Saturday, May 13, 2017

Review of A SILENT VOICE: A Cad's Comeuppance

May 12, 2017




A Silent Voice was a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Yoshitoki Ōima. Its story was first published in February 2011, then later serialized from August 2013 to November, 2014. Last year, it was made into anime film produced by Kyoto Animation, directed by Naoko Yamada and written by Reiko Yoshida. Futoshi Nishiya did the character designs and Kensuke Ushio wrote the musical score. 

Deaf and misunderstood, new student Shoko Nishimaya was bullied by her classmates in 6th grade. The worst bully of them all was Shoya Ishida, who teased her odd vocal tone, threw her notebooks into water, and even pulled off her hearing aids. When Nishimiya was transferred out by her mother, everyone blamed and shunned Ishida. This causing him to become a social outcast, withdrawing from any social contact for several years, until he dared to seek out Nishimiya again. 

I know that I am not really the target audience of this anime film. I only watched this to accompany my manga-fan daughter, who really looked forward to its local release. For me, this story of unending and, at time, unbearable teenage angst was presented so slowly with a pace so languid, I may have nodded off in a few parts, without really missing too much. 

I cannot fathom how a deaf child could be bullied so badly by her classmates. It was just too cruel and very disturbing to watch. How could other kids just tolerate the brutality of the bully? And that male teacher, so lazy and apathetic! This bullying part was just one of the reasons why this film needs parental guidance. 

Suicide was a topic twice. One as a passing mention only. The second one is a frank attempt that seemed to come out of nowhere. Since I did not see this happening, this well-executed scene for me was the one that really jolted me out of the lull I was in. Kids should know that suicide should never be an option, however big they think their problem is. 

I also could not figure out the odd behavior and inter-relationships among their set of friends, especially the girls. This girl with straight black hair Ueno -- why was she such a meanie? This girl with light tan hair and glasses Kawai -- why was she so inconsistent? This girl with very short hair Sahara -- why did she think herself a coward? Nishimiya's tomboyish sister Yuzuro -- why was she hiding inside that playground apparatus? 

Fortunately, there was one consistently delightful character in all this -- Nagatsuka, an obese boy with stiff curly hair who considered Ishida his best and only friend. The screen gets a relief from all the depressing anxiety because of his comically refreshing presence. His clingy behavior though can be too creepy, but he is cute nevertheless. 

Being a 7-volume long manga originally, there have been parts about these characters and their motivations which would have suffered in terms of detail when translated into this 2-hour long anime form. Fans may know how to fill in the blanks because they have read the book, but first-time viewers will get puzzled by what seemed to be missing frames which rendered some plot points confusing. Manga fans may rate it higher, but for me, 5/10.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Review of BLISS: Psychosexual Paranoia

May 12, 2017




So far for this year, the local film that had the most pre-opening hype would have to be "Bliss." This latest film by "Heneral Luna" director Jerrold Tarog first gained buzz when star Iza Calzado won the Yakushi Pearl Special Performance Award at the 2017 Osaka Asian Film Festival two months ago. 

However, this initial buzz escalated into controversy when the MTRCB rated it an X, causing public uproar especially among netizens. Eventually, after an appeal, it was reclassified as R-18 without cuts. When it finally opened in local cinemas last May 10, "Bliss" was showing in 75 cinemas nationwide, and that was without a single SM cinema on the list. I'd say that was impressive trust in the director Tarog and his material.

Jane Ciego is a famous actress, mainly doing light mainstream fluff movies. When she was offered what promises to be the "role of a lifetime" by writer-director Lexter Palao, Jane grabbed the chance and even produced the "artistic and atmospheric" Cannes-quality film herself. While shooting the climactic "demonic possession" scene though, a freak accident happens that sends Jane into a nightmarish world she could not seem to escape from.

Jerrold Tarog takes a very simple core story and weaves this mind-boggling maze of creepy visuals and psychotic ideations. He does not hide his cinematic inspirations for his disturbing imagery, citing Christopher Nolan's "Inception" (2010) and Rob Reiner's "Misery" (1990) by name. There were also scenes that clearly echo Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" (1980) and Wes Craven's "Nightmare on Elm Street" (1985). All of these imply the blurring of distinction between the dream world and real life.

It is ingenious how this film was about a film with generally the same title and plot.  Casting Iza Calzado in the lead role as Jane Ciego starring as Abigail is another stroke of genius. Like the career of her character Jane, the steady way Ms. Calzado's mainstream career was going now, she needed a shocking edgy film like this to boost her stock as a serious actress. The parallelisms between reality and film were simply so uncanny. She's gone beyond anything I had seen her do as an actress prior to this.

To further heighten the psychological distress that this film evokes, Tarog thickens the plot with a sick yet significant subplot of sexual abuse. This sticky angle makes the already squeamish horror scenes even more upsetting to watch. In a large part, this extreme discomfort was thanks to the very unpleasant and frightening performance of Adrienne Vergara as the crazy home-care nurse Lilibeth, as well as the even crazier hospital bedside nurse Rose. Vergara was fearlessly perverse here in the scenes which most probably earned this film its notorious X-rating on initial review.

Seeing usually suave and elegant leading men actors play against their usual type is very surprising. As Jane's husband Carlo, TJ Trinidad played coño-speak jerk and loser. As Jane's co-star/ Abigail's husband Joshua, Ian Veneracion plays a violent brute of a spouse. That scene where these two guys were drowning their sorrows in liquor seemed so realistic that it was quite amusing to watch. 

Tarog might have watched 9 Works Theatrical's production of "La Cage Aux Folles" two years ago to get the idea of casting Audie Gemora as the loud flamboyant slave-driver director Lexton and Michael de Mesa as the gossipy Boy Abunda-like TV talk show host. Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino plays Mommy Jillian, Jane's stage mother, as stereotypically dedicated, doting and domineering as they come.

Being caught in Tarog's riveting web without figuring out what this mind-bending film was really all about -- that should be true bliss. Catching the twist before it is revealed can be a disappointing thing for films like this, but I thought Tarog did not really make it too difficult to figure it out on our own. But then again, that twist may not be really the main point of it all. Being able to take its audience on a completely immersive ride into that perplexing paranoid limbo between dreams and reality -- that makes this film an extraordinary big-screen viewing experience.  8/10. 

Review of ALIEN: COVENANT: Android Anathema

May 11, 2017




"Alien: Covenant" is latest installment of a science-fiction film franchise which started with Ridley Scott's "Alien" back in 1979. This new film is part of a prequel series which started five years ago with "Prometheus." Both prequel films are also directed by Scott.  

11 years after the ill-fated "Prometheus" mission, the colony spaceship called Covenant is bringing its precious cargo of 2000 colonists and 1000 embryos across space to settle in a distant habitable planet. The captain Christopher decides to seek out the source of a mysterious humanoid sound transmission their sensors intercepted, which turned out to be a habitable planet closer by. However, when the landing team was attacked by alien monsters, they were rescued by an android named who introduced himself as David, the only survivor of "Prometheus."

Michael Fassbender, who played the android David in "Prometheus," returns to play the same role in this sequel. Furthermore though, he likewise plays the android of the Covenant named Walter. The story focused a significant section of the film with scenes featuring these the two androids getting to know each other better. Comparing the way Fassbender played one android over the other, the difference was actually very subtle. Lucky for us they wore different uniforms for us to distinguish one from the other.

I only got to know the name of Katherine Waterston last year when she played the righteous witch Tina Goldstein in "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them." Here in her new film, she plays Danni Daniels, the wife of the Covenant's original captain. She would later get to become the captain of the Covenant herself before the film ends and this puts her in position to fight the alien monsters close up in two of the film's most exciting action scenes. 

Billy Crudup played Christopher Oram, the first mate who became captain after the first accident encountered by the Covenant in space. Crudup plays him as an officer who was very insecure about the respect of his crew for him.. Carmen Ejogo plays Oram's wife Karine, who was a biologist. Danny McBride plays the down-to-earth chief pilot Tennessee, while Amy Seimetz as Faris, his wife, also a pilot. Of course, as expected, these and the lesser other crew members will do certain illogical decisions, serving as easy fodder for the aliens to kill before they meet the lead characters. 

We get to learn in this episode about how the tentacled aliens we saw in "Prometheus" evolved into the deadly oblong-headed monsters we saw in the first "Alien" film. This story focus caused the film to have several slow, talky, even philosophical moments which may seem boring to fans only looking for horror and non-stop action. The immaculate prologue featuring David talking with his creator Peter Weyland sets this thoughtful tone. On the other hand, the film did not shirk from showing gory close-ups of burnt, bloody and mutilated human bodies. 

The story of aliens gaining access into a spaceship to massacre the crew is hardly new anymore. By this time, the "alien-bursting-out-of-a-body" scenes were not really scary or exciting anymore since these were expected to happen. It is really very difficult for Katherine Waterston or any new female lead to match or surpass the fierceness of Sigourney Weaver as Eileen Ripley of the original films, as comparisons will be inevitable. I still think though this prequel set could be enjoyed on its epic visuals and space horror merits, even if you are not familiar with the original series.  6/10. 


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review of COME AND FIND ME: Lazy and Lackluster

May 11, 2017




On one morning after an intimate night, David wakes up to find his girlfriend Claire missing. In the process of his desperate search for her, he realizes how little he really knew about her. While investigating a cache of photographs Claire took, David was assaulted, threatened and tortured by gangsters and government officials, people who seemed to know a Claire totally different from the Claire he knew and loved. 

Aaron Paul is an actor best known for his character Jesse Pinkman in the TV series Breaking Bad. His biggest film role would probably be as race car driver Tobey Marshall in the frenetic box-office hit movie "Need for Speed" (2014). In "Come and Find Me," it is Paul that holds the film together with his introspective performance as David that audiences can somehow connect with, with all the incredulous things happening around his character.

Annabelle Wallis is a pretty British actress whom we have seen before as the doll-terrorized Mia Form in the "The Conjuring" spin-off "Annabelle" (2014). Here, Wallis played the mysterious Claire Collins whose sudden disappearance led her boyfriend David into a wild goose chase. Unfortunately, Wallis gave a lackluster unconvincing performance that makes you wonder why a level-headed guy like David would obsess about her. There was no scene that redeemed her characterization. Even in David's flashbacks, she always appeared odd, never charming.

"Come and Find Me" is written and directed by 37-year old Zack Whedon, his first venture in film after some minor TV projects. He follows the screenwriting path of his grandfather John ("The Donna Reed Show" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show"), father Tom ("Captain Kangaroo" and "The Electric Company"), and currently famous brother Joss ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Toy Story" and "The Avengers").

The story began interestingly enough with Claire disappearing within the first 10 minutes of the film. He still has 100 minutes more running time after this, which he fills with a mind-boggling series of violent encounters of David in the present, interspersed with lovelorn flashbacks of David of his past with Claire. The pace of the storytelling was too lazy to sustain the interest generated in the first quarter. There was no adrenaline in the action. The rest of the film just slogged on until the unsatisfying ending. 4/10.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Review of GIFTED: Germination of Genius

May 7, 2017



Actor Chris Evans is so identified as Captain America now, it is hard to imagine him as a regular guy at all. Imagine a film where he plays someone whom society would call a slacker or a loser. Difficult, huh? Well such is the character he plays in "Gifted". It bears to see how he would convince us that he can actually still be as human as the rest of us.

Mary Adler is 7-years old and she is a math prodigy. She is currently living in a small Florida town with his uncle Frank who worked as a simple freelance boat mechanic. Frank wanted to keep his promise to Mary's departed mother Diane, a math prodigy herself, to raise Mary as an ordinary child despite her genius. However, Mary's rich grandmother (Frank and Diane's mother) Evelyn is suing to gain custody of Mary for her to guide the child in achieving her full potential.

Chris Evans plays Frank Adler. Because of his look and stature remain unaffected despite their efforts to deglamorize him, it was not too easy to accept at first that Evans was this ordinary Joe. In fact, even the teachers at Mary's school also hung around the bar he goes to for a chance to get picked up by him. However, once you find out about pedigree and his past, you'd understand his present laidback lifestyle. To his credit though, he is very convincing as the devoted uncle and guardian. You know he is a good guy.

10-year old Mckenna Grace has the unenviable challenge of portraying child genius Mary Adler, and she nails the difficult role. She has to convince us she is an awesome math prodigy, while keeping us grounded to the fact that she is still a child after all. She was able to make us really care about where she went in the end. She and Chris Evans had effective chemistry in their dramatic scenes together. 

Lindsay Duncan plays the domineering Evelyn Adler, only driven by class status and ambition. If her heart is in the right place, the script did not make it evident. She was painted to be a selfish antagonist, and Duncan projects her elite aristocratic air to full effect. Jenny Slate plays Bonnie Stevenson, Mary's teacher. I thought her later role as Frank's girlfriend was awkward and out of place in this film. Octavia Spencer plays another one of her trademark altruistic characters in Roberta Taylor, Frank's landlady and family friend.

The story as written by Tom Flynn may have only been a simple family drama. However, because of the effective story telling by director Marc Webb (best known for directing "(500) Days of Summer" and the two recent "The Amazing Spider-Man" reboot films), the audience is able to achieve an emotional connection with the characters, thus elevating this film from others similar to it. 7/10. 


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Review of THE CIRCLE: Treacherous Transparency

May 4, 2017




Emma Watson is fresh from her box-office success with Disney's live action remake of "Beauty and the Beast." Here she is again with her new movie, joined by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" breakout star John Boyega, the recently departed Bill Paxton (in his last film) and all-time favorite actor Tom Hanks. Even if I did not know exactly what the movie was about, with that cast list alone, this film promises to deliver the goods.

Mae Holland was accepted as a new "guppy" in the hip Internet company called The Circle. This company prides itself of being a single online place where its subscribers can access all their various other accounts and applications. They constantly develop technology, like tiny cameras which can randomly be placed anywhere, that will keep everyone up to date with everything around them in real time. 

On the prodding of her friendly and charming boss Eamon Bailey who believed that "secrets are lies", Mae agrees to become "fully transparent" and have all Circle subscribers see her every move 24 hours a day. At first, Mae was on a high with her overnight international fame. She becomes aggressive in expressing her ideas in company meetings. Later on though, the company's insistent intrusion into her and other people's privacy eventually takes a tragic turn.

As Mae, Emma Watson projects a childlike earnest naivete like she did as Hermione Granger before. As she was written to be unrealistically clueless, it was really challenging for any actress to gain audience sympathy at all for this character. As Eamon Bailey, Tom Hanks was channeling Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, even Tony Stark or any other charismatic billionaire businessman whose every word inspired his blindly loyal flock of employees. This is Hanks' second film based on a Dave Eggers book after last year's not-so-good "A Hologram for the King" (MY REVIEW).

John Boyega played Ty Laffitt, a enigmatic member of the Circle, who was actually much more than what he says. I wanted to see more of this character, but sadly he was not given the proper focus. Karen Gillan played Mae's friend Annie who told her about the job opening at the Circle. It is good to finally see what she looks like without her Nebula makeup and costume that obscured her face in the "Guardian of the Galaxy" movies. An amateurish Ellar Coltrane played Mae's ex-boyfriend Mercer who did not like Mae's current job.

The direction of James Ponsoldt of his own script (based on the 2013 novel by Dave Eggers) was rather confusing. There were a lot of questions about the plot that bothered me when the film ended rather abruptly, without a proper buildup. There were very interesting supporting characters, like Mercer, Laffitt and Annie mentioned above, whose characters were sadly not written to develop more clearly. There were scenes, like Mae in an underground tunnel with Ty or Mae kayaking at night, which were lit so poorly I could only assume what was happening thanks to the sound effects. 

Despite a disappointingly shallow treatment though, this film is an uneasy precautionary message for a netizen like me (and most of us),. Even at present, there are already exist companies who are uniting our internet activities -- like search engine, social media, applications, games, blog, email, photos, videos, storage cloud -- all of which could be accessed with a single password. We do not give a second thought about this, and indeed, we find it all so convenient. Watching "The Circle" warns us of being too complacent about where all this could leading to. 6/10. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

CINELOKAL 2017: Review of IADYA MO KAMI: Weak and Wishy-Washy

May 2, 2017



Cine Lokal is a partnership between the Film Development Council of the Philippines with SM Cinemas aimed at providing indie filmmakers a commercial venue for their films in order to promote viewership among the Filipino moviegoers. SM has dedicated eight theaters in their malls (MOA, North EDSA, Megamall, Fairview, South Mall, Bacoor, Iloilo, Cebu) for FDCP-curated award-winning and independent films. 

Launched this April 2017 the week after Holy Week, the first offerings had the uniting theme of "Salve Pelikula." For the maiden week of April 21-27, they showed Ishmael Bernal's "Himala" and oddly, a foreign film, recent Oscar Best Picture winner Tom McCarthy's "Spotlight."  For the week of April 28-May 4, they showed Ruben Soriquez's "Of Sinners and Saints," and the film I chanced upon today, Mel Chionglo's "Iadya Mo Kami" ("Deliver Us"). 

Fr. Greg was transferred to a remote town called Placido in the Cordilleras after it was learned that he fathered a child with one of his parishioners. There he meets the town's richest couple, Julian and Millette, kingpins who owned everything (and everyone) in town. However, when Fr. Greg's girlfriend Carla located him and brought their infant son over to visit, gossip began to spread all over town. Then a murder happens that throws the town into turmoil, causing secrets to be exposed.

"Iadya Mo Kami" premiered as one of the films in competition at the Filipino New Section of World Premieres Film, which opened on June 29, 2016. This was alongside films like Alvin Yapan's "EDSA" and Rayhan Carlos' "Ringgo: the Dog Shooter." It won three awards, namely Best Production Design, Musical Score, Special Jury Prize to Mel Chionglo for his "contribution to Philippine Cinema." 

First off, I find the MTRCB rating of R-13 questionable. There are several scenes that were definitely in R-16 or even R-18 territory. Are the MTRCB reviewers saying that multiple prolonged scenes of rape and perversion with breast exposure are allowable to be seen by 13 year olds? Disgusting. The mere fact that the central character of a Catholic priest is having an active sexual relationship is in itself enough grounds for at least an R-16 rating.

Allen Dizon has proven to be a good actor, and he does well here despite the limitations of the script. He really came across as a very meek and weak person, quite different from his other films. The rest of the actors are very typecast. You know very well what kind of people Julian and Millette by the mere facial expressions of Ricky Davao and Aiko Melendez alone. Diana Zubiri and Elora Españo in sexy scenes, no surprise there. I thought Eddie Garcia (as the Bishop) and Ina Feleo (as the reporter Zachy) would have significance, but sadly no.

For a script written by Ricky Lee, the main plot of this film was disappointingly simple.  I thought the main murder story line and its complications was good enough, but he was not able to develop it more interestingly. Why did there have to be many details that were unnecessary and confusing? These muddling side plots did nothing more than to just prolong the running time more. The ending looked haphazard and rushed. It was so unsatisfactory that even the presence of Pope Francis could not save it. 4/10.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Review of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2: Peter's Purpose

May 1, 2017




"Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014) was really an excellent space-age action adventure film that had jokes for every member of the audience to enjoy.  Writer James Gunn has certainly stepped up from writing "Scooby-Doo" films to writing and even directing this complex project, his first major directorial job. I counted the first GOTG film as one of the five best films of 2014.

In this sequel, Starlord Peter Quill's gang of Guardians -- Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, along with the insufferably cute Baby Groot -- are all back. After Rocket steals some of the precious batteries that the Sovereigns hired them to protect, the Guardians are chased by remote drones until they were forced to land on a random planet. A spaceship shaped like an gold-trimmed egg appears. Its distinguished-looking captain came out and introduced himself as Ego, Peter Quill's father.

Meanwhile, some Ravagers. led by the brutish Taserface, had lost confidence in the leadership of Peter's blue guardian Yondu, sparking a coup. The long-standing violent sibling rivalry of Gamora and her sister Nebula got re-accelerated. Ego's pet companion Mantis shared her powers of empathy and suggestion to the Guardians, making a special connection with Drax. 

With all these stories going on, writer-director James Gunn made sure everybody gets their fair share of the action. In fact, for a while in the middle of the film, there was not much of Peter Quill himself even if the central story thread revolved around him, his father and the purpose expected of him. In the end, every thread of the story neatly got their satisfactory resolution and closure. Despite being more known as a comedy, those dramatic moments can also hit hard with emotion. 

Chris Pratt has this effortless charm around him. It was not difficult to accept Kurt Russell in the role of Peter's dad, Ego. Zoe Saldana has perpetual grit on her face, and she is matched here by Karen Gillan as her rival Nebula. Dave Bautista was a delight to watch in Drax's guffaw moments. Bradley Cooper obviously had fun voicing the hyperkinetic raccoon bully, Rocket. Michael Rooker had his memorable moments as Yondu in this episode. Baby Groot was so adorable from his dominating the opening credits to all his sneaky little appearances in the closing credits. Imagining Vin Diesel as his voice makes him even cuter.

I think the very high bar set by this first GOTG film may affect audience appreciation of this second film. I think this sequel brought back everything that made us love the first film -- the oddball personalities, the explosive action, the energetic group dynamics, the naughty and snappy humor, the summery soundtrack of throwback hits. The first film had the element of novelty and surprise hence a stronger first impression.  There isn't really an element of novelty in Vol 2 anymore of course, but this second film matches the first in its verve, humor and heart, certainly not failing any of my expectations. 9/10. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review of BOSS BABY: Arrogant and Adorable

April 18, 2017



When I first saw the trailers of this new Dreamworks animated film, and saw this arrogant baby wearing a suit, I did not think it was something I would like. The initial reviews that came out were not too good as well. However, upon learning of the great box-office it did in the US -- ousting "Beauty and the Beast" from the #1 spot on its first week, and hanging on to #1 for a second week -- I thought I'd like to see what this film had in store.

7-year old Tim had a fun life as an only child of his parents Ted and Janice Templeton. However, on the arrival of his new bossy baby brother, Tim's ideal life turned upside down. Calling himself the Boss Baby, the new arrival wears a suit, talks like an adult and conducts meetings with other babies in the neighborhood. He connives with Tim to help him achieve a mission which will give him a promotion in Baby Corp. where he came from, and he will be gone from Tim's life for good. Tim was only too willing to help.

The artwork by the Dreamworks artists was really cuteness overload. The adorable combination of babies and puppies was hard to resist, and the drawings capitalized on this. Every funny baby and puppy tic and behavior were played up to great comic effect. Those scenes showing Tim and Boss Baby sucking pacifiers together, wearing sailor outfits together, reading a story book together, among others, were really quite precious and heartwarming to see. 

Alec Baldwin of course had a very authoritative tone as the Boss Baby as could be expected. You can hear a lot of the irony of his character in his voice. I was impressed with the lively vocal work of Miles Christopher Bakshi (grandson of animation legend Ralph Bakshi) as Tim Templeton, matching Baldwin's energy for the whole film. 

I thought Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow had too little to say as Tim's parents to make a distinct vocal impression. Steve Buscemi was appropriately menacing as Francis E. Francis, the vindictive CEO of Puppy Co., the main target of Boss Baby's mission. We get to hear the voice of Tobey Maguire as the adult Timothy, the narrator of the film. 

I thought the first scenes of Tim vs. Boss Baby can be very disturbing for young kids, showing sibling rivalry to the extreme. I felt it was sending a negative message for children watching that it was cool to be bossy or rude or bullying others. It took time for me to warm up to this concept, which I feel a lot of the young viewers do not get or might take the wrong way. Parental guidance is a must for these scenes.

Later though, I confess that I did get caught up in all the cute foolishness of it all. Despite the plot holes (like the erratic process of the magic baby formula wearing off) and juvenile violence (there were several scenes showing babies in mortal danger), brotherly love still prevailed in the end, and that was one very important message that families and the world need to take to heart. 6/10. 


Monday, April 17, 2017

Review of FAST AND FURIOUS 8: Boosted by a Baby

April 16, 2017




This energetic action series had already reached its eighth installment with this film, and it still shows no signs of fatigue or slowing down. If we are going to base it on the trailer alone, it promises to be as explosive as ever, including a most incredible scene on a frozen wasteland with a submarine! It was pretty clear that "Fast & Furious 8" (elsewhere also called "The Fate of the Furious") by director F. Gary Gray is the one most moviegoers will be spending their Easter weekend with this year.

Dom Toretto was honeymooning with Letty in Havana when he was accosted by cyberterrorist Cipher to work for her. After Dom and his team (Letty, Roman, Tej and Ramsey) along with agent Luke Hobbs successfully hijacks an electromagnetic pulse device in Berlin, Dom suddenly turns on his team, steals the device and delivers it to Cipher. Secret agent Frank Petty (aka Mr. Nobody) recruits the whole team along with rogue assassin Deckard Shaw to foil Cipher's nefarious plans of world domination. 

Vin Diesel's acting as Dom is as stony and stoic as ever, even more so in this installment. Michele Rodriguez's Letty is really one spunky lady. Tyrese Gibson is really playing up Roman's loud loverboy character for laughs in this one. The lovely Nathalie Emmanuelle is still not gelling that well with the close-knit team, but her Ramsey gets to show off more hacking skills here given the plot. As Hobbs, Dwayne Johnson is as macho as he could be, we actually believe he could do all his stunts for real.

Jason Statham gets to figure in a lot of great scenes here as Deckard Shaw. His talents in comedy (previously seen in "Spy") are really coming in handy for him to stand out. I do not think Vin Diesel could do Statham's scenes here. I enjoyed the scenes of Luke Evans and Helen Mirren in their surprise cameos as Deckard's brother and mother. While their scenes may be short, they really packed a unexpected punch. 

Charlize Theron can really pull off the sexy villainess role very well as the Cipher, although it seemed she could not keep up the menace all the way to the end. Her right hand man Rhodes though really had crazy vicious eyes on him, easily recognizable as those of actor Kristofer Hivju who played the wildling Tormund on "Game of Thrones". Kurt Russell can easily play these secret agent roles like Petty effortlessly. Scott Eastwood gets to be the comic relief as Reisner, Petty's upstart associate.

As can be deduced from the trailer alone, the whole story about Dom turning rogue against his family is a rather sketchy plot with a predictable ending. But of course, this unbelievable story line is just a basic framework upon which the most outlandishly-conceived street racing (in Havana!), car chase (in New York!), prison riot, heist getaway, and gunfight scenes were threaded on for best effects. That super-elaborate chase on the ice with armored cars, tanks, trucks, a bright orange Lamborghini and a nuclear submarine made for a most thrilling climax.


However, if you ask me and my sons, our most favorite action scene in this film would definitely be the heart-stopping yet hilarious sequence of Deckard Shaw fighting against all of Cipher's minions on a flying airplane, all the while carrying a basket with an actual baby inside it.  The adorable cuteness of the baby in this film is a real delightful scene-stealer every time. While hardcore F&F fans may feel that the series jumped the shark with these baby scenes, I thought these were refreshing angle for this 16-year old franchise. 8/10. 


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review of THE CASE FOR CHRIST: Enlightened by Evidence

April 12, 2017




It is Holy Week. Long before, it used to be that there would be Bible-themed movies in the theaters for the faithful to meditate upon. However, with the passing years, these films about Jesus Christ have become really rare. This year, there is only one such film out there in malls, quietly opening  in cinemas with no fanfare just a day before Palm Sunday. Fortunately I still got to catch it today.

It is 1980 in Chicago. Lee Strobel is a celebrated, award-winning journalist who wrote for the Chicago Tribune. He also had a happy family life with his wife Leslie and daughter Alison. However, one day, a tragedy in his family was narrowly averted just in the nick of time. This caused Leslie to seek her own spiritual renewal, defying Lee's staunch atheism. Lee goes on his own in-depth research about the historical and medical accuracy of Jesus' resurrection. Could he prove his wife wrong?

The actors act with earnestness as is usually expected from a religious film. Mike Vogel did very well in the lead role as Lee Strobel. He had the whole 80s look down pat, hair-sprayed mane and all. For the whole film, he was infuriatingly adamant in his atheism as he was overconfident in his skill as an investigative journalist. Despite his apparent love for his family, he was made to say such cruel and hurtful words to his wife as a result of his cynicism. However, he did have one effectively moving and tearful scene going through an album of his old articles. 

Erika Christensen was a loyal and steadfast Leslie Strobel. L. Scott Caldwell played the good Samaritan nurse Alfie Davis, who provided the spark for conversion in the Strobel household. In much smaller but key roles are Oscar-caliber actors Robert Forster as Lee's estranged father Walter and Faye Dunaway (whom I just saw in "The Bye Bye Man" before this) as psychologist Dr. Roberta Walters. I liked the portrayal of Tom Nowicki as medical expert Dr. Metherell for his authoritative discussion of Jesus' mortality.

Directed by Jon Gunn from a script by Brian Bird, "The Case for Christ" presents its story methodically as a lawyer would present his case in court. It was very refreshing to watch a religious film with an intellectual point of view, as a result of various expert interviews that Strobel conducted. This practical, logical approach will probably appeal to male audiences more than the melodramatic, emotional approach seen in "The Shack," which had more feminine sensibilities. However, this also means that "Case" had more verbose dialogue than special effects, which can also define the audience it can attract. 7/10.