Friday, February 17, 2017

Review of I'M DRUNK, I LOVE YOU: Frustrating Friendship; + Review of Short Film ANGELITO

February 16, 2017

The movie, from the TBA (Tuko, Buchi Boy and Artikulo Uno) group and directed by JP Habac, is indeed a love story. The story is about film student Dio (Paulo Avelino) and his female best friend, a social work major boyishly named Carson (Maja Salvador). Carson had been carrying a torch for Dio for the past seven years that they had known each other and played acoustic music together. However, Dio did not treat her anything more than a good friend. Now that both of them are graduating already, will something finally happen?

As with most of his previous work, Paulo Avelino tends to underplay his part, relying mostly on his face to convey his emotion. He is not averse to playing jerks before, and here he is playing another one. Maja Salvador attacks her role with more energy, but she can tend to go too manic when she is playing drunk. Her confession scene was simply too heartbreaking. We all felt for her deeply at that moment, and were all in bated breath in that scene to see what happens next.

Dominic Roco plays Carson's gay best friend Jason Ty. His role is mainly for comic relief with his sassy one-liners, but he also gets to figure in some of his own memorable moments. Jasmine Curtis-Smith as Dio's classy vegan friend Pathy mainly serves the purpose of being the center of Carson's jealousy and target of her sharp tongue. There are also cameos by Jim Paredes as Dio's dad, and Ms. Irma Adlawan as Carson's mom.

Aside from the script and the acting, a big plus about this film is that it features songs with poetic lyrics from artists like Juan Miguel Severo, Kai Honasan, Ebe Dancel, Bullet Dumas, The Out of Body Special, Ang Bandang Shirley, Parokya ni Edgar, among others. A good part of the film was set during the beach-side Daluyon Music Festival in La Union which gave ample time to play these emo love songs to express the underlying thoughts and feelings in various scenes.

It was like the viral Jollibee commercial "Vow" all over again, only this one is feature film length with genders reversed. The friendzone is really one murky prison full of anguished "hugot" and "feels", a pit of quicksand where frustrations of unrequited love mire the unfortunate victim. I may not agree with drowning out the bitterness with alcohol (especially while wearing the sablay!), but I concede that people have been resorting to the bottle for years to numb the cutting pain. 

The timing of the story on graduation day is critical in signaling the transition from callow youth to mature adult, a queasy uncertainty millennials can identify with and Gen-X'ers can look back on, fondly or otherwise. In Dio and Carson's case, they have been delaying the inevitable, maxing out on the MRR (Maximum Residency Rule) of UP, finishing their respective courses in seven years instead of four. Eventually though, we all need to grow up and make that jump.  7/10.


Confession time: I decided to watch "I'm Drunk, I Love You" only because it was going to be accompanied by this short film also from TBA which would bridge "Heneral Luna" with its next chapter, "Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral". 

Review of ANGELITO:

This 20-minute long short film shows characters we had previously met from the first film -- journalist Joven Fernando (Arron Villaflor) and the two Bernal brothers, Manuel (Art Acuna) and Jose (Alex Medina) -- on the run following the assassination of Luna, being hunted by the soldiers under Gen. Gregorio del Pilar. The Angelito in the title refers the youngest Bernal brother played by child actor Tomas Santos. 

If this film was made to make us excited about the upcoming film about Gregorio del Pilar, it worked. Even if this was just a short film, the production values were that of a feature film. It had excellent direction by Jerrold Tarog, and high quality cinematography, film editing, period costumes and production, as well as acting. The open ending definitely whetted my appetite to go see "Goyo," even if nary the shadow of lead actor Paulo Avelino as Goyo was even seen in this short.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review of ARRIVAL: Arbitration with Aliens

February 7, 2017

"Arrival" is nominated eight times in this year's Oscar Awards, including nods for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is a science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve, a Canadian director who had previously impressed with films like "Prisoners" (2013) and "Sicario" (2015). Screen writer Eric Heisserer takes a big leap up from his previous output in horror flicks like "Lights Out" (2016) and "The Thing" (2011) to create an enigmatic script based on a 1998 sci-fi short story by Ted Chiang entitled "Story of Your Life".

One day, twelve unusual bowl-shaped alien spacecraft appeared in different locations all across the planet. One of them hovered over Montana in the USA near a military camp where linguistics professor Louise Banks was brought in by Army Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) to try and establish communication with the two "heptapod" creatures on board. Together with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise decodes the strange, seemingly random circular "messages" the aliens send. Meanwhile, Louise is also being unsettled by dreams of uncertain meaning featuring her and her daughter.

It is to the credit of this film that it pursues an uncommon path when it comes to alien visitors to Earth-- not as an action film (like "Independence Day") or a kids film (like "E.T."). "Arrival" is a very sober and thought-provoking film about establishing understanding - not only with the aliens, but among countries of the world, and also within one's self. The lead character is in fact a linguist, not really a hero we would expect in a sci-fi film with aliens, but she is a hero who embodies the main points of this special film.

It is very surprising indeed that for a film nominated for eight Oscar awards, the central performance of Amy Adams as Louise was the one overlooked.  Adams had been nominated for Oscar five times before, mostly for supporting roles in films like "Junebug" (2006), "Doubt" (2008), "The Fighter" (2010) and "The Master" (2012). When she was finally nominated for Best Actress in "American Hustle" (2013), she was not really the main character. But here in "Arrival," Adams is front and center with a restrained, low-key but emotionally-charged performance. 

The production design is very unusual as well as mind-boggling. The vertical orientation of those salad bowl space craft was a haunting sight as they hover. I was actually waiting for some moment of unity from these spaceship, but nothing like that really happens. The appearance of the heptapod alien creatures were also of strange design that do not really suggest intelligence or benevolence. We were not really given much information about their physiology or motivations, which was a pity.

The pictographic circular heptapod "statements" were an innovative idea of written language, even if they did look like stains left by coffee mugs on a table. My only problem there is that we do not really get a deeper insight as to how Louise managed to be able to read them with certainty, without actual scientific validation. She started with a white board and pen, which looked pitifully low-tech given the circumstances. Next thing, she already see her with a tablet that had software with various heptapod symbols she could click on, but we were not told how she came up with how these could be connected into a circle statement the aliens could comprehend.

Overall I still did like this film for the important message it was telling us -- the importance of communication through space and time. Its non-linear storytelling, glacial pace, moody look and breathy soundscape may not be for everyone, but I thought this message is well worth the 2-hours it takes to watch this film. However it cannot be denied that there were a lot of questions raised, foremost of which was the nebulous connection of Louise's alien interactions to her visions, as well as her mysterious critical phone call. Answers will not be immediately evident by the end of the film. These questions will challenge the viewers to think and discuss further after the film trying to unravel them. 8/10.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review of FIFTY SHADES DARKER: Volatile Vanilla

February 14, 2017

"Fifty Shades of Grey" was a Valentine's Day feature two years ago. Like it was for the E.L. James books on which the film was based, critics hated the film. Anyhow, audiences curious about the erotic BDSM lifestyle the film portrayed made it a big box-office hit despite the harsh critical reception against it. I guess the baser instincts still held sway than intellect in this case.  My own review was posted HERE

"Fifty Shades Darker" picks up where the first film left off. Anastasia Steele is now working as an executive assistant of an editor at a publishing company. Within the first five minutes, a mere promise of no rules and no punishments was all it took for Christian Grey to convince Ana to allow him back into her life. 

While Christian seems sincere in making their vanilla romance work, Ana still seems to long for the kinky stuff. When women from Christian's past like Elena Lincoln (his cougar seducer and abuser) and Leila Williams (his depressed and obsessed submissive) come into the scene, Ana has second thoughts about his capacity for a serious relationship. 

The miscasting problem that hounded Jamie Dornan in the first film continues in this sequel. He never was really convincing as a overbearing and over-dominant Christian Grey. Dakota Johnson is a better actress but is saddled with the annoyingly indecisive way Ana was written in the script. At least, she is not shy to display her body.

It was good to see Kim Basinger on the big screen once again after a long absence from the mainstream since probably her Oscar for "L.A. Confidential" (1997). Too bad her role as the child molester Elena (whom Ana called Mrs. Robinson) was too short, but it was made pretty clear that we will be seeing more of Ms. Basinger in the upcoming sequel "Fifty Shades Freed." 

Eric Johnson played the role of Ana's predator of a boss, Jack Hyde. We can see his intentions on his face from the very first scene we see him in. There was no subtlety at all in terms of his character development. After disappearing midway in the film, we do get a hint at the end that we will be seeing him again in the next film.

Well, at least the local board of censors were sensible enough to leave the sensitive sex scenes alone and intact this time. Gone were the black block nonsense that they slapped on the sex scenes of the first film to "protect" the supposedly adult viewing public. These sex scenes, admittedly, were the main draw of a film like this. However, they were pretty short, repetitive and oddly conventional. 

As with the first film, the aspect I liked most was the musical soundtrack. The first film gave us songs like "Love Me Like You Do" by Elle Goulding and "Earned It" by The Weeknd. For this second film, songs like "I Don't Wanna Live Forever" (by Zayn Malick and Taylor Swift), "Not Afraid Anymore" by Halsey, "One Woman Man" (by John Legend) and "Helium" (by Sia) succeed in their purpose to heighten sensuality in the scenes. 

Story-wise and acting-wise though, this installment by new director James Foley was nary an improvement over the first one by Sam Taylor-Johnson, whose visual style still pervades. Things did not become any better or darker. 4/10. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review of THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE: Changing the Crusader

February 12, 2017

"The Lego Movie" was one of the best animated films of 2014 with its colorful look, hilarious lines and infectious theme song.  This year, we get its first spin-off from one of the most popular characters from that first film, Batman.  This new 3D computer-animated superhero comedy film produced by Warner Animation Group and DC Entertainment is directed by Chris McKay and written by a team composed of Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington.

Batman had always been a self-centered loner who felt he did not need anyone else in his career as a vigilante, nor his personal life. When Barbara Gordon was named Gotham's new police commissioner to replace her father, she declared that she wants the police to stop depending on Batman. Meanwhile, an earnest orphan Dick Grayson gets himself adopted by a distracted Bruce Wayne during the same event.

On the other hand, the Joker, hurt that Batman feels no hate for him, cooked up an elaborate scheme to get his revenge. Batman fell right into his plot by stealing the Phantom Zone Projector from Superman's Fortress of Solitude. With Gotham under attack from all the super villains and monsters known in movie history, will Batman finally admit that he cannot save the city by himself, and that he needs help?

Like the original film, we get the same underlying message about cooperation and team work. The same vibrantly colorful visuals pervade this spin-off. There was a lot of cheesy 80s music to liven up the mood, from "I Just Died in Your Arms" by Cutting Crew to "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" by Wham!  The final song "Friends are Family" was perky, but it was tough to match the extreme catchiness of "Everything is Awesome" from the first film.

But what really makes this new one special were all the very funny pop-culture references thrown into the script to spoof the very serious mythology of the Bat. I liked that they kept referring to the campy Adam West "Batman" TV series of the 1960s. It was too funny to recall those sound effects words that pop out during the fight scenes. It was great to see Batman together with his Justice League and Superfriends colleagues. It was also great to see all the Batman villains like Bane, Catwoman, Riddler, Harley Quinn, Penguin and many others reunited in one movie.

It was quite an exhilarating rush to see all those super villains and monsters, all presumably from the Warner Bros. and DC canon, together in one screen. There is King Kong, the Gremlins, the Wicked Witch and the flying Monkeys from "Wizard of Oz", Agent Smith from "The Matrix", the T-Rex and Velociraptors from "Jurassic Park". The "Eye of Sauron" from the "Lord of the Rings" films gets prominent action here. We also see Lord Voldemort from the "Harry Potter" films, whom we only hear casting Wingardium Leviosa spells, and not his deadly Avada Kedavra.

Will Arnett was so deadpan funny as Batman. Zach Galifianakis was a manic Joker. Michael Cera was a chirpy Robin. Rosario Dawson was an authoritative Barbara Gordon. Ralph Fiennes does not voice Lord Voldemort here, but the loyal butler Alfred, who was given a much expanded role here. 

As the end credits were rolling, you see a lot of famous names lending their voices to the characters in cameo roles, like Channing Tatum as Superman, Jonah Hill as Green Lantern, Seth Green as King Kong, Conan O'Brien as Riddler, Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face, Hector Elizondo as Commissioner Gordon, Mariah Carey as the Mayor and Siri herself (Susan Bennett) as the Batcomputer.

The filmmakers behind this project clearly love the Batman. They dug up a lot of details from his entire canon of comics, TV and film and respectfully sent the Bat up in a most entertaining way. There were so many witty references and in-jokes you'd probably want to watch it a second or third time to catch them all. It was clever. It was nostalgic. It was great fun all around. 9/10. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review of KUNG FU YOGA: Amusing Adrenalized Archeology

February 12, 2017

Jackie Chan has been announcing his retirement from making films since a few years back, but he can never seem to make good with that intention. His fans love him and his unique brand of wholesome comedy-martial arts combination too much for him to retire. This year, here he is again with a new film still featuring his beloved trademark style that earned him loyal fans all these years. 

A regally glamorous professor from India named Ashmita (Disha Patani) seeks out the help of renowned Chinese archeologist Prof. Jack Chang (Jackie Chan) in finding the long-lost legendary Magadha treasure. Together with his two teaching assistants Xiaoguang (Lay Zhang of boyband Ex-O) and Youmin (yoga goddess Miya Muqi), and his treasure hunting colleague Jones Lee (Hong Kong actor/singer Aarif Rahman), Jack finds a fantastic pink 212-carat diamond artifact among other treasures in a buried trove he discovers under the Tibetan ice. However, a ruthless Indian gangster Randall (Sonu Sood), who claims that the treasure rightfully belongs to his family, is making sure he gets his hand on the fabled treasures even if it means killing off Jack and his team.

The film begins with some historical background about the T'ang Dynasty of China and the Magadha Kingdom of India, the veracity of which could be questionable given the cartoonish depiction of the battles with obvious computer-generated imagery. From this rather shaky beginning though, there were quite a number of action highlights that followed which kept the film all-charged up to the delightful Bollywood-style ending. 

The fight scene in the Indian marketplace with the rope climbers, snake charmers, sword swallowers and flame blowers was fun to watch. The scene where the Jones, Xiaoguang and Ashmita's sister Kyra (Amyra Dastur) were trying to escape from a cage full of hungry hyenas was also very exciting to watch. The most expensive-looking stunt was that high-octane luxury car chase in the streets of Dubai where Lamborghini and Bugatti sports cars look like they were actually totally wrecked. 

The acting is nothing too serious to speak about. Chan, Rahman and Lay mainly play it cute for their lady fans, with some explosive kung fu action scenes to keep their male viewers pumped. The ladies, Patani, Muqi and Dastur, get to be all elegant and pretty, but do join in the fighting action, and not only as damsels-in-distress. The English dubbing was rather mechanical sounding in its quality. This made the actors' corny acting performances seem even more shallow. But anyhow, acting is not really the main point of a film like this.

There is really something about Jackie Chan how he can elevate even the most shallow script into something really exciting and funny with his energetic stunt work. He is still amazing at age 62, from that solo workout he had using the wing-chun wooden dummy that even concluded with a handstand, to that hilarious car ride with a roaring live lion in the backseat. Overall, despite some corny moments, this film by Stanley Tong (who also directed Jackie Chan in a number of hits in the 1990s like "Rumble in the Bronx") aspires for positive ideals and is quite entertaining to watch with its unusual mix of Chinese and Indian elements. 6/10.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review of SAKALING HINDI MAKARATING: Provocative Postcards

February 7, 2017

“Sakaling Hindi Makarating” was one of the 10 finalists in the CineFilipino Film Festival scheduled from March 16 to 22 last year. It won 2nd Best Picture, Best Actor (Pepe Herrera), Best Cinematography (Ice Idanan), Best Sound (Raffy Magsaysay), Best Musical Scor (Mon Espia) and Best Editing (Hannah Espia).  It finally got its commercial run this week, almost a year after the film festival. It is lucky, the Best Picture of that filmfest "Ned's Project" still has no commercial run.

Cielo and her fiance Mark had just broken up after an 11-year relationship. While her next door neighbor, English professor Paul strikes a friendship with her, Cielo begins receiving pretty watercolor postcards showing various tourist spots around the Philippines, addressed to C, from M. Intrigued, Cielo drops everything and goes on a soul-searching trip from Zamboanga to Batanes to look for this mysterious M. 

The basic idea is very simple yet so clever to launch a scenic tour around the country. The screenplay, which was also written by young lady director Ice Idanan, reflects the female psyche very well when it comes to their mindset after a breakup. She confessed in an interview that she wrote this script while in a throes of heartbreak after an 8-year relationship collapsed. It does not rely on "hugot" lines as many romances are wont to do these days, given the success of similar films like "That Thing Called Tadhana".

Alessandra da Rossi plays Cielo like a real flesh and blood woman who just lost a man she had invested her life on for 11 long years only to see it all crumble. She is bitter and miserable, not in the mood for any wisecracks, and she is in pain. Da Rossi is really one very natural actress who does not go to excesses to convey her internal turmoil. 

Witty humor is the job of the character of Paul. played by Pepe Herrera. It is so profound to ponder on one of Paul's lines about moping over the past 11 years instead of looking forward to the rest of one's life. We all need someone like Paul to point out to us the silver lining around our clouds and as well as to share our progress of our recovery. 

JC Santos played the charismatic character of Manuel with irresistible charm. However, the conclusion of that Marinduque episode was certainly puzzling. Terry Malvar, as the precocious 12 year old girl Sol, gets to deliver a line so heart-breaking when she meets Cielo for the first time. This moment was very well built up and very touching in execution. Lesley Lina, in her role as Sol's mother, also gets her moment to shine.

What makes this film thematically pleasing are the various artistic references. Artworks pervade its production design. There are many artists among the characters: Cielo, the painter of the postcards, the Morion woodcarvers of Mogpog, Sol's mother. Idanan also shows us a lot of beautiful sunsets and sunrises all over the country, also referred to in Sol's name. There is a literary reference to Dickens' "Great Expectations" as the lesson Paul was teaching his class and the book Cielo was reading. This film is also aurally pleasing because of the beautiful, perfectly-timed acoustic songs in the soundtrack.

While watching the film, we are so immersed in its visual beauty, it was easy to forego any minor quibbles about the plot. With "Sakali", the Philippines now has its own "letter-writing romance film" to join the ranks of "The Notebook," "The Lake House" or "Dear John." In retrospect though, did Cielo really need to go around all the islands when the postmarks already indicate where the postcards were sent from? I do not really need to answer that now, do I? 8/10. 

Review of MONSTER TRUCKS: Grease Guzzling Gambol

February 6, 2017

A monster truck is a pickup truck modified with a custom-built chassis and larger suspension and larger tires. They are used in competitions where drivers race and/or perform stunts like aerial jumps, wheelies and even flips. This film builds on the excitement of these trucks by adding the element of a real "monster" to power them.

Because of a faulty decision made while drilling for oil, a rig explodes and three subterranean grease-guzzling creatures were released to the surface. Meanwhile, high school senior Tripp Coley encounters one of them in his garage where he was constructing his own monster truck. When his new slimy tentacled friend Creech gets himself into his truck to control it, they both get their fill of their need for exhilarating speed and thrills.

In the lead role of Tripp is Lucas Till, best known in his recurrent role as Alex Summers (or Havok) in the X-Men reboot films since 2011. Playing Tripp's nerdy (but pretty) peer tutor Meredith is Jane Levy, whom we knew before from horror flicks like the remake of "Evil Dead" (2013) and the acclaimed "Don't Breathe" (2016). They are both obviously much older than the high school seniors they were supposed to play, not easy to overlook. To their credit, they do inject the film with youthful energy.

There are some veteran actors to beef up the cast, albeit in one-dimensional roles. Rob Lowe plays Mr. Reece Tenneson, greedy oil magnate, overall bad guy. Danny Glover plays Mr. Weathers, Tripp's paraplegic boss at the junk yard, overall good guy. Character actor Barry Pepper plays Rick, the local sheriff who happened to be the new boyfriend of Tripp's mom, mainly comic relief, but also had a piece of the action. 

Overall, this film is the fun family film you'd expect from the title, poster and trailer. When I saw Nickelodeon Films in the first frame of the opening credits, I immediately lowered my expectations for this kids film, not that I expected too much in the first place. Creech was one cute adorable critter. Those high-adrenaline (sometimes violent) monster-truck stunts were the main meat of the film, and these exciting scenes were really thrilling for all boys, small and big alike. 6/10.