How Dolly de Leon steals the show; Cate Blanchett, as usual, is at her finest

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous turns into Survivor: Bermuda Triangle

Tar official poster

A Mermaid for Christmas official poster

Credit: ALLTV/YouTube

Last Christmas was the season to give the streaming services a break.  It was time to watch a movie in a real theater. But I started my revenge theater binge on the wrong foot. A friend invited me to see a Christmas movie. It title A Mermaid for Christmas.  Notable to us only because one of the several credited executive producers is Fil-American, the movie at best plays like a film thesis made by sixth graders.

Had the movie been made by 10 year-olds, I’d give it an A. But not even a 10-year-old would write such appalling dialog.  At one point in the movie the mermaid asks a fiftyish human female, “What is Christmas anyway?”And the human replies, “It’s hard to explain. But it’s a kind of feeling.”

The cast is composed mainly of American daytime soap opera actors.  It was their chance to let their hair down and show that they can act silly too.  And I guess much of the production budget went to the drone that provided so much aerial footage. Apparently, no money was left to film underwater scenes.

Avatar 2: The Way of the Water official poster

Credit: ModeMarvelous/YouTube

My thirst for underwater scenes was quenched by James Cameron’s Avatar 2: The Way of the Water. The movie is a visual feast, but it is too long and overrated.  It’s so long I didn’t mind taking a phone call from a client during the movie. I stepped out to the lobby and we had a hearty chat for around 10 minutes. I went back in to continue the movie and I felt I didn’t miss anything. I did miss the money I spent on the ticket.

The Triangle of Sadness official poster

Credit: NEON/YouTube

Money was better spent on The Triangle of Sadness.  People have been talking about Dolly de Leon’s scene-stealing performance and we wanted to see what they’ve been raving about.

A darkly funny social commentary, The Triangle of Sadness is the first English language film of Swedish writer and director Ruben Ostlund.  The unusual title is explained early in the film. It’s said to be the part of the face between the eyebrows, which can reveal the stress level of a person. This definition is imparted to a struggling male model (played by Harris Dickinson), who was apparently overdoing his model pout during an audition.

The movie is divided into three acts, the first focusing on the male model and his girlfriend. The latter is a successful influencer (played by the late Charlbi Dean).   They quarrel much of the time.

The second act takes this beautiful couple on a cruise on a luxurious yacht that caters to the ultra rich. It’s less like The Love Boat and more Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous meets The Loath Boat.  The manifest is composed of passengers who think they’ve been licensed to make life for the crew a living hell. During the cruise, a Russian billionaire scoffs when he learns that his fellow passenger is an influencer. So you didn’t pay for your ticket, he says, laughing at her.

The scenes are quirky and it gets more extreme as the ship sails into a storm. Since the passengers are mostly people we envy and despise, the fun begins when we see them get seasick.  The sight of them involuntarily releasing the gourmet dinner they’ve just consumed should be revolting. But as staged by Ostlund, it makes us feel there is justice in this world.

The best is yet to come on the third act when the ship sinks and a handful of the passengers get stranded on an island. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous turns into Survivor: Bermuda Triangle. Abigail (Dolly de Leon) is the feisty middle-aged maid and the only survivor who can hunt for food and start a fire to cook it.  The tables are turned. The wealthy passengers will starve unless they cater to Abigail’s whims.  She’s just as tough a customer as they are. Dolly de Leon is so much fun as the newly crowned queen of the island. She makes what seems at first like a hateful movie into an entertaining satire.

Ostlund is famous for writing about class conflicts. But I like to think this film is his tribute to our OFWs. In his film, the OFWs are hardworking, and as portrayed by Dolly de Leon, intelligent. For all we know, her Abigail must have been a terror teacher in our country. She turns the island into her own classroom and teaches the upper-class snobs a lesson or two.

Credit: Focus Features/YouTube

A handful of Filipinos also figure in another acclaimed film, Tar. Written and directed by Todd Field (he directed In the Bedroom and Little Children), Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tar, a fictional conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Tar has done everything, from composing concertos to scoring music for movies. She’s said to be an EGOT (winner of the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards).

This orchestra diva isn’t shy about flaunting her sexual preference. But her reputation is tarnished when she’s accused of using sex to make or break the careers of   young and pretty musicians. Her sordid private life is revealed in social media and she’s consequently cancelled out. She’s fired from the orchestra and branded a disgrace in the Western world.

The fallen maestro is reduced to conducting a miniscule orchestra performing in a cosplay event in a Third World country. Guess what country? Clue: Lydia goes on a river cruise and her young guide tells her, “This is where Marlon Brando filmed Apocalypse Now.”  (But it was obviously filmed in Thailand.)

Cate Blanchett gives another tour de force performance. She’s at her finest when Lydia gives a lecture at Juilliard. She’s compelling and as one student tells her, she’s a bitch. Blanchett makes us believe in the brilliance and genius of the woman she plays.  If only for that scene at Juilliard, I think Blanchett should play Maria Callas in Terence McNally’s play Master Class, if a film version is ever produced.

My problem with both Tar and The Triangle of Sadness is the ambiguous way their filmmakers introduce several scenes and many of the protagonists. They don’t spell it out for you. Pay attention or you won’t find out what that person does for a living, or what she is to the main protagonist.  Is Lydia Tar a professor at Juilliard, or is she a guest lecturer? When the person seated to my left asks questions like that, I don’t pretend to play the film expert. I start Googling.

I saw Tar in of all places, a remote beach. Our host put up a makeshift screen and we watched Cate the Great under the stars and enveloped by the chilly winds on Christmas evening. Don’t ask me where our host got the movie.

I would have wanted to see an entry of the Metro Manila Filmfest.  Family Matters seemed interesting. But on the bus to the beach, the conductor put on a hit movie released in 2017, Seven Sundays. The cast was excellent (Ronaldo Valdez, Aga Muhlach), but the movie was dogged by endless bickering between siblings and a litany of teary monologues. From what I’ve seen from the trailer, Family Matters threatened to show more of the same. I passed and splurged on two shirts instead.

About author


He is a freelance writer of lifestyle and entertainment, after having worked in Philippine broadsheets and magazines.

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