Great source material, some good performances, sloppy direction, missed opportunity. Why, Hooper, why?
(Originally published January 16, 2013.)
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.
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!
My notes on Spotlight:
1. In one of the many interviews in this compelling film about the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child molestation scandals, a lawyer (played by the superb Stanley Tucci) clearly summed up the overall feeling of helplessness and blind faith when he said, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.” Chilling words considering that this was based on a true story and the end credits specifically mentioned the cities with reported cases (Manila and Cebu, among others).
2. Kids these days will never understand all the actual research needed to complete a thesis, prior to all the advancements in technology. Information now is just one click (or a Google) away whereas before, you actually had to go to a library (physical, not virtual), sort through the card catalog (that uses the Dewey Decimal System, of course!), find the hard copy of the book, and actually read the entire thing to gather information (without the help of a CTRL+F to search for keywords). Instead of clicking links for news reports, one had to find newspaper clippings and use a microfilm viewer. You wouldn’t really know hard work unless you were a kid growing up during the pre-Internet era.
3. Since this film was set in 2001 (when Facebook was still non-existent), the group of Boston Globe reporters that wanted to do an exposé resorted to manual work (scribbling down notes, knocking on doors, visiting libraries). It was like the most boring procedural TV show and yet you didn’t want to miss every detail that they uncovered. At one point, they had to go over actual physical copies of directories, highlighting the priests that were on “sick leave” before logging the entries in what appeared to be the very first version of Excel.
(Btw, sick leave meant that guilty priests got sent to treatment facilities instead of prison. Now that was really sick.)
4. In one of the most powerful scenes here, a victim recounted the experience he had with an abusive priest. He talked about the resulting guilt and shame, the long-term trauma (some were driven to alcoholism and drug abuse) of that incident, that he was not prayed for but preyed upon, and ended his story with this question, “How do you say no to God?”. How, indeed.
5. On the flipside, one of the priests admitted that he was guilty of molesting kids but showed no remorse, with the defense that he did not get any pleasure from the said act. (And further revealed that he was also abused by another priest.) Horrors!
6. “Pedophile priests are a billion dollar liability.”
“They turned turned child abuse into a cottage industry.”
I have no words.
My notes on The Danish Girl:
1. Much has been said about Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in The Revenant but I still maintain that Eddie Redmayne was last year’s best actor. His portrayal of Einar Wegener turned Lili Elbe was nothing short of spectacular. Every blink of an eye, flick of a finger, and point of the toes revealed the longing of a woman trapped inside a man’s body desperately wanting to break free. It transcended impersonation (which he did brilliantly as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything) and became a full-fledged transformation.
You may not win the Oscar this year my dear freckle-faced Eddie, but you are getting my Gushing Fan Best Actor Award (and with the current state of our local awards, this actually is more valuable than a Star Award or Famas).
2. I was too lazy to check Google but do raw eggs really improve fertility? I couldn’t really trust this information since the film was set in the 1920s where homosexuality was still considered a perversion caused by a chemical imbalance and the prescribed “cure” was radiation therapy (“It destroys the bad and saves the good”). Oh wait, the old couple behind me agreed that it was a disease and an abnormality and I felt like I was transported back in time (but more on them later).
3. Girls, if your husbands know how to fix your lipstick, has a fascination with different textures of clothing (fur coats, silk nightgowns, nylon stockings, etc.), lifts his pinky while sipping tea or drinking champagne, and fondly tries on your outfits in front of a mirror while tucking his penis between his legs, then do the right thing and set him free. Be a supportive wife like Gerda in a world full of Aling Dionesia. (Lili even became Gerda’s muse and future moneymaker. Talk about a lucky charm.) Let your scarf fly!
(FYI, Alicia Vikander as Gerda was phenomenal as well.)
4. The best moments here were definitely the heartbreaking ones:
• When asked where Lili was coming from and Einer said “Inside me”
• After the radiation therapy and he cried, “You hurt Lili”
• And when Lili recalled a dream that she just had where she was a baby and her mom looked down at her and called her by her real name “Lili”.
5. As I mentioned earlier, I had the unfortunate luck of sitting in front of an old couple during the screening and the old man let the theater know his views on adultery, reproductive health, and homosexuality, among others. When the lights went up, he loudly said, “Kaya namamatay yang mga bakla, hindi makuntento sa binigay ng Diyos sa kanila.” So I did what was right. I simply stood up, smiled at him, and let him be because well, that would be the most Christian response, right?
(Originally published February 8, 2016.)