camera (so many breaking the fourth wall moments here!) with “Well, my storyline is disappearing. What the fuck?!”. How could you completely hate her (bird on shoulder and all)?

7. Whenever Harding would compare herself to some of the most popular people (“I was the second most known person in the world next to Bill Clinton!”, “I was the Charles Barkley of figure skating!”), I was reminded of the same delusions of grandeur displayed by Nicole Kidman as Suzanne Stone in the equally wicked To Die For. (Go watch!!)

8. I really liked how this was so loving and brutal at the sport as well. One judge said something like this to Harding, “It’s never been entirely about skating. You’re not the image we want to represent” and I realized how unfair the scores could be to these athletes. Judged for your personality and not just your performance? They never had this problem in basketball.

Rating: ★★★★★

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (Michael Gracey, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Greatest Showman:

1. It had been over a year already and I still couldn’t forget the fabulous opening sequence of La La Land. Another Day of Sun fully encapsulated the reason why I really love musicals. I’d always imagine myself stuck along EDSA during Friday night rush hour traffic and I would get out of my car and burst into song while commuters inside cars and buses would sing a chorus and dance along with me. Why would there be any road rage when I could simply belt out my six octave range (bye Mariah!) and shimmy with the takatak boys? Our lives as a series of music videos would definitely be one sweet sweet fantasy, right?

2. As a musical, Showman was an enjoyable treat with its dazzling set pieces, spectacular choreography (that rooftop dance sequence with the dancing kumots!), and soaring sugar pop melodies. My favorite number was Rewrite the Stars with Zac Efron and Zendaya flying through the air on ropes, making it the most dangerous flirtation since I joined (and ultimately deleted) Tinder five years ago.

I also really liked the powerhouse performance of Rebecca Ferguson in Never Enough, until 1) I discovered that it really wasn’t her singing (it was actually dubbed by The Voice contestant Loren Allred), and 2) I realized immediately after that she was pining for a married man. In a culture fascinated with kabit movies where viewers enjoy seeing these women get their comeuppance, I wonder how many Pinoys actually loved this (in context) mistress song.

3. I wasn’t a huge fan of Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables (a singing Russell Crowe scarred me for life), but amidst the distractingly tight close-ups was an undeniably terrific performance by Hugh Jackman. He delivered again here as P.T. Barnum, serving as a ringleader to his troop of circus oddities and trying to stay true on the promise of being the greatest showman.

I actually liked him better in this movie because he was just more effective as a performer than a singer (check his Tony Awards hosting work on YouTube!). I also had a good laugh when the young Barnum got caught stealing a loaf of bread, the very reason why Jean Valjean turned into prisoner 24601.

4. I wish there was more of a story here to latch on to. Sure, I bawled my eyes out during the A Million Dreams song and also when the family moved into their mansion and one of the daughters received her ballet slippers, but everything else just felt very basic.

Did we really need two langit-lupa love stories when we didn’t even know much about the circus members (I couldn’t even recall any of their names!)? Even American Horror Story: Freak Show was able to bring life to its characters (sorry, but Kathy Bates would always be the Bearded Lady to me) and went beyond the “They’re humans, too!” message. When the group belted out the supposedly cathartic This Is Me song, it felt more like a production number on Glee rather than a poignant anthem about celebrating diversity.

Wait, did I just sound very much like a “theater critic who can’t find joy in a theater”?

5. I also felt a bit sad that the movie just glossed on some seemingly important topics, especially the one regarding exploitation. I wish we had more insights to this so-called celebration of humanity where people with disabilities weren’t treated any differently from animals in a zoo.

As a kid, I remembered going to a local perya and paying Php20 to watch a Lalaking Alimango (billed as a half-human, half-crab, but in reality was a man with underdeveloped arms and limbs and had pincer-like growths instead of fingers). I cried out of fear and also out of pity because they made him swim in this tub of dirty water.

I guess the idea of tackling freaks as entertainment was just too heavy for this movie that only aimed to be a feel-good one, ending with Jackman joyously riding an elephant in the city to meet his loving family. And after that, all was right with the world.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (Ridley Scott, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on All the Money in the World:

1. It says so much about a film when the behind the scenes controversies were a lot more compelling than the movie itself. The sudden replacement of Kevin Spacey (amid the #MeToo movement) with Christopher Plummer, the last minute expedited reshoots to make its December 2017 release date (and maintain its Oscar contender status this year), and the huge salary gap concerns between Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams were just juicier and more dramatic.

2. “To be a Getty is an extraordinary thing. I know that because my grandpa told me so.” And he wasn’t kidding. His grandfather was J. Paul Getty (Plummer), named by Fortune magazine as the richest American in the late ‘50s and said to be the richest man in the history of the world. In a Playboy interview, Getty even mentioned that “If you can count your money, then you’re not a billionaire.” I would have been incredibly jealous if only I hadn’t seen so many rich people problems here (like buying a million dollar painting that could not be displayed for public viewing).

3. One of the biggest concerns of the rich would definitely be security. I couldn’t imagine an Ayala or Gokongwei enjoying life’s simple pleasures (like say, hanging out at a local mall) without any fear that their kids might get targeted by kidnap for ransom groups. I used to fantasize that I was a scion of Henry Sy, but it further heightened my already excessive paranoia so I had to give up the dream of having my own Shoemart branch. I guess it was true that “When a man becomes wealthy, he has to deal with the problems of freedom.”

4. Plummer was remarkable in his role and made a detestable character completely human (ergo relatable). He sneered at the poor people that wrote to him asking for help (“If I respond to every person asking for money, I will also be as destitute!”), played hardball with his grandchild’s kidnappers (“I have fourteen grandchildren. If I pay the ransom, I’ll have fourteen kidnapped grandchildren”), and finally agreed to pay the ransom but only as part of his tax deduction. I slightly felt bad for him in the scene where he was playing chess with himself.

(And before I get accused of anything, Williams was also good in her role. I found it odd though that she was billed as a lead, but it felt like she had a secondary character.)

5. Those reshoots worked out pretty well. I actually thought that Getty’s character was very minor and that was why they could easily recast the role. The only weird aspect (and only if you knew about the casting replacement) was that the actor that played Getty’s son looked and sounded very much like a young Spacey.

6. That artistic shot of the newspapers flying in slow motion? I’m sorry Ridley Scott, but Respeto did it first last year. #PinoyFried

Rating: ★★★☆☆

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (Jake Kasdan, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle:

1. If this video game version of Jumanji were real, I’d most probably end up with the Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart) avatar since I’d usually choose the smartest (albeit the physically weakest) character. I never went for warriors or fighters in any role-playing game. I’d usually be a wizard or a mage with the highest intelligence and the strongest spells. Even in my fantasy world, I was the geek choosing brains over brawns.

(Also, cake would aptly be my weakness that would cause me to spontaneously combust.)

2. I had really low expectations going in this reboot because I wasn’t that fond of the original material so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this fun popcorn flick. Even if it didn’t make a lot of sense (both as an adventure and video game movie), it was able to capitalize on the individual strengths of its really talented cast.

3. Jack Black was hilarious as a vain teenage girl trapped in an older obese man’s body (his wicked performance reminded me of John Lapus’ in Here Comes the Bride). From his utter disgust upon seeing his reflection, to the way he swished his arms while running away from enemies, down to his inspired quips (“I look like a living garden gnome!”), he fully embraced his character and brought back the funnyman last seen in Nacho Libre.

My favorite moment with him was when he needed to take a leak and saw male genitalia for the first time (“Martha, come look at my penis!!”). I needed a puff of my inhaler after that one.

4. Kevin Hart, with his usual high-pitched delivery, elicited laughs aimed at his character’s height and lack of speed and strength (really laughed hard when he got smacked face first onto the side of a cliff).

The Rock took advantage of his signature eyebrows and smoldering intensity, while Karen Gillan (check out her now-defunct sitcom Selfie!) made awkwardness look really hot and sexy (“Did she twist her ankle?” LOL!). The scene where the two of them had their (sloppy) first kiss was a hoot.

5. When Spencer went to the so-called freak house wearing a yellow raincoat, was that a direct reference to the It movie?

6. How did the board game magically turn into what looked like an updated Atari console? Also, wasn’t it too advanced to have four controllers slash players during the late ‘90s gaming era? If anything, I definitely geeked out at specific references such as NPC (non-player characters) and the spot-on explanation of cut scenes.

When a character gave one of her lives to another, I was even reminded of the game Contra when my brother would steal my lives because he was a weak player (peace bro!). Another sequence where they had to step only on the white bricks or had to freeze not to get killed by booby traps was reminiscent of Resident Evil. Cool gaming stuff!!

7. Speaking of references, the Alex character (Nick Jonas) reminded me yet again of my age when he mentioned Cindy Crawford and used catchphrases like ‘so fly’. But seriously, the 90s supermodels were like royalty back then, no? Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and company were ‘the bomb’.

I even rented the VHS copy of box office flop Fair Game several times from ACA Video to pay my respect to the wonderful acting of Crawford and William Baldwin (train rides were never the same after watching that). Be kind, rewind? I sure did.

(Also, the women were obviously invested in this Jonas brother because there were audible gasps in the audience when he got bitten by a mosquito. Ok, I gasped as well. So what?)

8. Shelly Oberon (Black) screaming “Yassss kweeen!” to Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan) was the highlight of my week.

9. I wasn’t the only one that teared up a bit during that Alan Parrish scene, right? *sniff, sniff*

Rating: ★★★☆☆

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (Rian Johnson, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

Please tell me I wasn’t the only one totally shipping Kylo Ren and Rey. There was just so much sexual tension between them (good vs evil!) that their awesome lightsaber battle (set in scorching crimson red, of course!) felt very much like the kinkiest foreplay. They wouldn’t even need to bother with Skype because they could easily see and talk to each other via their minds (so Kylo just happened to be topless at one point, really?). My only concern was that even with the reveal that Rey’s parents were nobodies, they could totally switch this up a few films from now. Let’s not forget that the greatest love team in this series ended up in incest (still not as eww-worthy as parts I-III, though).

Daming ganap. Even with multiple storylines and a 2.5 hour running time, in the end nothing much really happened and they just basically rebooted the entire franchise. It reminded me of these RPG video games with several side quests that although entertaining only served as a distraction to the main story. I guess it was a bit understandable though since the main story simply revolved around a Resistance ship trying to get away from the First Order. How many ways could you make a ship running out of fuel exciting, right? On the other hand, did we really need that lengthy casino scene?

Also, why did they have to make Luke Skywalker such a bitter, grumpy old man? I could imagine the crushed hearts of fanboys that waited a long time only to see him nonchalantly toss away his lightsaber (was that meant to be funny?). In one scene, he was even supposed to kill a young boy (horrors!). Why the sudden change? Was it because he kept drinking that spoiled-looking green milk from a non-cow creature? (Sabagay, an upset stomach creates a monster out of me as well.)

So those shiny crystal animals just happened to lead the group out to safety? How convenient! And I wasn’t a fan of those critters that were obviously included for easy laughs. Besides, was there anything funnier than a seemingly dead Princess Leia suddenly regaining consciousness and flying ala Superman in outer space back to her ship?

I felt bad that Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro were underutilized in this movie to give way for the Finn and Rose love story. It was a fun and cute caper, but that kiss generated as much heat as winter in Siberia. I was also a bit distracted because Rose looked very much like Ate Kimmy Go Donghae. Every time she would abruptly show up on screen, I expected her to scream, “May sale sa Lazada!!”.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

PENGABDI SETAN (SATAN’S SLAVES) (Joko Anwar, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

After the first twenty minutes of this Indonesian horror movie, I kept fiddling with my phone to change the assigned message tone for most of my contacts. I probably wouldn’t survive a possible heart attack if I heard bell chimes coming from text messages in the middle of the night. I wasn’t even sure why I forgot to do that after watching The Autopsy of Jane Doe, but the chilling ghost face of the dying mother here was enough reason not to forget this time.

Sadly, the movie couldn’t sustain the scares and resorted to the usual horror movie tropes, ones that we’d already seen in Rosemary’s Baby, Ringu, and even Paranormal Activity 4. By the time the undead rose from their graves with cotton balls up their noses, I was chuckling loudly from my seat imagining the late Chiquito’s comedy films of my childhood.

The deaf-mute demon child was also played by the most adorable kid that it was hard not to feel sorry for him. While his family members wanted him dead, I just wanted to reach out and pinch his cute, rosy cheeks. Good production values overall, though.

One scene involving a record that when played backwards revealed ancient (read: evil) chanting reminded me so much of the time when the Eraserheads was accused of blasphemy and satanic worship by the Catholic Church. I almost broke my Cutterpillow cassette tape trying to figure out how the backmasking thing worked (since Overdrive was apparently demonic). Believing fake news out of blind faith, now that was scary.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

BATTLE OF THE SEXES (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, 2017)

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Tennis was one of the very few sports that I actually cared about and watched live on TV, but I hadn’t seen a complete match since the heydays of my favorite player Michael Chang. While other kids my age were enjoying the (fake) entertainment of wrestling (then WWF), I was enthralled by all the drama on the tennis courts with Andre Agassi as the villain that I loved to hate.

The historic battle between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in the early 70s was way before my time and probably even before our family had an actual television. I didn’t know the result of that event and it was a testament to this film’s strengths that I almost chewed off all of my cuticles while watching them play against each other (even the old women around me were cheering loudly like we were at a Bingo Bonanza).

I felt sad at the thought that Emma Stone hit her peak during Easy A, but her performance here was definitely her best so far (yes, even better than her Oscar-winning one in La La Land). She had this one locker room scene where her character completely broke down in tears and you could actually feel the exact same weight of the world on her shoulders (the pressure of being a female tennis player demanding equal pay, the confusion on her troubled lovelife and its possible effects on her career, etc.). That red A embroidered on Olive Penderghast’s left boob definitely meant Actress.

Some people might not like this film for being a cheesy inspirational biopic (one gay character consoled a lesbian player with the thought that someday they could come out in the open and people would embrace them for what they really were) or for being terribly one-sided (male chauvinist pig vs hairy-legged feminist!), but I still enjoyed it and it brought me the exact same joy as watching Monica Seles defeat Steffi Graf in the French Open. Go underdogs!

Rating: ★★★★☆

DADDY’S HOME 2 (Sean Anders, 2017)

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Whenever the trailer for this movie was shown, the biggest laughs would come from the sight of a giddy, kid-like Will Ferrell giving his sweet old father John Lithgow a welcoming kiss on the lips at the airport. I thought that it wouldn’t be as funny anymore after seeing it one too many times, but it still had the exact same effect on me during the actual movie. With every kiss (yes, there were more!), I just laughed my guts out.

The same kind of juvenile humor was recycled all throughout (gender neutral flash cards for sex education!) and your enjoyment would probably depend on whether you had actually forgiven Mel Gibson (weirdly enough, making an a-hole character completely charming) for his antisemitic and racist rants. That or your tolerance for a sappy Christmas singalong in a theater with employees miraculously giving out free food and candies to everyone.

I really liked Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and I was in full holiday spirit during the screening. I lapped up every corny joke and got my money’s worth. Even John Cena’s singing wasn’t that bad after all! Now if only we could see him.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

THELMA (Joachim Trier, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

When a photosensitive seizure warning was shown before this film, I felt a bit scared because our family had a history of epilepsy and I read online that this could be a latent condition triggered by intensive flashing lights. I made sure that I had my eyes closed throughout that lengthy, agonizing CT scan scene even if I didn’t usually cover my eyes while watching horror movies.

The intriguing opening sequence properly set the tone for this Norwegian version of Carrie. It involved a father, a young girl, a hunting rifle, and a deer. My heart was completely racing when the rifle was pointed instead at something that I didn’t expect. I wonder if PETA would support that decision.

I didn’t completely buy the themes of coming out slash coming-of-age vis a vis religious repression, but I really liked the stunning imagery used here (except for that clumsy Wikipedia part). The most chilling scene involved a search for a missing baby and its subsequent discovery under a frozen lake. Definitely the stuff of (parental) nightmares.

Rating: ★★★☆☆