ALPHA: THE RIGHT TO KILL (Brillante Mendoza, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Alpha: The Right To Kill:

1. You know how sometimes we would say something that wasn’t an outright lie, but wasn’t completely honest either? How we would do this to try and avoid any possible confrontation or drama because we knew that people would get upset with the truth? Well, I think I just watched the movie equivalent of a white lie.

Similar to his controversial Netflix series Amo, this newest “internationally-acclaimed” film by Brillante Mendoza couldn’t be accused of being blatant propaganda, but it wasn’t an accurate depiction of our country’s current war on drugs either. It wanted to appease both the DDS (the policemen had every right to kill these addicts!) and anti-DDS (look, corrupt cops ruining the system!) all while flashing disclaimers at the beginning and end that: a) it wanted to “present reality with no intention of maligning or besmirching the integrity of police officers”, and b) this was a “complete work of fiction and any similarities to actual people or events were purely coincidental”. It even had the audacity to state that “the task of ending corruption needed our utmost cooperation and that change should start with us”. Ermm-kay.

2. This was shot in Mendoza’s signature shaky cam style (read: gritty!) so newcomers should come armed with a dose of Bonamine taken an hour before the screening. Trust me, you would need it because several scenes involved a lot of running in eskinitas and on rooftops (like a more chaotic and migraine-inducing version of Buy Bust).

3. I saw this foreign language film several years back called Maria Full of Grace where a poor (literally and figuratively) girl named Maria (naturally!) was forced to become a drug mule. She had to swallow dozens of these drug pellets that needed to be transported from Colombia to New York and she was chosen because her pregnancy would exempt her from the x-ray inspection. Imagine carrying that much paraphernalia in your belly (along with a fetus!) with the possibility that any of them could rupture any time. Que horror!

No drug pellets were swallowed in this one, but the mules used were in the form of fruit (kawawang mangoes!), pigeons (lalong bumaba ang lipad ng kalapati!), and even baby diapers (shudder!). Yes, one drug pusher actually used his baby (unfortunately named Neknek) to deliver drugs so the movie made sure that he was severely punished for this horrific crime (kebs na daw sa human rights and due process, mamatay na lahat ng mga adik!).

4. Allen Dizon (dependable as always) was the sole corrupt cop here. Everyone else was just doing what the law required of them to do. In one scene prior to a swat operation slash drug raid, one officer said, “Gagawin natin ito para sa bayan at para sa mga susunod na henerasyon!”. I couldn’t remember exactly, but he just might have been one of the awardees of the Medalya ng Katapatan sa Paglilingkod during the closing ceremony attended by real PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde. His team deserved a commendation because they were able to properly arrange a row of dead bodies (all nanlaban).

5. The head drug lord that was protected by a community of users and pushers (“Di lang livelihood, cottage industry na ito!”) was played by Baron Geisler to further lose every ounce of sympathy from the viewers and force them to collectively moan, “Gahd, we hate drugs!”.

6. There were a few (both intentional and unintentional) comic moments here that did make me laugh. One pusher with blonde curly hair was nicknamed Santo Niño. In another scene, an officer was documenting the events that transpired earlier while banging furiously on his desktop keyboard, but the words on the monitor were not moving.

But the funniest one had to be the poem that was recited by a kid towards the end of the movie that went “Pulis ang aking tatay. Tapang na walang kapantay. Tagapaligtas ng ating bayan. Blah blah blah kaayusan ay ating makamit.” Was it called Oda sa Wala?

7. So the entire moral of the story was that as long as people didn’t do drugs, they would be fine (PNP: We gotchu fam!)? Wow, I feel extra safe living in this country already!!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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WALWAL (Jose Javier Reyes, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Walwal:

1. Being a certified coot (aka ‘thunder cats’) that recently turned another year older, I previously thought that the word ‘walwal’ had a dirty connotation (like it was something done in secret inside a locked bathroom that could result to hairy palms). I brushed up on my millennial-speak and it apparently meant wallowing in excesses (drinking, partying, smoking, drug use, sexual activity) until one loses his bearings and ends up living a directionless life. Now where was all of that in the movie?

I was expecting to walk out of the theater feeling traumatized and bemoaning the future of the world with the kind of self-entitled kids nowadays, but that didn’t happen. Was my Titos and Titas of Manila-certified morals supposed to get scandalized by the sight of these young boys drinking a few bottles of Red Horse beer (curiously labelled ‘I Drunk Dial A Lot’)? Yan na yung walwal? Eh wala pala kayo sa lolo ko eh…

2. Billed as this generation’s Pare Ko (a 90’s teen classic also directed by Jose Javier Reyes), this one felt very much like my lolo was educating me on the importance of using the best Instagram filter. Were millennials really this boring? What happened to those neurotic kids that swam face-first in a toilet bowl full of their own vomit in Gino Santos’ The Animals? (Now that one shocked me to my core.)

This just didn’t feel like it was telling the story of a specific generation. It was the same old cliches (lovelife problems, teenage pregnancy, another networking joke??) recycled for a new breed of young stars.

3. Through this movie, I learned that millennials were also being pressured by parents to select a college degree that had always been planned for them. When Marco (Kiko Estrada) told his mom (Cheska Diaz) that he wanted to shift to Tourism, she replied, “Tourism? Anong gusto mo mangyari? Tourist guide?”. (Hala momshie, mukhang kelangan mo rin bumalik ng college and major in sense of humor.)

In another scene, Bobby (Donny Pangilinan) told his french fries magnate father (Rolando Inocencio) that he wanted to be a filmmaker and father said, “Itigil mo na ang ilusyon mo na ikaw ang susunod na Lino Brocka!” to which he replied, “Brillante Mendoza!”. (DDS pala si Bobby.)

4. Jerome Ponce (as Intoy) was the clear standout in the young cast, a feat considering that most of his dramatic scenes were with the great Angeli Bayani (loved that Urian reference). His story about the search for his estranged father (Ricardo Cepeda) was definitely the most affecting. Sadly, he was also saddled with the worst possible dialogues:

• In a conversation with his half-brother…

Bro: “Magkakaiba ba tayo ng tatay, Kuya? Yung sa’yo stuntman, yung sa akin seaman, yung kay bunso tubero.”

Intoy: “Wag ka magpapaniwala sa chismis.”

Bro: “Kinonfirm ko kay Nanay.”

(Hala sya, confirmed na pala more tanong pa.)

• In a conversation with Bobby…

Bobby: “Bro, bakit cannot be reached ka lagi?”

Intoy: “Wala akong load eh.”

(Harujosko!)

• In a Facebook Messenger chat with his father:

Intoy (typed): “I am the son of Ramona Martinez.”

Father (typed): “How are you related to her?”

(Ay itay!!)

I also felt bad for him when his mother said: “Ang pangalan ng tatay mo ay Diosdado Pindodo. Isa yan sa dahilan bakit ko siya iniwan. Ang bantot!” I would have understood it more if she called him out for his reading slash comprehension skills.

5. Continuity alert: Dondi’s (Elmo Magalona) haircut kept changing in every scene. Also, I wonder if his really tight jeggings affected the way he spoke throughout the movie. I wasn’t surprised when his girlfriend (Jane de Leon) dumped him for a lesbian instead.

6. Since Bobby and close friend Ruby (Kisses Delavin, dressed up as budget cosplay Jolina Magdangal circa Chuva Choo Choo) were supposed to be film experts, they were required to say terms like ‘existential study of post-digital life’, ‘neorealism’, ‘Pasolini’, and ‘Franco Zeffirelli’. And yet when they played a random trivia game where they guessed the film that starred Guy Pearce and John Leguizamo, they both agreed that it was called ‘To Wong Foo, With Love Julie Newmar’. (Nope!)

Pinapainit ng mga batang ‘to ang ulo ko. Waiter, one Cali Shandy please!!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

TOP 10 MMFF MOVIES (2000-2016)

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CINEMALAYA – SHORTS B (2017)

SPOILER ALERT!!

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JUANA AND THE SACRED SHORES (Antonne Santiago, 2017)

Similar to Pina, this dance film was just too artsy for my basic tastes. Kwento ko na lang sa inyo mga bes.

So merong long-legged Ate Dyosa na nag-trip magsayaw sa maduming batis. Biglang dumating si Gluta Koya na may dalang santol at more join sa ballet nya. Nagpagulong-gulong sila sa putikan at nagtastas ng damit. Biglang may Grindr notif si Koya so itinigil nya ang pagkaladkad kay Ate Dyosa na naninilaw na. Paggising nya, naka-blusang itim na sya at nagpapaligo si Gluta Koya ng isang bata.

Tungkol ba ito sa colonialism? Oppression of women? Dance as art form? Ang deep, men!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

*****

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MARIA (JP Habac, 2017)

Aka the Reproductive Health Law Movie.

From the opening breakfast scene with a dozen children of all ages grabbing for the remaining food on the table, to the endless petty fights between the siblings (that would put Bunak and Bilog to shame), to the mother giving birth yet again to her twenty-nth baby inside a tricycle, it was enough for me to wish for an instant vasectomy.

Strong message and good production values, but it just fell short from being a public service announcement.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

*****

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NAKAW (Arvin Belarmino, Noel Escondo, 2017)

Single take, poverty porn, murky lighting, shaky cam, gratuitous sex and violence, social relevance, Kristoffer King. This short was able to tick everything off the Brillante Mendoza-lite checklist. Didn’t really feel necessary.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

*****

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HILOM (P.R. Patindol, 2017)

There was something sweet and completely unsettling between the bond of the young twin brothers in this short. When Blue Twin developed a stronger friendship with another boy, you could actually feel the jealousy of Pink Twin. At the end of the day though (and amidst the malicious gay accusations), blood was still thicker than water.

Solid production values all-throughout. I just wish it didn’t hold back and ventured darker than expected.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

*****

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BAWOD (TM Malones, 2017)

Although I liked the initial focus on the charming relationship between the grandfather and his thirteen year old granddaughter (especially the opening sequence with their constant banter that ended up in a carabao ride), it failed to capitalize on this and instead chose to take a philosophical route (similar to that clichéd bamboo metaphor).

The ending made me scratch my dandruff-free head.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

*****

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NAKAUWI NA (Marvin Cabangunay, Jaynus Olaivar, 2017)

A well-intentioned short dealing with extrajudicial killings that was tough to watch given its crude technical aspects. It was like watching a Powerpoint presentation that would always fade to black before moving on to the next flashback scene. Most of the performances were terrible (the part where the friends delivered the bad news to the father was cringe-worthy). The blatant audio issues were also very distracting and in the only scene that was meant to be affecting, the musical score started to swell before the sappy theme song was played.

Maiiyak na sana ako sa dulo nang biglang lumabas ang multo ng napatay na anak. It was probably meant to be sentimental, but I walked out of the cinema laughing instead.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

The Best of Pinoy Cinema 2016

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TOP 10 BEST FEATURE LENGTH FILMS

#10

ANG BABAE SA SEPTIC TANK 2:#FOREVERISNOTENOUGH

Written by: Chris Martinez
Directed by: Marlon Rivera

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#9

SEKLUSYON

Written by: Anton Santamaria
Directed by: Erik Matti

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#8

PAMILYA ORDINARYO

Written by: Eduardo Roy, Jr.
Directed by: Eduardo Roy, Jr.

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#7

FOREVER BRIDGELESS

Written by: Racquel Zaballero-Sanchez and Glenn Ternal
Directed by: Racquel Zaballero-Sanchez and Glenn Ternal

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#6

STAR NA SI VAN DAMME STALLONE

Written by: Ronald Allan Habon
Directed by: Randolph Longjas

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#5

SAKALING HINDI MAKARATING

Written by: Ice Idanan and Petersen Vargas
Directed by: Ice Idanan

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#4

DIE BEAUTIFUL

Written by: Rody Vera
Directed by: Jun Lana

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#3

MA’ ROSA

Written by: Troy Espiritu
Directed by: Brillante Mendoza

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#2

SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN

Written by: Baby Ruth Villarama
Directed by: Baby Ruth Villarama

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#1

TUOS

Written by: Denise O’Hara
Directed by: Derick Cabrido

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2016 Scorecard:

★★★★★
DIE BEAUTIFUL (Jun Lana)
FOREVER BRIDGELESS (Racquel Zaballero-Sanchez, Glenn Ternal)
FOREVER NATIN (Cyrus Valdez)
MA’ ROSA (Brillante Mendoza)
OKTOPUS (JP Habac)
ANG PAINTING NI TATAY (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo)
SAANMAN NGUNIT DITO (Cheska Salangsang)
SAKALING HINDI MAKARATING (Ice Idanan)
STAR NA SI VAN DAMME STALLONE (Randolph Longjas)
STOP. STEADY. SAYAW. (Dan Villegas)
SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN (Baby Ruth Villarama)
TUOS (Derick Cabrido)
XXX (Allison Barretto)

★★★★☆
ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE (Dan Villegas)
CAMP SAWI (Irene Villamor)
CHICBOY (Jasper Ramon Tulabot)
DIGPAN NING ALTI (Bor Ocampo)
FISH OUT OF WATER (Mon Garilao)
ANG BABAE SA SEPTIC TANK 2: #FOREVERISNOTENOUGH (Marlon Rivera)
KATOK (John Rhys Guarina)
KUNG ANG ULAN AY GAWA SA TSOKOLATE (Galileo Sioco Te and Prime Reyes)
LUMAYO KA NGA SA AKIN (ASAWA NI MARIE) (Chris Martinez)
MERCURY IS MINE (Jason Paul Laxamana)
MRS. (Adolf Alix, Jr.)
AN ORCHESTRA IN SEARCH OF A HOME (Ida Anita del Mundo)
PAMILYA ORDINARYO (Eduardo Roy, Jr.)
PEKTUS (Isabel Quesada)
SEKLUSYON (Erik Matti)

★★★☆☆
THE ACHY BREAKY HEARTS (Antoinette Jadaone)
AREA (Louie Ignacio)
ANG BABAENG HUMAYO (Lav Diaz)
BAKA BUKAS (Samantha Lee)
BAKIT LAHAT NG GWAPO MAY BOYFRIEND? (Jun Lana)
BESHIE (Joyce Bernal)
DUKOT (Paul Soriano)
DYAMPER (Mes de Guzman)
EVERYTHING ABOUT HER (Joyce Bernal)
EXPRESSWAY (Ato Bautista)
GET CERTIFIED (Isaias Zantua)
HELE SA HIWAGANG HAPIS (Lav Diaz)
IMAGINE YOU & ME (Michael Tuviera)
JUST THE 3 OF US (Cathy Garcia-Molina)
LUNA (Rae Red)
MANILA SCREAM (Roque Lee, Blair Camilo)
MGA BITOON SA SIUDAD (Jarell Serencio)
NAKAUWI NA (John Relano, Patrick Baleros, Luis Hidalgo)
NED’S PROJECT (Lemuel Lorca)
AN OPEN DOOR (Paul Soriano)
ORO (Alvin Yapan)
SAVING SALLY (Avid Liongoren)
SITSIRITSIT (Brian Spencer Reyes)
SINA DINO AT ANG KANILANG SIKRETO (Miller Ursolino)
ANG TABA KO KASI (Jason Paul Laxamana)

★★☆☆☆
1ST SEM (Allan Ibanez, Dexter Hemedez)
ANG BAGONG PAMILYA NI PONCHING (Inna Salazar Acuña, Dos Ocampo)
BARCELONA: A LOVE UNTOLD (Olivia Lamasan)
BUGTAW (Noah del Rosario)
BUHAY HABANGBUHAY (Paolo Herras)
BUTAS (Richard Cawed)
DAGSIN (Atom Magadia)
ECHORSIS (Lemuel Lorca)
ANG HAPIS AT HIMAGSIK NI HERMANO PULI (Gil Portes)
ANG HAPON NI NANDING (Milo Tolentino)
HIBLANG ABO (Ralston Jover)
HOW TO BE YOURS (Dan Villegas)
HOW TO FIND LOVE (Quark Henares)
I AMERICA (Ivan Andrew Payawal)
I LOVE YOU TO DEATH (Miko Livelo)
KABISERA (Arturo San Agustin, Real Florido)
KUSINA (Cenon Palomares, David Corpuz)
LAKBAY2LOVE (Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil)
LILA (Gino Santos)
LOVE IS BLIND (Jason Paul Laxamana)
LOVE ME TOMORROW (Gino Santos)
LUMAYO KA NGA SA AKIN (BALA SA BALA, KAMAO SA KAMAO, SATSAT SA SATSAT) (Mark Meily)
LUMAYO KA NGA SA AKIN (SHAKE, SHAKER, SHAKEST) (Andoy Ranay)
ANG MAANGAS, ANG MARIKIT, AT ANG MAKATA (Ibarra Guballa)
MANSYONG PAPEL (Ogos Aznar)
MITATANG (Alvin Jezer Gagui)
MY CANDIDATE (Quark Henares)
NOT APPLICABLE (Carl Chavez)
PUNLA (Kenneth Mandrilla)
THE SUPER PARENTAL GUARDIANS (Joyce Bernal)
THE THIRD PARTY (Jason Paul Laxamana)
THIS TIME (Nuel Naval)
TISAY (Alfonso Torre III)
ANG TULAY NG SAN SEBASTIAN (Alvin Yapan)
THE UNMARRIED WIFE (Maryo J. Delos Reyes)
VINCE & KATH & JAMES (Theodore Boborol)
WHISTLEBLOWER (Adolf Alix, Jr.)
WORKING BEKS (Chris Martinez)

★☆☆☆☆
AKI (Milo Tolentino)
BIRDS (Christian Paolo Lat)
DIYOS-DIYOSAN (Cesar Buendia)
ELEMENTO (Mark Meily)
ENTENG KABISOTE 10 AND THE ABANGERS (Tony Reyes, Marlon Rivera)
THE ESCORT (Enzo Williams)
ANG HAPIS AT HIMAGSIK NI HERMANO PULI (Gil Portes)
LANDO AT BUGOY (Vic Acedillo, Jr.)
MANO PO 7: CHINOY (Ian Loreños)
MY REBOUND GIRL (Emmanuel dela Cruz)
PASSAGE OF LIFE (Renz Vincemark Cruz, Hannah Daryl Gayapa)
STRAIGHT TO THE HEART (Frank David Fabros)
THAT THING CALLED TANGA NA (Joel Lamangan)
TPO (TEMPORARY PROTECTION ORDER) (Joselito Altarejos)
TUPANG LIGAW (Rod Santiago)

MA’ ROSA (Brillante Mendoza, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Ma’ Rosa:

1. The film opened with Rosa (Jaclyn Jose) hoarding what seemed to be packs of Ri-Chee and other chichirya for her small sari-sari store. Similar to that weird sweet milk snack, Brillante Mendoza’s oeuvre would definitely be an acquired taste. As always, expect your senses to be assaulted by the headache-inducing shaky cam and the palpable stench of Manila’s esteros emanating from the screen. As a sucker for poverty porn (that had been getting a bad rap in the local indie scene) and Mendoza’s cinema verite style of filmmaking, I absolutely loved the entire experience. Ri-Chee, not so much.

2. I have always wondered why vendors give candy in lieu of actual change ever since I was given a sukli of Juicy Fruit gum. Is this just a Pinoy thing? (Also, my OCD self really hates butal.)

3. Much had been said about Jaclyn’s brilliant final scene (seriously, that had to be the saddest fishball moment ever), but I really loved how un-Jaclyn she was here. Before she went crazy over-the-top in her recent kabit movies and loony teleseryes, I usually associated her performance with the one parodied in Jeffrey Jeturian’s Tuhog where she talked in this seemingly lazy monotone like a drugged diva who didn’t really care much about performing.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved her type of non-acting acting, but in this film, her performance just felt more…alive. Every dialogue and curse word that came out of her potty mouth sounded true and I felt the dread of being part of her doomed family.

4. Is there a President Duterte biopic in the works? Please consider this Cannes-winning treasure. (Speaking of, I loved how timely this film was considering the recent drug busts happening everywhere in the metro.)

5. Who was the kid that played one of Rosa’s sons and looked like a cross between JM de Guzman and Rainier Castillo? Where have I seen him before?

6. Considering the grim subject matter, I enjoyed the little bits of humor thrown in whether it was Rosa asking the policemen for load to call her supplier, or her husband Nestor (Julio Diaz, effectively understated as always) getting mocked for looking good in a lieutenant’s uniform, or Racquel’s (Andi Eigenmann) description of her mom as someone who looked like her but with humongous breasts, and even the intentional (?) Pare Ko videoke homage to Mark Anthony Fernandez (as one of the corrupt cops).

7. When Rosa uttered the line, “Sir, hindi kami puwedeng makulong kasi mahirap lang kami”, I felt like I was in the middle of a fender bender with a reckless jeepney driver sheepishly scratching his head while looking at the damage that he caused. (Not being elitist, but still…)

8. I was fascinated with the treatment of the gay characters here. One was a young boy wearing his Little Miss Trouble shirt constantly called fag (in a non-derogatory Pinoy way, if there ever was such a thing) and being one of the boys/cops as they celebrated their extortion bounty over lechon manok and San Mig Light (that he was tasked to buy naturally) and later on caught trying to steal a suspect’s cellphone. Another one was a pony-tailed server with heavy make-up and a masculine voice (maybe he wasn’t gay and I was just being judgmental?) who blatantly lied about his boss’ whereabouts. The last was Allan Paule as a benefactor easily fooled by the whims of his needy and manipulative beh. Should this be considered progressive cinema or a sad reality of our society? (Or both?)

And for the curious minds, this was a Mendoza film with Allan Paule playing another gay stereotype so of course, there was a gay sex scene. (Oh, the irony!)

9. Do you still remember Maria Isabel Lopez stealing the scene on the Cannes red carpet with an Albert Andrada emerald dress? She did the exact same thing here while wearing a daster (I think) and spewing profanities and she was nothing short of amazing. This woman was the epitome of the word eksenadora.

10. If you had completely lost faith in our corrupt criminal justice system and thought that policemen rank second on the list of most annoying reptiles in Malabon Zoo, this one definitely wouldn’t help change your mind. Reality sucks.

Rating: ★★★★★

AN ORCHESTRA IN SEARCH OF A HOME (Ida Anita del Mundo, 2016)

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My notes on An Orchestra in Search of a Home:

1. I remember watching the closing show of Repertory Philippines’ The Game’s Afoot in Greenbelt Onstage and immediately after the play, they paid a loving tribute to one of its founders, the late Ms. Zenaida Amador. Co-founder Ms. Baby Barredo reminisced on Repertory’s memories bothgood and bad, but the thing that struck me the most was when she mentioned that they rarely received any funding from the government to stage their productions. Such was (and is) the sad state of our country where the Arts rarely received the needed support (financial from local government, moral from the masses) regardless if they propagate culture or bring glory to our country. Did people even care (or remember) that Brillante Mendoza won the Best Director plum in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival? Why is Neil Ryan Sese auctioning off his shirts just to attend the premiere of his film in the said festival?

2. The Manila Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 90th anniversary this year and its history was as glorious as the music that the band played. This documentary highlighted the current problem that the group was facing: finding not just a home, but a reason to play on. It also dug deeper into the members’ thoughts and feelings and the challenges that they were facing regarding practicality (ergo money) vs. passion.

3. If I were to play in a band, I would definitely want to be part of the strings section. Nothing beats the sound of those swelling violins (played to great effect in the one of the film’s opening scenes with the sunset as a backdrop). In another scene, they were made to sound like machine guns in World War II and the result brought shivers down my spine.

Full disclosure: My fondness for this instrument really started after I watched this late 90’s film called The Red Violin. I rented it for the promised sex and nudity, but ended up loving the musical score instead (which I believe even won an Academy Award).

4. I wish the raw footage used were cleaner with fewer blurred shots and less people coughing, but I guess those were the only ones available for use.

5. I was really interested with the misunderstanding between MSO and St. Scholastica’s College, and that Sister Placid seemed to be a really fascinating character. How about a documentary that will focus solely on her?

6. Music was indeed the nourishment of the soul because even with just a few pieces played in this documentary, I stepped out of the theater floating on an imaginary cloud.

7. Dear Mr. Future President, please don’t forget the Culture and the Arts when you’re already elected into office. We have so many talented people with so little support. They need all the help that they can get. Cue the violins.

Rating: ★★★★☆