ULAN (Irene Villamor, 2019)

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I adored the (commendable) bits of magical realism steeped in Pinoy folklore. Sadly, the rest of it was a confused, tropes-filled mess with a very questionable central message.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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SID & AYA (NOT A LOVE STORY) (Irene Villamor, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Sid and Aya (Not a Love Story):

1. The comparisons between Dingdong Dantes’ privileged, cutthroat stock broker Sid and Leonardo DiCaprio’s hedonistic stock broker Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street would be inevitable, but if anything, Sid reminded me more of Dingdong’s privileged car salesman character in the early 2000s flop Akala Mo… (ellipsis included) with Judy Ann Santos as a lady guard drooling over him.

In one scene, iconic character actor Mandy Ochoa was furious at Dingdong for stealing a customer using only his natural good looks and charm. The same thing happened in this movie when Sid got punched in the face by a colleague for poaching a client. (Why did I remember such petty details? Because my brain preferred to latch on to useless trivia rather than store new knowledge that would make me the next Jordan Belfort.)

2. I had never been a fan of Dingdong and his constipated acting, especially since he would always use the exact same glare whether he was surprised for being caught cheating, frustrated for getting turned down on a possible kitchen counter sex, or just pretending to be downright scary as an abusive lover. One of my happiest Christmas seasons was when he won Best Actor in the MMFF for Segunda Mano because I was laughing every day all the way through Three Kings.

After watching him play the arrogant yet sympathetic Sid, I could actually hear him say “Fuck you no-name feeling critic! Look for MY name in next year’s Urian nominees.” Yes, he was that good here. He had me at “Sino ba ang gagong ito?” and made this entire Black Swan theory of Taleb worth pondering upon. Weirdly enough, said theory worked on the premise of “may mga pangyayaring di inaasahan mangyari na magbabago ng lahat”.

(Side note: Anne Curtis also had a children’s book called Anita the Duckling Diva so I guess lapitin silang dalawa sa ibon talaga.)

3. “Napakaraming kupal sa mundo” would actually apply to people who would have the gall to say that they could easily relate to Sid, so I guess I would be the ultimate kupal. All the sleepless nights of discontentment, all the feelings of worthlessness even at the peak of success, the emptiness, the search for life’s meaning. What struck me the most was when he said “Sino ba ang hindi malungkot? Sino ba ang hindi galit sa mundo? Isang pitik, isang maling sagi, sasabog ka bigla.” When he mentioned the history of depression and suicide in his family, I actually expected it to play a big part in his story (one of the early shots was an overhead view of his condo’s balcony and I really thought it hinted that he would eventually jump off the building). I guess this was Not a Netflix Series as well.

4. Magaling na talaga mag-Filipino si Anne. Struggling slang-speaking actors that want to make it big in local showbiz should learn a thing or two from her. As Aya, she was just the right amount of Pinoy manic pixie dream girl who would brutally call Sid out (“Sobrang lungkot mo naman para magbayad ka ng kausap”) or tease him even while her heart was breaking (“Kung tumaya ako sa‘yo, ikaw naman ang masasaktan”).

Her best scene was when she was trying to hold back her tears after Sid revealed his plans to propose to his real girlfriend. I wanted to give her a hug while whispering in her ear, “Bakit di mo sinunod yung sinabi mo dati sa No Other Woman na ‘You can kiss me, but don’t you dare fall in love with me’ ang gaga nito!”.

(Also, congratulations to her glam team because she looked absolutely gorgeous in every single frame.)

5. There was a moment where Sid and Aya were staring at an aquarium-like screen with dazzling moving visuals and it would probably be the most memorable one in this film. My second favorite was when a flurry of umbrellas started moving in Shibuya Crossing. Ganda! Great soundtrack, too.

6. My OC side kept wondering about the schedules of Aya and how she was able to sustain her multiple jobs (barista at The Grind, laundry shop lady, Stardome princess at Star City, part-time escort). I knew she desperately needed the money for her father’s operation, but how did she find time to sleep? Was that why we never really saw her eat or take a shower?

7. While Aya’s co-worker wondered if Sid’s longganisa was Vigan or Lucban, I was curious to know why Dingdong’s left nipple was so close to his armpit even if he was sleeping on his right side. (Petty details, you have been warned.)

8. I was shocked when Sid’s boss (Gabby Eigenmann) was bragging about him and mentioned “To the best fucker I know… and I mean that literally.” Omg pano nya alam? Does that mean…???

9. For a supposed non-love story, it was actually very much like a love story. Even the ending couldn’t hold back on the requisite happy twist of fate. If it had chosen to go all (500) Days of Summer instead, I really wouldn’t complain.

10. “The things that we love will eventually kill us.” Definitely the reason why I no longer watch movies in Festival Mall’s crumbling cinemas.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

MEET ME IN ST. GALLEN (Irene Villamor, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Meet Me in St. Gallen:

1. It might be my limited knowledge of films (or my utter love for the series), but every time I’d see a romantic movie where the two leads just talk for hours, I immediately think of the classic Before Trilogy. It set such a high standard that anything else that remotely came close to its structure/style would (unfairly) end up as a mere copycat in my book.

This movie felt very much like a condensed version of the trilogy, except that the rambling discussions were less philosophical and more hugot-based (“Hindi ako painting na mailalagay mo sa pader”). Which would have been forgivable if it just wasn’t so… boring.

(Also, I thought that Raffy and Gela of Mr. and Mrs. Cruz would end up as this year’s most talkative characters, but I was obviously wrong.)

2. The meet cute was actually fine and it was interesting to watch the interactions between the spunky Celeste (Bela Padilla) and the more subdued Jesse (Carlo Aquino). Although it initially had that creepy stalker feel of Kita Kita with him bumping into her outside of a public restroom (where all great love stories start) and then began following her everywhere, she immediately confronted him (“Nagagandahan ka ba sa akin kaya mo ako sinusundan?”) and thankfully put a stop to this emerging love story trope that should never be romanticized.

I also wondered if Celeste would have entertained Jesse in the coffee shop if he looked like, say, Empoy Marquez so I felt amused when she was obviously one step ahead of the audience and said, “Kung di ka gwapo, di kita papaupuin dyan.”

(And totoo, sobrang gwapo lang ni Carlo dito that it made me forget he used to be part of the kiddie boyband JCS with John Prats and Stefano Mori. Wait, I meant sobrang galing. Galing, galing, galing!!)

3. I should actually hate Celeste because a) she spoiled the ending of Celeste and Jesse Forever, b) she had the gall to brag about her eight hundred friends on Facebook, c) she complained about being a misunderstood graphic artist yet made a basic layout that seemed to be a product of WordArt, d) one of her art works consisted of a pole with several hanging labada, and e) since she was an ahrt-ist, her dining table was decorated with scattered jigsaw puzzle pieces, but Bela’s such a good actress that I lapped up everything that she said and did.

4. I should actually hate Jesse because a) he asked if Celeste and Jesse Forever had a happy ending (and then complained about the spoiler, huh?), b) he sounded like a second-rate Abra that talked like Boy Abunda (“Kapag ako lang mag-isa, gusto kong isulat ang tungkol sa mga ibinubulong ko sa langit”), c) he broke several laws by answering his phone while drunk driving, and d) he cheated on Angelica Panganiban (well, not the real one, rather his fiancée in the picture), but Carlo’s such a good actor… wait, I already covered that.

5. Of course it wouldn’t be complete without a videoke session. Now if only I hadn’t recently heard and associated You Are My Sunshine with Annabelle: Creation…

6. I really couldn’t understand why Celeste would suddenly walk out of a romantic moment (“Sobrang perfect naman ng moment na ‘to. Wag natin sirain”) and then sleep with an obviously engaged Jesse four years later. Was it supposed to signal her transition from idealist to realist? Did absence make her heart grow fonder? What happened to emotional maturity?

(Side note: This was obviously a woman’s fantasy because the couple actually had an incredibly long talk in bed after having sex. And the next day, Celeste had an I-woke-up-like-this look with perfect eyebrows.)

7. All of those snowy Switzerland scenes looked really lovely. I wish I could say that I’d love to tick that off my bucket list, but definitely not after my nose almost fell off in Japan last month (and it wasn’t even below zero there).

8. Sobrang pahabol si Celeste. It took several minutes (and blocks) of endless walking and talking before she actually revealed that she already had a boyfriend. Ganda mo girl! Ginawan na ng tula ni Fidel, ngayon naman kanta ni Jesse pero basted pareho. I honestly couldn’t wait for the 100 Kanta ni Bela song hits.

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: ★★★★☆