ISA PA, WITH FEELINGS (Prime Cruz, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Isa Pa, With Feelings:

1. As a certified reality-competition junkie, one of my favorite shows is that cheesy, Eezy Dancing-like US program called Dancing with the Stars. If the title isn’t a giveaway, it’s a dance competition program where washed up film and TV stars and/or B-list celebrities from other arenas (music, sports, politics) are willing to make fools of themselves (sorry, I mean learn the art of dance and prove their worth) on national TV.

In a previous season, America’s Next Top Model hottie Nyle DiMarco defied all odds by giving stunning performances week after week before finally winning the coveted Mirror Ball trophy. Oh yeah, he’s Deaf by the way. Imagine not being able to hear the music (relying on just vibrations) and still move in perfect rhythm with his professional ballroom partner like he’s the king of the dance floor. It would be an understatement to say that I was in tears after his every number.

I had the exact same feeling of awe and (tears of) joy when Deaf Gali (Carlo Aquino) performed that lovely contemporary routine with Hearing Mara (Maine Mendoza) during this film’s climactic dance recital. Teacher Geleen Eugenio really taught them well.

2. There’s something about Maine’s smile that can light up an entire room. When Mara woke up on the day of her licensure exam and started prepping by nonchalantly dancing around in her condo, the oldie in me wanted to slap her silly for not taking things seriously (neng, make or break moment ito mag-last review ka o ayusin mo ang mga requirements na dadalhin mo hindi ito Carefree commercial juskong mahabagin), but the growing hatred simply disappeared as soon as she grinned from utter embarrassment (oops, cutie neighbor alert!). Also, (insert “super gwapo ni Carlo nakakababa ng self-esteem leche” here).

Even with a few noticeable acting tics (mostly broad reactions to look funny) carried over from her Kalyeserye days, I was happy to see that Maine was able to flex her dramatic skills here. As in magaling talaga siya that I literally said “And galing naman” in every scene where she was required to cry (after seeing that she failed the exams, during that touching moment when she hugged her mom after a heartbreak, and that entire “Gali, mahal kita eh” sequence). It was also fun to see her DubSmash skills put to good use during that hilarious “Matitikman nila ang ganti ng isang api!” reenactment.

(Of course, Carlo was amazing as well because I cried every time he cried and laughed every time he laughed and turned into a teenage girl every time he smiled. If you still need more words to describe his performance here, simply look up all the synonyms of exceptional in the dictionary.)

Side note: As a lapsed fan, kinikilig ako na 2019 is actually the year of AlDub. Ang laki ng growth nina Alden and Maine as artists in their separate projects. Sana the rest will learn from this, risk on new material, and continue to explore outside of their standard love teams.

3. One of the things that I loved about this film was all of those moments of silence, not just to let us better understand Gali’s perspective, but also because we didn’t need an intrusive musical score to make us feel things in every poignant scene. The amount of restraint here considering that this was still a commercial local rom-com was truly commendable.

4. It was nice to be reminded that we should be grateful for things that we usually just take for granted. One of my pet peeves whenever I have food delivered at home would be the constant buzzing of the doorbell (because seriously, once or twice should suffice). And yet there are people in the world like Gali who wouldn’t even know that he had a package waiting outside his room because there was just no way to properly notify him. I guess it’s true that you will always meet someone who will definitely put things in perspective.

Speaking of, that entire Christmas lights concept turned me into a weeping mess. After exposing us to simple things that end up as major challenges faced by the Deaf community (Gali’s expressions said it all during that entire package fiasco), it was a joy to see him smile (and tear up) after Mara’s plan worked. Loved the callback on that one, too. That uber romantic slash heartbreaking scene involving a famous pop song and blinking lights would probably end up as my favorite moment in Philippine Cinema 2019.

(Plus points for completely wiping out the trauma of the use of Christmas lights in Stranger Things.)

5. It was amusing to watch the audience imitate and learn some basic phrases during the couple’s Sign Language 101 sessions. I mean, isn’t it great that we would all walk out of that theater knowing another way to say “Hello”, “Thank you”, and “Sorry” with the proper expressions and emotions? Of course if I were Mara, I would have asked Gali to teach me the most important words first (curse words, naturally!) because that’s a pre-requisite in every new language.

(Another side note: In college, I had a lot of Filipino-Chinese classmates from Xavier and they told me that the most important phrases to remember were “piao si di siao siao” and “di lanciao bin”. Surely I’m all prepped for that return visit to Shanghai.)

6. Sad facts: i) There are not enough Deaf schools in our country, ii) Most parents of Deaf kids do not know how to sign, iii) There are insensitive people in the world like Vangie Labalan’s character who referred to Gali as “di mo aakalain na may diperensya”. (Tawagin ulit ang Undin, please!!)

7. Burning questions:

• Whatever happened to Mara’s dreams of becoming an architect? Will she finally prep properly and take that exam seriously? Did her father (Cris Villanueva) roll up that tarp and keep for future use?

• Why didn’t we get a payoff on those sign language sessions? Is Mara’s niece still waiting for that special surprise?

• Is “Were you worried about me?” the newest pick-up line?

• How were they able to afford those condo units? And who do I need to call to replace our doorbell with blinking Christmas lights?

• With lines like “Puro de lata ang kinakain mo, magkaka-UTI ka!!”, is Mara’s mother (Lotlot de Leon) actually related to mine?

• What was that siomai stand doing in a party, aside from serving as product placement for SIOGO? (Sio clean! Sio good!)

• Gali literally jumping to Mara’s condo was a metaphor that he was taking a leap of faith on their relationship, yes?

• Will the LTO permanently suspend Mara’s license for being so accident-prone?

• “Mahal ba talaga natin yung jowa/asawa natin ngayon kung sino at ano siya, o minahal lang natin siya dahil lagi siyang nandiyan para sa atin?” (Require your significant other to answer this in less than five sentences.)

8. Ganda ng communication gaps shown throughout their love story. The use of cellphones in lieu of spoken words and signs (ang inspired nung text messages flashed between their condos), the times they both felt OP while in two different parties (although the Deaf crowd felt more welcoming, no? Well, except for that intrimidida girl), and the acceptance of their differences plus sacrifices they were both willing to make with that touching “Then I’ll be deaf for you” line. Wala talagang hadlang kapag mga puso na ang nag-uusap. ❤️

Rating: ★★★★☆

FIFTY SHADES FREED (James Foley, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Fifty Shades Freed:

1. When Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson; were you expecting anyone else?) said something like “Look around! There’s nothing but boobs as far as the eyes can see. It’s Boobs in Boobsland!”, she could very well have been referring to her own movie. For a supposed chick flick, there was just way too many scenes of Dakota’s exposed breasts that I couldn’t help but silently scream “Utong na loob please!” or “Utong ina! Yan na naman!” every time they would make an appearance. I swear, this movie gave a whole new meaning to the word “buyangyang”. Scarred me for life, too.

2. Although this one wanted to be a sex-thriller with a subplot about a stalker (the smartest, slickest and most invincible fiction editor ever!) who was threatening their lives, I was more bothered that Anastasia was no longer using her brand new rose gold iPhone that she received as a sweet gift in the last movie. Her Macbook seemed to be missing as well. Geez, nagka-jowa lang ng mayaman nagwaldas na agad ng pera!

This was the same reason why I never really fell for her still-innocent facade here, like her faux bewilderment upon seeing the Grey private jet (“You own this?”). Oh please, drop the naive virgin act gurl! How could you still be surprised by how rich your new husband was when he basically bought your entire publishing company just because he wanted to? And let’s not forget that he crashed a personal helicopter as well in the last installment. Enough of this arte. You’re no Laida Magtalas!

3. If Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) was a billionaire, how could he not afford some decent bodyguards? The one person that he hired to protect his wife was so pathetic that basically everyone else was able to outsmart, outrun, and even outdrive him (to be fair, Anastasia could do a mean parallel park so…). Even worse, the Matt Bomer-lookalike actor that played him looked more Christian Grey than the actual Christian Grey. How sad.

Better security could have prevented the assault of Anastasia that left her in a coma (after just a mag-asawang sampal and a kick in her pregnant stomach, really??). Rita Ora should be thankful though since it gave her an additional (albeit still forgettable) scene that displayed her best acting work since last season’s America’s Next Top Model.

4. Why was he being such a big baby over her pregnancy? I could understand him disrupting a professional meeting just to complain about her not wanting to change her name on the work email, but I just didn’t get all the fuss about him being a total loon about the baby. No, let me correct that. He was jealous of the baby. His own baby. What happened to being a (kinky) Prince Charming?

5. Precision. Style. Comfort. The new Audi Quattro. And if the Fast & Furious style mini-commercials weren’t enough, they just had to include a scene where Anastasia toyed with Christian’s stick shift. At least I finally discovered his flaw when he blew his load during that car sex scene after a mere ten seconds of pumping (not gas, obviously).

6. Oh and those terrible sex scenes were a fitting end to this flaccid series! What happened to the perverse/deviant aspect? One involved a vibrator that resulted in… what’s the female equivalent of blue balls? Blue clit? There was another one where he spread ice cream on her vajayjay and started to lick it off and I swear my tongue made a deep dive into my esophagus and I almost choked to death watching a silly S&M movie (how apt!).

At least this one further supported the basic fact that cheesy porn was meant to be enjoyed alone in the comfort of one’s own home where you wouldn’t hear the shocked person behind you mistaking a butt plug for a spoon (“Kutsara ba yan?”). Ate, stay out of my kitchen!!

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

HACKSAW RIDGE (Mel Gibson, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Hacksaw Ridge:

1. I would usually go into an epileptic seizure whenever a blatantly religious film would smack me over the head with its outright themes of spirituality and salvation (refer to The Shack). Now here was the story of a soldier with such unwavering faith that he didn’t want to compromise his beliefs and principles (no to guns!) while trying to survive in Okinawa during bloody World War II. His only weapon of choice? Trust in God’s saving grace.

All of these should have easily resulted to an emergency room visit, but it surprisingly converted me into being a believer instead. Kindness in the face of adversity? Bravery even with the lack of power? Heroism amidst all evil? My faith in humanity was restored yet again all thanks to my new pastor Mel Gibson.

2. Early in the film, we got a glimpse on the kind of person Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, in a career-defining performance) really was. It didn’t come as a surprise when he later mentioned, “I don’t know how I’m going to live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe.” And he did, in the process defying his violent father, his doubting colleagues, his arrogant superiors, and very much the odds of survival in war, while ultimately saving 75 more soldiers just on the strength of his faith alone.

It would be easy to dismiss this as the Hollywood version of the real story, but the basic facts could not be contested. Hearing the real Desmond recall his grueling experiences was just too much for my jaded heart to bear. In one scene, he visited his fallen comrades’ graves after being awarded a Medal of Honor (a first for a conscientious objector) and he simply said, “The real heroes are buried here”.

I ended up flooding the entire row J of CommerceCenter Cinema 2.

3. I honestly almost gave up on this after the first twenty minutes because it was initially headed into pure melodramatic territory with the domestic abuse plot before it veered into a sappy romance complete with a cloying proposal scene. Thank heavens Desmond was immediately sent to war because I definitely did not pay for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

4. The combat scenes were nothing short of spectacular. It had the expected amount of gore and carnage (torn legs! rain of blood! decapitations! intestines sprawled out!) that you would feel very much transported right in the middle of battle where bodies got thrown over grenades and broken torsos were used as shields from the shower of bullets.

My biggest pet peeve in action sequences was that with all of the necessary quick movements, one could barely decipher whatever was happening onscreen. This movie did not have that problem at all because it was very much like watching controlled chaos.

Nobody would even question those Oscars for Best Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Did we expect anything less from the director that made torture porn out of a Bible story in The Passion of the Christ?

5. Vince Vaughn should not be in serious movies because the more he tried to be un-funny, the more hilarious he looked. At least he made the most out of his character, spewing the nastiest throwdowns outside of the America’s Next Top Model house. My favorite ones were:

• “How long have you been dead?”

• “I’ve seen stalks of corn with better physique.”

• “Have you ever looked into a goat’s eyes? Good, that’s unnatural.”

5. Was I the only one wishing for an Esprit de Corps moment? Yes? Really? Ok.

6. Standout scenes: the one where Desmond “buried” an injured comrade to conceal him from the ruthless Japanese soldiers and one could only see his eye peeking out from the ground, and the scene towards the end where he was being lowered via a makeshift stretcher while clutching on to his cherished Bible. Really powerful stuff.

7. One Japanese soldier raised the white flag and he was still shot to death. And that my friends is the reason why I still have major trust issues.

Rating: ★★★★☆