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: ★★★☆☆

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LOVE YOU TO THE STARS AND BACK (Antoinette Jadaone, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Love You to the Stars and Back:

1. As a kid, I believed everything that my mother told me. I would immediately take a shower after getting drenched in the rain to avoid getting pulmonya. I would forego that extra cup of rice during dinner lest I end up dying of bangungot. I never went to bed with wet hair because I didn’t want to wake up crazy and dragged all the way to the basement of Makati Med. I was proud of my huge ears because they meant that I would live a long life. I also ate an entire roasted lizard because it was supposedly a cure for my asthma.

I wasn’t surprised at all that young Mika (Julia Barretto) swallowed up all the alien talk of her soon-to-be-departed mother (Carmina Villaroel). I mean it would be nice to believe that E.T. (yes, as in “E.T., phone home!”) would one day abduct me and bring me to the stars so I could observe EDSA traffic from above. In Mika’s own words, “Walang imposible sa mundong ito. Kelangan mo lang maniwala.”

2. So Mika decided to look for aliens in Mt. Milagros (fictional place, right?) somewhere in Batangas and the very first thing she bought as supplies were…Choco Muchos?! Please tell me this wasn’t a blatant product placement (similar to that succeeding Oppo selfie) and that she was really a junk food junkie. Also, would Sapporo now be considered the official beer of Pinoy love stories? Better luck next time Red Horse Litro.

3. Leo Martinez had always been the token Batangueño character in Pinoy cinema and his accent (read: punto) would always be played for laughs. I was happy to see a different version here represented by Caloy (Joshua Garcia, another true-blue Batangueño), but I wish he kept the accent all-throughout the film just for authenticity (sadly, the ones by the supporting cast were spotty at best).

Joshua made up for it though with such a strong performance that displayed his versatility. The John Lloyd Cruz comparisons made during Vince & Kath & James were even more obvious (and justified) here. Naiiyak ako habang pinapanood lang sya umiyak, whether he was telling the story of how his father abandoned them over a plate of tapang kalabaw, or peering through the gate while getting rejected by said dad, or calling his mom to assure her that he was okay. Nanay pa niya si Cherry Pie Picache so wag na umasang di ka maiyak.

(I think the only weakness of Joshua would be his fake laugh because, well, it felt fake. Bawi naman sa pa-karug. Har har.)

4. I loved how the characters here bonded over the grossest things, making them more human and their relationship more relatable. Their meet cute moment actually involved pooping and pissing in a talahiban (another mother’s advice: always say ‘tabi tabi po’ to prevent the wrath of a nuno) and since a significant part of the movie had them inside a car, I was happy when somebody actually farted (with a round of finger-pointing after, of course!).

5. Wait, so Caloy was sick and he decided that the best way to go from Lemery to Calaca (this would be like going from Southmall to MOA ba?) was on a bike?

6. The manong manok character was definitely me to millennials: “Ang babata n’yo pa, ang lalandi n’yo na!”

Mika was able to provide a good defense though: “Bakit kung uso na ang cellphone nung EDSA Revolution, hindi rin ba kayo mag-selfie?!” Touché!

(Another Titas of Manila moment: my brain kept screaming “Eyes on the road!” while they kept making landi in a moving vehicle. Ay josko ka!)

7. Goldie, their pet chicken, was left in the car while they ate lunch. Buti hindi naging Chickenjoy pagbalik nila.

8. I was never really fond of Julia because of her rumored kaartehan and perceived brattiness (I read a lot of FashionPulis, sorry!), but she definitely proved her mettle here. Not only did she look and sound very much like her Aunt Claudine, she actually acted the exact same way.

I especially liked her in that bridge scene where all of her emotions just felt raw and natural. Any lesser actress would have disappeared amidst the powerful presence of Joshua. She also had this really cute (albeit bittersweet) scene with Mika imagining that Caloy was still in the passenger seat. All it needed was her playfully saying, “Mukha kang chewing gum na masarap nguyain.”

9. Although it had elements similar to The Fault in our Stars (and even Your Name), the film overall was still distinctly Jadaone. Iba pa rin ang magic niya kapag usapang pag-ibig. She always knew the right blend of kilig and drama.

I really liked how this was able to differentiate itself from TFIOS by showing the ugly side of cancer. It would be hard to forget that heartbreaking scene with Caloy all covered in his own puke and blood, trying to pretend that nothing was wrong with him. Also, it had one of the most unromantic (pero damang-dama pa rin) declarations of love in cinema. Move over, Ansel and Shailene!

10. “Walang sigurado pero minsan kelangan mo lang maniwala.” I now believe in you, JoshLia. Elyen!!

Rating: ★★★★☆

LA LA LAND (Damian Chazelle, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on La La Land:

1. One character in this film probably summed up my entire viewing experience of this oftentimes joyous homage to classic Hollywood musicals: “How are you going to be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist?”

Damien Chazelle (who also directed Whiplash, one of the best of 2014) concocted such a nostalgic fantasy world that easily razzle dazzled the audience and made them forget that they were basically watching the same old romance tropes (why am I mentioning romance like it’s a dirty word?). I think Billy Flynn in Chicago said it best with “How can they see with sequins (or in this case, thousands of stars?) in their eyes?”.

2. The “Another Day of Sun” opening sequence was such a delight to watch that it was hard for me not to stomp my feet along with it. Wouldn’t it be great if people suddenly burst into an all-out song and dance production number while stuck in EDSA rush hour traffic? Besides, your obnoxious soulmate might just be right there in the next Tas Trans bus.

3. I named my current car after Emma Stone so my love for her was unquestionable. It would also be out of love for me to say that she was great here as struggling actress Mia (the first audition scene when she was rudely interrupted for a sandwich was heartbreaking), except when she was required to sing. Her voice was just too weak (thin? airy?) and it hobbled what could have been a brilliant showstopper with “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”. (This song sounded like “The Rainbow Connection” while “A Lovely Night” reminded me so much of Frank Sinatra’s “Cheek to Cheek”.)

4. Ryan Gosling as Sebastian was just as charming and had the right amount of smarm, like he was the better person simply for being a jazz enthusiast. He actually looked like he was literally dying of embarrassment while playing A-ha’s “Take On Me”. His fingers were a bit stiff during the piano scenes, but he fared much better vocally. Also, could someone teach me how to whistle that “City of Stars” piece?

5. When J.K. Simmons stormed out of the kitchen to fire Gosling, I actually thought that he would throw a ladle at him and scream, “Not quite my tempo!!”. (Seriously, if you hadn’t seen Whiplash, watch it now!!)

6. Passion, hard work, and the sacrifices made to realize your dreams. Different priorities, different outlooks. Long-distance relationships (“My aunt used to live in Paris…”) rarely worked. Why must life be so cruel?

7. The seasons as metaphors for their relationship status and even the bench break-up scene reminded me so much of (500) Days of Summer. On the other hand, the coffee shop scenes were very Bituing Walang Ningning. I loved the newly-transformed Dorina Pineda vibe she gave when she walked in five years later to get her latte. Uwian na, may nanalo na.

8. That alternate reality sequence would probably go down as the ultimate hopia moment of 2016.

9. Much had been said about the bittersweet ending complete with their longing looks (disappointment? regret? hope? acceptance? closure?) and it probably would have been more poignant if I didn’t see it first in Olivia Lamasan’s The Mistress.

Rating: ★★★★☆

CAMP SAWI (Irene Villamor, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

(Watch the movie before reading this and then let’s discuss. Enjoy it first. Go!)

My notes on Camp Sawi:

1. If I were to create a custom pain scale (you know, the one that doctors used to determine how unbearable your gastritis was even if you were already as pale as Edward Cullen), I would probably place having a broken heart in between a bony impacted wisdom tooth extraction and getting stuck in EDSA traffic on a Monday rush hour morning.

The physical, mental, and emotional anguish of a heartbreak really takes its toll especially on the abandoned party (read: tangang umaasa pa rin) and everyone knows that it usually takes forever to get through the real stages of grief: 1) Nasaktan, 2) Niloko, 3) Iniwan, 4) Umiyak, 5) Nagdusa, 6) Nag-Let Go, 7) Nag-Move On, 8) Nagbago, 9) Sumaya, 10) Gumanda.

2. In this light and lovely comedy that would probably end up as my favorite guilty pleasure this year, brokenhearted women could find solace and redemption in a fictional boot camp (shot in gorgeous Bantayan Island, Cebu City) where sodium-free meals were specially-prepared to avoid further depression, phones and Facebook were deemed useless due to lack of any signal (“only Mother Nature!”), nightly bonfires were held to destroy the remaining memories of your tormentor (“if you want to sunog anything”), and group activities (yoga sessions, morning jogs, film viewing of the classic Sharon-Robin starrer Maging Sino Ka Man, open forums) were conducted to assist in the moving on process.

With the popularity of hugot films of late, this type of resort would actually be a lucrative franchise. Investors, anyone?

3. Remember that brilliant opening in Up that followed the beginning and tragic end of Carl and Ellie’s love story? This movie came close to recreating that sequence, except that nobody died but Bridgette’s (Bela Padilla) poor heart. Those first ten minutes covered the entire gamut of a failed relationship and its tragic aftermath (stalking an ex on social media to check the new partner, baliwan mode while getting drunk, Google search of “how to heal a broken heart”). Bela was just so good in this role that it made me forget how much she struggled in the recent I America. She clearly had the best scenes in the movie:

• bargaining for ten more minutes on the phone (“kasi ten years kita tinawag na babe eh”)

• bitterly saying lines like “Sino bang brokenhearted ang maganda? Sasaksakin ko!”

• the pig-out scene with Camp Master Louie (Sam Milby) complete with loud munching and reminiscent of Meg Ryan’s orgasm sequence in When Harry Met Sally (“I’ll have what she’s having!”)

• endlessly ranting on getting dumped for not being Chinese (“Sampung taon kami nag-celebrate ng Chinese New Year. Hindi ba niya nakita ang mata ko?”)

4. I really liked the millennial character Jessica (Yassi Pressman) and how her life was always in relation to a pop culture event (on her breakup: “It actually hurt more when Zayn left One Direction”, on her gay boyfriend: “I didn’t know! Did you see Bruce Jenner?”). Instead of being annoying, she was just so charming throwing lines like, “He’s really old. Like ka-age mo old”.

As an old person myself, I did feel a bit happy seeing her receive her comeuppance when Bridgette retorted, “Bata ka pa. Marami ka pang makikilalang bakla.”

5. Parents, please do not bring your kids to this movie. The theme and content aren’t for them anyway. It just felt a bit uncomfortable that there were kids watching when they showed the implied shower fellatio scene. Bring your husbands instead since I’m sure they will at least enjoy ogling at the bikini bodies in full display. Or in my case, wondering how these beautiful women achieved their perennial rosy white cheeks.

6. At this point in her career, Arci Muñoz could do no wrong. As the rocker chick Gwen aka Lovejoy (self-proclaimed Kilabot ng Altura), she was endearing even while getting wasted and throwing up on fresh sheets. Her little girl voice was really funny given that it was coming out of this scorching hot woman’s body and everything she said regardless of sense connected with the audience (“Kelangan ko uminom kasi ang panget mo!”, “Kinukumutan mo ko, pang may boypren yun!”). Her character even asked the exact same question I had about Louie being seen everywhere (“Understaffed ba kayo?”).

That lovely singing voice and song, though. Wow.

Also, seeing Ramona Thornes wearing a Ramones shirt was pure genius.

7. The wild drunk scene with Bridgette and Gwen was already worth the price of admission. I had never laughed so hard hearing things that would only sound funny coming from two drunk women:

• “Kapag Chinese kuripot!” “Hindi! Kapag Chinese masipag, walang holiday!”

• “Hindi lahat ng nag-e-English taga-England, tanga! Minsan taga-Makati lang.”

8. I wonder if this would have worked better as a series instead, along the lines of Orange Is the New Black. There were just so many stories that needed enough time to breathe: the mistress Clarisse (Andi Eigenmann), Joan (Kim Molina) and the untimely death of her fiancé, the chubby girl left by her chubby boyfriend after he lost ten pounds (and resorted to baking to mend her broken heart, familiar no?), and the only gay guy in camp whose heart was full of regrets. Even Louie needed a bit more back story other than he wanted to help these people overcome their sadness. It was hard to feel for all of them and their sob stories when they were mere strangers.

9. New forms of catharsis in Pinoy cinema: jumping off a cliff as a leap of faith, the undying love of videoke (this time set to Regine Velasquez’s Dadalhin), and women stripping off (almost) everything to swim in the beach (ala Chris Martinez’s 100).

10. “Ang mga panget kapag nagkajowa sobrang blessing at kapag iniwan naman ay isang sumpa.” Aray ko beh!

11. Somebody asked me recently how one would know when a person’s already over (or close to moving on from) an ex and the last few moments of the movie perfectly encapsulated my response.

Some people would fear bumping into an ex in a public place (especially with a new partner), but that would be the ultimate test. Sure, it might still sting a bit but instead of digging up the past, if you’re able to ask “Kumusta ka? Ok ka lang ba? Masaya ka ba?” without any form of bitterness or resentment, then you wouldn’t need to book another summer in Camp Sawi.

Welcome back to the real world and get excited for your new “balang araw”.

12. Seriously, is there a place similar to Camp Sawi right now? I already have a list of names that I will recommend it to. 😊

Rating: ★★★★☆

ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN (Jun Lana, 2015)

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SPOILER ALERT!! (Also: Rated R-18)

My notes on Anino Sa Likod Ng Buwan:

1. If you haven’t seen this film yet, do yourself a big favor. Stop reading this, head over to the nearest cinema, and watch this two-hour one-take achievement in local filmmaking. You can thank me later.

2. I was greatly reminded of two things while watching. The first was Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina, a visual feast with its moving sets and changing backdrops all within the confines of a theater. This one had the exact same feel, although it was limited to just one camera moving around in a tiny hut. Everything was expertly-staged and it had to be because there wasn’t a lot of room for errors (I could only imagine how frustrating it would have been to keep reshooting if major flubs were committed).

This type of staging also supported the oftentimes theatrical cadences and lyrical dialogue (one character’s description of another: “Lubog ang mata, humpak ang pisngi, ang mga linya sa mata niya na tila bahay ng gagamba”, which was exactly how I would describe myself before breakfast).

3. With just a few choice words (“walang kuryente”, “walang tubig”, “kamote ulit”, “nakaw na sardinas”, “sobrang init”), it quickly established its setting in treacherous ’90s Marag Valley (also known as “No Man’s Land” in Kalinga-Apayao). The battle between the military and the rebels placed the land in such a depressing state that one character actually felt relieved that his wife had a miscarriage, rather than watch their baby die of hunger. Now I would always remember that before complaining about something as petty as EDSA traffic.

4. Farmer Nardo (Anthony Falcon) kept saying the line “Wag mong gagalawin ang asawa ko. Akin yan!” that it all but guaranteed wife Emma (LJ Reyes) and bantay-salakay soldier/friend Joel (Luis Alandy) hooking up in that now notorious 10-minute graphic sex scene (even in black and white though, I could have sworn that Luis used plaster; don’t ask).

But really, if there were only three actors and two of them had full frontal nudity, whatever happened to solidarity? We could have easily judged who had the bigger ari. (Also, I take everything that Mo Twister says with a grain of salt so…)

5. I could still remember LJ as a Starstruck Survivor trying her best to squeeze out the tears in that drama workshop under Gina Alajar so that she wouldn’t be replaced by an Avenger (Starstruck, not Marvel) in the weekly eliminations. Well, this fearless Urian winner had definitely gone a long way. She was just amazing here, to say the least (even better than when I last saw her in Tanghalang Pilipino’s Juego de Peligro).

If I remembered correctly, in the entire two hours, she only blatantly tripped during the “puke at mga suso” line, but then who wouldn’t (again, one-take, no cuts)? Even her cunnilingus aria was spectacular. Brava!

6. Similar to Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe, I really liked the inclusion of a local mystical creature in the discussion. Nothing else could describe the horrors of that time like a homegrown kapre. To quote one character, “Sino ba talaga ang kaaway?”.

7. Oh, the other thing that I was reminded of was the FX TV show The Americans with its smart take on spies, lies, double crosses, deceit, and even unrequited love.

8. “Lahat tayo ay mga baliw na nagpapanggap na may katinuan sa pag-iisip.”

9. It was funny that after the final scene when the screen faded to black, nobody stood up and left because we were all expecting an end credits sequence. Waiting for it, though, was like waiting for redemption that will never come.

Rating: ★★★★★