A musical star is born
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Robin de Jesus, Alexandra Shipp
Screenplay by Steven Levenson
Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Tick, Tick…Boom! is the musical biography of Broadway composer Jonathan Larson. It was Larson who wrote the highly acclaimed Rent. Tragically, he died of brain aneurysm at the age of 35, just before Rent opened and became a revered Broadway classic.
Before Rent, Larson wrote Tick Tick…Boom! Its title refers to the ticking sounds he often heard in his head. The film was adapted from his “rock monologue,” which chronicles his struggle to write and finish his first musical titled Superbia. The original show was performed in a workshop and never produced commercially in a theater.
In the movie version, Larson (Andrew Garfield) is sporadically filmed narrating that part of his life to a live audience. It plays like stand-up comedy, but it’s actually a one-man biographical show. The late Carrie Fisher did a similar one in New York.
As written and presented on film, Larson is an artist who looks down on friends who aren’t as dedicated to their art as he is. He’d rather slave as a waiter than sell out to a lucrative commercial jingle-writing project with an advertising agency. Consequently, he alienates his best friend who had offered him the job. He also becomes estranged from his girlfriend.
The show is deftly opened up for the movie screen by director Lin-Manuel Miranda, one of the hottest Broadway musical geniuses today (he wrote In the Heights and Hamilton). He makes his movie directorial debut with Tick, Tick…Boom! and for a first timer, he sure knows how to use the camera and mount several slick and sometimes edgy musical numbers.
The songs, all penned by Larson, reveal his own emotional highs and lows. A few other songs cleverly picture the current situation he finds himself in. Debtor’s Club is performed by Larson and fellow members of an advertising focus group in a small conference room. This funny song is about finding a name for a consumer product.
And there’s Sunday, which happens in the SoHo diner Larson works in. He is backed by a chorus of customers from hell, all played by Broadway luminaries, from Chita Rivera (the original Anita of West Side Story) and Joel Grey (star of Cabaret), to Bernadette Peters (Sunday in the Park with George) and Brian Stokes Mitchell (star of the Broadway revival of Man of La Mancha).
I’ll probably get lynched for this, but while the songs are brilliant, many of them sound like the songs Larson composed for Rent. But I guess this isn’t such a huge crime, since even the later works of the recently deceased Stephen Sondheim tend to sound the same.
He sings so well, we forget that Andrew Garfield is a movie star who twice played a Marvel superhero
Andrew Garfield plays his best role yet as Jonathan Larson. I wouldn’t call his performance a star turn, since he loses himself in the role. We forget the fact that he’s a movie star who twice played a Marvel superhero. Garfield would shine as Larson even if this wasn’t a musical. The fact that he sings so well is an added bonus for the film and viewers. Garfield’s scenes with Robin de Jesus, who plays his best friend Michael, are priceless. These two make the friendship look so real and moving.
The femmes are also very talented. Vanessa Hudgens, who plays another friend of Larson, is a stunning presence and performer. Ditto with Alexandra Shipp as Larson’s neglected girlfriend. But the standout female performance comes courtesy of the wonderful Judith Light (famous for playing Tony Danza’s boss in Who’s the Boss). Light plays Larson’s crusty agent, which is a small part. She doesn’t even sing, but dominates every scene she’s in.
Much of what happens in Tick, Tick…Boom! appears to have inspired Larson to write Rent. His short life wasn’t a cabaret, hence the movie is as depressing as it is inspiring. The upbeat musical numbers do sort of make up for the downbeat story. That grand entrance Judith Light makes also helps lighten things up.
Tick, Tick…Boom! is streaming on Netflix.
Two youthful stars shine in homegrown musical
Cast: Vince Tañada, Jerome Ponce, Nicole Laurel Asensio
Written by Vince Tañada
Directed by Vince Tañada
Credit: PHILSTAGERS FILMS/YouTube
I like the fact that the first movie I got to see in a theater since the pandemic began is a local production, and it’s a rock musical at that. Katips was adapted from a stage musical that’s been touring the provinces since 2016. It gets its title from the word katipunero. “Katips” is a slang word for the activists who bravely fought for everyone’s rights when the country was under martial rule.
Two of the lead characters include journalist Panyong (Vince Tañada) and student leader Greggy (Jerome Ponce). Their leader, a University of the Philippines professor, is arrested and salvaged. The professor’s haughty daughter Lara (Nicole Laurel Asensio) arrives from New York and is unaware of her father’s fate. While in the country, she falls in love and has a profound change in her values.
Not to worry, this musical doesn’t play like an introductory course for Martial Law babies—at least most of the time. It’s very entertaining, even charming. The songs penned by Pipo Cifra are catchy. When he does rock, you want to stand on your seat and dance with the actors on the screen. His songs don’t sound pretentious; they’ve been written to move the story forward and provide a clearer picture of the scenes in which they are sung. The romantic ones are funny. Their lyrics take audiences back to the 1970s when the recordings of the Hot Dog band ruled the airwaves. Cifra’s songs come spiced with that distinctive Pinoy wit.
Much of the original players from the stage production are on hand to reprise their roles for the movie. New additions are the romantic leads played by Asensio and Ponce. As with most romantic comedies, their characters start on the wrong foot. But whether they argue, sing, or pine for each other, they light up the screen.
Asensio has a lovely singing voice. She’s a true chip off the old block of her grandmother, Fides Cuyugan Asensio. She’s also a natural actress. From her first entrance, she is appealing as the stand-offish New Yorker in Tondo type who evolves into a modern day Tandang Sora—or Batang Sora, since she’s very young.
Equally engaging is Jerome Ponce. His role isn’t showy so he gives a nuanced performance that displays so much emotion. He also is a good singer.
Vince Tañada worked as lawyer for martial law victims, so he knows the subject of his movie very well
And there’s writer/director/producer and lead star Vince Tañada, who did the same duties for the original stage production. He performs as if it was the last night of the world. Others may think he overdoes it, but that’s what musicals are all about. You don’t hold back, you sell it. So tremendous is his singing voice, he could easily be accused of showing off. But there’s a reason for this. During Martial Law, Tañada‘s own father was being hunted by the Metrocom. He himself also worked as a lawyer for the Martial Law victims, so he knows the subject of his movie very well. The danger, uncertainty, and anguish he felt during those years are now expressed in the man he plays.
As the sadistic Metrocom officer who tortures activists, Mon Confiado is so evil it’s disturbing. He might have given an even better performance had his character been given a short back story. But being the pro he is, he makes the stereotyped role believable and memorable.
According to Tañada, the movie he screened for the press isn’t the final product yet. He’s going to do some more tinkering before its commercial release. The movie, he said, was filmed in two weeks, and it shows. The lighting is uneven, and some trimming should make the movie feel more fluid. The movie as for now has too many endings. I’m not sure if the dancing can still be fixed, because each big dance number looks like a filmed Zumba class.
Katips is an odd mix of musical comedy and gratuitous violence. One is used to entice people to see it, while the other is used to educate them. It’s a difficult balancing act. When it’s time to educate the audiences, Tañada doesn’t hold back. All the cruelty and violence are there. In his pursuit of realism, the film ends up looking schizophrenic.
The graphic violence made me wonder: If Tañada had written and directed The Sound of Music, he’d probably have had the Nazis line up the nuns before a firing squad for disabling their squad car. Unless you make it look real, it seems there is no other way to effectively impart evil in a musical. Bob Fosse did present a similar point in Cabaret. Amid the music, Nazi terror is underscored without having to show bloodshed. Fosse just made them sing a song that is so haunting; it’s the viewer who creates his own images of horror.
But Tañada did well to cast Nicole Laurel Asensio and Jerome Ponce. They’re the anchor that makes this movie work because they give the audience somebody to root for.
‘Revenge of the Nerds,’ Fil-Am style
The Fabulous Filipino Brothers
Starring Dante Basco, Darion Basco, Arianna Basco
Written by Dante Basco, Darion Basco, Arianna Basco
Directed by Dante Basco
The best thing about The Fabulous Pinoy Brothers is the casting. The four title characters are Fil-Americans and they look so Pinoy and not Tisoys. It’s a refreshing change from our local movies which often have the likes of James Reid or Sam Milby playing Fil-Americans.
Written and directed by Fil-American filmmaker Dante Basco, The Fabulous Filipino Brothers was shot in California, with certain scenes filmed in Intramuros. Being the movie’s jack-of-all trades, Basco had the power to choose his actors. He chose himself to play one of the brothers and cast his real-life brothers as his onscreen siblings. They’re all competent thespians anyway. It was perfect casting, or so I thought.
The movie begins with the wedding of one of the brothers. Each sibling is introduced by a voiceover narrator who identifies herself as the sister (played by Dante Basco’s real life sister Arianna Basco), the lone rose among the thorns.
They each have a back story told through flashback. With every flashback, we learn that three of the brothers are complete jerks. They grew up in a nice neighborhood, yet they talk like ghetto kids. In terms of looks, they’re less than male dreamboats. Personality-wise, you wonder how their parents had raised them. Crass behavior and foul language are often the order of the day. Yet every drop-dead gorgeous woman they encounter falls head over heels for them.
Blame it on the people who wrote the movie (Dante Basco and his brother Darion). Their script is less a statement about Fil-Americans and more like a coarse Revenge of the Nerds project designed to fulfill their fantasies. Now, I’m not saying that beautiful women are too shallow to fall in love with an ordinary guy. Lots of men don’t have to be handsome or hunky to attract a girl with supermodel looks. But these brothers act like juvenile delinquents.
American viewers can learn more about Filipinos from the punchlines of Jo Koy. He’s also funnier
The first three flashbacks are vulgar and self-indulgent. The best segment is saved for last. It’s about the sensitive brother played by Darion Basco. A lengthy but serious scene shows him meeting a woman online. Suddenly, it’s a different movie with a sharp change in tone; it’s as if the movie was trying to redeem itself.
Still, the fact that Dante Basco got his movie green lit, financed, and streamed on Netflix is a major feat. The buzz on The Fabulous Filipino Brothers is that it’s a showcase of Filipino culture. On the contrary, American viewers can learn more about Filipinos from the punchlines of Fil-American standup comic Jo Koy. He can also be vulgar, but his jokes explore the Filipino psyche with greater success. He’s also funnier.
Ultimately, The Fabulous Filipino Brothers is not the movie I expected it to be. Like, hardly anything is said about the relationship between the four siblings. More importantly, they’re not fabulous; they’re oversexed and over-aged high school boys. A more apt title would be Fil-American Pie.
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