Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Review of CITIZEN JAKE: Political Pride and Perdition

May 22, 2018




"Citizen Jake" is the story of Jacobo Herrera Jr. (Atom Araullo), Jake for short, 34 years old, single, from Baguio City, a fearless and hard-hitting political blogger. The film begins, progresses and ends with Jake narrating the stories in his personal bourgeois point of view, directly to us, his audience in the dark movie theater.

Jake is the son of Sen. Jacobo Herrera (Teroy Guzman), a notoriously corrupt veteran politician and crony. He had a dimwitted violent elder brother Roxie (Gabby Eigenmann), a Congressman who with a sick obsession with the "Godfather" films. Their mother Victoria (Dina Bonnevie) could not stand the heat in their household and abandoned them -- a loss that haunted Jake all his life.

Jake lived in their old but immaculately-kept Baguio house, with their elderly Igorot servants (Nanding Josef and Ruby Ruiz) and their pony-boy son Jonie (Luis Alandy), who grew up as Jake's closest friend. Jake's girlfriend for the last five years was Amanda "Mandy" Stewart (Max Collins), a university professor, but their romantic relationship had lately been on the rocks because of personal differences and pride. 

One day, a student Grace Aspiras (Elora Espano) was found raped and murdered in an apparent love nest. This led to an intricate whodunit, which involved virginal escorts like Heidi (Anna Luna), suave pimps like Edward (Cholo Barretto), rotten cops (Allan Paule and Victor Neri), elegant socialite Patti Medina (Cherie Gil), lusty DOM Resti (Nonie Buencamino), among a web of other shady personalities. 

With this crime mystery at his core, cinema master Mike de Leon spun his bold statements against the pernicious politics of privilege and patriarchy in our country. De Leon did not pull any punches and went for the jugular directly. He bravely showed faces and named names of real politicians in our present political landscape. We in the audience could only gasp with shock and laugh nervously, in spite of ourselves.

In terms of his magic touch with his camera and his storytelling, director de Leon never lost it despite having been inactive in film circles since his Jose Rizal opus "Bayaning Third World" (2000). After gaining accolades in his feature film debut "Itim" (1976), he went on to make classics like "Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" (1980), "Kisapmata" (1981), "Batch 81" (1982), all of which contained subtle political double entendres. He directly tackled political issues in "Sister Stella L" (1984), and again now with "Citizen Jake."

I did not expect it, but broadcaster and this film's co-scriptwriter Atom Araullo actually did very well in his film debut as an actor. Whether there would be a follow-up film project for him or not, his Jake will already be a permanent part of our local cinematic lore. Even as a neophyte actor, Araullo was able to hold his own, even as he shared confrontation scenes with acting giants like Teroy Guzman, Cherie Gil and Nonie Buencamino, who all simply sizzled in their fiery scenes. 

Jake lived in that comfortable middle zone of society, where many are content to sit on the fence and just coast along whatever political wave our country is in. As a citizen journalist online, Jake tried to make a difference by publishing his firm stand against what he thought was wrong in the country's political systems, even if it meant going against his own father. However, being his father's son, Jake cannot deny that he was also caught up in the same vicious cycle of political mayhem our country rolled in. There are no easy answers for this.

Strictly for its artistic merits, this film is a 9/10. But as far as its bold thrust as political expose and intervention, viewers will have to rate that based on their own convictions. 



Review of SO CONNECTED: Intuition by Internet

May 21. 2018




Karter was the video editor of a company that produced a youth-oriented YouTube show called Misyu. One day, his new cellphone got stolen and eventually wound up being sold to this girl named Trisha.  Because of an app on his phone, Karter can see all the photos and video Trisha took on stored in his Storebox cloud. Out of curiosity and attraction to her pretty face and cheerful attitude, Karter located the noodle shop where Trisha worked as a waitress, and finally got to meet her. 

This new film by Jason Paul Laxamana explores the phenomenon of social media among millennials nowadays.  We will see how this new technology can ruin lives with irresponsible postings without regard for possible negative repercussion against the subject. In the film, we can see how viral videos would take situations out of context to the detriment of the people involved in the video.

We can also see some pros and cons about cloud applications. While it can help you recover photos and files from a lost phone, you can actually spy on the photos and files of your phone's owners. In the film, Karter relied on the information he learned from Trisha's photos and videos to help him find her and court her. Of course with his insider information, Karter conveniently knew all of Trisha's likes, making him seem like her soulmate. 

Janella Salvador faced a challenge to play her offbeat character Trisha. She was introduced to be a sweet and happy "jologs" girl, but she was given to manic mood swings.Trisha was a drifter with no permanent address who lived alone, so unlike the Disney princess image Salvador projected. But with her winning smile and bubbly personality, she imparted a sense of luck and serendipity in her scenes that seemed unlikely, like how Karter's cellphone went out of town to get to her, or the totally random way they first saw each other in person.

Jameson Blake looked like he had a more relaxed time playing Karter. He always looked fresh-faced and clean, even if he had to walk long distances and commute to a different province every single day in order to court Trisha.  His Karter was a disarming and winsome suitor, even if his obsessive behavior bordered on disturbing. Blake is a very natural actor with a magnetic screen presence, proving that the award he won for his film debut in "2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten" (MY REVIEW) was no fluke.

Director Laxamana knew how to mine the sense of romantic thrill between Salvador and Blake, even if they are a new pair. They looked good together and projected an effective chemistry. Standing out among the supporting characters were Karter's precocious sister Kate (Kristal Brimner) and that cute purple elephant stuffed toy they named Panti Panti.  On the debit side, there were just times when you would feel the scenes were getting repetitive and long, especially when Karter was trying to impress Trisha with his "intuition." 

Overall though, this rom-com was fun, wholesome and entertaining with some important lessons about social media and the internet. It is not as predictable as you'd think. 7/10. 


Monday, May 21, 2018

Review of DEADPOOL 2: Rip-Roaring References

May 21, 2018



I really enjoyed the first Deadpool movie two years ago with its extreme R-rated humor and violence. I rated it a 9/10 (MY REVIEW) and was one of my top 5 movies of 2016. Teaser trailers for the sequel began coming out a full year or more ago, with stupid comedy sketches, like Deadpool taking too long changing in the phonebooth or Deadpool painting landscapes. 

This sequel still had all of Deadpool's rapidfire irreverent action-comedy that we enjoyed immensely. Those meta wisecracks he delivered when he broke the fourth wall were very funny, like critiquing the writers' lazy writing, introducing his own CG-battle scene coming up next, among so many others. I liked how the joke references stretched not only within Marvel but also into DC territory, with Deadpool even introducing himself as "Batman". 

I really liked the nostalgic 1980s soundtrack. "All Out of  Love", "9 to 5," "We Belong," "If I Could Turn Back Time" and "Take On Me" were used in the most unexpected scenes. Even "Tomorrow" from "Annie" accompanied a violent scene. "Yentl" was referenced to a lot and even compared to "Frozen." Haha!

The opening credits was a spoof of James Bond, with Celine Dion singing the seriously dramatic "Ashes" while crazy joke "credits" were rolling up (like introducing director David Leitch as "the guy who killed the dog in John Wick"). 

The main story of this sequel was about Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds in all his deadpan motor-mouth glory) and his encounter with a kid mutant Russell Collins (Julian Dennison), who calls himself Firefist because of his ability to generate and launch fireballs from his hands. Abused by the staff of the orphanage where he was being kept, Collins had become angry, unstable and very destructive. 

Deadpool also had to face the wrath of Cable (Josh Brolin -- yes Thanos himself), a cyborg soldier from the future who had traveled back in time in order to terminate Firefist, who had murdered his family. In order to protect Russell from Cable, Deadpool tried to form his own little group called X-Force with disastrously gory (but hilarious) results, with only the super-skilled, super-lucky Domino (Zazie Beetz) left to carry on the fight in some of the most-breathtaking action scenes in the film.

Wade's girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) was here, but had a less happy story arc, yet she was very much Deadpool's main reason for living. All the gang from the first movie are still there: Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Weasel (T.J. MIller) and Gopinder (Karan Soni). His X-Men friends were also present: Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who had now hooked up with ninja mutant Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna)

There were several "blink and you'll miss it" cameos from stars like Brad Pitt (as Vanisher), Matt Damon (as a philosophical country hick), Terry Crews (as Bedlam), James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan (in their X-Men roles), and Hugh Jackman (as Wolverine). It was Ryan Reynolds himself who played the comebacking hulk Juggernaut. 

These cameos were just some of the multiple outrageous surprises and pop-culture references that "Deadpool 2" had in over-supply. These little comic gems and Easter eggs were coming out so fast and furious, that you may need another viewing to catch or recognize them all. That "Basic Instinct" reference was so insanely hilarious! The Ryan Reynolds-deprecating mid-credits extra scene may just count as one of the best extra scenes of all time. 8/10.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Review of KASAL: Startling Segues

May 19, 2018





Cebu's most eligible bachelor Philip Cordero had just proposed to marry his childhood crush, now a humble teacher, Lia Marquez. To generate public goodwill for Philip's campaign to be Mayor, the engaged couple spearhead a project to repair an important bridge that was damaged during a strong earthquake. The firm of hotshot engineer Wado dela Costa took on the ambitious project. This was all fine until it was revealed that Wado was actually Lia's ex, and was desperate enough to do anything to get Lia back.

There is really no contesting Bea Alonzo's excellence as a dramatic actress. She can certainly deliver all those kilometric soliloquies with conviction. No matter how cheesy or how absurd those lines can get, Alonzo can still convey them with believability and sincerity. This was best demonstrated in Lia's climactic confrontation scene with Philip which stretched the limits of melodrama, yet remained grounded with Alonzo's performance. 

Paulo Avelino had a challenging role to play as Philip, being someone who was keeping a deep dark secret. Of course, as with all movies about people with secrets, the deceptive one will have to suffer consequences. Avelino is an actor who really made bold choices in his career, all the characters I had seen him in had been terribly flawed, and this Philip is certainly one with demons to hide. 

Derek Ramsey seemed to having fun playing his character Wado with naughty relish. Wado possessed such an unbridled overconfidence in his own attractiveness and sexiness, and Ramsey can certainly play such jerks with his eyes closed. The wild antics Wado resorted to in order to wreak chaos on the Philip-Lea wedding were crazy, outrageous, campy and humorous, but the film would be generic without them. 

The script by Patrick R. Valencia (who wrote hits like "Finally Found Someone" and "How To Be Yours") took pains to embellish the regular love triangle plot with various side plots. There was a political angle about Philip's corrupt father Mayor Ernesto Cordero (Christopher de Leon) and about electioneering with Philip's ruthless campaign manager Michelle (Cris Villonco). There was also an unforeseen yet extensive LGBT angle (a familiar theme in many recent local films) about Lia's estranged father Paul (Ricky Davao) turning into a transgender fashion designer, among other similar issues. 

Lushly shot in some of Cebu's most picturesque views (such as the field of illuminated blooms in 10,000 Roses Cafe or the grandiose Temple of Leah), there were plenty of beautiful scenes with familiar platitudes about choice, commitment, being true to oneself, letting go, and forgiving past faults. 

Once you settle in to watch this film, you only expect to see the ex coming in to throw a wrench into what seemed to be a dream wedding. However, this film directed by Ruel S. Bayani (who previously helmed hits like "No Other Woman" and "One More Try") threw in a most unexpected wrench into his narrative to twist the whole "typical" love triangle story into a most unexpected, but devilishly entertaining surprise. Especially if you've haven't seen the trailer, you'd never expect how far left-field this story would go. 6/10. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Review of SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY: Introducing an Icon

May 17, 2018




The Star Wars franchise is still going strong after 40 years. Aside from films in the main trilogy of trilogies, there are now spin-offs that tell interesting side stories. This started with "Rogue One" which related events that happen right before "A New Hope". This time, one of the main characters of the original film -- Han Solo, the irrepressibly charming hotshot pilot of the Millennium Falcon -- gets his own origin story.

Han was a spunky young man who lived in the oppressed planet of Corellia. He had a girlfriend Qi'ra from whom he was later estranged. She served as his inspiration to better himself and return for her. The film depicted how he got his last name, how he became an ace pilot, how he met his Wookie partner Chewbacca, how he first met the slick Lando Calrissian, and how he became the owner of the Millennium Falcon -- practically everything we wanted to know about Han's past life, and more.

One of the worries of Star Wars fans when the first trailers came out was whether Alden Ehrenreich could pull off a younger Han Solo. Ehrenreich is already 28 years old in real life, and he looked his age. Han's age in "A New Hope" is supposed to be only 29, played by  Harrison Ford at age 33. Ford's iconic Han Solo had a particular roguish charm, grouchiness and swagger that Ehrenreich, try as he might, never really matched. 

On the other hand, that was not the case with the character of Lando Calrissian. Donald Glover, with his smooth and wily air, completely had us convinced that he can eventually morph into Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando in "A New Hope". Glover, who actually just hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his song "This is America" (and its controversial video) as his musical alter ego Childish Gambino, did not have to try to hard, Glover's performance was very natural and smooth as silk. (Another plus in this regard was Lando’s wry droid, L3, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.)

Qi'ra was played by Emilia Clarke. She was not a mere damsel in distress here, but a woman who had to make difficult decisions and alliances for her survival, just like her Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen character in "Game of Thrones." Tobias Beckett, a master smuggler who influenced Solo, was played by Woody Harrelson, an actor also familiar with playing men with questionable loyalties. Beckett's wife Val was played by Thandie Newton, who was a powerful presence despite a short screen time. Paul Bettany was barely recognizable as the ruthless lord of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate, Dryden Vos.

Director Ron Howard's film was entertaining as a whole, but it can feel long at certain points during its 2 hour-15 minute running time. The best parts were those where references to the original trilogy are seen -- the classic words on the initial card, Han's lucky dice, the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, the card game, a certain "Phantom Menace" character, among others. Audiences cheered when witnessed Han make his legendary hyperspace Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. My favorite scene was Han's first conversation (in Wookie language!) with Chewie, which marked the beginning of their long friendship.

One of my main problems about this film was the choice of Alden Ehrenreich to play the title role. Ehrenreich had the unenviable task of trying to convince fans that his Han Solo will eventually mature (in 10 years or less later) to become Harrison Ford's Han Solo, but frankly, he never did. Ehrenreich may have had his own swashbuckling charm as young Solo, but for fans of the classic trilogy, there is a sense of miscasting that can't be denied. 7/10. 


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

CINE FILIPINO 2018: Review of DELIA & SAMMY: Compassion for the Choleric

May 15, 2018



There had been a lot of local indie films that dealt with the idiosyncrasies of senior citizens. Off the top of my head, I remember "Bwakaw" (2012), "1st Ko si 3rd" (2014), "Hiblang Abo" (2016), "Paki" (2017). This new film, written and directed by Therese Anne Cayaba (in her feature directorial debut, no less), gives us yet another facet of how our seniors live their waning years under the shadow of disease and their past sins. 

Delia Villamor is a retired movie actress, a proud demanding woman who can be very manipulative to get her neighbors to do her bidding. She had been ignoring her own health issues to devote her time caring for her husband. Sammy Villamor is a retired military officer, a pathologic philanderer who was now suffering from signs of dementia. Because of their unpleasant personality quirks, both of them were not easy to like or root for. 

Delia got the newly-hired village security guard Roger to drive them (supposedly to the hospital) in their old, long-unused Mercedes Benz. However, midway, Delia revealed that she wanted Roger to drive them all the way to Baguio City in order to visit and reconnect with Sammy's estranged brother Manolo. However, like Roger, the car did not seem to be up for the long trip.

Rosemarie Gil, the matriarch of the talented Eigenmann family of actors, returns to the screen after a very long absence. Because of her strong Castillian features, I remembered her to always play strict imposing characters in the past. To play Delia, Gil did not have to veer too far from real life, as Delia was also a movie star, and a "contravida" to boot. But the challenge was to portray a long-suffering martyr wife who still loved her husband despite all his faults, and Gil shone best in those scenes. 

Gil won the MMFF Best Supporting Actress award as burlesque star Virgie Nite whom Chato (Vilma Santos) initially served in "Burlesk Queen" (Celso Ad Castillo, 1977), a clip of which was actually included in this film. Finally, Gil gets nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of Delia, and won.

Jaime Fabregas had been a character actor on film and TV for four decades now, and is still very active. Sammy had all these peculiar behavioral tics, like being violent to homosexuals or overly charming to ladies, which Fabregas so smoothly portrayed. Despite Sammy's disagreeable character, Fabregas somehow made him delightful. 

Fabregas had won a sweep of the Best Supporting Actor awards from various award-giving bodies in 1999 for his portrayal of a Spanish officer Taviel in "Jose Rizal" (Marilou Diaz-Abaya, 1998). Like it was for his co-star Gil, it was only now that Fabregas was nominated for Best Actor, and likewise, he deservedly won. 

Nico Antonio had been playing a lot of varied characters from petty criminals to florid gays in several indie films, and he has indeed gained a name for being an efficient character actor. With his big droopy eyes, he also had played kind-hearted pushovers before, and his Roger here is another one of those in that category. We can all identify with Roger's predicament of being duped into going to great lengths to help, yet still feeling unappreciated for all his efforts way beyond the call of his duty. 

Dido dela Paz and Lui Manansala played Manolo and Alma, the relatives the Villamors visited in Baguio. The versatile Anthony Falcon played their transgender daughter Jessica, formerly known as Jimbo, whom Sammy beat up before for being gay. Tessie Tomas was in a featured role as Carmen, an actress with whom Sammy had a long affair before.

The story is not exactly new. "Paki" last year was also about a wife who had long suffered with a chronically philandering husband. However, Therese Cayaba gave her script her own little personal twists to set this one apart. The road trip did not feel realistically possible because that beat up car could not have made it up the steep zigzag roads. There were awkward moments during the visit in Baguio that were not very well staged. Anyhow, despite all its little faults, it was the performances of Rosemarie Gil and Jaime Fabregas that made this film fresh and essential to watch. 7/10. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

CINE FILIPINO 2018: Review of GUSTO KITA WITH ALL MY HYPOTHALAMUS: Facets of a Fancied Female

May 15, 2018

Because of a previously scheduled trip over the long weekend, I completely missed the chance to watch most of the CineFilipino filmfest 2018. which started its week-long run last May 9, 2018 in 10 movie houses all over the metro (but not necessarily very convenient to me). These are: Cinema Centenario, SM Fairview, SM North, and Gateway, SM Manila, SM Megamall, Black Maria, Greenbelt 1 in Makati, SM MOA, and SM Southmall

I was only able to watch today on its very last day. But in terms of today's schedules, luck was still with me. I was able to watch two films -- the two which won the Best Picture runner-up prizes in the awards night held last Saturday, May 12. The one that won Best Picture for this festival, Alec Figuracion's "The Eternity Between Seconds" (which also won Best Director, Cinematography, Editing and Sound), will have to wait for a future re-screening in another venue.

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The title of Dwein Baltazar's sophomore feature film includes a small part of the brain not many people know. It worked under the premise that the hypothalamus, not the heart, is where the feeling of love originated scientifically. In this mind-boggling film, there were four men of diverse personalities and pasts, and apparently they felt love for a single girl. 

The four men searching for love were ukay-ukay salesman Caloy, widower shopkeeper Lando, hyperactive college student Alex and mute ex-convict Obeng. The singular apple of their eyes is the attractive and vivacious Aileen, the mysterious woman who seemed to fulfill their criteria for the ideal life partner. 

As Aileen, Bernardez exuded the seductive allure of a young Angel Aquino, only to realize after the film that she is indeed Angel Aquino's daughter in real life. Nicco Manalo has that shy loser personality of Caloy down pat already. His interactions with co-employee Winston (Nestor Abrogena) were hilarious. Soliman Cruz as Lando painted a poignant picture of middle age loneliness. Dylan Ray Talon as Alex was a typical jerk young boyfriend, obsessed with his video games and gadgets. Scarred Anthony Falcon had no lines as the snatcher Obeng, but his scenes tended to be the most cinematically eloquent.

People familiar with downtown Manila will savor with familiarity the streets of Quiapo and Sta. Cruz, especially Claro M. Recto and Rizal Avenues where vibrant outdoor scenes were shot. Everyone knew those places where the various stories were set -- the second-hand clothing store, the general merchandise store, the city college, the dorm rooms, the LRT, the busy sidewalks, and dark alleys. These places were very much also characters of significance in this film.

"Hypothalamus" went home with four awards: 2nd Best Picture, Best Ensemble, Production Design and Musical Score. I can see how it has earned the Best Ensemble award. All the actors played their part so effectively as to make the whole narrative very engaging, despite some slow typically indie-film moments. The film ends in a way that you are not completely sure of what happened in the preceding scenes. You will contemplate on the mystery of Aileen long after you've left the movie house. 8/10.


Review of BLACK BUTTERFLY: Solid Suspense

May 14, 2018



Paul Lopez (Antonio Banderas) was a writer who was suffering from a severe case of writer's block, causing him to be in dire financial straits. Frustrated by his bad luck, Paul got into an altercation with a truck driver in a diner, but another customer Jack (Jonathan Rhys Myers) helped him out of his bind. To return the favor, Paul invited this drifter Jack to stay in his house because of an impending storm. In the next few days however,  Paul was going to learn what Jack was really all about.

I always enjoy a good mystery film because they can come up with some pretty ingenious twists to play with your mind. A good mystery film can draw you in and give some effective unexpected shocks along the way. A mystery with only two main characters, like this one, is even more extraordinary because of the claustrophobic atmosphere it played. There are only two people to suspect. Only one or the other is telling the truth. This made the whole film more chilling and unpredictable.

The two main actors tend to play their roles in rather florid manner, with some pretty over-the-top lines to deliver (written by Marc Frydman and Justin Stanley). Antonio Banderas, as in many of his previous films, had some particularly hammy moments -- some laughable, some cringe-worthy. Jonathan Rhys Meyer had a very intense screen presence (as he always had) -- scary and threatening all the way. Both came up with morally questionable portrayals you really could not decide who was good or bad, or neither.

Overall, director Brian Goodman did a good job of keeping the energy of the story-telling consistently up and interesting. The puzzling dramatic interplay between the two actors escalated very effectively to a very tense head, and this was all at a lively pace. Everything was going along very well until Goodman decided to add another twist at the very end. I thought this was an overused and frustrating way out of a very tight convoluted situation the story found itself into. 

Anyhow, save for that final scene which was of questionable wisdom, I thought "Black Butterfuly" was a solid psychological thriller that made for a mind-twisting good time for me while watching it in the cinema. 7/10. 




Friday, May 11, 2018

Review of LOVE, SIMON: Involuntary Initiation

May 10, 2018




Usually, films with a gay-theme are indies, only shown in LGBT film festivals. The most popular gay-themed film would have to be those that gained Oscar recognition, like "Brokeback Mountain" (Best Picture nominee 2005),  "Moonlight" (Best Picture winner 2016) and "Call Me By Your Name" (Best Picture nominee 2017). Even these though have been rather art-house in their approach to their topic, not really mainstream. However, this year, "Love, Simon" will change all that.

The trailer of this film tells its synopsis quite clearly. Simon Spier is regular high school student with a happy family and a tight gang of friends. However, he had a secret that he never told anyone yet -- he is gay. One day when a schoolmate calling himself Blue confessed to being gay on the school gossip website, Simon reached out to him by email and struck an online friendship with him. Eventually though, these emails would lead to situation for which Simon has to make an important decision. 

Gay characters in teen films are usually sidekicks and comic relief, but here he was the leader of the group and the main character. This makes "Love, Simon" a breakthrough film in this genre. None of his friends nor family knew he was gay, so there was nothing funny about his inner conflict. This is an aspect which will connect with gay viewers of all ages, as they identify with Simon's struggle for freedom and against prejudice. 

Director Greg Berlanti began his directing career with a gay-themed indie film "The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy" (2000). Since then, he gained more fame as a writer for several successful TV drama series, like "Dawson's Creek" and "Brothers and Sisters", later for DC superhero series, like "Arrow", "The Flash" and "Supergirl." He made a return to feature film this year to direct "Love, Simon," coming around full circle. The script was not by Berlanti though. It written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, based on the a best-selling young adult novel "Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda" by Becky Albertalli.

The big part of the charm of this film is the casting of Nick Robinson, a popular young actor who starred in films like "Jurassic World" (2015) and "The 5th Wave" (2016), as Simon. He played Simon very naturally, like he would any teenager. As the character Simon is a closeted gay guy, he would be self-conscious about his behavior so as not to let anything slip. Robinson portrayed all of that self-editing quite smoothly. Even in the final act, Robinson never fell into any gay stereotype. He sent the message that a gay guy is a regular guy, and should not be treated any differently. 


Josh Duhamel, star of Berlanti's second film "Life as We Know It" (2010), played Simon's father Jack, with Jennifer Garner playing Simon's mom Emily. They portray understanding accepting parents so Simon was very lucky in this regard. Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp and Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. play Simon's best friends Leah, Abby and Nick respectively. I wondered though why Simon never opened up to them from the get-go, particularly Leah, with whom he seemed to have shared a special closeness. Logan Miller was very annoying as their classmate Martin, a loser who can't do anything better with his life. 

Overall, things were kept pleasant and light in this film, nothing overtly sexual at all (unlike most other gay-themed films). However, the second act, with all those negative actions being done in the effort to keep a secret secret, did not run so well with me. These acts were being done willfully by Simon against his friends. It was not easy to believe that a level-headed guy like him would do things like these, based on how their friendship was so well-built-up in the first act. 

It was too bad that Simon's coming out did not happen on his own terms, which I think would have been more meaningful for a film like this. But it also wants to show the world the being forced out is not the end of the world. 7/10. 


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Review of TRUTH OR DARE: Cursed College Chums

May 9, 2018




Blumhouse Productions have been at the forefront of low-budget horror films ever since they hit the big time with their first film "Paranormal Activity" (2009). Ever since, practically all the major horror films you can think of in the last 10 years came out of Blumhouse, like "Insidious" (2011), "Sinister" (2012), "The Purge" (2013), "Ouija" (2014). In 2017, three of its films gained critical acclaim, "Split", "Happy Death Day" and "Get Out" (which went all the way to gain an Oscar nomination for Best Picture).

Their latest film is about a curse attached to the common game of "Truth or Dare". Six college friends led by Olivia and her best friend Markie go on a trip to Mexico for debauchery. They were invited by a charming stranger Carter to have drinks at the ruins of an old abandoned mission house. There, Carter proposed to play "Truth or Dare," which they did. However after that night, the game followed them back to their college. They soon found out that they could not refuse it, lest they die a gruesome death.

Coming off from a banner year 2017, so far the Blumhouse output for 2018 is not at par so far. Their first film of 2018 "Insidious: The Final Key" was just okay. This one was just a typical horror curse film that does not exactly bring anything new to the table. Young people gathered together, making unwise decisions that eventually draw them into some unfortunate supernatural danger which they need to find a solution to before all of them get wiped out. Typical. Director Jeff Wadlow even had to co-write the script with three other people even if the story seemed straightforward enough. 

Olivia Barron was played the lead actress Lucy Hale (from TV's "Pretty Little Liars") had the appeal of a young Anne Hathaway with her big expressive eyes. It seemed unlikely how a mature girl like Olivia would be close friends with someone like Markie, as played by Violett Beane, who was actually seven years Hale's junior in real life. Markie's boyfriend Lucas was played by Tyler Posey, TV's "Teen Wolf" and Jennifer Lopez's child in "Maid in Manhattan" back in 2002. While the other young actors were just fodder for the various kills of the game demon, Hayden Szeto stood out for his portrayal of the gay friend Brad.

Those fond of gory death scenes will be disappointed as there was hardly any blood and the deaths were merely hinted at and happened off cam. There was no kill scenes as graphic as those "Final Destination" (which seemed to inspire the whole slick look of this film) where the kills were more imaginative and scary. The idea of the possessed smirk prior to asking "Truth or Dare?" was bizarre and funny, but a distinctive detail nevertheless. This seems to target the teen audience with its attractive cast of young stars and simple jump scares, but more mature viewers of horror will most likely find the proceedings hopelessly benign. 4/10. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Review of FUTURE WORLD: Skewed Search for Soul

May 3, 2018




Of the many films James Franco both directed and acted in, the first I've seen were "As I Lay Dying" (2013) and "The Sound and the Fury" (2014), both of them very serious, very slow dramas adapted from novels by William Faulkner. While these may try the patience of viewers because of their pace and complexity, Franco actually did Faulkner justice.

The last one I saw was "The Disaster Artist" (2017), a comedy about a true-to-life bad movie "The Room" and the odd process how it was directed by Tommy Wiseau (played by Franco himself). I did not like its weirdness that much, but it was critically-acclaimed in the US, even winning Franco a Best Actor in a Comedy from the Golden Globes. 

This latest one, Franco not only directs and stars, he is also responsible for the story. Set in a post-apocalyptic future in the Western USA.  It was a time when robots and artificial intelligence were the "synthetic messiahs," but most of humankind had been wiped out by a "red fever" ushering in a new Dark Ages. In the desolate wilderness, violent gangs of hooligans, like that of The Warlord (James Franco), terrorized the land.

Elsewhere, in an Oasis, a Queen (Lucy Liu) lay dying, so her son Prince (Jeffrey Wahlberg) had to go on a quest for the medicine needed for her to get better. This can be found supposedly on the shore of a dying sea, known as Paradise Beach. However, along the way, Prince would have to encounter the deadly challenges set by the Love Lord (Snoop Dogg), the Druglord (Milla Jovovich) and of course, the Warlord himself.

The whole setting with the desert sand dunes and the motorcycle-riding gangsters felt lifted right from the "Mad Max" films.  The production designer Eve McCarney must have had a field day with the way she decorated the Oasis with dainty finery, the Love Town with bright neon lights, and the Druglord's fighting arena with splattered blood. The costume designers David Page and Jonny Pray spent a lot of thought on the leather outfits of the gangsters.

The acting is generally of the hammy, over-the-top type for almost everyone, most especially James Franco. His Warlord had such a rabidly crazy delivery of cheesy lines fulfilled their cringe potential. He was clearly having fun with his wild character. Milla Jovovich also had some pretty corny lines to say, but at least she kept everything within her moody character. Despite her top billing, Lucy Liu had nothing much to do but lie in bed sick. Snoop Dogg's best scene as Love Lord actually came midway into the closing credits.

His role as Prince may not necessarily add much heft to the promising filmography of young lead actor Patrick Wahlberg (yes, Mark's and Donny's nephew). He was not ashamed to contort his face into some rather unflattering expressions. Suki Waterhouse gave her silky voice as the narrator, Ash, an android revived by the Warlord to do his every bidding, but was also in search of her own soul. Margarita Levieva had a marked role as Lei, Druglord's minion who crossed a sensitive line with her boss.

This film is rated R-16 by the MTRCB for bloody violence (fight scenes with hacking and stabbing) and sexy scenes (topless dancers at the Love Town, along with some girl-to-girl action).  It played out and felt like a B-movie, just a film for shallow thrills to kill extra time, with no real intellectual stimulation or challenge to expect. 4/10.