LEA SALONGA RELIVES HELEN BECHDEL IN A COMING-OF-AGE ROLE

Theater Notes
LEA SALONGA RELIVES HELEN BECHDEL IN A COMING-OF-AGE ROLE
by Pablo A. Tariman

On this early Friday evening encounter with commuters getting used to bad traffic, Lea Salonga speaks of a role like no other in her 37-year stint as singing actress.

Lea Salonga with young cast of "Fun Home." As actress and mother herself, she can totally relate to the role.

Lea Salonga with young cast of “Fun Home.” As actress and mother herself, she can totally relate to the role.

“Indeed this is far, far so different from my previous singing roles,” said she as she defines her character as Helen Bechdel in the musical, “Fun Home,” which to her is a musical like no other.

To be sure, this latest assignment is a far cry from Grizabella (Cats), Eliza Doolittle (My Fair Lady) and Kim (Miss Saigon), among others.

One way or the other, Lea thinks the role came at a perfect time when she has evolved as a person and as an artist and can connect with characters with varying episodes on marriage and motherhood.

Lea Salonga who plays Helen Bechdel admits a thoroughly challenging role as she portrays a life that is incredibly real. “I can relate to my character because she is a former actress and now that I am a mother myself, I didn’t have to imagine how mothers connect to their children. I live it every day.”

Helen Bechdel — who died in 2013 — was active in theater during her high school years playing the role of the second Mrs. De Winter in Rebecca, and playing the lead in The Heiress. She also did a summer internship at Tufts Arena Theater in Boston, followed by a one-year apprenticeship at the Cleveland Playhouse. She met her husband, Bruce A. Bechdel, when they were both performing in a college production of The Taming of the Shrew.

The Bechdel family life became public knowledge when their daughter, Alison Bechdel, wrote a graphic memoir detailing her discovery that her father — previously stationed in Germany with the US Army – was in fact a closet gay.

Lea Salonga with Pablo Tariman at the CCP in 2006. At 45, she is far from retirement and she feels she is just getting better.

Lea Salonga with Pablo Tariman at the CCP in 2006. At 45, she is far from retirement and she feels she is just getting better.

While the main protagonist in the musical is a lesbian, the musical is not about being gay. She stressed that the musical is more about growing up and coming to terms with a dysfunctional family that looked normal on the outside.

Said Lea: “There is a lot family member can learn from ‘Fun Home.’ The characters are recognizable. They could be your own parents, your uncles, your friends, your neighbors. The musical is a lesson in acceptance and forgiveness and will allow you to reflect the different chapters in your own life.”

The first time the actress saw “Fun Home” on Broadway, she was immediately stunned. “Everyone in the theater was in tears at the curtain call. I don’t recall a musical having that kind of effect. No big dance numbers, no large cast. Just a story about a family and its unique brand of dysfunction so specific, we all could find something to relate to.”

Described as a “beautiful heartbreaker of a musical” and “achingly beautiful,” the musical will see actor Cris Villonco playing the role of Alison Bechdel. She pointed out playing the part was a tough challenge as it is based on a famous personality still alive. “But I’ve seen characters like her in New York when I was still studying. I would say it was an education. This role will allow me to relive life that I can only do in theater.”

On the other hand, Lea admits marriage and motherhood enabled her to get a more profound outlook on people leading both ordinary and extraordinary lives.

For one, motherhood allowed her to open her heart into the wider range of the human condition and gave her deeper appreciation and understanding for all kinds of relationships.

Indeed, it is a big character transformation from “Annie” to “Fun Home” which one way or the other will likely re-enforce her stature as an actress.

My last concert production at CCP: Lea Salonga with tenor Otoniel Gonzaga and conductor Julian Quirit with PPO.

My last concert production at CCP: Lea Salonga with tenor Otoniel Gonzaga and conductor Julian Quirit with PPO.

Lea is an actress who can come to terms with her age (45) and enjoying every minute of it. “I can feel I still am very far from considering retirement. At my age now, I find that I can still get better and hasn’t reached the end of the road. I guess, God is not through with me yet. I love the theater but I am also enjoying motherhood to the hilt. I travel a lot but I have time to play Candy Crush with my daughter, hug her and smell her as often as I can. How do I describe my phase as a person and artist now? The outlook is broader, the perception deeper and of course I have fewer but truer friends.”

The musical is the most awarded and acclaimed musical of 2015, winning five Tony awards including best musical. It is based on Alison Bechdel’s best-selling graphic memoir, “Fun Home” with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron.

(“Fun Home” directed by Bobby Garcia and starring Tony-Award winner, Lea Salonga opposite Broadway actor Eric Kunze opened last November 10 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium and will run until November 27 on weekdays, 3pm & 8pm on weekends. For tickets, call TicketWorld at 8919999).

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‘MANDOLIN DELIGHTS’ AT AYALA MUSEUM NOV. 6

Concert Advisory
‘MANDOLIN DELIGHTS’ AT AYALA MUSEUM NOV. 6
by Pablo A. Tariman

“The sound of the mandolin is a very curious sound because it’s cheerful and melancholy at the same time, and I think it comes from that shadow string, the double strings.” — Rita Dove

lester-demetillo-teresa-barrozo-photo

Classical guitarist Lester Demetillo. The mandolin is equally versatile as other concert instruments. (Photo: Teresa Barrozo)

Remember the mandolin music in the Meryl Streep-Dustin Hoffmann starrer, “Kramer vs Kramer” which turned out to be Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto in C Major?

Does the mandolin music in “The Godfather” (part of the wedding orchestra and now known as “Speak Softly Love” in popular musical parlance) remind you of the Italian countryside?

Did you know that the Lawrence Olivier starrer, “A Little Romance” has some classical mandolin music in it that is vintage Vivaldi?

The sound of the rarely heard mandolin returns with a vengeance at the Ayala Museum on Sunday, November 6, 2016, 6:30 p.m. in a special concert called “Mandolin Delights” featuring mandolin players Lester Demetillo and Armando Derecho to be assisted by classical guitarist Aljero Jimenez.

In this concert, the mandolin will be heard in a well-prepared repertoire from the baroque classical, romantic, as well as Filipino, Brazilian and American bluegrass music.

Demetillo said his interest in mandolin playing started as a hobby but decided to learn it seriously as a concert instrument. “So I prepared a repertoire that will challenge myself and the audience to seriously consider the mandolin as a musical instrument that can stand on its own along with other established ones.”

The mandolin family of musical instruments. A wide range of repertoire in the Nov. 6 concert at Ayala Museum

The mandolin family of musical instruments. A wide range of repertoire in the Nov. 6 concert at Ayala Museum

Mandolin chroniclers noted that the mandolin is largely associated as a symbol of Western civilization. It evolved from the lute in Italy during the 1300s and recognized as a musical instrument in the 1600s. It became popular in Italian towns, particularly Naples, and it spread all throughout Europe. It became popular in Baroque music, especially as it was used by Giovanni Battista Gervasio and other famous musicians of the time.

While the instrument was popular in Celtic, bluegrass, jazz, and classical music since the 1900s, Filipinos rarely hear mandolins presented as a concert instrument.

Demetillo points out the special qualities of the mandolin: “Being an ancient instrument, it adopts well to music of the past at the same time it has inherited music from all genres from classical, Brazilian, baroque, romantic, bluegrass, Japanese, Filipino and event avant-garde.”

Lester Demetillo as classical guitar mentor coaching a young enthusiast. The mandolin deserves a wider audience.

Lester Demetillo as classical guitar mentor coaching a young enthusiast. The mandolin deserves a wider audience.

Demetillo is one of the country’s passionate advocates of the classical guitar and has founded the UP Guitar Ensemble for which he arranged several orchestral pieces. Classical guitar enthusiasts note that his transcriptions stretch the instrument’s technical limits to the utmost, while retaining each score’s original music line. He is part of the pioneering group that launched the Philippine International Guitar Festival and Competition since 2010.

So what is in store for mandolin beginners in the November 5 Ayala Museum concert?

Demetillo said that while the mandolin is strongly associated with Italy, the coming concert will showcase the instrument playing music from various genres. “The music from different genres and different music eras will surely uplift their spirit as the music is mostly light, joyous, virtuosic in character. On the whole, it will be a re-discovery of music not heard in local concert halls and will surely reveal the mandolin as a prolific instrument of note.”

Poster of November 6 Ayala Museum concert. The mandolin now up for wider audience scrutiny.

Poster of November 6 Ayala Museum concert. The mandolin now up for wider audience scrutiny.

The November 6 mandolin repertoire includes Vivaldi’s Allegro in C Major and Concerto in G Major, Handel’s Sonata in D Major, Suarez’s Bakya mo Neneng and Kataka-taka, Toredo, Bolero, Napoli, Tarantella by E. Mezzacapo, Air du Fat puni by F. Devienne, Desvairada by Anibal Sardinha, Fishers Hornpipe (Traditional), Cattle in The Corn “Traditional”) and Sonata in D Major by J. G. Scheidler.

“Mandolin Delights” is presented by The Independent Philippine Art Ventures Inc. and the Ayala Museum.

Tickets available at the lobby before the concert. Prices at Php700 (regular), Php560 Discounted (Ayala Museum members, Ayala Group of Companies employees, Ayala Rewards Circle members), Php500 (senior citizens and Php300 (students).

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THREESOME

Film Notes
THREESOME
by Pablo A. Tariman

There is a resurgence of films with gay characters in local cinema and the good news is that they are finely done with no attempt to arouse the moviegoers’ prurient interest.

Some are delivered as pure whacky comedy and indeed without the redeeming moments of rare insight so difficult to come by and indeed so blatant as exemplified by a box office comedian high on hysteria and low in discernment.

Angel Locsin, Zanjoe Marudo and Sam Milby in "The Third Party." Ensemble acting has never been better.

Angel Locsin, Zanjoe Marudo and Sam Milby in “The Third Party.” Ensemble acting has never been better.

Some output in the early batch of gay-themed films tend to overly explore the sensual side and the result is that it is patronized by mostly gay crowd and given cold shoulders by the mainstream audience.

But Paul Jason Laxamana’s “The Third Party” is a pleasant surprise because it has something very positive for both the gay and the straight crowd. It highlights the trimmings of conventional relationship (notably that of the character of Beauty Gonzales and her boyfriend) and alas managed to put gay relationship (that of Sam Milby and Zanjoe Marudo) in a more respectable plane minus the bed scenes and unnecessary lip services.

Superbly written by Charlene Sawit-Esguerra and Patrick John Valencia, “The Third Party” manages to inform and entertain in equal doses (there is a regular volley of shrieks, gasps and laughter from the audience) and ends with such coming of age moment you wanted to give it a standing ovation.

Apart from its well-written screenplay, the lead actors’ performances show both depth and intensity leaving no gaping hole in which one could find lackluster delineation.

Angel Locsin’s character (Andi Medina) manages to be natural and her character’s vulnerability looks really spontaneous from moments of bliss to moments of shocking discovery. In fact, she recovers easily after minor hysteria and has taken to accepting her former boyfriend for what he is. Friendship takes over the lover status and what happens after are the rare scenarios of noble acceptance so rare in Philippine cinema.

One must say that both Milby (as Max Labrador) and Marudo (as Christian Pilar) have reached a level of rapport that is at once both refreshing and commendable. They know their characters inside and out and have given them enough humanity to last a lifetime.

With Marudo as the aggressive one and Milby as the subservient partner, you can see that their characters blend naturally you are almost tempted to suspect: could they be like that in real life they didn’t have to act (and just be themselves)? Indeed, their level of acting is so real and so true one can safely say that in this project, they have given what could be the best performances of their careers.

From the supporting cast, there is also the marked performances of Cherrie Pie Picache (as Locsin’s mother) and Al Tantay (as the straight patriarch) and Matet de Leon who held her own in the tense dinner scene. This is a well-thought out scenario when a straight father is irritated by two necking gays near their table while Milby is trying to confess his gay relationship. How his father reacted gave him a real scare he decided to become father of a pregnant friend to the consternation of the character of Locsin.

A good script, excellent ensemble acting with a discreet scoring of Jessie Lasaten and sensitive direction gave moviegoers one of the most rewarding moments in cinema.

Finally, here is one millennial director who can think beyond his generation and surprisingly has an ample supply of subtlety, delicacy, humor and humanity — all in one package.

By the looks of it, his latest film deserves the A rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board. One believes this is one of his best output after “Babagwa” (The Spider’s Lair”).

“The Third Party” directed by Jason Paul Laxamana opened in cinemas last October 12 and earned P10 million on opening day.

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THE EVOLUTION OF FPJ’S ‘ANG PROBINSIYANO’

TV Notes
THE EVOLUTION OF FPJ’S ‘ANG PROBINSIYANO’
by Pablo A. Tariman

In one setting, one got to see the entire cast of “FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano” who joined the media in celebrating its first anniversary as a prime time leading teleserye Wednesday night.

Coco Martin and Susan Roces during the first anniversary presscon for "FPJ's Ang Probinsiyano." The success of the teleserye is a product of good collaboration with the creative team.

Coco Martin and Susan Roces during the first anniversary presscon for “FPJ’s Ang Probinsiyano.” The success of the teleserye is a product of good collaboration with the creative team.

Coco Martin said the project was conceptualized out of his pure admiration for the late action king Fernando Poe, Jr. He was profuse with thanks as he turned to Susan Roces who not only approved the project but agreed to play the part of Kapitana Flora Borja, the feisty but gentle barangay captain.

Said Susan: “One year of this teleserye brought me closer to the characters, more than the actors who portrayed them. When I was on the set interacting with Coco (Martin), I really felt it that Cardo and Ador are my real life grandsons. Of course you have to feel that way to make your part credible. The story of this teleserye feels so real I felt like I was part of true-to-life happening unfolding on television. Funny but I already feel like a real sister of Police Chief Supt. (General) Delfin S. Borja played by Jaime Fabregas.”

Coco pointed out some episodes in the teleserye making their way in prime time news are purely accidental and unintentional. “Our writers do a lot of research and I always meet with the creative team to assess what we have. Then it happens that one episode closely resembles one operation of the anti-drug team combing bars and other entertainment places to monitor peddlers of prohibited drugs. Yes, our story should look real but we are also careful not to get in the way of government’s operations against drug dealers. We insert pointers during commercial breaks and I think they are highly appreciated especially in the provinces.”

What he learned from one year of the teleserye the actor shares with media friends.

Onyok is given an advance  birthday treat as he turns 6. Believe it or not, peace is all he wants on his birthday.

Onyok is given an advance birthday treat as he turns 6. Believe it or not, peace is all he wants on his birthday.

The actor who is also creative consultant of the project looks back. “The consistent high rating of this teleserye is a product of hard work. It didn’t happen overnight. When it received nation-wide patronage, the more I became aware of our responsibility to our viewers. Because I believe we should not only entertain. More than anything else, we should also try very hard to inform. The government is trying very hard to put this country in order. For this reason, this teleserye is also a tribute to our policemen. They deserve our recognition for putting their lives in danger just to protect us. For the same reason that I believe we should also do our part. But we should not also forget that we have our rights which we should defend at all cost. After every episode there is regular assessment of how the show was received and how we can reach out to wider audiences.”

Thus the entry of two kids — Simon Ezekiel Pineda as Honorio ‘Onyok’ Amaba and McNeal “Awra” Briguela as Macario ‘Makmak’ Samonte, Jr.

Onyok turns 6 this month and was given advance birthday treat in the presscon.

Said the popular kid in the teleserye. “I already got an advance birthday gift from Kuya Cardo (Coco Martin) in the form of a Starwars saber sword. How did the teleserye change my life? For one, I learned how to act in this teleserye thanks to Kuya Cardo. Now I feel like a real actor. My birthday wish? Kapayapaan (peace).”

To which the media reacted with a buzz and a howl of amusement.

Gen. Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa with Coco Martin. The teleserye is also a tribute to good and hardworking policemen.

Gen. Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa with Coco Martin. The teleserye is also a tribute to good and hardworking policemen.

Noticing the uproar he created, Onyok pleaded, “Peace lang po.”

Present in the presscon were the bad men in the cast namely Eddie Garcia as Don Emilio Syquia, Arjo Atayde as Police S/Insp. Joaquin Tuazon and Albert Martinez as Tomas Tuazon.

“It feels good to be a bad man for one year,” said Albert Martinez. “To be bad, you need good people in the cast to provide the contrast. That is why I am grateful to my co-stars for a very fruitful collaboration.”

Added Arjo Atayde whose very expressive eyes define evil in his character: “You can only give your best if your co-actors are just as good. They motivate me to do good in every scene. Every acting I do is a product of a reaction from my co-stars. They are just so good you have to do your best as well.”

The high-rating teleserye is based on a 1997 film with the lead actor originally played by Fernando Poe, Jr.

Will there be other vintage FPJ films turning into teleseryes in the future?

Pablo Tariman with Susan Roces. She felt closer to the characters after one year as barrio captain in the teleserye.

Pablo Tariman with Susan Roces. She felt closer to the characters after one year as barrio captain in the teleserye.

“That will depend on Coco (Martin),” said the actor’s widow. “I believe he know the pulse of his audiences and he knows what past FPJ films will suit the new generation. For now, I am happy I to be part of a project originally conceived by my husband. One way or the other, it will keep his legacy alive.”

(Dreamscape Entertainment will mount FPJ’s Ang Probinsiyano Isang Pamilya Tayo The Anniversary Concert on October 8, 7:30 p.m. at the Araneta Coliseum. Admission is free.)

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EXCEPTIONAL ACTING IN THE LATEST LAV DIAZ OPUS

Film Notes
EXCEPTIONAL ACTING IN THE LATEST LAV DIAZ OPUS
by Pablo A. Tariman

Watching a Lav Diaz film will no doubt require moviegoers to go back to the basics of storytelling. The director is at home in black and white, he has no need for any semblance of film scoring and according to his book, the story is the thing.

Charo Santos Concio with Michael de Mesa and Nonie Buencamino in "Ang Babaeng Humayo." Great acting in black and white minus film scoring.

Charo Santos Concio with Michael de Mesa and Nonie Buencamino in “Ang Babaeng Humayo.” Great acting in black and white minus film scoring.

With no music to enhance or compliment the storytelling, Diaz is one filmmaker who believes that that the best film scoring is total silence or just the live sound emanating from the set.

The filmmaker admits that the film was inspired by the short story God Sees the Truth, But Waits by Leo Tolstoy. But after watching the nearly 4-hour film, you actually get a shimmering, if, equally astounding variation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” with Horacia (Charo Santos) getting the brunt of a crime she did not commit. After her 30-year stint in prison, she sets out to punish the man who made her life miserable. While looking for her son, she meets the ostracized, if, marginalized figures in her hometown among them the balut vendor (Nonie Buencamino) and Hollanda (John Lloyd Cruz).

The madwoman yelling “Demons, sons of demons” while being pursued by Horacia was indeed very Dostoevsky-esque.

The Lav Diaz film gives us a good mirror on which we can reflect on Philippine society in transition. In his search for truth, Diaz refuses to embellish his narrative with anything that will distract from the shocking, if, sordid truth about his country.

John Lloyd Cruz being prepared for his role as Hollanda. Another awardwinning performance. (Photo: Baby K. Jimenez)

John Lloyd Cruz being prepared for his role as Hollanda. Another awardwinning performance. (Photo: Baby K. Jimenez)

Charo Santos as Horacia blended perfectly with the story even without the benefit of close ups to highlight her powerful acting. When she discovered what was left of her family after 30 years in prison, you could feel the deep hurt and all that she could manage was a short but hair-raising cry of anguish. Simply told, this is Charo Santos at one of her best acting moments.

One of the most rewarding moments of the film is seeing actors transform their characters into something beyond what was written on the script.

The balut vendor played by Nonie Buencamino comes to life as he interacts with the ex-convict (Charo Santos Concio) and the suicidal transvestite (John Lloyd Cruz). He is dreaming of a better life yet he is not envious that the town politicians (Michael de Mesa and company) enjoy a better life that he could only imagine in real life.

Nevertheless, he sees infinite goodness in the character of Horacia (Concio) who later horrifies him when she asked him where she could buy a gun. You can see the vulnerability of ordinary people as he recounts assorted crimes plaguing his town, how he would do everything for his family and how he survived sex slavery during brief imprisonment as a young man.

One notes how he finds meaning in his lines, how his face changes hues when narrating the character’s happy and traumatic past and how he finds miracle in every act of goodness from his new found friend. The joy of acting is watching Buencamino transform his role and finding redemption in every episode of his character’s life.

As for Hollanda (John Lloyd Cruz), he came to the island to die. He has given up on life until he finds someone who truly cares about his existence.

He joins the world of the ex-convict (Charo Santos), the balut vendor (Nonie Buencamino), the tramp (Cacai Bautista?) who knows where the town VIPs (politicians, businessmen and the like) are seated during the regular Sunday mass.

It turned out Hollanda used to work in Japan as an entertainer and he can sing “Sunrise, Sunset” (from Fiddler on the Roof) with poignant overtones.

He dances on the street. He goes after lusty young men. He freely indulges not so much as an act of lust but as part of his own Immolation Scene.

Then he discovers his kind stranger’s innermost secret. He is determined to repay that act of kindness.

Direk Lav Diaz on the set. In his book, story and character portrayal are all that matters.

Direk Lav Diaz on the set. In his book, story and character portrayal are all that matters.

What his character did, how he coped and how he accepted his fate are the shining moments of actor John Lloyd Cruz. Indeed, those moments are enough reason for moviegoers to re-read “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

The first Filipino recipient of the Golden Lion in the 73rd Venice Film Festival is a winner in all aspects – storytelling, ensemble acting and a rare brand of directorial treatment that can only emanate from an ultra-sensitive filmmaker.

The rest of the cast who delivered equally memorable performances include Shamaine Centenera, Mae Paner, Cacai Bautista and Michael de Mesa, among others.

“Ang Babaeng Humayo” is now showing in cinemas.

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LAV DIAZ AND CHARO SANTOS ACCORDING TO JUANA CHANGE AND NONIE BUENCAMINO

Film Notes
LAV DIAZ AND CHARO SANTOS ACCORDING TO JUANA CHANGE AND NONIE BUENCAMINO
By Pablo A. Tariman

There is a bit of Everyman and the dregs of society in the new cinema of Lav Diaz and character actors Nonie Buencamino and Mae Paner felt they got the ultimate acting challenge of their profession.

Juana Change with Charo Santos on the set of "Ang Babaeng Humayo." The person behind the actress is very real and congenial.

Juana Change with Charo Santos on the set of “Ang Babaeng Humayo.” The person behind the actress is very real and congenial.

The ex-convict (wrongly accused played by Charo Santos), the prison guard (played by Mae Paner a.k.a. Juana Change), the abused transvestite tramp (played by John Lloyd Cruz) and the balut vendor (Nonie Buencamino) dominate the black and white masterpiece of the acclaimed Filipino film director.

Charo said she had to visit real women inmates to feel the part and Juana Change as the prison guard was always on the look-out on how she could perfectly blend in a very realistic, if, jarring prison scene. “I play the role of a warden who breaks an information that changes Horacia’s life of 30 years in prison. I enjoyed discovering the nuance of the character so she is not simply presented as black or white. Connecting to her spine was the special challenge of that role.”

Earlier, she begged the director to give her a role in an earlier film, “Norte” and it turned out she didn’t have to exert extra effort. In the process, she discovered how cineaste worked as a director. “It was easy because I found out that Lav (Diaz) is a Juana Change advocacy fan. He even bowed to me. Talagang kinilabutan ako. I am truly humbled. As a director, Lav gives you so much freedom to attack your role. And that, while challenging, is very daunting. Freedom can be scary.”

Working with her prisoner Horacia (Santos) also gave her a chance to re-discover the person behind the actress.

She recounts: “It was our first day of shoot when I met Charo. I enjoyed giving small tips like adjustments on how she sat or flicked her finger, to calling the make-up artist to put some color on her ‘labanos white’ legs. It was my way of bonding to prepare myself for our scene together. Actually I risked doing it to an ABS-CBN top executive. But I knew where I was coming from. She could have easily put me in place but to my pleasant surprise, she welcomed the concern and even showed appreciation for my effort. I am fortunate for this opportunity to know her as a co-actor. I felt we were equals. She also shared what I ate on the set. No special food for the star. She also made time to talk us-her co-actors. I felt her working relationship with cast and crew was very real.”

Nonie Buenamino with Charo Santos and Michael de Mesa. In one scene, Charo's acting was so intense Nonie forgot his line.

Nonie Buenamino with Charo Santos and Michael de Mesa. In one scene, Charo’s acting was so intense Nonie forgot his line.

Nonie has more or less the same observation: “I played the role of a balut vendor always roaming the street to find more customers. I met Horacia (Santos) and ended up being with her at night. I am in some way a narrator who introduced her character. I know the neighborhood so I tell her about it. My character is also a very opinionated balut vendor. I enjoyed the improvisation scenes. I also enjoyed the highly inspired scenes with Charo. She’s a great actress I must say.”

Juana Change has a spontaneous impression of Diaz as film director. “Wala halos take two kay Lav. Kung ano ang ibigay mo, that’s it. And he is ultra-cool. He provides a stress free environment on the set. When you hear him say ‘Wasak’ and ‘Rakenroll,’ it only means you are doing okay. And when we hear his assistant director say ‘Flying paper,’ it means an additional scene is being written for you. He is perpetually inspired when he is making his film. Parang spring na walang awat sa pag-agos.”

Nonie points at the director’s special quality. “Lav is very encouraging. He gives a lot of leeway to the actor. He is the type of director one wants to perform his best for. On the other hand, Charo is so dedicated as an actress. I forgot she was the big boss of ABS-CBN because she is innately a trooper, and an actress who loses herself in her role. It is challenging to work with Lav because he trusted me so much. There were so many long takes. If I didn’t commit to the scene or did not concentrate, I could mess up the take. The same goes with Charo. There was one scene where her look was so intense, I fumbled my line. After that I prepared harder. John Lloyd (Cruz) was so real and fun to be in a scene with.”

The character actor can more or less gauge why the director succeeds in his own style. The lessons Nonie learned working with him? “I learned that If you have the story and characters very clear in your head, and you have a very good story to tell, a big chunk of the work would have been done. I learned that the atmosphere need not be stressful for everyone on the set to come up with a good film. What is rewarding for me now is the knowledge that I’m part if a film that won the highest award in the Venice Film Festival. More importantly, I got to act for Lav Diaz. Filipinos should watch this film because it’s an excellent story and conveys many layers of special message they will find relevant to what this country is going through.”

Charo Santos in one prison scene with Shamaine Centenera Buencamino. She had to visit real female inmates to prepare for the part.

Charo Santos in one prison scene with Shamaine Centenera Buencamino. She had to visit real female inmates to prepare for the part.

Juana Change points out why she can relate to the latest Lav Diaz film: “After a validation from Venice with no less than the Golden Lion award, I am all the more excited to watch this film. We, in the Juana Change advocacy, make short political satires. Diaz makes them long and very poignant. We both want to break free from the nefarious elements that bring us down as a nation and we use cinema/videos as our medium to present our worldview. Our art aims to transform. Lav is a great film maker whose art is deeply rooted not only to his love for country but also to a spirituality that connects him to the world. He is the rock star of Philippine cinema. An iconoclast. What did I learn from him? That if you build it, it will come!”

“Ang Babaeng Humayo” directed by Lav Diaz opens September 28 in cinemas.

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VIOLINIST CHINO GUTIERREZ TO PRESIDENT DUTERTE: ‘CLASSICAL MUSIC MAY SEEM GALAXIES AWAY FROM DRUGS AND CRIME BUT IT IS JUST AS RELEVANT’

View From The Wing
VIOLINIST CHINO GUTIERREZ TO PRESIDENT DUTERTE: ‘CLASSICAL MUSIC MAY SEEM GALAXIES AWAY FROM DRUGS AND CRIME BUT IT IS JUST AS RELEVANT’

By Pablo A. Tariman

Violinist Joaquin Maria “Chino” Gutierrez is all of 26 years old but believe it or not, he has been making music for close to two decades.

Violinist Joaquin Maria "Chino" Gutierrez in performance. Close to 20 years of music-making and still growing.

Violinist Joaquin Maria “Chino” Gutierrez in performance. Close to 20 years of music-making and still growing.

You can sense his evolution as a musician as he talks about his September 17 program at the BDO Francisco Santiago Hall with pianist Mary Anne Espina. “I’ll be playing a variety of works from Mozart to Paganini. I chose them all for their free-flowing and engaging yet by no means simplistic nature. They’re all works you can lose yourself in, whether as a performer or listener, which is the main reason I titled this concert ‘In the Zone.’

There is a Mozart sonata in the first half, a Faure sonata and a Tchaikovsky number all of which hold special meaning for him. “The Mozart is an old favorite of mine; it’s very noble and graceful, deceptively simple, but if played wrong can be painfully boring. The Fauré, on the other hand, is a new favorite. It embodies the free-flowing yet dynamic character which is central to the concert.”

One thing he looks forward to is being reunited with pianist Mary Anne Espina with whom he has been playing together for around nine years. “Come to think of it, that makes for a lot of collaborations. We are familiar with each other’s instincts and playing style, and have developed a closeness through the years that translates itself to solid rapport during performances. We have good energy on stage and our chemistry is real. She’s a superb pianist, a very fast learner, and does not back off from big or difficult projects – a quality which I appreciate because I am pretty bold myself, and not averse to taking on challenges or trying out new things. Our collaboration for this concert is taking place after a space of six years of not having performed together. It feels safe and exhilarating at the same time – safe because of the familiarity, but exhilarating because we have both grown musically in so many ways that our music-making now has a different flavor and feel to it.”

At his age now, he enjoys performing more than ever. “As regards my technique, all the teachers I’ve worked with say there’s nothing more to worry about; my technique is now secure. It’s so liberating not to have to worry about the million and one technical details every so often. Of course, there’s the usual cleaning and polishing which a violinist has to do on a daily basis, but I believe I’ve entered a phase where making music and unleashing one’s creativity are now the top priority. I am excited by the prospect of more performances, more collaborations, sharing my music with more audiences.”

Violinist Joaquin Maria "Chino" Gutierrez  with "Real Talk" hosts of CNN Philippines.  He no longer wrestles with problems of technique but of real interpretation.

Violinist Joaquin Maria “Chino” Gutierrez with “Real Talk” hosts of CNN Philippines. He no longer wrestles with problems of technique but of real interpretation.

Indeed, he started quite early and made significant impressions enough for the late conductor Oscar Yatco to call him the Cecile Licad of the violin.

He was only 7 when he took his first violin lesson, and two years later placed second in the National Music Competition for Young Artists.

At 10, he bagged the top prize and made his orchestral debut at the Cultural Center of the Philippines with Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole. He was easily accepted at Munich’s prestigious State Academy of Music and Theater, where pedagogue Jens Ellermann instantly classified him as “a major talent.”

Last year, he was good enough to qualify for the 2015 Joseph Joaquim International Violin Competitions where over 200 contestants applied. Only 39 qualified and one of them was Gutierrez.Although he didn’t make it in the top finalists, he learned substantial lessons that made him realize just being good is not enough.

He recalled: “At the JJV (Joseph Joachim Violin Competition), I witnessed up close the incredibly high standards of playing that all the contestants were adhering to. I mean, any one of the contestants could have emerged the winner. Everyone was that good. I was surprised – even shocked – when fantastic violinists were eliminated before the semi-finals. In the final analysis, winning was just a matter of being the person that the judges were looking for at that particular time. It was really a matter of taste. I was able to confirm this during the jury consultations after the competition. A Rumanian juror said she loved my interpretation of the Bach Chaconne; it was exactly the way she would have played it. On the other hand, an Italian juror belonging to the ‘old school’ said he didn’t agree with it because he wanted a steady tempo from start to finish. In the end, it all comes down to playing what you believe in, and if you can pull it off and the judges happen to agree with your interpretation, that’s great. If not, you know you played music that was honest and you’re still a damn good musician anyway.”

Violinist Gutierrez sharing light moment with pianist Mary Anne Espina during a rehearsal. Solid rapport and close collaborative instinct.

Violinist Gutierrez sharing light moment with pianist Mary Anne Espina during a rehearsal. Solid rapport and close collaborative instinct.

He is still feeling his way on how the arts will thrive under a new president and it is too early to give a verdict. Nevertheless, his message to the new head of state: “Mr. President, classical music may seem galaxies away from drugs and crime. But I assure you – it is just as relevant. As Pablo Picasso once said: ‘Art washes away the dust of everyday life.’ Please, give our classical musicians a chance to flourish and be competitive in the international scene. Simply put: make funds more readily available for studies both locally and abroad, and help them secure better instruments. Give them the wings to fly, and they will bring our country places.”

(The September 17, 2016 concert of violinist Joaquin Maria “Chino” Gutierrez with pianist Mary Anne Espina at the BDO Francisco Santiago Hall in Makati City starts at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call 09151892998 or 2181864.)

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URBAN BLIGHT

Film Notes
URBAN BLIGHT

By Pablo A. Tariman

“Pamilya Ordinaryo” is a cold yet gripping contrast to the well-off families showing off good manners and gentile laughter in such places as Club Filipino.

A selfie scene from "Pamilya Ordinaryo with lead actors Ronwaldo Martin and Hasmine Killip." A classic tale of art imitating life.

A selfie scene from “Pamilya Ordinaryo with lead actors Ronwaldo Martin and Hasmine Killip.” A classic tale of art imitating life.

The story of this Eduardo Roy, Jr. film is initially seen in CCTV cameras and then given life in subsequent narrative that is scorching and as it is so true to life. It is a story straight from CCT cameras now one of the main sources of stories for prime time news.

Indeed, the film feels like a documentary with a no-holds barred portrayal of the city’s street-dwellers. You are initially introduced to the work-a-day world of teen mother named Jane (Hasmine Killip) who copes with the daily struggles of teen motherhood.

His equally young partner Aries (Ronwaldo Martin) is equally half-aware of the duties of fatherhood but he moves on (like his partner) guided by sharp instinct for survival.

How they survive is coldly documented by the film which (as always) begins with CCTV camera footage. You come to terms with raw life as young father gets by victimizing passersby and at the end of the day, they try to make it through the night by making love right there in that small, cramp space with very little provision for complete privacy. As it is, sex makes for partial relief from day-to-day struggles and they turn to it out of sheer instinct to live another day.

On the other hand, the film is another documentary on teen parenthood and how young parents cope. The baby is yet another source of fragile strength and commitment and they are challenged when it is snatched by another character from the underworld.

Like it or not, “Pamilya Ordinaryo” explores several layers of exploitation of poor families living in the streets of the big city. The media find them a good subject for reality shows and as it turns out, they are no better than the other exploiters who offer free meals in exchange of comprehensive interviews that will project their hapless lives to media targets.

Bed scene from "Pamilya Ordinaryo." Sensuality as relief from day-today struggles.

Bed scene from “Pamilya Ordinaryo.” Sensuality as relief from day-today struggles.

Indeed, they are prey to assorted exploiters like this con woman who claims to be the snatcher’s mother and without so much as by-your-leave, asks for fare money going to the provinces to help couple locate an erring son. Meanwhile, they get assorted text messages after their appeal is aired on radio. One of which leads them to a gated subdivision but alas, young mother’s instinct tells her it is not her own baby.

The film’s basic appeal is its honesty as it once again dissects present Philippine society as seen in the sidewalks of Metro Manila. For the nth time, you see another sample of police shenanigan exemplified by actor Mengie Cobarrubias whose character asks young mother to demonstrate how she feeds her baby. In this scene, you get the sexual history of the teen mother who ended up in the streets after fleeing from an uncaring family.

For what it is, the film is a well-acted one starting from the ensemble of actors from lower depth to the lead actors who didn’t look like actors but as true-to-life sample of desolate figures of urban blight.

Martin as Aries carves a sensitive portrayal of a teen father who must steal and by turns, sell his body to feed a family. His is a classic figure of exploitation and of warped innocence.

Hasmine Killip as Jane is a natural actor who didn’t have to act for the camera. Her image on the CCTV camera authenticates her role in real life and she does it with cold, if, relentless authenticity. There was never any scene in the movie where she was out of character. She is Jane the teen mother the very moment camera unlocks her character.

Roy is a good storyteller and his own unique style that may not suit the conventional expectations of mainstream audiences.

Team 'Pamilya Ordinaryo': Director Eduardo Roy, Jr., stars Ronwaldo Martin and Hasmine Killip and producers Almond Derla and Ferdinand Lapuz in Venice after winning the Venice Days' BNL Audience Award. (Photo posted by Ferdinand Lapuz on his Facebook page)

Team ‘Pamilya Ordinaryo’: Director Eduardo Roy, Jr., stars Ronwaldo Martin and Hasmine Killip and producers Almond Derla and Ferdinand Lapuz in Venice after winning the Venice Days’ BNL Audience Award. (Photo posted by Ferdinand Lapuz on his Facebook page)

The film ends abruptly precisely to capture a young couple’s predicament but audiences in that screening found a story ending too soon.

But it doesn’t distract from the fact that it is a well-made film full of uncomfortable truths about what passes for the straight path (“tuwid na daan”) in this our politics-ridden country.

It deserves its Grade A rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board and is headed for the Venice Film Festival.

“Pamilya Ordinaryo” directed by Eduardo Roy, Jr. is still showing in some cinemas.

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CAMILLE LOPEZ MOLINA, NAJIB ISMAIL AT AYALA MUSEUM SEPTEMBER 15

View from the Wing
CAMILLE LOPEZ MOLINA, NAJIB ISMAIL AT AYALA MUSEUM SEPTEMBER 15

by Pablo A. Tariman

Some of the soprano’s hectic weeks are like scenes from the Meryl Streep starrer, “Florence Foster Jenkins” which enjoyed a hilarious run in Metro Manila.

Soprano Camille Lopez Molina. She loves the many hats she wears: mother, wife, teacher and soprano.

Soprano Camille Lopez Molina. She loves the many hats she wears: mother, wife, teacher and soprano.

One day, she is coaching students, another day she drives to Baguio City with her Viva Voce ensemble to mount a localized version of La Boheme, another day she is watching concert with her husband, tenor Pablo Molina and another day, she is the compleat mother doting over her fast growing children. She just came from an opera club convention in Jakarta and quickly accommodated an interview just a few days before her Ayala Museum recital with pianist Najib Ismail.

Of the many hats she wears, she explains to the Inquirer: “They’re all full-time jobs, and I’m committed to all of them. There really is no compromise, because compromise just makes everything so boring. I sing, I teach, my kids love music and my husband teaches with me. Our students come to our house and are part of the family. When I’m working, I’m all business, but at the same time, I make the effort to personally connect with everybody because again, that makes all I do worth the effort. So my kids know when I mean business, my students know that I’m here for them. And through all that, I have to sing because that’s what I do.”

There is a big difference singing now and way back when she was younger, and in her own words, there was a quest to prove what I can do. “Now, I just do what I do,” she says.

For another, she has stopped analyzing her voice but always conscious of what it can do and can’t. “I think it’s more of my attitude towards my voice that has evolved. But of course, physically my vocal folds (as well as the rest of me) has matured. Mostly I think I’m done wrestling what sound I can from my throat. Now my voice and I are real friends and we work in tandem.”

Camille Lopez Molina with Najib Ismail: they have 20 full years of artistic collaboration. (Photo: Angel Nacino)

Camille Lopez Molina with Najib Ismail: they have 20 full years of artistic collaboration. (Photo: Angel Nacino)

In another setting, she is full-time mother to Beatriz,12; Sofia,10 and Java, 2.

Yes, motherhood had somehow complimented her life as an artist. “Emotions have become more varied, clearer and layered. Nothing is black and white. Everything has meaning, the important things are easier to prioritize, and the unimportant can more easily be set aside.”

She looks forward to performing with pianist Najib Ismail with whom she has a long history of fruitful collaborations. “Well, our birthdays are one day apart. And we’ve been performing together for more than 20 years. We know each other really well, how we work, what we love doing, how we get into the music. It’s really very easy, and we often joke after one rehearsal ‘O concert na bukas!’ because usually even on the first reading, magkadikit na kami. E di tapos na ang trabaho!”

She can’t stop gushing about Meryl Streep who portrayed a diva wannabe in the film, “Florence Foster Jenkins. She loved the film and was moved to tears by the portrayal of La Streep. “I loved the film. I think all of my musician and singer friends shed a tear, or in my case, a bucket. When the intro of the song ‘When I Have Sung My Songs To You’ started, I thought I felt my throat close. You know that final scene in Traviata when Violetta suddenly feels as if all pain has left her and she is well and the music starts to rise and swell and it almost seems as if she’s really going to live – that’s what came to my head. That final scene in the film where Florence is wearing her angel wings and she’s finally singing beautifully to a cheering audience – That was really operatic.”

The finale song in “Florence Jenkins” she will actually sing for the first time in her September 17 recital. “I always assign this song to students because it’s beautiful in its directness and simplicity.”

Camille Lopez Molina (not facing camera) with her Viva Voce in Baguio City. Teaching, coaching and singing enrich her musical life. Photo: Elizabeth Lolarga)

Camille Lopez Molina (not facing camera) with her Viva Voce in Baguio City. Teaching, coaching and singing enrich her musical life. Photo: Elizabeth Lolarga)

(Camille Lopez Molina’s September 17 – 7 pm — Ayala Museum concert with Najib Ismail called “Love in Chiaroscuro” will feature songs like Richard Wagner’s heartwarming portrayal of love in Wessendonk Song, Ernst Charles’ “When I Have Sung My Songs to You”; Ponce’s “Estrellita”, Mascagni’s “Son pochi fiori,” among others. For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or MCO foundation at 997-9483, 782-7164 or cel. no. 0920-9540053 and 0918-347-3027. The 2016 MCO Foundation series is made possible through partnership with Ayala Museum, Lyric Piano and DZFE.FM 98.7 The Master’s Touch.)

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LAV DIAZ’S LATEST CINEMA CONQUEST AND THE FILIPINO ARTIST

View From The Wings
LAV DIAZ’S LATEST CINEMA CONQUEST AND THE FILIPINO ARTIST

By Pablo A. Tariman
Photos by Baby K. Jimenez

Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz gave Philippine cinema another shining moment when his “The Woman Who Left” (Ang Babaeng Humayo) emerged the recipient of the 73rd Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion best picture award.

The lead actors and director of "Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left) at the 73rd Venice Film Festival. Triple triumph for Lav Diaz in less than two years. (Photo: Baby K. Jimenez)

The lead actors and director of “Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left) at the 73rd Venice Film Festival. Triple triumph for Lav Diaz in less than two years. (Photo: Baby K. Jimenez)

For the record, it is the first South East Asian film to win the Best Picture trophy in the oldest film festival in the world.

Earlier, Diaz won the 2008 Orrizonti grand prize in the same festival for his 8-hour film “Melancholia,” which deals with activists who disappeared for activities critical of the government.

The festival’s artistic director Alberto Barbera said that this year’s films spoke about universal themes but took a more subtle and less graphic approach to depict day-to-day life, violence and poverty than in previous editions. “The great themes, philosophical and existential questions…this time are approached with filmmakers taking a distance from the brutality of reality. So there are no more scenes of everyday life or footage of today’s wars, but the great themes are still there. It is not an escape from the contemporary world, it is used as a way to reflect on today’s world in a different way.”

For the 57-year old filmmaker, it is another triumph in another setting for the Filipino cinema as he earlier received the Golden Leopard at the 2014 Locarno International Film Festival for his film Mula sa Kung Ano Ang Noon which was about the childhood his memories two years prior to the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines in 1972.

At the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival with a distinguished jury headed by no less than Meryl Streep, his film “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis” (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) was awarded the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Award.

Also shot in black and white and lasting nearly four hours “Woman Who Left” was praised by Variety critic Guy Lodge as a “powerful and, by his [Diaz’s] standards, refreshingly contained moral study.”

The film is a revenge drama about the struggle of a wrongly convicted schoolteacher (played by Charo Santos) in the outside world after 30 years behind bars.

Charo Santos, John Lloyd Cruz and Nonie Buencamino as the characters in the award-winning Lav Diaz film. Another great moment for Filipino cinema.

Charo Santos, John Lloyd Cruz and Nonie Buencamino as the characters in the award-winning Lav Diaz film. Another great moment for Filipino cinema.

The award-winning film is in black and white and runs for close to four hours and it might as well be Diaz’s statement on the horrible state of Philippine penitentiary and the country’s justice system. To prepare for her come back role, lead star Charo Santos said she visited women incarcerated in Philippine prisons. The film is about a woman (Charo Santos) who spent 30 years in prison for a crime she did not commit. It is inspired by a Tolstoy short story, God Sees The Truth But Waits.

(As we write this, the social media is awash with tweets of London critic Guy Lodge who declared that Emma Stone’s win (as best actress) was a mirage; ‘Woman Who Left’ star Charo Santos is the real Oscar frontrunner.)

Moreover, Diaz’s triumph was reminiscent of the reception given to Brilliante Mendoza’s Nora Aunor starrer, “Thy Womb” in the 69th Venice Film Festival.

Unknown to many, a Filipino film entitled “Genghis Khan” directed by Manuel Conde made it to the 1952 Venice Film Festival and was cited for outstanding technical achievement. It starred Manuel Conde as Genghis Khan, Elvira Reyes as Princess Lei Hai, Lou Salvador, Jr. as Burchou along with Andres Centenera, Darmo Von Fraser Acosta, Tony S. Cruz, Don Dano, Africa dela Rosa, Jose Villafranca, Inday Jalandoni, J. Monteiro and Ric Bustamante, among others.

In the US version of “Genghis Khan” distributed by United Artists, film critic and screen writer James Agee was the narrator. The landmark Filipino film was also screened at the 1952 Edinburgh Film Festival where it received good reviews.

Genghis Khan was restored and was also screened along with Ishmael Bernal’s “Himala” in the 69th Venice film festival.

To be sure, other Filipino filmmakers earlier made a mark in the same film fest.

In 2009, Filipino filmmaker Jose “Pepe” Diokno won the Orizzonti Prize for his 61-minute opus entitled, “Engkwentro” which only merited a special mention in the Manila-based Cinemalaya film fest. In the same film fest edition, Diokno also ran away with the Luigi de Laurentiis Lion of the Future award which had a $100,000 cash prize.

Before the 1952 Venice film fest, a Filipino bass baritone by the name of Jose Mossesgeld Santiago was making waves at the famous Venice landmark — the Teatro La Fenice where he sang major roles in such operas as Norma and La Gioconda, among others.

Noted Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi has a long association with Teatro La Fenice starting with a performance of Ernani in 1844. The next thirteen years thereafter saw the world premiere at La Fenice of such operas as Attila, Rigoletto, La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra.

Born in San Miguel de Mayumo in Bulacan, Jose Mossesgeld Santiago also became the first Filipino to sing at La Scala di Milan in the role of Sparafucile in the opera Rigoletto in the 1931-32 season.

By and large, Diaz’s latest artistic triumph in cinema is a testimony to the depth and peerless quality of the Filipino talent.

Like it or not, it is an award of a lifetime reminiscent of pianist Cecile Licad’s Leventritt Gold Medal and Lea Salonga’s Tony and Sir Lawrence Olivier awards.

Here’s hoping the government will turn to the Filipino artists for inspiration even as its hands are full in the relentless anti-drug operations.

Lav Diaz being interviewed by the film fest media. Venice is abuzz with talks that Charo Santos is the real front runner in the coming Oscar Awards.

Lav Diaz being interviewed by the film fest media. Venice is abuzz with talks that Charo Santos is the real front runner in the coming Oscar Awards.

The only words the director Lav Diaz could say to the Venice film fest jury headed by Sam Mendes was: “This is for my country, for the Filipino people, for our struggle and the struggle of humanity.”

At the moment, the lonely voice of the Filipino artists is perhaps represented by violinist Chino Gutierrez who – in an interview with this writer — relayed his message to the country’s new leader thus: ““Mr. President, classical music may seem galaxies away from drugs and crime. But I assure you – it is just as relevant. As Pablo Picasso once said: ‘Art washes away the dust of everyday life.’ Please, give our classical musicians a chance to flourish and be competitive in the international scene. Simply put: make funds more readily available for studies both locally and abroad, and help them secure better instruments. Give them the wings to fly, and they will bring our country places.”

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