Wednesday, November 21, 2018

iWant: Review of MA: Killing for Kin

November 20, 2018



This horror film by Kenneth Dagatan gained a lot of critical acclaim and positive buzz when it was first shown as a one-off special screening at the last CinemaOne Originals 2018 filmfest. I was not able to watch it back then. Good thing, I did not have to wait too long to see it since it is now being shown as one of the initial original feature films offered free and on-demand on the iWant app. 

Siblings Samuel, Lucy and Daniel just lost their sickly widowed mother Lina to an unusual illness. A pregnant school teacher Cecil just lost her husband Vince to a similar mysterious illness. An enchanted bush found inside a cave in the forest had a legendary reputation that it can fulfill any wish. Of course, a bloody price will have to be paid in order for the impossible requests to come to pass. 

Anna Luna is really at home with these indie movies and the unusual situations her characters get themselves into. As the very pregnant Cecil, she was subjected to some pretty harrowing moments both physically and psychologically. Rafael Siguion Reyna played her ill-fated husband Vince. Susan Africa played Cecile's strict mother. Ian Curtis played Cecile's stepfather, with whom she had some unresolved issues. Kate Alejandrino played her loyal friend Gelyn, who had some past experience in the cave.


Glydel Mercado was unrecognizable as the gaunt and infirm Lina. Kyle Espiritu, Alessandra Malonzo and Enzo Osorio played her three young children. I certainly hope these children were subjected to psychological guidance and debriefing during and after the shooting of this movie, given the very scary things they had to see and actually had to do. As Samuel, Espiritu was made to hold knives and act like he was handling bloody internal organs in very graphic scenes. These were disturbing to watch given the age of the actor, and to do these acts in front of two even younger children made them even more so.

This horror film was more about the creepy atmosphere than the outright scares. From beginning to end, a veil of dread would shroud the entire proceedings, gripping the viewer in its spell. The crisp images were of cinematic beauty, taken from unconventional points of view, with a gloomy color palette plus a generous splash of bloody red.  The eerie sound effects and musical score served to augment the sense of death and evil throughout. 

The effusive practically perfect reviews this movie received from its premiere gave me very high expectations. Too high perhaps so that I cannot completely say that I was totally sold. Technical aspects were very well-done for sure, especially the mesmerizing visuals. However, the plot had so many unanswered questions that bothered me. While admittedly motion picture is a visual art, many viewers like me still expect it to tell a solid story.

What were those illnesses that claimed the lives of Lina and Vince? They both manifested with a lot of coughing, retching and vomiting, ultimately with fatal blood loss. Did they both have the same illness? Did they catch their illnesses the same way? Was the entity in the cave somehow responsible for it because of something they did in the past? Was the same entity responsible for Cecil's ghastly nightmares? No explanation at all was given to this aspect of the story which I thought was important. 7/10. 


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Review of FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD: Setting-Up for a Showdown

November 19, 2018




The main story of this sequel concerned a search for a disturbed individual named Credence Barebone, who had once caused massive damage to New York City with his inner Obscurus. Despite his travel restrictions, Newt Scamander had been requested both the Ministry of Magic and no less than Albus Dumbledore himself to go look for Credence. Also hot on the search was notorious dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, who believed that Credence possessed the ability to kill his most powerful nemesis. 

The huge ensemble cast can really be quite a formidable task to familiarize with, especially those who are not exactly Potterheads. Eddie Redmayne was consistently likable as the shy and earnest fantastic beast trainer Newt Salamander. Katherine Waterston played the brave but mousy Tina Goldstein who was now an Auror based in Paris. Alison Sudol and Dan Folger played Tina's flighty sister Queenie and her No-Maj partner Jacob Kowalski, who were in love despite this being forbidden by wizarding laws. 

Zoe Kravitz (as the exotic mysterious Leta Lestrange), Ezra Miller (as the devastatingly powerful Credence Barebone) and Johnny Depp (as the heterocrhomic evil warlock Gellert Grindelwald) were all likewise introduced in the first film. In this sequel, they play much bigger roles, roles even more critical than Newt was to the whole story being built up. In this installment, Newt practically became a side character in his own franchise, for now at least. 

Jude Law was a fantastic choice to be the young Albus Dumbledore . His scenes were the best parts of the film, especially those which brought us back inside the hallowed walls of Hogwarts when Dumbledore was still a Professor of the Dark Arts. It was nostalgic to watch another lesson about the Ridikulus spell or see that Quidditch ptich in the background. It was also delightful to see a young Minerva McGonagall (Fiona Glascott). We all certainly missed the beloved musical score in the cinema and it was great to hear again. 

As the title promised, there were computer-generated visual spectacles of action involving fantastic beasts. The most memorable ones should be Grindelwald's escape from his prison coach drawn by Thestrals (winged skeletal horses) and the freaky transformations of Nagini (Claudia Kim). There were comic sequences featuring adorable baby Nifflers and Newt's pet Bowtruckle (that cute green stick creature). Later, we see a Kelpie (a seaweed water horse-like creature), Matagots (scary black cat-like creatures with huge blue eyes) and a Zouwu (a bright-colored Chinese dragon-like creature). Of course, our favorite Niffler will make itself significant at the end when it pilfers a vital artifact.

I was not able to immediately get into the story for the first hour, especially with the numerous new characters being introduced. (We even met the immortal alchemist Nicolas Framel, the inventor of the Sorcerer's Stone!)  It was only during those revelations in the French Ministry of Magic that the whole story began to come together and make sense for me. That even more surprising revelation in the final scene in Castle Nurmengard in Austria was the clincher that makes the next episode a must-not-miss. 

Don't forget that this is only the second episode of a planned five-part series, so it was very busy. Director David Yates was mainly concerned in setting up more layers in the complex franchise foundation from which the future episodes will arise. 7/10. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

iWant: Review of GLORIOUS: Carnal Catharsis

November 18, 2018




iWant is a streaming application type of content platform exclusively available in the Philippines that is owned and operated by ABS-CBN. It offers TV, Movie, Audio, and Live content for registered viewers that they can stream anytime and anywhere on demand on any gadget. It used to be known as iWanTV when this service was first launched in 2010.

The film chosen for iWant's maiden salvo is one that immediately grabbed social media attention for the first time its provocative trailer was released on November 4, 2018. Views of the trailer alone approached the 20 M mark or probably more by now. The controversial subject matter of this Dreamscape Digital production had obviously sparked the interest across a broad segment of Filipino society.

Glory is a 50-year old former bank manager, who is beginning a pottery business. She has three adult children and an abusive husband (Allan Paule), with whom she is now estranged. One day, when shopping for a lamp, Glory met Niko, a driven, confident and persistent 22-year old salesman in that home decor store. From that day on, the lonely life of Glory was about to take off into whole new level of glorious she had never felt before.

We have seen May-December love affairs where the female was much older than the male portrayed on film before, but usually from Hollywood, in films like "Notes on a Scandal" (2006) and "The Reader" (2008). Among local films, there may not have been a lot. Only "Love Me Tomorrow" (2016) which starred Dawn Zulueta and Piolo Pascual comes to mind. That is why when the trailer of "Glorious" came out showing Angel Aquino engaged in very torrid kissing scenes with Tony Labrusca, the internet went crazy.

Angel Aquino is an ageless goddess. With an extraordinarily attractive face and figure like hers, she could drive any warm-blooded male (or maybe even female) wild with passion. Her character was written to be depressive and submissive to men, which made her seem very weak and vulnerable. I felt she could have delivered more acting-wise in separate confrontations with her daughter (Elora Espano) and Niko's grandmother (Erlinda Villalobos) but the dialogue in these scenes were not developed in Glory's favor. There could have been more challenging ways these conflicts could have gone which Angel could've met head on. 

Tony Labrusca continues his daring streak of unconventional and controversial movies this, his debut year in feature films. He began with "ML" (about Martial Law), and followed it up with "Double Twisting Double Back" (about sex addiction). As Niko, he had to be convincing with his charismatic gift of gab and prodigious bedroom skills to complete the irresistible Adonis that swept Glory off her feet. While Labrusca had the physical requirements of the role down pat, he still felt rather wet behind the ears in his dramatic scenes with Angel. However, his promise as an actor and leading man is definitely on track.

Writer-director Connie Macatuno gave the film a feministic feel, to empower abused and neglected women to up and find their own happiness. The story by itself was a simple MMK-type personal drama, but ostensibly the steamy sex scenes were the biggest selling point of this film, comprising a significant percentage of its 1 hr 47 minute running time. These scenes were executed with slick camera work and editing for erotic effect, albeit sanitized for mainstream viewing. The ending though will surely provoke as much discussion as the trailers did. 6/10. 


Friday, November 16, 2018

Review of KUNG PAANO SIYA NAWALA: Forgetting a Face

November 16, 2018




There was an interesting medical condition that underlay this film, a condition I never knew existed before -- face blindness. This was defined as a brain disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces, unrelated to vision, memory or learning dysfunctions. The proper medical term of this condition is "prosopagnosia." I am not sure if they had an actual patient on which to base an accurate portrayal of the symptomatology on, but I trust their research had solid basis as this film certainly made sure we felt the confusion the protagonist felt. 

One day, while call center agent Lio was taking a breather outside a bar, an attractive girl Shana casually sat beside him and asked if he wanted to make out with her, and they did. However, the next time Lio met Shana in the coffee shop where she worked and then again on the street, he always failed to recognize her, much to Shana's annoyance. Lio confessed he had face blindness, which made him unable to recognize new faces. 

JM de Guzman consistently gives his characters a depth that few others in his generation could. As Lio, he was an introvert and a cynic, characteristics his condition gave him since he developed it as a child. He lived with his flighty mother Elly (Agot Isidro) and younger sister Lexy (Barbara Ruaro), and lately, his long-estranged father (Teroy Guzman) is trying reach out to him to reconnect. As with his previous roles, de Guzman had mastered how to play these stoic, secretive guys who said little and struggled to keep their emotions in. 

I knew Rhian Ramos but I have not really seen her in a lead role until this one. She was in "Saving Sally," but I only heard her voice there, and in "Trigonal," her role was very short. Her Shana was a quirky joker, a girl living the consequences of a shady checkered past. She was a complex, contradictory character, a challenging handful even for regular boyfriend. Ramos embraced all these flaws and imbued her Shana with an irresistible charm and natural warmth to make up for them.

The title alone already hinted at how the love story of Lio and Shana would most likely go. However, director Joel Ruiz presented his story with Ike Javellana's beautiful images which somehow softened and even uplifted the downbeat mood. He took full advantage of his stars' effortlessly photogenic chemistry to create some memorable moments. Apologies had rarely been so deeply expressed than with that giant teddy bear scene. Forgetting had rarely been so eloquently represented than with that climactic montage. The nebulous ending will make you gasp and sigh. 8/10. 



* My only issue with this is the MTRCB rating of PG for a film that had scenes of very casual premarital sex among strangers and co-workers.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review of THROUGH NIGHT AND DAY: Imbroglio in Iceland

November 15, 2018




Ben and Jen had been sweethearts since they were in fourth grade in their common hometown of Baguio City. They were sure they wanted to marry each other. After he proposed marriage and she accepted, Ben took Jen on a pre-nuptial trip to the ultimate travel destination of her bucket list -- Iceland. The two rented a camping van and drove around to all Jen's dream tourist spots all around the country. Facets of each other's personality they had never seen before are revealed as they get on each other's nerves during two-week long road trip. 

Alessandra de Rossi is already well-known in coming up with excellent performances in quirky romances such as this one. Even more than "Kita Kita" and "12" before this, the Alessandra we see in this film was so carefree and natural as the sentimental and fickle Jen, it was as if this was her own personal story. This is why when the twist came, the audience too never saw it coming.

Paolo Contis' performance here as as Jen's loyal and loving boyfriend Ben was a showcase of his range as an actor now. Ben was the character that faced the testy situations and made vital decisions during their fateful trip to Iceland, while it seemed that Jen was just being herself. The audience was seeing the story develop through Ben's eyes, and Contis pulled off this responsibility very well with his spot-on emotional responses.

Traveling companions, even if they are husband and wife, face the tendency to bicker during long trips because of differences in interests to pursue, choices of places to visit, tastes in food, stamina for walking, among many other conflicts, big or small. They need to learn how to compromise in order to maintain harmony in their trip and in their relationship. De Rossi and Contis' chemistry worked wonders in this part of the film. 

However, this story was more than just about their traveling woes as Ben and Jen whisk us along to magnificent Icelandic landscape and the northern lights. There was still an Act 3 which will make us reflect on and even question our own ideas and impressions of what happened during their trip. Again, de Rossi and Contis both rose to the acting challenge posed by their respective characters and the issues they faced three years after Iceland. 

Director Veronica B. Velasco lovingly and engagingly told the love story of Ben and Jen. The audience cared about these two and was positively reacting to their dialogue, written by Noreen Capili. The pace slowed down in Act 3, which included a scene where the theme song "I Will Be Here" (by American Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman) was sung in full, so the prolonged ending may make some viewers impatient. However by that time, we are all so invested in the two of them, no one rose to leave until the final fade out. 8/10. 


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

3 Mini-Reviews: THE SUPER, TIME FREAK, OVERLORD

November 13, 2018

THE SUPER

Phil Lodge was a widower and single father of two young girls, a rebellious 14-year old Violet and a sweet 7-year old Rose. He was accepted to be a supervisor of an apartment building in New York City. He would soon discover that various tenants of the building were disappearing from the building in mysterious circumstances. When his daughter Rose seemed to be being stalked by a suspicious-looking man, Walter, Phil needed to get to the bottom of things.

Val Kilmer was the only well-known actor in the cast and he was practically unrecognizable playing the eccentric guy Walter, who alarmed Phil and the girls. This was another one of those roles given to senior stars whose career prime had past but he still had a name, and Kilmer played him bizarrely over-the-top. Patrick John Flueger played the confused and disoriented father Phil. The cute child actress Mattea Conforti played the role of Rose very well, catching attention whenever she was on screen.

This Stephan Rick film started off with a gory double murder by a mysterious unseen entity. The subsequent kills were not able to match the brutality of the first one anymore. I am no fan of gore anyhow. However, I thought the script by John J. McLaughlin was clever and carefully plotted. It unraveled with a totally unexpected revelation that caught me off-guard and had me fascinated. 6/10. 

**********


TIME FREAK

Stillman was a genius nerd in physics who was head over heels in love with his beautiful girlfriend Debbie. However, one day, Debbie decided to dump him, which stressed Stillman up no end. Stillman wanted to get Debbie back so much that he invented a time machine to go back in time to fix all their problems, with his best friend Evan coming along for the ride. 

The time travel theme had already been overdone in various romance films to get the girl. As a change, writer-director Andrew Bowler extended the use of the time machine to keep the relationship smooth and perfect, which of course, also had its consequences. He actually extended his own 2011 short film, which had been nominated for the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. 

I thought the casting was off. Asa Butterfield and Sophie Turner as Stillman and Debbie did not have any chemistry together at all. Furthermore the personality of Stillman was such an obsessive, selfish and controlling perfectionist, he was irritating to watch. Skyler Gisondo fared better as Evan, who was quite likable despite supposedly being cast as Stillman's annoying sidekick and partner-in-crime. 4/10. 

**********


OVERLORD

It was World War II on the night before D-Day. A team of American paratroopers were being sent into France to destroy an old church where the Nazis put up radio jamming tower before 0600H in order the clear the way for vital Allied communications in the big military operations to come. Their plane was shot down, so that left Corporal Ford and Privates Boyce, Tibbett and Chase to complete the dangerous mission. Receiving assistance from a village lass Chloe, the soldiers discovered that diabolical Nazi science experiments were also being conducted inside the target church.

I did not know any of the actors but they all did very well in their roles. Jovan Adepo was Pvt. Ed Boyce, a naive soldier who experienced a rude awakening in battle which brought out the hero in him. Wyatt Russell was Cpl. Ford who maintained valiant focus on their mission. John Magaro was the noisy, chatty, annoying sniper Pvt. Tibbet. Mathilde Ollivier was Chloe, bold and brave beneath her beauty. Child actor Gianny Taufer was delightful as Chloe’s younger brother Paul. Pilou Asbæk was the sinister Cpt. Wafner, the Nazi officer who cherished the monster within him.

This Julius Avery film (produced by J.J. Abrams) mixed several genres into one crazy but engrossing mix. It was foremost a war movie, with all the violent action and ethical drama that entailed. That opening act with the attack on their plane was executed with such immersive graphics, it would set the exciting pace for the rest of the film. Later on, it would evolve into a gory horror sci-fi zombie thriller that did not let up until the bloody, fiery Grand Guignol finale. 8/10. 


Monday, November 12, 2018

Review of ML: Research in Ruthlessness

November 11, 2018




"ML" was one of the most controversial and talked-about films from the Cinemalaya 2018 filmfest held last August. It won a couple of awards back then, one for editing and another for Best Actor for veteran actor Eddie Garcia. I was not disappointed not to have been able to watch it back then, so I was thankful that it had its commercial release this week, just three months after Cinemalaya. 

Carlo was given a research assignment by his professor to interview a first-hand source about Pres. Ferdinand Marcos's infamous martial law rule. He decided to visit the Colonel, an elderly retired ex-Metrocom officer in their village to get his thoughts about the subject matter. However, Carlo would never have even imagine the gory nightmare was going to happen to him right after he asked the Colonel his very first question about martial law.

Because this film had a lot of media exposure, I already expected that this film would be about the violent torture that reportedly happened during the martial law years. Even with that knowledge, it did not prepare me for the intense level of vicarious pain those torture scenes will inflict on me as a viewer. This harrowing and shocking film, with its eerie musical score (Pearlsha Abubakar-Quebral) and skillful editing (Mikael Pestano), was tough to watch without flinching. 

A major part of the effectivity of this film's horror is the performance of Eddie Garcia as the Colonel. He did not even need to talk to be scary. Even his glowering stare alone already conveyed that demented sense of cruelty to make our hearts palpitate out of fear. When he did speak, his calm voice ironically dripped with sinister intentions. Repulsive and fearsome as his role was, Garcia completely dominated this film with his screen magnetism, which had not diminished even at his present age of 89. 

Tony Labrusca played Carlo. Tall and athletic, he registered well on the big screen. He spent a good part of the film unable to talk, and therefore had to only rely on his eyes and body language to convey his pain at the terrible things happening to him, and the terror of watching his friends suffering because of their association with him. However, he has a rather distracting American accent he still needs to work on. 

Labrusca is the current it-boy in local showbiz this year. 2018 was his big breakout year, with three lead roles. "ML" was his first full feature film role and it was immediately a lead -- and a serious one at that, not a run-of-the-mill teenage rom-com. He would follow "ML" up with another dark mind-bending film "Double Twisting Double Back" (MY REVIEW) for the Cinema1 Originals filmfest, and now, he is promoting a third one "Glorious," an unconventional love story co-starring Angel Aquino. 

Heinz Villaraiz was the carefree party boy Jaze. His initial conversation with the Colonel about Valkyrie may have been rather funny, but what happened to him next certainly was not. Liane Valentino was Carlo's girlfriend Pat. Her sweet and innocent face made her fate at Colonel's hands even more traumatic to watch. We may have heard about these various torture techniques before, but to actually see them being performed on these unsuspecting young people on the big screen magnified their savagery twice-fold or more. 

Writer-director Benedict Mique was able to think up and execute a film that gave a novel approach to show the horrors of Martial Law. There was no need for preachy politics here to promote #NeverForget, just in-your-face brutality to get his point across. He was aiming for clueless young people who have been currently bombarded with various forms of historical revisionism on social media about these dark years and  who may now actually believe that these horrors never existed at all.  8/10. 




Friday, November 9, 2018

Review of CLASS OF 2018: Teenage Thrills

November 8, 2018



In the graduating class of 2018 of Del Pilar National High School, there was one section where the school dumped all those students who were not likely to succeed in the future. There were those with anti-social behavior, bullies, troublemakers, geeks and the like. Even among themselves, they were at odds with each other, especially a secret blog exposing the dirty truth about each classmate was hacked and leaked 

One day, their science teacher brought them to Mt. Bantayog to study its uniquely changing endemic plant life. However, when one of the students sustained a wound and washed off in a nearby river, he later transformed into a violent killing monster. Later when the students were all gathered and trapped in a warehouse, other students also began transforming into undead killers, placing the class in mortal danger where only the lucky could survive.

This was a typical zombie flick where the big cast of characters at the beginning of the film gets picked off and killed one by one, in the most bizarrely violent means, until only a few stronger or luckier ones remain at the end. Only, for this one, some of the characters were not only killed off by the zombies or soldiers, but also by their own classmates. This was a strange twist to have the students be so seriously at odds or paranoid at each other to create a sort-of "Hunger Games" scenario.

To its credit, this had an interesting and ambitious science fiction theme -- a scientific experiment first launched in the 1980s that got rebooted six years ago. However, it also shared the same problem with previous local attempts at sci-fi  -- the production design. The whole set-up of the supposedly well-funded experiment being conducted was rather too crude-looking to be believable as scientific. The transmission mode of the zombie virus was also too random to be truly scientifically-controlled.

There were more than 20 members of Section Z, so each of the young actors had to try their best to make their roles stand-out. 

Of course the more well-known actors had more pronounced roles. Sharlene San Pedro was Ada, the angry ostracized daddy's girl. Nash Aguas was RJ, the tame apologetic jock. The ever-scene-stealing Kiray Celis was Venus, the mean girl queen-bee, as always. Kristel Fulgar was the noisy, perennial late-comer Princess. Ethan Salvador was a alpha-male brute. Michelle Vito was the clueless beauty who said "irregardless" regardless of the situation. 

Eisen Lim and Kaiser Boado playfully rapped as rhyming comic duo B1 and B2. Jude Sevilla was the slimy pervert Wacky, while John Vic de Guzman played his all-brawn, no-brain pal Jamir. Shaira Dizon's Misha was a selfie-addict up to her gory end. Aga Arceo was shy "torpe" guy Ericson. Lara Fortuna displayed remarkable action-princess form as the silent loner Jonalyn.

For the faculty, Luis Alandy played their earnest teacher Sir Patrick, while Lotlot də Leon (whom i didn't immediately recognize) played his strict superior Ms. Carolyn. Alex Medina played bus driver Junix. For the ruthless experimenters, Dido Dela Paz played the old General and Sherry Lara played the deceptively soft-spoken Hera. Yayo Aguila played Ada's mother Selina, negligent in more ways than one. 

Writer-director Charliebebs Gohetia tried to create his own unique type of zombie, unlike the typical film zombies we've seen before. These new zombies would be exhibiting exaggerated displays of the individual quirks and hobbies of the students.  So in this case, there would be a zombie drummer (Noubikko Ray), zombie rockers (Mark Oblea and Nikki Gonzales), zombie Anime cosplay ears (Jerom Canlas and Yvette Sanchez), a zombie video gamer (Justin de Guzman), etc.

The premise was innovative and ambitious, but the execution could not keep up and was thus inconsistent. There were so many characters to kill off so that the whole story became over-extended, repetitive and even corny for certain kills. Anyhow, funny more than terrifying, it was still entertaining, especially for its target teenage / millennial demographic. 6/10. 


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Review of MY HERO ACADEMIA: TWO HEROES: The Quick and the Quirky

November 2, 2018




I had no idea what this anime was all about when my son was clamoring for us to go watch it. The anime art work of the characters I saw on the poster did not exactly appeal to me. Anyhow, my son's choice prevailed because it was the only one that could fit our schedule, so I kept my fingers crossed that I somehow get to understand and like this one as well.

All-Might is the most powerful superhero in the world. He was invited by his old friend Dr. David Shield to visit I-island, a place where scientists like David study Quirks (a term used to call powers possessed by people). He brought along his young apprentice Izuku Midoriya (hero name: Deku), with whom he had shared his Quirk called One for All. This generous gift has somehow caused All-Might to feel weak and sluggish.

While there, while All-Might was being examined by David, Deku gets shown around by David's daughter and budding scientist Melissa. They meet a number of their hero classmates who were also visiting or working on the island. Meanwhile, a super-villain Wolfram and his minions take over the island's security system to hold all the professional heroes hostage. It was up to the young heroes-in-training to save the day. 

It took time for me to catch on to the story and the myriad of characters, frequently needing to ask clarificatory questions from my son, who was a fan of the anime series. Fans all around us were enjoying the moments when a new character would show up on screen and display the Quirk and personality they were known for. There were some characters who seemed to be more popular with the girls than others.

Once I got the drift of the plot, this was quite an exciting superhero film to watch. The superpowers of the young heroes were quite interesting, and had limitations. Ash-blond Katsuki Bakugo had his sweat of nitroglycerin. White and crimson-haired Shoto Todoroki had half-fire, half-ice powers in his hands. Bespectacled Tenya Iida had jet-engine legs, Sweet Ochako Uraraka can make things float. Momo Yaoyorozu can create weapons from her body. Red-haired Eijiro Kirishima can harden his body for invincibility. Funny little Minoru Mineta had his adhesive balls.

It may not be advisable to watch this film without any knowledge about the manga or anime series, or at least have someone with you who can answer your questions. More particularly, the story of Deku (formerly one of the only 20% of humanity without a Quirk), and the power he received from All-Might is the prerequisite backstory needed to fully appreciate the story. For an old-timer like me: 7/10.. For fanboys like my son: 10/10 . 


Saturday, November 3, 2018

Review of SUSPIRIA (2018): Grotesque Grace

November 2, 2018




Following "Death Wish," "Papillon" and "A Star is Born," yet another film from the 1970s gets remade this year. This time, it is Italian director Dario Argento's 1977 horror film "Suspiria," starring Jessica Harper and Joan Bennett among a predominantly European cast. This was Argento's biggest box office hit in the USA and the best reviewed film of his career. I had seen the original "Suspiria" and was actually surprised with its popularity. While I can see why it became a cult classic, critical acclaim I did not exactly expect. 

American ballet Suzy Bannion went to Freiburg, Germany to train under the Tanz Dance Academy. Ever since her arrival, Suzy began to observe strange goings-on in the school, starting from the elegant headmistress Madame Blanc and the brusque instructor Ms. Tanner to her fellow students, Patricia (who ran away from school the day Suzy arrived) and Sara (who seemed to be a paranoid wreck about everything). 

To be honest, the acting and the story were not exactly remarkable. However, this film was memorable because of two things. First is its very glossy, brightly-colored visuals care of cinematographer Luciano Tovoli and opulent production design care of Giuseppe Bassan. Second is its eerily syncopated rock musical score care of Italian band Goblin. I remember maybe two of its most disturbing scenes, both involving things falling out of a ceiling -- one was the dead body of a girl, the next was a major maggot infestation. 

This so-called remake this year by director Luca Guadagnino was actually not a remake. It had the same initial premise of an American girl Susie Bannion wanting to train in contemporary dance under her idol Madame Blanc in the Markos Dance Academy in Berlin. However, Guadagnino's more ambitious script and more grandiloquent direction took the story to a totally different place, way way beyond Argento's much simpler tale. 

This new update involved the character of psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer and his interest in the secrets of the matrons in the dance academy when his patient Patricia disappeared. Much later, he would also be obsessed in finding out what happened to his wife Anke Meier, a subplot of a subplot that seemed to be totally off the topic of the dance academy, and yet still it was given so much screen time. 

Guadagnino's storytelling swelled up Argento's mere 98-minute compact running time to an unexpectedly protracted 158 minutes -- with six acts and an epilogue. For me, I felt every minute of that full hour of extra time. It came to a point when the proceedings were already felt interminable. Those recurrent television reports about a hijacking of a plane by terrorists felt pointless. In contrast with Argento's loud and vivid vision, Guadagnino opted for a more subdued score (by Thom Yorke) and color palette (by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom). 

Three major scenes stood out in this new version, and they all involved dancing. Oddly, there was hardly any dancing at all in the first movie, but it was front-and-center in this new one. The first one is the best, and probably the scene for which this film will be remembered for-- the scene where Susie's strong emphatic dance moves was inadvertently killing another girl trapped in a locked room of mirrors. The pretzel-like aftermath was a hauntingly grotesque image hard to unsee.

The second dance number was the actual public performance of Blanc's dance masterpiece "Volk" in front of a paying audience. The red ribbons - white panties ensemble was not exactly sexy, however the execution of the powerful dance moves and the way it was caught on camera was electric. The climactic final dance number involved naked dancers wildly writhing and whipping their hair around in a disconcerting ceremonial ritual. Together with the editing and the music, these dances left an unsettling impression on the audience.

Dakota Johnson stepped out of her nubile "50 Shades" character into another one here. Compared to Harper's weak submissive Suzy, Johnson's Susie was more aggressive and fearless, driven by a strong desire to dominate. Information about Susie being brought up by a strict conservative Mennonite mother may have added dimension to her personality development, but these details also added to the confusing excess of the film.

Tilda Swinton can fill up a screen by just standing there. Tall and masterful, her Madame Blanc was an intimidating force to reckon with. Reading up about the film after watching, I was surprised to learn that Swinton also played two more important characters in the film, albeit totally unrecognizable under layers of prosthetics. I guess Guadagnino did not want any male actor in the main cast at all to make a point. Otherwise, I thought it was a self-indulgent casting decision.

Chloe Grace Moretz played Patricia Hingle. We see her unhinged in Dr. Klemperer's room in the first act, but too bad that was also that last time we see her face. Mia Goth played Sara, who was more proactive here than in the original, as she dared to investigate rather than just be paranoid. Angela Winkler, Renee Soutendijk and Alek Wek played sinister dance matrons. A nice tribute to the first film was the cameo of the original Suzy, Jessica Harper, in a touching reunion scene in Act 6.

Guadagnino's "Suspiria" is a polarizing pretentious work of art. It is both beautiful and ugly. It is both profound and meaningless. There was so much room to improve on Argento's original, but Guadagnino aimed for too high and overshot way beyond where it was supposed to land. He did not seem to know how to wrap his magnum monster all up at the end, and gave us a head-scratcher of an epilogue to dash all our interpretations prior to it. This is strictly for the art house crowd, but I suspect even the most high brow of them will not know what to make of this messy melange. 

Dario Argento's "Suspiria" 6/10. Luca Guadagnino's "Suspiria": 5/10. 







Review of RAMPANT: Undead Uprising

November 2, 2018


Very prominently placed in the poster is that this new Korean film out in cinemas now came from the makers of "Train to Busan" (2016, MY REVIEW). As unclear a reference as that was, I admit I probably would not have gone out of my way to watch this film if it were not for that association. The combination of Korean imperial history and zombies was too interesting and irresistible to ignore. 

Trouble was brewing in the Joseon court as King Lee Jo was being manipulated by his Minister of War, Kim Ja-joon, which led to the death of Crown Prince Lee Young. However, the spoiled, womanizing younger prince Lee Chung came back to court from his self-exile in Qing to fulfill the wishes of his departed brother. However, on his return, the countryside was terrorized with "night demons," zombies hungry for meat and blood, who continue to multiply in number with no end in sight.

Director Kim Sung-hoon cast Hyun Bin, the same young action star from his previous hit film "Confidential Assignment" (2017, MY REVIEW), as the reluctant hero Prince Lee Chung. This actor had a certain rascally bad-boy charm about him, just right for his hot-headed, arrogant character. Outstandingly resplendent in his white ceremonial robes, he cut a dashing swashbuckling figure in those breathtaking sword fights that he had against the zombies and other enemies. 

Jang Dong-gun played the sinister minister Kim Ja-joon in a slow burn manner, starting out as a nondescript bureaucrat later escalating into a full-blown monster. Kim Eui-sung (also in "Train to Busan") played the befuddled and deluded King Lee Jo. Jo Woo-jin played the most noble character of the film, Park Eul-ryoung, who displayed unwavering loyalty even in the face of death. The beautiful Lee Sun-bin also struck a heroic figure as the skilled archer and Park's sister, Deok-hee. Jeong Man-sik served as comic relief in his role of Lee Chung's effeminate valet Hak-soo

The telling of the political intrigue took a bit too slow to develop. It can sometimes be confusing at the start because of the unfamiliar names and faces. The zombies had an unclear and random origin, and shared the quality of being afraid of sunlight, once only a quality of vampires. The plot was all cleared up by the time the zombie horde overran the palace during an extravagant cultural show. From that part onwards, I was simply riveting all the way until that emotional patriotic ending (as any good Korean film).

As expected the whole film was a visual spectacle, with special effects by Yoo Daewon working so well with the cinematography of Lee Sung-je, the ornate production design of Chae Kyoung-sun and contrasting colorful costumes by Cho Sang-kyung. Kim Taekang’s action choreography really kept the momentum going with Kim Sang-bum's editing and Park Inyoung's musical score. 8/10.