THE REUNION (Frasco Mortiz, 2012)

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I couldn’t believe the lines in this movie. The screenplay was just horrible. I cringed every time one of the leads said something supposedly mind-blowing about love. It was even worse whenever Xian Lim delivered those lines.

The audience lapped up the lame jokes and gags in the same way that they enjoyed watching Moron 5 and the Crying Lady. I was left clueless.

Not even the competent performances of Jessy Mendiola and Matt Evans could save this one from the crapper.

As a big Eraserheads fan, I was completely offended.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

(Originally published September 3, 2012.)

FAMILY HISTORY (Michael V., 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Family History:

1. In one of the funniest Bubble Gang moments to date, the brilliant Michael V. came up with a parody video of Lady Gaga’s super hit Bad Romance (called Bathroom Dance). Dressed up in a knockoff iconic white leotard, he twisted and turned around a huge bathroom set while singing (or more appropriately, moaning) about the things he ate (“Okoy, candy, ice cream, laing, siopao, beer, gravy”) that caused his diarrhea-like symptoms.

My favorite bit was when he converted the French lines in the original song to fit his condition and ended up with the hilarious “Jeux tot lang yun, pero parang hindi. Jeux tot lang ba? Ay nakakadiri!”. Genius, right?

2. I was somewhat anticipating that same brand of humor in this movie (where he performed triple duty of acting, writing and directing; move over, Bradley Cooper!!), but what I didn’t expect was for each scene to have a punchline. Seriously, why did everything need to be funny?

When the oncologist (Dingdong Dantes, credited for a cameo role naturally) was discussing the grave illness of May (Dawn Zulueta), her husband Alex (Michael V.) kept making jokes about her situation and it wasn’t even his character’s form of coping mechanism. It was just Michael V. the comedian trying to prove that he was a worthy successor to the late Dolphy. I had a tough time brushing off that queasy feeling of hearing the audience laugh when the doctor confirmed that May had a malignant tumor (read: cancer).

Sure, I was a fan of Jonathan Levine’s cancer dramedy 50/50, but that film knew how to properly balance things out in order to elicit the right emotions. It wasn’t just a series of gags that continued to mine laughs at the expense of a dying, bald woman undergoing chemotherapy.

3. It was for this same reason that I didn’t feel much during all of those dramatic highlights. One of the few scenes that I liked here involved Alex singing an original song to a bedridden May and eventually asking for her forgiveness. It was the kind of scenario that would make me weep and curl up in a fetal position, except that I felt completely detached from these characters. Or maybe because this happened towards the end and I was just expecting the requisite punchline to ruin the moment.

4. I had never seen this many “fade to black” since my college Powerpoint presentation of the “Most Beautiful People in Showbusiness”. While other filmmakers limited the use of this basic editing style to signify the end of an act (or the film itself), this one just had too much fun with it. Why? Because. (Fade to black.)

5. Since Alex’s boss (Nonie Buencamino) was a closeted homosexual, he wore a lot of baby pinks and purples. Bakit hindi na lang siya nilagyan ng rainbow tattoo sa forehead?

6. Other burning questions:

• Did we really need that same exterior shot to establish the hospital scenes? Ano ‘to, teleserye? And why were there so many static scenes? Bawal gumalaw ang camera?

• Although it was established that Alex was a 2D animator that shunned new technology, how could he not know about file formats (“HIV ata”)? Was he also too old-school to not use a television and that was why he never learned of Michael Jackson’s death?

(I appreciated the choice of having animated sequences given the nature of his work, though. Sana lang hindi ganun ka-off ang pagka-insert sa mga eksena.)

• Was Miguel Tanfelix trying to relive the 90’s boyband look with that perennial side brush?

• If Kakai Bautista’s character was such a good influence to May, why was she too eager to support her married friend’s love affair? (And was there ever a scene here where her acting wasn’t immediately set to level 999?)

• It’s 2019 and we still got a scene where Alex sexually harassed another woman and it was played for laughs? (Eww.)

• How could Alex reminisce scenes that he never really saw or experienced?

• Most importantly, who in their right mind would use the rough (green) side of a Scotch-Brite to wash glasses? Imagine those scratches! Horrors!! (Ay, commercial pala siya for Joy in the middle of the movie.)

7. Medyo cute yung juxtaposition na like father, like son in terms of quoting lyrics. At least they both had good taste for knowing the Eraserheads’ Maling Akala and Parokya ni Edgar’s Buloy.

8. You know how Star Cinema kept  punishing its strong female leads with a philandering husband and a broken family? That being a successful, career-driven woman was a curse on one’s marriage? GMA Films had a reverse take with Alex being too busy to attend to his wife’s needs that led to her extra-marital affair with John Estrada and his enormous package (no really, it was referenced and highlighted in the movie). May even justified the act by saying that it was needed to fix her family. Huwat?? (Even weirder, it wasn’t a big deal to John and his wife. Deadma lang.)

9. “Minsan mas okay maging mabait kesa maging tama.” I wonder if Auggie Pullman was shooketh.

10. Amidst all the gags, it was fun to see Michael V. living his fantasy of being fawned over by lovely women and putting the DILF status of Ian Veneracion to shame. Jeux tot mo haha!!

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: ★★★★☆

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: ★★☆☆☆

LAKBAY2LOVE (Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Lakbay2Love:

1. I didn’t have a lot of good memories with bicycles. I learned how to bike after several scrapes and bruises because I didn’t have one with training wheels and my grandfather’s idea of teaching was letting go after five steps and pushing as hard as he could to propel me forward. When I was six, I had the unfortunate luck of biking on a street with rabid dogs that tried to chomp on my then skinny legs (friends, now you know why I’m also scared of dogs). As a teen, my mountain bike got stolen even if we had high walls and it was safely parked in our dirty kitchen. On that day (and with the loss of belief in the goodness of society), I swore off biking in my life forever.

2. Solenn Heussaff played Lianne, a girl that also swore off biking after her father abandoned them for good and left her crying on the gutter under the dramatic pouring rain. She then engaged herself in the world of biking towards a journey of love and self-discovery. Lianne’s tragic life story was boring (“I’m torn between Dennis Trillo and Kit Thompson! Oh, poor me!”). On the other hand, the introduction to the world of biking was awesome. Now why didn’t they make this one a documentary instead?

3. If the Yolanda reference, climate change discussion, and scenes of deforestation weren’t obvious enough, this was an environmental advocacy movie. Lianne was completely right when she mentioned that her problems were so petty compared to the themes being presented here. I wish there were less “Ang pagbibisekleta ay parang lovemaking. Pag nagawa mo na, di mo na makakalimutan” and more of “Kapag maraming alitaptap, ibig sabihin malinis ang hangin.”

4. I really believe that Solenn is one of our underrated actresses. Her performance here was so natural that it was like watching outtakes of the entire shoot. She was just being herself and she (and her flawless armpits) looked even lovelier amidst the gorgeous sunset and luscious rainforests. Who else could deliver a line like “Ang sakit sa pechay!” and still look classy and respectable?

5. If Victor Basa and Rami Malek had a child, it would be Kit Thompson.

6. In one scene (and as if she wasn’t unreachable already), Solenn spoke in fluent French. Dennis (playing Alamat, a cyclist so passionate that he even wore t-shirts with bicycles on them) then joked “Akala ko kasi di mo lang masabi ang mamon nung bata ka pa eh.” I told you we didn’t need this love story.

7. To further drive the point, here’s another groaner delivered by Dennis:

“Relak! Baka ka mag collap. Wag ka ten.”

8. Why are feminine hygiene products so versatile? I’ve seen tampons used as nose plugs and here they used a pantyliner as first aid to a face wound. How absorbent were those things? (Obviously, very.) Talk about a happy period.

9. I loved the scene where the chismosa relatives started spilling the childhood secrets of Alamat (“Naku nung bata yan, hindi yan naliligo!”) A family reunion wouldn’t be complete without any form of embarrassment.

10. It was my first time to hear a version of the Eraserheads’ Overdrive as a biking theme. “Magba-bike ako hanggang Bicol” made me reach out for my inhaler.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆