Sunday, February 22, 2015

Better than the original


My February 22, 2015 column.
Reworking movies or musicals with a cult following is a difficult thing to do because it is almost always impossible to replicate the context that made the original work endearing.  It’s an almost no-win situation because in the minds and hearts of the cult followers, nothing would ever come close to the original.
Friends have been bugging me endlessly to watch “That Thing Called Tadhana” the local indie film that created quite a splash and subsequently went mainstream.  I finally got to watch it a few days ago and I am mightily glad I did.  It is essentially a local version of the Richard Linklater “Before” trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight), which traces the story of a couple who met accidentally on a train, fell in love, parted, met again, etc.  Just like Before Sunrise, Tadhana features just two characters (Angelica Pangilinan and JM de Guzman).  The couple met at an airport in Rome in unusual circumstances, got to know each other inside a plane, and upon landing in Manila decided to make a trip to Baguio and Sagada on a whim.   We already knew they were going to hit it off, but we were happy to go along with the ride – that’s how successful the movie was. Halfway through, one begins to forgive the people behind the movie for filching an idea, and actually becomes grateful they did it.  In the end, the movie acquires its own legs and is able to stand on its own merits.
So much has been said about the many great qualities of the movie, but it really is the performance of Pangilinan and de Guzman that carries the story through.  It is funny, poignant, and yes, unabashedly sentimental in a delightful way.   But in the end, what makes the movie worth going out of one’s way to watch is that it’s that type of movie that simply tells a story in the best way possible which is to tell it naturally, simply, and honestly, without insulting people’s intelligence or making pretensions about how brilliant it is.  
I grew up as cult follower of early James Bond movies and like most people of my generation, clung to the belief that nobody did Bond better than Sean Connery. I thought that the recent Bond movies lost the charm that made the early Connery and Roger Moore version endearing maybe because they had to appeal to the new generation whose definition of an action movie involved ear-shattering music and explosions every minute and a storyline that puts characters perennially on the edge.
We found ourselves watching Kingsman:  The Secret Service on Chinese New Year by accident.  The movie we wanted to watch had been unfortunately pulled out and we didn’t feel like joining the long queues for Fifty Shades of S&M.  I am glad we did.  Kingsman was absolutely enjoyable.  It’s a movie that pays tribute to the old spy movies, but in a reverent albeit witty way.  The movie looks and feels like an old Bond movie, complete with the references to what makes a real gentleman.  But make no mistake, the movie is also very current.  Next page
Kingsman serves comedy, satire, action, fashion, violence, political and social commentary in a coherent and delightful way.  You just have to go watch it.
And finally, Ballet Philippines most ambitious project opened last Friday: Manhid The Pinoy Superhero Musical.  Manhid was first staged in 1991 as a collaborative work of bright and promising student artists at the University of the Philippines.  The artists would later prove their genius.  Paul Morales who directed the 1991 production is now Artistic Director of BP.  Kanakan-Balintagos (Aureus Solito), the writer composer is now an internationally acclaimed director.  Vince de Jesus who wrote some of the songs is one of the top musical directors in the country.  And of course the Eraserheads have redefined the local rock scene.
The current staging of Manhid takes the political piece to new heights.  The staging is more polished and everything else (except for the sound on opening night) had been done ten times grander and better.  This is the way to pay tribute to a beloved material – by reworking it in a way that clearly that allows the inherent genius of the original to shine.  Kudos to Paul Morales and Ballet Philippines for the courageous move!

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