Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bwakaw


September 18, 2012



I have known about this movie when it was one of the featured films in the recent Cinemalaya Film Fest. However aside from the terrible title, the synopsis describing a film an elderly gay man with his dog was so bleak, it did not interest me at all. Maybe because it won Eddie Garcia a Best Actor award, it was given a commercial run which was good, but I still did not have a plan to watch it. Well, that is until this morning when I found out that this film will be our country's entry to the Oscars Foreign Language Film category for this year. Honestly, that was the only reason why I felt I should give it a chance after all.

Unfortunately, this film turned out to be as bleak and as dry as its synopsis suggested. It was indeed about an elderly gay man named Rene (Eddie Garcia) and his dog Bwakaw (played by an "aspin"/"askal" named Princess). The drama played for an hour and a half or maybe more, as slow, as straightforward and as predictable as that. 

There were of course some people in his neighborhood he interacted with, like his nosy next-door neighbor Nitang (Beverly Salviejo), the gays at the beauty salon (Soxie Topacio and Joey Paras), his co-workers in the Post Office (Luz Valdez and Allan Paule), the priest who was always seen fanning himself (Gardo Versoza) and the tricycle driver the old curmudgeon decided to befriend (Rez Cortez). The elegant Ms. Armida Siguion-Reyna stood out in her featured role as Alicia, the girlfriend Rene kept hanging for 15 years, only not to marry. I see the name of Bibeth Orteza in the cast list, but I honestly do not remember seeing her in the film.

OK, there were some scenes that made me laugh. There was even a scene that made me tear up. There was a scene that I felt certain was bound to happen, it did, but I wish it did not. However, the main fault of this film is that there were no big surprises at all. There were no hidden symbolism or deeper meanings. It did not challenge me think at all. I felt I have seen this same story of growing old lonely told many times before in many a made-for-TV drama show. "Bwakaw" is not really that bad, but is this it? Is this really the BEST we have to show the world this year to compete for the Oscars?

Captive


September 6, 2012



This is the very first film by Cannes-winning Filipino director Brillante Mendoza that I saw in a movie theater. At the outset, I am going to confess that I do not think I can judge this film very objectively. Watching this film with all its unsteady camera work made me very dizzy starting from the 40th minute. From that point, I could not even look directly at the screen anymore. The shaky camera was relentless, be it a frenetic battle scene or a quiet personal one. It certainly did not help that this was a 2-hour long film. My head is still reeling as I write this review, four hours after the end credits rolled! This is only the second time a movie made me feel sick, the first one being "The Blair Witch Project."

The movie was based on the 2001 Abu Sayyaf kidnapping of tourists from the Dos Palmas Resort in the province of Palawan. Two of the kidnap victims then were Martin and Gracia Burnham. Gracia survived her ordeal and wrote a book about her harrowing experiences entitled "In The Presence of My Enemies." I thought that acclaimed French actress Isabelle Huppert will be playing her, but it turned out that Ms. Huppert's central character of social worker Therese is fictional. Another Caucasian couple played minor characters who seemed to be based on the Burnhams.

After the abduction scenes in the beginning and four long days of sea travel, the film became what seemed to be an endless series of hiking through the jungles of Basilan, commandeering civilian places like a hospital or school, getting attacked by the Armed Forces, forcing a ceasefire by asking a victim to appeal, and moving on to the next destination, where the cycle began again. It became very repetitious. In between, there would be interludes showing facets of Moslem culture or nature metaphors featuring wild animals. I felt like I already knew this story from news reports. I was looking for a more in-depth exploratory story from the side of the Islamic captors, but I don't think I saw that here.

Since I could not look at the screen the whole time because of my dizziness and nausea, I got confused what happened to various characters due to the episodic nature of the storytelling. How did the role of rebel leader played by Raymond Bagatsing become another one played by Sid Lucero? What was the point of having Coco Martin in a cameo? His look did not really fit into the film. I felt that was a little indulgent on the part of Mendoza. 

I fully appreciate the dedicated efforts of cast and crew in filming in such obviously difficult conditions. However, the final product felt unwieldy and overstuffed. It seemed like they did not want any shot to end up on the cutting floor. The subject matter is heavy enough, the senses need not have been assaulted any much more by the excessively shaky camera and the very loud explosions! I know Mendoza was most likely going for added realism for us to immerse into the hostage experience, but I feel these vertiginous visual and sound effects should have been reigned in in kinder consideration to the comfort of the viewing audience.


I Do Bidoo Bidoo


August 30, 2012



"I Do Bidoo Bidoo" (by writer-director Chris Martinez) does not deny that it was inspired by the success of "Mamma Mia".  However, instead of ABBA songs, this local counterpart uses the similarly diverse discography of the APO Hiking Society, a collection of Filipino pop classics accumulated for more than 30 years since they started to record in the early 1970s.

This is a story about two families.  The Polotan family is lower middle class, while the Fuentebella family is super rich. Rock Polotan (Sam Concepcion) falls in love with Tracy Fuentebella (Tippy dos Santos), leading to an unexpected teenage pregnancy.  Rock's parents are Pol (Ogie Alcasid), a one-hit wonder songwriter who gives guitar lessons to kids in the neighborhood, and Rosie (Eugene Domingo), a caterer to funerals.  Tracy's parents are Nick (Gary Valenciano), a career-centered businessman, and Elaine (Zsazsa Padilla), a lonely neglected housewife.  The obviously radical class difference of course led to a very disastrous "pamamanhikan."  This consequently led to all the characters rethinking about their own situations with their respective partners in love.  Will love prevail in the end?

All the actors come up with very energetic performances.  They all did their own singing of course, even Eugene Domingo (who was very brave here, in more ways than just her singing).  Gary V. and Zsazsa were as coldly aristocratic as Ogie and Eugene were noisily "jologs."  As the young lovers, Sam Concepcion and the ingenue Tippy dos Santos have a good chemistry in their scenes and duets together.  Special mention go to scene-stealing supporting characters, namely Jimmy Fabregas as the war-freak ex-soldier Villafuerte grandfather and Neil Coleta as the Rock's conflicted best friend. Frenchie Dy and Sweet Plantado (of the Company) also turn in some pretty funny moments as Eugene's best friends.

This love story was told in the words of APO Hiking Society's biggest hit songs.  As corny and cheesy as that idea sounds, it actually works and was a lot of fun!  (**** I will be mentioning song titles after this, so if you want to be surprised as to which songs will be included, you may want to refer back to this review after you have seen the film.)

There were some scenes may remind you of other musical films.  The "Awit ng Barkada" scene with Eugene, Frenchie and Sweet was straight out reminiscent of the "Chiquitita" number from "Mamma Mia." The choreography of the "Syotang Pa-Class" scene was adapted from the "Get'cha Head in the Game" basketball dance number from "High School Musical."  That said though, I thought the use of these songs for those topics in the story was so smart and very appropriate.

You can sometimes predict what song is coming up because of the words and situation that lead into the song. We get the song "Panalangin" when the characters were praying in a chapel.  The song "Ewan" came right after a character says that very word.  "Salawikain" came when the characters were having a "salawikain" argument over lunch.  But again, predictable does not mean that these were bad ideas.  The execution of these scenes were very well done.

Of course, those beautiful APO love songs were really put to very good use.  There were those in perfect position, like the emotionally bitter "Tuyo ng Damdamin," the devastatingly tragic "Nakapagtataka" and the romantically pleading "Paano."  There were those in the most hilariously unexpected contexts, like "Mahirap Magmahal," "Kaibigan,"  and most especially the scandalously Rated-R naughty interpretation of "Di Na Natuto" (which I honestly did not know was an APO song first before Gary V. hit big with it).

The sensitive topic of teen pregnancy as well as some raunchy scenes and dialogs makes this film for strong parental guidance, and not for very young kids.  I was hoping they could have avoided these touchy themes and made a truly general patronage film for the whole family to enjoy. Otherwise, this film is very entertaining indeed most especially for people who love APO Hiking Society music, and that should be a big chunk of the Filipino adult population out there who grew up in the 1970s to the 1990s.  It was fun to see how these beloved songs were used in the story and it was also fun to actually sing along to those all-familiar lyrics.  I think you will enjoy this movie as I did, corn and cheese included!  Congratulations to director Chris Martinez for another winner!

Mga Mumunting Lihim


August 29, 2012



This movie was made for the Cinemalaya Film Festival 2012, is considered an indie film, despite its star director, Jose Javier Reyes, and all-star cast composed of Judy Ann Santos, Iza Calzado, Janice de Belen and Agot Isidro. The remarkable thing about this movie is that its ensemble cast was given an unprecedented accolade as Best Actress AND Supporting Actress during the Cinemalaya awards! Admittedly, this award was what made me want to watch this film.

"Mga Mumunting Lihim" is about "Those Little Secrets" we keep from even our closest friends. From the start we already see the wake of Mariel (Judy Ann Santos) who just died from pancreatic cancer. This was attended by her closest friends successful advertising executive Carly (Iza Calzado), social-climbing socialite Sandy (Agot Isidro) and desperate housewife Olivia (Janice de Belen).

Problems begin to arise when Carly receives a box of diaries which "Mga Mumunting Lihim" is about "Those Little Secrets" we keep from even our closest friends specifically bequeathed to her. In this meticulous journals, Mariel recounted her thoughts about pleasant and unpleasant events that happened to her and her friends. Her three friends never expected what their friend had to say about them, and what they once said about each other. Can they ever get their close friendship back after they allowed the contents of Mariel's diaries to break them up?

I fully understand now why the Best Actress/Supporting Actress awards were given that way. All four of these actress acted as a perfect ensemble with each other. Although we can feel that Judy Ann and Iza had more central roles, the more peripheral roles of Agot and Janice all had their own turns to shine. I guess the reason why they had to make this film independently is because of its very serious and morose storyline. No all-star cast can make this story like this a commercial success that a mainstream producer wants. But I guess it also because of this famous cast that caused this film to be the first to be chosen for a commercial run from among the Cinemalaya films this year.

The direction and storytelling of Joey Reyes tend to be melodramatic. The four actresses can really turn on their waterworks to make the audience do the same. There were also some funny (albeit unrealistic) confrontation scenes where the girls turn on their bitchy modes. I was just distracted a bit by continuity problems by which diary Carly was reading with the sequence of events. I also do not really know why Reyes reused complete scenes at different parts of the film with unclear intention. There seemed to be no dramatic purpose for replaying these scenes at all. 

I thought this film could have been more effective as a short film than a full length film like this. At almost two hours in length, the sad basic story simply got pulled out too long. However, its stellar cast still makes this film worth your time. They are really the best part of this film, and despite the unusual presentation, their awards are most well- deserved, and reason enough to check this indie film out.

Total Recall: From Short Story to Movie to Movie Remake

August 21, 2012

Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) was an American writer who rose to prominence in the 1960s with his body of work which dealt with alternate historical fiction, melding this with science fiction.  He had 44 published novels, including the award-winning "The Man in the High Castle."  He also wrote about 120 short stories, several of which had been adapted into famous big budget movies, like "Blade Runner," "Minority Report," "The Adjustment Bureau," "A Scanner Darkly" and "Total Recall."  It was unfortunate that he was not able to gain financially from his written work in spite of their renown.

In April 1966, Dick wrote a short story entitled "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale," which was first published in the The Magazine for Fantasy and Science Fiction.  The story is about Douglas Quail, an ordinary guy who constantly dreamed of going to Mars, but was financially unable to.  So he decided the next best thing was to go to REKAL, a memory-implanting service, to get his fill of Mars experiences, as a secret Interplan agent to boot.  However, the staff at Rekal discover that these Martian memories already existed in Quail's brain!  After the procedure, Quail is pursued by Interplan agents to be killed as he now recalls a secret mission he did for that agency.  Quail bargains for his life by suggesting that those Mars memories be replaced by a more incredible memory of him preventing an alien take-over of Earth when he was only 9 years old.  However during the procedure, Rekal were in for another big surprise.

In 1990, a big sci-fi blockbuster film came out entitled "Total Recall" starring the biggest action star of that time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, with one of the more controversial directors, Paul Verhoeven. In the hands of Verhoeven, "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" was imaginatively transformed into a very complex inter-planetary screenplay. Arnold played a construction worker named Douglas Quaid (not the original name Quail), blissfully married to beautiful Lori (Sharon Stone). Bothered by dreams of Mars, he goes to Rekall, Inc., an establishment where they sell memories, so he can take a virtual trip to the Red Planet. After a snafu during the memory implantation procedure, Quaid suddenly becomes the "shoot-to-kill" target of government agents who seem to believe that he is Hauser, a secret agent working for the Martian resistance. So what is real and what is not? We the audience were taken for an exciting trip, that was as much an action as well as a mind game. Now that was one interesting, eye-popping and entertaining sci-fi film.

Fast forward to 2012, "Total Recall" gets remade. Colin Farrell takes on Schwarzenegger's Douglas Quaid/Hauser role. The sexy and sleek Kate Beckinsale becomes a Lori Quaid that meshed the characters of BOTH Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside (Quaid's relentless pursuer) in the first film. Jessica Biel completes the triangle, as Melina, the girl in Quaid's "previous" life (played by Rachel Ticotin in the first movie). 

Honestly, this remake felt more like a Kate Beckinsale movie. If this is because the director Len Wiseman is her husband, I do not know. But to be fair though, Kate really excels in these action roles, as she did in her "Underworld" films, very believable that she can really kick serious ass. In contrast, Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel had very wan, even forgettable, screen presence here. I did not really care about them at all, which was ironic since they were supposed to be the heroes. For all the flack that Arnold Schwarzenegger got about being a lousy actor, Arnie's undeniable larger-than-life big screen charisma and unintended tongue-in-cheek sense of humor was really missed in this pale and leaden remake.

I do not know if it is because we already know how the basic story would go, but there was not really much improvement to be seen in this redux. Of course, the computer-generated special effects were expected to exceed the original, which still had obviously fake blood and creature effects with actual puppets. The first "Total Recall" had the distinction of being one of the last major Hollywood film to use large-scale use of miniature effects, and one of the first to use computer-generated imagery.   However, it is really unfortunate that the director concentrated too much on making this remake merely an overly-computerized, generic-looking action movie.  

The basic mental conundrum of Quaid's real existence ("Is it Real, or is it Recall?"), which made the first film interesting, is lost in all of these computer-generated slam-bang action sequences. It seemed only a vague backgrounder or a mere afterthought. For some odd reason, the current makers even decided to take the whole Mars scenario out of the remake! The conflict in this remake centered around a "United Federation of Britain" and "The Colony." The very heart of the first movie about the mutants and the precious commodity of air were not here. Therefore essentially this remake just becomes another one of those un-memorable soul-less futuristic chase movies, like we have seen so many many times before.  

Sadako: The Ring 3


August 14, 2012



The original "Ring" film is a horror movie classic. Its central character is Sadako, a girl in a white dress with very long black hair who climbed out of a well and into the living rooms of her victims through the TV. The creepy way Sadako's disheveled tresses covered her face and the jerky way she would creep and walk were copied shamelessly in several other Asian horror flicks, even several years afterwards. 

When I first saw the ads of this film, it was pretty exciting. This movie promised to bring Sadako in all her 3D glory, and I could not wait to see her crawl right through the silver screen right at us. However, when I got to the theater earlier, it turned out that locally (it is an SM Cinema Exclusive), it would only be shown in Digital 2D. In fact, it had been re-titled "The Ring 3." Groan.

Anyway, "The Ring 3" is about Akane, a young teacher in a Catholic girls school. One of her students gets obsessed in searching the internet for a certain "cursed suicide video" which rumors say allegedly showed someone committing suicide, and resulted in the viewer in getting killed as well. That cheerful student unexpectedly commits suicide one night by jumping through a glass window and falling to her death. More and more people inexplicably take their lives. When Akane's own boyfriend Takanori gets lassoed into a giant advertising LCD screen, she was hooked into a search for the truth behind this cursed online video and find a way to stop its deadly consequences.

First, the positives. 

Akane is played by a very pretty young actress named Satomi Ishihara. She really pulled off the sympathetic character of the tormented teacher. She is very charming and great to look at amidst the horror, and despite the weird "super power" the writer gave her. There was also a little puppy love flashback episode to show how Akane and Takanori first became friends. That was a nice touch.

There is really something so clean about Japanese cinematography. The contrasts are so stark and simple, they look beautiful. Those scenes where Akane was simply walking under the arches of a lonely corridor, or when she was walking on the rooftop against the bright blue sky. So nice and calm. 

Next, the negatives.

While the first Ring films successfully conveyed dread and fear with the simple and even crude special effects of Sadako creeping towards her prey. This film goes OVERBOARD with its ridiculously unbridled use of excessive fake-looking computer-generated imagery! Despite this supposedly advanced computer graphics, the parts that were supposed to be 3D, like the hand or the hair that "popped" out of the computer or cellphone monitor, looked very bad indeed. 

The most absurd and over-the-top idea of them all is the terrible idea of transforming the iconic scary image of a lone Sadako into a HORDE of monstrous spider-like Sadakos with very long jointed hind legs and vampire-bat-like mouths. The ironic kicker here is that, they apparently can be easily subdued by sweet little Akane, after which they simply dissolve into a swarm of black moths! Senseless and stupid. Certainly, less is more.

Overall, this is a disappointing movie, undeserving of being called a sequel of the original Ring films. I am giving it a couple of extra stars solely because of the beauty and performance of Ms. Satomi Ishihara as Akane. As for the character that gave this movie its name, Sadako sadly lost her edge and practically became a caricature of her original self because of this film's indulgent director.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

August 9, 2012


"The Bourne Legacy" has so much hype in this country not only because it rides on the coattails of the amazing Bourne Trilogy starring Matt Damon. Even more significantly, it is due to the fact that a considerable number of scenes had been shot right here locally, in such places as the San Andres Market, the Pasay Rotonda, the Navotas Fishport and Palawan. The shooting of the movie was front page news and was on the daily evening news shows. When the trailer showing the Manila scenes was released, it trended massively on online social networking sites. Everything pointed to a widely successful August 8, 2012 opening date. Unfortunately though, Mother Nature had other ideas, as one of the metropolis' worst monsoon flooding which inundated many parts of the city happened before and right on that day. All of a sudden, "The Bourne Legacy" did not seem that important anymore.

I personally felt that this movie, while exciting at parts, did not really live up to the first three Bourne movies. The lead actors Jeremy Renner (as Treadstone Agent Aaron Cross) and Rachel Weiss (as geneticist-virologist Dr. Marta Shearer) did very well in the acting department to keep the scenes vital. However, the story (for a Bourne movie) was uncharacteristically sketchy and really, barely there.

This film follows the aftermath of the third Bourne film when his agency Treadstone was already being investigated and threatened with exposure. All remaining Treadstone agents were being systematically eradicated. Cross and Shearer have to evade the government counter forces led by Eric Byer (Edward Norton), who did not really feel like a real danger for our heroes. We learn the "scientific" reason why Treadstone agents have super-human abilities, which was too incredible. The Manila connection was weak and unbelievable. The street chase scenes in Manila were a big blur, and basically what we already saw in the trailer. The ending felt rushed and too convenient. If you knew Philippine geography, the final scenes would be funny.

I don't know, but I think I simply expected too much from this movie. It has all the Bourne elements there, but it felt lacking. It was only the charisma and talent of the stars that carried the film. I was disappointed that it did not really show anything iconically Filipino to represent the country. I don't think the jeepney really counts. The slums used could have been any slum in the world. Nothing really positive about the Manila or its people was shown, which was a letdown. If ever there is a sequel though, I would still watch if only for Renner and Weisz, and maybe to find out what else can be done to liven up this series. I would not really count on that sequel too soon though.

Brave

August 7, 2012


"Brave" is the story of another feisty Disney princess, given the PIXAR treatment. Her name is Merida, a Scottish princess. She is a headstrong tomboyish teenage who cannot accept the tradition espoused by her strict mother that she is to be betrothed for marriage. Therefore she resorts to witchcraft to change her fate. She really got more than what she bargained for, a shocking development of ursine proportions. She later learns that she has only a couple of days to reverse the terrible spell. Could she?

"Brave" is just okay for me overall. It is still better than the last Pixar movie, "Cars 2." While on the surface everything looks good and glossy, especially the archery scenes, there are several things that I did NOT like about "Brave." 

Art-wise, while Merida and her fiery red hair looked great, the caricature-ish look of the Scotsmen were drawn so much like the Vikings in Dreamworks' "How to Train Your Dragon." The brutish barbaric culture they exhibited likewise shows very little difference from that in "How to Train", aside from the kilts the characters wore in this movie and their Scottish accents.

Screenplay-wise, "Brave" goes a little darker and violent, and thus may be too scary or disturbing for young kids. More than that, I did not like how Merida did not immediately take responsibility for the horrible effects of the witch's spell. While many of the other Disney princesses also disobey their parents and get into trouble, those princesses themselves directly suffered the consequences of their disobedience. Here, Merida's insolence put another person in peril. Merida actually did something akin to what the Wicked Witch did in Snow White! Frankly, it is this particularly negative aspect of the story that badly affected my appreciation of this movie as a whole.

Posas

August 2, 2012




"Posas" is the Best Picture winner in the last Cinemalaya Film Festival, Director's Showcase category. Honestly, I overlooked this movie during the festival because of the generic title. However, because of its award, I went to see it today when it had a special showing in a nearby mall.

Watching this film is not easy. It is a harrowing experience as the director Lawrence Fajardo literally takes you through the entire experience of a young petty thief named Jestoni Biag (Nico Antonio) on one fateful day when he made the mistake of stealing the iPhone 4S of feisty and sexy call center agent Ms. Maria Grace Resuello (Bangs Garcia). 

Without divulging any spoiling details, you as the audience will watch in pained disgust and horror as the policemen who arrest Jestoni, led by Police Officer Domingo (Best Supporting Actor winner Art Acuna), do MORE than simply shackle him in handcuffs. Paraphrasing the tagline, "The day they set him free, was the first day of his life sentence."

You will never want to walk the streets of Quiapo again after watching this film. You will see the underbelly of that district. You will see corruption in actual action. It purports to show how and why the criminal justice system of our country is in shambles. Having the television coverage of the recent Chief Justice impeachment trial in one scene is an effective and telling juxtaposition.

"Posas" is scary. This movie is that gritty and realistic. I dare not imagine how much of this exposition was based on actual facts. It is not a pretty picture of Manila. It is not a pretty picture of our police force. This story needs to be told for our awareness, but it certainly won't do our tourism any favors. It sort of gives us a hopeless feeling after the last frame, and that is a real downer. 


"Posas" is really a very well-made film technical-wise, in terms of its cinematography and editing. The actors were really very realistic as in their roles as rouge cops and jaded goons. The heavy drama was lightened by a funny guest appearance of John Lapuz as a silly budol- budol gang victim. 

However, the pervasive spirit of negativism in this film is very difficult to accept, and the one factor why, if I were a judge, I would NOT have voted for it as Best Picture award. I would guess though, that in the world of indie critics, that negativism may be more of the norm than the exception.


Sta. Nina

July 28, 2012


"Sta. Nina" is set in lahar-ravaged Pampanga. A small coffin was unearthed in a quarrying operation. When Pol (Coco Martin) opens the box, the dead little girl encased inside was still intact with no sign of decay. Puzzled, he brings it home with him. His neighbors begin to experience unexplainable healings when they are in the presence of the uncorrupted corpse. 

Meanwhile, Pol's personal life is also in shambles as he still has bitter years-old conflicts with his estranged wife Madel (Alessandra da Rossi) and her vindictive mother (Irma Adlawan). As Pol struggles to rid himself of the bad luck that hounded him all his life, could the miraculous corpse of little Marikit also prove to be his salvation?

Writer and first-time movie director Emmanuel Quindo Palo does not spoon feed us the story. He tells the story in a way that we have to slowly discover the relationships of the characters. The audience is left to guess at these things until they are revealed in due time. I liked that.

Religion is the main backbone of this drama. We see scenes of religious fanaticism in the country folks' belief in miraculous cures, as well as in their gory Holy Week traditions. The audience is challenged to reassess their belief or disbelief in miracles. Director Palo also practically goes through the Stations of the Cross en route to a climactic crucifixion scene. He also has a publicly-maligned character that obviously references a real trans-gender ex-Marian visionary Judiel Nieva.

We also see scenes seemingly critical of the clergy. Having a comedian well known for portraying a corrupt congressman, Leo Martinez, play the character of the unsympathetic Archbishop is a less than subtle satiric ploy by the director. A direct dig about church donations received a rousing applause from the audience!

Coco Martin is not called the "indie prince" for nothing. This guy can really possess the role he is playing, no matter how strange, with so much passion. Alessandra da Rossi is really no-nonsense in her portrayal of Madel, a name obviously derived from Mary Magdalene, the biblical sinner. Of the supporting characters, it is really Ms. Anita Linda who brings the house down with her portrayal of Pol's grandmother stricken with Alzheimer's disease. Two of her wisecracks even got loud rounds of audience applause.

To be sure, "Sta. Nina" revisits familiar territory. Folk faith healing miracles had also been the subject of another most-acclaimed Filipino movie "Himala." However, unlike "Himala," "Sta. Nina" is less downbeat in its message and execution. The beautiful cinematography is top notch! Its sold-out audiences in all its showings at this current Cinemalaya Film Festival is a testament of its ability of drawing the audience into its hypnotic spell. This will be a strong contender come awards night.

The Healing

July 23, 2012


I am a fan of Filipino horror films as I have mentioned in my other reviews. "The Healing" features a big Filipino movie star, Ms. Vilma Santos, in a rare appearance in a horror film. It is also helmed by a director who had been responsible for two of the best Filipino horror films in the last decade, "Feng Shui" (2004) and "Sukob" (2006). The well-made teaser trailer was an effective come-on. It was a given that I should also check out this particular film.

Ms. Vilma plays Seth, a woman who runs a boarding house in a middle- class community in the city. After her father (Robert Arevalo) was successfully treated of his post-stroke condition by a faith healer named Elsa (Daria Ramirez), five of her friends and neighbors all convince Seth to bring them to Elsa to treat them of their various medical maladies. In addition, her son Jed (Martin del Rosario) also brought along his half-sister Cookie (Kim Chiu) so her kidney ailment could be cured.

After that day of the fateful healing, one by one, everyone in that group treated by Elsa begins dying of strange and violent circumstances, each one more bizarre than the last. Before each death, Seth would be visited by a crow and a puzzling vision of her friend's doppelganger. Seth now has to race against time to find out why this macabre series of deadly events is happening and hopefully stop it before everyone in the group kicks the bucket.

After the first minor character dies, you already knew how the story would go. The suspense you will feel as you watch on will be more in anticipation of which gory method with which that character will die, not exactly because you do not know what will happen next. To Rono's credit, each death scene somehow topped the previous one in as much as the blood factor is concerned.

Everyone did well at looking scared. Ms. Vilma Santos is Ms. Vilma Santos. She doesn't really disappear very well into her role as Seth. This is not to say she did not perform well, she did; but her aura as Star for All Seasons and Governor of Batangas is simply too strong to ignore. Kim Chiu appeared in very few scenes despite her second billing. Like on TV, she needs to inject more energy in her performance. I did not know Martin del Rosario before this movie, but he actually delivered very well in his meaty role as Jed. Special mention would have to go to Robert Arevalo for daringly delivering the most embarrassing lines in the movie -- hilarious! Not really sure why Ynez Veneracion had to show her right boob though, maybe for old times sake.

Several camera angles used by Mr. Rono were very well-planned and executed to maximize the tension onscreen. Like other productions I see now, there was color coordination in the costumes of all the characters on screen. Here though, I did not quite see why a certain color was chosen for which scene. It was also distracting sometimes to see the common color scheme continuing into subsequent unrelated scenes. Many common scare tactics and music were employed here -- nothing highly original. But thankfully, at least there was NO Sadako-like creature in this one. 

Overall, it is just OK. I think that "The Healing" had been too reminiscent of other horror films the way the friends of the lead character were dying around her and it is up to her to break the curse. If it was Kris Aquino who played Seth instead of Vilma Santos, it would just be "Feng Shui" all over again.

The Dark Knight Rises

July 19, 2012


"The Dark Knight Rises" is an EPIC superhero movie. This in fact could potentially be an unprecedented award-winning superhero movie. The two and a half hours that was needed to tell this huge story were wisely used. The film was absorbing and the details were all vital. The photography, the visual effects, the crowd scenes, the stunts, the Bat vehicles were all AWESOME to watch, and that was only on 2D. 

It is a practically an impossible task to compress the span of the complicated screenplay into a single paragraph. The story basically picks up eight years after revered former Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent was assumed to have been murdered by the Batman. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) had been leading a hermit existence since then, and the Batman had been unheard of. The arrival of a revolutionary respirator-masked super-villain named Bane (a massive and unrecognizable Tom Hardy) that shattered peace in Gotham City knocks sense into Bruce Wayne/Batman to come out of his retirement. Question is, does he still have what it takes to defeat Bane and save Gotham?

Interwoven into this saga are loyal old characters like the Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and interesting new characters like idealistic policeman John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the enigmatic Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and the complicated Selina Kyle/Catwoman (an unexpectedly perfect portrayal by Anne Hathaway). Each of these characters are integral to the main story. In fact, all of these other characters practically spend the same amount of screen time as the main Bat. Yet, no one felt superfluous at all. Even the cameo appearance of Liam Neeson as Ra's Al Ghul was important.

This is indeed the BEST movie I have seen so far in 2012! It would be an injustice if this movie and its visionary director Christopher Nolan would not be nominated come Oscar time. This was worth the wait, the hype and the excitement. Despite the closure, the hint of a sequel makes the already perfect ending that additional punch. This is one helluva kick-ass action film, yet it does not lose the angst, the drama and the heart. The Batman is still the best DC character out there, and this film certainly shows us why!

Magic Mike

July 12, 2012



OK, this is the movie that has got all the females excited because it is about male strippers. For me, just curious as to what else this film had going for it aside from that. This is, after all, a Steven Soderberg movie.

The movie is really about Mike (Channing Tatum) who works very hard in his various small businesses as well as his stripping in order to finance his ultimate dream of designing and manufacturing custom furniture. He helps out a down-and-out teenager named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) to earn his own money by stripping, with obvious dire consequences later on as the women and drugs go into his head. Wait, you might think, haven't I seen that movie before? Believe me, you have with just some different circumstances, but the same old story. The performances by both Channing and Alex were similarly paint-by-numbers, nothing spectacular. Channing's past career as a stripper though is very apparent with his dancing scenes.

Ever-annoying actor Matthew McConaughey once again comes up with yet another annoying performance as the owner of the Tampa strip club "Xquisite". His narcissistic, over-the-top acting was very BAD. Aside from Channing, Alex and Matthew, the rest of the guys on the poster namely TV stars Matt Bomer ("Glee") and Joe Manganiello ("True Blood") just dance without ANY significant lines. They could be any actor and it wouldn't have mattered. There was an old wrestler-looking guy there onstage with them called Tarzan (Kevin Nash) who looked awkward and out of place.

The few females in the story were hardly attractive. Cody Horn, who played Adam's stuck-up sister Brooke, was awkward all throughout. Even her scene in a bikini was not flattering. Olivia Munn played Joanna, a psychologist who researched about, then played around with Mike. Her reported breast exposure in the beginning was cut from local screenings. Ironically, the prolonged butt exposure of Channing Tatum before that scene was left fully intact. (So, why the double standard, local censors?) 

Ultimately, if you are not watching this for the stripping scenes, there really isn't much else to watch here.


Eiga Sai 2012: "Happy Flight"

July 11, 2012

It is that Eiga Sai time of the year again.  Time again to enjoy a number of great Japanese films for FREE at the Shangri-la Mall.  I have been quite busier lately so it had not been easy to sneak this treat into my schedules in the past years.  This year, I thought I could not catch any of the films presented. Fortunately, some free time opened up for me yesterday after lunch.  I thought, how bad could it be on a Tuesday afternoon?



When I got to the theater area of the mall at a little past 1:15 pm, the queue for the tickets was already snaking around several- fold in the theater lobby. There were really significantly more people watching this film fest now than before.  These were probably many students, but I also saw yuppies there as well as senior citizens and housewives, all patiently waiting in line.  I settled to the very end of the long line, and a lot more people lined up behind me.  The guard even told us at the tail end of the line that there might not be enough tickets to reach us.  I decided to just stand my ground and wait.  The line started to move at exactly 1:30 pm as promised.  (They used to start giving out tickets an hour before, now only 30 minutes before screening.)  Luckily, I was still able to get one of the last few tickets for the 2 pm showing.  

When I was going to the Shang, I thought I would be watching the esoteric samurai film "Abacus and Sword."  However, that turned out to be the 2pm show on Thursday.  I was going to watch a movie called "Happy Flight."  Needless to say, the title disappointed me.  What juvenile topic could a movie with this generic title be about?  Anyway, I am there, and I got my ticket, so in I go.

"HAPPY FLIGHT"

With a title like "Happy Flight", I expected a light comedy although I had no idea what sort of "flight" was referred to. An pre-flight instruction video that preceded the opening credits made it clear that this would be about a flight of an airplane.


(photo credit:  moviexclusive.com)

In the first thirty minutes or so of the film, we see a slew of activity that went on behind the scenes before a commercial flight takes off from the airport. We meet the pilot-in-training on his final flight exam, the stern pilot examiner, the strict purser, the gaggle of excited new stewardesses on their first foreign flight, the team of mechanics on the tarmac, the ground crew, the people in the flight tower, the guy responsible to ward off birds, and of course, all those the quirky passengers. When the plane takes flight and encounters various problems with natural, mechanical, and human causes, the crew both onboard and on the ground all cooperate to ensure the passengers welfare.

These people all have their own little side stories to tell, mostly hilarious. But you can also feel an underlying seriousness the overall story the director wants to tell. This becomes more evident when the plane is in flight when every decision made is one of life and death. In the midst of the comedy, you cannot help but feel the tension and drama of the situations as well. This is indeed everything you are curious about the airline industry but were too afraid to ask or too afraid to even actually know. As I take my next flight, I will definitely think of this movie again.

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Eiga Sai 2012 runs at the Shangri-la Mall up to Sunday, July 15, 2012.  Admission is FREE.  Don't miss this rare chance to enjoy a great Japanese film this week!

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

July 5, 2012


This movie's poster came out quite early on this year, and I was really very intrigued by it. The title and concept are really so far-out-of- this-world original, I can't wait to see how this story would unfold. After a long wait, how timely was it that a movie about a great American president(albeit an action-horror-fantasy one) would be shown right on the 4th of July where I am? Cool, huh?

The film opens with Abraham Lincoln on a voice-over talking about how History prefers legends to men, then flashes back to his childhood when young Abe witnesses his mother being killed by what seemed to be a vampire. The desire to seek vengeance on the ghoulish murderer would carry him over the next years as the child grew up. After a botched attempt, he meets a vampire-killer named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) who trains him in the killing craft using his weapon of choice, the axe. 

From there, this fantastic back story would then intertwine with more historically-familiar events we knew about Abe Lincoln, like his marriage to Mary Todd, his rise to the Presidency, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War, the Gettysburg Address and his fateful date at the theater. This is practically everything the layman knows about Abe Lincoln. Even viewers with only a passing knowledge of American history can readily relate. You simply have to watch to see how they dovetail the fantasy parts into the history parts.

I must say that this movie more than lives up to the high expectations I had of it. OK, the stylized violence may not sit well with all audiences, but for me everything just fit in so well. The writing by the book's author himself, Seth Grahame-Smith, was excellent. I really congratulate him for his awesomely radical idea. It was so crazy it just had to work! The story treatment by the director Timur Bekmambetov had just the right touch of tongue-in-cheek humor to balance out the gore and make the whole thing work without being overly cheesy (like the "Twilight" films, anyone?). I am not surprised to see Tim Burton's name as a producer, given the very quirky and macabre subject matter. 

This was a very technically superior film. The camerawork and editing was breathtaking! I have never seen scenes like that fight atop the stampeding horses, or those sieges at Gettysburg, among so many other visionary scenes executions throughout the film. Those were really amazingly triumphant visual effects! The cast and crew have succeeded to make a bona-fide American hero even larger-than-life and more noble than he was already known for. 

As far as the actors are concerned, there were no really big stars here. Only Dominic Cooper was the familiar face, and he did really well as Abe's mentor Henry. At the start I had a small problem with the lead star Benjamin Walker as I did not really believe him to be Abraham Lincoln as a young man. He simply did not seem correct as the young Abe the way he looked and acted. This situation was of course corrected when the wonders of make-up came in when he was already President. I really believe the Make-Up of this movie deserves an Oscar nomination at least as it really transformed Walker into the Abraham Lincoln we all expected. This was my one minor gripe about the film although later in my overall appreciation of the movie, Walker's seeming physical disconnect as Lincoln did not really matter after all in the end.

I highly recommend this movie to vampire fans and history fans alike. As odd as that combination is, I am pretty sure there are plenty of us out there.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

June 29, 2012


There were so many reasons why I was ready NOT to like this movie. First of all, the original Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire trilogy was so recent. They were done very well and did so well also box-office wise. I did not really feel the need to make this reboot at all, much less, too soon after the "Spider Man 3." I was also very leery about the choice of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider Man. Watching the trailers, I do not know what it was about Garfield's face and body build that did not seem right to be Peter Parker. Anyway, the hype surrounding this film really built up, as evidenced by the grand first day showing today in almost 100% of cinemas all over the country. Of course, it was inevitable that my whole family will still go and watch!

As it began by telling Peter Parker's high school life, you see that Director Marc Webb was trying so hard to make it different from the first Tobey Maguire movie, and this can be noticed as the movie went along. The story of how Peter was bitten by the super-spider was so far-fetched and unbelievable. The story of how Gwen and Peter became a couple seemed so rushed. The story of Peter's parents, which was what I thought would be a main theme in this movie, was hardly tackled in any significant detail at all. 

Andrew Garfield painted a different Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire. Garfield made the role his own by amp-ing up the angst. I have to grant that Andrew was a better dramatic actor than Tobey. His scenes with veteran actors Martin Sheen and Sally Field (as Uncle Ben and Aunt May) were heartfelt and sincere, as with his romantic scenes with Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy). However, he seems to become too schizophrenic when he dons his Spider Man costume, as he becomes all too cocky for comfort. 

Emma Stone acted very well as Gwen Stacy. She was a much better love interest than Kirsten Dunst was as MJ in the first movie. I guess it was because Gwen was written to be smart and courageous, unlike MJ who was nothing more than a mere damsel in distress. Rhys Ifans does an effective departure from his usual comedy roles to play the tragic Dr. Curt Connors. It was just too bad that the story of his descent into his Lizard madness was all too sudden to be affecting or logical. 

Admittedly, there were really very awesome-looking visual effects in this movie. The cartoon-y bright multi-color palette of the Tobey version was replaced by a darker and more serious mood in this one, making it fit more into the Marvel canons. Overall though, while the effort was there but the final impact of this film could eventually be forgettable. Even the extra scene in the end credits hinting a second installment was predictable. After watching, all my three kids declared that they liked the Tobey version than this. Ultimately, we still remember the Tobey Maguire films too much for this film to take any serious roots into our memory. Let's see if the next installments of this reboot series will make a difference.

Rock of Ages

June 14, 2012


It is 1987. Sherrie (Julianne Hough) rides a bus from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Los Angeles, California to fulfill her rock and roll dreams. On her first night in Hollywood, her idealism was shattered when her luggage with her precious rock music records were stolen. She meets struggling musician Drew (Diego Boneta), who helped her get a job in THE legendary rock club on the strip called The Bourbon Room, run by odd couple Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and Lonny (Russell Brand). Sherrie could not have come at a better time because The Bourbon Room has booked her idol, rock superstar Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), to play his final gig with his band Arsenal before going solo. Also on Stacee's case are the mayor (Bryan Cranston) and his rabidly anti-rock wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), his oily manager (Paul Giamatti) and Rolling Stones reporter (Malin Akerman).

The actors really give it their cheesy all in their singing and acting. Julianna Hough and Diego Boneta were charming and good singers as the central couple, but they were upstaged by the senior stars, particularly Tom Cruise. Cruise plays a character so far off from the type anyone thought he would or could do. I had my doubts when I heard he would be doing this role and doing his own singing to boot. This was a very physical role for Cruise as he hardly had wordy lines to say. He had the aging rock star look down pat, shirtless and drunk the whole time. I can imagine Steven Tyler like this when he is not on American Idol! However, if you watch and listen to Cruise's performance of "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me," you'll really believe that he is indeed a rock god! Not too successful though was Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose scheming Stepford-wife-type character was poorly written and executed, especially in the epilogue.

Some songs fit right in, some songs were pretty awkward. The musical mash-ups were very well done. The popular TV series "Glee" has robbed this movie of surprises since it obviously got its inspiration from this musical play, particularly the finale number "Don't Stop Believing," a song which remains to be "Glee"'s biggest hit. Many of the songs in "Rock of Ages" have also been sung on "Glee." (Was it coincidence too that Director Adam Shankman also directed a couple of "Glee" episodes"?) The song that got the most riotous audience reaction though was REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling," which I will never hear in the same way again after the hilarious scene where it was sung here. 

OK, the story is not the main attraction here. The multiple intersecting story lines were all Hollywood cliches -- small town girl going to the big city to find her luck; boy meets, loses and gets back the girl; an old business institution on the brink of financial ruin; a jaded star gets a wake-up call; stripper madame with a heart of gold (Mary J. Blige), etc... -- you name it. Scenes of explicit sexual, alcoholic and drugged debauchery (which you cannot really separate from a movie about rock and roll), as well as sexy pole-dancing scenes in a strip club, may make some members of the audience uncomfortable. This movie is not for young kids at all. But the mixing in of very popular songs, most of them Number 1 hits, made this fun and entertaining for people who grew up in the 80s like me. As a kid of the 1980s where glam rock anthems and power ballads ruled the music scene, I really enjoyed and was singing along with practically all the songs in this movie. By sheer chance, we are set to watch the local musical play production of "Rock of Ages" tomorrow night, and let's see how these two versions compare.

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

June 10, 2012



The first "Madagascar" was unexpectedly funny and entertaining. Those four lead characters Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman were delightful and pretty likable. However, the second one already gave me the feeling that the franchise was getting tired. Now that the Penguins already have their own TV show, I don't really want to see them on screen anymore! However, how could I say no to the kids who wanted to see this third installment? I just had to grin and shell out for the tickets.

Missing their zoo in New York after a long stay in Africa (from the second film), our four friends now make their way to Europe in order to find a way to go back to their old home. While being pursued by the French Animal Control officers, led by the superhuman-ly relentless Captain Chantel Dubois (who wants Alex the Lion's head on her wall), the four join a circus animal train to escape. How opportune that this particular train was en route to New York too. So now, Alex and friends have to help their new friends get their circus act together in order to be finally NYC-bound.

I felt that this whole flimsy story was just there to in order set up the stage for one spectacular scene: a very colorful and beautifully- animated "Fantasia"-inspired sequence of multi-animal circus acrobatics accompanied by Katy Perry's hit song "Firework." The relationship of the four friends, which was the center of the first two episodes, were hardly tackled at all. This time it was just all about the action of eluding the animal catchers and getting to New York. The voice work was flawless as usual. Having Frances McDormand there as the vicious Capt. Dubois and Jessica Chastain as the cute jaguar-trapeze artist Gia were nice to know as the final credits were running.

Overall, I did not enjoy this one too much. I did not really have any LOL-moments while watching this particular installment. There were in fact a lot of cringe-worthy moments led by that very lame sequence where Marty was painted white with big polka dots and wearing a huge multi- colored Afro wig. As for the new characters, the ability of Vitaly the Tiger to go through small hoops was too impossible, the face of Stefano the Seal is too annoying to be cute, and the bear "girlfriend" of King Julien the Lemur felt unnecessary. This one is really strictly for the kids.


Prometheus

June 7, 2012


In the year 2089, a couple of scientists Holloway (Logan Marshall Green) and Shaw (Noomi Rapace) find pictograms in various caves and ancient temples which suggest that human life originated from a faraway star system (I don't know how they came up with that wild premise). Under the sponsorship of old trillionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce in atrocious old-age make-up), they embark a 2-year expedition with more scientists in a vessel called "Prometheus" to search for these "engineers" of the human race. The aliens and alien technology they encounter there threatened not only the crew members, as well as the very existence of Earth itself. Can the Prometheus escape this alien threat that they have unleashed upon themselves?

The set decoration, cinematography, editing, sound and visual effects are by all means top-notch under the assured direction of veteran Ridley Scott. This is certainly a beautiful film to watch. However, the utter disregard for any scientific principles of research investigation and medicine is really very distracting. These "scientists" in this crew do not follow very basic scientific procedures, really very illogical. Would you so carelessly remove your helmet in an unknown atmosphere just because your equipment says it is safe? Would you do an autopsy of an alien head with your face mask hanging around your neck? Could you simply get up and run right after a bloody do-it-yourself Caesarean operation? Would the DNA of the ancient "engineers" still EXACTLY MATCH with human DNA after thousands of years without any mutation? 

There simply too many mind-boggling questions. Was that breath-taking opening shot of a volcanic lake supposed to be Earth? When that white alien drank the black stuff, his DNA was seen mutating in the water, what then? Could an android (Michael Fassbender) really be deceitful, and why would he be? What is the point of Charlize Theron's icy character Vickers? Even the epilogue puzzles with even more questions. The way that last alien looked with the big horn on its head felt totally forced, and obviously shoehorned to coincide with the original "Alien" movie, also created and directed by Ridley Scott. 

So overall, this movie is just OK. It is indeed a visual spectacle, but the story development leaves so much to be desired. Some movies you could enter and leave your brain checked at the door, but not this one. In this type of movie, you will expect some scientific credibility in order for it to work. Unfortunately, "Prometheus" fails in that regard.

Men in Black III

May 26, 2012


I am not exactly a Will Smith fan. I think the last Will Smith film I watched and liked was the first "Men in Black" film back in 1997. I was surprised to learn that there will be another installment of "Men in Black" this year, the third of the series. The second MiB was shown in 2002, and I did not even care to finish that one. Will the ten years between the last episode and this one make a difference? I needed to see that.

In this film, a vicious alien villain known as Boris the Animal escapes from his prison on the moon, where he had been locked up since being arrested by Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) back in 1969. One day, Agent K disappears from the present day. His partner Agent J (Will Smith) realizes that K had been assassinated by Boris forty years ago, which caused a major change of events, allowing Boris' alien race to overrun the Earth. J had to find a way to travel back in time to 1969 in order to save K and rectify the tragic consequences of his death. Can J save K and in turn save the Earth from the clutches of Boris?

The odd couple was just as they were before in the first films. Will Smith is still his old loudmouth Agent J as Tommy Lee Jones was his tight-lipped Agent K. As J goes back to the past, he will interact with the young 29-year old K, perfectly played by Josh Brolin. Brolin amazingly captures the laconic persona, and even the distinct voice, of Jones so well that they seemed to have been one and the same actor. It was also good to see Emma Thompson again in a major film as she portrayed Agent O, another senior agent with a soft spot for K. The younger Agent O was played by a cutie named Alice Eve, but she certainly did not convince us that she would look or act like Emma Thompson when she grows older.

I must say that this film was really a most entertaining one. Well, maybe more for me than for my kids. Younger audiences may find the jokes about 1969 cultural references, such as the hippies, the racial tension, etc., to be a bit difficult to grasp. But the fun action sequences with some exciting futuristic vehicles and weaponry, the imaginative and repulsive aliens made by no less than the master monster-maker Rick Baker, the thrilling integration of the historic Apollo 11 lift-off, and the touching revelation of K's big secret made this a very good and enjoyable movie to watch. 3D did not seem necessary. Director Barry Sonnenfeld got it right this time, and this segment certainly gave perfect closure to the story arc of the whole series.