Arts and Culture

My first Metro Manila Film Festival, or, 2016 Had One Good Thing

Alternate Title: Bandwagoning on the review train because I took ONE Film Appreciation class in university.


I don’t usually watch Filipino films, but when the Metro Manila Film Festival–infamous for showing hackneyed franchise films, advertisements-turned-movies, and slapdash vehicles for studio loveteam(s)-du-jour–released an indie-dominated 2016 slate, I knew I had to hit the cinemas.  Originally, I was just going to watch Saving Sally, the animated/live-action hybrid that promised to fulfill all my Scott Pilgrim/(500) Days of Summer/John Green fantasies (go ahead, call me basic), but after I saw the trailers of the others, I decided to go for broke (literally; popcorn is expensive) and watch more.

Here’s what I checked out:

  • Saving Sally – Best Original Score
  • Sunday Beauty Queen – Best Picture
  • Die Beautiful – Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor

Since everyone is leaving their thoughts on Facebook–and frankly since I want the MMFF to go on like this–I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts on the films I did watch.  Ladies and gentlemen, here is my MMFF Review Digest (complete with emoji score), starting with the first film I watched…

Saving Sally
Rating: 🎨🎨🎨/🎨🎨🎨🎨🎨 + one 😭 bonus for the after-credits scene.

“It’s not a ten, but it’s the best eight I’ve ever seen.” – My friend, Marvs

Actually, Sally as a movie was more a seven (or high 6) for me.  Even though I loved the film to bits and 10/10 would watch again, I have to admit that the criticism it’s received is well-founded.  The story isn’t balanced, dragging at some points (especially the first thirty minutes) and being rushed in others.  The climax, in particular, was, well, anticlimactic, and I have to agree with another friend, AJ, when he said that the story could have ended at an earlier point in order to remain more powerful (the credit sequence would have sufficed to round off the plot without killing the drama, although we would have suffered a bit from never learning the “secret project”).

Script-wise, Saving Sally definitely could have been stronger, but its visual appeal cannot be overstated. The blend of animation and live action is gorgeous, with many screengrab-able moments for when you finally watch it on DVD/digital download. The little inside jokes and nods to Pinoy geek culture are fun to spot, especially if you’re a fan of people like Arnold Arre and Budgette Tan/Kajo Baldisimo.

Objectively, you could call Saving Sally a mediocre movie. Could.  It suffers from a lot of “great idea, meh execution” moments. But the strength and simplicity of the idea–the heart of the movie, really–carry the film through.  It’s definitely a movie for the John Green/Scott Pilgrim/Garden State crowd, and you might have to manage your expectations against overhype, but if you fit this film’s admittedly niche target market…you’ll love it. Especially if you stay for the post-credits scene, which I feel rounds off the film perfectly and reduced me to tears.

Dressed as Sally to watch the movie because I’m geeky like that.

Also, I will definitely be going as Sally to APCC/NexCon/Cosplay Matsuri this year.

Sunday Beauty Queen
Rating: 👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻/👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻👸🏻

Honestly, I’d debated whether to give this a 4.5/5 or a perfect five, since Sunday Beauty Queen‘s style of documentary storytelling does take a bit of getting used to.  However, looking back, I don’t think you could tell this story any other way without ruining it.  This docudrama refuses to pander to the usual OFW clichés, rendering its painful moments–and there are many–with restraint, a choice which makes those moments hit so much harder than if it had assaulted us with primetime soap opera-worthy crying faces.

The Beauty Queens themselves refuse to be “martir.” Even as the describe the abuse they receive at the hands of unfair employers, they are sassy and brassy and brave, refusing to lose their dignity.  Whether they are fumbling their English pageant answers (I felt so bad when people started laughing in the theater! I even shushed my mum!) or describing a fight with a soon-to-be ex-boss, these women are as straightforward as the film that portrays them, and wisely, that film focuses more on the personalities of its subjects rather than the drama of their circumstances.  You really get to know these women, get to watch as they go from helper to queen to helper again, and find underneath every transformation this fighting spirit that’s at once touching and inspiring.

10/10 more proud to be Filipino than ever. Must-watch.

Die Beautiful
Rating: 👄👄👄👄.5/👄👄👄👄👄

This film should have won best screenplay (also basing this on my friends’ reviews of Seklusyon, as I can’t watch horror without making my insomnia worse) , and anyone who says otherwise can FITE ME.

That being said, let’s address the elephant in the room: this is an LGBT+ film.  A very unapologetic LGBT+ film.  And I am an extremely conservative, Bible-believing, world-would-call-me-a-bigot-I-know, Christian.

So what are you doing watching that kind of movie?

Compassion.  That’s why.  It is so easy to scream “Sinner!” and “Unspeakable!” when the ones you scream at don’t have names or faces, but I dare you to think of Tricia and her compatriots as anything but human after watching this film.  While still possessing a level of camp–the jokes get green, and they get green fast–Die Beautiful triumphantly demolishes the disgusting, one-dimensional gaysploitation convention that the MMFF’s previous, Vice Ganda-led comedies actively capitalize on.  We are not watching caricatures here; we are watching people, and that fact shines through even the film’s own clumsy, less-nuanced moments (*coughthe funeral directorcough*).

Which is not to say that Die Beautiful does not disgust. At one point in the film, I wanted to walk out, but even then it was for a reason the film I’m sure intended. A lengthy, graphic (though not explicit or exploitative) rape scene that is revisited several times in the film acts a reminder of just how brutal the cruelty LGBT+ individuals receive can be. It’s sickening that some people have said Laude–the transgender murder victim whose story inspired the film–deserved to die because of what they were, and Die Beautiful makes sure you understand just what that assertion means, makes you look it in the face multiple times and challenges you to say that anyone could deserve what Tricia Echevarria got.

If there was anything that lost Die Beautiful its points, it was the unfinished nature of Tricia’s story with Shirley May, the adopted daughter. We find Shirley a repentant rebel at the beginning of the movie, and later on flash back to her as a loving and supportive, wise-beyond-her-years little girl, but what fueled the shift from doting daughter to prodigal was largely left unexplored, and in truth, writing Shirley May as an angry teenage girl was unnecessary, if her story wasn’t going to contribute much to the plot. (The handling of Gladys Reyes’ role as Tricia’s sister Beth was much better, despite her shorter screen time.)

Still, even if the film was not perfect, it definitely lived up to its name: Beautiful. Challenging and compassionate, it reminds conservative viewers to look at these often-marginalized members of society with eyes of grace, not judgment.  For that reason, I was glad that it was the last movie I watched in this year’s MMFF line up: it was the perfect example of what Filipino films should be.

Also, Christian Bables is a national treasure, and Barbs should win the award for best friend ever.  With all love to Paulo Ballesteros, whose award for this film was well-deserved, BARBS WAS THE REAL STAR OF THIS MOVIE. I CANNOT. BES, I LOVE YOU BES.

This concludes my “review dump” for the MMFF.  I’ve heard reports that the festival may be extended to January 7, and if the news is true, please watch all these films and the others, if you haven’t yet.  PLEASE.  Let’s keep the MMFF this way! 

(#SavingSine, char.)


[randomness] Songwriter’s Notebook: The Sara Bareilles Method of Writing a “Love Song.”

This month, I’ve been trying to level up my songwriting beyond reliance on collaboration. The exercise has been difficult, but I think I’ve hit upon a formula. Or, rather, adapted a formula from my favorite artist. Let me share with you, now, the Sara Bareilles process of how to write sad/angry/desperate love songs without actually being in love with someone:

1. Have a long-time creative partner.

2. Have creative tension–manageable and almost productive at first.

3. Allow tension to mount and relationship to fray.

4. Reach a platonic version of “Love on the Rocks.” (Badumtss.)

5. Write creative partner a Love Song. (Double badumtss.)

BONUS: If said Love Song proves unable to move creative partner, and they appear to remain dissatisfied with you, consider giving them “Manhattan.” 

“You can have Manhattan…I’ll tiptoe away so you won’t have to say you heard me leave.”

If they still don’t get that the song is about them…you’re on your own. 😂😂😂


Searching for “Wow.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 2.56.02 PM

My Facebook page has become one long trigger warning for a quarter-life existential crisis. My college schoolmates are speaking at TEDx or traveling the world. My high school batchmates/schoolmates are setting up businesses, becoming bloggers, getting engaged, and/or auditioning for reality TV shows.

I amsick. With yet another cough and cold.

A few days ago, I started learning guitar again. The last time I picked up Elinor for any extended stretch of time, I was in college, hefting her on my back from class to class, stealing practice time between reviewing for finals and crunching out the beginnings of my thesis.  I would play and sing everywhere, puzzling over tabs and timing, discovering a world of music made outside of my body, a method that physically challenged my idea of control.  It was exciting, then–every new song was a small victory against a nagging feeling of being “lost” that I’d had since leaving my college theater org.

Now, I’m only just re-learning what it means to be excited, what it feels like to have a world of music that’s really only mine (or, well, as “only mine” as you can get when you’re born with the urge to constantly be documenting things for posterity).  See, that feeling I had back in college–of being lost, set adrift, having to start over–is back and in full force, tugging away at the last constant I have: my music.  Or, specifically, my dreams of music.

It’s taken me a while to admit this, because it feels like a character flaw, but I am a natural performer. I like to “wow.” On that stage, in front of a crowd, you are both able to connect with so many, and remain at a safe distance, where none of those people can hurt you, like friendship without the risk of familiarity (and, ergo, contempt).  That moment of approval feels so much like being liked, the amazement and/or curiosity silencing self-doubt, even for a moment.  For a girl with a lot of very loud self-doubt, those moments can be intoxicating, and the constant quest for them all-consuming, because isn’t it elemental human instinct to run for safety?

That “wow”–and the things I’ve done to get it–have been my safety for years, to the point that I’ve come to define myself as what–or, rather, the very many whats–I do.  Except, now, things are changing. It’s harder to juggle all the hats I’ve chosen to wear. Music, arguably my “number one life priority,” has now become my biggest struggle: it’s hard enough to steal time from your thesis, but reaching for guitar after work, when your body is screaming for mindless TV and sleep? Nigh-impossible. I’ve had to watch my slow stagnation, standing still in stark contrast to my bandmates who improve in leaps and bounds, threatening to render me obsolete. They have side-lines and gigs and a future.  I have…Keynote.  That, and a nagging sense that my chance at “wow” is getting farther and farther away, possibly too far away to ever reach.

It all came to a head when I lost my voice.  Jian–bandmate, remember? I mention him a lot, so you should.–is probably going to kill me for admitting this, but I got extremely sick recently and had to be forced into vocal rest. I say forced because I only called time after pushing through with a gig I had no capacity to sing, my bullheaded determination to “be professional” and not back out at the last minute causing a vocal catastrophe.  We took a break for two weeks, which became a month, and now, six weeks after my vocapocollapse (see what I did there?) my bandmates are back refreshed, ready, brimming with ideas and new experiences…while I am struggling to find my footing, afraid I’m being left behind.

For the first time, at twenty-three, I am having to look in the eye the chance that this glittering dream of a music career may dissolve in the murky reality that is a corporate nine-to-five, with its “adulting” and financial responsibilities and reality checks.  I never saw myself becoming just another working millennial, but ironically the truth is I might have to trade security of identity for security of a more terrestrial, pragmatic kind.

A girl has bills to pay.

Am I scared? Very. Watching the highlights reel that is my newsfeed, with everyone on it doing something new and big and different, it’s hard not to start fearing obscurity. The promise of having a stage and leaving a mark have become such constants in my life that having to face the very real possibility of those things never happening again has left me more than a little shaken. What do you do when the destiny you spent all this time preparing yourself for turns out to not be your destiny at all?  How do you start over, take back the years you feel you wasted building a dream that was made to fall apart anyway?

If there are easy answers for these questions, I don’t have them. But I have my guitar. And my iPhone camera. A few days ago, when I decided–or, rather, was half-encouraged, half-coerced–to try learning guitar again, I turned on Facebook Live and started recording a video of what it looked like to start from zero–a throwback to the first days of Elinor and I, those private video diaries that showed me fumbling with painful steel strings and dreaded chord shifts. I took a while to ramble, talking about my bandmates’ advice and my new guitar set-up and the song I was about to do. Then, I started to play.

The first time, I screwed up, and had to start over. That happened again a second time. And a third. Over and over, I missed notes or hit wrong ones, laughing nervously as I noticed the numbers of live audience rise and fall.

Frustrated, I stopped looking at the screen and instead stared at my fingers, picking slowly through the pattern until…I got it.  And again. And again. The notes were clean and sharp in a way they hadn’t been in ages.  I tried to sing along, but the timing failed me, and my playing fell apart again, so I kept quiet and watched as my fingers plucked at the strings faster and faster until the tempo nearly matched the original.

When I looked up, no one was watching. But, oddly enough, that didn’t matter. I’d done something I thought I couldn’t, and that was exciting. That was new, and different, and doing it felt like something slotting back into place, an anchor finding its mooring. Perhaps no one would ever know what I could do, but I did.  I did, and the “wow” that resulted from discovering that perhaps it was still possible to grow and reach and try and be myself–a self that I liked–without those big dreams to propel me…

…in that moment, it was enough.

~a Roaming Tsinay~

LINER NOTES: I wrote this as part of an assignment for an office writing workshop where we were asked to write a short essay based on a random word we’d drawn from a hat. For the curious, my word was, well, “wow.”

Also, this post is partially inspired by the work of a fellow MGC New Life alum. If you’re recovering from dreams of athletic (versus musical) stardom, I recommend you check out this blog by Johansen Aguilar.  

…I can’t believe I just plugged an HS classmate. What is the world coming to?