Friday, February 21, 2020

Review of WATCH LIST: Troubles with Tokhang

February 20, 2020

Oplan Tokhang was the code name for the recent government project of inviting everyone involved in illegal drugs to come forth, confess their guilt and promise to reform themselves of their destructive habit. However, despite its noble intentions, some of those who voluntarily surrendered to this campaign actually became targets for what seemed to be cases of extra-judicial killings. 

Several cinema verite style local indie films had depicted this controversy before, either as central theme or as side vignettes. But this new one by Hollywood-based director of Indian descent, Ben Rekhi, depicts these burning socio-political issues from within, following various characters actually involved in this disturbing culture of violence that pervaded the slums of Metro Manila over the past three years.

Tricycle driver Arturo Ramon (Jess Mendoza) was shot dead by "riding in tandem" killers who cornered him in one section of the slums in Barangay 120 in Caloocan City. Ironically, Turo and his wife Maria (Alessandra de Rossi) just surrendered in the Oplan Tokhang held in their community just the day before. Desperate to fend for herself and her three children, Maria volunteered herself to become the asset of police officer Ventura (Jake Macapagal) who headed the drug investigations. On her very first assignment with her partner Alvin (Art Acuna), Maria realized she did not exactly get what she bargained for.

Alessandra de Rossi once again proved how she is one of the best actresses in her generation. She gave her character of Maria a sense of palpable realism such that we really felt like we were in her shoes as she made one terrible decision after the other as a result of her desperate sense of hopelessness. Like her style in her previous films, de Rossi was not one to showboat with hysterics. Her best work was quiet and internal, and we feel it all coming through the big screen. 

Micko Laurente played Maria's 13-year old eldest son Mark with sensitivity.  He is now four years older than when he debuted as a child actor in "Bambanti" (2016) also as the son of Alessandra de Rossi's character who was also a widow. He successfully transitioned to more mature roles in this one as a vulnerable teen in a neighborhood of drug addicts. Maria's other two younger children were 9 year-old asthmatic Nina (played by Susan Coronel Malonzo) and delightful David (played by Sher Khalifa Floresta). 

Everyone in the supporting cast were very well-cast, blending right into the underbelly of the slums they lived in. Jake Macapagal dripped with sinister vibes throughout as the crooked police officer Ventura. Art Acuna was so cool playing someone as insouciantly bloodthirsty as Alvin. Timothy Mabalot played the dangerously volatile character of Joel, the drug addict eldest son of Grace (Angeli Bayani), a friend of Maria's who was also a Tokhang widow. Lou Veloso was ever-dependable as Hector, a barangay official who looked out for Maria.

The cinematography was a remarkable mix of varied styles of camera work. There was one puzzling editing decision when Maria was shown to ride a motorcycle to go to a place presumably near their residence, but this was a minor quibble. You may have heard all these Tokhang stories before and seen movies depicting the same tragic events. However, director and co-writer Rekhi combined and interwove them in a most gripping and thrilling manner. That heartbreaking final scene of powerless Maria will stick with you. 8/10. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Review of THE CALL OF THE WILD (2020): Canine Cuteness and Courage

February 20, 2020

"The Call of the Wild" was a novel written by Jack London in 1903. There had been a number of movie adaptations of this book over the years, with those starring big stars of their respective eras, like Clark Gable (in 1935, and Charlton Heston (in 1972) as the more popular versions. This year, yet another movie version has been released taking full advantage of the special visual effect technology available now. Taking over the lead human role is another big name star, Harrison Ford.

Buck, a huge hyperactive dog of St. Bernard lineage, was the pet of Judge Miller (Bradley Whitford) in Sta. Clara, California. One night, he was stolen from the judge's home and sold to traders supplying dogs to the gold prospectors in the Yukon region. Buck's first master was the mail courier Perrault (Omar Sy) and his indigenous partner Francoise (Cara Gee). Buck's next master was a cruel man Hal (Dan Stevens) who worked him to the point of near death. This prompted old man John Thornton (Harrison Ford) to go to Buck's rescue. 

Harrison Ford was all grizzled up here with his unkempt gray hair and beard. Nevertheless he still got to show off his skills in fighting, rifle shooting and canoe rowing. He even proudly bared his ripped 77 year-old torso in a scene where he was taking a bath in the river (he denied any digital enhancement for his physique). He is no doubt fit and ready for his upcoming 5th installment of the Indiana Jones franchise expected later this year. With all the manly roles he had taken on over his long career, this actor is really an icon of manhood. 

What was clearly evident from the get-go was that "Buck" was not portrayed by a real dog. He was a computer-generated image, with portrayed in motion capture by Terry Notary (motion-capture actor in similar films like "Jungle Book," "Kong: Skull Island" and the "Planet of the Apes" series). While there admittedly were a number of touching moments of canine cuteness, the CG imagery of Buck and all the other dogs and animals sort of took away some of the impact of what were supposed to be breathtaking nature scenes.

Anyhow, it was because also because of this imprecise style of CG (not as realistic as that of  the "live" version of "The Lion King" last year) that Buck and his friends were able to portray certain human-like facial expressions of concern, fear, sadness, anger, jealousy, etc, which translated into some pretty touching moments, and delightful ones as well. There are scenes of violence that require parental guidance, like those involving the alpha dog Spitz and all of those with the villain Hal. In general though, this is a solid, good, old-fashioned outdoor adventure film for kids of all ages, even if they are not familiar with the book. 7/10. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Review of BRAHMS: THE BOY II: Doll of Delusions

February 19, 2020

It had already been four years ago when a little film entitled "The Boy" (MY REVIEW) came out and became a moderate sleeper hit. This year, director William Brent Bell and writer Stacey Menear join forces again to come up with a new horror adventure featuring the titular the haunted porcelain boy doll Brahms. 

Severely traumatized by a burglary in their London home, Liza (Katie Holmes) was taken on a long respite in a countryside rest house by her husband Sean (Owain Yeoman). Their son Jude (Christopher Convery), who witnessed the violent assault on his mother, was so shocked that he totally did not talk to anyone anymore after the incident. He could only communicate by writing on his sketchbook. 

One day, the couple wander from their vacation home to the neighboring abandoned mansion left behind by the Heelshire family. While outside, Jude dug up a porcelain boy doll out from the forest floor, calling him Brahms. From then on, Jude would be obsessed with Brahms, obeying the rules he said the doll set and expecting even his parents to obey them. When an incredulous Liza began to disregard the rules, sinister things begin to happen.

Unlike the first movie with the all unknown cast, there was a well-known actress playing the female lead here, and that was Katie Holmes. While she still had film projects over the recent years, she had not been in any popular film ever since she played Rachel Dawes in "Batman Begins" (2005). She was the target of most of the jump scares and psychological torture throughout the film, and she brought us along her harrowing ride. 

Owain Yeoman played the supportive and patient husband Sean. Conveniently he was usually absent when something strange happens to Liza, lending doubts to her precarious sanity. Christopher Convery played a very creepy Jude, especially in that grim silent mode whenever Brahms possessed him. Ralph Ineson played Joseph, the mysterious watchman of the grounds, who turned out to know more about things than he was letting on at first (but of course he did).

This film was as much about mental health and post-traumatic stress as it was about a good scare. Since Brahms was an inanimate doll (like Annabelle before him), much of the scares were reliant on the indicative musical score, with all those sudden sharp blasts which were meant to startle. The scene which had me at the edge of my seat was that rough play Jude had with his bully cousin. Even if I already sort of knew what was going to happen, but I still could not bear to watch it play out. 

While the creep factor was still there overall, this followed a more typical and predictable story line than the first. 5/10. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Review of FANTASY ISLAND (2020): Risky Reverie Realization

February 16, 2020

I had known of the long-running television series "Fantasy Island" starring Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize (and his famous catchphrase "The plane, the plane!") but I never really had any interest to watch this series during its run from 1977-1984. I knew that it was like its contemporary TV series "The Love Boat" (which I watched) where there would be celebrity stars playing the guests on the island who paid a price to have their fantasies fulfilled. It was very surprising that Blumhouse actually thought of rebooting "Fantasy Island" as a horror film.

There were five people who won a contest to go on a vacation to Fantasy Island, a resort which promised its guests that one fantasy of their choice can become a reality. When their private plane landed on the dock of the island, they were welcomed and oriented by the mysterious host Mr. Roarke who reminded them that they should follow their fantasies to their conclusions, however they went. 

Stepbrothers JD and Brax had the desire to be surrounded by beautiful models who followed their sexual whims. Gwen wanted to turn back time to that moment when she rejected a man's wedding proposal. Patrick wanted to be a soldier in a war, to pay homage to his father who died a war hero. Melanie wanted to get even with Sloane Madison, a bully from high school who made her life since then a miserable existence. 

Michael Pena felt miscast as Mr. Roarke almost throughout the film. It was only in his climactic scene that his portrayal made any sense at all. With the possible exception of Maggie Q who had a passable performance as Gwen, all the other actors in this film were all very awkward in their roles, most especially Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang (whose character Drax felt like a racial slur to me) as the immature Weaver brothers and Portia Doubleday as Melanie's high school tormentor Sloane . I remember Lucy Hale as the lead star of "Truth or Dare" and here she was quite over-the-top as the very insecure Melanie. 

The flow of this film followed the style and sequence of the recent film "Escape Room" (Adam Robitel, 2019). There were a number of apparent strangers who won a contest to participate in an activity where each one will have their own perilous adventure. Later on, there came a twist that, unbeknownst to them, these people were actually involved in one past event. They're being there all together in one place was not completely random after all, but was in fact the grand plan of one mastermind with a revenge on his mind. Once that became obvious, the rest of the final act simply became one big unsatisfactory mess. 

Even the final last-minute reference to the original series elicited a groan. This is as popcorn as they come. 4/10. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Review of KIM JI-YOUNG: BORN 1982: Miseries of Misogyny

February 13, 2020

Just earlier this week, Hollywood recognized the cinematic excellence of Korean films by giving "Parasite" the Oscar for the Best Picture, aside from being the Best International Feature Film. Its creator Bong Joon-ho was given Oscars as Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Locally, we have long admired Korean cinema and the wonderfully original stories they tell. Several Korean horror and comedy titles have been shown in local cinemas. This latest one is one of the rare dramas to join the list.

The main protagonist Kim Ji-young (Jung Yu-mi) was the wife of Jung Dae-hyun (Gong Yoo) and the mother of a cute toddler daughter. She had to give up her office job to be a full time mother. She struggled to be a good daughter-in-law to her demanding mother-in-law, who seemed to keep finding fault in her performance as wife and mother. Wanting to escape from her mounting episodes of depression, she wanted to go work for her former lady boss Team Leader Kim (Park Sung-Yeon) who had established her own business. Will Ji-young ever be allowed to do so?

This heavy drama about the socio-cultural expectations for a woman was told from the Asian perspective, and will definitely resonate with and likely trigger women from all over Asia, and perhaps even in the West. This film showed that even in this modern day, a married woman was expected first and foremost to serve her husband and take care of her children. Her own personal development and professional fulfillment will have to be shelved or even denied. Filial respect is primary and unconditional, no questions asked.

This film went into a lot of difficulties women in general faced when growing up -- how daughters were less favored than sons, how female employees do not get promoted as much nor earn as much as their male colleagues, how they are to be blamed when they are sexually harassed, how they could be the target of perverts who set up cameras in public toilets, and various other day to day issues men usually take for granted. This was one two-hour wake-up call to men on the misogynistic challenges that women, especially their wives, face on a daily basis. 

The pace of the storytelling was very slow, which is appropriate as these oppressive traditions were insidiously destroying women from the inside going out. The performance of Jung Yu-mi as the titular heroine was a very quiet understated one, yet it was so powerful and disturbing, especially for women in similar situations to identify with. Superstar Gong Yoo has a supportive role here as her concerned husband, from whom men could learn some lessons of empathy and true partnership. 

This film, the feature film debut of female director Kim Do-yeong based on the best-selling 2016 novel by female author Cho Nam-joo, is very provocative stuff. Couple who go watch this together will definitely go out discussing or even arguing about these pressing matters of sexual politics. This is a most challenging sort of film for Valentine's Day. 8/10. 

Review of JAMES & PAT & DAVE: Tricky Triangle

February 13, 2020

A few years back, there was a teen romance film called "Vince & Kath & James," starring Joshua Garcia and Julia Barreto and Ronnie Alonte, directed by Theodore Borobol.  That film basically followed the classic story of "Cyrano de Bergerac," but updated it for the modern times, with sweet text messages replacing the romantic poetry of the original. This was the biggest hit of the memorable Metro Manila Filmfest of 2016, the year when the entries were chosen were chosen more for cinematic merit than box office appeal.

It was not really a surprise back then that it was Vince and Kath who ended up with each other in that first film, as it was the first film teamup of the very popular JoshLia love team. This new sequel, also directed by Borobol, interestingly decided to follow the story of the third angle in the love triangle, James. James was the jock varsity basketball player, who asked his nerdy cousin Vince to court campus beauty Kath. In the beginning, there was even a statement saying that this film was dedicated to the ones left unchosen, like James. 

James (Ronnie Alonte) had not been himself since being left behind by Vince and Kath who were now based in the US. After being involved in a basketball game brawl, James was sent to the province to cool off at the Ows Hostel, a beach resort owned by his grandmother Lola O (Odette Khan). There, he was left under the supervision of assistant manager Pat (Loisa Andalio). She was a perky independent young woman who still could not move from her separation from ex-boyfriend, the rich mayor's son, Dave (Donnie Pangilinan), who was now coming back and asking for her forgiveness. 

This film did not hide the major inspiration it got from a 1998 Star Cinema film "Dahil Mahal na Mahal Kita" starring Claudine Barretto, Rico Yan and Diether Ocampo. Like Mela (Claudine) in the original movie, Pat also had a bad girl reputation. The romantic conflict was between the bad boy Ryan (Diether) with whom James identified, and rich kid Miguel (Rico) with whom Dave identified. A clip of the old film was shown during a movie night at the resort, while the "real-life" love triangle discussed the "on-screen" love triangle.

The low-brow comedy was mostly provided by Pat's floridly gay cousin Sasha (Awra Briguela) with his atrocious "trying-hard" English. Rather uncomfortable was the repeated referral to Pat's side-line business of growing and selling snow cabbage or "pechay," with an obvious sly double-entendre meaning the way the word was pronounced here. The character of senile Lolo Ining (Bodjie Pascua) and his relationship with Pat was reminiscent of the McDonald's classic 2001 "Karen" commercial. 

This sequel still followed some of the style from the first film, with its onscreen text messaging and typing entries into the Da Vinci Quotes (a blog where each post only had six pithy words). However, without the star power of Josh-Lia in there, this one, with its less charismatic cast and awkward story conflicts, does not fly as high as the first film. The lead actors do their best, particularly Andalio, but the quality of the material was tough to elevate.

The resolution of the love triangle here was really not much of a guessing game for the audience. The writer tried to throw in an unnecessary wrench to complicate things late in the game, but it was forced and unreasonable. Thankfully, there was a much needed spark by way of a charming surprise last-minute cameo appearance, and you can clearly see what a difference it made. 4/10.  

Monday, February 10, 2020

Review of BIRDS OF PREY: Fabulously Feisty Femmes

February 9, 2020

The full title of this DC Extended Universe movie is actually "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). It is a sequel and spin-off to critically-panned "Suicide Squad" (2016), where the character of Harley Quinn (as portrayed by Margot Robbie) was the most memorable. I thought of myself as a DC fan, but apart from Harley Quinn and Dinah Lance, I only discovered the other characters here. This new film is remarkable for having a female (and Asian) director (Cathy Yan), a female screen writer (Christina Hodson), and an all-female kick-ass ensemble lead cast. 

Harley Quinn was unceremoniously dumped by the Joker, and she formally announced it to the world by blowing up the Ace Chemicals factory where she became his girlfriend. Meanwhile, teenage pickpocket Cassandra Cain gained possession of a multi-million dollar diamond owned by crime lord Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), so all sorts of characters were going after her. Aside from Quinn, also at Cain's heels were: Sionis's driver and star singer at his nightclub Dinah Lance; and under-appreciated GCPD detective Renee Montoya, who was also investigating a hooded woman who was going around town using a crossbow to kill gangsters. 

Margot Robbie was truly the star of this film with a smashing performance again as the inimitable Harley Quinn. Quinn was a ruthless and dangerous lunatic yes, but she was also given to weird quirks like having a spotted hyena as a pet and talking to her stuffed beaver, and Robbie looked like she was having a lot of fun playing this distinctive character. She also displayed her athletic skills in bump and brawl scenes of roller derby, as well as those acrobatically-choreographed fight scenes with her favorite weapons of bat and mallet. 

It was great to see 90s actress Rosie Perez (so funny as "Jeopardy!" wannabe Gloria in "White Men Can't Jump") again as the frustrated cop Renee Montoya. Former child actress Junree Smollett-Bell makes a solid impression as the Dinah Lance, a.k.a. Black Canary, with her high-kicking fighting style (in tight pants!) and her sonic scream. Horror film scream queen Mary Eliizabeth Winstead got to don the black cloak and wield the crossbow of the Huntress, and we get to learn her backstory as well. 13 year-old Ella Jay Basco, who played Cassandra Cain, is of Korean-Filipino parentage, in her feature film debut, and she confidently held her own beside her experienced co-stars. 

If you're up for a bit of stylish, crazy violence from a group of distaff vigilantes, then "Birds of Prey" is the film for you. Despite all the characters involved, even those you never knew before, the story was easy to follow. But of course, the hi-octane explosive stunt action and fight scenes remain to be the main draw of this film. This story of emancipation was told with tongue-fully-in-cheek. It did not take itself too seriously, despite some pretty disgusting scenes like peeling off the facial skin like a mask. The cinematographer kept its images slick and colorful while the musical choices also added to the fun level. Robbie and company kept the energy levels high with a palpable sense of humor underlying its violence. 7/10. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020


February 8, 2020

With the Oscar Awards coming on February 9, Monday morning Manila time, it is time for me now to make my fearless Oscar predictions.  (My Oscar predictions of previous years were posted on these links: 2019201820172016201520142013).

Here is how I would rank this year's 9 nominees for Oscar Best Picture based on my own opinions when I first saw them (not exactly based on probability that I think they will win):


Director: Bong Joon-ho
Nominations (6): Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Production Design, International Film

Out of work, driver Kim Ki-taek lived with his wife Choong Sook and two college-age children in a dirty sub-basement apartment in abject poverty. However, when his son Ki-woo was accepted as an English tutor for the daughter of a super-wealthy family, the Parks, he somehow managed to get his whole resourceful family employed as well. However, their wholesale underhanded subterfuge was not going to stay undiscovered for long.

"Parasite" juxtaposes the poverty of a family living in a dirty sub-basement in stark contrast with a family living in a posh hilltop mansion. Aside from dark comedy and family drama, this was also a sharp social commentary. This film also touched on several other genres in passing -- from edge-of seat suspense, to violent crime thriller, going even sexy at one point. All in all, this one has something for everyone in one thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking package. 

2. 1917

Director: Sam Mendes
Nominations (10): Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

From the very first scene to the last, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins took us along for what looked like one single take of continuous action as the camera followed Schofield and Blake in what seemed to be real time. It was an incredible technical achievement how they did this fluid illusion as the camera followed the two soldiers and show us their surroundings from all aspects. This becomes even more remarkable when they incorporate complex scenes, like a plane crash or a battle charge or even a slowly dying soldier, all integrated perfectly with the flow.


Director: James Mangold
Nominations (4): Picture, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing

I did not know any of the characters nor any of the race results depicted in this sports drama movie. This made the watching these real-life events unfold on the big screen all the more engrossing and thrilling. The cinematography, editing, sound mixing and musical score made the exhilarating race sequences fully-immersive, pulse-racing, breathtaking viewing experiences. That extraordinary finale at LeMans was a nail-biting affair from the initial faulty door to its controversial photo-finish.


Director: Martin Scorsese
Nominations (10): Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (2), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design, Visual Effects

This film was yet another cinematic work about American gangsters by Martin Scorsese. This opus may be lengthy at 209 minutes (3-1/2 hours) but it was always engrossing and engaging, not boring at all. The episodic treatment of Sheeran's life events made it alright for me to watch it with a few reasonable breaks, and still not lose the compelling power of Scorsese's storytelling. His major casting coup of getting De Niro, Pesci and Pacino to act together in one big movie was worth every dollar and every minute. 


Director: Quentin Tarantino
Nominations (10): Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing

Quentin Tarantino was expounding on how Hollywood was evolving in the 1960s -- the actors and the films. He was taking his sweet time following three separate stories: Dalton and his plummeting career path, Booth crossing paths with the Family, and a third one following Sharon Tate (a luminous Margot Robbie) on a day out to the city to watch her own film "The Wrecking Crew". These three threads only merge together in one extended, super-intense, wildly outrageous sequence of savage events in the last 20 minutes of the film.


Director: Noah Baumbach
Nominations: Picture (6), Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Original Musical Score

As Charlie sang in his version of Sondheim's "Being Alive," being alone is not being alive. We vowed to share our lives through thick and through thin on our wedding day. It won't be perfect all the time, it could even feel like we were put through hell, as the song went. But that "hell" is part of being a living human being, and as husband and wife, we will be there for each other nevertheless. I wondered why Noah Baumbach entitled his film "Marriage Story" when it was about divorce. It turns out it was as much about marriage as it was about divorce, and marriage is the ideal we should uphold.


Director: Taika Waititi
Nominations (6): Picture, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design

Writer-director Taika Waititi pushed envelopes to write the notorious Hitler as such a stupid childish caricature on film, even if he was just a figment of a child's active imagination here. And being the comedian that he was, Waititi even played this version of Hitler himself, toothbrush mustache, pot belly and all. To push the Nazi satire further, the whole Nazi Youth training camp scenario was also very comically envisioned and executed, with Sam Rockwell and Alfie Allen as the inept officers who run it. With Rebel Wilson playing a hefty fraulein instructor there, you can see how riotous that could be. 


Director: Todd Phillips
Nominations (11): Picture, Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Musical Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing

There is no argument that Joaquin Phoenix completely dedicated himself to this character and transformed completely into this pathetic creature, a victim of an abusive and nasty society. His very body was deformed into a grotesque emaciated form. He was supposed to be a clown and comedian, but nothing he said or did was ever funny at all. Even his maniacal laughter was pathological. Phoenix's portrayal reveled in the irony that his character actually gained more self-worth the deeper into violent psychosis he wallowed. 


Director: Greta Gerwig
Nominations (6): Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, Original Musical Score

In her adaptation, Greta Gerwin did not employ a linear storytelling style. Her scenes went back and forth in time. As for her advocacy, writer-director Gerwin made sure that even if there were still scenes of romantic relationships with men, the sisters, especially Jo and Amy, made strong statements about their womanhood, including a remarkable scene between Jo and Marmee. The ending went a bit differently from the book, with an effort to merge the real-life story of author Louisa Mae Alcott to that of Jo. 


My bets to win for each of the other categories:

Lead Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
Nominees: Antonio Banderas "Pain and Glory", Leonardo di Caprio "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", Adam Driver :Marriage Story", Jonathan Pryce "The Two Popes"

Lead Actress: Renee Zellweger, “Judy” (MY FULL REVIEW)
Nominees: Cynthia Erivo "Harriet", Scarlett Johansson "Marriage Story", Saoirse Ronan "Little Women", Charlize Theron "Bombshell"

Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”;
Nominees: Tom Hanks "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood", Anthony Hopkins "The Two Popes", Al Pacino "The Irishman", Joe Pesci "The Irishman"

Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”;
Nomineees: Kathy Bates "Richard Jewell", Scarlett Johansson "Jojo Rabbit", Florence Pugh "Little Women", Margot Robbie "Bombshell"

Director: Bong Joon-ho "Parasite"
Nominees: Martin Scorsese "The Irishman", Todd Phillips "Joker", Sam Mendes "1917", Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”;

Animated Feature: "Missing Link"; (MY FULL REVIEW)
Nominees: "How to Train Your Dragon 3", "Klaus", "I Lost My Body", "Toy Story 4"

Animated Short: “Hair Love”
Nominees: “Dcera (Daughter)”, “Kitbull”, “Memorable”, “Sister”

Adapted Screenplay: “Little Women" Greta Gerwig
Nominees: The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, The Two Popes

Original Screenplay:Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino
Nominees: "Knives Out", "Marriage Story", "1917", "Parasite"

Cinematography: “1917,” Roger Deakin 
Nominees: "The Irishman", "Joker", "The Lighthouse", "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

Best Documentary Feature: “Honeyland”
Nominees: “American Factory”,“The Cave”, “The Edge of Democracy”, “For Sama”

Best Documentary Short Subject: “Learning to Skateboard”
Nominees: “In the Absence”, “Life Overtakes Me”, “St. Louis Superman”, “Walk Run Cha Cha”

Best Live Action Short Film: “Brotherhood”
Nominees: “Nefta Football Club”, “The Neighbor’s Window”, “Saria”, “A Sister”

Best International Film: “Parasite” (South Korea)
Nominees: "Corpus Christi" (Poland). "Honeyland" (North Macedonia), "Les Miserables" (France), "Pain and Glory" (Spain) 

Film Editing: “Ford v Ferrari,” Hank Corwin
Nominees: "The Irishman", "Jojo Rabbit", Joker", "Parasite"

Sound Editing: “1917"
Nominees: "Ford v Ferrari", "Joker", "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

Sound Mixing: “1917”;
Nominees: “Ad Astra", "Ford v Ferrari", "Joker", "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

Production Design: “Parasite”
Nominees: "The Irishman", "Jojo Rabbit", "1917", "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

Original Score: 'Joker" 
Nominees: “Little Women", "Marriage Story", "1917", "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

Original Song: “Stand Up" ("Harriet")
Nominees: “I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away" ("Toy Story 4"), "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" ("Rocketman"), "I'm Standing with You ("Breakthrough"), "Into the Unknown" ("Frozen 2")

Makeup and Hairstyling: "Bombshell”
Nominees: “Joker", "Judy", "Maleficent 2", "1917" 

Costume Design: “Jojo Rabbit"
Nominees: “The Irishman", "Joker", "Little Women", "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"

Visual Effects: "Avengers: Endgame” (MY FULL REVIEW)
Nominees: "The Irishman", "The Lion King", "1917", "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

Review of LITTLE WOMEN (2019): Sisterhood with Substance

February 10, 2020

I knew the story of Louisa Mae Alcott's "Little Women" -- the coming-of-age adventures of the four March sisters, namely the pretty Meg, the feisty Jo, the sickly Beth and artistic Amy -- from the original book I read when I was very young. I had also seen a musical play of the same title staged as a holiday offering by Repertory Philippines 10 years ago, with music by Jason Howard, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, starring Caisa Borromeo as Jo, Cara Barredo as Beth and Pinky Marquez as Marmee.

I was aware that there had been several adaptations of this story in the movies. The last one was in 1994 with Winona Ryder as Jo, Clare Danes as Beth and Kirsten Dunst as Amy. There was another one in 1949, with June Allyson as Jo, Janet Leigh as Meg and Elizabeth Taylor as Amy. Before that in 1933, there was black-and-white version with Katharine Hepburn as Jo. There were even two silent film versions before. Despite this, I had never seen a screen version before, until this new one.

The story was set during the American Civil War and the years immediately following. The main character was the second sister Jo March, who was telling a story about her, her sisters, and the boys who came in and out of their lives. Eldest sister Meg was a beauty who felt dreadful that they were poor, forcing her to borrow dresses to attend balls. Shy Beth was the pianist of the family, whose bout with scarlet fever gave her a weak heart. Amy was the outspoken youngest with whom Jo frequently found herself at odds with, usually about their handsome neighbor Laurie, among other things. 

Like all her previous movie roles, Saoirse Ronan is ideally cast as Jo. She is headstrong and independent-minded, a feminist before her time. She did not believe women had to be defined by matters of love. Very much like her was Amy, who despite being infatuated with Laurie and painting, also harbored serious reservations marriage because of certain law surrounding finances. Florence Pugh gave a very mature look and portrayal of Amy. Both sisters knew how to make her point and how to stand her ground. These two actresses earned acting accolades for their fine performances.

Even if she was really four years older in real life, Emma Watson felt miscast as Meg because she looked and acted younger than Ronan. Watson did not look like the oldest sister at all, mainly because Ronan strong screen presence was just so dominant. Australian actress Eliza Scanlen played the wan and mousy Beth. That part when Beth received the piano and how she reacted always got me emotional. She also felt a bit miscast because she looked much younger than Amy, and indeed Scanlen was three years younger than Pugh in real life.

In her adaptation, Greta Gerwin did not employ a linear storytelling style. Her scenes went back and forth in time, juxtaposing innocent events in childhood with corresponding sobering events in adulthood. Honestly, this may be confusing for those who were unaware of how the story went. I found it rather distracting in the viewing experience because you need to be alert context clues about their hairstyles to get the timeline right. I personally did not find any improvement in clarity or impact with this type of storytelling. 

As for her advocacy, writer-director Gerwin made sure that even if there were still scenes of romantic relationships with men, the sisters, especially Jo and Amy, made strong statements about their womanhood, including a remarkable scene between Jo and Marmee. The ending went a bit differently from the book, with an effort to merge the real-life story of author Louisa Mae Alcott to that of Jo and the release of her first book. 8/10. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Review of ON VODKA, BEERS AND REGRETS: An Alcoholic's Anguish

February 7, 2020

The first team-up of Bela Padilla and JC Santos was in Jason Paul Laxamana's "100 Tula Para Kay Stella" (2017) (MY REVİEW) . That was the box office hit of the first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP). For the PPP the year after, Laxamana brought his two actors back together again in "The Day After Valentine's" (2018) (MY REVİEW). This year, the duo is reunited under the pen and direction of Irene Emma Villamor in yet another dramatic romance. It would be interesting how their characters fare this time around. 

Jane (Bela Padilla) was a successful actress as a child and through her teens. However, after being involved in a scandal with another actor, her career had been on the wane. Since then, she would always take refuge under the influence of a bottle of alcohol, which caused her to make destructive decisions in love and career. One day, while having another drinking binge in a bar, she was noticed and befriended by Brisom band frontman Francis (JC Santos) who then helped her get through that night, and several other nights to follow.

Jane was drunk practically the whole movie, maybe 95% from Scene 1. She was catty, unprofessional, reckless, annoying -- very unlikable. The scene of Jane with a bat in the parking lot was suffused with imminent danger. The scene of Jane with a broken shard of wine glass exquisitely dripped with hopeless desperation (cinematographer Pao Orendain at his best). That painfully explicit song "F**king Circumstance" by Pappel was the perfect song to accompany Jane's downward spiral. Amidst all that emotional muck, Bela Padilla still managed to shine through with her raw, dedicated performance, bringing out Jane's vulnerability and humanity to fore. 

In the very supportive role of Francis, JC Santos provided a sweet reliable shoulder and sounding board. Francis had long admired Jane since her breakout film "Friday Nights," but he was now just meeting his crush at the lowest point of her life. He became Jane's breath of fresh air, but in her denial, she did not seem to realize his value. Aside from his consistency in dramatic acting, Santos was also able to show off his singing chops in a couple of articulate songs with the Brisom band, "Waking Lives" and "Pilot," standouts in the film's emo music soundtrack. 

Matteo Guidicelli was a sinister presence as Jane's fellow actor and boyfriend Ronnie. Jas Rodriguez played Kelly, a promising film ingenue who was dangerously treading the same road that Jane was now stuck in. Rio Locsin makes a special appearance as Jane's estranged mother who was herself still recovering from being a wife of an alcoholic. Kean Cipriano played Sam, an ex-boyfriend and Jane's major life-altering indiscretion. Cipriano wore another hat in this film as musical scorer, and he made some excellent choices of tunes to accompany key scenes. 

In all three films they had together, Padilla and Santos played characters involved in a complicated angst-filled relationship. However, the angst in this new one was much more intense than the previous two. The depth of alcoholism portrayed by Bela Padilla in this film was approaching the level of "Leaving Las Vegas" (Mike Figgis, 1996) already. This was full-on heavy drama from beginning to end, not for those looking for a feel-good rom-com. Once again, writer-director Irene Emma Villamor proved that she was the master of the anti-love story, from "Meet Me in St. Gallen" (MY REVIEW), "Sid and Aya" (MY REVIEW), "Ulan" (MY REVIEW) and now this one. 7/10. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Review of THE GENTLEMEN: Crackling Crime-Comedy

February 3, 2020

Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) was a American guy who gained access into Oxford University by way of a scholarship. From there, he was able to cultivate a thriving underground marijuana business and establish his own criminal organization with his loyal henchman Ray (Charlie Hunnam). Now hoping to retire, Pearson planned to sell his business to American billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) for a cool $400 million.  

However, the deal was made more complicated by Pearson's cockney wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery), Chinese gangsters led young upstart Dry Eye (Henry Golding), Russian gangsters, delinquent boxers and their Coach (Colin Farrell), a tabloid editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) and his underhanded private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant) who had written up his interesting findings in the form of a screenplay for sale. 

British writer-director Guy Ritchie in the late 1990s burst into the scene with a couple of crime comedies "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (1998) and "Snatch" (2000) with accents so thick I wished there were subtitles. From there he became Madonna's husband (2000-2008) and had gone on to more mainstream films like "Sherlock Holmes" (2009 and sequel in 2011) and the live-action "Aladdin" (2019). He returns to his ensemble crime-comedy roots with "The Gentlemen" and he proved he is a master of this genre.

Matthew McConaughey was always cool as a cucumber as Mickey Pearson, only getting ruffled when his wife was in peril. Charlie Hunnam may have been a bland leading man in films like "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" (2017, also by Ritchie), but here as Ray, he was actually charismatic. Hugh Grant was so sleazy funny as Fletcher, while Colin Farrell was so nonchalantly funny as Coach -- they were the best parts of the film. Henry Golding, so debonair in "Crazy Rich Asians," needed some time to be convincing as the ruthless bad guy Dry Eye. Michelle Dockery, my first time time to see her outside "Downton Abbey," held her own as Rosalind, the only rose among the thorny lads. 

The plot gets interesting from the get go when an attempt was immediately on Mickey Pearson's life. Then the whole story began to unfold when Fletcher was attempting to sell his findings (in movie script form) to Pearson's right-hand man Ray for 20M pounds sterling. From there, we meet all the characters come and go as the complicated story went back and forth in time, with certain rewind edits whenever Ray thought that Fletcher went too overboard with his storytelling and characterizations. Once you get into the groove and the thick accents, it won't let go. You may even want to watch it all over again to get all the connections straight. 8/10