Tuesday, October 20, 2015

2015 in Movies, 49-60

These are all the movies I've seen since the start of internship, or in the span of 16 weeks. I did finish the latest seasons of "Modern Family" and "Game of Thrones," as well as "Glee's" final one. Still, I catch myself thinking, what a paltry list. And we only have less than three months to go before the year ends.

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"Singin' in the Rain."

49. The Break-up Playlist (dir. Dan Villegas)

"Paano bang magmahal," Piolo Pascual sings, and the first thought that comes to mind is, why is he singing like that? Seriously, guys, why is Piolo whining? It's like a pebble got stuck inside one of his nostrils. Nobody, not even his co-star, bothers to answer him; Sarah Geronimo is too busy trying to show off the embarrassing amount of restraint she has evidently put into her performance, even the creases on her clothes are screaming, "Internal!" (You can almost hear Nora Aunor's teary-eyed applause in the background.) Last year, we had to deal with "Begin Again," which fancied itself a clever, relevant musical film; "The Break-up Playlist" feels earthier, more laid-back, heartfelt, authentic, and because it's directed and written by the Dan Villegas-Antoinette Jadaone master tandem, its sins are all too easily forgiven.

50. Minions (dirs. Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda)

They actually made a movie in pure gibberish--and I liked it! Some conspiracy theorists think these minions are Hollywood's way of promoting devil worship. After all, the cute little things make it their mission to seek out the most evil person/creature there is, from the T-Rex to Napoleon. What utter rubbish! "Minions" is the film industry's way of telling us it's okay to be a kid at heart and that it's perfectly reasonable to love a movie in which the language makes absolutely no sense.   

51. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009, dir. David Yates)

Darkness made elegant. Dumbledore dead. Helena Bonham-Carter destroying the Great Hall. Ginny harnessing her slutty side. Hermione realizing she has a slutty side. The dark side triumphant. 

52. Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn)

I'm not a fan of Marvel, but I'll be damned if there's a better opening scene from a 2014 movie than that of Chris Pratt, in space traveler chic, suddenly breaking into dance to Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love" in that abandoned stony wasteland. 

53. Inside Out (dir. Pete Docter)

Movies that made me cry: "Lilo and Stitch," "Toy Story 3," "Finding Nemo," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "The Lion King," "An Affair to Remember," "The Bridges of Madison County," "Got 2 Believe," etc. "Inside Out" came nowhere near my tear ducts, but the intelligence of this film completely surprised and satisfied the aspiring psychiatrist in me. 

54. Singin' in the Rain (1952, dirs. Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen)

The international touring production of "Singin' in the Rain," based on this movie, was an exquisitely mounted but unfairly unattended production. It ran for three weeks at the Theater at Solaire, and during the final week, they had to slash ticket prices by 50%. Still, that was not enough to draw audiences in--and what a waste! Nobody could ever possibly match Gene Kelly, but--dare I say this--the women, Bethany Dickson (in the Debbie Reynolds role) and Taryn Lee Hudson (in the Jean Hagen role), felt more organic than their film counterparts, bringing surprising warmth and authenticity to their characters. 

55. Heneral Luna (dir. Jerrold Tarog)

"Heneral Luna" felt like "On the Job" all over again--a time when even the most unlikely people suddenly became self-professed cinephiles and started heralding a "new age" in Filipino filmmaking, whatever that meant. Is "Heneral Luna" a bad movie? Far from it. It is obviously a product of hard work and imagination. It has its fair share of beautiful shots (the dream sequence in the Parisian café is gorgeously surreal). It has John Arcilla painting the most persuasive portrait of a volatile leader. The script's turn-of-the-century Tagalog is music to the ears, and the effort to make it accessible to modern and/or young audiences is laudable (For example: "Handang magtapon ng dugo ang totoong makabayan. Hindi pagdurusa ang pagdaan sa napakatinding pasakit. Para kang tumanggap ng basbas, parang pag-ibig). We just have to open our eyes a little wider, or read a bit more, and realize that "Heneral Luna" is not the first excellent movie to come out since "On the Job." That's the real bullshit, my friends.

56. Taklub (dir. Brillante Mendoza)

I wish I could say I thoroughly enjoyed this latest Nora Aunor; that all I felt were the sadness of the Yolanda victims depicted and the harrowing emptiness of their ravaged home. But that would be a lie. Because Mendoza's handheld camerawork was so shaky, it gave me a headache. And it came to a point that I could no longer bear it, so I stood up and left. With still a third of the movie to go.    

57. Etiquette for Mistresses (dir. Chito Roño)

There's Kris Aquino playing Kris Aquino, Claudine Barretto playing Claudine Barretto, and a piece of dialogue that goes, "Timezone tayo mamaya." Also, there's an untouched pancit canton dinner, Kim Chiu trying her best to play cheap (it can be argued that she actually need not try so hard), and a jet escape to China with Iza Calzado, but that's all beside the matter. Rating: RECOMMENDED!

58. The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott)

"The Martian" is this year's "Interstellar," except it doesn't have Matthew McConaughey spouting corny declarations of love being the answer to everything in a wormhole. It is also this year's "Apollo 13," except it doesn't take its scientific shiz too seriously (meaning, we somehow processed all the deep shit they were talking about, not that we actually retained it or made our brains understand it). "The Martian" has Matt Damon, a great actor who knows how to make didactic dialogue sound pedestrian and humorous, the way Tom Hanks can make oratory sound like the most spontaneous thing. Damon plays a botanist who grows potatoes in Mars, and Jessica Chastain is his captain, and towards the end, during the requisite ("pivotal" simply won't cut it) rescue scene, they float and bounce and roll in space in spools of red ribbon against a backdrop of Martian red, and that entire sequence just burst of unsullied cinematic beauty, I had to cry.

59. Crimson Peak (dir. Guillermo del Toro)

First there was an insanely sharp pen. Then a short knife. Then a long knife. Then a butcher's knife. Then a shovel. And that was what finally killed Lucille Sharpe--two blows to the head with a shovel, delivered by Alice in Cumberland. But really, "Crimson Peak" the movie is not scary at all; it is vastly entertaining, in the way that seeing Mia Wasikowska suffer onscreen is entertaining (she's really good at portraying helplessness). The one genuinely scary part about "Crimson Peak" is Jessica Chastain, who acts the hell out of Lucille, she deserves to be recognized come year's end. After all, it's not every day you see such a tremendous performance in a so-called horror flick.

60. Bridge of Spies (dir. Steven Spielberg)

Everybody must have that Steven Spielberg movie that made them realize, "Hey, I'm watching the work of a master." "Schindler's List" is mine, even though I have my qualms about that ending. "Bridge of Spies" is a film where every frame is a necessary fragment of the story, where every shot was deliberately inserted in its current place because it's the only way the entire thing could make actual sense. The film, about the moral grey areas that the Cold War brought forth to our global consciousness, is literally shaded in hues of gray, that its nature as a spy film is almost a consequence of its camera work. It opens with three images of one person (you have to watch to find out how this is so)--Mark Rylance, who speaks a million words through the shortest of silences. Much of "Bridge of Spies" runs this way--lines crossed and crisscrossed, ambiguities illuminated then made murkier, exactness in form and spirit reduced to formless air. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

PDI Review: 'Demented, Delightful, Deranged, De Jesus' - Vincent de Jesus in Concert

My review of Vincent de Jesus' Triple Threats concert at the CCP is in today's Inquirer--here. The last one, featuring the music of Rony Fortich, is slated this coming Thursday, Oct. 22 at 8PM. Less than three months of theatergoing left!

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The sweetly painful music of Vincent de Jesus

No beating human heart is safe when near the music of Vincent de Jesus.

Granted, the man is also an extraordinary composer of lighthearted, hopeful, even comical music. The "Kayumanggilas" number from "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady," for instance, which summons the "barakong" Pinoy image through wildly creative wordplay ("bansot," "jologs," "sakang," "isaw" and "balut" uproariously crammed in a few lines), may just be the cleverest, funniest song we've heard in the theater this year.

But De Jesus' heartbreak music, his assiduous exploration of pain and cruel suffering and love crushed and splintered, is of a different category altogether. At the Cultural Center of the Philippines' (CCP) Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino last Sept. 24, the illustrious career of this much-garlanded songwriter-actor-musical director received a thrilling, almost unbearably melancholy condensation through the aptly titled "Demented, Delightful, Deranged, De Jesus," the second of this year's Triple Threats concert series.


Thirty-nine artists, like pilgrims at the shrine, performed the two-hour set list, which mostly contained De Jesus' musical theater work--"Care Divas," "Zsazsa Zaturnnah," "Himala, The Musical"--interwoven with selections from his album "Songs to Slash Your Wrists By" (how fitting!) and his compositions for the screen, such as the theme from Mark Meily's "Crying Ladies."

It was an impressive display of versatility (and even this phrase seems an inadequate modifier). For De Jesus' body of work runs a gamut of styles and moods, from inspiring patriotism ("Pag-asa ng Bayan" from "Batang Rizal") to brusque elation ("Babae na Ako" from "Zsazsa," performed by Eula Valdes) to heart-tugging, brain-numbing, vaguely soul-crushing romance ("There'll Be Trouble" from "Leading Lady," with original cast members Giannina Ocampo, Hans Eckstein and Bituin Escalante).

And it's that last kind that De Jesus' does exceptionally well. In fact, looking back, the concert felt like a slow descent into a wellspring of tears.

"Here's another happy song," became the evening's oft-spoken sardonic gag, the titles speaking for themselves as they flew by: "Hindi na Kita Mahal," "Ako Lang ang Nagmahal," "Sapagkat Mahal Kita," etc.

Sharp images

It's the language of betrayed lovers and disillusioned romantics that De Jesus speaks most fluently, his images sharp, the voices distinct, the metaphors savagely hard-hitting and honest.

Take this hint of hurt from "Ang Maamong Mukha ng Pag-ibig Mong Sinungaling," which De Jesus himself performed: "Iwan mo na lang sa unan ang amoy ng iyong pagtataksil. Akin yan."

Or from "Tahimik Lang," achingly sung by Reuben Laurente, in which emotional damage masquerades as silence: "Walang tunog kapag ang luha'y pumapatak/at ang pusong sumisigaw, walang nakakarinig/at ang labing napipi, gusto mang magsumbong, tahimik lang."

To use the expression: hashtag "hugot." Whether in English or Filipino, the truthful clarity of De Jesus' lyrics is never diminished.

And come those lung-busting aria--such as "Kasalanan Ko" from "Leading Lady," which only Escalante could possibly render with such crushing anguish--one could only surrender to the sweeping sensory overload.

It's moments like this--and "Demented, Delightful, Deranged, De Jesus" had them aplenty--when the human heart is transported to a most vulnerable, searing spot. When that happens, it's best not to hold back; instead, one just has to surrender to this genius' sweetly painful music. Your heart will surprisingly thank you for it.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

PDI Review: 'Breakups and Breakdowns' by Ateneo Blue Repertory

I saw three shows last weekend: Tanghalang Ateneo's "Robot Unibersal ni Rossum," a confusingly flamboyant adaptation of the Karel Capek play; Ballet Manila's "Romeo and Juliet," using Paul Vasterling's choreography--Rudy de Dios as Romeo, Gerardo Francisco as Mercutio and Rudolph Capongcol as Benvolio were excellent; and Blue Rep's "Breakups and Breakdowns," which turned out to be the weekend's pleasant surprise--the online version of my review in today's paper here.

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Blue Rep and 'Breakups and Breakdowns' make a surprising match

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more agreeable onstage marriage between man and material these days than at the Ateneo's Fine Arts Theater, where Blue Repertory's "Breakups and Breakdowns" closes tonight after a three-week run.

Despite the middling material--book and lyrics by Joel Trinidad, score by Rony Fortich--it's marvelous how "Breakups" gels so seamlessly with the capabilities and sensibilities of its young performers, this small band of college students finding youthful vitality in a sea of banality.

Trinidad's writing flounders in shades of all-too-eager cleverness and not-too-deep heartache, a mixture obviously patterned (but not perfected) after American TV sitcoms such as "Friends" and "How I Met Your Mother." It's the choice of entertainment of the modern, young and educated, in which jokes are exchanged at lightning speed and romances wither in the blink of an eye.

"Breakups" presents us with a foursome--roommates Mark and Derek, and the women in their lives, graphic designer Nina and (what's her description again?) Sandy--singing largely forgettable music about falling in and out of love (though, admittedly, Fortich has woven a couple of memorable moments in "Boy Meets Girl" and "Tell Yourself").

Privileged people

Where new ground is concerned, none is broken by "Breakups." It's another millennial story of privileged people dealing with their First World problems. We've seen this before in The Sandbox Collective's "No Filter," a monologue series about the middle-to-upper class millennials of Manila, which is currently enjoying a second run at the Black Box Theater in The Circuit, Makati City.

Whereas "No Filter" generates its appeal largely through the inspired writing, Blue Repertory's "Breakups" simply has to look around and within itself. It's the English-spouting millennial Atenean stereotype at play, but really, milieu--or people's perception of it, at least--has never played a more integral part in the relative success of a show.

As the perfect company to put on an English-language show about vaguely American people and their love problems, Blue Repertory more than delivers; this "Breakups" has a beating heart that is as familiar as it is convincingly alive.

Not for a second do we doubt that these performers can indeed assume these fictional identities; the glass slippers fit perfectly, so to speak. That, and the fact that Reb Atadero's direction is an admirable exercise in restraint and streamlining.

Devices are employed sparingly but effectively. In a particularly stirring rendering of romantic irony during the opening song, the sight of Mark and Nina kissing for what appears to be the first time is contrasted with voice-overs of missed telephone calls and glum good-byes.

The girls in particular--Celine Bengzon as Nina and Angela Mercado as Sandy--emanate a kind of radiant freshness generally seen only among the pros. They sing ravishingly and never overdo their acting; they could very well be the people they're portraying, and we'd totally buy it.


It's this comfort with the material that ignites the enjoyment in "Breakups," even though the choreography could use more polish and theatricality, and the singing becomes tentative when it comes to those insipid low notes (not the performers' fault).

Doomed lovers' quartets are, in fact, nothing new. Patrick Marber's "Closer," last staged in Manila two years ago by Red Turnip Theater, is the quintessential example. (Perhaps viewers are more familiar with it through the 2004 film starring Natalie Portman and Julia Roberts.)

It would be quite a stretch to call "Breakups" a "Closer" for a G-rated audience. The latter features thrilling verbal jousts, each person clawing at the other's veneer, willed to expose his or her frailties--a Russian roulette of toxic romances set to the foul language of distrust and betrayal.

"Breakups" has nowhere near as much emotional gravity. Mostly, it attempts to be serious, and be taken seriously, then retreats to its cozy shell of familiarity. But as staged by Blue Repertory, the conflicts unexpectedly become compelling, and the people in it, real. Or as millennials would say it, totally relatable.