Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Netflix: Review of DEAD KIDS: Underdog Uprising

December 3, 2019



Mikhail Red's "Birdshot" (2016) was the first Filipino film to stream on the Netflix platform. There had since been several other Filipino films to reach worldwide viewership this way. This year, Red goes one step further with his latest film "Dead Kids," which gains the distinction as the first Filipino film to be produced by Netflix. This had its world premiere last November 17, 2019 as the closing film of the recent Cinema One Originals film festival. Two days ago, it made its Netflix debut.

The title "Dead Kids" refer to outcasts or unpopular kids in school, those who are don't exist to the other students. The story refers to a gang of such kids: the serious leader Blanco, the wacky joker Paolo, the vaping Chinese nerd Yu and their new recruit, poor scholar Mark Sta. Ana. Tired of being tormented by popular rich kid Chuck Santos, the boys hatch a plot to kidnap the bully and demand a sizable ransom from his drug lord father. Once their nefarious plan gets going though, they realize how much they were in over their heads.

This is another one of those youth-themed films showing their shenanigans in school. While these could be very entertaining for young people, for parents they paint disconcerting pictures of what they don't see after they drop their kids off every morning. We have seen these tropes before -- the bullies, the mean girls, the nerds, the massage parlor, the dance clubs. However, this one took things further with a particularly violent turn which made it all the more disturbing for everyone. 

Admittedly, the actors may look older than typical senior high school students, but they all brought their A-games to their roles. They were all very natural in their portrayal of youthful recklessness. Vance Larena looked dangerously volatile with his big baleful eyes reflecting issues jumbled around inside Blanco's head. Khalil Ramos was too effective at being the annoying jerk that Paolo was, you'd want to shut that noisy mouth of his yourself. New actor Kelvin Miranda pulled off the misfit naivete required of the central role of Mark very well. 

Among the girls, Sue Ramirez had prominent billing, but her character, the smart girl Janina, was largely sidelined and undeveloped. Instead, it was actually Gabby Padilla who got to join in the action more as Paolo's nosy girlfriend Yssa.

With energetic camera work and edgy musical score, director Mikhail Red succeeded to create a nihilistic milieu in which the underdogs attempt the unthinkable to extract revenge and extort money at the same time. He could have pushed the outrageous concept into further depths of violence, but wisely elected to still keep things grounded in reality. Part one of the caper may have looked a bit too easy to pull off, but Red made sure the rest of the plan would not just come together that conveniently for the boys. The suspense and tension of the final outcome will keep viewers hanging on to the very end. 7/10.


Netflix: Review of THE IRISHMAN: A Driver's Deadly Destiny

December 2, 2019



Martin Scorsese's latest film epic is based on the 2004 book "I Heard You Paint Houses" by lawyer Charles Brandt, written based on his interviews of the titular Irishman himself, Frank Sheeran. "Painting houses" was a Mafia euphemism for murdering people, with "paint" referring to the blood that gets splattered on the walls or floor when someone got shot. 

Frank Sheeran started off as a driver of meat products which included deliveries to members of the Italian mob in Philadelphia. From there, he was introduced to Northern Pennsylvania crime boss Russell Buffalino, who used Sheeran for more hardcore jobs, like assassinations. Later, Sheeran was also introduced to James Hoffa, leader of the Teamsters, the most influential labor union of his day. When caught within an internal conflict between these two powerful men, Sheeran's loyalty was put to the ultimate test.

This film was yet another cinematic work about American gangsters by Martin Scorsese, a director who will always be remembered for similarly themed films like "Mean Streets" (1973), "Casino" (1995) and of course, his masterpiece "Goodfellas" (1990). Robert de Niro was Scorsese's star of all these famous films, and this acclaimed actor of Irish-Italian descent takes center stage again in "The Irishman." This massive project reunites de Niro with Joe Pesci and Al Pacino -- a dream triumvirate of actors for the ideal gangster film.

While Robert de Niro played the central character Frank Sheeran, he was playing a man who was working merely under orders of the powers that be. By playing mainly a subservient character, De Niro himself was frequently overshadowed by Pesci and Pacino who were playing the more interesting, larger-than-life characters, Russ Buffalino and Jimmy Hoffa. De Niro's best scenes here were in that tension-filled sequence of Russ and Frank driving to the airport so Frank can take a private jet to Detroit to meet Jimmy. Those mostly wordless scenes were suffused with such nail-biting suspense, it can get unbearable.

I heard Joe Pesci had to be coaxed out of retirement to accept this role as Russ. He was one of the busiest character actors of the 1990s, but had been inactive since the turn of the new century. He looked very different now from how I remember him in his most popular role as the bumbling crook Harry in "Home Alone" (1990) or his Oscar-winning role as the volatile Tommy in "GoodFellas." However, Pesci's power as an actor never diminished. Even in the quiet moments, his Russ emanated authority and absolute control. 

Al Pacino had the showiest role of the three as Jimmy Hoffa, the only historical personality whose name I recognized. Yes, like the film mentioned, I only remember the name of Hoffa as a union leader who disappeared without a trace, and nothing more, so it was informative to learn more about him here. Pacino played him loud, intimidating and flamboyant, a stickler for rules and unafraid to speak his mind to anyone. Whenever he was onscreen, Pacino drew all the attention to him because of the sheer charisma of his character. 

Scorsese's collaborators on this film were all topnotch. The script was written by Steve Zaillian, noted for his Oscar-winning screenplay of "Schindler's List" and another Scorsese epic "Gangs of New York". The film editing was by Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese's editor for all his films since "Raging Bull", winning an Oscar with that, "The Aviator" and "The Departed"). The cinematography was by Rodrigo Prieto, known for his work on "Brokeback Mountain," "Babel" and Scorsese's own "Silence." The musical score was by Robbie Robertson, who was Scorsese's music producer in most of his films since "Raging Bull".

This Martin Scorsese opus may be lengthy at 209 minutes (3-1/2 hours) but it was always engrossing and engaging, not boring at all. While watching it whole in one sitting is the best way to appreciate it, watching this on Netflix may prove difficult to do in one sitting with all the distractions at home. However, the episodic treatment of Sheeran's life events made it alright for me to watch it with a few reasonable breaks, and still not lose the compelling power of Scorsese's storytelling. His major casting coup of getting De Niro, Pesci and Pacino to act together in one big movie was worth every dollar and every minute. 9/10. 


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Review of KNIVES OUT: Confounding Conundrum

December 1, 2019




I grew up enjoying those Agatha Christie murder mystery movies like "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974 and 2017) and "Death on the Nile" (1978) and other similar themed films, like "Last of Sheila" (1973), "Clue" (1985), "Gosford Park" (2001) and even "Murder Mystery" (2019). The elements of the plot are generally similar. Someone is murdered in a confined place. Everyone there had a credible motive, so whodunit?

Millionaire mystery writer Harlan Thrombey gathered his family in his remote mansion to celebrate his 85th birthday. In attendance were his centenarian mother Wanetta, eldest daughter Linda (with her husband Richard Drysdale and son Hugh Ransom), son Walter (his wife Donna and son Jacob) and daughter-in-law Joni (with her daughter Meg). His personal nurse Marta Cabrera was also on hand to give him his nightly injections of ketorolac (given at a very high dose of 100 mg - - a glaring medical goof) and morphine. 

The morning after the party, the housekeeper Fran discovered Harlan dead in his room with his neck slit. Aside from the local police, famous private detective Benoit Blanc had also been anonymously hired to investigate the case. While the initial cause of death was thought to be suicide, personal motives for wanting to kill Harlan among the family members crop up under questioning. After Harlan's will was read, the shocking provision of the will caused the tension of the situation to go into full chaos. 

Daniel Craig played the Hercule Poirot-inspired private eye Benoit Blanc tongue-in-cheek with that affected Southern drawl, probably distinguish this character from his more famous character James Bond. Every actor in the all-star cast -- Jamie Lee Curtis (as Linda), Don Johnson (as Richard), Chris Evans (as Ransom), Michael Shannon (as Walt), Toni Collette (as Joni) and Christopher Plummer (as Harlan) -- were hamming it up like crazy, it was a lot of fun to watch. Caught in the middle of all that family madness was Ana de Armas as the mousy nurse Marta (whose country of origin changed every time it was brought up). Muppet and Yoda meister Frank Oz appeared in a cameo as Harlan's attorney.

With obvious reverence to Dame Agatha Christie, writer-director Rian Johnson has crafted a neat little mystery that got more and more complicated along the way. Despite knowing beforehand some inside information that even Detective Blanc did not know yet, the viewer will still keep on guessing whodunit right up to the final revelation of the full solution. While the cast played it up in high camp fashion for entertaining effect, Johnson unraveled his mystery story masterfully, with suspense and logic fully intact. 8/10.


Saturday, November 30, 2019

C1 ORIGINALS 2019: Reviews of SILA-SILA and TIA MADRE

November 30, 2019

SILA-SILA


Gabriel took off to work in Cagayan de Oro for a whole year, and never communicated with any of his friends back in Manila in that whole time. When he came back to Manila, a high school batch reunion made it necessary for Gabriel to reconnect with everyone he left behind, including his best friends Kev and Nicole, and his ex-boyfriend Jared. This reintegration process was not going to be easy for Gabriel. 

The cast is composed mainly of theater actors. Gio Gahol was on the screen almost 100% of the time as Gabriel, and he never once lost his troubled character. Topper Fabregas felt as if he was being just himself and not really acting as he played the sensitive Jared. Phi Palmos came across naturally and sincerely as boisterous best friend Kev. Writer-director Dwein Baltazar now also adds actress to her resume, playing quirky girl Nicole. Bart Guingona played Gabriel's married sugar daddy. Meann Espinosa played Gabriel's chatty co-worker at the education NGO. Adrienne Vergara was extraordinarily shrill as rich girl Linda. Boo Gabunada and Jasmin Curtis Smith were only seen in a single scene each, yet they certainly made their presence felt as a pothead driver and Jared's younger sister respectively.

Director Giancarlo Abrahan has an expertise with talky films about relationships. "Dagitab" was about the relationship of husband and wife. "Paki" was about elderly mother and her adult children. "Sila Sila" is the first film Abrahan directed which he did not write himself. This incisive and witty script was the first work by Daniel Saniana, and it won deservedly won him the Best Screenplay award. This film was a very frank depiction of a modern gay relationship. While its scenes of sexual nature may not be comfortable to everyone, the character flaws and the quirks tackled in this film can be seen in any relationship. 7/10.


*****



TIA MADRE

Camille Montenegro was 10 years old when her mother brought her back to their old ancestral house in the province. Her Mother was much older woman, probably in her fifties. She was disorganized, moody and depressed, rarely showing any affection for Camille, spending her days smoking, drinking or having a casual dalliance with a neighbor. Daughter harbored a dark obsession with enchanted creatures, a departed elder sister and a mysterious woman taking over her mother's person, which peaked with a violent outburst at school. 

This was a dreadfully dismal movie as intended by writer-director Eve Baswel in her feature film debut. We are watching a mentally-unstable middle-aged woman wreak her terrible brand of abuse on her impressionable young daughter, and it was a very unnerving experience. There were several weird photography and soundtrack choices that give a surreal atmosphere. The horror here is psychological, so there was a blurring of boundaries of what was real, imagined or any version in between. Watching this can give you a headache in more ways than one -- brutal stuff.

Cherie Gil had been the archetypal villain in Philippine cinema since 1985 when she played bitchy Lavinia Arguelles and splashed the contents of that wine glass on virtuous Dorina Pineda's face. She totally deglamorized herself and went all out unhinged contravida in this latest role of hers as she wreaked torturous anguish on her child's vulnerable psyche. Now if that child had the adorable face of Jana Agoncillo, this mother's blatant neglect and was even more cruel and unforgivable. I hope Agoncillo was debriefed properly after portraying this traumatic role, a sadistic challenge to foist on any child. I do not think it was worth the potential psychological scars. 4/10. 


Review of THE HEIRESS: Scion of Sorcery

November 29, 2019



When I first heard of the title, it called to my mind a classic 1949 American drama film which won for Olivia de Havilland a best actress award. Its story about a rich but homely heiress and her handsome but poor suitor was remade in Filipino as "Ikaw Pa Lang ang Minahal" starring Maricel Soriano as the heiress Adela. However, the trailers soon made it clear that this new film was of the horror genre and had nothing to do with the first, but it was interesting that Maricel Soriano was also starring in it.

Guia (Janella Salvador) was a young woman who grew up under the care of her strict, old-fashioned aunt Luna (Maricel Soriano). As Guia's 18th birthday approached on the coming Good Friday, a malevolent ghost, appearing as an elderly woman dressed in black,made herself felt in their old house, wreaking terror to ensure the delivery of a promised offering. Meanwhile, Guia's limited world view was being changed by her friend in school Renz (McCoy de Leon) and the surprise homecoming of her mother (Sunshine Cruz). 

It was not really a surprise that Luna, with her dark dowdy long dresses, severe braided hairstyle and shelves full of herbal medicine, was a sort of local folk sorcerer called "mambabarang" (a Filipino brand of voodoo), and a powerful one at that. In an early scene, after their landlady Yolly (Lotlot Bustamante) threatened eviction for delayed rent payment, Luna whispered incantations while manipulating a doll to cause the poor woman's death. 

Maricel Soriano's last dramatic role in a feature film was at least eight years ago in the Jun Lana film "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow" (2011) which won her the Best Actress award in the Metro Manila Filmfest that year. Since then, she only had occasional film projects in the past few years, all in silly comedies like "Momzillas" (2013), "Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy" (2013) and "My 2 Mommies" (2018). 

This new film brings her back to a serious lead role, but this one is rather heavily stylized in over-the-top horror mannerisms in terms of acting style and line delivery. Every time Luna appeared on screen, her presence always had to be accompanied by eerie music to emphasize her evil. I felt Soriano did not really need all these in-your-face embellishments to establish her intimidating presence. 

Janella Salvador played the title character Guia, who was indeed an heiress, but her inheritance was not exactly monetary in nature. Her fresh beauty still shone through even in those scenes where she was supposed to be a plain mousy girl with an old maid's wardrobe. It was odd that only McCoy de Leon's character Renz who noticed her at all. Story-wise, if the evil spirit Mamalarang wanted Guia to join her coven, it was not clear why the girl was being scared off, instead of being enticed in. 

After a long absence from the silver screen, Sunshine Cruz is back in a second film this year after "Malamaya." Here she played Guia's absentee mother Carmen who suddenly came home to claim her daughter, running counter to Luna's plans. Unfortunately for Cruz, it was her character who had the most questionable, and even downright wrong, decisions. Also, despite the fact that she was away from the country for all those years, yet it seemed so easy for her to locate old Apo Digos (Dido dela Paz) for help. 

The best scenes for me were those showing Luna's ability to bilocate, which were well-executed to create viewer confusion. The production design of Luna's secret room was also commendable, meticulously filled with all sorts of creepy sorcery paraphernalia from wall to wall. It was good to see the future Darna Jane de Leon as the young Luna, depicting why and how she embraced the powers of sorcery. 

Director Frasco Mortiz's major highlights were those grisly scenes of remote-control sorcery showing the victims' excruciating ordeal of being ripped limb from limb which left their bodies in a distorted mess. The editing, visual effects, sound effects and musical score all came together well in these scenes, but for me, watching them evoked pain more than fear. Also, the face of the evil Mamalarang (Naya Amores) was shown close-up too early in the film, right in the opening sequence. Her scare factor diminished with her multiple subsequent appearances. 5/10. 


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Review of UNBREAKABLE: Melange of Melodrama

November 28, 2019




It was 2005. A couple of 18 year-old college girls became best of friends. Mariel Salvador (Bea Alonzo) was a responsible, studious, straight-as-an-arrow IT student. Her direct opposite Deena Yambao (Angelica Pangilinan) was an impulsive, emotional, can't-live-without-a-boyfriend type who kept on shifting majors. They vowed that absolutely nothing was going to break their friendship, as they compared themselves to Deena's pair in her ample bosom, Chestina and Chabelina.

Fast forward to 2012. Mariel was going to marry wealthy photographer and businessman Justin Saavedra (Richard Gutierrez). Deena came home from her work as a nurse in Norway to be maid of honor at the wedding, and met Justin's older brother Bene (Ian Veneracion), with whom she hit right off. While the Saavedra matriarch Helen (Gloria Diaz) disliked Mariel, she loved Deena a lot. This was just the first of several conflicts which began to drive a wedge deeper and deeper into their "unbreakable" friendship.

There isn't any doubt that Bea Alonzo and Angelica Panganiban are in top form in their game as leading ladies. They play off each other very well, both in the happy moments and sad moments, but it was especially during those uncomfortable and awkward moments that they really shine. Both Mariel and Deena have their respective big character flaws, and when they clash in a scene, Alonzo and Panganiban made sure sparks fly. Yes, some situations and lines can get incredibly corny, but the all-out dedicated performances of these two actresses kept the film engaging and afloat on even keel. 

Richard Gutierrez had a challenging role as Justin, whose character was torn between passion and duty. He delivered credibly, even as his character arc was predictable. As for Ian Veneracion, he certainly prevailed over his smaller role and limited screen time. Bene's sheer perfection made the character scene-stealing and memorable, especially vis-a-vis Justin's faults. Gloria Diaz was very effective as the mother-in-law from hell, in Mariel's point of view that is. Rosanna Roces was underused as Mariel's supportive mother Janice, but she did have a couple of lines delivered with her signature bite. 

From beginning to end of this film, practically every problem in the book of relationship plots (involving friends, spouses, in-laws) was thrown into the mix to come up with this 2 hour-long melange of such pure melodrama which was all so contrived and so convoluted that it ended up actually being so entertaining. Director Mae Cruz-Alviar never allowed the story to sag, coming up with another new, more difficult complication to challenge their friendship even further. It was so neat to notice how even the smallest details mentioned fell right into place in the overall story. 7/10. 


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Review of COUNTDOWN: Defying Death

November 27, 2019



A mobile phone app called "Countdown" rapidly became viral because it claimed to tell the exact amount of time down to the very second that someone had left to live. People thought this was all fun and games, until their friends began dying on the exact time that the app predicted. Furthermore, if they try to change the circumstances which was supposed to cause their death, a demon will come and finish the job off. 

Nurse Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail), her younger sister Jordan (Talitha Bateman) and new friend Matt Monroe (Jordan Calloway) were all told by their respective Countdown apps that they barely had one day to live. They interview Fr. John (P.J. Byrne), a Catholic priest expert on curses and demons, in a desperate effort to break the curse of the app before their predicted time of death comes.

Horror movies featuring its young adult characters dying off one by one had been a common sub-genre on its own. Perhaps beginning with "Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984), many neophyte young actors and actresses made their big-screen debuts as victims in films like "Scream" (1996), "I Know What You Did Last Summer" (1997), "Final Destination" (2000), and all their sequels. Recently, there had been films like "Cabin in the Woods" (2011), "It Follows" (2014), and "Truth or Dare" (2018). 

The premise of this new one was actually very interesting since it dealt with piece of technology which we all had on hand -- our cell phones, with the myriad of apps we have on it. Once an app becomes viral, everyone wants to try it out, be they games or social media platforms. It is not impossible that an app that could predict one's exact moment of death could actually become viral in real life. As morbid as it sounds, people will be curious and find it fun, unmindful of the psychological torture of seeing the length of time you have left.

TV actors Elizabeth Lail (best known for her role in the stalker drama "You") and Jordan Calloway (from the cast of Nickelodeon sitcom "Unfabulous") make for attractive lead characters. The romance aspect between them seemed forced in, but at the same time predictable. The film even tried to squeeze in a sexual harassment angle involving an extra-amorous doctor played by Peter Facinelli (known best for playing Dr. Carlisle Cullen in "Twilight"). The comic relief came mainly from the hyper-excitable Catholic priest and curse expert played by P.J. Byrne. 

Of course, there are the typical horror movie cliches, like bravely venturing out into the dark, hiding under the bed covers, investigating strange noises in the closet, and more. However, that you can see exactly the countdown on how much time a character had left to live did give a sense of tension on how exactly he was going to die at that moment. The long suspenseful set-ups would suddenly end in a jump scare, most of which were startling. Being rated PG, the deaths were not graphically depicted. This was actually a fun watch, not as bad as you may think. 6/10. 


Monday, November 25, 2019

Review of FROZEN II: Elemental Enchantment

November 24, 2019



It is difficult to believe that it had been 6 years since "Frozen" (MY REVIEW) was the biggest hit movie of 2013, and became an animated classic. It had a number catchy songs in its soundtrack, Like " Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" and "Love is an Open Door." But one song became a true musical phenomenon of our time -- the anthem celebrating Elsa's emancipation, "Let It Go." The ending of that film was so different from the usual Disney princess movie that it made such a big impact on its viewers. 

When Queen Elsa responded to a mysterious voice calling out to her, she awakened spirits of air, water, fire and air which caused a forced evacuation of Arendelle. Along with iceman Kristoff, his reindeer Sven and lovable snowman Olaf, Elsa and Anna went off into the unknown to seek out places they only heard from their parents in their bedtime stories -- the mist-enshrouded enchanted forest of the Northuldra people and the river of Ahtohallan which told secrets of the past. There, the sisters learned more about their parents's love story and about Elsa's power with ice.

If the original "Frozen" was already quite bold in its plot and its storytelling, this sequel is darker and more mature than the first. There were very many kids in the audience when we watched, but I only heard them laughing out loud in a few scenes, mostly those with Olaf and his silly antics. Other than those, most of the story -- about the history of Arendelle, old King Runeard, how King Agnarr and Queen Iduna met, the conflict between Arendelle and the Northuldra tribe -- were certainly not kiddie stuff and needed parental guidance.

The songs were also more serious-sounding and less catchy than the songs in the first film, with only two notable exceptions. The first is "Into the Unknown," with its LSS-inducing serial escalation of notes while singing the title line in the chorus. This was the only song most people knew prior to watching the film because it was heard in the trailers, and there was already a pop version by Panic! at the Disco released to radio as well. Honestly though, I cannot really recall the verses of the song now, aside from that chorus is pure earworm.

The only other song that made a memorable impact for me was "Lost in the Woods." The melody of this song was a throwback to the love ballads of the 80s and 90s, with hilarious cheesy lyrics professing Kristoff's love for Anna. The whole sequence of Kristoff singing this song was also reminiscent of old MTV videos with those classic sun-lit close-ups shots.  The whole thing was so corny and cringy, it was laugh-out-loud funniest part of the whole film for me. The pop version by Weezer sung over the closing credits was likewise catchy.

Many people have said that this sequel was better than the original, but I can't say I totally agree with that assessment. Both were excellent in their own ways. The quality of the animation of the elements here was truly spellbinding, especially with its rendering of water -- from Elsa taming the elegant water horse, Anna and Olaf navigating the river where the giant ape-like earth spirits lay, to the torrential rampaging of water towards Arendelle. That adorable little lizard-like fire spirit is sure to have many fans. It is entirely possible that this sequel might just win the same Oscar for Animated Feature that the first film won, the first time this will ever happen. 8/10. 



Saturday, November 23, 2019

Review of 21 BRIDGES: Clampdown for Cop-Killers

November 22, 2019




Two petty crooks, Michael Trujillo (Stephan James) and Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch) got more than they bargained for when what should have been a routine job to steal some cocaine from a restaurant ended with them killing eight police officers who just so happened to all be at the scene of their robbery. 

Investigators called on to handle the case were led by internal affairs officer Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman), who immediately called a lockdown of Manhattan Island by closing off all 21 bridges that led in and out of it. The superior of the dead cops, Captain McKenna, (J.K. Simmons) assigned narc officer Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller) to back Davis up. 

This looked like it was going to be a great police thriller when I first saw the trailer. "Black Panther" Chadwick Boseman played Officer Andre Davis, a dead-serious police officer who was not averse to taking extreme measures to make sure the perpetrators do not get away. However, he did not have to sweat too much to figure out who the criminals were since they were positively identified by a single random witness from a single screenshot of a traffic video. I felt this was lazy and too contrived of a coincidence. 

To be fair, the action sequences of this film (mostly shootouts and chases) were executed well and were entertaining. Boseman and James stood out among the actors in the cast in both dramatic and action scenes, while some were too hammy (especially Kitsch and Miller). However, there were too many obvious clues even from the initial cocaine robbery scene which already pretty much telegraphed how the narrative was going to go -- and it did go exactly as I predicted, twist and all. 

Actually, the whole conceit of the title, the total close-down of all 21 bridges to isolate an entire island.  It was done as a preventive measure since it was in the wee hours in the morning, it did not affect business in Manhattan. It sounded so sensational, I was expecting a bigger group of criminals, not just two small-time crooks. However, it was not really involved in the plot, except to limit the time that Davis had to catch the killers (he had to wind things up by 5 am when Manhattan wakes up). But hey, it worked to bring people in to watch and that is the whole point of a catchy title. I felt letdown when I realized that the thieves will not even be on any one of those bridges. 

The names of "visionary directors" Anthony and Joe Russo were so prominently in the trailers and poster, so I thought this was their next directorial work after "Avengers: End Game." However, as the end credits rolled, the director was actually Brian Kirk, a veteran TV director best known for directing some episodes of "Game of Thrones." Turned out that the Russo brothers were among the producers along with star Chadwick Boseman. 5/10. 


Friday, November 22, 2019

Review of DAMASO: Faults of a Friar

November 21, 2019




Movie producer Ms. Lulu (Aiko Melendez) is asking her in-house director Joey (Nyoy Volante) and scriptwriter Ferdie (Marlo Mortel) to come up with a more profitable follow-up to their last award-winner but box-office dud film. They come up with the idea to make a film centering on Fr. Damaso, a character from the Jose Rizal classic novel "Noli Me Tangere." Outside this movie within the movie, problems of modern society are referred to, such as the issue of family abandonment and OFWs and of drug addicts and EJKs.

When I first saw advertisements about this film online, especially about the iffy choices in the casting of the Noli characters, I was frankly not too excited about watching it. However, when I heard that it was going to be an original musical film (with music and lyrics all by director Joven Tan), that certainly peaked my interest to give it a chance. There are very few original Filipino musical films in our theaters, and for that this deserved our support. 

There was a song right off the bat in the first few minutes of the film, with Nyoy Volante singing "Susunod na Bayani" when he pitched his idea for the next movie to Ms. Lulu. In the next scene, Joey and Ferdie brainstorm while caught in heavy traffic, and Marlo Mortel burst into the song "Pagbabago." Both the song melodies and the singing was very good, so at from that point I was in good spirits about watching this film, no matter how things get.

The "Noli Me Tangere" scenes began like how Rizal's novel began, at a gathering in Kapitan Tiago's (Leo Martinez) house where the guest of honor was Crisostomo Ibarra (Jin Macapagal), who studied in Europe and had now returned home with idealistic plans of building a school. When Ibarra was introduced to Padre Damaso (Arnel Ignacio, without his toupee), the old friar was immediately antagonistic against him, his deceased father Don Rafael, and his relationship with the fair Maria Clara (Riva Quenery). 

Along the way, we get introduced to familiar characters "Noli" characters like Pilosopo Tasyo (Lou Veloso), Sisa (Vina Morales) and her sons Basilio (Noel Comia Jr.) and Crispin (David Joshua Lansang), Elias (EJ Falcon), Dona Victorina (Pinky Amador) and Don Tiburcio (Jon Achaval), Dona Consolacion (Carmi Martin) and Padre Salvi (Mon Confiado). Running parallel is the present day stories of Ferdie and his OFW girlfriend Jenny (Mj Lastimosa), Ms. Lulu's employee Perry (Ketchup Eusebio) and his drug-addict father Lauro (Allan Paule),  and Lulu's friend Ms. San Andres (Irma Adlawan), who was an OFW recruiter. 

Acting by the veteran character actors in the cast was mostly proficient, although some were prone to excess (like Vina Morales and her antiquated "iyak-tawa" portrayal of the Sisa stereotype). Acting neophyte Jin Macapagal's very weak projection as the lead character of Crisostomo Ibarra hampered the energy of this version. That famous scene of Ibarra holding a knife against Damaso's neck had absolutely no fire at all. When I saw the scenes between Macapagal and EJ Falcon (as Elias), I was thinking if it would have been better if they traded roles (or not). 

Despite the title, the film did not really give any additional dimension to Damaso's character. Even his two solo songs "Kung Kayo" and "Ako...Ako...Ako" did not really make any impact on me even if Ignacio was singing these songs himself. On the other hand, the love songs were the best in the soundtrack. Ibarra sang soulful ballads like "Hanggang Dito na lang Tayo" and "Hanggang Dulo" but Macapagal was just lip-synching the voice of Khalil Tambio. The song sung by Jenny to Ferdie over the phone "Konting Tulog na Lang" was beautifully sad, with Mj Lastimosa lip-synching the voice of Emie Conjurado. 

There was sincere effort to faithfully present the Noli story most Filipinos know since high school. The final parts about the fates of Ibarra, Maria Clara and Damaso were played out instead of just narrated in letters as in the book, but it could have been elaborated a bit more since this was new. Budget limitations were evident in the costumes and production design. Most of the time, the director would divert our attention from them by shooting the actors closeup. The quality of the cinematography and sound were better than expected. 

As social commentary, it tried to connect certain scenes in Noli to the present, like how the abusive guardia civil were juxtaposed over the "operation tokhang." There were several subtle and passing digs at the present administration, appreciation of which depends on your politics. The ending smacked of irony, when even after all the OFW issues depicted, the film seemed to say that hope is still found abroad. Overall, I appreciate the Herculean effort of director-writer-composer-lyricist Joven Tan in this passion project of his, although there is still a lot of room for further fine-tuning. 6/10. 


Thursday, November 21, 2019

Review of ADAN: Throwback Tittilation

November 20, 2019




Ellen Sta. Cruz (Rhen Escano) was a blossoming young lady at 16 years old, but her father Lucas (Bembol Roco, Jr.) kept her locked up in their remote cottage near their barren farm after they were abandoned by her mother Mara (Maui Taylor). Her only moments of happiness were those days when her best friend Marian (Cindy Miranda) who worked in town, came for her monthly visits.  

One fateful day marred with blood, Ellen escaped from her father's control, and fled off to live with Marian. In the sultry heat of the summer nights, the two women succumb to the temptations of the flesh between themselves. However, the trail of violence continued as ruthless loan shark Alan (Raffy Tanada) and a lusty policeman Abraham (Epy Quizon) crossed their paths, while paranoia and mistrust take over their relationship. 

This was a story of deep friendship which turned into love, but here, it involved two women. This lesbian scenario is also not commonly tackled in Filipino movies. The most famous example should be "T-Bird at Ako" (1982) especially because it starred superstars Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos. There were a number of indie films about lesbians like "Ned's Project" (2016), "Baka Bukas" (2016) and "Billie and Emma" (2018), but I was not able to watch any of them to compare whether they were as bold as the treatment here in "Adan."

Nowadays we only see sensual dramatic film like this one in indie film festivals, but this one went for a mainstream release, like the ST films of the 1990s. However, recent sexy films (like "Just a Stranger," "Malamaya," "Belle Douleur," "The Annulment") were ironically it was their male partner who would bare more skin than the female lead. Here in "Adan," the two lead actresses generously displayed their bodies in tastefully-photographed sensual scenes with a sort of nostalgic throwback feel, along with other ST film staples like the farm hut, the waterfalls. the mosquito net and the white chemise. 

With her dewy eyes and willowy body, 21-year old Rhen Escano still had the look of an innocent barrio nymphet of 16. On the other hand, the tall lissome Cindy Mercado still looked very much like the confident beauty queen that she was. The camera loved these two ladies, and they looked beautiful together. With no outlet to express herself, Escano's Ellen only had her eyes to reveal her repressed emotions from loneliness to suspicion. After experiencing one trauma after another, Miranda's Marian had eyes which turned from bright to glassy to reflect the abused condition of her person. 

From a story by Yam Laranas and screenplay co-written by Jonison Fontanos, violence was very much an integral part of this film as much as the sex. These murderous scenes were progressive in brutality and bloodiness, though admittedly they were rather contrived in execution. The final scene in the bus was the most unexpected shocker with over-the-top absurdist sensibilities, a la Quentin Tarantino. Co-writer and director Roman Perez, Jr. had a bold vision and went for it full-on, willing to trigger extreme audience reactions, especially with his polarizing love-it-or-hate-it ending. 6/10.