Film review: Die Beautiful

Die Beautiful is one of the most original films to have come out recently, which seems ironic at first considering the following storyline: Patrick (Paolo Ballesteros) grows up as a young boy who is a fan of beauty pageants. He clashes with his father (Joel Torre), who does not agree with his identity and who later evicts him out of the house. Patrick then becomes Trisha Echevarria, and along with BFF Barbs (Christian Bables), she makes a living as a beauty pageant contestant. Hardly anything new as far as LGBTs’ lives are concerned.

die-beautifulBut the film goes way beyond those bullet points: there may be a common story among LGBTs, a template of pain and suffering, if you will, but it’s the details that need to be told. Director Jun Lana and screenwriter Rody Vera flesh them out tenderly, not only in flashbacks, but also in a non-linear way; after all, layers aren’t always peeled in the correct order. As the film remained deftly edited—not once did I get lost in the plot despite the alternating timelines—I thought it was a well-maneuvered approach to the typical coming-of-age story.

It is after all, Trisha’s coming-of-age story. I normally dislike the phrase, thinking it’s a cop out for teenage movies which gratuitously feature sex and drugs, but in Die Beautiful, Paolo’s Trisha is treated with such respect that despite the ugliest scenario, she remains… well, beautiful. If there were anything gratuitous in the film, they were the “beaucon” jokes and I hope they’re not what the viewer came to see the movie for. That’s why it’s interesting how Lana takes the unsuspecting viewer for a ride: the beaucons and Paolo’s makeup transformations are nothing compared to what awaits the audience, a semi-Stockholm syndrome which Lana never quite resolves (intendedly), leaving us to wonder whether she should have indeed walked out of or stayed for true love. And isn’t that a beautiful metaphor for LGBT rights in the country?

Film rating: 4.5/5

Film review: Vince and Kath and James

I’m more than a decade past the market of Vince and Kath and James; watching this almost seemed like a social science experiment, when you had to do something out of your comfort zone. And so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. There are ridiculously syrupy lines—there were times I pulled my hair and screamed internally—and I barely survived the ending, but in total, it’s a story which serves some pretty good lessons for tweens, especially for girls.

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I absolutely loved the feminist angle given to Kath (Julia Barretto): her feminism isn’t angry or loud or in your face, but rather, she just is. Kath unapologetically joins a beauty pageant for money and at home, tinkers around the house as the handyman. An engineering student, she, along with the other female students, are relegated to admin work at their internship, but she later volunteers to do heavy labor because the desk job bored her out of her wits. She calls out Vince for body shaming her when he remarked about her weight. And although her fat cheeks remained the butt of Vince’s (Joshua Garcia) joke throughout the movie, by then you know it comes from a place of love, not bullying, unlike earlier in the story.

But I thought it was Joshua who truly shined in the role—he reminds me of a young Aga Muhlach (Mitzi offered John Lloyd Cruz instead)—and there’s a confidence in him, whether he’s in full-on pranskter-heartthrob role or being dramatic; he did have the meatiest role, thanks to a backstory involving her mother, played earnestly by Ina Raymundo. I think he’s someone to watch out for.

I have a couple of minor problems with the plot, but since they are spoilers, I would be happy to discuss them in the comments instead, if you like. But overall, the storytelling remained tight and very engaging; the character and story arcs give depth without losing focus of the heart of this film. Congratulations to the writers Daisy Cayanan, Kim Noromor and Anjanette Haw.

Film rating: 4.5/5

My notes on Saving Sally

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  • I’m hard-pressed to name a local mainstream actor who could pull off a role in English. It’s not the English per se (accent or pronunciation), but the dialogue delivery of a native speaker. (Think Lea Salonga: perfect English, but the delivery seems too polished.) Contrary to what I’ve read somewhere, I think Rhian Ramos is actually a brilliant actress in a Tagalog-speaking role; in English, though, I felt that she suffered the Lea Salonga problem. Hirap ako i-pinpoint yung issue ko sa kanya, actually. But I thought she was charming and definitely someone guys would fall head over heels in love for.
  • Enzo Marcos (Marty), in all aspects, is perfect.
  • TJ Trinidad (Nick) was also perfect for the role.
  • By the way, why is this an English movie? ‘La naman kaso, curious lang ako.
  • Production value is outstanding—the film can stand alongside international films. I hope this opens the door to more Filipino animated films; it’s about time we provide Filipino graphic artists their own platform here in the country. It’s beautiful to see Pinoy pop culture and our urban landscape depicted like so on the big screen.
  • I wished they pushed the writing further. As I told my friend PJ, steady lang sya. Yung emotional range didn’t change much—it didn’t bring me to the highs or lows. But there were so, so many opportunities when they could have gone darker and therefore, more interesting, e .g. yung semi-animated scene between Sally and Nick; yung clinic scene—I thought something sinister was going to happen; a grittier backstory behind Sally and her family—BUT I think I can understand their case against doing so. GV lang talaga yung movie, kung baga.
  • Again, re: pushing the writing further, napa-facepalm ako sa ending. Ayun na eh.

too-close

  • Brilliant heartbreak scene (this is not a spoiler, right?)—ganda nung transition nung wall art into a shroud of Sally posters, tapos yung drowning sequence—galing ng concept, art, and execution! Ramdam ko eh.
  • Kuya Bodjie is ❤

My rating: 4/5 for the playfulness, aesthetics, and technical merits

Film review: Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2: #ForeverisNotEnough

My review for the first Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (first published in my blog, and later, in PDI) couldn’t be more glowing—I found it way too short. For this sequel, I found myself looking at my watch and preparing to sleep, except the old dude behind me had beaten me to it and started snoring.

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Photo: Quantum Films

Eugene, who plays herself with what we assume are artistic exaggerations, had barely enough screen time to satiate our appetite for her perfect comic timing and wit.

This time, it was all Eugene. Unfortunately, the screenplay left her with nothing to do except rattle off formulaic suggestions to what was supposed to be a “serious” romantic film penned and to be directed by Ranier (Kean Cipriano). Thus, one-third of the film is devoted to torturing the audience with local romantic comedy banalities that the filmmakers are supposedly railing against.

And this was so boring. Whereas the first movie commented on the state of indie filmmaking and the inclination to exploit the poor (poverty porn), romcoms are hardly anything to be angry about especially compared to the larger issues in the country today.

This self-mockery is what makes “Ang Babae” both comical and enlightening: where does one draw the line between exposing and exploiting the truth? How do you present this truth in an honest way? And why not a musical?

And maybe, because there’s ultimately nothing to rage about romcoms (walang panghuhugutan), there wasn’t enough motivation to seek this truth. (Translation: 1.5 hours would be too long to make a competent commentary on local romcoms and writer Chris Martinez knew that.) It was only during the last 20 minutes of the film when Eugene, in a stunning turn of serious acting (because prior to this scene, all she had been doing were sketches), and Kean began to engage in a debate about this “truth” that my brain kicked into first gear and started thinking, but their conversation lasted only for 5 minutes and that was that.

Without leaving a spoiler, I loved the cameos toward the end; I thought how self-assured of them to take on their roles.

My rating: skip this in the MMFF lineup. After this and the Kimmy Dora sequels, Chris has Here Comes the Bride left to botch. I hope he leaves it as it is.

I will miss Looking

I wished Looking had stretched into many more seasons. Until it got the ax, I felt it was the only gay-themed series that intelligently and realistically portrayed what’s it like to be gay AND an adult. (No, Ru Paul’s Drag Race does not count 😄). These guys didn’t necessarily have enviable lifestyles or well-cut abs, and the navel gazing could be annoying sometimes, but again, it’s a good representation of real life and its struggles.

I never fully got into Queer as Folk; I’m not sure about the succeeding episodes, but the first few centered around the hedonistic lifestyle of this super rich protagonist who basically gets away with being a douchebag. I think the appeal for me then was that it was the only gay-themed TV series I know of—plus, the sex scenes were nothing like I’ve seen on TV before—but eventually, I grew tired of the characters as one would tire of Grindr profiles and their sex invites.

Looking the movie isn’t as heart-wrenchingly good as I hoped or expected: it felt like an abrupt season-ender.

I know that it’s not supposed to stand on its own merit—one needs to appreciate the movie as part of the collective Looking experience—but I felt that it required another entire season to resolve the traumas of the previous, and still existing, conflicts. The movie had the awkwardness of a reunion episode wherein previous characters are introduced, literally, one by one; like it was Sesame Street and problems get solved from one neighbor to the next. Despite the validity of the characters’ gathering, it all felt too staged and it might as well have been an hours-long dream sequence for Patrick (Jonathan Groff). (In case Looking returns, can we pretend that the movie was all but a dream?)

Without sounding ungrateful (though I’m afraid I already have), Looking did end on a sweet note. I’m happy for all the characters (and Brady, LOL). Thanks, Looking, for that extremely satisfying ride.

Review: Bridget Jones’s Baby

It feels good to welcome back Bridget Jones—anyone who grew up reading the book and watching the first film will surely be pleased by the third installment and how well the beloved character is treated.

It doesn’t quite hit the highs of Bridget Jones’s Diary—everything was just right about that first movie—but what Bridget Jones’s Baby offers is a consistently funny, albeit mellow, journey for Bridget.

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Photo: Instagram.com/EntertainmentWeekly

If you think about it, Bridget Jones is now 43, so gone are the hilariously stupid mistakes that made Diary a gem, such as the book launch speech, with the amazing cameo by Salman Rushdie; or emotionally gripping arcs, such as Daniel Cleaver’s infidelity toilet scene. Bridget is now a respected news producer and she won’t take crap from any one—any man—just like that. So the writers Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer, and Emma Thompson are left with just a small opening for the film’s signature British slapstick humor, and in Baby, that gap comes in the form of the generation divide.

But even millennial jokes are hardly exploited here; their presumed takeover in the workplace barely registered as a threat. Maybe the film’s problem is that it’s become too respectful, too politically correct, that when Bridget’s weight suddenly bubbled up as the joke in a particular scene, I could only embrace it—and so did the audience; the theater roared with laughter.

The writers seemed to have only scratched the surface, careful not to provoke or fall back into stereotypes, effectively shielding Bridget from feminist criticism. She doesn’t go the far end of feminism either—there are no politics here. The slapstick comedy largely falls into the hands of her new friend and colleague, the hilarious Miranda (Sarah Solemani). Bridget’s three original friends only make cameo appearances, and even that shift, the sadness in how the dynamics in that friendship has changed, is barely given attention.

Bridget Jones is, after all, also about the guys. Patrick Dempsey’s character is written like a Prince Charming caricature; he could have been annoying, but the handsome devil gets away with it—the sighs I kept hearing from the audience mean he sure is charming. Colin Firth has gotten his Mark Darcy down pat and here, he cranks up the cranky tito factor even more.

It’s Emma Thompson as Dr. Rawling, who almost steals the show. She has little screen time, but she relishes each second, releasing zingers and just the slightest indignance with her arched eyebrows and pursed lips.

Renee Zellweger is criticized as being dead in the eyes by The Hollywood Reporter; I get that, but again, I look at this whole film as an affectionate nod to a mellower, grown-up—but not dark—Bridget1.

 

Bridget Jones’s Baby opens in Manila on September 14.


  1. I’m glad she hasn’t ended up a widower in this universe as in the second book. 

Film review: The Breakup Playlist

Normally, a Piolo Pascual starrer scores an 11 out of 10 from me, but for The Breakup Playlist, I have to say I’m disappointed by the lack of pecs, biceps, and abs. My Piolo rating: 9/10 because that face 😍.

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 11.41.27 PM

* * * *

Now, for my film review…

Piolo (Gino) and Sarah Geronimo (Trixie) play two bandmates who get into a relationship and—I suppose this is a not a spoiler since it’s in the title after all—break up. This is the entire scope of the movie.

In her review, Jessica Zafra complains that the band gigs were “too neat and antiseptic” and I’d like to further argue that this is in fact, true about the entire film. In my case, the words that kept coming up in my head were “sanitized” and “safe.” The film features no grit and texture, two of the standout qualities of That Thing Called Tadhana and English Only, Please, whose directors and scriptwriters (Dan Villegas and Antoinette Jadaone) are behind Breakup.

I only perked up when it seemed a skanky fan (great acting, by the way) was about to provide some kick to the movie, but unfortunately, the third-party arc was made squeaky clean as well. Also, even if the subject had been criticized in Babae sa Septic Tank, it seems product placements are here to stay. (Though on hindsight, it’s what made the audience in our screening laugh out loud since Breakup is practically devoid of humor.)

Lest this be a complete rant, I liked two scenes. First is Trixie’s ‘bed scene’ with her parents—no words had to be exchanged; I thought that was brilliant and economical. The other was that climactic event by the roadside: I liked how the scene inventively ‘lit’ Piolo’s tears.

Overall rating: too bad

Film review: T’yanak (no, it’s not a five-star film)

I’m unwilling to fork over money to see a Filipino movie unless:

  • it’s part of Cinemalaya;
  • it stars Piolo Pascual; and
  • it’s highly rated by critics I admire.

Phil Dy is one of those film writers who is so difficult—but not impossible—to please, so when he gave T’yanak a five out of five rating, which is a rarity, I knew I had to see it for myself.

The movie in SM Megamall costs P196, which makes it more expensive than pork buns from Tim Ho Wan. This is strike one.

Strike two: the movie is poorly made. I won’t delve into the technical merits of the t’yanak or the continuity problems, but I absolutely cannot understand why, in the year 2014, we still have movies that are quick to throw out simple logic and integrity out the window in favor of, I don’t know, time constraints? Laziness? I don’t see how budget could have been a problem, especially when all the barrio actors’ wardrobe all look new.

The film made it clear that this particular town, the setting of the entire movie, is a small one such that everyone knows everyone. How can Joeben (Sid Lucero) go on a killing spree in the plaza, at a movie theater, and in a hospital nursery and still be able to freely roam the streets later?

Why didn’t anyone report the plaza incident to the police, especially Julie (Judy Ann Santos), whose forehead was grazed by a bullet? In earlier scenes, her family was big on reporting everything to the police.

Why was Madie (Solenn Heussaff) standing like a mannequin at the end of the nursery scene? Also, she—the skeptic—managed to go to a witch doctor afterward, but not to the police chief, with whom she has shared fishballs earlier?

Why did no one bother to find the missing wet nurse, who clearly has a large family? Again, in a small town, her disappearance would have made news.

Why would Madie kill the t’yanak at night when she could have done it at daytime? Why would she do it alone? In a barrio convinced of the t’yanaks’ existence, she, with her exquisite face and long slender legs, could have easily summoned an entire baranggay for backup.

The t’yanak manages to decapitate a head in seconds at the start of the film, but can’t even get a decent bite out of Solenn, enough to kill her, despite an excruciating number of tries.

Speaking of the start of the film, who pees long enough to have your wife take out an umbrella, mill about the woods, hear a crying baby in the distance, walk toward his cries, see the baby, croon how cute he is, wrap him with her shawl, scream in agony, and get murdered by decapitation? Joeben is too young to have prostate issues.

The movie treatment itself was confusing: you have these docu-style camera movements (shaky and zoomed to show us the actors’ nostrils), but paired with melodramatic, mainstream-studio scoring that doesn’t end. For a gritty, town murder scene, everything looked so sanitized and staged, with bright colors popping everywhere. Even the lighting had no integrity—a supposed cave in the thick of the forest was better lit than most restaurants at BGC.

Phil praises the film for being “heavily committed to the sensibilities of the monster movie” while “(finding) the emotional and psychological core of the story and raises it to new dramatic heights.” He’s referring to Julie’s dream of bearing a child and how her inability to do so made her irrational about keeping the t’yanak.

This premise attempted to bear the weight of the entire movie—it had nothing else going on. So much so that when Julie learns that the t’yanak was responsible for her grandmother’s death—the news of which shocked her tremulously in an earlier scene—she later curiously eschews this discovery to keep the filmmakers from rewriting the unreasonably flawed script.

The result was such that when the actors gave it their all during the dramatic moments (in fact, too much, particularly in Sid Lucero’s case), it was so funny because they all looked like they’ve been Punk’d by the directors and scriptwriters (Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes). Too bad because there was in fact, decent acting here, even from the relative newcomer Solenn. The film’s treatment, the script, and their characters’ responses weren’t all making sense.

There was nothing new, nothing groundbreaking, there were no “new dramatic heights.” It wouldn’t deserve as much as a footnote in the annals of Filipino movie history (for 2014, even) as Phil seems to make it appear in his review.

And that is strike three.

Cinemalaya 2014: S6parados (review)

The movie title should have served as a warning: why not simply “separados”? Why toy with an otherwise fine word? Why the need to insert ‘6’ (and therefore, mess with the pronunciation) to denote that the film features the lives of six separated husbands?

Sayang. Each of the six vignettes had promise. The actors were ALL excellent: kudos to the casting director for the coup, which included Victor Neri, Ricky Davao, Melissa Mendez, Anjo Yllana, Sharmaine Arnaiz, Jason Abalos, Althea Vega, Alfred Vargas, Erik Santos, Angel Jacob, Iwa Moto, Patricia Javier, Diana Zubiri, Katrina Halili, and Jace Flores.

Relative newcomers Ritz Azul, Althea Vega, and Kaye Rivera all hold their own and by no means stick out like sore thumbs. This is one of the best ensemble acting (by mostly established stars) which I’ve seen in a while.

Aside from the casting, the script’s dialogue, written by Eric Ramos, was stellar, too. I find the dialogue in Filipino films usually problematic, especially in ‘serious’ scenes where the lines tend to become too affected and formal. Here, with the help of the brilliant actors, everything is as natural and raw as they can be. Special mention to Ricky Davao, Victor Neri, and Melissa Mendez for their intuitive performances. (Also, with the exception of very few minor quirks, the English captioning was great as well.)

Despite the cliché topic—think of six reasons why husbands would be separated from their wives and you’d probably get five, if not all, correctly—the plot twists just enough to give the material some edge and a balanced sense of humor. (Though Erik Santos’s story was too much of a caricature in my opinion.) Again, I give a lot of credit for the principled and straightforward script.

This film, directed by GB Sampedro, could have been perfect, really. It’s unfortunate that the rawness and unaffected material had to be subjected to such a glossy treatment. Heck, forget glossy—this is a film dripping with sap.

All six vignettes, told in flashback, is anchored by a wedding scene, which features a soaring ballad, slow motion sequences, a voice over featuring the priest’s sermon—and, as if those weren’t enough—a pensive ghost milling about. The fact that this scene serves as the central point from which all six stories branch out means the audience is repeatedly subjected to this melodramatic and ingratiating spectacle every few minutes. I wish someone in post production held the director back from dumping all old-school soap opera techniques on that one scene. The last few minutes was sheer torture in its mushiness. (Sample: Ghost appears in foreground; looks far away, then turns his head and walks away.)

Again, sayang. As with the film’s title, all that fiddling merely ruined what would have been perfect in its raw and organic state.

X-Men: Days of Future Past further whets fans’ appetite for sequels

A good story is all it takes for an excellent movie and in the latest installment of X-Men, it takes precedence over the bells and whistles of your typical highly budgeted Hollywood film.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) comes back in time, specifically in 1973, to reverse the impending doom of mutants in present-day 2023. (Interestingly, the Days of Future Past storyline in the comics, published in 1981, dates this present day as 2013.) On that year, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) triggers a series of events that would give the Sentinels, a troop of mutant-hunting robots, bone-chilling indestructibility. If you’re familiar with the animated TV series, the Sentinels are comically a worthless bunch, but in this film, they’re finally given their deserved malefic cred.

The script (story by Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, and Jane Goldman; screenplay by Simon Kinberg) deftly maneuvers the topic of time travel. What you get is the perfect vehicle of a movie that ties up all the other X-Men franchise and spinoffs, capped by an all-star ensemble. Even the X-Men greats have returned—it’s as if Fox and Marvel just handed fans of the film series Viagra: it would surely give them boners. (I have a feeling the consummation would come in later installments of the movie—wait, the f*ck am I writing about?! Lol. For myself, I still need closure for 2000’s X-Men, particularly that teaser on Phoenix.)

For the non-geeks, i.e. the ladies, the incredibly huge Mr. Jackman shows his butt; everyone wins!

There are other great moments: watch out for Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) showstopping number, the special appearance of Jennifer Lawrence from American Hustle speaking in Vietnamese, and young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) looking all gorgeous and beautiful as he levitates and singlehandedly flattens the White House with a football stadium. Oh, and stay for the end credits.

Rating: 10/10

 

Directed by Bryan Singer; opens on May 21.