Sunday, July 8, 2018

'The Language of Silence'

After years--and I mean literally years--of submitting and getting rejected, I'm finally published in "Cha: An Asian Literary Journal." All the more special for me because I happen to be in the Philippines-themed issue, guest edited by Ricky de Ungria and Larry Ypil. And also my Silliman co-fellows Jam and Jake are in this issue. So yay, hashtag Germane (our batch name)! Here's the link to the site.

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The Language of Silence

"Children displaced by the fighting in Marawi City play inside the temporary learning space at the central elementary school in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur."

--Photo by Fernando Sepe Jr. for ABS-CBN News.


Nobody wrote prayers for dead cities,
so the children were quick to learn
the language of silence. Say nothing
when a tank rolls by. Say nothing
to the men in camouflage. Here a boy
perfects his pauses, sings through gestures
bearing little sense. The brevity of goodbye
rolled with the twirling hands of let go.
On cracked pavement, two girls, mirrors
of each other, cake their soles with grime,
begging the ground to keep them
from flying. Too late: Their wings,
luminous as the mosque's golden dome,
spread wide, and soon they are dancing
specks on an iceberg sky. The boy
opens his mouth in imitation
of a bomb's roar, but what he means
is the opposite of run. What he means
eludes utterance. Eyes fixed on the cold
vermilion moon, wishing for the swift
swish of flight, he crouches low
against a dented lamppost. Remain,
even when the nights are never sound,
rain pooling in muddy craters, umbrellas
and slippers collecting in potholes.
Soon the world will dismantle itself,
rid of syntax and syllables, territory
marked by measured sentences,
and there will be no one to build
fires, fetch water, whittle wood to spears.
Soon, the patter of running feet
on cobblestone, before the stillness,
heavy with the land's hushed desires,
and in that stillness, a new city,
smaller than an embryo, its cry
louder than the last monsoon.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

PDI Feature: Dexter Santos and Glenn Mas, exiting artistic directors

I sort of break the news today. I mean, like, officially. This is the first in a three-part quasi-series. The website version of the article through here.

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A changing of the guard at Dulaang UP and Tanghalang Ateneo


It's pure coincidence, but nonetheless a touchstone moment, that Manila's two most eminent university theater companies are changing leadership this year. Dexter Santos and Glenn Sevilla Mas step down as artistic director of Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas (DUP) and Tanghalang Ateneo (TA), respectively.

For Santos, it's a case of moving on to other academic and professional pursuits. He had held the position for three years, replacing DUP cofounder Alexander Cortez back in 2015.

Santos himself is a product of UP Diliman's Theater Arts program, whose students apprentice in DUP productions.

"I would volunteer as choreographer, stage manager or assistant director so I could work with different directors and be exposed to their approaches and styles of Staging," he said. "I'd even sneak into rehearsals, even if I wasn't part of the production, just to observe how my professors handled their plays."

In 2006, Santos made his DUP directorial debut via "Orosman at Zafira," the hit dance-heavy adaptation of Francisco Baltazar's komedya. This emphasis on movement would mark his later works, the choreography providing some of the most satisfying moments in "Ang Nawalang Kapatid," Floy Quintos' condensation of the Indian epic "Mahabharata"; "#R

Now, Santos is in the thick of directing the Eraserheads jukebox musical "Ang Huling El Bimbo," opening this July at Resorts World Manila.

Banaue Miclat-Janssen succeeds him as DUP artistic director.

More personal

The reasons are more personal for Mas.

"I need to take care of my mother, who's been in the hospital for nearly four months now. I've always been busy with theater stuff--rehearsals, shows, Gawad Buhay! jury duties--that I feel it's time I prioritize being with her."

Mas, who entered professional theater through Teatro Metropolitano under Frank Rivera, before becoming a Tanghalang Pilipino Actors Company scholar, traces his theatrical leanings back to his mother.

"She wrote my winning declamation pieces in school," he said. "The highlight of our partnership was when I won silver at the Western Visayas Regonal Meet in 1981."

"Also, I'm turning 50, and want to give playwriting another go while I still have the time and energy."

The last play Mas wrote was "Games People Play," which won a Palanca Award in 2007 and eventually enjoyed several sold-out runs at the Ateneo and the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

One of the plays TA staged under Mas was his semi-autobiographical piece "Rite of Passage," a production he considers a high point of his four-year term. "We recreated my provincial upbringing in Catungan, Antique. Throughout the run, there was a nipa hut and people speaking in Kinaray-a accents in the midst of the Ateneo!"

"It was the first play of mine that my mother saw when it was staged at the first-ever Virgin Labfest [in 2005]," Mas added. "This Ateneo staging was the last she saw--for now."

Passionate students

Varied as their backgrounds may be, Santos and Mas agree that chief among the pleasures of being artistic director is working with the students.

"It's witnessing the interaction between professional artists and the students on- and offstage," said Santos. "In DUP, we believe that one of the best ways to learn is through collaboration. So our students perform with Joel Lamangan, or share the backstage with Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino or Ana Abad Santos. They acquire an eye for detail through [designers] Gino Gonzales or Monino Duque."

Mas really enjoyed "the process of coming up with a season, looking for plays and inviting members of the artistic staff, then coming up with a cast, attending rehearsals, and seeing the cast become these confident actors on opening night."

"The good thing about university theater," said Santos, "is that we have the freedom to produce a wide range of repertoire that doesn't succumb to commercial appeal or censorship."

Concurred Mas: "We are not profit-driven, so we can do riskier, more experimental work. And it is okay to fail in this setup. It is school, after all."

Moving forward, both are optimistic regarding the future of campus theater. "As long as we have passionate students, we are here to stay," said Santos.

"The future is bright because the future is here," added Mas, "especially when you consider productions such as the recent musical 'Dekada '70,' or 'Chipline' and 'Mga Kuneho' [Virgin Labfest entries written by his former students Dominique La Victoria and Guelan Luarca, respectively], or in the case of DUP, 'Angry Christ' and 'The Kundiman Party.'"

Beginning this season, the multihyphenate Luarca assumes the TA artistic directorship.

"That's every teacher's dream--for your students to be better than you are," said Mas.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

PDI Feature: Fred Lo and Rissey Reyes in Hong Kong Disneyland

Did another interview today! I first saw Fred Lo when he was Mark Cohen in 9 Works Theatrical's "Rent" in 2010, and then the next time, I think, was in 2013's "Cinderella" at Resorts World Manila. As for Rissey Reyes, I can't remember when exactly I first saw her, but I remember her from the ADHD shows for Fringe Manila. The online version of the article here.

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Fred Lo and Rissey Reyes: Fast friends find work in HK Disneyland


Disneyland with a dear friend? It's all in a day's work for Fred Lo and Rissey Reyes, who are the latest additions to Hong Kong Disneyland's roster of Filipino performers.

Not that they ever planned on working in the same theme park at the same time. Reyes was already set to leave even before Lo attended a casting call. When she found out the day after New Year's this year that she had booked the job, Lo was one of the first to know.

"He was ecstatic for me. And to our surprise, there was another round of auditions. I felt like a stage mom, pressuring him to do well in his audition and constantly bugging him about the results afterward," says Reyes. "We imagined how cool it would be to take our friendship abroad and have each other in Hong Kong."

'Preserve the magic'

The two first met in 2013, when Lo was alternating with Reyes' boyfriend Victor Robinson III for the male lead in the Sugarfree musical "Sa Wakas." But it was during their stint in "Hi-5 Philippines," based on the Australian children's educational television series, that they really hit it off.

They last appeared onstage together in ADHD Productions' "Si Saldang, si Marvin at ang Halimaw ng Gabi" for Fringe Manila 2018. Since April, Reyes has been in Hong Kong; Lo arrived a month after.

"I was on vacation in Norway when I received the job offer," Lo says. "I actually thought I didn't make it because I hadn't heard anything. Turns out, the guys from Disney just couldn't reach my phone for some reason."

The work now is something of a secret, as they're contractually obliged to "preserve the magic." (Based on their social media posts, Reyes appears to play the Polynesian heroine Moana, while one of Lo's roles is that of the Genie in "Aladdin" for the half-hour musical "Mickey and the Wondrous Book.")

Full-time job

But they both agree: It spells a world of difference to have a full-time job that pays well in the performing arts.

"I was a freelance actress in Manila," Reyes says. "One day I'd get a high-paying gig; the next, I'd settle for anything to keep busy and keep earning. The financial stability of working for a company like Disney is something that's just not available in the Philippines."

"Freelance performers have to work long hours, and even multiple jobs, only to earn a meager amount and have a portion of it go to taxes," Lo adds. "I realized the Manila entertainment industry has very little to offer, and then you still have to factor in traffic in the city."

"Frankly, Filipino artists deserve so much more than what the local scene can currently give them," Reyes says. "Until our profession can be treated like a real profession, with just compensation and protection for workers, there will always be a steady stream of local artists searching for greener pastures abroad."

Tough hurdle

Still, it's not all fun and games working for the world's smallest Disney theme park. Performing in the self-touted happiest place on earth is still work.

"I do plan to go on trips, maybe hike some trails," Lo says, "but so far, all I've done on my days off is sleep and shop."

Lo admits that although he's worked on a cruise ship for a few months some years back, moving to another country is totally different. "There were moments during my first few days [in Hong Kong] when I really felt alone, living in a hotel room by myself."

For Reyes, being away from her loved ones has been the toughest hurdle. "My mama was the best stage mom growing up, so it's frustrating for her that she can't be physically near me everyday anymore. And it's heartbreaking to be unable to see Victor's work onstage, and also, just being away from our Maltese, Winter."

To help with the homesickness, Reyes, a self-confessed grandmother in a 24-year-old's body, goes grocery shopping to cook mostly Filipino viands.

"The fruits and vegetables are really cheap," she says. "But there's also the language barrier. Some locals know English, but some cab rides or moments at the cashier can get lengthily awkward."

"Thank God for technology," Reyes says. "My loved ones and I have arranged lots of trips to and from Hong Kong and Manila to visit each other." 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Screen Log 17: You Were Never Really Here; Lean on Pete; Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom; Mistress America; While We're Young

"Mistress America."

In "We Need to Talk About Kevin," director Lynne Ramsay gave us Ezra Miller's breakout performance, as well as an Oscar-snubbed tour-de-force from Tilda Swinton. In YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE, Ramsay treats us to a barrage of Joaquin Phoenix wielding a hammer as if he were Thor on a murderous rampage. The story is billed as a "thriller," but what it really is is a slow-burn manhunt more obsessed with stylistic takes than with telling a focused narrative. Phoenix here doesn't surprise, either; in fact, it's just him doing his usual mumbling and grumbling and retreating into his inner shell, that it surprised even him when he won the Cannes Best Actor trophy. There are bravura sequences here--Phoenix killing people floor by floor as seen through surveillance cameras, for instance. But overall the film comes off as one writer-director's vision taken down the far-from-perfect road.

The title of Andrew Haigh's latest film LEAN ON PETE refers to a decrepit race horse that figures prominently in the story. No secret that I'm a fan of Haigh; I think his "Weekend" is the defining LGBTQ film of the decade, and his "45 Years" was no slouch either. "Lean on Pete" will see you entering a story expecting to see blossoming attachment between a boy and his horse (something I thought would remind me of Steven Spielberg's un-magical adaptation of "War Horse"), only to turn your expectations a full 180. It's about a boy and his horse, sure, but that relationship isn't even the main point. It's about a poor American teenager grappling with familial loss, as well as the glaring class divide, and trying to navigate his way through impending adulthood. But it's also about the astounding amount of kindness he encounters along the way. There are so many opportunities for plain badness in the film, but Haigh sidesteps every one of them to give us a story that slowly but surely leaves an imprint in the mind and in the heart. You end up really caring for the protagonist (Charlie Plummer in a genuine breakthrough performance), wishing him all the goodness in the world. He just wants to run, for goodness' sake! Coming of age has never been this gritty and desperate.

Film critic Philbert Dy said JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM is a stupid movie, but I didn't expect it to be that stupid. At least its predecessor had elements of camp; this one is just plain dark. And the nerve of that clone-child to unleash those wild beasts upon the world!

I'm on a Greta Gerwig/Noah Baumbach marathon. I rewatched "Lady Bird," and I'm really convinced it is a perfect movie. Then I rewatched MISTRESS AMERICA, one of the great screenplays of 2015. I do think it sags a bit in certain places, but the best parts of this film are the ones that really amp up the crazy. Like those scenes with the collection of random characters in that already-random trip to suburbia to attack Mamie Claire, only to run into her sort-of-doped-up pediatrician neighbor and her pregnant mothers' literary club. I mean, what's up with pregnant, no-bad-words, covert-chess-genius lawyer Karen, for example! Sometimes watching Baumbach can feel like an über-extended situational comedy, a slice-of-crazy-life that's not allowed to have an ending until the viewer's no longer searching for one.

2014's WHILE WE'RE YOUNG is a rare misfire for Baumbach. Compared to the rest of his oeuvre that I've seen, this one's just heavy-handed, clumsy with its message, though funny in some places and amusing in many. It's like watching Baumbach on sedatives literally putting aphorisms on paper with the Ben Stiller character's name on the left margin.   

Thursday, June 7, 2018

If I had an Academy Award ballot, 2018...

So, so late, but I just realized I'm done with this year's Oscars. Well, not exactly: I've been unable to find decent, reasonably sized copies of "BPM" or "The Square" or "Foxtrot," and I don't plan on seeing, say, "War for the Planet of the Apes" on its own (i.e. if I'm watching it, I'm doing a franchise marathon). Anyway, if I were a member of the Academy Awards, these would have been my choices--and I'm hewing as close as possible to the actual list, meaning as long as I'm at least civil towards the inclusion of a certain name, the name stays. Also, no Foreign Language Film category because, again, I feel I haven't seen enough, and among the ones I've seen, I found no particularly compelling winner. As for Animated Feature, the only one I've seen is "Coco."

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"Phantom Thread."

BEST PICTURE

Winner: "The Shape of Water"
Should Have Won: "Lady Bird," "Call Me by Your Name" and "Phantom Thread" are far more superior films, but "Shape" was a fine winner.
Should Have Been Nominated: "The Big Sick" was the notable snub; instead, two stinkers--"Darkest Hour" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"--snuck in, with the latter almost dominating the season.

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner: Guillermo del Toro, "The Shape of Water"
Should Have Won: Paul Thomas Anderson, "Phantom Thread," maybe--gasp!--Christopher Nolan for "Dunkirk."
Should Have Been Nominated: The slate was a formidable five.

BEST ACTOR

Winner: Gary Oldman, "Darkest Hour"
Should Have Won: Timothée Chalamet, "CMBYN"--by a mile! 
Should Have Been Nominated: Tom Hanks for "The Post" and Jake Gyllenhaal for "Stronger," instead of Oldman's histrionics and Denzel Washington's stiff, middle-of-the-road turn in the awful "Roman J. Israel, Esq." Heck, I'd even nominate James Franco in "The Disaster Artist" and Robert Pattinson in "Good Time" over those two. 

BEST ACTRESS

Winner: Frances McDormand, "Three Billboards..."
Should Have Won: Meryl Streep, "The Post" (her best since "August: Osage County") or Saoirse Ronan, "Lady Bird." Actually, anybody but McDormand would have been fine with me; Margot Robbie kept me glued to "I, Tonya," a movie that was just half as brilliant as its lead performance, and Hawkins was simply sublime in "Shape."
Should Have Been Nominated: Annette Bening, "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool" over McDormand.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Winner: Sam Rockwell, "Three Billboards..."
Should Have Won: Richard Jenkins, "Shape"
Should Have Been Nominated: Michael Stuhlbarg(!) and Armie Hammer(!), "CMBYN" over Woody Harrelson, "Three Billboards" and Christopher Plummer, "All the Money in the World." Stuhlbarg's omission, in particular, was the season's biggest injustice.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Winner: Allison Janney, "I, Tonya"
Should Have Won: Laurie Metcalf, "Lady Bird"--again, by a mile!
Should Have Been Nominated: I'd keep Lesley Manville's much-deserved nomination for "Phantom Thread"; Janney, Octavia Spencer in "Shape" and Mary J. Blige in "Mudbound" would have to give way for the more deserving Holly Hunter in "The Big Sick," Hong Chau in "Downsizing" and Tiffany Haddish in "Girls Trip."

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Winner: Jordan Peele, "Get Out"
Should Have Won: I once thought Greta Gerwig for "Lady Bird," but a second serving of "Get Out" confirmed Peele deserved this more.
Should Have Been Nominated: Paul Thomas Anderson, "Phantom Thread" (which would then be my choice for the win). I mean, over steaming shit like "Three Billboards"?

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Winner: James Ivory, "CMBYN"
Should Have Won: Ivory was really the only choice.
Should Have Been Nominated: "The Death of Stalin" by Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin and Peter Fellows. I'd probably remove--and I shock even myself by saying this--Aaron Sorkin's "Molly's Game," which I didn't like at all.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Winner: Roger Deakins, "Blade Runner 2049"
Should Have Won: Nobody else. Duh. 
Should Have Been Nominated: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, "CMBYN" over Bruno Delbonnel, "Darkest Hour." I mean, if you saw, like literally saw, "CMBYN," it should have been a no-brainer. 

BEST EDITING

Winner: Lee Smith, "Dunkirk"
Should Have Won: Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos, "Baby Driver"
Should Have Been Nominated: Joe Walker, "Blade Runner 2049." And the "Three Billboards" nomination can go flush itself down the toilet.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Winner: "Shape," which was a deserving winner
Should Have Been Nominated: Again, "CMBYN"--over the predictable "Darkest Hour."

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Winner: Alexandre Desplat, "Shape"
Should Have Won: As much as I'd like to say Jonny Greenwood, "Phantom Thread," Desplat thoroughly earned this. Also, I haven't seen any "Star Wars" movie.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Winner: "Remember Me" from "Coco"
Should Have Won: "Mystery of Love" from "CMBYN" 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Screen Log 16: The Insult; Happy End; Manhattan; Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story); Radio Days

"Manhattan."

THE INSULT, the Lebanese nominee in this year's Oscars for Foreign Language Film, is occasionally engaging, occasionally tedious, occasionally heavy-handed courtroom drama made for bored housewives in the late afternoon lull. The issues, the backstories, and especially the "insult" that starts off the entire narrative debacle, are all compelling. But the film has a tendency to be as hammy as the lawyer who can't help wetting himself in court, parading around like a peacock on uppers. The result is a film that pulls you in while the story takes place outside the courtroom, but has you wishing you were somewhere else once it plunges you back in there, with those judges and counselors and spectators all so primly directed. I liked this movie, but it could have used a little more discipline.

No use mincing words now: Michael Haneke's HAPPY END bored me to near-death. I was happy enough to emerge with my senses intact from this thinly composed drivel. The usual suspects were excellent, and by usual suspects, I just really mean Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Huppert breaking her son's middle finger mid-conversation just to end said conversation? Badass! And Trintignant's was really the only story within this humongous story that I actually wanted to follow; the rest of the film was kind of blah. I suspect a huge reason for that was that Haneke had to make the beginning of every scene a sort of guessing game, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it game, a you-have-to-stare-long-enough-at-the-screen-or-else-just-go-home game. It wasn't at all fun, mind you.

I love "Annie Hall," but I believe MANHATTAN is Woody Allen's greatest work. Those two, plus "Hannah and Her Sisters," "The Purple Rose of Cairo" and "Radio Days," which I also talk about below, constitute his five best works. I'm not here to talk about his sins; I think he is a sick man, and I don't mean "sick" as in "ill," but "sick" as in "burn-in-hell disgusting." But I also think he's made some of the 20th century's finest films, and those who think there's no separating the artist from his art are fully entitled to their opinions. Anyway, back to "Manhattan." I find it hard to believe it wasn't nominated for Best Picture back in its day, but then again, knowing the Academy and its proclivity for unpleasant--sometimes, as in this case, downright foul--surprises, I shouldn't be surprised. There is a little bit of a stumble towards the end, where you feel the conflicts sort of drift toward caricature, but that's all easily forgotten. This is just sublime filmmaking and storytelling.

Irene Villamor is on a roll. After "Meet Me in St. Gallen," she now gives us SID & AYA (NOT A LOVE STORY), starring Anne Curtis in fine form and an even finer Dingdong Dantes. How to describe this film other than "mumblecore on rock-and-roll drugs"? The last third of the movie I find hard to love, because it differs in tone and consistency from everything that precedes it. In fact, it's a surprisingly excellent film until Dantes punches his boss and the story moves to Japan. Then you just feel it become a lesser, altogether different movie.

RADIO DAYS is one of the best pieces ever made about the concept of nostalgia. There's just something new to discover with every viewing; that's how rich this seemingly superficial film is. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Screen Log 15: In the Fade; Wonderstruck; Novitiate; Atlanta Season 1; A Fantastic Woman

"In the Fade."

There's a scene in IN THE FADE that stood out for me because of the perfect way it embodied the quiet and rage coursing through the entire film. In the courtroom, a medical examiner began discussing in precise, scientific detail the method that led to the earlier deaths of Diane Kruger's husband and son. For the most part, the camera remained on Kruger's face, and we're left with no choice but to listen along with her, and share her grief--and now her agony--unembellished for all to see. Kruger's extraordinary in this scene, and in the rest of the movie; she won the Cannes Actress award for this film, but never made it past France as far as recognition was concerned. And that, I suppose, is key to understanding this film (though Bilge Ebiri makes a case for another way in his review for the Village Voice). What began as a harrowing emotional unraveling of one woman in the aftermath of tragedy became a slow-burn, terrifically acted procedural, and finally, an unexpected hunt--the prey now turned predator, though you could smell the uncertainty off her from a mile away. I'm not very sure I loved the ending, but I'm also not sure there's another ending that could elevate Kruger's character more. This wasn't just a search for closure; this was taking the story, the world, to another plane, beyond simple discussions of morality.

From the maker of the terrific "Far From Heaven" and "I'm Not There" and "Carol" comes WONDERSTRUCK, a movie so unabashedly sentimental, you can almost pinch it. The film has its merits, chief of all its actresses--the terrific Millicent Simmonds (last seen in "A Quiet Place") and Julianne Moore, both of them in silent parts. But the disease of this film starts early on, when Michelle Williams, as the other young protagonist's mother, remarks, "You live in a museum," and then that protagonist eventually ends up living in--where else?--the American Museum of Natural History. It's hard keeping up with the narrative, mostly because it's so, so jarring, the two timelines not quite jiving so much as elbowing each other. It's all style and little substance, honestly, if we're talking substance of Haynes' caliber. So yes, this is a sore disappointment from a filmmaker I've come to admire.

Maggie Betts' Sundance breakthrough NOVITIATE is grandly entertaining, in the sense that priests and nuns placed in non-stereotypical situations (think "We Have a Pope" or "Sister Act") are allowed to break free from their stern, sanctified shells and therefore imbued with human frailty and, oftentimes, comedy. Melissa Leo being a snarky, bitchin' Mother Superior, rolling her eyes with confessions she finds irrelevant, is a ball to watch. She sells the character so much--the attitude and the crisis that befalls her later on--that she should have been the main character. But then I don't really know what to make of the ending, which makes it out like these girls just wanted to be nuns because it would supposedly make them a cut above the rest of us mere mortals as far as heaven is concerned, which for me is just some cultish, close-minded bull. Maybe that's the point--that there are still people out there cloistered enough in their minds to believe that they are actually spiritually more superior than others by virtue of clothing and daily routine alone. Ugh.

I have not much to say about the first season of ATLANTA other than it is perfect. Sometimes you just crave for an intelligent, conscientiously made 10-episode comedy, and sometimes a show comes along and delivers just that.

One of the things I hate seeing most onscreen is the dramatic pause done wrong, or overdone. In the case of Sebastián Lelio's A FANTASTIC WOMAN, it's the latter. I'm a fan of Lelio's "Gloria," and this new film gives us another compelling (but less compelling, if this makes sense) heroine. A transwoman, in this case, in a time and place and culture where transwomen are viewed as chimera. No shit, one of the characters calls the heroine just that. Still, lots of times I found myself wondering about the backstory. That would have been a more interesting, if not way more compelling, story. How did this homewrecking transwoman meet her adulterous lover, and how did the transphobic ex-wife initially react? There's also a kidnapping that's more silly than scary. And the pauses. So distracting. There's a lot to dissect here, a story burgeoning beneath the one being told, past the motherhood statements occasionally tossed around in the actual film.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Screen Log 14: Avengers: Infinity War; Deadpool 2; Citizen Jake; Stronger; Modern Family Season 9

"Stronger."

Lord in heaven, the hype over AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Far. Too. Much. Clearly this was a movie made for the fans, for those who have helped build the billion-dollar Marvel film franchise ruling Hollywood now. I don't remember which critic it was who asked if there's even still any point in reviewing this movie, or in saying something bad about it. And yes, it's not a very good movie. It's spread far too thin, even with its twenty-minutes-shy-of-three-hours running time. It's really just a homecoming of sorts, a celebration of all the other Marvel movies that preceded it. For the record, my favorite among those are "Guardians of the Galaxy" (the first one, not the second one, which was bad), "Thor: Ragnarok," "Black Panther" and "Dr. Strange."

I couldn't remember what the first "Deadpool" movie was about, though I do remember being greatly entertained by it. Maybe that's all I'll ever need to say about it. It's one of those fun-but-forgettable movies. Like a great day at a beach that looks just like any other B-rated beach, with friends who're just so-so company. DEADPOOL 2 is a different creature, I think, though don't quote me on that since, again, I don't have a lot of memories of the first one to compare it with. But lord in heaven, the fourth-wall breaking and self-awareness and meta jokes. Far. Too. Much. It's enjoyable at first, but at some point, you just want to tell the movie to get. A. Grip. There's really a fine line between just right and too much, and the makers of this movie don't know that, apparently. By the climax, you can already feel the movie buckle under the weight of its self-confessed cleverness. It's that weight, actually, that made me realize I had a great time during numerous moments. The X-Force's descent into that unnamed city, for one. Hilarious! And whenever Lucky a.k.a. Domino was onscreen (she's really the breakout star of this film, if ever there was one). Landing on an inflatable panda (or was it a bear)? Check. Everybody else dying while she's still gliding closer to the ground on her parachute, smooth as a comet.

There were only eight of us in the cinema last night for an LFS of Mike de Leon's CITIZEN JAKE. I must confess outright that this was only my second Mike de Leon; the first was the restored version of "Kakabakaba Ka Ba?," which I saw during its Trinoma premiere thanks to the invitation of a friend. So I didn't really have much to size "Citizen Jake" up to as far as body of work was concerned. Nevertheless I thought the movie was--foremost--essential. People have to see it, especially given the current political buffoonery plaguing our country, the outright deceit and historical revisionism enabled by this "putanginang" government. As polemic, the movie is compelling. Its anger is infectious, and more importantly, coherent. But then there is also the drama part of this movie, which I thought was its weakness. Philbert Dy's review for Rogue did a better job at articulating my thoughts, and so did J. Neil Garcia's for GMA News. So I'm just gonna say this one thing: the theatricality of this whole film, the language of it, and I mean literally the way it's written--it's jarring, too showy, too bombastic in places that could really use subtlety. Lots of places, really. I came out of the theater feeling like this was the work of someone who, in certain places of the film, just felt tired, like literally tired, and could no longer hear the words he was putting on paper. (Also, Teroy Guzman, hello there, you just reprised this role for "The Kundiman Party," sly bastard, but you were effective anyway.) I don't know about you, but I was baffled by the way the characters spoke many times. We get it: polemics. But hello, "The Normal Heart." So there's that. And also Nonie Buencamino's wig was just awfully done (his roots were showing, for crying out loud!). But still I will recommend this to anyone who asks, because you know, there's also that whole other timely part I mentioned earlier.

I swear, if Jake Gyllenhaal doesn't win an Oscar (or gets at least four more nominations, or five, or ten) before he retires, I will personally write the Academy to tell them they are cancelledT with a capital T. David Gordon Green's STRONGER, less about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing than about the guy in a wheelchair with his legs newly blown off, is anchored on another Gyllenhaal performance that could have been an easy pick for the Best Actor race if it were any other year. (But then we had Daniel Day-Lewis in "Phantom Thread" and fuckin Elio in CMBYN, to begin with, didn't we?) What does the guy have to do to get nominated again, like come on! It's been more than a decade since "Brokeback Mountain," and many of us are still angry about the "Nightcrawler" snub. Here is an actor who has been endlessly fearless with the roles he plays, who isn't afraid to get and look (and probably feel) ugly. The movie has its high notes, meaning it also has its blah notes, but what I will single out is the director's eye for the crowd scenes--when Jeff Bauman's crazy, dysfunctional family enters and fills the picture, and that bravura last-quarter sequence that finally shows us the immediate aftermath of the bombing with Bauman at its center. And sure, Tatiana Maslany got some Supporting Actress recognition for her work here, because yeah she does great work here, but what about Miranda Richardson as Bauman's overbearing mom, huh? Such a waste.

I don't know why I still watch MODERN FAMILY. The first two seasons were great. Season 2's Halloween episode remains one of my tops. Seasons 3 and 4 were okay. But then by Season 5 we were all probably thinking hmmm what the hell happened. And now I just finished Season 9 and it was pretty uneven, just like the past few seasons. I don't even think this qualifies as a guilty pleasure, since sometimes there's very little pleasure to be had with an episode. I'll call this a habit--my "Modern Family" habit. Hopefully it ends with Season 10.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Turning 26

Victoria Peak, December 2017.

When I turned 25 a year ago, it was a different world then. I was coming home to Iloilo after two weeks in Dumaguete as a fellow to the 56th Silliman University National Writers Workshop. For lack of a less cliché sentiment, those were two of the best weeks of the year. I'd submitted my application on a whim, after thinking I wouldn't even make the deadline, already somehow resigned that I'd never be part of the workshop's history. 

I spent a good part of that birthday transiting in the marketplace that was Mactan Airport. There were no direct flights from Dumaguete to Iloilo, and I was determined to be home before evening, so I'd booked the early morning flight to Cebu and boarded the plane hungover from the previous night's farewell festivities. I didn't mind the blur of it all; the mental haze somehow made the day all the more deviant and, thus, exciting. In a week, I'd be in Bicol with two of my best friends from high school; in two more, I'd be in Japan, for the first time, with my mother and brother.

When I turned 26 yesterday, I'd had three hospitalizations within a span of five months--first, for H. pylori gastritis three days before Christmas last year; then for an appendectomy last month, and a readmission after that operation for partial gut obstruction.

I'd spent a good seven months back in Iloilo, eased into a routine so far off from the toxic, patient-filled life of residency training I'd envisioned.  

I'd seen 52 movies since New Year's, aside from a number of TV series, plus a pirated copy of the filmed version of London's National Theater's "Angels in America." I'd read more non-medical books than I could recall reading within a similar length of time (among those books, David Mitchell's "Black Swan Green," Wilfredo Pascual's "Kilometer Zero," Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta's "Burning Houses").

I'd seen what will probably be the most atrocious production of Jonathan Larson's "Rent" I will ever see in this lifetime, and also a so-so touring production of "The Lion King," the source movie being one of the defining movies of my youth.

I'd gone on a supposedly secret, 24-hour trip to Hong Kong very few people knew about. 

And my father had been gone for just a little over seven months. It's this last bit, I suppose, that's fueling this emotional logorrhea. It's hard to believe it's been that long, but you can do nothing else but believe it, y'know.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Screen Log 13: The Death of Stalin; Mother!; Breathe; Hostiles; Fresh Off the Boat Season 4

"Hostiles."

What a delight--what a refreshing delight--Armando Iannucci's THE DEATH OF STALIN was! Cold, British deadpan satire perfectly executed. I was hooked from start to finish. The decision to give this historical fiction contemporary finishes, especially the language and accents, was excellent. And that cast! And that script! Three slots in the Golden Globes for Musical/Comedy went to "The Disaster Artist," "The Greatest Showman" and "I, Tonya," when very clearly, here was the year's funniest film. One of the nastiest, but also the funniest. I will certainly be watching this again in the near future.

As for Darren Aronofsky's MOTHER!, I was amazed only by Jennifer Lawrence's consistency--by her capacity to keep the same, baffled-slash-shocked-slash-appalled expression for all of two hours. Aronofsky can go fool another crowd with this piece of Biblical blather, but not me. I was watching the entire thing unfold, wishing it could reach the end faster.

Andy Serkis' directorial debut, the disability drama BREATHE, stars one of the best actors of his generation and currently working, Andrew Garfield, whose Prior Walter in "Angels in America" is a stunning, fabulous creation. Here, Garfield is confined to a bed, then to a wheelchair, with a tube glued to his neck, for 90% of the film. Claire Foy does her best to set Elizabeth's shell aside (but she just can't, or is it just me? So effective and indelible is she in "The Crown.") The rest of the cast and the rest of this story are rather forgettable. Sometimes affecting, occasionally tearjerking, mostly forgettable.

Scott Cooper's HOSTILES is beautifully shot: vistas of the Great Plains in just about every weather and every light. And Rosamund Pike in tears in just about every imaginable situation. I'm being hyperbolic, of course. This is an emotional Western. An emotional Western! Christian Bale takes the lead, speaking so softly, even Apple earphones have a hard time catching his words occasionally. But the effort to depart from genre convention, though. You can almost hear Cooper's brain tick and tock throughout his film. The fight scenes, especially, all feel so contrived and cheaply choreographed. And the story itself hardly surprises; you can practically predict every twist and turn of the plot. And for this level of predictability, the film's length is not justified.

I still maintain that the third season of FRESH OFF THE BOAT was its best. The fourth one was still good, though there were a couple of episodes that weren't up to par, I thought. The third season was simply slam dunk after slam dunk. Still, Constance Wu remained the series' biggest asset, followed by Lucille Soong. And if ABC had the right mind, they'd renew this show for two more seasons at least.