Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Screen Log 9: The Shape of Water; Loveless; Wonder Wheel; RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars Season 3

"Wonder Wheel."

Was THE SHAPE OF WATER the so-called "best" among this year's Best Picture nominees? No. But was it a deserving winner? Yes. I've read some complaints online about the movie's loopholes and illogical turns, and all I can say is, what loopholes and lack of logic this is an effin' fairy tale it's not supposed to make perfect sense! Looking at it as a fairy tale--which was obviously Guillermo del Toro's intent from the start--greatly increases one's appreciation for this film. Lovely, lovely storytelling from start to end. I'm not sold on Octavia Spencer barging into the Supporting Actress race; this was just Octavia being nominated a third time for another feisty, winning but typical Octavia performance, and the slot should have gone to Holly Hunter or Tiffany Haddish, or both (taking Mary J. Blige out of the roster as well). But my my my that Sally Hawkins is truly a wonder isn't she. And Richard Jenkins. And the production design. And the cinematography. And the Desplat score. And, well, I'm just gushing now.

LOVELESS, the Russian nominee in this year's Oscars and the Jury Prize winner in Cannes last year, challenged me to be a better viewer. It's essentially two movies conjoined at the 50-minute mark. The first half's about the bleak, heartless wasteland brought about by a yet-to-be-finalized divorce. The second half's a search-and-rescue (though there's no rescue in the end) thriller, when the prospective divorcees' only son goes missing. I loved the second half; the first half almost drove me to sleep. I could not for the life of me enter the world of the movie, and really, when the search party entered the story, it felt like an entirely separate movie already. Get this: It's a competent movie, with the camera work pulling off a lot of neat tricks (my favorite being the one where the camera just focused on the rearview mirror inside the car while the world--and the story--continued outside that focus, all the while the actor in the scene acting only through said mirror). I appreciate--no, I'm grateful, really, for the chance to have seen this movie. But I will not be watching it again.

Years from now, people will talk about the exact moment Woody Allen's career turned into total shit, and there will be varying answers. Me, I will say that the highlight of this decline was 2017, with WONDER WHEEL, a loud and shallow film populated by Allen stand-ins talking like scripts on autopilot. This was just bad, bad writing, as if Allen were telling the world, "I'm deaf and don't give a shit what you all think, I'm right, I will defend myself to the grave!" I could never presume to know what made Kate Winslet say yes to this role (though in fairness to her, she wrings the life out of it), and as for Justin Timberlake, well, kid, this was your choice--painful, yes, but yours to make. The saving graces are the production design and the cinematography--both illuminating, really, against all the ongoing verbal incoherence.

I just have a few words for the recently concluded third season of RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE ALL STARS. First, when the series started, I was like, whoa, why these contestants? And then how quickly they all converted me with what they brought to that stage. This was basically Ben dela Creme's crown, so her shadow will always be attached to Trixie's win, no offense to Trixie fans out there. Kennedy Davenport deserved Ben's elimination spot, and Bebe was just a high-class feral bitch through and through, I almost wanted her to win. Almost, because I wanted Shangela to win. Yes, that Shangela. Shangela of Tulle-gate of Season 3. Shangela of the gift box. Shangela who kept referencing "Game of Thrones" throughout the season and then finally got Game of Thrones-ed herself during the finale. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

PDI Feature: 10th Gawad Buhay! Awards milestones

Today, I become impure. Meaning, I make my non-review writing debut in the Inquirer. In this issue--the online version here--I explore an alternative career as archivist and data analyst. See you at the Gawad Buhay awards night!

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On its 10th year, 10 badass Gawad Buhay achievements

My contribution to posterity.

When the Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Group, Inc. (Philstage) started the Gawad Buhay Awards in 2008, there were only nine member companies competing in 23 categories. Ten years later, the awards now have 15 professional companies vying for some 40 trophies.

The jury--an independent panel of critics, scholars, artists and theater enthusiasts--has changed as well. Of the 16 current members, only two were part of the 2008 roster.

This year, 36 individuals are first-time nominees, comprising roughly 40 percent of individual nominations. In anticipation of the 10th awards ceremonies, on April 12 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, here are 10 notable achievements in the Gawad Buhay books:

1. Ballet Philippines' (BP) "Rama Hari," adapted by Bienvenido Lumbera from the Indian epic "Ramayana," is the most nominated and most awarded production in Gawad Buhay history, winning 14 of its 22 nominations in 2012. "Rama Hari's" trophy record is trailed by Tanghalang Pilipino's (TP) "Mabining Mandirigma," with 12 wins in 2015, while the Philippine Educational Theater Association's (Peta) "Care Divas" follows the nomination tally with its 19 nods in 2011.

2. Rody Vera holds the most number of competitive wins by an individual, with seven out of 11 nominations. Three are for his Filipino adaptations of the classics: TP's "Tatlong Mariya" (Anton Chekov's "Three Sisters") in 2010 and "Der Kaufmann" (Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," from a prior translation by the late Rolando Tinio) in 2013; and Peta's "Arbol de Fuego" (Chekov's "The Cherry Orchard") in 2015. In 2013, he also won for his co-direction of "Der Kaufmann" with Tuxqs Rutaquio and for the libretto of Peta's "D'Wonder Twins of Boac." Moreover, his libretto for the Francis M musical "3 Stars and a Sun," co-written with Mixkaela Villalon, was 2016's lone nominee and automatic winner. And for his performance in TP's "Stageshow" in 2012, he tied with Noel Rayos (for "Rama Hari") for Featured Actor in a Musical.

3. Rita Winder has the most competitive performance awards, winning six of her 10 nominations, all for BP productions, and is the only dancer to have won in all four performance categories. She won Featured Performance in Classical Dance for "Sleeping Beauty" (2011) and "Giselle" (2013); Featured Performance in Modern Dance for "Rama Hari" (2012); Female Lead in Classical Dance for "Firebird" (2016); and Female Lead in Modern Dance for "Sarong Banggi" (2015) and "Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko" (2016).

4. Cris Villonco has the most acting awards, winning five of her 11 nominations, for Featured Performance in a Play or Musical for "Hamlet" (2008), Leading Actress in a Musical for "Noli Me Tangere" (2011) and "D'Wonder Twins of Boac" (2013), Featured Actress in a Musical for "Bituing Walang Ningning" (2015) and Leading Actress in a Play for "Constellations" (2016).

5. John Batalla is the most nominated individual with 20 nominations for lighting design. He won for "Equus" (2008), "Encantada" (2011), "33 Variations" (2015) and "Almost, Maine" (2016).

6. BP's "Encantada" remains the only production to have swept all four design awards in a single year, for Salvador Bernal's set and costume designs, TJ Ramos' sound design and Batalla's lighting design in 2011.

7. Only one musical production has won all four acting categories: Repertory Philippines' (Rep) "Sweeney Todd" in 2009, with Audie Gemora and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo in lead performances, and Marvin Ong and Liesl Batucan in featured parts. A similar sweep has been achieved by only one nonmusical production: Peta's "Bona" in 2012, starring Eugene Domingo and Edgar Allan Guzman, with Olive Nieto and Juliene Mendoza also winning for their featured performances.

8. Vincent de Jesus holds the individual record for the most nominations in a single year, scooping six nods in 2009 for his musical direction and original composition for TP's "ZsaZsa Zaturnnah Ze Musikal" and for script, libretto, musical direction and original composition for Peta's "Si Juan Tamad, ang Diyablo at ang Limang Milyong Boto." In 2011, De Jesus also became the most nominated individual for a single production, competing in original composition, libretto, musical direction, sound design and leading actor in a musical for his work in 'Care Divas."

9. Lisa Macuja-Elizalde holds the record for the longest winning streak in a single category, landing Female Lead Performance in Classical Dance from 2010-2013, for "The Nutcracker" (2010 and 2013), "Swan Lake" (2011) and "Don Quixote" (2012). She also won Female Lead Performance in Dance for "Le Corsaire" (2008) and received the Natatanging Gawad Buhay in 2010.

10. The winners for Production, Direction and Ensemble Performance have gone to the same show nine times. Before Best Production was divided into "original" and "existing" material, the match was achieved by TP's "Golden Child" (2008), "Care Divas" (2011) and TP's "Stageshow" (2012). After the said division, "Der Kaufmann" attained the same feat in 2013. When Best Director was further split into the musical and play categories, the match was achieved five more times, by Rep's "August Osage County" and Peta's "Rak of Aegis" in 2014; "Mabining Mandirigma" and The Necessary Theatre's "The Normal Heart" in 2015; and Full House Theater Company's "Annie" in 2016.

Note: Years indicated in this article refer to the season a particular production was part of. Awards ceremonies are held the year after.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Screen Log 8: Call Me by Your Name; I, Tonya; Darkest Hour; Get Out; Mozart in the Jungle Season 4

"Call Me by Your Name."

I finally saw CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, which would probably have won Best Picture if it were up to Twitter or the Internet. But my, what a beautiful, beautiful film. I loved everything about it. The world building most especially. I loved how it focused on atmosphere and feeling and texture. I loved how as a viewer you knew exactly where you were and in what time and in what circumstances. I loved how you could feel the Southern European heat from the other side of the screen, could feel the humidity, the coolness of the streams, the breeze that blew across the orchards. I can't believe this wasn't even in the conversation for Production Design or Costumes, because everything just looked appropriate. Also, it made me wish I were a (vaguely) rich academic with a villa in the Italian countryside and all the time in the world to just bike around town and swim in rivers and read tons of books. I mean, just exactly how well-off a professor Michael Stuhlbarg was? Who, by the way, is also overdue for his career Oscar, if that's how we're awarding Oscars now, because heck, he sure deserved a nomination for his ROFLMAO-brilliant turn in the Coen Brothers' "A Serious Man." And whatever, Timothée Chalamet would have been a totally deserving Best Actor winner. The critics, at least, saw that. I will definitely watch this movie again, if only to see and hear and taste and feel everything it has to offer again. The beautiful and the fragile in sublime harmony. A total treat for the senses, if there ever was one.

In this year's Golden Globes, I, TONYA competed in the comedy categories, and I now wonder if that's because the movie's a laughable endeavor. I mean, good grief, the whole thing just felt so, so thin, like a communion wafer, or a piece of fabric stretched on all sides. The mock-documentary format did not work for me at all; it was too painfully aware of its supposed cleverness, but very few of its intended laughs made it to terra firma. Margot Robbie was the one who kept me going forward with this movie; in my mind I kept asking her to surprise me, and she did, scene after scene after scene, and by the end I was just so happy with how far she's come since breaking out in "The Wolf of Wall Street." I also asked Allison Janney to surprise me, and she disappointed every single time, committing instead to this one-note caricature of a monster mom, which really saddened me that a great actress like her had to win an Oscar--had to sweep awards season, really, and over a performance as miles-superior as Laurie Metcalf's in "Lady Bird"--for a bad role. It's like they wrote this for Janney just so she could go on auto-pilot, be nasty and mean, and secure her career Oscar in the process. The rest of the movie, I really didn't care about.

What is it with the Academy nominating mediocre movies anyway? Last year we had "Hell or High Water" as the prime example. 

While watching Joe Wright's DARKEST HOUR, which, I must mention, was a Best Picture nominee this year, I couldn't stop thinking how, probably around that same time, Christopher Nolan was making the far better World War II movie of 2017 across the English Channel. Yes, I loved "Dunkirk," warts and all. "Darkest Hour," on the other hand, was a handsome chap who just failed to rouse my interest. I was watching and going along with it and before I knew it--no, I did know it, because I was counting the time--it was over. It looked good onscreen, but Bruno Delbonnel did this blue-gray shadowy stuff to more involving results in "Inside Llewyn Davis." And Dario Marianelli's score was interesting in parts where I didn't expect it to be. As for the cherry on top--or the cake, more like it, because that's how big the entire thing is--and I'm obviously referring to Gary Oldman's rendition of Winston Churchill, well, the makeup deservedly won the Oscar. But even his Sirius Black was way more affecting. This performance just felt rehearsed and hungry for an Oscar. There's a scene where he engaged Lord Halifax in a shouting match, and Lord, was I cringing.

I saw GET OUT for the second time, this time with my mother. It's really a movie that grows on you, and that grows more and more in stature with every viewing. Jordan Peele's the deserving Best Original Screenplay winner. First time around, last year, I was like "so this is Stepford Wives for Black People" and was so ready to proceed to the next flick, and that I think was because of all the hype I'd absorbed coming into this movie. This second viewing's a much different experience though, now that I already had the basics of the story out of the way. It's a movie that really stays with you, as it did with my mom, who couldn't stop talking about it the next day.

When MOZART IN THE JUNGLE won its Golden Globes, I was at that stage where I felt my TV knowledge was so lacking and so I was very hungry for more, more, more! I finished the fourth season last night, and the makers haven't announced yet if the show's been cancelled or if a fifth season's in the works, but they really, really must continue this show. If anything, "Mozart" is redefining what one can do with 25 minutes--how much unexpected crazy can be stuffed in that short a span of time. The fourth season's the craziest I think, the one with the most episodes that had me going, "What's happening?" or "I did not see that coming at all," but also the one with the most heart and the most soul, and I was pretty satisfied by the finale.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

PDI Review: 'Ang Dalagita'y 'sang Bagay na Di-buo' by Dulaang UP

The last UP production I saw was "Angry Christ"--yes it's been that long--so I was pleasantly surprised with this one. I mean, what the hell, this show just knocks it out of the park. Total slam dunk. By a mile, the best I've seen of José Estrella, which isn't saying much, considering I've only seen her "Faust," "Tisoy Brown" and "Bilanggo ng Pag-ibig." The online version of my review here.

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A chair, a stage, a heartrending whole in 'Ang Dalagita'y 'sang Bagay na Di-buo'

Dulaang UP's "Ang Dalagita'y 'sang Bagay na Di-buo," now on its closing weekend at the University of the Philippines-Diliman's Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, begins with a woman in basic black, on a stage whose only set piece is a chair.

The stark emptiness is deliberate: All eyes, throughout this nearly two-hour monologue, are trained on the woman, whom we follow from childhood, living with her physically scarred brother and toxic mother, all the way to the cusp of adulthood, as she roams the big city and discovers the plethora of pains and pleasures the body can handle.

But what a wretched life. The protagonist gets hit, raped, hit again, raped again, in a vicious cycle of abuse that seems more an endurance test for viewers. Just exactly how much is too much for one who must have already been doomed in the womb?

Perhaps not the most gracious answer: If one can get through all seven seasons of "Game of Thrones," this should be a walk in the park. In fact, past its bleak, unforgiving surface, the play's theatrical pleasures run aplenty.

Multitude of characters

Every performance of "Dalagita" begins and ends with its actress, who must carry the weight of the play on her entire body, constantly slipping in and out a multitude of characters, oftentimes in a matter of seconds. It's a taxing role of a lifetime, to say the least, which must be why the production has four women alternating in the part: Skyzx Labastilla, Missy Maramara, Opaline Santos and understudy Hariette Damole.

No other way to phrase it: Labastilla gives a tour de force performance. Every bit of her is believable, every character shaded and textured with nothing short of the truth. She wrings our heartstrings as the titular girl, provokes our fury as the girl's mother or her vile uncle, and cleanly lands the laughs in smaller parts such as the girl's vapid, English-spouting college friend.

To watch Labastilla in the role is not only to witness the wretched life unfold, but more importantly, to somehow understand its wretchedness, how it persists through the years. It is to see, with a discerning, empathetic eye, how abusive structures come to shape their victims and the world around them, and how difficult it is to break such a world apart.

(Maramara, for her part, delivers a performance of "mind-boggling versatility," notes fellow Inquirer reviewer Arturo Hilado in a Facebook post.)

Fragmented language

The acting is only half the reason this "Dalagita" flows as well as it should, however. The other half is Jon Lazam's sound design, which is nothing if not vital to the world-building, ensuring the viewer always knows, in the absence of visual cues, the specific time and place of every scene.

That world, for the unfamiliar, is Rody Vera's Filipino translation of the play that's adapted from Eimear McBride's novel "A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing." In the book, the language is a form of primal, fragmented English, as if it burbles straight from the characters' emotional cores.

Vera's work, thankfully, "straightens" the language, interpreting it in a conversational form that snugly fits the mold of the stage. But all the anguish, the lividness, the recklessness, he has retained--in some instances, even rendered more vividly in the native tongue.

And as directed by José Estrella--inarguably her finest work for the company in at least the last four years--this "Dalagita" comes alive in heartrending, soul-torching ways, as it sculpts an infinitely layered whole out of a "half-formed thing."

Squeamishness may be a natural reaction by the end, but so also is the curious urge to see this powerful production one more time, maybe even two or three.   

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Tres Amigos

From The Star Online.

In high school, pretentious art snob that I was trying to be (some would say precocious, but let's stick to my words), I came across two movies that shookt me to the core at a time when shookt wasn't even sperm and egg. It was the golden age of BluRays and DVDs, and one of my uncles was trying to be Iloilo's next great collector, with his wheeled plastic crates of movies bought from one of those low-key stalls (run by a Chinese immigrant, if this is relevant) inside a legitimate mall. I was consciously trying to make myself "cultured," as if by seeing lots of movies, I'd be one step ahead of everyone else--better, even. And that, I realized years later, wasn't at all an invalid argument, but let's be concerned only with pre-college me, not yet a full inductee into the Church of Theater but so hungry for "class" and "quality" and other words that could wear quotation marks instead of quotation marks wearing them (like how, at the Oscars few days ago, Taraji P. Henson's dress wore her instead of the other way around). At the Silliman workshop last year, a kind of full-circle moment occurred, when my youngest co-fellow asked me, "How do you become cultured?" And we told him it's all a matter of reading and watching and listening to what you can, that being cultured is not something that happens overnight, but what I really wanted to say was, boy, you're so like me at that age, and I'm so proud, this must be how being a father feels like. But back to the movies.

My mom was--still is--my constant movie companion. (Now that I'm back in Iloilo, we've been seeing a lot together: "Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes," "Changing Partners," "Mr. and Mrs. Cruz," "Meet Me in St. Gallen," my second round of "Black Panther," etc.) Back when I still didn't have a laptop, and when our TV still didn't have a USB port, DVDs were our heroes. She'd call my uncle (her elder brother) in the morning, and I'd come round his place and pore through his "new releases," and then at night, my mother and I would watch side by side on the living room couch. In one of those movies, a mute Japanese girl tried to seduce a police detective (and eventually attempted suicide on her balcony?), and that was after she'd gone to a bar and the screen was all dizzying strobe lights, which was already a long time after Cate Blanchett got shot by an unknown assailant while inside a bus in the middle of the Moroccan desert. My genuine fear for Miss Blanchett's life, I can still recall, how I panicked on her behalf when I thought help wouldn't arrive, when her fellow passengers decided they'd be better off leaving her and Brad Pitt in some shack to fend for themselves. There was also an infuriatingly reckless nephew in Mexico whom I didn't know was Gael Garcia Bernal (though I didn't get to see "Y Tu Mamá También" until I was a college sophomore). Alejandro G. Iñarritu's "Babel," if you haven't figured it out. I'd look it up years later on Rotten Tomatoes and discover its divisive nature, but it was my first grand taste of what fragmentation can do. How the limits of fiction can be stretched, even though at that time, I barely had a firm grasp of either limits or fiction. How stories can fold into themselves, can be scattered across three, equally spaced points on the globe and still come together, bending time and space and race and language to achieve coherence. If anything, "Babel" made me a hungrier and more curious viewer.  

There was a second movie that summer that made me go "Shit, this is good!" A fairy tale, when I had all but given up on fairy tales, when I had somehow made a pact with myself to watch animated films only when I didn't have anything else to watch. (I know: ignorant prick.) But this one wasn't animated. And it wasn't in English. It's set in Franco's Spain in 1944, though I still didn't know who Franco was at the time. (1944, to me, was the last full year of World War II. You know, Battle of Leyte Gulf?) But the rebellious landscape was only an aside in the movie. The most striking thing about it, the one element that would constantly pop up in my mind for the weeks that followed, was the image of a monster, almost skeletal, with its eyeballs on its palms. That was Guillermo del Toro changing the definition of "nightmares" for me with "Pan's Labyrinth." Wasn't this kind of "Alice in Wonderland," I thought. It was--and this is no exaggeration--unlike anything I'd seen before. The realistic portions were more than tangible; they were convincingly morose, the shadow of despair and loneliness virtually coating the screen. The fantasy, meanwhile, was miles away from Disney and Pixar. The insect-fairies! The deceptive feast on that deceptive table! Fear was more than just a fleeting feeling here; it was constant, side by side with a fascination for the otherworldliness of the labyrinth. This was fairy tale that chucked the viewer's comfort down the drain. The best part: that fierce nanny! My mother and I, we were rooting most for her (or was she the secretary?), who would help the girl escape the labyrinth and be the first to fight back against the nefarious stepfather. And in the end, the little girl died! Gutsy, contextually mind-blowing shit.

"Pan's Labyrinth" and "Babel" were both serious contenders at the 79th Academy Awards, but so was another movie, which is now one of my all-time favorites: "Children of Men." But I was too busy hating on Alfonso Cuarón then. For the longest time, I blamed him for ruining "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," thinking instead that Chris Columbus' takes on the first two installments of the Potterverse were the ideal. My opinions, of course, have since changed and evolved, and I'm now a much better person, thank you very much. Now I can only wonder how much more different--radical?--the year would have been for me if I had also seen "Children of Men." Could I have handled the one-take cinematography (or could I have even appreciated it then)? Could I have processed its dystopia the same way I had committed to memory every available detail of the "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" franchises?

I'd meet Iñárritu again three years later in the Javier Bardem-starrer "Biutiful." Cuáron, I would finally instill in my filmgoing consciousness with "Gravity." As for del Toro, apparently I'd already made his acquaintance two years earlier, with "Hellboy," which I only saw on DVD in the same living room. Rasputin figured in the story, I remember, and also an angsty girl with pyrokinetic abilities. Also, a fish-man of sorts, played by Doug Jones, who would go on to play, more than a decade later, another fish-man in the film that would cap the Tres Amigos' hunt for the Best Director Oscar. Must be nice--it must pay well, rather--to be Hollywood's go-to fish-man.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

PDI Review: 'Nang Dalawin ng Pag-ibig si Juan Tamad' by Tanghalang Pilipino

I'm back! First theater review for the year! On my recent trip to Manila, I also saw The Sandbox Collective's staging of "Himala"--this early, already a frontrunner in many awards categories--and PETA's "'Night, Mother," with Eugene Domingo (meh) and Sherry Lara (brilliant!). The online version of this review here.

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The beguiling surprise of 'Nang Dalawin ng Pag-ibig si Juan Tamad'

In Tanghalang Pilipino's "Nang Dalawin ng Pag-ibig si Juan Tamad," adapted by Rody Vera from the Nick Joaquin children's story, the titular character does not even figure prominently until halfway into this musical.

Most of the stage time is devoted to a low-stakes game high up in the clouds, between Mt. Banahaw and Mt. Makiling, anthropomorphized from the pages of Filipino lore like high school kids unversed in the naughty, nasty business of romance.

The temperamental Banahaw, feeling spurned by Makiling, attempts to put her under a love potion's spell that would make her fall for the ugliest person in the world. Thus ensues the hilarity of Makiling doting on the clueless Juan, set intermittently to TJ Ramos' original composition.

Impressive centerpiece

If the story sounds simple enough, it really is--which means that what immediately strikes the viewer by curtain call is the unnecessary length of this work. For a musical that runs only close to 90 minutes, the telling sure takes a long time.

The narrative is unable to disguise its thinness, even with all the gimmickry and fluff, and Ramos' songs never feel integral or propulsive. (Absent the song-and-dance numbers, this "musical" might in fact benefit from the newfound brevity.)

Still, what unfolds on the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino stage is not without cause for some cheer.

In his directorial debut, Jonathan Tadioan manages an oftentimes able, occasionally beguiling mix of lofty myth and earthly rusticity, allowing an undercurrent of surprise to shape the otherwise insipid story.

And Marco Viaña, in his first foray into set design, has come up with an impressive centerpiece that looks like the love child of a scallop shell and anahaw (footstool palm leaf), instantly clueing the audience in on the local folkloric setting.

Infectious fun

On this visually textured set, Ybes Bagadiong (as Juan) and Manok Nellas (as Makiling) take center stage for the first time, the latter running away with an impressive performance that at once screams fierce goddess and shy school girl, and holding its own against Aldo Vencilao's brash, brutish Banahaw.

Where this production really wins, however, is in its brand of comedy, and the way it unfailingly connects with its audience. The afternoon we watched, the mostly student viewers reveled in the writing's self-aware humor, with its broken fourth walls and gags drawn from noon-time variety shows and pop culture (for instance, Antonette Go, brief but hysterical as a Kris Aquino-esque lawyer).

The fun is ultimately infectious. When the abrupt ending comes, the faults beneath this production's surface are difficult to ignore. Everything starts to feel rudimentary, but also strangely satisfying, like the intoxicating free fall of first love.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Screen Log 7: Black Panther; Marrowbone; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

What a feast for the eyes BLACK PANTHER was! The visual spectacle of those costumes alone should more than justify a ticket. But then you also have the production design--one of Marvel's most luscious and breathtaking in recent memory. You also have that kick-ass cast, and the fact that much of the world is now catching up with the brilliance of Michael B. Jordan, and being reintroduced to, if they've already forgotten (so soon!) about, Lupita Nyong'o, is nothing if not heartwarming. Jordan fans ought to play the nearest copy of "Fruitvale Station." I'm not thoroughly convinced by its wokeness, however; felt that, had director Ryan Coogler been left to his own devices (i.e. freed from the clutches of the studio system), the issues on race and representation being tackled by the film could have been dealt with more nuance, depth, screen time. But I'll definitely see this movie a second time, no questions asked. Also, I'm 24/7 game for rhinos.

MARROWBONE is a story that invalidates itself, and I only watched it because my sister, who fancies herself a horror-film aficionado, insisted. What a stupid movie, that so-called twist being one of the most self-destructive and deceptive I've ever encountered.

At last, I finally watched the much-laureled THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, and my, my, my, oh my, where do I begin.

This is what awards voters liked? What a lot of the critics liked? You can throw this story in a fiction writing workshop and I bet you it will not survive the day. A lot of things in this movie were simply careless, and I'm not even talking about the way it handled the more Ameri-sensitive elements such as racism. The writing's just sloppy--and for a playwright of Martin McDonagh's calibre, that's baffling.

Take for example the scene (spoilers) where Dixon/racist cop/Sam Rockwell, now all burnt up and bandaged in the hospital, is wheeled into the ward.

Nurse (to neighboring patient): "Burn victim. He's pretty heavily sedated."

Then said burn victim launches into a monologue so eloquently, you wouldn't think twice it's all pretend. It's stuff like this that's really off-putting if you don't just watch on the surface. And even then, the narrative's pretty sloppy, and many of the characters were very thinly baked. It's really Frances McDormand's movie, and she should be enough to make you reach the end.

Watching this gave me the impression of a writer who only set out to write for fun, not putting much thought into the things he was putting on paper, and having a really darn good time setting up the pieces that don't really fit or make much sense. The actors loved it, and that's understandable, given how actor-driven the whole thing was, how juicy the lines and scenes were. But is this really what the Academy Awards want for Best Picture, to memorialize as the year's "best" (though of course it never is about being the best)? I can think of two other Best Picture candidates that are infinitely more deserving of the accolades this "Three Stupid Billboards" (as Ian Casocot calls it) has been receiving. Shout out to "Lady Bird" and "Get Out," and heck, even "Dunkirk."

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Screen Log 6: Big Little Lies Season 1; Our Souls at Night; Meet Me in St. Gallen; The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 1

"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."

A week later, I am still not over the spell cast by BIG LITTLE LIES, which, trashy as it supposedly was in the way the best pieces of gossip are, was nothing if not gratifying television. The writing, the multiple narrative arcs, the world building, the design of the whole endeavor, and I'd be damned if I forgot about the acting. Some reviews compared the women of this series--Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz--to a tribe in a primeval sense, and I thought that was very accurate. You wouldn't want to mess with their children, not after that finale. At the start, I thought Witherspoon, she who weaponized "Frozen on Ice," should have taken home those Lead Actress trophies, but by the end, yeah, I definitely made a 180 for Kidman, because that was just intelligent, career-defining acting from her. Now I'm kind of scared the second season won't live up to its predecessor.

OUR SOULS AT NIGHT made me think, for a brief second, about growing old in a small First-World town, but were it not for Jane Fonda and Robert Redford's mesmerizing presences--they could literally have read the phone book and it probably would've made a good film--I would have dropped this Netflix baby. I'm trying to recall now what the film was about, the scenes that stood out, the dialogue that struck me as particularly genuine, and all I can remember are Fonda and Redford, probably having dinner, or playing with the child, or going camping.

I don't remember a time post-2010 when the cinemas offered a stellar Filipino film on commercial (versus festival) release for four consecutive weeks. After "Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes," "Mr. and Mrs. Cruz" and "Changing Partners" came MEET ME IN ST. GALLEN, which featured, among others, a bona fide star performance from Bela Padilla (whom I last saw in the unsatisfactory "Camp Sawi," I think). The first fifteen minutes of the movie were comedic gold, thanks to Padilla's incredible timing and sardonic line deliveries. ("Terorista pala dapat kelangan niyo kung gusto niyo ma-shock" was responsible for my first big laugh.) The three-part, coffee-centric structure I found not always effective; the second segment, especially, the one hewn closest to the tenets of realism, was also the least enchanting for me, perilously teetering on the edge of overwrought-kabit-moviedom at times. The sins of this imperfect movie about imperfect people, however, were very, very easy to overlook (they were almost impossible to discern with a layman's eye), and the final result was nothing if not a celebration of what Philbert Dy called the continuing maturity of Filipino films (or something to that effect).

The Golden Globe winner for TV series-comedy this year was THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL, and that was simply an ingenious choice. Tony Shalhoub, in particular, ought to have another Emmy nomination by year's end (a serious oversight on the part of the Globes). Whenever I feel down, I shall go back to that scene where the whole family sees Joel (the titular character's unfaithful husband) in the same restaurant, then execute their not-so-covert escape.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Screen Log 5: Mr. and Mrs. Cruz; The Handmaid's Tale Season 1; Wind River; The Greatest Showman; Changing Partners

"The Handmaid's Tale."

Sigrid Andrea Bernardo's follow-up to her popular (but problematic) two-hander "Kita Kita" is MR. AND MRS. CRUZ, and exiting the cinema, I realized this new movie was everything I needed it to be. I admit I'm kind of a sucker for romantic two-handers, but what I loved most about the film was its untainted sincerity. Without being pretentiously profound, it just felt real, the conversations and the people, even though we're always aware that the whole enterprise is a contrived love story. Also, it reminded me of the El Nido trip I had with one of my best friends three years ago, but without the sex part. So there's that. It's a shame the Robinsons cinemas here in Iloilo are all about the money, relegating the movie to just two screenings per day per branch (with one branch giving the movie two daytime slots, as if everyone has the liberty to go to the movies for lunch).

I finally got around to watching Hulu's adaptation of Margaret Atwood's THE HANDMAID'S TALE. And man, did my feelings runneth over.

First off, it's very watchable, binge-worthy television. The ensemble is excellent. The production values are more or less topnotch. But my complaints begin with the fact that the series seems too aware that it wants to serve Drama (with a capital D), and that is betrayed foremost by the myriad of cloying slow-mos. We get it: The scene is dramatic. The character is emotional. She has a lot of feelings. Can we please move ahead? 

Also, many times I thought the directing didn't cut it; I could almost see the actors being told to stop, walk over here, say the line, stop, camera focus on the face, hold intense look for two seconds. 

Also, I'm not very convinced by the dystopia itself. It reminded me of what Eros Atalia and Sarge Lacuesta said during the IWP Workshop last year, that on the page, one can just write things as they are and it won't have to be questioned, but onscreen, the world being built has to be investigated alongside the world before and the world to come. I haven't read the Atwood novel, but I'm sure it must be a pretty different and far superior animal. The dystopia being depicted onscreen, meanwhile, raised a lot of questions for me. I'm not entirely convinced of its politics (I'm not even sure it's depicted very well), and the science of this whole alternate universe is really lost to me. I mean, for one, this is a world that prioritizes the creation of babies but they find it so easy to drag their only sources of babies (the handmaids) through hell? Or is that something that will be illuminated upon in the next season? Which will be in three months' time, and yes, I await its arrival.

Taylor Sheridan's WIND RIVER was shown here in Iloilo for only one day last year. First day, last day. That's the way the cinemas work in this goddamn country. One can certainly promote a feminist reading of this movie, which is to say, what the hell, the women are all weak again, and they need to be saved by the White Man? (And yes, I know the girl ran six miles in the snow, and that's suppose to show that woman is far stronger than man, but come on). Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed this White-Man-Savior movie, and thought Sheridan should have earned more awards attention for his direction and writing, for how his film eschewed convention to deliver a tale that focuses more on grief and the bleakness of everyday life, the action and the mystery never the central players of the whole story. If I'd seen this last year, I might have willingly included it in my best-of roster.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, directed by Michael Gracey, is what happens when filmmakers ignore the basic tenets of fiction and just do what they feel will earn them the most bucks. Littered with caricatures and infused with paper-thin dramatic insight, it is basically a step-by-step tale about a man who rises to fame, loses it and realizes all he needs is his family. I am not so perplexed by all the love it has received; many audiences these days love their stories shallow. The love for the song numbers I can understand a little, as Pasek and Paul have come up with one or two memorable ditties there ("Never Enough" looks poised to become the audition piece of the year). But even the music itself is repetitive; it's like going to a concert and hearing the same numbers over and over again. After last year's "La La Land," this is definitely a hundred-mile step back for the songwriting duo. As for Michelle Williams, honey, was she so in need of a job at the time? Talented as the woman is, she looked out of place, if not joyless.

I reviewed CHANGING PARTNERS when it was still a stripped-down play at the PETA Theater Center. The Dan Villegas film that was a hit at the Cinema One Originals festival last year more or less retained the play's brilliance. Up close, the quartet of actors (no secret that my favorite among them's Anna Luna) was even more searing and heartbreaking. Admittedly, the screen transition could be confusing, as evidenced by my mom's reactions during the first few scenes ("Why is Agot suddenly a lesbian? Do they live in the same building?"), but the confusion was quickly laid to rest. This is how you do a movie musical, Mr. Gracey. And welcome back, Mr. Villegas!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Screen Log 4: Fresh Off the Boat Season 3; Maze Runner: The Death Cure; Lady Bird; Columbus; Spoor


I was so happy with FRESH OFF THE BOAT's Season 3. I had written it off as just another one of those so-so comedies that I might have to drop after maybe one more season (okay, fine, so I'm still watching "Modern Family"), but this season just hit it out of the park every episode. Really, there wasn't a single dud episode--and there were a lot of very hysterical ones, with Constance Wu, Lucille Soong and the kid who plays Evan duking it out for MVP every single time. Hey, "Modern Family," pay attention.

MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE was a pile of steaming shit. They could have cut an hour out of it, and there wouldn't be any difference. I only watched it because it was my cousin's birthday. What a waste of cinema space.

Here I proclaim my love for LADY BIRD, Greta Gerwig's coming-of-age masterpiece. But it's so much more than just coming of age. If you have (had) a mother with whom you share a deep, loving relationship, with whom you seem to bicker every minute, you will see yourself in this movie. If you've had to be in a position where you just felt like everyone around you was so much better and miles ahead, you will see yourself in this movie. If you've had to struggle as a family--and not even just financially--you will see yourself in this movie. I do not know what this says of my tastes (and honestly I don't care), but if you've read A.O. Scott's fawning rave in The New York Times, that's just about all of my sentiments as well. Anyone who says this movie does not deserve the Oscar Best Picture or all the other accolades it has received is being petty and pedantic. If it wins, I will be totally fine with it. Gerwig made me wish I could write such precise, evocative, snappy dialogue. And I am still in love with that cast, hours after watching the screener (don't worry, I will definitely be there when the film opens in local theaters next month). Also, can I just say how perfect the choice for the school musical--Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along"--was?

The rewards of Kogonada's COLUMBUS are unexpectedly immense, if you have the patience to sit through it. Some have compared it to Richard Linklater's "Before" trilogy, but I found this one to be more subdued and testing, and the conversations more authentic. There weren't a lot of profound dialogue, which contributed to strengthening its realism, because face it, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's language in the Linklater films sometimes went overboard with the metaphors. The most beguiling thing about Kogonada's film was its use of architecture as a device, how it reflected everyday life, the ups and downs, the beautiful and the ugly, in the asymmetries and imperfections of the landscape and cityscape. "An intimate portrait of human connection for building nerds" would be a choice way to summarize it.

Agnieszka Holland's SPOOR had me rolling my eyes when it finally wrapped up. Okay, are we just suppose to ignore the whole can of moral conundrums opened toward the end of the story? Really? And what was up with that annoying percussive score? I am still trying to figure this out, because yeah, it had my feelings all jumbled, more towards the side of confusion.