Friday, September 27, 2013

PRISONERS: Torturous Outrage

September 27, 2013

The less you know about the story of this film, the better. I went into the theater not knowing anything about "Prisoners" except for the names of its lead actors. I have decided that I will not give you a synopsis so you can still watch the film without knowing the full story.

"Prisoners" attempts to transform a story about a neighborhood kidnapping into something more than just a crime film. When a member of your family becomes a victim of a crime, you will be imprisoned in your own sense of justice. It becomes a thought-provoking film which makes you question your own sense of morality.

The atmosphere created by Director Denis Villeneuve is dark and heavy from the first frame, as Hugh Jackman intones the Lord's Prayer. The cold November rainy weather sets the ominous mood very well. However, two and half hours of a relentlessly downcast mood can take its toll on the audiences. I did feel that the film lost its bearings somehow when scalding showers and snakes entered the scene.

Whatever missteps of the story and direction is made up for by the talented actors who try their best to bring this turgid story to life. It becomes a compelling drama, better than what it may have appeared on paper. The stellar Oscar-caliber stars bring their A-game to elevate this film to a higher level.

Hugh Jackman is explosive here as Keller Dover, the parent with the more extreme reaction to the crime against his family. He is clearly in Wolverine mode here as he gets caught up in his own warped vigilantism. He goes over-the-top in a lot of disturbing scenes, but it was that quiet moment when he recognizes a bloody item of clothing that was his best scene.

Jake Gyllenhaal does very well as the dedicated officer in charge of the case, with a name as unlikely as Detective Loki. His best scene is when he was driving through the freeway in the pouring rain with a bleeding wound on his head further distorting his vision, rushing to bring a dying person to the hospital.

Maria Bello plays Keller's unstable wife, trapped by her own addiction to sleeping pills. I do not like her past work, but here she was actually good despite her irritating character. Terrence Howard and Viola Davis play the Birches, close friends of the Dovers. They are generally calm people but circumstances force them to turn a blind eye and even become accomplices to another crime.

Paul Dano plays a mentally-challenged guy named Alex Jones. He somehow gets us to feel sympathy for his creepy character. Melissa Leo plays his adoptive mother Holly. Their behavior will keep you guessing as to their involvement in the case on hand, if any.

Overall, this can be a very compelling film that will keep you guessing. However, this is a lengthy, deliberately slow paced film. Despite its good intentions, I feel that it could have been edited into something less meandering and repetitive. A film like this dragged too long is bound to give rise to questionable plot devices and bad red herrings, and this one unfortunately has both. 6/10.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

RUNNER RUNNER: Predictable Gamble

September 26, 2013

Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake), a Princeton management graduate student who promotes an online gambling site on campus, earning commissions to pay off his tuition. When the school clamps down on his activities and he loses all his savings on a last ditch all-or-none bet, Furst goes straight to the top, flying to Costa Rica to seek out Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the kingpin of online gaming.

Block admires Furst's gambling acumen and hires him to be a trusted runner for his business affairs, which slowly reveal themselves to be less than on the level. When FBI agent Agent Zbysko (Anthony Mackie) enters the scene with his threats, Furst discovers he might have bitten off more than he could chew.

Justin Timberlake generally does well as Furst, wide-eyed and excited at first, troubled and harassed at the end. I liked his scenes with his father played by John Heard. I do not really expect much from Ben Affleck as an actor, and again here, he does not measure up. He is hardly believable as a nefarious gambling lord who could feed his enemies to crocodiles. 

The beautiful Gemma Arterton is totally wasted here. She does not get to do much, and she does not have any chemistry with any of the men she is supposed to be in liaisons with. Anthony Mackie plays the FBI agent too over-the-top to be convincing.

The story was too familiar to be exciting. The relationship of Justin and Ben (and Gemma, for that matter) were too dry to be engaging. The gambling jargon was too hard to follow to be interesting. The ending is too obvious to be worth the time spent watching.  Director Brian Furman does not rise above the limitations of the script he has.  4/10.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


September 24, 2013

Matthew Adams from Pennsylvania, USA (Travis Kraft) and Conchita "Cookie" Evelyn Bigos (Tuesday Vargas) from the Imus, Cavite, meet online on a singles website called  This film is all about that one week of adventures and misadventures of this newly-married couple from November 18 Friday to November 24 Thursday, which just so happened to be Thanksgiving Day.  

Matthew works in a business outsourcing firm (a.k.a. call center) in the Philippines.  This film would talk about observations of Matthew about his immersion into Filipino culture.  He would talk about odd Filipino words (like "ano" and about Filipinized English expressions like "open/close the lights"); about strange Filipino food habits (like eating pancit canton on rice); about his very superstitious parents-in-law (who rely on herbal concoctions and stingray's tail to cure a flu); and about funny Filipino names, like that of Dong (JM De Guzman), Cookie's younger brother. 

Travis Kraft, whom I first heard about years back cooking "Adobong Manok" in his hilarious video on YouTube.  He still speaks Filipino in that very strong American accent of his.  The years did not tone that accent down at all!  He is sometimes appears very self-conscious on screen, so his performance can appear wooden at times.  

Cookie of course would try to defend Filipino culture as Matthew criticized them, in the inimitably Tuesday Vargas way.  Before she married Matthew, she is a young widow with a young son named Jonjon.  She would constantly hang around with her two zany girl-friends Osang (Julia Clarete) and Girlie (Cai Cortez).  During this week approaching Thanksgiving, she is nervous about her visa interview, but she is at the same time in consternation about acquiring a turkey for Matthew's Thanksgiving dinner.

Tuesday Vargas is really so over-the-top!  Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn't,  I wish that this would be a comedy where the Filipina did not have to resort to physical comedy to get the laughs.  I actually liked Tuesday better in her quiet scenes than these excessively flamboyant ones.  She really worked so hard in this film and the effort shows.

Quite a wide array of topics were tackled in this film, all the peculiarities of Filipinos that American would find strange.  They really tried to squeeze every little issue with varying success, in terms of laughs.  Some are funny, some are not.  I wish Cookie had a better job than deboning milkfish.  Was that job supposed to be funny?  I did not find the food fight scene too funny, nor specifically Filipino in character. 

I wish their scene with the older Fil-Am couple had deeper insights as to the difficulties of this type of relationship than what was shown.  Was it on purpose that the same Caucasian guy they meet in the mall food court the same guy as the third consul in Cookie's visa interview? Cai Cortez is already so funny, but why did she have to have a lisp?  Why did Cookie's parents have to be so bizarre in behavior?  

This is a uneven but nevertheless funny film about Filipino culture.  It is very entertaining as we really have a good time laughing at things we do that unnerve other cultures.  It can be very informative and eye-opening at the same time.  This concept could still be done as a more sophisticated comedy style some day, but this one does quite well with what it has. 5/10.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

ANG HULING CHA-CHA NI ANITA: Controversial Sweetness

September 24, 2013

The curious title did not really appeal to me.  I was not really planning to watch this film at all.  Until last Sunday at the awards ceremony of the Cine Filipino Film Festival, this film tied for Best Picture (along with "Ang Kuwento ni Mabuti") and won for Best Acting Ensemble.  The bigger shocker was the unknown 13-year newbie actress who played Anita, Teri Malvar, won Best Actress over the one and only Superstar of Philippine Show Business, Ms. Nora Aunor! These accolades made "Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita" a must-watch in my book.

Anita is a awkward young girl who develops a crush on a gorgeous neighbor named Pilar.  Pilar apparently left their town under scandalous circumstances five years ago, worked abroad as a physical therapist, and has now resettled in town after her father passed away.  This film shows us how Anita discovers and comes to grips with her unconventional sexual orientation.  This tale was told with the feast of St. Claire in Obando, Bulacan in the background (although I am not really clear what the connection of this to the main story.)

I thought Teri Malvar was a very natural actress as Anita.  She was acting her age.  She is very brave to tackle such a daring role.  That final heart-to-heart talk scene between Anita and her mother Lolita (played by Lui Manansala) was so good!  The Best Actress award she won was very generous of the judges.  Not to say that young Teri not deserve it, but the performance of Nora Aunor in "Mabuti" is clearly superior and with more depth.

For me the more remarkable performance was that of the beautiful Ms. Angel Aquino.  The camera simply loves her in this film.  There was not a single bad shot of her in any angle in any scene.  Her acting was truly affecting too.  Her Best Supporting Award was very much deserved.  With her long screen time, she could even be cited for Best Actress, but yes, she is not the central character.

To be very honest, no matter how beautifully this film was made (and it was), its very premise, once obvious, made me very uncomfortable while watching.  I am not familiar with this scenario, and this was a very eye-opening film for me, in spite of my age.  I admit I was a bit appalled by the careless exposure of Ms. Malvar's chest when she was changing her t-shirt, not once but twice.  This is especially because I have a daughter of my own of her age and I don't think this was proper at all.  

I am also not sure about the topics of conversations between Anita and her young friends Goying and Carmen. Do kids their age really talk like them nowadays?  I do not hear this type of talk among my kids, but then again the milieu of this story is different from ours.

This film also touched on the contentious topic of abortion.  My discomfort lies not really because it was shown, twice in fact, in two different ways.  But I am disturbed with the seemingly mistaken idea in the film that the "hilot" (massage) done by physical therapists actually includes the type of "hilot" done in performing an abortion.  There was also a scene of a drug-induced abortion, in the presence of a minor, which I did not sit right with me.

I would commend Director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo for tackling this heretofore never or rarely addressed story of the blossoming of a young lesbian girl.  Several movies about homosexual boys have been made, notably the acclaimed "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros," but not yet about homosexual girls that I know of.  It is ground-breaking in that sense in the local indie scene.  I do not know if it is a coincidence that the film that won the Palm d'Or in this year's Cannes, "Blue is the Warmest Color," likewise dealt on a budding lesbian's affair with an older woman.

As pleasant as the title might sound and with the presence of child actors in the cast, this movie is not for general patronage.  I would say it is essential viewing for parents of young girls who are in the same situation as Anita's point of view is well-expounded upon.  But due to sensitive issues it delves in, not everyone in our conservative society will be entertained by it.  I have seen several movies of various genres and from various countries, but this one, set in the local context with kids that remind me of my own, still certainly challenged my sensibilities.  It is brave, controversial, envelope-pushing.  This is bound to be a cult classic of its sub-genre. 6/10.

RUSH: A Winning Rivalry

September 24, 2013

I almost passed on watching "Rush" because I am not really a fan of F1 car racing. However, very positive word of mouth egged me to squeeze it into my schedule. The buzz proved true -- this is one excellent film.  You do not need to be an F1 fan to enjoy this film.  This is more about the remarkable men the behind the wheel, than the cars themselves.

Austrian Niki Lauda is a straight-laced, super-serious and introverted man, already a world champion the year before. British James Hunt is a happy-go-lucky, smoking and drinking, and gregarious ladies man, looking for his first major title. During the 1976 F1 season, Niki (driving for Ferrari) was leading all the way on total points until a devastating event threatened not only his crown, but his life. Can Niki summon enough will to fight the mortal odds and recover in order to race to the finish, or will James (driving for McLaren) just be handed the cup of his dreams on a silver platter?

Even if we only see Chris Hemsworth's face in the poster as James Hunt, this film was more about Niki Lauda, played with devastating realism by Daniel Bruhl. I would not be surprised if Bruhl will be cited for Best Actor come awards season, and he should.  The charismatic Hemsworth displays the most mature acting he's done in his career.  The conflict between two racing arch-nemeses with contrasting personalities seemed to be too ideal a story to be true, but amazingly this film indeed was inspired by a real events. We would witness their relationship evolve from jealousy, enmity, challenge, admiration to respect.

Their relationships with the women in their lives were so well integrated into the mix in order to further delineate our two main characters off the track. James and his whirlwind marriage to New York-based model Suzy (Olivia Wilde) again contrasted perfectly with Niki and his calculated marriage to the elegant Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara). 

The racing scenes were very intense, so well-shot. Those scenes when you see the track in the point of view of the driver were amazing. You can smell not only the gas and the fumes, but the adrenaline rush in the air. You can feel the real danger as past accidents were shown in ominous graphic detail. These scenes will definitely be showered technical Oscar nominations for cinematography (with that nostalgic color palette), editing (thrilling cuts from track to cars down to engine parts), sound and sound effects mixing (brings us right there in the midst of the action). The production design with those vintage F1 cars and authentic-looking costumes also deserve mention.

Director Ron Howard takes full advantage of the inherent drama in these events to create a very tense and entertaining film, not only on the race tracks (from UK to Germany to Japan) , but also in their personal lives and their philosophies about winning. Even if I did not know Lauda and Hunt, I was drawn into their story complete with all the ingredients of epic action, drama, and romance. Howard does not lose control of his material as everything fell in its right place in the gripping final cut of the film. 9/10.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

PUTI: Artsy Achromatopsia

September 20, 2013

Art forger Amir Luna and his son Jaime figure in a bad vehicular accident.  Father and son both survive but little Jaime remains in a deep coma.  Amir's cerebral injuries result in color-blindedness, which makes his "occupation" of copying paintings next to impossible.  As time passed, aside from this initial handicap, Amir also begins to experience ghostly and violent visions involving people around him and subjects of his art work, and these are beginning to drive him out of his mind.

Ian Veneracion plays the tormented Amir very well.  He was effective in getting us over to sympathize with him and his predicament despite his unsavory occupation.  He has some very unusual scenes but he does not lose his character.  Jasmin Curtis Smith plays timid Niki, Amir's assistant. She seemed very tentative here, but then did this role before her award-winning role in "Transit".  Lauren Young plays the volunteer storyteller Ana.   She is an elegant presence whom the camera loves.  The other members of the cast are Bryan Pagala as the young son Jaime and the venerable Leo Rialp as an unscrupulous attorney.

"Puti" is a highly artistic psychological thriller, both in theme and execution.  How the story turns out may seem familiar from other films of the genre, but the way this reaches that climax is very unique and original.  You may initially think that the plot may be ridden with big holes and red herrings, but later you will realize that it is, in fact, not.

The story deals with art, and therefore the bizarre imagery, crazy camera angles and stark color palette reflects the director Mike Alcazaren's sense of artistry. The seemingly sterile dream-scape this film creates may seem so clean and white, yet it was ironically dark and very disturbing at the same time . Brisker pacing would have made the film a more effective thriller. Alcarazen decided to take the slower route, creating a more thought-provoking piece. 7/10.

RIDDICK: Heroic Anti-Hero

September 21, 2013

As the movie begins, we see Riddick abandoned in a strange planet only inhabited by vicious predatory beasts. He relies on his instincts in order to survive such an inhospitable environment. He even tames an alien dog to be his companion. Later, mercenaries come and try to take Riddick back with them for bounty. These mercenaries clearly do not know who they are up against.

"Riddick" is already the third of a series that began with "Pitch Black" (2000), followed by "Chronicles of Riddick" (2004). If "Riddick" is the first one of the series you are watching, you will not really appreciate it as well as one who has seen all three. I don't think it stands alone by itself very well. I believe you should at least see the first film, "Pitch Black" to get introduced to this unlikely lead character with the shiny eyes.

"Pitch Black" is a great science fiction film with a great story and awesome special effects. Riddick is a murderer who has special eyes which can see in the dark. He was a passenger of a spacecraft that was forced to crash land on a planet with flying predatory beasts that thrive in the dark. When an eclipse plunges the planet into pitch black darkness and the beasts come out in deadly swarms, the crew needed Riddick's unique abilities to get them out of there.

The events of "Riddick" happen about 10 years after those in "Pitch Black." Basically, "Riddick" follows the same progression of story: Riddick on a new planet with violent beasts, Riddick interacts with new human characters, Riddick fights the beasts to get out of the planet. 

Among the mercenaries who try to capture Riddick are the crazy psychopath Santana and a man with a connection to a character in Riddick's past, Boss Johns. The best scene of the film was that one where Riddick makes good his promise of getting Santana's head in a box. As for Boss Johns, you may not pick up the connection right away if you have not seen "Pitch Black" where one of the guys on the ship with Riddick back then was also named Johns.

The most interesting facet of "Riddick" is with the character development of Riddick in the first act, from a broken man to one who rediscovers his inner animal instinct and confidence to fight and survive. We will get to meet the more human aspect of this ruthless killer. These aspects elevates "Riddick" from being a one- dimensional violent sci-fi kill-fest into one of deeper meaning. 6/10.

Friday, September 20, 2013


September 20, 2013

This is practically the only film in the ongoing CineFilipino Film Festival that has any advanced publicity.  This is also the only entry with a bonafide superstar headlining it, no less than Ms. Nora Aunor herself. Its first screening at the Gateway Mall was sold out, a testament to the drawing power for Ms. Nora.  I will not be surprised if this will be the top box office hit of this one-week festival.  The CineFilipino Film Fest only runs at Gateway, Lucky Chinatown, Resorts World and Shangri-la Mall cinemas.

"Ang Kuwento ni Mabuti" is a simple film about simple folk who live in a remote hilly area of Nueva Vizcaya. Mabuti is a folk healer known for her cheerfulness, friendliness and kindness.  She lives with her Mother and two adult children, Ompong and Lucia.  Ompong has one daughter, indulgently named Kate Winslet.  Lucia is very unlucky in her relationships, having three daughters (Lenlen, Angge and Mimay) with three different men.  

Mabuti needed to mortgage their land when Ompong was going abroad to work.  When they receive a letter for her to pay interest on their loan, she makes a difficult trip into the city to settle.  On her way back to their home, a stranger on the bus entrusts a bag to her and runs off. Will the contents of the bag change the life of good Mabuti?

This is again another triumph for Ms. Nora Aunor in subsuming herself into another character of the masses.  Though they are similarly poor provincial women, Nora's last role in "Thy Womb" is very distinct from this role as Mabuti.  I enjoyed that she was constantly smiling in this film.  We never really see Ms. Aunor often in a happy role.  Her eyes are really very eloquent in conveying her inner thoughts, as we know from all her classics in the past.  All those seemingly simple scenes set in the the military base, the public transportation, the realty office and the stone steps gain special poignancy because they had Nora Aunor in them.

Indie actors Arnold Reyes and Mara Lopez play Ompong and Lucia respectively, while Sue Prado plays a mysterious lady on the bus.  The rest of the other actors seem to be native Ilocano-speaking actors which lend additional realism to the scenes.  Josephina Estabillo, the actress who plays Mabuti's mother Apu Guyang, is very natural actress.  She has a heartwarming bond with Ms. Nora and the kids who play her great-grandchildren. There are also the side characters of the barangay captain and his aide Boying who provide welcome comic relief.

The dialogue of the film is entirely in Ilocano, with English subtitles.  Maybe they should also add subtitles in Filipino for the benefit of audiences who may not know how to read English.  Nora speaks it with the fluidity of a native Ilocano speaker (she is a Bicolana) like the other Ilocano supporting actors.  She really knows how to push and challenge herself with her every role.

Director Mes de Guzman (who just won Best Director at the Cinemalaya 2012 for "Diablo") has succeeded to create a charming fairy tale with modern-day characters and situations. There is a whimsical element about the interplay of harsh realities of live with fate and destiny that will make the audience smile.  As for the moral lesson of the film, the film leaves the ending open for us to determine that life message for ourselves.  7/10.


September 20, 2013

I had no idea what this movie was about when I went in.  It was the only entry to the Cine Filipino film festival that was being shown at 10 am when I went to the mall yesterday morning. Fortunately, there were two other people who wanted to watch it, so the screening pushed through.

"The Guerrilla is a Poet" turned out to be a biographical film about CCP-NPA founder, Mr. Jose Maria Sison.  It was a semi-documentary since they also had footage and interviews of the 74-year old Mr. Sison himself and his wife Julie as they continue to spend their exile in Utrecht, as well his comrade-in-arms Bernabe Buscayno.  I did not know that "The Guerrilla is a Poet" was actually a title of an important poem that Mr. Sison wrote.

The film depicted the youth of Mr. Sison (aka Amado Guerrero) from his days as a student activist, his marriage with fellow activist Julie, the rebirth of the communist movement, his relation with Ninoy Aquino, his alliance with Bernabe Buscayno (aka Kumander Dante), his clash with President Ferdinand Marcos, and his days of torture in captivity.

Young Joma was portrayed by Karl Medina, another talented member of the Medina family (after father Pen and brothers Ping and Alex).  He did not really look like the real Joma, whom Buscayno described as "mukhang Instik" (looked Chinese) when they first met, which Karl did not.  Karl has a very realistic portrayal of an activist, but it was hard to see him as Joma Sison, especially since we see the real Joma also in the same film.

This is the first film that I have really seen Ms. Angeli Bayani, who gained prominence in her lead role in the Singaporean film "Ilo-Ilo" which won in Cannes this year.  You can see how she transforms into her character, very realistic.  Hoping to see more of her work in the future.

Most supporting cast were not known actors which adds to the realism of the film.  There were also some recognizable faces like Jao Mapa as Sen. Ninoy Aquino and Raymond Bagatsing as the notorious Major Aure.  Ferdinand Marcos was portrayed by master impersonator Mr. Willie Nepomuceno.  His was a chilling uncanny performance, although he was obviously too old to play the young Marcos, when compared to the news reels featuring the real Mr. Marcos.

The story was a straightforward telling of that turbulent time in recent Philippine political history. Of course, this was in the version of Mr. Sison.  Image-wise, it was replete with artistic touches by the lady directors behind it, Sari and Kiri Dalena.  The cinematography of the scenes in the mountains can be so breathtaking with the unique camera angles being utilized.  The length of the film was formidable, running almost two hours and a half, which may be difficult to sit through for some people with limited interest or conviction in the subject matter.  6/10.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

BADIL: Understated Masterpiece

September 15, 2013

One of the films in the current Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival All Masters Edition has a curious nondescript title, and a similarly curious nondescript poster.  It also has no trailer on YouTube.  I do not know if this was a wise choice for the film makers in terms of marketing, because "Badil" is one of the best Filipino films I have seen this year.

In a small island barangay in Samar on the day before local elections, Mang Ponso is working hard to ensure his candidate, the incumbent Mayor Del Mundo wins by making sure their sworn supporters vote as they promise.  Because of the physical disabilities brought about by a recent stroke, Ponso had to be aided by his eldest son Lando when he does his rounds. When Ponso's high blood pressure causes him to be admitted in the hospital later that day, Lando has to fill in his father's duties, exposing him to the seedy underbelly of local grassroots politics, where MONEY does all the talking.

The mystery of politics in remote towns in remote provinces is tackled with vivid realism here in "Badil" (supposedly the Bicolano word for "gun"). In a small barangay, supporters of both mayoralty candidates know each other.  One-thousand peso bills are used to buy votes as naturally and as openly as buying food from a market.  Money can also be used by an opponent to convince a known supporter of  the rival candidate to have his finger marked beforehand so that he cannot vote anymore (in an underhanded technique called "dinamita").

The two lead actors of "Badil" both do excellent work. I do not know if actor Dick Israel really had a stroke, but his portrayal of the revered Mang Ponso is so real.  He almost evokes a sense of Marlon Brando in "The Godfather" the way the residents kiss his hand, and the way his true sinister nature is hidden in his calm voice and demeanor.  Jhong Hilario plays Lando with deep sensitivity as he was initiated into the hidden realities of their town's politics.  He effectively represents ambivalence and disgust as to how politics works, and resignation that there seems to be nothing that can be done about the deeply entrenched culture of political patronage.

The supporting characters were all so good as well in their roles.  Nikki Gil plays Jen, a teacher and member of the Board of Election Inspectors. While she is Lando's girlfriend, her father is a staunch supporter of the rival candidate. Yayo Aguila and Ronnie Quizon have a big family with many voters, making them a target for vote buying from both sides. Mercedes Cabral plays a double dealing operator, receiving money from both sides to campaign for both candidates.  We also see Vivian Velez, Efren Reyes Jr., Vangie Labalan in smaller roles.  Everyone just seemed to fit into their roles like this film was a documentary.

It is unfortunate that "Badil" is not getting more efficient sales push from its producers to promote it and its many merits. The script of Rody Vera was so well-written, so gritty, down-to-earth, natural, and educational as well. Director Chito Rono proves that even with a limited budget of P1.5M from the Film Development Council of the Philippines, one can create a film with beautiful cinematography, exciting editing, artistic depth and national significance. Now that is a true Master. 9/10.

BAHAY NG LAGIM: Tribute Debacle

September 14, 2013

In "Bahay ng Lagim," Fatima (Karel Marquez) is haunted by nightmares of a possessed young woman  and the ghosts that haunt her.  Fatima goes to Laguna to seek the help of a mystic woman Sister Sofia (Bing Loyzaga) to try to release the poor girl in her dreams.  By putting Fatima under a spell, it is revealed that the possessed young woman is Donna (Victoria Haynes), whose body the devil takes over when she stayed in a haunted resort.  Sofia and the Devil then face off in a climactic battle royale.

This is a classic possession story, with obvious references to "The Exorcist"  This main story of Donna's possession was sandwiched between the present day scenario of Fatima and Sister Sofia, and a further past story of a possessed engineer who killed his family.  However, the connection of these three stories was not too clearly stated.  Everything felt just so randomly and haphazardly put together.

The camera work seemed to come straight out from the 1970s with its grainy color, poor lighting and standard angles.  The ubiquitous scary music soundtrack seemed to have been lifted directly from the 1974 Castillo's classic "Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara".  The ghostly make-up with powder white faces was so unimaginative. The sound quality was not too good.  I could not understand anything the possessed Donna was saying. The costumes were so strange, like Fatima's Madonna-inspired outfit and Sister Sofia's full gypsy get-up with mantilla and shades. 

At least the opening credits were amusing as they were revealed by Fatima's flashlight when she walked along a dark spooky corridor.  Can you imagine that? There was also a scene where a painting of demon comes to crude computer-generated life, complete with a hairy back. So it was not all a throwback, there was some effort for modernity.  

Karel Marquez does well with her limited role, despite what her character had to do and say. Bing Loyzaga went to town with her over-the-top performance as the psychic medium. However it was most unfortunate that the most important role in the film, that of Donna was played by an inexperienced actress named Victoria Heynes.  Her amateurishly ineffective performance in that central role made the very foundation of the whole film totally weak. 

The presence of indie stalwarts Jaclyn Jose and Ronnie Lazaro was wasted in very minuscule roles.  I have to commend them for keeping a straight face in some pretty awkward laughable scenes, like Ms. Jose talking to an overacting extra playing a hysterical resort employee slapped by Donna, and Mr. Lazaro as a priest praying while obviously artificial flames burned behind him.

Director Celso Ad Castillo passed away just November last year.  He is the director hailed as "The Messiah of Philippine Movies".  He is most remembered for movies that raised the stock of stars, like FPJ with "Asedillo", Gloria Diaz with "Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa" and Ms. Vilma Santos with "Burlesk Queen.  

Unfortunately, this movie "Bahay ng Lagim," the late Direk Celso's final film, will not be joining that prestigious list of memorable films. With all due respect to the organizers of the Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival All Masters Edition,  this film does not exactly pay tribute to The Kid's acclaimed artistry and mastery of the craft of film making, which is a pity. Thankfully, it was all over in just an hour's time.  2/10.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

NO ONE LIVES: Gore Galore!

September 14, 2013

As the opening credits roll for "No One Lives," I saw that it was produced by WWE Films. From that alone, I already had an idea in my mind that this would be production run on adrenaline alone.  I was right.

A couple needed to spend the night in a small inn in the middle of nowhere. A gang of ruthless criminals harassed them at the bar then abducted them. But these bad goons and their molls never realized what a bad move they made until it was too late. They had certainly messed with the wrong "mild-mannered" guy.  As the title proudly tells us, no one lives, and we get to be "entertained" by the different gruesome ways by which they die.

Welsh actor Luke Evans, playing the nameless lead character simply called Driver, was effectively charismatic and creepy. Everyone else though had the level of acting you see in a professional wrestling ring -- no subtlety. 

When I went to watch this film, I was thinking it is just a run-of-the-mill Grade-B horror flick.  Well it was, but I never envisioned it would have such a off-the-roof gore factor! Every bloody killing was imaginatively conjured up and graphically executed for us to wince and cringe over. That particularly long and very slow scene with a giant meat grinder was especially torturous to watch.

This is not going to win any awards, but the way this "gore fest" was put together will satisfy and excite gore fanatics. Director Ryûhei Kitamura spared no expense in giving us the most disgustingly blood-drenched, unreal-ly realistic death scenes for most everyone in the cast as they die one after the other.

I don't like gory films, but this one was not as bad as I expected. It was actually fun, in a weird morbid sense. This is definitely not for the faint of heart.  Not my cup of tea, but I'm sure gore-hounds will enjoy this immensely.  5/10.

Friday, September 13, 2013

THIS IS THE END: Ridiculous Apocalypse

September 13, 2013

"This is the End" is a fantasy pipe dream about what will happen if the end of the world happens in Los Angeles just when a wild all-star party is going on at actor James Franco's house.

This movie gathers James and his real-life gang of friends Seth Rogen (who co-wrote and co-directed this), Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, and the most obnoxious of them all, Danny McBride. There were several cameos from many other stars, like Michael Cera, Rihanna, Emma Watson, and Channing Tatum in crazy scenes you simply have to see to believe.

They all look like they had a lot of rip-roaring fun as the script (if there was one) took them for a grand ride spoofing one movie genre to another. There is disaster, horror, action, sci-fi, and, heaven forbid, even religious! Above all, there's the comedy.

Comedy, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. This movie has some of the most insulting, crass, green, off-color, dirty, sacrilegious, drugged, misogynistic, offensive jokes of all time being thrown at you mile a minute. If you are the overly-sensitive type, you might even walk out of this rambunctious mayhem even before the half way point. However, if you are of the majority of their fans of their other brash and raucous films like "Superbad" or "Pineapple Express", you will be laughing out loud all throughout its running time!

It isn't easy to rate a movie like this. I admit I was in stitches at a lot of the outrageously hilarious stupidity being shown on screen. OK, some of those jokes were really low blows.  But hey, I just blame it all on Hollywood crude sense of humor, and take them as they come, haha. This is a polarizing film you will either really enjoy or totally hate. I had a lot of fun watching it.  7/10.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

OTSO: Theatrical Noir

September 11, 2013

"Otso" is an arthouse film directed by Elwood Perez for the Sineng Pambansa All-Masters Film Festival, “Otso” will be shown from September 11 to 17 at all SM Cinemas nationwide. The twelve premier local directors selected for this non-competitive festival were given a limited budget of P1.5M to showcase their mastery of the film medium.

Mr. Elwood Perez is a multi-awarded director.  He has worked with the biggest stars, namely Ms. Nora Aunor (Lollipops and Roses at Burong Talangka, Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit, Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M.) and Ms. Vilma Santos (Lipad Darna Lipad, Ibulong Mo sa Diyos, Magkaribal).  He is also remembered for directing the sexy debut films for Gina Alajar (Diborsiyada), Rio Locsin (Disgrasyada), Cherie Gil (Problem Child), Claudia Zobel (Shame), among others.  He has been on a self-imposed hiatus of ten years, until this festival and "Otso" came about this year.

"Otso" is about Lex (Vince Tanada), a poor young writer struggling to write his first screenplay for Direk Jim (Jun Urbano) using his beat-up old laptop.  He uses for inspiration the men and women he meets in his seedy apartment building in Sampaloc, Manila. His main obsession is Sabina (Monique Azerreda, a sexy sensuous lady, who is reportedly  a mistress of their local congressman (hence a car with the titular "8" license plate picks her up). 

He is friends with the Laong Laan family, with security guard Hans (Jordan Ladra), his sick wife Joy (Cyndi Liper), and their precocious son Brent (the very naturally talented Gabby Bautista).  Lex believes that Hans and Sabina are having a torrid love affair behind Joy's back.

There is this mother (Adelle Ibarrientos) with wanton ways, always abandoning her young son  (Mark Joseph Garde) to have a good time with her boyfriends.  The development of these two seemingly unimportant side characters turns out to be a major theme of the whole film.

There is also his loud-mouth building administrator Annabelle Abdon (Vangie Labalan), who runs the place for the real owner of the building Ms. Alice Lake, who is no other than the esteemed Ms. Anita Linda playing herself!

The story of the film seems simple enough at first glance, later turning up to be more complicated than initially thought.  In the end, certain ingeniously revealed details will challenge your conceptions about relationships between the characters.  Being a tale of illicit affairs and unrequited love, there is a strong sexual undercurrent, though some of these scenes could be considered gratuitous.  Since one of the characters was involved with a congressman, some political commentary was included.

They were even able to inject a tribute to Ms. Anita Linda's career in there somewhere.   This was a nice touch, but it was not that well-integrated in the story.  Some lines delivered by Ms. Anita Linda seemed to be unrelated to the topic being shown (especially in that scene where she was being interviewed about Lex), diminishing the dramatic effect of her presence.

The technical aspects of the film may be more remarkable than the script, some words of which can sometimes be so unnatural to hear, too theatrical to be realistic.  The use of striking black-and-white cinematography for the film, as well as those innovative camera angles (as you can see in the trailer), were both remarkable and memorable, as they enhance the dark mood of the piece.  I also noted that the English subtitles were written by Ms. Jessica Zafra no less.

The main actors were new to the film medium, coming mainly from an active and progressive theater group called the Philippine Stagers, founded and headed by Atty. Vince Tanada.  In such way, the acting of the leads and ensemble, mostly members of the PhilStagers, were noticeably very big for the big screen.  Subtlety is not really seen here.  Many scenes felt artificial, filled with exaggerated facial expressions and sweeping gestures were acted out like they were for the stage instead of film.

Some scenes were very awkwardly staged, especially those towards the end, as if they were already being rushed to finish.  One such scene was the scene where Lex was trying to submit his manuscript to the secretary of Direk Jim.  There seems to be no reason why the acting of this secretary should be this annoying and unnecessarily over-the-top.  Unfortunately too, the final confrontation scene of Lex and Sabina at the rooftop was not too well executed with shrill, instead of sensitive acting and dialogue.

"Otso" is clearly a film with vision.  The time constraint and the limited budget may have affected its overall quality, but I think it is a worthy directorial comeback project for Elwood Perez.  For Atty. Vince Tanada and the rest of the PhilStagers, this is a good project for them though still rough round the edges.  We are willing to cut them some slack since this is only their first film.  This should be a good learning experience for their transition from stage acting (where they are excellent) to film acting.  We know from a lot of theater actors before that this transition is not really easy to do on the first try. 6/10.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

ABOUT TIME: Favourable Circumstance

September 11, 2013

On New Year's Day of his 21st year, Tim Lake learns from his Dad that the men in their family can travel back in time to specific moments in their lives. There will of course be rules that cannot be violated lest past events altered will give rise to completely different future outcomes. Naturally kind-hearted Tim uses this inherited power to get himself a girlfriend, among other good-intentioned deeds in consciously-planned "Groundhog Day" scenarios. 

Domhnall Gleeson (whom we will recognize as one of the elder Weasley brothers in the Harry Potter series) felt really sincere as dorky Tim.  Rachel McAdams (already the heroine of love stories like "The Notebook" and "The Time Traveller's Wife") plays insecure Mary very sweetly. They were a delightful, very charming couple here, ideal even. 

The scenes on how Tim successfully got Mary to be his girlfriend, and their turbulent wedding reception were their best scenes together. OK, Gleeson may look a bit younger than McAdams, but you still can't deny that their positive chemistry was truly palpable through the movie screen.  Given the proper breaks, Gleeson (son of veteran actor Brendan Gleeson) may well be the next Hugh Grant.  This character Mary is the best I have seen of McAdams.

While the bright candid poster suggests that this is a romantic love story for the ladies, men will find emotional connection with the scenes between Tim and his Dad, played by a droll and sentimental Bill Nighy.  There may have been scenes which violate the very rules upon which their time-traveling is based, but the father and son sentiment was so poignant I decided to just overlook them.

The cinematography of the Cornwall coastal panorama and the streets of London was very vibrant with life. The perfectly-timed entrance of nostalgic pop songs and ethereal new tunes on the musical soundtrack adds to the emotional atmosphere created by the situations.

There might have been some scenes that I felt went a little too long, contributing to a running time of more than two hours. The whole side plot about Tim's beautiful crush Charlotte (Margot Robbie) could have been shortened, as well as that endless scene where Mary was choosing a dress to wear to an event. 

Overall though, this is a very light and pleasant, very British love story by Richard Curtis, who wrote beloved modern rom-com classics like "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill" and "Love Actually." Again like his other films, "About Time" is also about love and family, but this one had an actual fantasy element in play, and that unique magical touch adds to the fun and the romance of the story. 7/10.

Monday, September 9, 2013

LOVELACE: Subjective Sympathy

September 7, 2013

I was not really planning to see this movie because of the sleazy subject matter.  However, I was quite surprised that sweet and wholesome Amanda Seyfried has been cast as legendary 70s hard-core pornography star Linda Lovelace. We know Seyfried better playing ingénues in musical films like "Mamma Mia" and "Les Miserables." How could she pull this daring stunt off? That I wanted to see.

"Lovelace" is like two movies in one.  The first half is generally light and amusing, telling how young and pretty Linda Boreman, from a strict Catholic family, met and married a smooth-talking guy named Chuck Traynor. At first, she goes along with Chuck's wild idea to make a her a porn actress, exploiting a certain extraordinary talent of hers which would be the central theme of a little triple-X film entitled "Deep Throat." She actually enjoyed the heady attention of this stardom (notoriety?) as Linda Lovelace, for a while at least.

Then in a sudden change of pace, the second half of the movie turns very serious and dramatic, as it showed how behind the glitter of her fame, Linda was relentlessly and mercilessly abused by her husband Chuck -- physically, mentally, sexually, financially. She quietly suffered this torture (ranging from domestic violence to forced prostitution) until she could not take it anymore and fights to get her old life back.

The acting of Ms. Seyfried was quite good, as she was able to convince us that she was Linda despite being cast against type. She will get us on her side especially by the second half, effectively making us feel her pain.  Ms. Seyfried played the perfect naive victim, and her turnaround at the end was believable.

Peter Sarsgaard was effectively creepy as Chuck from the start. You really cannot understand how Linda would marry a seedy guy like this. He could have portrayed to be more charming in the beginning to convince us. But he looked like a creep from the very start, even in that scene where he first met with Linda's parents (portrayed by Robert Patrick and a completely unrecognizable Sharon Stone.)  This movie painted the situation like it was all Chuck's fault.

There was a very abrupt and stark transformation from happy Linda in Act 1 and sad Linda in Act 2. I think the film's two directors,  Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, were trying to be stylistic about this, not telling these details linearly, instead going back and forth in time, repeating certain scenes with different emotion behind them. 

Overall, this was a biopic which was very sympathetic to its subject, as a hapless victim turned activist against the very activities that brought her to fame. People who watch this film expecting her to graphically reveal more skin will be disappointed, as Seyfried's version of Linda kept it relatively modest on screen.  As biopics go, this one, despite the racy subject, could have been a TV movie instead.  6/10.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I Review Three Films from Cine Europa 16

September 7, 2013

For the 16th year, CINE EUROPA, the largest foreign film festival in the Philippines, formally opened last Wednesday with 18 European countries showing 21 films.

In Metro Manila, the European films will be shown at Shangri-La Plaza Cineplex in Mandaluyong City from Sept. 5 to 15.

These films will then make the rounds in provincial venues: Cinematheque Baguio City from Sept. 17 to 22, Cinematheque Iloilo City from Sept. 23 to 29, Ayala Center in Cebu City from Oct. 4 to 6, Liceo de Cagayan University in Cagayan de Oro City from Oct. 10 to 13, and finally, Cinematheque Davao City from Oct. 15 to 20.

1.  "A Royal Affair" (Denmark)

"A Royal Affair" is about exactly what its title tells us. Caroline is an English princess who was married off to the King of Denmark, in fulfillment of her childhood dreams. They meet for the first time when she went to Denmark, but she was distressed to discover that her husband Christian is not of completely sound mind.

After her first child was born, and wallowing in constant loneliness, Caroline begins the titular royal affair with Struensee, the court physician, who was also Christian's best friend and adviser. Caroline and Struensee not only share romantic love, but also a passion for political reform. Struensee uses his very influential position to institute radically progressive policies which eventually revolutionizes Denmark society.

Needless to say, this is the first time I have ever seen anything about Danish history, so I was enraptured -- not really about the affair, but more about the interesting stories of political machinations and social reformation told in this very fine film. The lavish costumes, elaborate set design and moody music were all perfectly attuned to the period depicted. The cinematography was very dramatic and well-polished.

The acting was top-notch from all three angles of the troika. Young Swedish actress Alicia Vikander was very classy and believable as Caroline. She reminded me of Emily Blunt's performance in "Young Victoria" the previous year. Famous Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen plays Dr. Johann Struensee with subtle passion. He does look a lot older than Caroline so the romantic chemistry seemed somehow strained, especially at the beginning. It does grow on you later though, as the more political aspect of their affair gains more screen time. As the cuckolded king Christian VII, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard delivers a finely nuanced performance as he struggled to balance his madness with some semblance of sanity.

I highly recommend this film for all film fans who love historical films. This is a rare look into a renaissance of sorts in Danish political history borne out of personal liaisons among the key characters in the reform movement. The story-telling style of director Nikolaj Arcel is tight and engaging. It will keep you interested up to the end, especially with the inspired performances of all his actors. 8/10.

2.  "Barbara" (Germany)

"Barbara" is about a lady doctor who was sent away from Berlin to practice in a small town. She was very aloof and suspicious of everyone in her new hospital, including her friendly colleague, Dr. Andre. She kept to herself most of the time, riding a bike to and from work.

Unknown to her co-workers, she is visited by some seedy characters, one of them a lady with gloves. She also does some mysterious side trips, burying money under rocks, and meeting a boyfriend for some secret romantic liaisons.

Having no background as to what this film was all about, the first of the film felt like a spy thriller, with intense suspense being built up. I was really waiting for something explosive to happen by the second half.

However, this whole film turned out to be a dramatic endeavor set during the 1980s when there was still a wall between East and West Germany. It was about the moral dilemma tearing Barbara up. On one side, she wants to defect and be with her boyfriend in the West. On the other hand, she is already getting used to her quiet countryside practice, especially getting attached to young troubled patients like Stella and Mario.

So at the end, there is still suspense, albeit a quiet kind, which is still well worth staying around for. However the slow pace of the film, all talk with lack of action, may not sit well with impatient audiences. 6/10.

3.  Frozen Silence (Spain)

Soldiers find a dead Spanish soldier frozen in the icy battlefield. Private Arturo Andrade astutely notices that the guy did not freeze to death, but was murdered in a ritualistic manner. Arturo was then assigned to lead the investigation, that led him a complicated maze of Nazism, Freemasonry and Russian Roulette.

The time period was very interesting. 1943, during World War II at a time when Spanish soldiers were fielded to serve in Nazi Germany. However, that piece of history turned out to be nothing more than an elaborate backdrop.

The start of this film was so beautifully shot and the development of the story in the first half of the film was so tense and well-done. 

However, when we get to the second half, I do not know what happened, but suspense that built up all and the patience you have invested in trying to get to the bottom of this mystery collapse like a failed soufflé and go to waste.  From something that started so big and epic, it fizzled and ended up with something very small. 4/10.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

ELYSIUM: Flawed Nobility

September 5, 2013

In the world of "Elysium" set in the year 2154, the ever-widening gap between rich and poor has reached its ultimate level. The rich are now floating above the earth in a utopia set-up in space. The poor remain to suffer on the squalid wasteland that remains on Earth.

Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is a laborer who was stricken with severe radiation illness in a work accident. His only chance to recover is via the healing facilities located up there in Elysium. Unfortunately, these are exclusive for the use of Elysium citizens. Max seeks help from renegade hacker Spider (Wagner Moura) to smuggle him across. Max was provided with an android- like exoskeleton (which gave him superhuman strength) and a cerebral link (to steal vital Elysium information in return). 

However, the powers-that-be represented by the fanatical Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) makes sure the impossible immigration laws are strictly enforced and their ideal floating space station remains pure. She has her psychopathic enforcer Kruger (a frequently unintelligible Sharlto Copley) on Earth to make sure no "undesirables" ever crosses over the line, and that includes Max. 

The social message is very clear in this film, criticizing the great financial divide and its tragic implications, especially with regards to access to quality health care. Director Neil Blomkamp previously tackled racial discrimination in his acclaimed previous film "District 9" which made it all the way to the Oscar Best Picture shortlist a few years back.

Despite the presence of bigger stars, "Elysium" is not exactly better than "District 9". While intentions of the story are obviously noble, the execution of this story was rather roughshod, as rough as the dizzying shaky camera technique employed (unnecessarily, I thought) in most parts of this film. 

The ever-reliable Matt Damon manages to remain believable as the flawed hero Max, even if the circumstances of his story became unbelievable. On the other hand, the usually cerebral Ms. Jodie Foster actually comes up with an over-the-top one-dimensional performance here, which did not fit her well. 

Being a science fiction film, we expect to be regaled with special effects, but here, the CGI was good, though we were shown nothing we have not seen before in some form or another. Of all the futuristic equipment shown, it was the powerful healing bed Med-Bay which was the most impressive. It was able to perform a total face reconstruction in minutes complete with nicely trimmed beard! This Med-Bay is so miraculous such that if it actually exists, the whole medical profession may not be needed anymore!

One really head-scratching moment was the "surgery" of the sick Max in the hands of rebels to receive sophisticated technical gadgets attached not only to his body (through his t-shirt, mind you) but also his brain. You really need to suspend your disbelief big time how that could have been done, given the crude conditions Max and his "neurosurgeons" were in. 

Overall, I would just rate this film a little above average. The ending scenario though was very good despite the rocky road the film took to get there. The initial premise was very promising, more could have been done with it. For instance, we don't see enough of what life on Elysium was really about. It was not a bad film, but just a bit disappointing given its potential. 6/10

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Top 10 Highest Grossing Films in US Box Office of Summer 2013

September 3, 2013

1. Iron Man 3 - $408.8M ($1.21 billion)

I thought this film was 70% Stark, only 30% Iron Man. I felt this film was too long and could be edited to tighten the suspense and streamline the storytelling more. Overall, "Iron Man 3" was just alright, but not really worth all the hype given it. Too much hype can disappoint you.  Temper your expectations. 6/10

My Complete Review:  CLICK HERE

2. Despicable Me 2 - $355.6M ($823.1M)

Definitely, this is one very funny and entertaining film for the whole family.  Fans of those naughty little yellow Minions will rejoice as they have practically half of the movie running time dedicated to them, and there are so many more of them here.  Fans of good 3D effects will really find this film so cool.  I just missed some of the heart that made the first installment more than special.  7/10

My Complete Review:  CLICK HERE

3. Man of Steel - $290.3M ($657.3M)

Overall, this is a very satisfying reboot of the Superman series by Zach Snyder. The technical aspects of the film were excellent, especially the rich cinematography, the fast-paced editing, as well as the visual and sound effects of the battle scenes. This film has a charm distinct enough form the Reeve version and will be a successful franchise of its own.  8/10

My Complete Review: CLICK HERE

4. Monsters University - $263.4M ($715.1M)

Overall, this is another solid animated feature by Pixar. Like other Pixar films, this was funny, with just the right amount of emotion and moral lesson in it. The movie is very entertaining for the whole family, but maybe more for the kids and the kids at heart.  I do hope Pixar can soon come up with another ground-breaking ORIGINAL story to bring back them back to their glory days. 6/10. 

My Complete Review:  CLICK HERE

5. Fast & Furious 6 - $238.6M ($787.4M)

Overall this is one very entertaining and exhilarating film, which I understood and appreciated well even if I have not seen any of the previous films. The top-notch explosive action sequences left nothing to be desired, really breath-taking. These heart-stopping car stunts are all admittedly impossible and maybe downright ridiculous, but that was why they were all so awesome to watch! 7/10.

My Complete Review:  CLICK HERE

6. Star Trek Into Darkness - $228.2M ($462.4M)

This is a very entertaining, very satisfying movie I'd heartily tell everyone to watch, Star Trek nerd or not. It covers all aspects of the Star Trek that makes it the long-lasting popular favorite that it is: the teamwork, the adventure, the action, the drama, and yes, the humor, all are still definitely there.  Highly highly recommended, 10/10!

My Complete Review:  CLICK HERE

7. World War Z - $200.2M ($532.2M)

Overall, I found this movie by Director Marc Foster, in itself, quite absorbing and intense, and ultimately quite entertaining and satisfying in terms of its action and story telling.  It had almost nothing to do with the book anyway, which is why the book's fans are up in arms against it. Those who have not read the book at all will have no problems with this film.  7/10

My Complete Review:  CLICK HERE

8. The Heat - $157.4M ($214.6M)

Overall, I enjoyed watching "The Heat". Seeing the strange-looking poster, I almost passed on it. But I'm such a Sandra Bullock fan, I couldn't resist to see her latest comedy film. This film is not perfect (there was a poorly-executed choking scene that choked) nor is it wholesome (the vulgar language went overboard), but simply a lot of fun to watch. The stars make this old idea work -- big time!  7/10

My Complete Review:  CLICK HERE

9. The Great Gatsby - $144.8M ($331M)

This film was very well made and deserves to be seen by all who love the book, or even fans of the 1974 film.  It is a vast improvement over the 1974 film. The use of flashbacks in this current version to show us more about the history of Gatsby as a boy and young man was really helpful to understand where he was coming from.  The symbolism of the green light and the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg cannot be ignored this time.   Highly recommended!  9/10

My Complete Review:  CLICK HERE

10. The Conjuring - $134.1M ($243.6M)

Overall, watching this film will really immerse you into the intense malevolence that terrorized the Perron family.  Many creepy images you see will stick with you for a long time.  All the hype was accurate this time. This IS one of the best horror films in recent years.  8/10

My Complete Review:  CLICK HERE