Sunday, January 20, 2019

Review of SAKALING MAGING TAYO: Summoning Serendipity

January 20, 2019

Pol had admired fellow freshman Laya ever since that chance meeting during enrolment time while taking their school ID photo. However, he never did get the guts to confess to her how he felt. On the last day of school, a distraught Laya (who just had a bad breakup with her boyfriend Maui) got into the taxi Pol was driving (actually to driving to watch a concert series that night). He saw this as a serendipitous chance to finally spend some time with and get to know better the biggest crush he had been harboring for the past year. 

McCoy de Leon and Elisse Joson fit right into the roles of Pol and Laya. Being exes in real life must have made the filming of their sweet scenes difficult, but it did not show on the big screen. There was very good chemistry between this young couple and they surely knew how to play up the cutesy romance for the sake of their fans. While I was watching this, I got the feeling that I was watching a younger version of JC Santos and Bela Padilla (as first paired up in "100 Tula Para Kay Stella").

The simple story would have been all over in 20 minutes if Pol had simply brought Laya to the bus station for her trip back to Manila. However, to beef the midsection of the film and make the whole film more entertaining, director JP Habac ("I'm Drunk I Love You") used the device of a game which Pol agreed to play with Laya. Each would pick out a piece of paper from a purse on which was written a crazy dare. These dares ranged from eating a fried day-old chick to dancing on a busy sidewalk to getting a tattoo!

There was also a short but funny diversion when the story decided to enter the horror comedy genre, always a hit with the young crowd. Aside from Pol and Laya, they had with them their best friends: the ditzy Erna (played by the ever-reliable Chai Fonacier), the sassy Kevs (played by Milo Elmido Jr.) and Pol's gay BFF and Kevs' boyfriend Emerson (played by Paolo Santos, whom I just saw play lead in an episode of MMK the previous week as a character very different from who he was here). 

Baguio had always been a very photogenic setting for a romantic movie, and the cinematographer Lee Briones-Meily was able to capture its best colors and images. Like most of these teen romances, there was also a very eclectic music soundtrack in this one, featuring songs sung by Johnoy Danao (his version of Session Road's "Suntok sa Buwan"), KZ Tandingan ("Bakit Lumuluha") and of course, Moira dela Torre ("Tagu-taguan"). Markus Peterson had a cameo playing Laya's jerk ex-boyfriend Maui, and since he was an R&B singer here, we get to hear his song "Di Mo Na Kailangan Pang Malaman."

The main problem of this film was really the paper-thin plot. There were some moments of well-written reflections about life as a young person. You will want to hang around to see if they will get together at the end or not, but the entire midsection was obviously just fluff to make it seem like there was something substantial happening, when everything felt conveniently contrived. That said, this film was still pleasantly diverting nonetheless, thanks to the youthful brio and energy of the cast.  6/10. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Review of GLASS: Signature Shyamalan

January 18, 2019

Two years ago, I watched M. Night Shyamalan's "Split" starring an impressive James McAvoy as a disturbed man afflicted with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I did not expect that puzzling extra scene when Bruce Willis appeared. It was his character David Dunn from another much older Shyamalan film "Unbreakable" (2000). Shyamalan was actually going to connect the stories of these two extraordinary human beings with superpowers! Back then, this was a totally exciting development, and now this dream mash-up is a reality.

"Unbreakable" was about security guard David Dunn, a man who apparently possessed the power of invincibility. Not only had he never gotten sick ever, he was also the only survivor of a terrible major train accident. He can also see a person's past by touching him. He met Elijah Price, a wheelchair-bound genius afflicted with osteogenesis imperfecta (hence his monicker Mr. Glass), who was a comic book fan obsessed with superheroes.

"Split" was about Kevin Wendell Crumb, one of his 24 distinct personalities of different gender, age and incilinations that comprise his so-called "horde." He had been abducting teenage girls and torturing them out of their minds. His most remarkable persona was that of "The Beast," who had incredible brute strength, as well as the ability to climb up walls and crawl across ceilings. 

You need to watch both "Unbreakable" and "Split" to appreciate this new film sequel on a deeper level. In this third episode, David, Elijah and Kevin were all gathered together and confined in a mental institution with advanced security facilties in order to be studied by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). The main aim of her sessions with them was to convince all three that their "super powers" were only mere delusions in their heads, not real. 

As before, James McAvoy was spectacular to behold as the personality-shifting Kevin. Without warning, McAvoy would seamlessly shift from one character to another. (He really should have been at least nominated for an acting Oscar for "Split". ) Samuel L. Jackson can really get into play these creepy eccentric characters like Elijah with seemingly effortless ease. Even in a low-key character like David, Bruce Willis does turn in one of his best acting performances of late. The commitment of three actors to their roles certainly made the whole film worth watching despite some qualms about the storytelling. 

It was incredible that all the main characters of "Unbreakable" were all back to reprise their roles. Willis and Jackson played David and Elijah like how these characters would have evolved with the passage of time. Charlayne Woodard was back in her role as Isaiah's supportive mother. The most remarkable was the return of Spencer Treat Clark as David's son Joseph. He was only 13 in "Unbreakable," now he is 31. From "Split," Anna Taylor-Joy returns in her role of Casey, who survived her ordeal under Kevin. 

For those unfamiliar with the first two movies, the psychobabble may get too boring and repetitive, especially in Act 2. However, for fans who knew these characters well, all the introspective talk about and between them were actually quite fascinating, until they all peaked in a major showdown scene we all expected (but certainly not predict). Even if it may have felt like Shyamalan took too long to get to its gut-wrenching climax, everything ended in a polarizing brain-twister, in his signature style 8/10. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Review of BUMBLEBEE: Yellow and Youthful

January 14, 2019

The Transformers film franchise by Michael Bay have been going on from the first film 2007 to "The Last Knight" in 2017. By and large, they were CGI-crazy, explosive spectacles which were critical duds despite the fact that they all hit it big at the box office. Even if I knew exactly what noisy senseless action movie I was getting into, I still watched each each and every one of them because the kids enjoyed them, and I guess me too, 

This year for the latest installment of the franchise, Bay relinquished the helm to acclaimed "Kubo and the Two-Strings" director Travis Knight for his only first live-action feature film. From films starring the whole ensemble of Transformers, this time the story was going to focus on only one of them. For this first spotlight feature, they have chosen the young and yellow audience favorite Bumblebee.

When Cybertron fell to the Decepticons, Optimus Prime and the other Autobots evacuate to different planets in the universe. The scout robot B-127 was sent to Earth to secure it as the possible future base for the Autobots. However, upon landing in California, the US Military immediately wanted to apprehend him. To escape capture, B-127 took the shape of a beat-up Volkswagen Beetle.

Meanwhile, ever since her father died, teenager Charlie was having a rough time with her harassed mother Sally, dorky stepfather Ron and snooty little brother Otis. On her 18th birthday, she found a certain old yellow VW Beetle at the junkyard. Upon bringing it home, Charlie discovered that it was no ordinary car but a gentle giant robot whom she became fast friends with, calling him Bumblebee. However, it was not long after that the deadly Decepticons were on already his tail. 

I think the factor that made "Bumblebee" connect more easily to the audience is his youthful demeanor and charm. He is also smaller than the other Autobots, with a decidedly cute puppy-dog face anybody can love. His friendship in this film with Charlie (as played by a spunky and winsome Hailee Steinfeld) felt more sincere and real than it was with Sam Witwicky, who also found and bought Bumblebee (as a Chevrolet Camaro) in a used-car lot in the first movie. This movie is more personal, and character-driven, which explains why most reviews are calling it "the best Transformers movie" ever. For us, Gen-X'ers, the 80s pop soundtrack and movie references certainly helped a lot. 

While the story sort of confused the timeline of the other Transformers films by showing Optimus Prime and other Autobots on Earth in 1987 (not 2007 as the first film established), it can also be seen to reboot the series in the direction of more intimate stories of the relationship between humans and individual Autobots. There may have still been a lot of corny, cheesy lines and impossible close calls in "Bumblebee," but the "Iron Giant"-like heart of its story still shone through all that to win us over again and give the "Transformers" series another chance. 8/10. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review of MARY POPPINS RETURNS: Missed Magic

January 9, 2019

I know the original "Mary Poppins" film inside and out as it was one of those videotapes and vinyl records which was on repeat in our house when I was a child. I knew almost all the songs by heart. When I learned that a sequel was going to be released, I was not sure whether this was a good idea or not. Even when the trailer came out and I got a glimpse of Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins, I was still not convinced. Despite my doubts, I was still curious how Disney was going to do this formidable job.

The sequel picks up 25 years after the events of the first movie. Michael Banks was a widower with three boisterous children, Annabel, John and Georgie. He worked as a teller in the same Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, where his father used to work. His wife had just passed away that year, and he was deep in debt, in danger of losing his house. He needed to find the the certificate to prove that his father had left them shares of the bank. 

One day, playful little Georgie found his dad's old kite and went to fly it in the park. When he pulled the kite down, Mary Poppins was riding along down with it. With the practically perfect nanny back, the lives of the Banks family were about to change magically once again. 

The structure of this sequel followed the outline of the first movie faithfully. The relationship of the Banks children with their problematic father was not too good. Mary Poppins appeared in their lives and magical things began to happen. From there, each new song had its parallel song from the older film. Mary's introduction of her magic to the kids "Can You Imagine That" (where Mary took the kids on an undersea adventure) was like "A Spoonful of Sugar" though not as charming. 

When Mary, Jack and kids entered the cartoon world inside an old bowl, "The Royal Doulton Music Hall" was the parallel to "Jolly Holiday," which was sung when Mary, Bert and kids entered the chalk drawings on the sidewalk. "The rap-like rhythm of "A Cover is not a Book" corresponded to the tongue-twisting "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," but it was definitely not as catchy. "Turning Turtle" sung by Mary and the kids during their visit to her Cousin Topsy was in the spirit of "I Love to Laugh," sung during their visit to their Uncle Albert. Unfortunately, none of these new songs were as memorable as their older counterparts.

The gentle ballad "The Place Where Lost Things Go" evoked similar emotions with the beautifully sad song "Feed the Birds." "Trip a Little Light Fantastic" an extended song and dance number by the Leeries (or streetlighters) was the answer to "Chim Chim Cheree" and "Step in Time," a song and dance number with the screevers (or chimney sweeps).  The upbeat and optimistic final song "Nowhere to Go but Up" was the equivalent to the happy and snappy "Let's Go Fly a Kite." These were better songs which may endure longer, but likely not to the levels of the originals.

Emily Blunt had a tough job of trying to recapture the essence of Julie Andrews' Mary. With big shoes to fill, Blunt tried her best, but alas, she never really nailed the role -- not enough charisma, not enough joy. Li Manuel Miranda was an unexpected choice for the role of Jack, but he also lacked the x-factor of Dick Van Dyke's Bert. Ben Wishaw's Michael Banks was so down and woeful, though Emily Mortimer's Jane Banks was cute and chirpy. Meryl Streep's entire segment was forgettable and was of no consequence to the story. Despite being prominently billed on the poster, Dick Van Dyke (his one scene was a highlight!) and Angela Lansbury only appear towards the end of the film.

I wanted to like this sequel, but despite its best efforts and modern technology, I felt it cannot really match the old world charm of the original. The main problems were the new songs, which were clearly not up to the level of the original songs. In fact, whenever I recognize unmistakable tunes from old songs used in the instrumental score, I smile at the nostalgia they evoked. Disney waited 54 long years to come up with this sequel, but ultimately I felt it was not really necessary after all. The first movie was still so much better. Julie Andrews was and still remains to be the quintessential Mary Poppins. Disappointing. 5/10. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Netflix: Review of BIRD BOX: A Blindfolded Bind

January 8, 2010

"Bird Box" was released to stream worldwide on Netflix last December 21, 2018. You know that something about it connected with its audiences because since then, humorous memes about it (mostly having to do with being blindfolded) had been rife on social media, and these jokes persist up to now. It was impossible not to be aware of this movie, and I could not help but be drawn in by all the hype that surrounded it. 

Malorie Hayes was being driven home by her sister Jess after her prenatal checkup. Jess saw something in front of her that compelled her to crash her car and kill herself. Malorie escaped from the overturned car unharmed and saw that everybody on the streets were running around gripped with panic about the mass suicides happening around them. She was able to seek shelter in a house with other people who now had to figure out how to survive this deadly catastrophe.

The story (based on the 2014 novel of the same title by Josh Malerman) was told back and forth from the present (when blindfolded Malorie was taking two young kids, a nameless boy and girl, down a river in a boat) and five years ago (when Malorie was holed up in that house bickering with a motley group of fellow survivors). It was all very suspensefully done, as we feared not only that mysterious entity outside the house, we also feared the hearts and minds of the people inside the house with Malorie. 

However, after watching, major questions would come to mind.

First and foremost was the nature of the powerful being/s that held human beings hostage inside their houses for five long years. The plot never gave us anything about the origin or the nature of this being causing the worldwide tragedy. Well whatever it was, these "monsters" never figured out a way of entering houses after all that time, which was also a strange detail. At the very end, we know it was still out there somewhere, but the poor humans apparently still know zilch about it.

Another bothersome aspect was the presence of humans who seemed to be immune to the visual suicide-inducing mesmerism of the monsters. They were instead brainwashed to flush out other humans who were hiding in their houses and cause them to look at the monsters outside and kill themselves. How did this happen? Were they insane before they saw the monster, that is why they were affected another way? It was a very random story device which kept up the suspense in the second half of the film, yet again the script never bothered to explain why this phenomenon was happening to certain people, not others.

Actually, the titular "bird box" itself was a problematic detail for me. It was shown in an early scene that birds can sense the monsters without seeing them. So, apparently Malorie was keeping the birds alive to be their advanced warning system of sorts. However, I never sensed that these birds even mattered at all in how the action went down in the second half of the film. The way they were kept in that small box, it was actually a miracle how those two lovebirds survived all those years or even the boat ride.

Thankfully, Sandra Bullock can always give us a sympathetic heroine, even if her Malorie was not exactly a likable character. Trevante Rhodes was her too-good-to-be-true knight-in-shining-armor Tom. How they kept healthy during given the dearth of food and water over the years, we don't know. How they could navigate outdoors and look for supplies so skillfully with blindfolded the whole time, we just have to accept. John Malkovich (Douglas), Jackie Weaver (Cheryl), BD Wong (Greg), Danielle Macdonald (Olympia) and Tom Hollander (Gary) played the other survivors in the house, whose fates and behaviors kept us in suspense. 

That is the problem when the script seemed to be making up the rules of the game as the story went along. Since we do not know anything about the monster at all, it was a case of anything goes. They can throw in anything to make things more exciting or scary. (In fact at a certain point, Malorie and the kids did not even really need to see the entity to be hypnotized by it.) However more importantly, overall, director Susanne Bier managed to generate enough suspense to keep us at the edge of our seats and entertained most of its 2-hour running time. 6/10. 

Netflix: Review of ROMA: Of Maids and Masters

January 7, 2019

I had been holding it off for the longest time, but this time I could not any longer. When it was announced that Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma" was going to be shown on Netflix, I finally relented and downloaded the popular media-service app. The awards buzz for "Roma" is major, especially for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director. I hope more of the foreign language film nominees are distributed this way in the future. 

It was 1970 in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City. Cleo was a woman who worked as a maid in the household of Dr. Antonio, his wife Sofia, and their four young children, Tono, Paco, Sofi and Pepe. Along with her fellow maid Adela, Cleo took care of the mundane daily chores in the house, like cooking, cleaning and childcare.  But as Sofia experienced problems with her absentee husband, Cleo was also having her own traumatic ordeal with her evasive boyfriend Fermin. 

The story was an episodic depiction of daily life and times of an upper middle-class family, and their maids who tirelessly kept up with them. Eventually, it focuses on the problems of two women, Sofia and Cleo, with the men in their lives, and how they rode through their respective life crises. Everything seemed to be so simple and common, yet there was a clear (and strangely engaging) dramatic progression in the way Cuaron told his story. To inject some excitement, there were scenes of a fire, a riot and martial arts but these were merely occasional.

Yalitza Aparicio, the indigenous Mixtec lead actress playing Cleo, is a first-time actress and it was obvious. She showed very little emotion during what should be intensely emotional moments in Cleo's life, but we do not know if this was due her inexperience or simply her director's instructions. Despite this, Aparicio's performance was oddly compelling and sincere. Marina de Tavera had her moments of humor as Sra. Sofia. Veronica Garcia was so stiff as grandmother Sra. Teresa, All the child actors were naturally spirited. Jorge Antonio Guerrero was over-the-top as irritating Fermin.

However, the main conceit of "Roma" was its mesmerizing imagery. Alfonso Cuaron was so particularly dedicated and meticulous about his vision for this film such that he could only trust himself to be its cinematographer. Filmed in glorious black and white, every frame looked like a moving, living postcards. Tracking shot after tracking shot, those wide shots, and close ups -- all cinematically artful. Even as the story itself may underwhelm, the crisp visual spectacle of this film cannot be denied. I wish I can see this on a big screen, as it should be. 8/10. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

My Top 20 Most Read Reviews on for 2018

January 3, 2019

My very first review published on came out June 6, 2013. That was a largely negative assessment of the Will and Jaden Smith disaster called "After Earth."  I never dreamed that I could reach the 100-mark in less than a year's time after that. 

And now 5 years later, the number of my articles that appeared on have gone beyond 650, and currently pushing 700. I am humbled and very thankful for my editor's continued trust and confidence in my opinion writing about movies, plays and concerts. 

Here is the list of the 20 most popular movie reviews on which carried my byline for the year 2018:

20. Bohemian Rhapsody (LINK): Posted at Nov 02 2018 11:04 AM

19. A Quiet Place (LINK): Posted at Apr 16 2018 01:24 PM

18. Solo (LINK): Posted at May 23 2018 05:58 AM

17. I Kill Giants (LINK): Posted at Mar 27 2018 01:46 PM

16. Buy Bust (LINK): Posted at Aug 01 2018 05:41 AM

15. ML (LINK): Posted at Nov 12 2018 01:52 PM

14. Exes Baggage (LINK): Posted at Sep 30 2018 06:01 PM

13. Goyo Ang Batang Heneral (LINK): Posted at Aug 31 2018 11:29 AM

12. The Nun (LINK): Posted at Sep 07 2018 03:43 PM

11. Kasal (LINK): Posted at May 20 2018 04:55 PM

10. Walwal (LINK): Posted at Jun 28 2018 10:49 AM

9. Miss Granny (LINK):  Posted at Aug 24 2018 10:34 AM

8. Glorious (LINK):  Posted at Nov 19 2018 12:08 PM

7. Teen Titans Go! (LINK): Posted at Aug 06 2018 12:43 PM

6. Meet Me in St. Gallen (LINK): Posted at Feb 11 2018 03:01 PM

5. Fifty Shades Freed (LINK): Posted at Feb 08 2018 01:47 PM

4. Sid and Aya (Not a Love Story) (LINK): Posted at May 31 2018 11:38 AM

3. Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds (LINK): Posted at Feb 12 2018 12:40 PM

2. Red Sparrow (LINK): Posted at Mar 03 2018 06:12 AM

1. The Hows of Us (LINK): Posted at Sep 01 2018 12:51 PM

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

MMFF 2018: Review of ONE GREAT LOVE: Serendipity or Stupidity?

December 31, 2018

This was not exactly the movie I wanted to see, but this was the one that exactly fit that limited window of time I had at the mall. Anyway, it did win 3rd Best Picture and Best Actor (Dennis Trillo won over sure lock Eddie Garcia!) for this festival, so it probably was not as cheesy a romance film as it looked. I did not expect that it would actually be even cheesier than what I was imagining it to be. 

Entrepreneur Zyra still could not move on after her pilot boyfriend Capt. Carl Mauricio simply disappeared from her life for four years without any communication. Meanwhile, her best friend, busy young cardiac surgeon Dr. Ian Arcano, had been her sympathetic ear and her shoulder to cry on whenever she got the blues. One day, Carl suddenly showed up asking for forgiveness, just when Ian was gathering up guts to tell Zyra his real feelings for her. Who will Zyra end up with?

Actually that first decision was not really the end of Zyra's story. Just when you thought she had already learned her lessons in life and love, there she goes on with her silly little cycle of self-pity and delusions of serendipity and then repeats the same mistake all over again. We hear her call herself stupid and pathetic. You know, Zyra, we the audience could not agree with you more, in the superlative degree on both counts. Watching you step on that toxic rusty nail of a relationship over and over was more painful for us than it was for you. 

I wish Kim Chiu had not been the one playing this annoyingly dense and masochistic character Zyra. She has got to be one of the most ill-conceived, moronically foolish movie characters that I had ever seen in a local dramatic movie.  I refuse to believe that there a real woman like this in this day and age. Not only is Zyra a monumental dummy, she is also a ruthlessly heartless Jezebel. Was this character written for us to feel sorry for her, or to hate her? Watching her do her imbecilic thing for almost two hours was cinematic torture. Kim Chiu deserves way better roles than this insultingly trashy character.

Dennis Trillo was supposed to be a hotshot cardiac surgeon Ian, but he did not really come across creditably as one. But the big question was, did he deserve to win that Best Actor prize over Eddie Garcia? Well, Trillo had more dramatic moments where he can show off his ability to cry on cue. But honestly, had he not done similar roles like this before in his other films and telenovelas? This role was right in his comfort zone. He did not need to stretch too much to nail the performance. It did not look like he was challenged at all.

JC de Vera was never subtle in portraying his character. He had this certain way of delivering his sleazy lines that immediately revealed his rascally intentions. Carl was so obviously pretentious and insincere, which made Zyra look all the more stupid than we already knew she was at that point. All he needed to do was flash that smile, prepare a beautiful bouquet of flowers and call himself a cute nickname like "the boy who hates to fly," and presto, he is back in Zyra's life! Effortless. Just like shooting fish in a pail. Disgusting.

Up to the end of this unbearably sappy mush directed by Enrico S. Quizon (who as Eric Quizon also played Zyra's bon viviant father), you do not really know who or what "one great love" the title is talking about. If this was the Third Best Picture of the 2018 MMFF, I dread to venture further to watch the rest of the other entries. I'd hate to follow Zyra's sorry example and spend more money to buy more hammers to bang my head in again. 2/10.

Monday, December 31, 2018

My Yearend Roundup: The BEST 25 FILIPINO FILMS of 2018 That I Have Seen

December 31, 2018

For the year 2018, I was able to watch 70 Filipino films (up from 54 in 2017).  Aside from mainstream commercial films and indie films from festivals throughout the year, there were now also Filipino films released in digital format online.   

I was able to catch 4/5 entries of the Sinag Manila Filmfest in March, 2/8 in the Cine Filipino in May;  5/10 in the Cinemalaya in early August; 8/8 in the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino in late August; 5/6 of the ToFarm in September; 6/9 in the CinemaOne Originals in early October;  3/5 in the QCinema in late October; and 3/8 entries in the MMFF in December. 

Because of limited schedules, I still missed a number of films that had good reviews or won awards such as "Eternity Between Seconds," "Distance," "Pan de Salawal," "Never Tear Us Apart" and "Hintayan sa Langit." 

Honorable Mentions:

25. Mamang (My Full Review) by Denise O'Hara
24. Rainbow Sunset (My Full Review) by Joel Lamangan
23. Never Not Love You (My Full Review) by Antoinette Jadaone
22. Aurora (My Full Review) by Yam Laranas
21. We Will Not Die Tonight (My Full Review) by Richard Somes

20. Trigonal (My Full Review) by Vincent Soberano
19. Bakwit Boys (My Full Review) by Jason Paul Laxamana 
18. Through Night and Day (My Full Review) by Veronica Velasco
17. ML (My Full Review) by Benedict Mique, Jr.
16. Meet Me in St. Gallen (My Full Review) by Irene Villamor

15. Para sa Broken Hearted (My Full Review) by Digo Ricio
14. Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus (My Full Review) by Dwein Baltazar
13. Exes Baggage (My Full Review) by Dan Villegas
12. Kung Paano Hinihintay ang Dapithapon (My Full Review) by Carlo Enciso Catu
11. Oda sa Wala (My Full Review) by Dwein Baltazar

Here are the 10 best Filipino films among those that I was able to see and write about this year:

10. KUNG PAANO SIYA NAWALA (My Full Review) by Joel Ruiz

One day, while call center agent Lio was taking a breather outside a bar, an attractive girl Shana casually sat beside him and asked if he wanted to make out with her, and they did. However, the next time Lio met Shana in the coffee shop where she worked and then again on the street, he always failed to recognize her, much to Shana's annoyance. Lio confessed he had face blindness, which made him unable to recognize new faces. 

9. LIWAY (My Full Review) by Kip Oebanda

The setting was in the mid-1980s in Camp Delgado, a prison for criminals and political prisoners alike during the Martial Law. Day and Ric were raising their 10-year old son Dakip and infant daughter Malaya while behind bars for rebellion charges. In her attempt to normalize Dakip's childhood (since he had lived his whole life in the Camp), Day told him fantastic stories about the powerful enchantress Liway of Mt. Kanlaon. Little did Dakip know that she was actually telling him her own life story.

8. PAGLISAN (My Full Review) by Carl Papa

Cris and Oreng are a middle-aged couple. Cris was stricken with early onset Alzheimer's disease which rendered him unable to function as he would normally. His fragile condition turned their home life upside down with his forgetfulness and unreliability, which led to him to withdraw from public interactions. One day, Cris was invited to perform in the anniversary of their theater group. Will he accept? 

7. MISS GRANNY (My Full Review) by Joyce E. Bernal

The constant loud nagging of Fely caused her daughter-in-law Angie to fall very ill. This forced her only son Ramon to request his mother to temporarily move into a senior's home while his wife recovered. One day, while waiting for the bus, the distraught Fely was drawn to enter the Forever Young photo studio because it displayed a photo of her favorite actress Audrey Hepburn in its window. Before he took her photo, the photographer promised Fely that he would make her look younger by 50 years. By some miracle, she literally did.

6. CITIZEN JAKE (My Full Review) by Mike de Leon

Jake was a hard-hitting political blogger from Baguio who constantly lived under the shadow of his father Sen. Jacobo Herrera, a notoriously corrupt veteran politician and crony. Jake was investigating the rape and murder of a student in an apparent love nest. This led to an intricate whodunit, which involved virginal escorts, suave pimps, rotten cops, elegant socialites, lusty DOM judges, among a web of other shady personalities. 

5. SID & AYA (NOT A LOVE STORY) (My Full Review) by Irene Villamor

Sid is a hotshot and ruthless stock broker, who did not really care whose toes he stepped on to get ahead in his game, but this left him empty and sleepless. Aya is a broke young woman who had to juggle three jobs -- a part-time clerk at a laundry, a performer in an amusement park and a waitress in the 24-hour cafe. One day they meet and connect, at first purely on a business level. But will their relationship develop further more?

4. TANABATA'S WIFE (My Full Review) by Choy Pangilinan, Lito Casaje and Charlson Ong

Tanabata was a lonely Japanese farmer who immigrated from Okinawa to run his own farm in Trinidad Valley in the Mountain Province back in the 1920s. One day, he hired a young and pretty Bontoc tribeswoman Fas-ang to help him in his house and farm (cabbage and strawberries) for P4.00 and unlimited rice. Eventually, Tanabata and Fas-ang fell in love and lived together as husband and wife. Even if they soon have an infant son Kato, differences in their culture eventually crept its way into their relationship and threatened it.

3. BUYBUST (My Full Review) by Erik Matti

Agent Nina Manigan has been taken in by drug enforcement officer Bernie Lacson under his team. They were assigned to join a buy-bust operation to apprehend big-time drug lord Biggie Chen. When the venue of the bust was suddenly moved to the slum area of Gracia ni Maria, Manigan, freshly scarred from a recent deadly botched operation, immediately knew something fishy was up. But getting her team out alive from that convoluted maze-like enclosure was not going to be easy.

2. GOYO: ANG BATANG HENERAL (My Full Review) by Jerrold Tarog

The "boy general" Gregorio del Pilar was fiercely loyal to Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo. Together with his trusted men, Goyo sought to eliminate Aguinaldo's enemies (like the Bernal brothers), making him known as a gallant hero. His good looks also earned him a reputation as a ladies' man whereever he went. However, when the Americans suddenly launched simultaneous attacks in several towns in Central Luzon. Goyo had to plan and execute a mighty defensive stand on the mountain pass on Mt. Tirad. 

And my Number 1 Filipino movie for 2018 is ...

1. SIGNAL ROCK (My Full Review) by Chito Rono

Intoy Abakan regularly climbed the rocks so he can use his trusty Nokia 6110 to keep in touch with his sister Vicky, who now lived in Finland. One day, Intoy received an alarming call from Vicky that she was now battling for custody of their daughter Sarah and needed his help to get documents to help her prove that she can support her child on her own.

Christian Bables gave a brave and dedicated performance which led the outstanding ensemble in fleshing out the relationships of the people in this village. Among all the supporting actors, the most memorable were Nanding Josef and Daria Ramirez as Intoy's parents. Their unusual relationship and living conditions lent itself as diverting and interesting comic relief. Their scenes in the pump boat during the harrowing storm and that one where they appealed on behalf of their daughter were simply so moving and poignant. 

MMFF 2018: Review of RAINBOW'S SUNSET: Between Bosom Buddies

December 30, 2018

Former senator Ramon Estrella is now 84 years old. One day, he surprised his family that he was temporarily leaving their home in order to care for his closest friend, Alfredo Veneracion, who was about to die from cancer. While his dear wife Sylvia condoned her husband's move, his three feisty adult children (government employee Emman, town mayor Georgina and NGO worker Marife) resisted it as they fear it would trigger scandalous rumors of homosexuality and ruin their family's good name.

The senior cast was powerhouse and is no doubt the main draw of this family drama. In this age of teen romance movies, how often could you get a project featuring two of the most durable stars of Philippine show business, Eddie Garcia and Gloria Romero, plus theater legend Tony Mabesa, all in their 80s, in the lead roles? Everybody was expecting them to sweep the acting trophies during the awards night. 

However, that was not to be. This year was a banner year for Eddie Garcia. AT the ripe old age of 89, he had three projects where he was the lead actor, and in all three he was nominated for Best Actor. He had already won for "ML" in the Cinemalaya and "Hintayan sa Langit" in QCinema. Garcia missed the triple crown when the Best Actor award went to Dennis Trillo instead for this MMFF. (He did get a Jury Prize as a consolation prize.)

I sort of understand why that could have happened. The way the script was written, his character Ramon did not exactly get a lot of major dramatic moments for Garcia to flex his acting muscles. Ramon's decision to movie in with Fredo was the event that triggered the melodramatic series of events in his family. But as for Ramon himself, he was chill and unperturbed about it, calmly taking care of his best friend and other life partner. In his usual laidback relaxed style, Garcia made the most of his scenes, but unfortunately, the board of judges were looking for something else (more tears perhaps, as Trillo had?) 

On the other hand, Ms. Gloria Romero was an effortlessly luminous leading actress even at age 85. I cannot believe that "Tanging Yaman" was 18 years ago, when Ms. Romero played the matriarch of a family in crisis and won Best Actress awards for it. It was not that her role as Sylvia was realy better written, but Romero had such a powerful screen presence that a mere sad look or crack in her voice could already make tears well in my eyes. While they were competent in their respective films, Anne Curtis and Kim Chiu still have miles to go to even hope to reach Romero's level of acting for the big screen. 

After watching the film I thought the third member of their troika, UP Theater Arts Professor Emeritus Tony Mabesa, 83, should have been co-nominated for Best Actor, instead of Supporting (which he won). Garcia's best scenes were those he had with Mabesa. My favorite was that when Ramon and Fredo were sitting in the front yard, laughing without a care in the world. Romero's best scenes were those she had with Mabesa. EVERY scene Sylvia and Fredo shared together was a tearjerker, and that is not an exaggeration.

There was a lot of time invested on the annoyingly commonplace, noisy bickering among the Estrella siblings, which for me detracted from the charm of the film. Tirso Cruz III was over-the-top as the eldest sibling Emman who had to deal with a viral video scandal. An issue about an under-the-table deal he had as an assessor was left hanging. Aiko Melendez was in her typical haughty rich matron mode again as the mayor -- shades of Emilia Ardiente all over again. Sunshine Cruz role tended to be too preachy, no wonder her siblings hated her for it. There was that side issue about a boyfriend 20 years her junior, which was not really necessary. Theirs were simply not the story I came to see, sorry. 

I really would have liked it better if the writer Eric Ramos and director Joel Lamangan would have just showed us more about the equilaterally triangular relationship among the seniors. This was the interesting aspect of the plot that made this project unique. They already had flashback scenes featuring Shido Roxas, Max Collins and Ross Pesigan as the young Ramon, Sylvia and Fredo,. They should have added more. A lot of events that transpired in their younger days were merely narrated in the dialogue, instead of being shown onscreen, which I thought was a wasted opportunity. 7/10.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

MMFF 2018: Review of AURORA: Spirits from a Shipwreck

December 30. 2018

The passenger ship Aurora crashed into some rocks and got wrecked just off the shore of an island, causing countless deaths. Leana's Sea Side Inn, located on the nearest beach, was used as headquarters for rescue operations. When the Coast Guard announced that they are concluding their search for missing passengers, relatives requested Leana to search for dead bodies that wash to shore, and they would pay her a hefty amount for each one she found. Out of financial desperation, Leana accepted the grisly task. 

2018 is a banner year for Anne Curtis as she had three major film projects which were able to showcase the diverse range of her acting talents, so much more than she had in her whole career it seems. Her roll began in May with the quirky romance in "Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story)" and continued in August with the high-octane action of "Buybust." She concludes her year by dabbling in the horror genre in "Aurora."

As Leana, Curtis played a woman caught up in a maelstrom of conflicting personal issues. She struggled to keep their humble business afloat while taking care of the well-being of her younger sister Rita, and the unfortunate situation with the shipwreck made these matters even worse. She was guilt-ridden about the death of her father, as she was conscience-stricken about making money off selling the cargo salvaged from the ship. Curtis had to carry the weight of Leana's baggage and make us in the audience care for this flawed heroine, even if there were some problems about how the character was written by screenwriter Gin de Mesa.

Phoebe Villamor played Rita, a physically and emotionally exhausting role especially for a child actress. Veteran actors Allan Paule and Arnold Reyes do well in their roles as Eddie, (Leana's enterprising boatman) and Phillip (traumatized Aurora survivor). Marco Gumabao was limited by a poorly-written role as Ricky, Leana's (former?) boyfriend. Ricardo Cepeda could have been better in his scenes as the Coast Guard officer in-charge. 7'3" tall actor Raul Dillo played a key role as the giant Benjamin David who was also on the Aurora.

Filmed in the rocky Pacific coast of Batanes, director Yam Laranas successfully created a brooding creepy atmosphere in and around the desolate Sea Side Inn which was as much a character in the film as Leana and Rita. With his bluish-tinged cinematography and Oscar Fogelström's weighty musical score, Laranas was able to sustain the suspense throughout the film, despite some iffy visual effects and production details. 

In the final act, there were confusing developments that sort of threw off some of the fluidity in the storytelling. Anyhow, it is a ghost story, so it does not really need to be completely logical, as long as it can disturb your peace. And for me, it did. 7/10.