ANNIE (Will Gluck, 2014)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Annie:

1. The movie opened with a typical Annie, a tiny freckle-faced Caucasian redhead, reading a report on former US Presidents. The teacher then called the real Annie, played by Quvenzhane Wallis, a smart and spunky African-American. I loved this wink, wink opening because Wallis was just too adorable in the lead role. I was also happy with the color blind casting because the role of Annie had nothing to do with her skin color anyway.

2. When I heard the teacher call Annie B., I immediately thought Annie Batungbakal and I started humming the theme song and imagined Nora doing a song and dance number (“Sa umaga, dispatsadora. Sa gabi, siya’y bonggang-bongga…”).

3. For a musical, most of the production numbers felt lacking. The only one I truly enjoyed was It’s The Hard Knock Life. Everything else felt joyless. Even the classic Tomorrow wasn’t memorable since it just had her walking the streets of Harlem. Why bother with a remake?

4. Cameron Diaz can be funny whenever she goes bat-shit crazy in her movies. Here, her campiness only served as a distraction. She was just irritating all throughout. Even her musical number was horrible. Do you still remember her singing “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” in My Best Friend’s Wedding? She sang exactly like that in the most grating voice ever. Only here it wasn’t played for laughs.

5. Blatant Purell product placement. No better than a Kris Aquino movie. (“Product placement keeps the movie business afloat!”, said one character.)

6. The viral video of Jamie Foxx saving Annie was all wrong. How could it have different takes and taken from two different angles when it was supposedly shot by an onlooker?

7. I love Rose Byrne, I really do, but she should not be allowed to sing again. Hey, why was this musical populated by terrible singers given their own musical highlights? All it needed was Russell Crowe.

8. The updated version had Annie with a Twitter account and saved by Instagram. Groan.

9. I felt bad for Sia. I actually liked “Opportunity”.

10. The final act had a last minute twist, a villain that never really got his due, a final conflict, and a quick resolution that led to a song and dance number by way of Mother Lily. Ugh.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

(Originally published January 28, 2015.)

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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: ★★★☆☆

LES MISÉRABLES (MANILA) (Laurence Connor, James Powell, 2016)

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My notes on Les Misérables (Manila):

1. Forget Tom Hooper’s movie version. His penchant for constant close-ups diminished the power and raw emotion of every scene in this great musical that really belonged onstage. This London production held at The Theater at Solaire was an aural and visual spectacle that wasn’t limited by acamera’s single perspective. It was a complete joy to watch and definitely something that I wanted to see again as soon as the show ended.

2. Simon Gleeson who played Jean Valjean hit all the right emotional notes and I was close to tears after his excellent, falsetto-filled take on Bring Him Home. You could feel the intensity of his performance with every laway that flew towards the audience. I felt blessed to have been sprayed by spittles of greatness. Weirdly enough, he looked like Russell Crowe so it felt a bit disorienting when he came out with a full beard and started singing Valjean’s lines.

3. My favorite performance though was by Earl Carpenter who played Javert. He had a commanding stance and a distinct voice that made you question if he was being too moralistic or just simply tragic. I was really curious how the production would stage his suicide scene (I really thought they would use a trapdoor) and I have to say that I was in awe and almost stood up from my seat during that scene.

4. Rachelle Ann Go was great as well and this would just be pure nitpicking but I would have wanted more power from her voice. Sure, she was dying from tuberculosis (and her dreams getting crushed), but I was really expecting an emotional wallop and that I’d be crying in a fetal position in my seat after I Dreamed a Dream. In terms of her acting though, she was just amazing.

5. The rest of the cast were fine enough (loved Little Cossette and Gavroche) although I would have wanted a stronger Marius and a better Enjolras. A lot of people cheered for the latter during the curtain call and I thought that it was more out of his good looks than his all-preen, slightly sintunado performance.

6. The moving (and sometimes spinning) set pieces were a joy to watch. The barricade was just what I expected and the explosive battle scene didnEponine’t disappoint. The use of the big screen during the sewer scene was also commendable. Sulit ang bayad sa production design pa lang.

7. Prayers for Eponine, the Patron Saint of the Friendzoned. Her love story was so tragic that she wasn’t even able to kiss her true love before she died. If you think your lovelife’s cursed, you really need to see this musical.

8. If I ever had to audition in any barangay competition, I would choose the Thenardiers’ Master of the House. It was such a delight to watch and sing along to. Plus, I loved their characters.

9. There were some minor technical issues during the show (mics not turned on, props falling), but the most obvious one was when Valjean fired a faux warning shot at Javert and there was a recoil motion of the rifle even without a sound. Valjean had to shoot another time before the popping sound happened. I wonder what their Plan C was if the sound still didn’t come out.

10. The convergence of voices in One Day More was enough to give you goosebumps for days. And that was just the last song of the first act. A truly wonderful experience!

Rating: ★★★★★