Theater: Kinky Boots

"Kinky Boots"

Winner of six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Kinky Boots features a joyous, Tony-winning score by Cyndi Lauper and a hilarious, uplifting book by four-time Tony winner, Harvey Fierstein.

Charlie Price has reluctantly inherited his father’s shoe factory, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Trying to live up to his father’s legacy and save his family business, Charlie finds inspiration in the form of Lola. A fabulous entertainer in need of some sturdy stilettos, Lola turns out to be the one person who can help Charlie become the man that he is meant to be. As they work to turn the factory around, this unlikely pair finds that they have more in common than they ever dreamed possible… and discovers that, when you change your mind about someone, you can change your whole world.

Kinky Boots had its first Manila run last year, and I didn’t watch it then because of certain casting choices. But because my mom really wanted to see the show, we ended up watching it while we were in New York last August. But this post isn’t about the Broadway production.

Atlantis Theatrical decided that the first Manila run of Kinky Boots was successful enough to warrant another series of performances. Having seen the show in its full glory, I became very curious as to how the local production stages it. (The discounted tickets also helped a lot in my decision making, because the casting choice I disagreed with is still present in the current run.)

I have to say: Atlantis and director Bobby Garcia do a bang up job in putting up the musical.

For a show that features a drag queen who is loud and proud, Kinky Boots works best during its small moments. Because at its heart, the production’s main selling point is acceptance–not just of other people and their truth, but of one’s choices and self as well. And behind the big production numbers that feature splits, spread-eagles, back flips, flip-flops, one right after the other–the thorough-line of each line of dialogue, each lyric sung, and each choreography danced is the longing to be accepted. And as long as the actors can convey that longing, you can lessen the glitters, you can take away a few conveyor belts, you can subtract a door or two, and no one would notice.

In the case of scaled-down productions, it is the actors who have to unenviable task of making the audience believe the magic. It is the actors who have to fill in the missing set pieces, to stand out even when the lights fail to illuminate them–or when they’re burnt beyond recognition by too many spotlights, and to make us think that a pair of boots can indeed save a whole shoe factory.

Nyoy Volante and Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante both rise to the occasion as Lola/Simon and Lauren, respectively. Nyoy manages to balance Lola’s confidence and Simon’s vulnerability in every scene he’s in, and in every note he sings. Nyoy really has come a long way from his singer-songwriter roots. He is now a theater actor to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile, Mikkie infects her Lauren with so much happiness that she easily stands out as the best Lauren I’ve seen (which, so far, includes the original and the tour version of Lauren, on Youtube, and the one I saw last August on Broadway). Her charm is magnetic, and she draws the gaze even when she’s surrounded by larger-than-life drag queens.

Unfortunately, Lauren is just a supporting character. Lola’s actual co-star, Charlie Price, isn’t as impressive.

Laurence Mossman’s portrayl of the down-on-his-luck guy who doesn’t know what he wants in his life is memorable in all the wrong ways. Vocally, he can’t compete with his co-stars, and acting-wise… He comes off as whiny and spoiled instead of downtrodden and desperate. I found myself wishing for time to speed up during his scenes, just so we could move back to Lola, or anyone else.

All this said, Atlantis Theatricals production of Kinky Boots is a must-watch… just not for the price of their tickets. But if they decide to have a different actor playing leading man Charlie Price though, I might change my tune.

Advertisements

Book: Deadma Walking

"Deadma Walking"

John and Mark are gay beshies for life whose friendship is put to the test when one of them has a terminal illness and asks the other to help him stage his fake death, wake, and funeral as his dying wish. The result is a comedy of ‘deadly’ proportions.

There aren’t a lot of instances when one would say that the movie adaptation is better than the book it originated from. But this is definitely one of those instances.

Deadma Walking was one of the more entertaining films during the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival–which is why, when my friend A Messy Desk gave me a copy of the published screenplay that film was based of, I immediately started reading it…and started applauding the changes made to the material to make it more palatable to viewers.

It’s not that the original material was bad… It’s just very heavy-handed. And it misses a lot of opportunities at the same time. That said, the final film version also manages to miss the same opportunities–but the actors really do a lot to save the screenplay’s less-than-stellar parts.

But this isn’t supposed to be a comparison. I’m writing about the version that was published–which is different from the one people got to see on screen, and is also different from the one that won an award.

Deadma Walking, the published screenplay, is a work in progress. The emotional meat of the story is there, and the characters of John and Mark are funny enough that you’ll be able to latch on to their crazy antics. But most of the time, it felt like reading a person’s inner thoughts without filters. It rambles. On and on. And there are a lot of plot developments that need to happen earlier, but don’t.

It’s a good screenplay, to be completely fair. It’s just doesn’t feel like a final draft. Just one that needed to exist because an editor was probably breathing down the writer’s neck, to get him to cough up a version before a printer’s deadline.

Final verdict? If you’re going to read this book, make sure to lower your expectations.

Movie: Everything About Her

"Everything About Her"

Powerful but ill-stricken business woman, Vilma Santos navigates her complicated relationship with her caregiver, Angel Locsin and her estranged son, Xian Lim in this story about acceptance, love and forgiveness.

I wasn’t really planning on watching this film, so I didn’t have very high expectations coming in. And, to be completely fair to the film, I actually enjoyed the shenanigans as Vilma Santos tried her darnedest to be Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada, and Angel Locsin served her best Andrea (Anne Hathaway’s character from the same film). They both didn’t quite meet their goals but they were, at the very least, entertaining.

Then Xian Lim entered the picture, and everything went downhill after that.

Now, again in the spirit of fairness, it wasn’t completely Xian Lim’s fault. His character was all over the place, and that blame would either go to the writer, the director, or whoever was cutting the film. At least, that’s what I was telling myself until Xian’s big dramatic scene came. And I couldn’t stop laughing.

It was that bad.

Thankfully, the laughable acting is limited to two scenes. Both with Xian, true, but he wasn’t bad throughout the movie. Just with two very important, very dramatic scenes. Although, again with the fairness, it must not have been easy to find motivation for a character who doesn’t seem to have a reason for doing anything.

Which brings me to the biggest problem Everything About Her has: it focuses more on style over substance. Giving more weight to dialogue that can be quotable quotes instead of staying true to who the characters are. And what the viewers are left with is a convoluted mess of a film whose premise became as murky as the characterization of the main characters.

You see, the film is supposedly about a very hard, very independent woman who suddenly has to rely on a nurse whose method of taking care of someone is to be as familiar with them as possible. So she could cater to their needs before they even know they need it. Along the way, they’re supposed to find in each other someone that had been missing in their lives for so long: a child for the hard woman, and a mother for the nurse.

Now, had Xian Lim’s character been relegated to a supporting role, I think the film would have been better–more whole. As it stands, the film really was very entertaining and very clear prior to his characters arrival, as I already mentioned above. But his inclusion really throws the whole film askew. It was one thing that you don’t actually understand why he comes in in the first place, but he also complicates the Vilma-Angel relationship in a bad way. Because suddenly, it has to contend with a romance angle.

And it doesn’t work. Mostly because you never believe for a second that Xian is falling in love with Angel. And then there’s the fact that the film doesn’t really allow their romance to blossom because it’s more interested with the abandonment issues the three suddenly have.

Yes, it’s sudden. Because although the film begins with Vilma and Angel being well-rounded individuals with no hang-ups, the minute Xian enters the picture, they suddenly have issues about being left behind. And Vilma’s character suffers the most from this because, for the first part of the movie, it’s implied that she’s the one who had done the unintentional abandonment! And then, with Vilma suddenly being dependent on her need to be loved by a son who is being more of a diva than the diva the film’s title is referring to, Angel suddenly develops her own abandonment issues–that could’ve introduced and explored better had the romance angle never happened at all!

To top it all off, the film boasts of an amazing cast of supporting characters who, I feel, were all wasted because they weren’t given more to do. Michael de Mesa as the only friend of Vilma’s hard-to-love character could’ve also served as a sounding board for Xian’s character whose motivations were never clear–because the actor wasn’t that strong to convey it on his own. Nonie and Shamaine Buencamino’s presence in the life of Angel Locsin’s character was so negligible, she could’ve been an orphan raising her host of siblings on her own. Which is a shame, because in the three scenes Nonie and Angel had together, you can see the promise of a wonderful father-daughter relationship that could’ve been explored more, to highlight the journey Angel’s character is supposed to take.

But, no. We have to contend with being force fed Xian Lim’s character instead. Who, had he been given a clearer motivation, could have worked as a third main character. But he wasn’t. So he ruins the film instead.

I could probably go on further about the things I didn’t like about Everything About Her, so I’ll stop now. Let me just say that if you’re going to watch for Vilma and Angel, you won’t regret the ticket price. They deliver solid performances, even amongst the confused story-telling. But if you’re watching for any other reason? Lower your standards. Like, by a lot.

Movie: Buy Now, Die Later

"Buy Now, Die Later"

BUY NOW, DIE LATER is a compendium of five interconnected stories, each one representing one of the five senses. The stories featuring ODIE, ATO, CHLOE, PIPPA and MAITA will remind us that every bargain comes with a price.

I really wanted to like this film. Especially because out of the three films I’ve seen so far off this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival entries, this has been the best. But being better than My Bebe Love or Haunted Mansion isn’t really something to be proud of.

Buy Now, Die Later suffers from putting style over substance. The film is, for the most part, beautifully lit and shot. There was obvious thought put into lighting the scenes, in the camera’s movements, and in blocking the scenes. But the same thought wasn’t given into casting two of the main leads, because I completely do not understand why the producers of this film thought Alex Gonzaga and Vhong Navarro were right for the roles they played here.

Let’s start with Vhong. The actor’s swagger did not fit the underdog character he was meant to portray here. Based completely off the events and the dialogue, you’re supposed to feel that the character is meant to be looking to escape the shadow cast by a too famous father. Unfortunately, Vhong’s portrayal only made him out to be a fame-hungry bottom-feeder who wants the easiest way to get into the spotlight. Which would’ve been a fine character on its own, if it weren’t for the fact that this doesn’t fit his character’s actions and dialogue in the second half of the film.

And then there’s Alex. I don’t know if it was a conscious effort on her part to emulate the speaking and movement of certain local celebrities, but it was a little too over the top for me. It certainly didn’t help that she would jump from one emotion to the next without any nuance, making her character feel like she’s suffering from a psychological disorder.

Which makes me feel bad for the rest of the cast, Lotlot de Leon and TJ Trinidad most notably. You can see that these two made an effort to make their characters breathe and be real. I actually feel especially sorry for TJ Trinidad because the director or the producer subjected him to wearing an awful mask that was completely unnecessary. It’s like they didn’t trust that he could bring the malevolence needed to make his character work, when his character was actually already scary enough–until the mask appeared and made his character look like a joke.

Story-wise, I must commend the film for trying a different kind of story-telling from what the masses are used to. Especially during the Metro Manila Film Festival season. But I think they bit off more than they can chew with this one. Especially when it comes to logic and continuity. The biggest flaw in the story-telling comes near the end of the story when Lotlot’s character is seduced by the promise of youth–during the time when she’s worried about her daughter’s safety. It should make sense, but the dialogue given her does not–and neither do the scenes that follow after she succumbs to the devil’s bargain.

Then there’s the foreshadowing of how the devil’s items work; they used three characters to underline the fact that the magic of the items don’t affect those who have been cursed. Except one of the three characters hasn’t even been cursed yet. That’s a problem someone in editing, or the writer himself, should have been on the look out for.

And speaking of editing– I don’t know who was in charge of trimming down the movie, but the latter half of Buy Now, Die Later suffered from a lot of cuts that didn’t make sense–leaving characters finishing lines of dialogue that viewers never saw start in the first place.

Don’t even get me started on the garish music video that jolts viewers into the second story.

So would I recommend this movie to anyone? I want to say yes, if only for Lotlot de Leon and TJ Trinidad–but Buy Now, Die Later is really only entertaining two-fifths of the time, so I would say no. If you want to support Quantum Films so they could make more films, watch Walang Forever instead.

Movie: My Bebe Love

"My Bebe Love"

Vic Sotto plays the role of Vito who finds himself at odds and in a bitter professional rivalry with Cora, played by Ai-Ai delas Alas. The two are both in the business of mounting special events. The conflict happens when their respective wards – Anna (played by Maine) daughter of Vito, gets romantically entangled with Cora’s beloved nephew Dondi (played by Alden). As expected, the “parents” actively reject the budding romantic involvement between the star-crossed lovers.

It’s that time of the year again when theaters in the Philippines are showing only entries for the Metro Manila Film Festival. And as is the case every year, my mom had the family watching a Vic Sotto movie. Which means that I watched My Bebe Love.

I didn’t hate it.

I mean, I didn’t love it either, but it wasn’t as bad as some of the other Vic Sotto-starrers I’ve been subjected to. But it wasn’t as good as the Vic Sotto films that got it right either. (I have very low expectations set when it comes to films starring Vic Sotto. Ever since the very first Enteng Kabisote film.)

The thing with My Bebe Love is–it doesn’t seem to know who the central characters are. And I sort of blame the AlDub phenomenon. (I’m not going to explain what the AlDub phenomenon is, but you can read about it on Wikipedia. That’s right. It has a Wikipedia page.)

Now, watching My Bebe Love, it was obvious that the story being set up is supposed to center on conservative Vito clashing and then falling in love with the liberal Cora. They’re the ones with the premise and promise right at the beginning. Their respective charges, Anna and Dondi, are only supposed to move their plots along. It’s a very basic story set-up.

I don’t know during what part of the production period the AlDub phenomenon happened, but you can clearly see that when this movie was being filmed, some Vito-Cora development was thrown out the window in favor of giving more screen time for the better-loved supporting players. And it ruins the love story that the film was supposed to be about: that of Vito’s and Cora’s.

The thing is, this could have not been the case.

I know the producers of My Bebe Love were banking on the popularity of the AlDub love team to make this movie bigger than it was projected to be. But how hard was it to make their participation not feel shoe-horned in?

The set up is there. The stakes are there. But instead of using the additional scenes featuring the supporting characters to give their story more substance, they were underutilized and made to do what they’ve been doing every day in their Kalyeserye on television. And it makes their plot, the subplot, disjointed. Because, obviously, their characters had plot points they needed to hit. But instead of just progressing with those and letting those plot points define their character arcs, they were given scenes that didn’t serve anything more than a fleeting sense of romance and giddiness.

And they’re not the only ones to suffer. Suddenly, the main plot of the film is also missing two of its most vital parts: it’s supporting plot, and the time to progress their story forward. At one point, it felt like they were the ones supporting the subplot.

I feel bad for all the actors involved in this film. There was potential for My Bebe Love to be something more (and something different) from what the Vic Sotto films usually turn out to be), but it was wasted on poor story structuring and character progression.

Book: Crazy Rich Asians

"Crazy Rich Asians"

When American-born Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to provide a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace. Two, that he grew up riding in more private planes that cans. Three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.

Here’s the thing with the Chinese– No matter where you are, if you were not born and raised in Mainland China, you pretty much get the same upbringing as every other Chinese person in the world. At least, that’s how I see it after reading Crazy Rich Asians, which spoke to my Chinese upbringing although I’ve never been to the US, to Europe–and have only seen Singapore through tourists’ eyes. And this idea is further cemented by the fact that Fresh Off The Boat, a new Chinese-centric sitcom in the US, is nailing all these quirks that the Chinese have.

We are stingy and we love a good bargain–even if we can afford to splurge, or to buy something more expensive. We subscribe to the idea of ‘why spend more when you can get the same for less.’ And yet, when we are looked down upon, we relish pulling the carpet from under the ignorant supremacists who would dare belittle us. Figuratively. Literally pulling the carpet from under someone is not very polite and is looked down upon by society. And this weird characteristic of the Chinese is alive and well in Kevin Kwan’s book.

Crazy Rich Asians sounds like a romance novel, and it is that. But more than the relationship of the two lead characters we are given with, the book focuses more on the romance between our main characters’ race and power. And it is the most engaging and most entertaining love story I have ever read. Most of the characters have some grandiose plan of getting what they want, and the whole sordid affair is so self-aware that, if you’re Chinese, you won’t feel offended. Author Kwan doles out the humor in perfect doses that the observations about Chinese eccentricities never feel like an attack on character. It’s as if Kwan wants to say that ‘we are who we are, so why not just laugh about it?’

Now, don’t get me wrong: the book is far from perfect. I have some issues with pacing, with plot points that are abandoned with… well… careless abandon, and with the ensemble cast of characters that come and go. But at the end of the day, the book delivered what it was supposed to deliver: entertainment.

Crazy Rich Asians is a gem. And now I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next in Kwan’s sequel: China Rich Girlfriend.

In the meantime, let’s see what other people have said about this book:
The New York Times
Pop Matters
Books Etc.

Movie: So It’s You

"So It's You"

So It’s You is a romantic-comedy offering from Regal Films starring Carla Abellana and Tom Rodriguez. It tells the story of two people who are lost in love–one ready to move on, while the other is still desperately hanging on. When they meet, they think that life is finally giving them a second chance… Unfortunately, Lira (Carla Abellana) sees the chance as a way to get her previous love back, and not a chance to move on.

The film is pretty solid for a Filipino film… Which isn’t a qualifier I wanted to use, because I have high respect for writer-director Jun Lana, and I loved Bwakaw. But I feel like So It’s You could’ve been better.

Carla Abellana, Tom Rodriguez, Paolo Ballesteros, and Kevin Santos bring their A game… But when you’re willing to list the actors who made you enjoy the movie, what does that say about the other actors? I mean, JC de Vera continues to do what JC de Vera used to do… But he looks tired for most of the movie. Leo Martinez is at his wise-man best… but it’s not something we haven’t seen from him before…

But, as you might have noticed in previous blog posts about films I watched, I usually ignore the acting when the story is engrossing. And this wasn’t. And I blame the confused point-of-view of the story-telling. In Regal Film’s efforts to balance the screen time between leads Carla and Tom, the story kinda gets confused on whose story it’s actually telling: is this the journey of Carla’s character to realize that love isn’t something you cling on to desperately? Or is this a finding hope in love again story for Tom’s character?

We start with Carla, where Tom is just an incidental character. When they finally have their meet-cute, we see more of Tom’s character…and we kind of stick with Tom during the duration of his relationship with Carla’s character. So we have his point of view during most of the love story… But it’s Carla who we are with when conflict comes. And it’s Carla who flashes back to all of Tom’s memories. So you can see why we get a confused perspective on the whole thing… Right? Or is it just me?

I find it admirable that So It’s You doesn’t have perfect characters. I like that. I like the fact that none of them are two-dimensional stereotypes… Well, save for Kevin Santos’s character. But I find him funny. And  I find Paolo Ballesteros’s character hilarious. Neither one of them really adds anything substantial to the story, but they surely amp up one’s enjoyment of the film.

But the long short of it is… I’m just trying to find something to like about the film. My mom liked it. My mom cried during the big confrontation scene. So the film works for some people. I’m just not one of them.

I still admire Regal Film’s for continuing to be a player in a market that’s dominated by Star Cinema though. And I hope they continue to produce films… better films… that will compete against Star Cinema.