Friday, May 30, 2014

Review of THE QUIET ONES: Retro British Chic Horror

May 30, 2014

"The Quiet Ones" is supposedly based on a true story about Jane Harper, a girl with strange telepathic powers. Set in 1974 in Oxford, this film follows Professor Joseph Coupland and his team of young collaborators, who keep Jane locked up in an isolated house, seemingly to seek out a scientific explanation to phenomena. However, it does not take long when the horrific phenomena takes on the team members themselves.

Playing the fragile test subject Jane is pretty Olivia Cooke. She has that wide-eyed innocence in her face which contrasts with her persona when the evil Evie takes possession of her.

We met Sam Claflin last year when he was cast as Finnick in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." In contrast with that former breakthrough role, Claflin does not show much confidence here, playing the naive cameraman Brian. He sensitively tries to keep balance between his duties as an objective technician with his growing concern about Jane.

Prof. Coupland was played with conviction and authority by Jared Harris. He captures that questionable character of this primary senior investigator, whose sense of research ethics seems to be misplaced. His young scientific associates Krissi and Harry were played by Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne. Despite their fun-loving personalities, they play characters who were serious in their scientific intentions at first, until the supernatural events turn their passion into confusion.

The horror aspect of this film may not too scary for today's standards. However, the tension is really built up so well, it is riveting. Occasional jump scares were delivered by perfectly placed musical cues and sudden sound effects. This film is more about delivering the total creepy and menacing atmosphere, rather than the usual cheap thrills or gore. 

The main conceit of this classy horror film is its retro chic look of 70s England. The British actors all look so stylish, cool and attractive. The costumes, the attitude, the music were all captured on point for the period. For jaded horror film fans who want something different that looks and feels different, this may be for you. That this is the latest production of Hammer Films (of classic Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing horror films) may be another factor in its favor. 6/10.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review of MALEFICENT: Ironic Enchantment

May 29, 2014

"Maleficent" is about the evil horned witch who condemned Princess Aurora to a grim irrevocable curse on her 16th birthday in the Disney classic 1959 animated film "Sleeping Beauty." Like the recent "Snow White and the Huntsman", this re-imagined fairy tale goes beyond the beloved story we know. In this case, it tells us the reason behind Maleficent's malevolent hate for humanity that caused her to issue such a curse.

The popular trailer with all those quotable lines ("Well, well ..." or "Then you'll be afraid ...") does not spoil anything. There is still so much to see and be enthralled about as the story unfolds from Maleficent's childhood until that fateful day of Aurora's Christening. You will definitely understand what drove Maleficent deliver such a miserable curse.

But for me there was more ironic magic in what unfolds when Aurora was brought to live in the woods with the three small fairies. Even in the face of impending danger, the film manages to convey a sense of wonder and even awe. It does so without ever lapsing into over- sentimentality or being corny. For me, these scenes about Aurora's first sixteen years in the forest are a pure delight. 

That is, until we reach that part when the sleeping Aurora gets wakened from her eternal sleep by the kiss of true love. What was supposed to be THE climactic moment of the film turned out to be a most anti-climactic disappointment. This scene was just so familiar, very reminiscent of another climactic moment in another recent big Disney hit. 

Angelina Jolie looked like she was born for this role. Those exaggerated cheekbones actually suited her quite well. She captured the many layers of Maleficent's emotion and character in her big theatrical gestures, and more so in those small subtle facial or vocal inflections. I cannot imagine another actress other than Ms. Jolie in this role. That beautiful scene between Ms. Jolie and her real daughter Vivienne (as toddler Aurora) was divine beyond description.

Elle Fanning was a very pretty Aurora, with her disarming smile radiating her character's good nature and blithe spirit. Sam Riley also stood out as the human form of Maleficent's trusted crow, Diaval, with his wry sense of humor. 

Sharlto Copley looked woefully miscast as King Stefan since he did not particularly look or act kingly at any point. Brenton Thwaites, the awkward young actor they chose to play Prince Philip, did not particularly look or act princely as well.

The three actresses who played the three little "good" fairies led by Imelda Staunton were not bad. However for me, they were only occasionally funny as sometimes their comedy could get corny. That they did not stick to the dear Flora, Fauna and Merriweather we know is also rather disconcerting for me.

The land of enchantment in the mysterious Moors, with its fairies and other fanciful creatures, was created as a surprisingly delightful dream world by the film's computer animation artists. The special visual effects which transformed Diaval into his various animal forms (including fire-breathing dragon) were also topnotch. 

This film is best viewed with a blank slate, no expectations at all. The magic of this film is witnessing firsthand those unexpected twists and turns in the relationship between Maleficent and the other characters in the well- known tale. 

Up to the point before Aurora goes back to the palace, I was very fascinated with the storytelling such that my rating was 9, or even 10. However the weak and predictable climax significantly knocked a couple of stars off for me. But overall, it is still a magical film worth catching on the big screen. 7/10.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Review of WALK OF SHAME: Murphy's Law Delightfully At Work

May 24, 2014

"Walk of Shame" is about Meghan Miles, a woman who is about to get the biggest break of her career as a TV journalist.  However the night before, she just so happened to get dead drunk in a sleazy bar, had a wild romp with the bartender, and worst of all, got her car towed along together with her purse, ID and money. 

So left to her own defenses and the ridiculously eye-catching and tight yellow mini-dress she had on, Meghan had to bravely face the urban jungle head-on, with its jaded vice policemen, unpredictable crack heads, bratty kids and even religious fanatics, in her desperate efforts to make her way back to her TV station in time for her critical broadcast at 5 pm in front of executives from a big network. 

I know that summary did not sound so promising as written down in mere words.  However with the lovely and perky Elizabeth Banks playing Meghan, I unexpectedly had a very enjoyable time rooting for her to make it through her hellish misfortunes and ordeals.  We will feel her exasperation as she had to struggles to maintain her maintain her composure in all those awful tight spots her foolish decisions get her into.  

I confess I did not really know Elizabeth Banks, except as Effie Trinket in the "Hunger Games" films.  Of course, there she was buried in white make-up and huge fake hair.  I think this is the only film I have seen her as a lead star.  She really comes across as a sincere and real person, and she certainly charmed me to her side. She is game, daring, and hilarious, more than able to carry this whole film on her shoulders.

This film is for adults only with its generous profanity and preponderant references to drugs and sex. However, it's humor is not as offensive as they were in films like "The Hangover" or "Bridesmaids".  It ironically manages to actually be good-natured and delightful despite its negative topics. Furthermore, there is also that important lesson of not judging a book by its cover, how ever sexy and slutty. 

Overall, I personally found this film a very entertaining comedy of errors, a fun way to spend a lazy hour and a half. So if you do not mind a little raunchy humor, I dare say, so will you. 7/10.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: Starting All Over Again

May 23, 2014

Powerful Sentinels from Trask Industries were decimating all the mutants, leaving only a handful of the hardiest ones alive. Logan is sent back twenty years into the past during the inception of the Sentinel program, to stop this project before it destroys the mutant race any more.

Young Charles Xavier was up and about but without his powers. Young Eric was incarcerated in a subterranean cell within the Pentagon because on his implication in the JFK assassination. Young Raven/Mystique was intent to kill Trask himself before he kills more mutants. Logan must make them all see how their actions now will impact on the very existence of mutants on Earth in the future.

Because this is already the fifth X-Men film, we know each mutant individually and are invested in their collective mythology. This installment gives us further details into the past of each of the main mutants and we see how each one evolves into how we know them in the present time.

The visual effects are expectedly awesome. My favorite scene would be the sequence where Charles and Logan attempt to break Eric out if his prison with the help of the super-speed powers of Peter/Quicksilver. The stop-motion, sense of humor and the song "Time in a Bottle" in the background makes it very memorable. The other epic sequence was that when an entire sports arena was lifted from its foundations and used to corral the White House itself.

The actors we know and loved from all the previous films: Hugh Jackman (as Logan/Wolverine), Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy (as Charles Xavier, old and young), Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender (as Eric/Magneto, old and young), Jennifer Lawrence (as Raven/Mystique) -- all do excellently in their respective characters. Nicholas Hoult reprises his role as young Hank McCoy/Beast. There will be shorter and shocking appearances by Halle Berry and Anna Paquin as Storm and Rogue, respectively. Towards the end, there will be surprising cameos by Mutants who had taken already their leave in previous episodes

For the new cast members, Evan Peters shines in his outstanding performance as Quicksilver, a character who was both quick in action and in wit. Ellen Page appears as Kitty Pryde, whose power made it possible for Logan to travel back in time. Newly-featured mutants Bishop (Omar Sy) and Blink (Bingbing Fan) get prominent action sequences in the climactic battle sequence.

I thought it was an inspired idea to cast Peter Dinklage as the genius scientist Trask. He brings his "Games of Thrones" acting intensity into this film in this dark character. It was also interesting to see how Stryker got his sinister character into the X-Men canons. Josh Helman portrays him with the necessary antagonistic  swagger.

As with the other Marvel films, do wait up for a breathtaking short extra clip of a robed figure in and the Pyramids. This bonus scene teasing about "X-Men: Apocalypse" (2016) is seen only after all the credits roll up. 

This film had so many characters (even former US President Nixon plays a key part) and so many events shuttling from present to past and back. Despite all the potential plot holes a time-travel storyline can present, Director Bryan Singer still manages to tell his story in one cohesive whole. This is yet another excellent proof that the X-Men film franchise is indeed the best among the Marvel collection. 9/10.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Review of GODZILLA (2014): An Atomic Blast!

May 16, 2014

I know about Godzilla, but I am not by any means a die-hard fan of this Japanese nuclear monster. I did not even get to watch the much-maligned 1998 Hollywood Godzilla film with Matthew Broderick. But definitely the pulse-pounding and very intriguing trailer made really want to catch this present-day homage to the classic film monster.

From vintage-style scenes showing nuclear experiments in the 1950s, the story jumps to 1999 in the Philippines, where a big earthquake unearths evidence of a giant fossilized monster. Following this, another massive but unnatural tremor occurs in Japan causing the destruction of a nuclear facility where Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife and destroying the once good life he lived.

The story jumps 15 years to the future when Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) returns home after years his military service. An emergency call brings him back to Tokyo to help his dad who seemed to have never moved on since the tragedy of 1999. Unusual seismic activity similar to 1999 are happening again, but this time it unleashes three destructive monsters, two huge flying mantis-like creatures, and one gigantic dinosaur-like beast, whom they called Godzilla. They wreak havoc not only in Japan, but across the globe, reaching a climactic battle-royale in San Francisco.

Bryan Cranston is really a very sensitive actor. I know him because of his award-winning performances on the TV show "Breaking Bad", though I have not really watched that show beyond the first episode. He is the true human heart of this film. 

Aaron Taylor-Johnson has really evolved from the nerdy pseudo-hero Kick- Ass to how he looks in this film. I did not recognize him. Oddly, he feels generic here, little star presence, giving a serviceable but ultimately forgettable lead performance. 

Ken Watanabe is really the go-to Japanese lead actor. In this film he plays the Japanese scientist who was studying these monsters. Mr. Watanabe was very good in conveying distress with his intense face. However, I felt he sounded very garbled when he talked. His performance lost a lot of dramatic impact because of his unclear pronunciation of words.

The female characters were token at best.  They under-used Oscar-caliber actresses Juliet Binoche and Sally Hawkins in very short roles.  Ford's wife Elle was played by Avenger-to-be Elizabeth Olsen.  

Technically, the sound was so massively outstanding. It reverberated through the whole theater causing us to shake. The computer-generated visual effects were similarly top-notch, especially the monsters and the destruction they were causing. We watched this in 3D. For me while the depth was nice to see, did not really add much to the enjoyment of the film. The film had a rather dark and muddy color palette, I believe the 3D may have made it even more murky-looking.

I felt the build up to the last hour when Godzilla was finally being revealed was very slow. It was only Bryan Cranston's presence that kept these scenes from being boring. The story-telling felt turgid, and repetitive. However in the final hour, whenever the titular character Godzilla was on screen, up to his very last scene, it was truly awesome indeed. The final battle in San Francisco was epic and emotional, the best parts of the film as a whole.  That moment in particular when Godzilla first unleashes his nuclear laser-like breath is truly unforgettable. 

Director Gareth Edwards, in his desire to remain faithful to the story's Japanese roots, took a very slow burn approach indeed to tell the story. But hang on, and the film culminates in one glorious explosion of action and heart toward the end. 7/10.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review of LAST VEGAS: Geriatric Hangover

May 8, 2014

"Last Vegas" is about four close childhood friends who call themselves the Flatbush Four: Billy, Paddy, Archie and Sam.  They are now living their own lives in different parts of the US. Sam (Kevin Kline) is in Florida, wallowing in a boring marriage. Archie (Morgan Freeman) is confined by his son in his New Jersey house because he recently survived a stroke. Paddy (Robert De Niro) remains in Brooklyn, and could not stop mourning the death of his dear wife.  
When 70 year-old Malibu bachelor Billy (Michael Douglas) decides finally to tie the knot with Lisa, his 30 year-old girlfriend, the four pals get together for his bachelor's party in Vegas. As the raucous Vegas party atmosphere makes for a randy reunion, the virtues of genuine friendship and even true love still manage to rule their memorable weekend getaway.

Kevin Kline was very delightful here.  His character Sam was the one looking forward to youthful female diversion, so he gets into the raunchiest situations. Morgan Freeman manages to inject quiet dignity into a role that required him to do a prolonged daddy-dancing scene.  This could have been merely played for shallow laughs by a lesser actor.  These two fun characters manage to steal the film from the two main characters.

Robert de Niro seems to always be shoehorned into these grumpy old curmudgeonly characters nowadays. Paddy had the most interesting story of the four friends, but de Niro played him like his typical characters of late, with the same acting tics. It became rather familiarly uninteresting. Fortunately, his brilliance as an actor did shine through toward the end.  

Michael Douglas plays Billy so naturally, like the aging Lothario he really is in real life. Despite being the central character and the main reason they are in Vegas in the first place, oddly, he seems to be upstaged by his other co-actors.  I would have to commend him on having the guts to ride that extreme ride on the rooftop of a skyscraper, which you simply have to see to believe.

Of the supporting cast, I would have to tip my hat to Mary Steenburgen, who played dear Diana Boyle, an aging lounge singer in a second-rate Vegas casino.  Despite being 61, she can really brighten up the screen with her radiant beauty and sweet charisma, even with all the young hot models strutting their stuff behind her.  Lest it be forgotten, like Douglas, de Niro, Freeman and Kline, Steenburgen is also an Oscar winner for acting (Melvin and Howard, 1980).

With Las Vegas and a wedding in the synopsis, I thought this would only be a rehash of another hit buddy film "The Hangover," only with senior citizen actors.  It really started that way, with a lot of Vegas decadence going on, with wild swimsuit contests and nightclubs. There were even hilarious cameos by Redfoo (of LMFAO) and 50 Cent. However, as the story developed, we learn more about the relationship of the four friends. We eventually identify with their situations, and appreciate the good heart and intentions of this film.  I actually enjoyed this film very much.  7/10.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

My Reviews on and Social Media

May 1, 2014

When my review of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (Full Review) was published on last April 27, that marked the 100th time a blog article of mine was picked up by the media giant in its online platform. is one of the biggest online local news websites, if not the biggest.  

I still remember when Mr. Vladimir Bunoan, Deputy Head for Lifestyle, Entertainment and Sports for ABS-CBN News Online, wrote me to ask if it was okay that they pick up my movie review articles to be posted on their website.  Of course, I said yes. Who wouldn't want that rare opportunity to have your writing be read by more people the world over? 

My very first review came out June 6, 2013, a largely negative assessment of the Will and Jaden Smith disaster called "After Earth" (Full Review).  I never dreamed that I could reach the 100-mark in less than a year's time.  

Most of my published reviews are for movies, including two review compilations (Best of 2013 and Oscar Best Picture nominees).  

There were also five concert reviews picked up: Pet Shop Boys (Full Review) , Tony Bennett (Full Review) , Rihanna (Full Review) , DYHTPS (Full Review)  and Lionel Richie (Full Review).

Unexpectedly, I also had two theater reviews chosen:  "Alice in Wonderland" (Full Review) and "Games People Play" (Full Review).  

I have no access to the statistics on actual page visits my reviews get on I only have the stats of social media shares such as Twitter and Facebook to gauge which are the most popular of the reviews that had my byline on them.  When I was compiling them, I was actually surprised at some of the titles that got shared most.

Here are my Top 10 most tweeted articles on TWITTER:

10.  Badil (Full Review)

9.  47 Ronin (Full Review)

8.  World War Z (Full Review)

7.  Hours (Full Review)

6.  That Awkward Moment (Full Review)

5.  Divergent (Full Review)

4.  Gravity (Full Review)

3.  10,000 Hours (Full Review)

2.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Full Review)



Here are my Top 10 most recommended articles on FACEBOOK:

10.  Lone Survivor (Full Review)

9.  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 

8.  Police Story 3 (Full Review)

7.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier 

6.  Homefront (Full Review)

5.  300: Rise of an Empire (Full Review)

4.  Heaven is for Real (Full Review)

3.  Non-Stop (Full Review)

2.  10,000 Hours

1.  SON OF GOD (Full Review)


I guess when it is a big blockbuster movie, people will want to read about it, as it was for "Hunger Games" and "Captain America".   The timing when the article comes out is also another key.  Proof of this is the popularity of "Son of God" and "Heaven is for Real" during the Lenten season.  "Hours" was released within the week that Paul Walker just passed away. The "10,000 Hours" review came out right on the day after it won Best Picture at the Metro Manila Filmfest. I also note that action movies are really audience favorites, not really Oscar films or local indie films.

Actually, as I am writing this summary article, my latest review for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (Full Review) had already been posted on before lunchtime today.  In three hours, the number of tweets and FB recommends are already within striking distance of the above lists.  That is what happens when a review of a blockbuster film is published at just the right time (today is a holiday so more people can watch it).  If the link was posted on the ABS-CBNNews Facebook page at just the right time during the day, it is also a great help to boost readership of the article.

Review of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2: Electrifying and Stunning

April 30, 2014

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is a very long movie, lasting for two hours and a half.  But as you go out of the theater, you will only remember and talk about one thing -- its most chillingly unexpected climax.  But that is getting ahead of me.

In this sequel of the Mark Webb reboot of Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield as the web-slinger, we follow the story of Peter and Gwen (Emma Stone) as they graduate from high school but their relationship gets complicated because Peter's sideline as Spider-Man.  Meanwhile, a nerdy engineer in Oscorp, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) accidentally falls into a tank of mutant electric eels gaining him super electrifying powers, later terrorizing the city as glowing blue Electro.

Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) returns to take over Oscorp when his father died, and reconnects with his old friend Peter. But as he desperately seeks out a cure for a deadly familial disease he has inherited from his father, he winds up as the Green Goblin. The two have a big battle in a clock tower, the conclusion of which can stun you enough to forget everything else that happened before it.

The action parts were topnotch with all the wondrous computer-generated special effects from Spider-Man's fancy web-swinging skills to Electro's dazzling pyrotechnics which take up most of the film.  DeHaan's appearance as the Green Goblin was rushed, and saw action just in that single short climactic fight sequence towards the end.  This Green Goblin definitely looked more sinister than Willem Defoe's Goblin in the first Tobey Maguire film. Paul Giamatti's turn as the mechanized Rhino was only a glorified cameo at best in the epilogue.

Overall though, I felt that while this was a very good film, it just tried to tell a lot of stories, getting carried away with too many ongoing story lines.  The whole angle about Peter's dad Richard took a lot of screen time. While undoubtedly of great dramatic importance, I felt this particular story line was handled in an over-complicated manner, unnecessarily making the film feel too long and over-stuffed.  

Ultimately though, this film was buoyed up by the wonderful central performances of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, which sets it apart as more than just a mere CG-effects-superhero extravaganza.  These romantic parts of the film really work out very well, thanks to the excellent screen chemistry between Garfield and Stone.  They had so many zippy and delightful one-liners between them that was fun to watch. Their effective portrayals of the two lovers gave this film a lot of its depth and heart. 7/10.