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: ★★★★☆

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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: ★★☆☆☆

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: ★★★★★