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: ★★★★☆

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KITA KITA (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Kita Kita:

1. Where do we draw the line between persistence and obsession? Do we consider a grand gesture like asking someone out for a coffee date via a huge billboard in Morayta sweet or repulsive? If Xian Gaza actually looked like Daniel Matsunaga, would he still be considered a creepy stalker or just a determined romantic?

2. One of my biggest concerns with this movie was that after it made us fall in love with its unconventional lovers, it tried to sell us this disturbing (and Machiavellian?) big reveal that nothing was actually wrong with the couple’s predator-prey relationship history (I felt the exact same way when Maricel Soriano fell in love with her rapist in Dahas, but then that wasn’t even close to being a romantic-comedy). He knowingly took advantage of her disability, period.

It was truly unfortunate not only because the first two-thirds of the movie was deeply engrossing and enjoyable, but also because it didn’t really need any twist to come up with an interesting resolution.

I was more curious to know how Lea (Alessandra de Rossi) would have reacted after she regained her sight and discovered the true physical aspects of Tonyo (Empoy Marquez). In one scene, she even joked “Kung makita kita, baka pang-leading man ang mukha mo”. Wouldn’t it have been great to know her actual feelings upon seeing that he actually looked more like a stuntman?

3. Having said that, I was really impressed with the #AlEmpoy tandem because despite the odd pairing and clunky third act, they really made this love story work. Halos mamatay ako sa kilig sa unang Two Less Lonely People in the World montage. I swear I had this huge smile plastered on my face during that sequence. I even teared up a bit because I get really emotional whenever I see two people happily in love. Sobrang bagay sila.

4. Alessandra has always been consistently good in everything. Here, she was empathetic even as a cranky and bitter blind woman. When she cried while drawing on the eyes of the Daruma Doll to complete her wish, I was crying along with her.

The bigger acting surprise though was Empoy. He was just effortlessly funny whether he was applying breath freshener on his wrists, or mangling idioms (“The way to man’s heart is through large intestine”), or delivering a throwaway quip (“Kelangan mo ng asukal, ang asim kasi ng mukha mo”). There were moments when Alessandra looked like she was no longer acting while laughing at some of Empoy’s hilarious jokes (best one: “We have similar. Rities.”).

And that ramen scene, oh my heart!!

5. Pinoy Film/TV Trope: Any character crossing the street or standing near the sidewalk with vehicles zooming by has a 90% chance of getting run over. Survival rate of that unfortunate soul would be 10%. The victim in this movie did not beat any of the said odds. Enough please.

(Also, what happened to that sickness storyline of Tonyo?)

6. Some of the dialogue in the movie sounded off, like when Lea kept saying PG-rated lines (“Puputulin ko ang talong diyan sa gitna ng mga hita mo!”, “May nunal ka sa pribadong parte ng katawan mo!”) or sexist remarks (“Mas malandi ka pa sa babae!”). She also had this Isa, Dalawa, Tatlo voiceover during the confrontation scene with her cheating boyfriend that lasted forever. It was supposed to sound poetic, but fell flat.

7. Several scenes had poor lighting and instances where the camera kept tilting and shaking violently. What happened there?

At least those gorgeous shots in the Sapporo Botanical Garden (?) more than made up for them. I really need to visit Japan soon. Friends, ano na? The international setting was also really apt since this had the feel of a (Japanese? Korean? Thai?) rom-com.

8. For a blind person, Alessandra’s eyebrows were always on fleek, no?

9. Sigrid Bernardo is one of my all-time favorite local directors. If you end up really liking this one, you should also watch Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita, Lorna, and her short film Ang Painting ni Tatay. I loved every single one of those (all five-star films, sadly her streak ended here).

10. So all this time I thought that “nomo” was actually gay lingo (or jeprox slang) for “inom”. I had no idea that it was an actual Japanese word that meant “let’s drink”. Nyeaaaaaaaam!!

Rating: ★★★☆☆