Sunday, May 19, 2019

Review of A DOG'S JOURNEY: Reincarnated Responsibility

May 20, 2019

Shown two years ago, "A Dog's Purpose" told a story about about a dog and his search for his purpose in life. This sequel is still written by W. Bruce Cameron based on his 2011 book, but Gail Mancuso had taken over the directorial duties from Lasse Hallstrom.

This new film follows the adventures of dog Bailey and his master Ethan after the events of the first film. Ethan is now an elderly man living with his wife Hannah on their farm with their cute little granddaughter CJ. However, when emotionally-unstable, dog-hating Gloria eventually left the farm bringing her daughter along with her, Ethan bid dying Bailey to protect CJ and hopefully bring her back home. 

Like in the first film, Bailey undergoes a number of reincarnations in the course of his duty. The Bailey at the end of the first film (and at the beginning of this new one) is a St. Bernard / Australian Shepherd. After he passes on, Bailey's soul transferred to a Beagle named Molly, then a Mastiff named Big Dog and finally a Yorkshire Terrier named Max. In each reincarnation, however improbable it may seem, Bailey would be able to see CJ at different points in her life.

Ethan is still played by Dennis Quaid like he was in the first film. However, his wife Hannah is now played by Marg Helgenberger, replacing the late Peggy Lipton. These two play the ideal picture-perfect grandparents. They were always thinking positively of people and never lost their cool it seemed even when being disrespected. Gloria is played by Betty Gilpin in a most one-dimensional hateful portrayal of an alcoholic, negligent and cruel mother. 

Adult CJ is played by British actress Kathryn Prescott and they cast some lookalike child actresses to play her in younger ages. For diversity sake, it was interesting to note here that CJ's best friend Trent was played by Henry Lau, a Canadian actor of Chinese (Hongkong / Taiwanese) descent who used to be a member of the boyband Super Junior-M. They each had one terrible relationship with other partners (Shane played by Jake Manley and Liesl played by Daniela Barbosa) which were obviously doomed to fail from the get go.

The best part of the film is still Josh Gad's humorous narration of Bailey's thoughts both naughty and nice, no matter how cheesy situations can get. No matter how impossible things seemed to be, everything still worked like a charm. If you have seen "A Dog's Purpose," you sort of already knew how everything was going to end, but nevertheless, the overwhelmingly sentimental and heartwarming emotions will make tears well in your eyes, especially if you are a dog-lover. 7/10. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3: Hunting the Hunter

May 16, 2019

Keanu Reeves is back in the role that placed him back into the Hollywood A-list five years ago. The first "John Wick" (MY REVIEW) has since spawned its own franchise, coming up with a sequel last 2016 and now this third installment comes along to continue the story of his fight against the High Table. Fans are expecting that all the fantastically violent stunts and fights that had us breathless in the first two films will still be there and then some more.

Following the events in Chapter 2 where John Wick is on the run after killing High Table member within the "safe space" of the Continental Hotel in New York City. The High Table declared Wick excommunicado and leveled a $14M bounty on his head which had all the assassins around the world very excited. While the Adjudicator (on behalf of the High Table) visited and threatened gang leaders who helped Wick escape, Wick sought the assistance of the Director, the ballet-loving leader of the Russian mob, for safe passage out of New York to Casablanca.

Even the most sedate places are not safe in the John Wick universe, every place could be fight arena. The first fight scene was set inside the New York Public Library against the assassin played by 7'3" Philadelphia 76er Boban Marjanovic, and that already confirmed that there would be no holding back in the ruthlessness of the fights in this film. It would be hard to unsee that scene where a book was used to bash someone's teeth in. 

This film really upped the ante on the imaginativeness of the fight scenes, giving all of them a distinctive gimmick we never saw before. The fight inside a weapons museum rapidly escalated into a major bloodbath in the most spectacular fashion, especially with all those knife exhibits at their disposal to hurl at their opponents. Even animals were used to amp up the pain factor in other fights, with kicking horses in the carriage stables scene, and those two vicious German Shepherds in the Casablanca scene.

Various types of knives and swords were also used in the fights as the film went on. A most amazing scene was that of the motorcycle chase and fight scenes featuring Wick against ten or so armored assassins each wielding a samurai sword. There were two Indonesian-looking assassins who were being played as comic relief during their fight with Wick as they were very thrilled to be fighting their idol. Sword was also the weapon of choice of the bald assassin Zero (campily played by Mark Dacascos) during his climactic fight to the death with Wick set within a museum made of glass. 

Acting is not really expected to be the strong suit of a film like this, what with Keanu Reeves in the lead. All the supporting actors played their parts over-the-top, as if they were characters of a comic book or graphic novel come alive. Returning cast members include Lawrence Fishburne (as the Bowery King), Ian McShane (as Continental head honcho Winston) and Lance Reddick (as Charon, the Continental's efficient concierge). 

It was interesting to see a couple of past Oscar award winners in the cast. Halle Berry (as Sofia, Wick former friend based in Casablanca) scintillatingly pulled off her fight scenes with an endless horde of warriors with the valuable assistance of her pets. Anjelica Huston was memorable as the Director, a member of the High Table and a perfectionist ballet teacher, who knew Wick when he was starting out in the assassin trade. 

This definitely succeeds to satisfy the bloodthirst of John Wick fans. Every fight sequence here looked and felt really more intense and more graphic than how I remembered the previous two films. John Wick was practically invincible here (as always). The director and fight choreographer Chad Stahelski will really have his hands full coming up with more extraordinary fights in more extraordinary settings and situations should this cinematic saga continue on to a fourth sequel. 8/10. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Review of KUWARESMA: Twisted Tale of Twins

May 15, 2019

For his latest film, director Erik Matti returns to a favorite genre of his -- horror. Previously, he had done "Pa-Siyam" (2004), the two Aswang Chronicles films "Tiktik" (2012) and "Kubot (2014) and "Seklusyon" (2016). When Sharon Cuneta to be the lead actress of this new project (her very first horror film of her entire career), what was supposed to have been a small film eventually grew in proportion to the magnitude of its star.

It was 1985. Luis Fajardo was called at his boarding school in Lucena City to return to their home in Baguio City because his twin sister Manuela had died suddenly. When he got there, neither his obstetrician mother (Dr. Rebecca) nor his ex-military father (Col. Arturo) would tell him exactly what happened. From his first night and every night that followed, Luis would experience one bizarre horrific event after the other, seemingly from his sister who blamed him for leaving her behind.

As proven from his previous films, Erik Matti was a master in creating a chilling atmosphere. From the very beginning, even a favorite Christmas song like "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" took on an eerie air, especially with all the whispering voices and whimpering cries that were heard along with it. The old Baguio house of the Fajardo family was built even before World War 2. Its rooms, with its antique furnishings (including a fully-equipped labor room!), seemed perpetually shrouded in shadows, even during the daytime. 

What seemed to be a simple story of a dysfunctional family at the start slowly turned out to be more and more convoluted with warped twists which revealed themselves as the film unfolded, as written by Katski Flores. Aside from the family, there was only one other side character -- a mysterious woman named Salve (Guila Alvarez), who introduced herself to Luis during the wake as someone whose preternatural talents might be of help to him. 

The biggest surprise though came midway in the film, when Rebecca dropped a big revelation bomb which was so incredibly crazy and wild, I am sure no one could ever see it coming. This scene was so insanely shocking that it will leave mouths agape in disbelief once this plot point was played out. However I personally did not think it particularly worked well, nor did it feel entirely necessary in the overall narrative, which became a bit overstetched towards the end.  

Sharon Cuneta was able to create a nebulous character mystery in her portrayal of Dr. Rebecca Fajardo. Throughout the film, we cannot really decide what sort of mother she was. She struck us first as a long-suffering martyr of spousal abuse, but later she seemed to be seamlessly becoming different inexplicable personalities, sometimes within the same scene. Cuneta was really pushed through the wringer and challenged like she had never been before with this exhaustingly maddening role. 

John Arcilla was a terrifying presence as Col. Arturo Fajardo. It initially seemed like he was channeling Vic Silayan's fearsome father character Sgt. Carandang in the film "Kisapmata" (Mike de Leon, 1981). In a while, he would be slobbering as he lisped with a demonic-sounding foreign language. Later, he would be involved in bloody torture scenes which would make you wince in pain. Still later he would be shouting out blasphemous pronouncements which will make you writhe in your seat with guilt for merely hearing them.

17 year-old acting newcomer Kent Gonzales played the plum role of Luis, the precious only son of the Fajardos upon whom his father had imposed unrealistic expectations of excellence. He was able to hold his own in his scenes with the two senior acting heavyweights he was with. There were some unexpected developments in his character which were unfortunately not explored too well anymore. In an interesting piece of casting, his real-life younger sister Pam Gonzales played Luis's ill-fated twin sister Manuela. 

Aside from the point that Manuela was interred on the second Sunday of Lent and there was a scene that recalled Ash Wednesday, I do not really get why "Kuwaresma" was the title of this film as a whole. Unlike many other Pinoy horror films, there was no overuse of spooky religious statues here, nor did it feature Filipino Holy Week practices and superstitions, despite the religious-sounding title. 

Overall, the film was technically excellent. There was fascinating mixing of music and spooky sound elements with a full wall of sound effect. The production design really worked hard with the costumes and props as the scenes jumped decades from 1944 to 1965 to 1985.  Its moody bluish-tinged cinematography plus the tight editing creating some good jump scares, with above-average ghost and monster visual effects for more frights. Fans of Filipino horror will like this one. 7/10. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Review of J.T. LEROY: Pseudonymous Problems

May 13, 2019

"J.T. LeRoy" was supposed to be a biographic film. However, I had never heard of this person before. Viewers who knew this personality will have their own appreciation of how the real-life people and events were portrayed in the film. I only have this film to introduce me to the individuals involved and show me the events as they transpired. I trust they should be interesting enough to be given a movie with known stars to tell the story. 

Laura Albert was an author who wrote under the pseudonym / pseudo-persona J.T. LeRoy, a teenage boy who went through a life of poverty, drugs and abuse. Her first two books were best-sellers, which led to a public clamor for J.T. LeRoy to reveal himself in public. When a movie deal was being hatched for her first book "Sarah," Laura convinced her androgynous-looking sister-in-law Savannah Knoop to assume the persona of J.T. LeRoy. 

Acclaimed authors like the Mary Anne Evans and Karen Blixen are more known as their male pseudonyms George Eliot and Isak Dinesen. More recently, Joanna Rowling was asked to use the initials J.K. as a gender-unspecific pseudonym before her first Harry Potter book was published. For Laura Albert though, her reason for creating this teenage boy J.T. LeRoy was for him to assume the abuse she personally experienced in her youth. 

So it was Laura Albert's own desire to gain more fame that led her to getting Savannah to become J.T. LeRoy in the flesh, as she (Laura) vicariously enjoyed all the media attention that her creation was receiving. But of course, Savannah was still her own person, so being J.T. LeRoy eventually became too difficult for her to pull off full time. This film was based on Savannah Knoop's memoirs so we are seeing the story told from her point of view, as the victim of Laura's manipulative ambitions. 

Kristen Stewart had matured in age, but she still portrayed Savannah Knoop in her same monotonous dry acting style, like she did her breakthrough role of Bella Swan of the "Twilight Saga" films. Stewart's J.T. LeRoy was not a likable character with her platinum wig, dark sunglasses, and mousy aloof demeanor. Stewart was bolder here, with her scenes of breast binding and sex scenes with both male and female partners.

Laura Dern was effusively over-the-top as Laura Albert, especially in her character of Speedy, J.T. LeRoy's white-trashy manager. There is something about Dern's style that made her more likable than Stewart, even if the focus of the story was against Laura. Diane Kruger played the beautiful and aggressive director and actress Eva, who competed for JT's attention and trust against Laura, and prevailed. 

JT's gender was really confusing here as presented by writer-director Justin Kelly, maybe it was meant to be. There was a point when J.T. LeRoy totally looked female already (not merely androgynous), yet no one suspected anything yet, even Eva it seemed. The pace of storytelling of the film was very slow, made even slower by Stewart's languid speaking style both as Savannah and as JT and the uncompelling style of the writing (despite the interesting premise). 5/10.  

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Review of AFTER: Tale of a Teenage Tryst

May 12, 2019

In the 1980s, there were very popular films like "Endless Love" and "Blue Lagoon" (both starring Brooke Shields) featuring a teenage girl and her first experience with sex. With the way sexual mores have evolved since then, there were hardly any dramatic movies about losing virginity that ever reached that level of popularity any more. This new film seems to want to test the waters if this type of film will work its magic on the box-office again.

Tessa Young is a college freshman. She is a serious studious type, never had been in any sort of mischief in the past. Hardin Scott was the bad boy jock who believed that he could charm any girl into getting into bed with her. One night, they met at a party during an innocent game of truth or dare. After some initial resistance, Tessa and Hardin discovered they both loved literature, and eventually could not get enough of each other. 

The 21-year old actress who played Tessa, Josephine Langford, was indeed very pretty. She reminded me of "Clueless"-era Alicia Silverstone. While watching the film, you will feel protective of her and feel sad for the unfortunate decisions she made. I identified with the concerns of her mother Carol (played by Selma Blair) about her roommates, who looked like bad news from Day 1. I would not have left my Tessa alone with those wanton-looking girls, no matter how much I trusted my daughter. 

The 21-year old actor who played Hardin, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, went for the typical brooding bad boy posturing that worked before for Hollywood teen male movie idols from James Dean all the way to Robert Pattinson. I don't think he could achieve their level of success though. Director Jenny Gage decided not to explore Hardin's personality, nor Tessa's for that matter, as individuals. The film was more concerned about their relationship together, than each of them on their own. 

The plot is very simple, straightforward and lazy plotting. There was absolutely nothing new about the story at all -- it was only based on a Wattpad novel after all. The climate for the depiction of sexuality in mainstream films these days is not anymore as bold as it was before. The sexual encounters depicted here stopped at being tame and suggestive, and nothing more. This was a film that merely depended on the attractiveness and chemistry of the two leads to sell it, and unfortunately, their combined chemistry and individual charisma were not exactly that strong. 3/10. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

Review of TAYO SA HULING BUWAN NG TAON: Derailed Destinies

May 11, 2019

When I went to watch this film, I did not know that this new film by Nestor Abrogena was a sequel of a previous film of his. I never got to watch the first movie "Ang Kuwento Nating Dalawa" (2015) at all, so for me, this was a totally new story with a new cast of characters to watch. I am most probably not going to judge this new film similarly to someone who had seen the first film before. 

Teacher / photographer / filmmaker Sam was in a happy live-in relationship with his co-teacher Anna, and they were about to get married. Writer Isa was in a happy live-in relationship with pilot / illustrator Frank, and they were about to migrate to the United States. It turned out that five years ago, Sam and Isa had a serious relationship which ended up in a painful separation. When their plans crossed again now, old wounds are reopened. 

For someone who had not seen the first film, Sam (Nicco Manalo) and Isa (Vera) did not have any romantic spark between them. Their personalities and backgrounds were so different from each other, they did not seem to fit at all. On the other hand, they were very compatible with their partners in life now -- Sam with Anna (Anna Luna), and Isa with Frank (Alex Medina). This contrast made the irony of their current contentment with the present versus the elusive closure with the past even more painful. 

While there was a similarity in the way Abrogena used the LRT / MRT and other public places as settings in the first film (as seen from its trailers and music videos), the overall quality of the cinematography (by Tey Clamor) looked so much better, cleaner and clearer in this new film, in terms of lighting, color quality and shot selection. That scene in the Christmas light show in particular was spectacularly shot, with the actors' faces floating amidst the sparkling bulbs in the background, as the camera circled around them. 

In the soundtrack of the first film, Qwest's "Walang Hanggan" emerged as the big hit with the fans. Here, there are three main songs which accompany the most emotionally-heavy scenes. Elle Sebastian's “Panahon," December Avenue's ”"Huling Sandali" and my personal favorite, Urbandub frontman Gabby Alipe’s “The Fight is Over" -- were all melancholic reflections of longing for a lost love. All of them fit perfectly into the overall heartbreaking mood of this film. 

Writer-director Nestor Abrogena told his story with a very slow pace. The whole first half of the film was about Sam and Isa's current separate lives with their respective families (heartwarming performances by Peewee O'Hara as Sam's mom and Alvin Anson as Isa's dad) and significant others, Anna and Frank. If you did not know that they used to be a serious item in a previous film (like me), this part of the film would seem rather meandering (but sincere) exposition of their mundane daily lives. 

When the two exes bumped into each other accidentally during an event, then that was the only time when the story began to take shape and clear up. Even then, it felt like their full back story was not completely revealed. It got lost and was left unanswered in emotional outbursts and incomplete sentences -- all within one single scene. I guess that answering that question was not the point of this film at all. 7/10. 

Review of POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU: Fanboying over a Fuzzy Furball

May 10, 2019

21-year old insurance guy Tim Goodman returned to Ryme City (a city where humans lived in harmony with their Pokemon pets) when he receiving news of his father Harry's car accident. There he meets his father's pet Pikachu, whose speech he could unexpectedly comprehend (even if others simply hear him say "pika pika").  Together with junior reporter Lucy Stevens and her Psyduck, they set out to investigate Harry's disappearance, and the dangerous case he was working on. 

I only know Pokemon on a casual basis, not a huge fan. Of course, I knew Pikachu, along with the rest of the world. But I was also familiar with a few other Pokemon like Charmander, Snorlax, Jigglypuff and Psyduck, although I needed help with the name recall. My son, on the other hand, was gleefully naming each and every Pokemon that appeared onscreen, like Cubone, Bulbasaur, Mr. Mime, Snubbull, Lickitung, Tortera, Squirtle, among many others. This film is definitely more fun if you are familiar with Pokemon and their lore.

The best part of this film is the amazingly adorable way they CG-animated the 3D Pikachu. Knowing him only as a 2D cartoon character, I did not expect him to be furry and fuzzy which further added to his cuteness. He was cute happy, he was cute sad -- so good. In addition, Ryan Reynolds' voice fit the character so well, giving him a winning and delightful personality.  He can even sing the Pokemon theme song -- so endearing! All through the film, I'm sure everyone in the audience would like to bring a little Pikachu home with them. 

The acting of the human cast, like Justice Smith (as Tim) and Kathryn Newton (as Lucy), was serviceable, taking a backseat to the Pokemon characters. Even the senior actors in the cast, like Ken Watanabe (as Detective Yoshida), Bill Nighy (as Ryme City creator Howard Goodman) and Chris Geere (as Howard's son Roger), portrayed their roles in a campy manner, maybe to appeal to the younger target audience. 

There were some cartoonish violence in some scenes, like the Pokemon battle arena scenes pitting a vicious Charizard against our Pikachu and those climactic outdoor fight-action sequences involving a very powerful Mewtwo, which earned this live-action Pokemon movie a PG rating. Overall, this Rob Letterman film was quite a fun and entertaining video game-based movie to watch even for those with limited Pokemon knowledge. 6/10 (but an 8.5/10 for my Pokemon fanboy son). 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Review of LONG SHOT (2019): Political Priorities

May 8, 2019

When US Secretary of State Charlotte Field was a 16-year old teenager, she baby-sat a nerdy 13-year boy, Fred Flarsky, who is now a daring radical journalist. When the two met at one function, Charlotte invited Fred to be her speech writer as she sought to become the first woman President of the United States. The relationship between the gorgeous, graceful Charlotte and uncouth, unkempt Fred take a turn towards romance, much to the chagrin of her campaign staff.

Charlize Theron of course was statuesque and svelte, certainly one of the world's most beautiful women. Smart and confident, she pulled off her presidential candidate role of Charlotte very credibly. Seth Rogan was his typical dorky loser character, but this time his Fred was a tough nut to crack, unwilling to compromise on his principles, even for his friends. This incorrigible attitude of his coupled with his sharp profane tongue tended to make him a very annoying guy.

Improbable as it may sound, there was actually chemistry between Theron and Rogan even if their characters looked and behaved miles apart and their love scenes can make some viewers cringe. I don't buy it that this starkly odd mismatch of a relationship could stay afloat in real life, but hey this is Hollywood, so happy endings are always possible. The writers though make sure enough roadblocks, some pretty far-fetched, are thrown their way to make things more challenging for them. 

O'Shea Jackson as Fred's best friend Lance, and June Diane Raphael as Charlotte's campaign manager Maggie, both did their supporting roles well. There were amusing cameos from Randall Park (as Fred's boss), Lisa Kudrow (as Charlotte's poll taker) and a longer one by Alexander Skaarsgard (as the dashing Canadian prime minister). Bob Odenkirk played the US President Chambers, a former TV actor who was portrayed as incompetent chief executive. As a departure from his CGI characters, Andy Serkis played a human character here, portraying the unscrupulous businessman, Mr. Wembley. 

This film followed a time-tested formula for romantic comedy of going for someone beyond your league, but this time, it was the beautiful girl who had to face a tough fight for the man she loved. The romantic angle of the plot was made more unpredictable by the implications of Charlotte's decisions and actions on her lofty political ambitions. The raunchy factor, especially with that scandal video, was over the top. Also I don't know why a drugged-out moment was always in films like this, I'm not a fan of that kind of humor. Filipino viewers will be struck by the choice of Manila as the place where Charlotte and Fred begin their romance.6/10. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Review of THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA: Malevolent Mexican Mother

April 23, 2019

La Llorona is a figure from Mexican folklore. She was a woman who drowned her two children in rage after her husband left her for another woman. When she died, her soul was condemned to search for the souls of her children. Her soul was said to have remained as a mournful ghost, eternally trapped in limbo causing injury or death to the living children who had the misfortune of encountering her. 

It was 1973 in Los Angeles. Anna Tate-Garcia was a social worker investigating a case of possible child abuse in the household of Patricia Alvarez. Finding Patricia's two sons locked in a closet, Anna took them into protective custody. However, that same night, the boys were found dead drowned in a river nearby. Patricia blamed Anna for their deaths, and then cursed that Anna's own two kids will now be the next target of the La Llorona.

James Wan (of "The Conjuring" franchise) heads the production team behind this film about La Llorona.  Actually, there is an appearance of the priest from the first "Annabelle" film, Fr. Perez (Tony Amendola), as one of Anna's advisers about her spectral problem. Since this film is considered as part of the "Conjuring" universe, the upcoming third "Annabelle" film scheduled to show later this year will be the second film of that franchise for 2019. 

After 'A Simple Favor" and "Green Book" last year and as Clint Barton's wife Laura in "Avengers: Endgame," it is great to see Linda Cardellini is getting more roles in prominent films again. She played the troubled lead character Anna here. I first knew of her as Velma in the "Scooby Doo" films (2002, 2004). I'm guessing that the scene in this film where a child was watching a "Scooby Doo" cartoon on TV was a reference to that fun fact. 

Anna's children Chris and Samantha were played by Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen. This whole Garcia family behaved like typical horror film characters who boldly go where they obviously shouldn't. That was why this film was full of anticipated jump scares. The setups were very obvious, but that is not to say they were not good. I particularly liked those two scenes that involved Samantha -- one with the clear umbrella at the pool and that one very tense bathtub scene. 

The comic relief in this moody film was provided by Raymond Cruz as the priest-turned-faith healer, Rafael Olvera. He has a grim face and he looked like he was very serious with his spells, but those scenes with the eggs were really laugh-out-loud funny for me. Everyone in those scenes were keeping their faces straight, but I am sure those were fun scenes to shoot, especially for the kid actors. 5/10.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Review of MALEDICTO: Possession Politics

May 1, 2019

From the first frame, my attention was immediately caught by seeing Fox Network Group as the main producer of this film (together with Cignal Entertainment and Unitel). Realizing that this is Fox's first locally-produced film, this fact heightened my eagerness and excitement for watching this new horror film, expecting a higher quality output than usual.

Fr. Xavi Lavezares (Tom Rodriguez) is an exorcist who trained in Rome. Being a medical doctor (a practicing psychiatrist) before going into priesthood, Fr. Xavi was eager to debunk cases of alleged demonic possessions as medical cases. However, his first major case which involved the nephew of the Cardinal did not go too well, which did not help Fr. Xavi's reputation as a brash young skeptical exorcist.

Agnes Villacorte (Miles Ocampo) was an outstanding student in St. Mary's Academy. However, she suddenly experienced an inexplicable personality breakdown, causing her to have violent outbursts against people around her. Sister Barbara Vergel de Dios (Jasmine Curtis Smith) sought the help of Fr. Xavi. At first, Fr. Xavi dismissed the case as induced by illegal drugs, but later factors would point him otherwise.  

To be completely honest, this was just a film about a rather straightforward case of demonic possession, much like the classic one we saw as far back as "The Exorcist". The appearance and behavior of the possessed Agnes in the final showdown with Fr. Xavi mostly followed the "Exorcist" template. Only, there was a touch of Philippine folklore introduced, with the involvement of a mysterious cult led by Manang Sisa (Liza Lorena).

Another angle introduced by this film was the stand of the local Church authorities regarding these exorcism cases. There was the character of Cardinal Delfino (Eric Quizon) who sought for the "modernization" of the Church. He wanted to stop attributing so-called cases of possessions to the Devil, and instead explain them as psychiatric or drug-induced mania. This was an interesting twist to the usual supernatural narrative of these films.

There seemed to be an effort to lighten the horror by some unexpected comedy. Tom Rodriguez's Fr. Xavi was an irreverent priest, cocky and assertive. He acted like one of those hotshot American crime show detectives -- drank cognac, smoked cigarettes, tactless of tongue. Miles Ocampo's portrayal of Agnes was rather over-the-top, coming off as unintentionally funny than scary. Jasmine Curtis-Smith was a perfect Sister Barbie personality-wise, but she looked unhealthy and gaunt here compared to her previous films. 

The cinematography seemed to be using a hazy filter to add to the mystical atmosphere. In some scenes, the camera was focusing and defocusing on the characters while their conversations were going on. Special visual effects, like the floating of Agnes' body or the lengthening of her tongue, were cleanly executed for a local film. There was actually a mid-credit extra scene which seemed to promise a sequel, making this film seem like the pilot episode of a TV series. I liked that final surprise. 6/10. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Review of GRETA: Longings of a Lonely Lady

April 28, 2019

Frances McCullen was a lonely young woman, orphaned by her mother, estranged from her father. Greta Hideg was a lonely old woman, widowed by her husband, abandoned by her daughter. One night, Frances picked up Greta's green handbag from a train and delivered it to her house personally the next morning. The two women hit it off very well and found comfort in each other -- one yearning for a mother, the other yearning for a daughter. One day, their ideal friendship was going to take a turn for the sinister.

The experience of watching this film would have been more intense had its trailer not spoiled all the major points of the plot. It already showed us how Frances was going to discover that Greta was not who she seemed. It already showed us how Greta was going to behave once Frances began to avoid her. It was easy to predict how the story was going to go from there, although writer Ray Wright did add a few surprise twists along the way. 

I got the vibe of "Fatal Attraction" while watching this film. Greta Hedig was its Alex Forrest, They both grew crazier the more they are ignored. Greta was made to do some pretty over-the-top stalking and terrorizing stunts here, such that the film took a turn to the unrealistically campy. That one scene in the restaurant where waitress Frances was forced to serve her stalker was the most public display of Greta's violent madness, yet the police still did not think she was dangerous -- most unbelievable. 

Frances was played by Chloe Grace Moretz, an ever-consistent solid actress among the younger generation. She was sincere in her naivete as a new New Yorker, trusting this nice little old French lady who played the piano, foolishly giving out both her mobile and landline numbers, and apparently, her work and home address too. Ironic how her chewing gum metaphor about herself completely and literally got turned around against her.

Acclaimed senior French actress Isabelle Huppert played Greta, the most unexpected stalker from hell. She was so nice and motherly, and played Lizst on the piano most heavenly. Towards the end, Greta's behavior turned horribly and outrageous psychopathic, yet there we see Huppert was gleefully dancing barefoot like a little girl. Huppert could have made Greta's turn to madness an acting class for subtlety had the film's pace slowed down.

Despite its common creepy stalker plot, this film was still worth the watch because of the level of acting talent it had. I think Jordan should have taken time to develop Frances and Greta's relationship so that its transformation to bad would have been less jarring, thus scarier. The actual violence could have been avoided, as pure deep psychological suspense would have been adequate to carry this story through given his lead actresses. Jordan took the shallower popcorn route on this and paid the price for his decision. 6/10.