SANTA SANTITA (Laurice Guillen, 2004)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

Just imagine kung yung pinakamalandi mong bff nagising isang umaga with healing powers. At hindi lang siya basta pokpok version ni Elsa (Ate Guy, not Frozen) ha. More of Magdalena ikaw ay sawimpalad to Mama Mary real quick.

Ganun ang naging kapalaran ni Malen (Angelica Panganiban) dito. Nung una allergic siya sa simbahan at galit na galit sa nanay (Hilda Koronel) na nagdadasal kapalit ng donasyon. Tapos in a cruel twist of fate, naging instant prophet (ata kasi bigla siya nagsuot ng costume ng mga jakono) slash faith healer siya. Sa sobrang lakas niya humiling sa pagdadasal, inakala ng jowa-jowaan niya na si Mike (Jericho Rosales) na kaya niya buhayin ang namatay nitong anak na nabubulok na pero nakakunot pa rin ang noo.

Blatant ang influence ng Himala dito. Sayang lang kasi wala masyadong nasabi ang pelikula. May konting sundot about the hypocrisy of Catholics (tulad nung mga chismosang Titas of Quiapo na nagsabi na binababoy ni Malen ang simbahan for wearing her Freeway outfits with plunging necklines and short skirts pero more paninira naman sa isa’t isa to get prayer customers).

Easy target pa naman ang religion sa mga ganitong klaseng pelikula pero parang natakot siya mabansagang makasalanan. Bagay na bagay pa naman kay Angelica ang Madonna-whore role (she wasn’t Rubi for nothing). Sana mas na-explore pa yung confused feelings niya regarding that dichotomy. Para que pa na nagkaron siya (or at least visions) ng stigmata diba?

And speaking of, naalala ko tuloy bigla si Bianca Lapus na hinihimatay tuwing may interview dati tapos dumudugo bigla ang mga palad. Medyo bata pa ako nun (wew) pero I really didn’t fall for that publicity stunt. After her fifteen minutes of fame, ayun she went the way of the infamous Judiel Nieva. Tama si Ate Guy all along. Wala talagang himala.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

BREAKING THE WAVES (Lars von Trier, 1996)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

I’d always remember this film as the one that my college Theology professor detested so much that she spoiled the entire story in one of our classes and discouraged us from ever seeing it, lest our souls burn in the pits of hell.

Being the obedient, saintly, Catholic school-raised kid that I was, of course I ignored her warning and immediately looked for a copy from my favorite mIRC channel (the cinema-related one, not the other kind). I was enthralled for two and a half hours and absorbed every “immoral” theme it had to offer. My spirit felt completely free by the time the bells started chiming in the end.

I guess I still turned out okay. (Not so sure about my soul, though.) Sadly, I never had the chance to tell my dear old teacher how much I loved it and that she “had no right to consign Bess to hell”.

Emily Watson was just phenomenal here. The rest of the cast (especially Stellan Skarsgard and the late Katrin Cartlidge) were terrific as well.

If you were able to watch the National Anthem episode of Black Mirror, you might have heard of the Dogme 95 style as part of the hostage taker’s demands in terms of filming that pig scene (“no background music, only natural light for authenticity”). That directorial choice worked really well in this one. Made me wonder if it was time to revive the Mother Lily Pito-Pito cinematic movement.

Rating: ★★★★★

ANG HULING EL BIMBO (THE MUSICAL) (Dexter Santos, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Ang Huling El Bimbo (The Musical):

1. I’d be lying if I told you that I was the biggest fan of the Eraserheads considering that I gave up on them after the disappointing Sticker Happy (by that time, I had already moved on to Hanson’s Middle of Nowhere). Magasin was their very first song that I really liked. I saved up all of my lunch money (and gave up my favorite kuchay pie from Mr. Teo’s) just to afford their Circus cassette tape. While everyone else listened to Jose Mari Chan for Christmas, I was locked up in my room singing along to Fruitcake. I even paid Php150 (considered exorbitant to a high school student in the 90’s) for their Bananatype EP that contained only five (!!) songs. My idea of rebellion was listening (and cursing along) to the “Tangina” version of Pare Ko in their Ultraelectromagneticpop! album. And when the band was plagued with rumors about devil worship (apparently, backmasking Cutterpillow would reveal Satanic chants) and subliminal drug use in songs (hello Alapaap!), my soul full of Catholic guilt loved them even more. Still not the biggest fan, though. I didn’t even like Spoliarium.

2. When I heard the news that a musical was being made based on the band’s discography, I was initially doubtful. Would I really want to hear bastardized versions of their most masa hits sung by professional musical theater actors? Would these songs that meant dearly to me still have the same effect if they were taken out of context? My only hope was that this style actually worked for Mamma Mia! and even if some of the tunes felt forced into a storyline, the end result was still a joyous ode to the classic songs of Abba. Even with a more melodramatic plot, El Bimbo wasn’t any different in celebrating the wonderful anthems of an iconic 90’s band.

3. I actually liked how some of the songs took on a whole new meaning here. One of my favorites was how they “ruined” such an optimistic one like With a Smile and reworked it into a heartbreaking ballad. The sight of young Joy (a wonderful Tanya Manalang) holding graduation sampaguita necklaces for her friends after suffering a tragic incident made me cry in my seat. I also adored the giddy Tindahan ni Aling Nena sequence that had three different versions of courtship happening onstage. The rest of the songs retained the same emotional resonance like the nostalgic Minsan number (still my favorite OPM of all time) and the expertly-staged hallucinogenic version of Alapaap.

4. Although the story felt a bit lacking in terms of the development of friendships and the choice to make it brutally sentimental (the complete shift in tone during the end of the first act left the audience wondering if they should be clapping given such a horrific scene), it more than made up for it with great choreography (the marching band version of Pare Ko was a hoot) and spectacular set design (the revolving stage used for Toyang’s carinderia and the Overdrive car was a visual treat).

5. The vocal performances were consistently good across the board, although I found some of the casting a bit off. I adored Topper Fabregas (as the young Anthony) and when he showed up in one scene with his face badly-bruised, my heart just exploded because I knew they were playing my song Hey Jay next. Jon Santos (as the repressed present Anthony) was also terrific, but he looked considerably older compared to Gian Magdangal (as the present Hector) and OJ Mariano (as the present Emman; loved the conceit that he lost his gorgeous locks). This age thing was also my concern for the divine Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (as the present Joy). Also, she sang beautifully, but had that classically-trained (read: very conyo) style of singing that deviated from the young Joy’s masa character.

6. The sprinkle of 90’s pop culture references from Ang TV and Cindy’s to the “Chicken!” of Tropang Trumpo were simply perfect for certified Titos and Titas of Manila. On the other hand, the interludes used from different Eraserheads albums were a welcome treat for the fans. If you could recite the entire “Gusto mo ng tahong, gusto mo ng labong, ispaghetti, patitocini, banana que, nilagang suso, tahong chips ahoy…” line, then this was made for a certified E-Head like you.

Rating: ★★★★☆

BAD GENIUS (Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Bad Genius:

1. One of the lowest points in my high school life (or even my life in general) was when I got caught cheating (along with three other classmates) in an exam. It was quite the scandal because we were part of the Honors Class (or as one of our teachers called us, “the Cream of the Crop, pweh!”). Unlike this film though, that incident didn’t involve an elaborate set-up, high stakes, huge amounts of money, or even a hidden kodigo written on an eraser. On my end (the others had reasons of their own), I just matter-of-factly checked with another classmate if we had the same answer on a specific item of a crossword-type quiz. Unfortunately for us, one of the moral guardians (aka chu-chu) in class informed our teacher about it.

Back then, I couldn’t understand why we had to be severely punished for something that (to me) didn’t really constitute cheating. We were even asked to stand in front of the class, very much like modern-day adulterers on trial (kulang na lang meron kami cardboard sa leeg stating “Mandaraya! Wag tularan!”) challenging the crowd to cast the first stone (ironically, some of our classmates that did throw stones and reminded everyone on the importance of good values were the ones that blatantly cheated in exams but were never caught; more on this later).

Anyway, we were reprimanded with a failed score in that test, a C- in Conduct, and our Catholic souls promptly delivered to the devil for eternal damnation. Suffice to say, I fully learned from that experience and never cheated my way through an exam ever again.

2. When I initially saw this film several months back, it functioned as an effective thriller about students scamming their way in a national exam. Even to this day, I would have these nightmares resulting to cold sweats for not knowing the answers to a random multiple choice exam and it was probably the closest feeling that could describe this viewing experience. Every sequence that involved flinging shoes, two sets of exams, piano codes, and hidden cellphones in the toilet had the same level of excitement slash anxiety as any heist flick directed by Steven Soderbergh or Edgar Wright.

A second viewing though revealed a much deeper take on morality; how seemingly righteous people could be swayed into the dark side and how perfectly flawed characters could find redemption. The juxtaposition of Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, in a stunning film debut) and Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul) spoke volumes on how external factors (social inequality, intelligence as a form of power, capital-driven labor system, among others) could ultimately define/shape a person’s morals/values. That bridge scene where they stood above the stop and go signals was simply, well, genius.

3. Although I was impressed with how the piano lessons were incorporated into the cheating scheme (the highlight was when Lynn used the same method to memorize all the STIC answers), I found it hard to believe that her intellectually-impaired classmates could keep up with her fast-moving fingers (and even had to “transmit” answers the same way to the rest of the group). Surely there must have been easier gestures/signals that they could have utilized instead.

Going back to my morally upright classmates that I mentioned earlier, one of the techniques that they used to memorize the correct answers was the folding of their fingers. We would usually have these short quizzes that consisted of ten True or False questions and what they would do was fold every finger that corresponded to every False answer (based on the leakage of their friends that took the test before us). While our teachers thought that they were just fooling around and making alien-like gestures, everything was set for them to get perfect scores. Except of course in long quizzes and finals when they would lack enough digits (toes included) to fold for a 100-item exam.

4. I really liked how the story utilized the infinite reflections whenever Lynn was faced with a moral dilemma (the opening interrogation, the escalator scene before agreeing on the STIC scheme, and her final application on her chosen college). Nothing screamed introspection more than a character looking at all her possible identities in a mirror.

5. For a film burdened with such serious themes, the occasional stabs at humor helped keep it a bit lighthearted. I had a good laugh at the following: 1) when Lynn’s father brought a box of her trophies and medals when they were talking to the headmistress (probably something that my mother would also do), 2) when everyone who answered set 1 stood up at the same time to submit their papers, 3) when someone referred to Pat (Teeradon Supaponpinyo) wearing a turtleneck and giving a rousing speech as Steve Pat, and 4) weirdly enough, when Lynn held her pencil like a weapon before heading to the STIC exam room.

On the flip side, I couldn’t hold back my tears during these scenes: 1) when Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan) mentioned “If I had half your brain, I wouldn’t do something this stupid”, 2) when Bank gave Lynn a nod during his interrogation scene before realizing that he was on his own, 3) when Lynn went all Teddie Salazar in the airport and confessed everything to her father, and 4) the subsequent waiting hall scene with him assuring her that “We’ll get through this”. You’re not crying, I am.

6. The weakest aspect here that really strained credulity was the extended chase scene with Lynn after she threw up on her test (why didn’t anyone even hear her gagging in the first place?). When her phone started getting kicked around and Pat and Grace lost their phone’s signal, it was just too many coincidences happening to be believable. Even if you dismissed the fact that she was being chased by the Terminator, did she really have to drop that phone in a stranger’s bag? How would that be considered a clean trail? Seriously, these amateurs should have consulted my morally upright classmates.

7. “Even if you don’t cheat, life cheats you anyway.”

a) True
b) False
c) Saklap besh

Rating: ★★★★☆

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: ★★★★★