Thursday, January 21, 2021

Netflix: Reviews of HAPPY OLD YEAR and A SUN: Fractionating Families

 January 21, 2021

HAPPY OLD YEAR

Director: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Writer: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Jean (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) wanted to convert their old family house into a modern office with a minimalist design. However, their house needed serious radical decluttering to clear out all the stuff gathered all the years. At first, it was easy for Jean to just throw anything away, much to the annoyance of her mother (Apasiri Chantrasmi). However, Jean soon found it difficult to get rid of items associated with ex-boyfriend Aim (Sunny Suwanmethanont) or her estranged father.

This was a film that anybody who was ever involved in a process of decluttering their office or house would easily identify with. Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo became a household name when her book and resultant TV series inspired people to discard old items which do not bring them any joy anymore. Admittedly, no matter how easy Kondo made it look, it was never easy to simply throw old stuff away as sentiments would get in the way.

At a languid 2 hours long running time, the drama felt a little too stretched out for such a simple premise. There were no clear answers to the question on selfishness that the film constantly brought up. Who was being selfish -- the one who wants to get rid of the item? or the one who did not want to get rid of the item? There are usually two or more people involved for every item. Even if you think it was insignificant, that may not be the case for the other person. This was certainly thought-provoking stuff. 7/10. 


A SUN

Director: Mong-Hong Chung

Writers: Chang Yaosheng, Chung Mong-Hong 

Driving instructor Chen Wen (Chen Yi-wen) and his wife make-up artist Qin (Samantha Ko) had two sons. Their older son A-Hao (Greg Hsu) was the good kid, handsome, kind and smart. The younger son A-Ho (Wu Chien-ho) was the troublemaker, in juvenile detention for being involved in a crime, and an unwed father. A sudden and totally unexpected tragedy threw their lives into a major crisis, causing them to genuinely connect with each other.

All the actors did their job so fluidly as an ensemble which was sort of ironic because they are playing a family with estranged emotions. Chen, Ko and Wu were mostly underplaying their respective parts, but they were all so strong in the deceptive simplicity their portrayal. Liu Kuan-ting, the actor playing A-Ho's violent friend Radish, had a screen presence that dripped with imminent dread, totally gripping the second half of the film in fearful tension.

This family melodrama will hit close to home with many Chinese (or maybe any Asian) family.  Parents (especially the father) and children are not particularly expressive with their emotions, preferring to drown themselves in their work than bond. This would go on until a major event will shake everyone's sensibilities to its core. The plotting and the dialogues were done with so much emotionally resonance, tears will be inevitable right down to its final revelations. 8/10


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

3 Mini-Reviews of MARTIN EDEN, ANOTHER ROUND, BACURAU

January 19, 2021

MARTIN EDEN

Director: Pietro Marcello

Writers: Maurizio Braucci, Pietro Marcello, based on the novel by Jack London

Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli) was a poor uneducated sailor who wanted to be a writer. Despite repeated rejections from magazines and publishers, Martin persisted to write and submit his stories and essays. He met a rich girl Elena (Jessica Cressy) who was fascinated by Martin yet aware of his lower social station. While Martin was very much in love with her, she ultimately decided to break up with him. 

Martin met an old man Russ Brisenden (Carlo Cecchi), a socialist who influenced Martin to become more passionate about politics and individualism, which eventually led to his success in his writing career. However, despite his resultant fame, Martin still had so much anger and bitterness for life.

I was surprised to learn after watching this film that this Italian film was actually based on a 1909 novel by American novelist Jack London, whom I knew better for his Gold Rush adventure stories like "White Fang" and "Call of the Wild." Writer Maurizio Braucci and co-writer/ director Pietro Marcello brought this story of crossing the class divide from the US over to Italy with uneven results. 

The film certainly looked very good, with the beautiful Italian vistas, as well as its attractive lead actors, however the pace was a little too slow. The English subtitles may have lost some of the passion and sense of the Italian speeches Marinelli was delivering. The Italian language sounded so good to the ear, so poetic despite being so angry, I wished I was conversant in Italian to appreciate this more. 7/10


ANOTHER ROUND

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Writers: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are close friends since their youths. They were now employed as teachers at Copenhagen school, in history, soccer, music and psychology, respectively. All of them were going through a midlife crisis, with things going rough in both their home life and careers. 

When Nikolaj turned 40, they talked about trying out the theory of psychiatrist Skårderud about the benefits of a blood alcohol content of 0.05. The minimal alcohol intake worked wonders at first as they started getting popular with their students, as well as their wives. Later on, their strict rules would be broken, and things would go out of hand.

I have to disclose that I am not fond of alcohol nor of watching people go drunk. I was about to give this film up when they were being drunk in school and even pointed out to kids that it was alright to drink. Something very bad did happen at one point, however, they were still drinking even after this event. So if there was a moral lesson in all this, it felt half-baked to me.

Mads Mikkelsen though was really the main reason to watch this film. He thoroughly captured the essence of a man who desperately wanted to recover the passion he'd lost, spiraled out of control and had to rebuild. His triumphant dance at the finale exhilaratingly signified that his zest for life is truly back. Now that was a great ending. 7/10. 


BACURAU

Directors: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

Writers: Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles

Bacurau was a small remote village in the mountainous area in Brazil that suddenly disappeared from the map for no apparent reason. It was also being harassed with water issues as the river had been dammed up, so they had to resort to water rationing. Their current mayor Tony Junior (Thardelly Lima) who was seeking reelection was no help, and was probably even involved in the problem.

When female elder of the village Carmelita passed away, her estranged granddaughter Teresa (Barbara Colen) returned home for the funeral, something the old village doctor Domingas (Sonia Braga) was not too pleased about. However, when a mysterious group of outsiders materialized to terrorize the town with violence, the residents of Bacurau had to stand firm together in order to protect their village and fight for their survival.

This film was like two different films in one. The first half was like a familiar socio-political drama. With the mayor acting against his constituency yet still brazenly campaigning for their votes, this part was something we have seen variations of before. However, the second half came from totally out of left field to shock us. With a group of foreigners led by Michael (Ugo Kier) who came for a hunting expedition, this was unexpected craziness. 

All the characters here were bizarre of behavior, very typical of indie films. Most of the actors were unknown, but there were a couple of familiar faces in there. The first scene of veteran actress Sonia Braga (whom I would always remember in "The Kiss of the Spider Woman") was a wildly emotional public rant at a funeral. German actor Udo Kier was right up his alley playing another memorable over-the-top antagonistic character. 6/10. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Netflix: Review of OUTSIDE THE WIRE: Compassion for Collaterals

January 16, 2021



Making a crucial call in battle, drone pilot Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) disobeyed a direct order which caused the death of two marines.  He was sent to work with Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie) in an army camp in the Ukraine countryside which under the threat of terrorist Viktor Koval (Pilou Asbæk). Before they left to deliver vaccines and put Koval out of commission, Leo revealed to Harp that he was no ordinary soldier.

From the get-go, there were already remote-control weaponized drones and giant robots called Gumps in action, this was a sci-fi war movie. It still felt like a number of war movies where American soldiers play the savior of an oppressed country against crazy terrorists. However the scenes were made more somewhat more interesting with the addition of state-of-the-art artificial intelligence technology, including humanoid androids who incredibly possessed more emotions than real humans. 

Anthony Mackie is very familiar with this role of a super soldier, as his most famous role of Sam Wilson in the "Avengers" series was such a soldier. Mackie also played a soldier in his major role as Sgt. J.T. Sanborn in Oscar best picture winner "The Hurt Locker" (2009), where his portrayal was critically-acclaimed. Here, Mackie still played well being bad-ass with style. He knew he was stronger, faster and smarter, and he sealed that with a rogueish smirk. 

Damson Idris played Lt. Harp as a cold and calculating soldier who only kept his eye focused on achieving the mission, without due regard to the human collateral damage it would entail. Of course, the tables would turn on him later on a much bigger scale to teach him vital lessons of trust and compassion. Harp's character went from cocksure triggerman who only cared about stats to selfless hero who truly cared about others, but that was not really surprising.

In the endgame, the film went autopilot into very familiar suspense tropes in B-movies that involved a nuclear bomb poised to destroy the USA and a countdown that would go down the wire up to the final seconds. Of course there will be one final debate between protagonist and antagonist about the ethical phisophies behind high-tech weapons of war while the clock was precariously ticking down to zero. 5/10.


Friday, January 15, 2021

Amazon Prime: Review of ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI: Champions Convene

January 15, 2021



Cassius Clay had just been crowned the new Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World by unexpectedly beating Sonny Liston in Miami. After the fight, Clay celebrated his victory at the spartan Hampton House motel where his close friend and mentor, the Nation of Islam activist Malcolm X, was booked. Joining them this night of February 25, 1964, were two other friends, popular rock and roll singer Sam Cooke and football hero Jim Brown. 

The four actors playing these four lead characters formed a formidable acting ensemble, which probably made director Regina King's job a dream come true. This was a talky film, with hardly any action aside from those two fights in the boxing ring in the first thirty minutes. It depended heavily on the performances of the four main actors to bring the script to vital life and they all nailed their parts perfectly. There was electric chemistry between the four, like they had long been best friends for real. 

Eli Goree had Cassius Clay's famous brash bravado down pat both in and out of the ring. He also displayed his inner naivete when it came to his planned transition into Islam. Tony-winning "Hamilton" star Leslie Odom Jr. had the silky voice of Sam Cooke. His impassioned performance of "A Change is Gonna Come" alone was already worth an Oscar award. Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown was the most subdued of the four, but his first scene with Beau Bridges 10 minutes in was the most shocking and painful.

British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir in a most sensitive and complex portrayal. Of the four, he had the most hard-hitting comments about how his friends were using their celebrity status in light of the African-American experience of that day. He believed that being famous, they should actively fight for the rights of their fellow blacks from their respective areas of influence. He was not averse to ruffle feathers to express his mind even among his friends, making for some highly tense situations. 

Kemp Powers conjured up the fictional discussions of four African-American icons in his 2013 play, which he adapted himself into this screenplay. All four men were successful and influential in their own fields, yet were all still victims of the racial segregation which oppressed African-Americans that time. Kemp skillfully made each man debate civil rights issues from their respective careers and experiences in life, making for lively, heated and thought-provoking conversations. 8/10. 


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Netflix: Review of THE WHITE TIGER: A Servant's Salvation?

 January 14, 2020



Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) grew up in a poor village, but his burning ambition made him leave his family to go find his fortune in the city. Because of his glib tongue and charming country bumpkin ways, he applied and was accepted to be the driver of the American-bred son of a rich Hindu family, Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas), who treated him like family.

However, one fateful night, just when Balram thought he did his masters a great service, they repaid him with a detestable act of cruel treachery instead. This painful event triggered in Balram a serious evaluation of how he was being treated and how dispensable he was to them. Relying on his wits and daring, Balram staged his bold plan to emancipate himself out of the "rooster coop" he was trapped in.

26 year-old Adarsh Gourav certainly broke through into widespread recognition with his star-making lead performance in this film. Even if he shared the screen with Bollywood superstars Rao and Chopra-Jonas, Gourav took this challenging bull of a role by the horns and rode it triumphantly all the way from the gutter to the peak. He imbued this flawed character with a winsome charisma that made viewers root him on to achieve his dream.

Since the film began with Balram as a rich entrepreneur narrating his harrowing rise to his present situation, we knew he would overcome his poverty at one point. Throughout the film, we were just waiting for that climactic turning point to happen, the event which would change his fortune forever. The build-up to that critical moment had very engaging, with its darkly comic yet entertaining approach to the serious message. 

However, I was shocked when that climactic turning point came. To be completely frank, I did NOT like it at all. Are the filmmakers telling us that only with such harsh radical action can a poor man ever hope to cross the chasm between the social classes over to the other side? Has the world already reached that level of desperate cynicism where honest labor and perseverance don't matter anymore? I would like to think it should not be the case. 7/10. 



Amazon Prime: Reviews of SMALL AXE, TIME, SYLVIE'S LOVE

January 14, 2021

SMALL AXE

Small Axe is an anthology of five films by writer-director Steve McQueen about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s. I was only able to watch the first two films for now.

The first film is "Mangrove," after a curry restaurant established by Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) in Notting Hill in 1970. All the Caribbean immigrants gather there for the good food and fellowship. However, the police led by PC Frank Pulley (Sam Spruell) did not like these gatherings and would conduct three violent raids on it. 

The activists in the area, including Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby) and Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall), organized a rally, which did not end peacefully. The Mangrove 9, as they were called, were tried in court of Judge Edward Clarke (Alex Jennings) for inciting a riot and affray. 

This was a powerful film about racial tension in London, and how these brave activists fought the system to the extent of defending themselves in court. This came out in very close proximity to another courtroom drama about social injustice "The Trial of the Chicago 7," and similarly, the intense screenplay and the ensemble performance were very commendable. 8/10

The second film is "Lover's Rock," which was set in a single night at a house party in West London in 1980 where Franklyn (Micheal Ward) and Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) first met each other. Apart for certain scenes of conflict, there was not much story being told in here, however, that was not really the main point of this. 

The best moments of this film were the communal dance raves to 70s hit dance songs like "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas, and the uber-sensual "Silly Games" by Janet Kay (which lasted long after the record stopped playing). They were shot beautifully in tight close-up, capturing the charged-up exhilaration of those all-too-fleeting moments. 7/10


TIME

Sibil Fox Richardson was a middle-aged businesswoman and mother of six boys. Twenty years ago, pushed by financial desperation, she and husband Robert committed armed robbery at a local bank and were arrested for their crime. While she was out in a little over 3 years, her husband got a sentence of 60 years in the Louisiana State Pen.

This documentary used original footage combined with home videos to good dramatic effect. Mrs. Richardson struck me as quite the convincing salesperson, both in her business and her advocacy to get her husband out earlier. To her credit, she was able to raise her boys by herself, even when left to her own devices. She definitely knew how to play up the drama in her life purely to her advantage. 

However, granting that her husband seemed to have gotten an excessive sentence, she also conveniently left out some very important details. What dire situation pushed them to resort to armed robbery? What actually happened during the robbery? She was not averse to self-aggrandizement as she likened the prison system to slavery and she was the abolitionist. These aspects did not sit too well with me. 5/10


SYLVIE'S LOVE

It was the 1950s in Harlem, New York. Jazz band saxophonist Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha) met the striking upper-class debutante Sylvie Parker (Tessa Thompson) who was tending her father's record shop. Sylvie was already engaged to marry a rich guy Lacy, but she still fell for Robert's blue-collar charms. However, Sylvie gets herself pregnant just as Robert's band landed a gig in Paris.

The very premise of this film was pure melodrama. In its 2-hour running time, writer-director-producer Eugene Ashe milked every known soap-opera playbook about secret sacrifices done in the name of love. There were progressive aspects, like Sylvie landing the post of a TV show producer, but most of the other story details were rehashed old-fashioned cliches. 

The period production design, jazzy musical score and songs, and nostalgic cinematography were all very good. The actors were attractive and did well in their roles, despite what their characters were made to say or do. Ultimately, the problem was in the story itself, hardly generating any excitement as one familiar trope followed another. 5/10



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Netflix: Review of LUPIN: Inspired by an Icon

January 13, 2020




Arsene Lupin was a classic literary character in French fiction, described as a gentleman wearing a top hat and monocle, who was also a smooth and crafty thief. His exploits were described in a series of books written by Maurice Leblanc back in 1905, and since then, he would also be featured in various other media, like films, television, stage plays and comic books. This classic character had been resurrected in this new limited series on Netflix. 

Teenager Assane Diop (Mamadou Haidara) was a big fan of Arsene Lupin even since his father Babakar (Fargass Assande) introduced the books to him. One day, his father was accused by his employer, the millionaire Hubert Pellegrini (Herve Pierre), of stealing a valuable necklace of diamonds. Forced to sign a confession, Babakar then committed suicide by hanging in his prison cell. 

25 years later, this very same necklace had been recovered by the Pellegrinis, and it was up for auction at the Louvre.  Still inspired by the Lupin books, Assane (Omar Sy), now a young man with multiple physical, mental and technical skills, set into motion an elaborate plan to steal the necklace and finally be able to exact his revenge on the people responsible for his father death, while driving the police crazy in the process. 

Omar Sy's portrayal of Assane was charismatic and winsome, very fitting as he embodied his personal idol Arsene Lupin. Sy had good chemistry with Ludivine Sagnier (as his ex-partner Claire) and Etan Simon (as his son Raoul), the angle which gave this series its heart. Of course, you'd have to suspend your disbelief that a 6'3" hulk like Sy can easily slip through any form of security without being seen or that he could be a master of disguise, but that is part of this series' charm. 

This first season only had 5 episodes of only about 40 minutes each, so this was an quick and easy binge. With how the Ep. 1 set up the heist at the Louvre, one will really be drawn into the incredible story, especially as the revenge angle eventually came into fore. The momentum really got going with the Ep. 3 featuring corrupt policeman Dumont (Vincent Garanger) and Ep. 4 featuring crusading journalist Fabienne Beriot (Anne Benoit). Even if Ep.5 turned out to be a rather predictable cliffhanger, it set up for a Season 2 we are eagerly waiting for. 8/10. 


Reviews of PALM SPRINGS, PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, WILD MOUNTAIN THYME

January 13, 2020

PALM SPRINGS

Directed by: Max Barbakow

Written by: Andy Siara

On November 9 in Palm Springs, Nyles (Andy Samberg) was attending the wedding of Tala (Camila Mendes) and Abe (Tyler Hoechlin). At the reception, Nyles bonded with Tala's sister, Sarah (Cristin Milioti). Suddenly, an angry man named Roy (J.K. Simmons) began shooting Nyles with arrows. Nyles ran into a cave with a mysterious light. Sarah followed him and was sucked into a vortex. When she woke up, it was the morning of November 9 all over again. 

This film uses the same time loop device famously used in films like "Groundhog Day"(1993), "Source Code" (2011), "Edge of Tomorrow" (2015) and "Happy Death Day (2017). Despite being a very familiar trope, "Palm Springs" still managed to make the whole thing very entertaining, thanks to the comic charms and chemistry of the two lead stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. Their rapid-fire witty banter was just too good.

Director Max Barbakow wisely saved some important game-changing details and quirky background characters, dropping them at strategic times, without negatively affecting the repeating sequences of the story. The supposed quantum physics solution to their quandary was admittedly a stretch, but by then you simply want Nyles and Sarah to get their lives back on track and finally find happiness together. 8/10.


PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

Written by: Emerald Fennell

Directed by: Emerald Fennell

Cassie Thomas (Carrie Mulligan) was a socially-aloof coffee shop employee. Her best friend Nina committed suicide after she was raped by their med school classmate Al Monroe (Chris Lowell) in front of his cheering friends. Since then, Cassie had been on a mission to punish everyone involved in that terrible incident, as well as all sexually abusive men in general. Upon learning about Al's upcoming wedding, Cassie put her plans on revenge into action. 

Carrie Mulligan went beyond her usual comfort in this gutsy and challenging role. Her most memorable roles had been in period films, like Daisy in "The Great Gatsby" (2013), Bathsheba in "Far from the Madding Crowd" (2015), and of course her breakthough Oscar-nominated performance in "An Education" (2009). Cassie was a totally different Carrie Mulligan as she simmered with pent-up anger the whole film, just waiting to blow up.

The production design of this film was purposefully all in multi-colored pastel shades in contrast with the dark tone of the film. The direction into which this story of revenge went was not predictable and very well told by writer-director Emerald Fennell, in her auspicious feature film debut in both capacities. It clearly depicted the disadvantage women experienced in real life, but ironically, it also showed how limited their options are to fight back. 8/10. 


WILD MOUNTAIN THYME

Written by: John Patrick Shanley

Directed by: John Patrick Shanley

The Muldoons and the Reillys were neighboring farmers and close friends living and working in the Irish countryside. Since she was a little girl, the spirited Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) had long harbored a love for awkward Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan), which remained unrequited. One day, Anthony's rich American cousin Adam Kelly (Jon Hamm) came to buy their farm and win Rosemary too. Only then did Anthony wake up from his inactivity. 

It was very refreshing to see Christian Grey himself Jaime Dornan act like a total dork here beside the confident and radiant Emily Blunt. He even had a scene rehearsing proposal lines in front of a donkey, which was very funny in its silly irony.  Their relationship reached a tense climax when they were caught indoors together during a sudden storm and an exasperated Rosemary had no choice but to confront Anthony about how he felt about her. 

The whole film was just a pleasant little slice of Irish rural life with all the beautiful rolling green landscape to see and variations of brogue accents to hear. Ever magnetic, Christopher Walken (as Anthony's father Tony) can always steal every scene he was in. It may have taken more than an hour and a half before telling us if Anthony and Rosemary will end up together, but it certainly immersed viewers in the charming lifestyle it showcased with pride. 6/10.  



Friday, January 8, 2021

Netflix: Review of PIECES OF A WOMAN: A Momentary Mother

 January 8, 2021



On the night of September 17, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) went into labor. She had long planned to have her baby delivered at home. Her midwife Barbara was at that moment indisposed, so she sent another midwife Eva (Molly Parker) in her stead. Martha's labor was long and difficult and the baby was in distress, so Eva called for an ambulance. Martha was still eventually able to give birth to her daughter. After only a few seconds, the baby suddenly stopped breathing.

Such were the tense and harrowing first thirty minutes of this film which Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó shot in a single long shot, conveying all the excited anticipation of the coming baby, the nervous concern about the new midwife, the painful exertion of the labor, the uncomfortable dread of the protracted delivery, until the incomparable anguish of its outcome. This should count as one of the best scenes of childbirth in the history of cinema.

This film began with such a high powerful peak, everything that followed felt like they were struggling to keep up. Following the terrible tragedy, Martha kept her grief to herself and withdrew from the people around her. She became cold to her blue-collar partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf) who struggled in vain to restore their connection. She was at odds with her imperious wealthy mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) who was adamant that the midwife should be thrown into jail for negligent malpractice. 

Kirby, who had already won awards for playing Princess Margaret on the TV series "The Crown," attracts awards attention again with her performance here. After that exhausting childbirth scene, Kirby also had several long wordless scenes in which only her face and body language conveyed her inner pain and guilt as she went around her daily routines. Her final monologue in court was delivered with unexpected restraint.

Chronically troubled actor LaBeouf delivered a sensitive sympathetic performance of his flawed character Sean. Perhaps being of lower social standing than Martha, Sean's opinions were not really taken seriously. From the start, we already see how Elizabeth looked down on Sean by buying Martha a car. LaBeouf wisely chose to underplay his part to good effect. 

With her juicy monologue in Act 3, 88 year-old Burstyn courts Oscar attention again 20 years after her nomination for "Requiem for a Dream" in 2001, which came 20 years after her nomination for "Resurrection" in 1981. Because of their 50 year age gap, it would have been more realistic if Burstyn played Kirby's grandmother than her mother.

When she adapted her own play into this screenplay, writer Kata Weber may not have been able to completely shake off the theatricality of certain scenes. However overwrought some scenes may be, they were able to squeeze out memorable performances from these three main actors. Even as we followed Martha's 8-month ordeal during the film's 128 minutes, Mundruczó and Weber still left a lot of Martha's frame of mind and motivations as blanks for us to fill for ourselves. 7/10. 


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

My Top 20 Most Read Reviews on ABS-CBNNews.com for 2020

January 4, 2021

My very first review published on ABS-CBNNews.com 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 7 years later, the number of my articles that appeared on ABS-CBNNews.com have gone up approaching 1000. I am humbled and very thankful for my editor's continued trust and confidence in my opinion writing about movies. Because of the pandemic restrictions, there have been no plays and concerts since March 15, 2020. I did begin writing about series streamed on Netflix and Amazon Prime instead, even K-dramas.

Quarantine notwithstanding, there had still been more than 100 reviews of mine that appeared on ABS-CBNNews.com. Popular 2020 titles which I thought would make the list, like Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit" and "The Crown Season 4," Oscar favorites like "The Trial of the Chicago 7" or "Mank," or my first forays into K-drama reviewing like "It's OK Not to Be Okay" and "Start Up," did not. 

Here is the list of the 20 most popular movie reviews on ABS-CBNNews.com which carried my byline for the year 2020:


20. Hindi Tayo Pwede (LINK) Posted at March 7, 2020

19. The Devil All the Time (LINK) Posted at September 19, 2020

18. Lingua Franca (LINK) Posted at November 28, 2020

17. All the Bright Places/Tune in for Love/Twin Murders (LINK) Posted at June 6, 2020

16. Japan Sinks (LINK) Posted at July 19, 2020

15. Operation Christmas Drop/Midnight at the Magnolia/Christmas Made to Order (LINK) Posted at November 14, 2020

14. The Platform/The Occupant/Mark of the Devil (LINK) Posted at April 12, 2020

13. Spenser Confidential/6 Underground/Fractured (LINK) Posted at March 17, 2020

12. Aswang (LINK) Posted at July 11, 2020

11. Beauty Queens (LINK) Posted at July 18,2020


10. Metamorphosis (LINK) Posted at August 28, 2020 at 06:04 AM


9. The Last Days of American Crime/365 Days/Intuition (LINK) Posted at June 13, 2020 at 06:34 AM


8. The Grudge (LINK) Posted at January 20, 2020 at 04:39 PM

7. The Old Guard (LINK) Posted at July 11, 2020 at 06:35 AM



6. On Vodka, Beers and Regrets (LINK) Posted at February 7, 2020 at 01:12 PM


5. Bad Education (LINK) Posted at May 21, 2020 at 06:00 AM



4. The Next 12 Days (LINK) Posted at May 23, 2020 at 06:21 AM


3. Kim Ji-Young Born 1982 (LINK) Posted at February 15, 2020 at 07:21 AM


2. The Call of the Wild (LINK) Posted at February 22, 2020 at 10:55 AM


1. Fan Girl (LINK) Posted at December 26, 2020 at 09:35 AM 



Monday, January 4, 2021

Review of MINARI: Acclimatizing in America

January 4, 2020



The title Minari refers to an herbal plant originating from East Asia, with scientific name Oenanthe javanica, commonly known by a variety of names, like Chinese celery, Japanese parsley, or Korean minari. It is plant that is easy to raise, because when you harvest the leaves to use in cooking, they grow back out again. This hardy vegetable is the metaphor Korean-American writer-director Lee Isaac Chung used to tell his own personal story on film.

in the 1980s, Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Yeri Han) Yi were a immigrant couple from Korea. They first settled in California where they worked classifying chicks by sex at a hatchery. They had two children, pre-teen Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and spirited tyke David (Alan Kim). But Jacob had a bigger American dream in mind, so he upped and moved his family to an old trailer home in an empty field in Arkansas start a farm of their own from scratch. 

Monica missed the city life, and was concerned about how far their farm was from any hospital, a concern since little David had a heart condition. One day, they welcomed Monica's mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) in from Korea to live with them to help around the house. Forced to share a room, David did not think that Soon-ja, with her impish demeanor and sharp tongue, was not behaving like a typical grandmother should. 

From there, a tale of resilience and adaptation by the Yi family was told both from the homefront and from the community around them. Jacob reluctantly accepted help at the farm from an eccentric old man Paul (Will Patton), who had some unusual tics and religious beliefs, but was very handy on the field. They attended a Christian church nearby and gained some new friends. However, challenges continue to hound the family that forced tough decisions.

A major charm of this film was the relationship between Soon-ja and David. Things started out with a lot of resistance of little boy about this old woman who smelled like Korea. At first, David would correct her broken English ("I am not pretty, I am good-looking!") or pull some naughty pranks on her (like replacing her tea with something nasty). But later, grandmother eventually won her grandchild over when they bonded while planting minari near a water hole.

The pace is slow and there is a lot of talking (in Korean, so you need to read the subtitles), so this film will not be for everyone. The experience of the Yi family trying to make it in America had definitely not been a bed of roses, every small gain it seems would meet head-on with adversity.  However, once you get into the Chung's frame of mind and immerse into Jacob's fighting spirit and determination to succeed, then this film will also win your heart. 8/10.