Book review: American Pastoral

I learned about this book by Philip Roth from a Ewan McGregor interview, where he mentioned having directed and starred in the film version of this novel. The film flopped despite a Pulitzer-winning material, which has also been included in Time Magazine’s all-time 100 greatest novels. Curious, I read.

Set in the 1960s, an all-too perfect, upper middle-class Jewish-American (the novel never fails to make this distinction) couple find themselves with an activist daughter who is swept off by the civil rights movement of that period. What we get is a novel-length rumination on the frustrations of a pastoral-slash-suburban family, whose American values of hard work, socioeconomic mobility, and morality, are threatened by an emerging modern capitalist society. I felt like a therapist being unloaded with pages and pages of trauma inherent in the social constructs and pressures of being THE star athlete, THE beauty queen, THE beautiful young family with the picket fences and swing in the backyard—of being an American (stars and stripes!!!)—then in the end, they all wonder about what went wrong. I have little to no sympathy for almost all the characters in this book whose collective vanity denies everyone the chance to move forward; instead, the navel-gazing merely perpetuates a victim complex and that is repetitive plot-wise and unfortunately for the reader, holds true in the dialogue, too. (A perfect example is a 2,000-word dialogue in Chapter 9 between the Swede and Sheila Salzman that is ultimately summed up as thus: “Merry is crazy.” “No she’s not.”)

No doubt this is an excellent novel to read in the age of Trump, when terrorism and violence are no longer a foreign threat, but homegrown. Unfortunately, I am in fact not a therapist and I am not being paid hundreds of dollars per hour for this session.  America, he’s with you.

Review: My 2017 grooming stash & lineup

I’ve been switching up my grooming products every now and then. It’s mostly out of boredom, so you can still go back to my previous reviews and they still work just as well for me. Lately, my skin has gotten oilier again, which harkens back to my teenage and twenty-something years. And at my age, oil is a welcome problem, as long as it doesn’t come with acne (but which I do still get once in a while.) So I’ve tweaked my lineup to address my concerns.

This was my lineup in 2016:

DAY NIGHT
Olay Total Effects 7 in One Day Cream (Normal) with SPF 15 Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
The Face Shop The Fresh for Men BB Cream with SPF40 Kiehl’s Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion
Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate

And this is what I use now:

DAY NIGHT
Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Skin Brightening Exfoliator
Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate VMV Id Anti-Acne Toner
Olay Total Effects 7 in One Day Cream (Normal) with SPF 15 mixed with Quick FX CC cream Kiehl’s Age Defender Anti-Aging Moisturizer for Men alternating with VMV Illuminants+ Cream: Advanced Brilliance Treatment
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate

Listing this down, I realized I have so many products, lol.

I decided to get rid of Cetaphil after having read the article, Cetaphil: Why The Popular Cleanser Isn’t Doing Your Skin Any Favors, and I have yet to read a statement from Cetaphil debunking the allegations.

“Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser contains just eight ingredients: water, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearyl alcohol, methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben.

“All but the water are chemically manufactured (let’s hope), and propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, and the three parabens have a seat on the dirty dozen, a list of cosmetic ingredients to avoid as potentially toxic.”

Gaah. So I switched to Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion, which couldn’t get any more emphatic in its name. It is fragrance- and paraben-free and made in France. Its water “originat(es) as pure rain mixed with sea-spray rich in mineral salts… mak(ing) its 50-year journey through the Cévennes Mountains in Avène, France.” LOL. It has an entire brochure included in the box on the subject, which could be seen as pretentious at first glance, but which I realize is really pride for their history and work, particularly in treating skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, rosacea, psoriasis and eczema. Anyway, I thought it was all wonderful, but you can decide for yourself.

My latest drugstore buys

It is a no-rinse formula, which I have yet to try doing, because being in Manila, I just have to rinse off all that grime and dirt from my commute. So I damp my face with water, then get a dollop of the cleanser—and my initial impression is that it is luxuriously creamy, even if it doesn’t lather—then rinse with water. As an “extremely gentle cleanser lotion,” it did the job well because when I used my VMV Id Toner (when I tested this cleaner at night; I don’t use toner in the morning), there were no residue on the cotton ball.

The Kiehl’s Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate I’ve written about here. This is my second bottle and I have to admit, this product hurts my wallet the most. But my overall complexion has never been better. I have a couple of tiny spots now and I have yet to get a haircut, but if you look at this video from a month ago, which does not have any filter, this is how my skin looks on its best day.

Since I use quite a number of products, I cannot qualitatively attribute everything to the concentrate, but based on my one-year experience with it, I know this is one of the products that I cannot leave out of my grooming stash.

Olay Total Effects is a staple for decades (here’s a 2012 entry) but I might soon replace it because among all my products, I noticed that it’s one of two things that is making me oily along with The Face Shop’s The Fresh for Men BB Cream. I plan to buy the Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer—and I will soon—but during one of my drugstore jaunts, I came across the Quick FX CC cream. I find it a bit expensive for a sachet that’s worth P99, but it does the job of providing the bare minimum coverage. (I mix it with Olay, which is my default way of putting on tinted moisturizer because I don’t like tint-heavy coverage.) I most like it for its zinc oxide, which is a natural sunscreen that’s also good for burns, rashes, and irritation. The cream is light green in color, which is good for cancelling out red tones, if the primary color wheel has taught us anything.

Night routine
I got a sample of Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Skin Brightening Exfoliator and I’m sold! I got two sachets and I made the mistake of using too much from the first sachet because as I realized, this is the most lather-y cleanser I’ve ever used. So now that I’m on my second sachet, I’ve been very prudent in my application, squeezing out as little as three drops and it would still lather my entire face. So if I eventually buy a bottle, I know for sure it would last me for over a year.

I love how my skin looks clear and radiant after every wash. Along with the Line-Reducing Concentrate, I know that this is one of the products that have made a huge difference on my skin. It is paraben-, fragrance-, and colorant-free. Unfortunately, the product page doesn’t say what the microbeads are made of, so it must not be environment –friendly.

For everyday use, I apply the VMV Id Anti-Acne Toner, which I’ve written about here and as far back as 2010, so folks, this is tried and tested. I only use the Kiehl’s Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion for spot treatment because it can be very drying. Then for the last step, I alternate between the VMV Illuminants+ Cream: Advanced Brilliance Treatment, which I’ve been using since 2012, and one of my newer additions, the Kiehl’s Age Defender Anti-Aging Moisturizer for Men. The Age Defender smells so good and it does a good job of moisturizing without the greasy feeling, though I wouldn’t use it on a hot summery night. The ingredient to watch out for here is the capryloyl salicylic acid, which is anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and an exfoliant, according to this website.

“Unlike alpha hydroxy acids, which are water soluble, beta hydroxy acids (and its esters—such as CSA -jason) are lipid (oil) soluble. This means that they not only exfoliate the upper layer of skin, but also penetrate deep through the epidermis to exfoliate the dead skin cells and excess oil built up in the pores. For this reason, capryloyl salicylic acid is frequently used to treat blackheads, whiteheads and acne. Yet its keratolytic ability is not the only reason for why it is so often administered to treat blemishes and breakouts. This ingredient also functions as both an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent, making it an ideal anti-acne ingredient. While many other exfoliants (i.e. AHA’s) often irritate the skin, salicylic acid does just the opposite by reducing inflammation. This is due to the fact that it shares a similar chemical composition as Aspirin, a well-known analgesic and anti-inflammatory, and thus shares many of Aspirin’s functions as well.”

Afterward, depending on the weather and usually when I’m in a hotel, I would use Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate just to seal all that product in. (I bought it last year and I’m still nowhere near halfway through my bottle.) Into the Gloss has a very informative guide on how you should layer your products.

S-Town and Still Processing podcasts

I’ve finished the S-Town podcast. (It’s amazing how time spent in traffic, commuting, and walking fly by compared to when I’m listening to music, which now seems less entertaining to me.) The seven-episode podcast is about the investigation of journalist Brian Reed into the claims of horologist John B. McLemore, who emailed Brian about an alleged murder in the latter’s hometown of Woodstock, Alabama. It features their recorded conversations as well as interviews with Brian’s family and friends, who all eventually get embroiled in an entirely different controversy among themselves.

S-TownAs a gay man myself (spoiler!), I wasn’t as captured by the revelations on/by John, so I wasn’t exactly in tenterhooks at the end of each episode or whenever a secret was revealed. As I listened in, however, I was conscious more about how the controversies were ultimately a family matter that didn’t need to be exposed in such a public, not to mention, unflattering way—and I didn’t understand how everyone didn’t pause, especially after episode 2, and think about keeping their dirty laundry private, except that Brian has become a family friend and a minefield of resource for the parties involved. It feels not only voyeuristic, but also manipulative, in that they become unwitting participants to an edited soap opera. (The manner by which each episode ends with a teaser about what’s coming on next does not escape me.) If you actually liked the podcast without any moral guilt, let me know in the comments.

Meanwhile, I’ve removed Still Processing from my feed. Since it was recently 4th of July, their latest episode is devoted to barbecue. And here’s what the hosts have to say about barbecue. Barbecue!!!!

Wesley Morris: “… It will be useful to talk about the politics of this food, the realness of this food, the actual legitimate quality of the food…”

Jenna Wortham (italics mine): “… Where does barbecue come from? Who has the right to make barbecue? What does it mean when we sit down and eat it in a restaurant that’s black-owned? What does it mean when we go to a restaurant and sit down and eat it where it’s white-owned? Is it Southern food? Is it American food? Is it Black food? I mean, there’s so many questions about barbecue that we need to get to the bottom of before we can actually eat any.”

Like, really!

There’s a part of me that wants to feel guilty especially after reading reigning Drag Race winner Sasha Velour’s interview, where she said,

“I hope my legacy is that sometimes that level of thought is an asset, especially now in this political moment, because this political moment is very anti-intellectual, anti-information, and anti-historical.”

… but I’ve had it with this politicization of everything, such that barbecue is now considered as co-opting black identity or culture (at least as far as the episode’s intro is concerned—I was so repulsed I didn’t proceed any further and deleted the show off my list because I refused to be high-jacked into a needlessly political conversation about barbecue that’s not even about vegetarianism.) The self-righteousness was off the charts, I wonder how they go through life without going into a huge debate about the uprightness of the food and clothing they buy and transportation and services they use. (Jenna admitted to having used Uber at an earlier show because she said she had no other option. Uh yeah, walking.) As a Filipino who sees barbecue as something that’s actually proletarian—and I mean that in a good way especially as street food culture goes—I’m repelled by the dogmatic possessiveness over an ubiquitous food item or cooking process present, familiar, and comforting all the world over.

Barbecue!!! 🍖

Review: A Horse Walks into a Bar

A Horse Walks into a Bar

Photo: Penguin 

I finished reading A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman after four days. The winner of the International Man Booker Prize 2017 is a short novel, set within a two-hour stand-up act in a comedy club in Israel. I skimmed the reviews before reading the book and scanned more after having read it and the novel seems to have gone over the head of most, if not all, the reviewers. That or not many people share the same dark thoughts I’ve had as Dovaleh, the protagonist, has. I refused to acknowledge that this novel ought to be lazily couched in abstract phrases as a book on “Jewish history, the dysfunctional nation of Israel and its people” (now that went over my head), so in search of validation I ended up hearing David Grossman’s podcast interview, wherein he thankfully explained that it’s about a boy who’s deciding on who among his parents should have died and how this choice continued to play a role into his adulthood. It’s essentially like being asked who you love more between two parents who raised you the way they knew how, with all their strengths and faults, then having to stick with that decision for the rest of your life.

There’s also a lot more to the novel than that—the narrative technique, for one, is brilliant. According to David, he’s had the basic premise for 20 years but he didn’t know exactly how to tell the story. The standup comedy as a literary device just came to him from nowhere, and it’s amazing how it gave him the freedom to not only tell this boy’s story, but also hold up a mirror to society and ourselves, which brings me to two: it’s a great metaphor for social media, too—the patrons start leaving the club the more serious and deeply personal Dovaleh gets, much like how lengthily worded posts are dismissed as photos and memes rack in the thumbs up and ‘likes.’

The novel did have many Israeli references, and I have no doubt I missed on a lot of them, but I think the reviews’ attempt to describe A Horse with such wordy calisthenics to accord it with pedestal-worthy significance is unnecessary and could even be a disservice to those thinking about picking up this book. It is a beautiful book with the simplest of storylines that betray the profound narratives it has on childhood, and relationships and friendships that could have been.

An extract of the book is available on www.penguin.co.uk.

It’s the end of June and the start of another weekend

No stats. Can you believe it, we’re halfway through 2017? To be honest, I’ve been in a state of catatonia in the last two weeks, so I’m just going to give a rundown of the things I enjoyed this month, much like my other weekend posts.

Throwback film: The First Wives Club, released in 1996, surprisingly remains modern in this day and age. Issues it raised on sexism and ageism are very much on key—even politically sensitive to a degree—and so it must have been very, very ahead of its time, which makes this a highly recommended movie. But the best part really is Maggie Smith as the preeminent New York society lady with Sarah Jessica Parker as a social-climbing mistress. I remember having enjoyed those scenes from way back for their comedy (including those with Bronson Pinchot as an interior designer), but having now known Dame Maggie in Downton Abbey and SJP as Carrie has added a far more delicious layer to their characters.

First Wives Club

Maggie Smith as a modern-day dowager

Late-night show: Graham Norton is probably the only late-night talk show host who could truly make me LOL. James Corden is cute and charming and Stephen Colbert is on-point and witty, but only Graham could make me snort and laugh throughout his show. The British show has just ended its season, so I’ve been going through his archives on YouTube. I don’t normally care for Robbie Williams, who guests in this episode, but this I think is the best Graham Norton episode, hands down, in case you want to go straight to the goods.

Season finale: (SPOILER ALERT) I’m fairly new to the RuPaul’s Drag Race franchise having only seen three seasons out of 10 and this latest season was the first one I got to watch from start to finish in sync with the US broadcast. I was underwhelmed—I don’t think there were standout comedians in the group aside from Trinity, but nevertheless, I’m glad that Sasha won. She clearly won the lip sync battles on finals night, and I love the thought process behind the rose petals, which she explained in Buzzfeed’s The Library podcast (Gist: So Emotional by Whitney Houston describes someone with so much love to give, it turns into a huge, hot mess). Her brand of drag—conceptual and ugly pretty—is not something I see very often. If you want to watch the season, search for Queens of Draw on Facebook and they have recorded live streams of all the episodes.

Ru Paul Drag Race

Like a performance artist, Sasha Velour injects layers of meaning to her lip sync number.

Podcasts: Speaking of which, Pam and Tammy have mentioned them/tweeted about them offhand, and I realized, yeah, why am I not listening to podcasts? I usually listen to Spotify during my 30-minute walk to the gym, but the songs in the charts RARELY change (I mean, come on, Despacito has been in the top five for mooonths), so I’m sick of music right now. I haven’t discovered much yet, but I’ve been listening to Still Processing (iTunes|NYT) by the pop culture writers of The New York Times and The Koy Pond with Jo Koy, a Filipino-American standup comedian based in the US, who also has an outstanding comedy special available on Netflix (Jo Koy: Live from Seattle). If you have other recommendations, please leave a comment! I’m looking for something light and funny, not necessarily educational.

Book club: Let me just give myself a pat on the back for having read The Satanic Verses. It took me eight weeks, more than half of which were frustrating. The first few chapters seemed to have been written to specifically annoy the reader, such as:

‘O, my shoes are Japanese,’ Gibreel sang, translating the old song into English in semi-conscious deference to the uprushing host-nation, ‘These trousers English, if you please. On my head, red Russian hat; my heart’s Indian for all that.’ The clouds were bubbling up towards them, and perhaps it was on account of that great mystification of cumulus and cumulo-nimbus, the mighty rolling thunderheads standing like hammers in the dawn, or perhaps it was the singing (the one busy performing, the other booing the performance), or their blast-delirium that spared them full foreknowledge of the imminent … but for whatever reason, the two men, Gibreelsaladin Farishtachamcha, condemned to this endless but also ending angelicdevilish fall, did not become aware of the moment at which the processes of their transmutation began.

Mutation?

Yessir, but not random. Up there in air-space, in that soft, imperceptible field which had been made possible by the century and which, thereafter, made the century possible, becoming one of its defining locations, the place of movement and of war, the planet-shrinker and power-vacuum, most insecure and transitory of zones, illusory, discontinuous, metamorphic, – because when you throw everything up in the air anything becomes possible – wayupthere, at any rate, changes took place in delirious actors that would have gladdened the heart of old Mr Lamarck: under extreme environmental pressure, characteristics were acquired.

Luh.

But I couldn’t abandon the book—I guess, I was penalizing myself for all those months I haven’t read a single novel. More importantly, the real-life repercussions and persecutions that came with the publication of this book also made me swat my frustrations aside and give the novel due respect; people died for the freedom to read this book. So read I did, and eventually, his sentences, paragraphs, and chapters became more forgiving to this average reader and I was entertained and piqued: I ended up reading about the early history of Islam, the politics between India and Pakistan, and even the geological history of Mt. Everest (essentially, it was the result of India, formerly a separate continent “slamming” into Euro-Asia). I actually enjoyed the religious themes of the book, but on the whole, this novel is more about the exploration of an immigrant’s experience and roots (and all the politics that entails, including with oneself) so it’s unfortunate how the non-literary issues regarding this book had been blown out of proportion and context.

Right now, I’m reading A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman, which was recently awarded the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. I chose this because it’s relatively short—I think I can finish this in a week—and it’s set within a two-hour stand up act in a comedy club, so I liked the simplicity and conciseness it promises the reader, in contrast with The Satanic Verses.

What I’m watching: Terrace House

terrace-house

I got a little bored with Netflix after having seen The Crown (a show which I loved, by the way) and nothing else interested me (as in pinatulan ko na yung Trollhunters lol, though maganda naman and nadala ng pangalan ni Guillermo del Toro) so I was contemplating on ending my subscription when the latest season of Terrace House, the one set in Hawaii, showed up under new arrivals. Terrace House is sort of an international sleeper hit and I only learned about it from the cool kids I follow on Twitter, and later, in articles on The Verge and Wired. Anyway, Terrace House is a Japanese reality TV show, which is sort of like Big Brother in that the cast lives in one house and is followed by cameras everywhere, but the huge difference is that everyone is free to live their lives in the outside world (i.e., they still go to school, hold down jobs, go on mini breaks). They are also free to leave the show for good any time they want, in which case, someone replaces them in the house immediately.

In each episode, in between the “story” arcs (in quotes because the show stresses that it is unscripted), a group of titos and titas provide comic relief with their commentaries as titos and titas do in real life, but their collective wisdom is also highlighted as they provide insight down to the nonverbal cues of the housemates.

terrace-house-2

The titos and titas, plus a token teenager. That guy in the glasses is soo funny.

The show almost serves as a dating show in that the cast members are all straight, mostly single, no more than a decade in age apart, and are almost always equally divided between girls and boys. There’s a missed opportunity to tackle more controversial subjects outside your usual boy-girl problems, but I suppose that’s where the appeal is: it’s almost like a palate cleanser to all the reality shows we’ve been consuming in the last decade which almost always contain drama or shockers or sexual content in them. The topic of sex in Terrace House (either in Aloha State or in its first Netflix season, Boys and Girls in the City or BGC) is treated in a matter-of-fact way, such that it’s no big deal when someone outside the show asks her younger sister, who is part of the cast, if she’s done it with her new boyfriend. (And the answer is yes, and older sister barely batted an eyelash.) But things do get exciting in Terrace House (particularly in BGC) and some topics remain up to debate for me. (Like, I still have a problem with the Meat Crime incident—I’m absolutely with Uchi on that one.) So far, there are no such crises in Aloha State (I’m done watching all eight episodes and now just waiting for the second batch), but the people are beautiful to watch, especially Lauren, and the vibe is just as laid back as the Hawaiian coastline.

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.

vince-and-kath-and-james

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

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.

ang-babae-sa-septic-tank-2

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.

Mabining Mandirigma holds up a mirror to present politics

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I went to see Mabining Mandirigma by Tanghalang Pilipino on Sunday at The Little Theater in CCP having already figured out my review in my head: it’s a retelling of our problems as a nation during post-colonial Spain, problems which have endured for more than a century to exist as the same problems we have today. True enough, the musical did take me on a roller coaster ride of emotions—mainly frustration—because as with Noli and El Fili, the Rosales Saga, and even Heneral Luna the film, selfishness, greed, and impunity have all been deeply embedded in our government leaders’ DNA.

Mabining Mandirigma is about the life of Apolinario Mabini, particularly his role in the uprising against the Americans after we gained “independence” from Spain. (In quotes because the Philippines was sold by Spain to the US in the Treaty of Paris.)

I know little about Mabini prior to seeing the musical, and I can’t say I know more about him after. As the chief adviser to the revolutionary council, and later to Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the turning point of the plot was the choice to accept a P50-million loan from a group of illustrados to fund the cash-strapped Filipino government and the war against the Americans. Mabini says no, because the loan effectively places the Philippines under the hands of the elite—if it were him, he would have provided the funds for free; Aguinaldo says rejecting the offer might send the illustrados away and support the Americans instead.

It was a no-win situation.

Aguinaldo accepts the loan and the elites grow in power; they effectively have Aguinaldo by his collar. Mabini resents the elites—portrayed garishly and grotesquely by the production itself (“Oooh, is this a pro-Duterte play?” I asked myself)—and eventually quits Aguinaldo’s cabinet, after 1) Aguinaldo coddles his fellow Caviteño, Pedro Janolino, who refused to aid Gen. Antonio Luna in the Battle of Caloocan; and later, 2) Aguinaldo acquiesces to the demands of the elites who, after all, have contributed to his war kitty. (“Ay, shades of Duterte.”). Despite that, Mabini and Aguinaldo remain friends, until the former learns that Aguinaldo had Luna assassinated. (“Ay, extra-judicial killing.”)

Mabini was eventually arrested by the Americans and having refused to pledge allegiance to their flag, he was exiled in Guam. He later gave up American resistance and was welcomed back in the Philippines. It was at this point that I felt dejected even if the musical tried its best to salvage his legacy. 1

That is until the lights dimmed and the cast came out one by one in their black t-shirts and each actor started speaking out against the Marcos burial and extra judicial killings in the country. I thought it was a brilliant call to action. For those first two hours, I had been examining Mabini’s life from a distance and got very judgmental in the process, then suddenly, in the epilogue, the spotlight was on us: the same problems from a century ago still exist today: what are you doing about it?

 

Mabining Mandirigma has an 8 p.m. show on December 16; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. shows on December 17; and a 3 p.m. show on December 18 at the CCP.


  1. Until now, I remain unconvinced about his legacy, so I did a quick research (for now). Ambeth Ocampo in this column, writes about how Mabini is reduced to the titles “Sublime Paralytic” and “Brains of the Revolution,” then proceeds with nary an argument about the weight of Mabini’s contribution to Philippine history.