Sunday, December 25, 2016

Trailer Mini-Reviews: The 42nd Metro Manila Film Festival Entries

December 25, 2016


(photo credit: @mmffofficial IG account)


Today, December 25, 2016, is not only Christmas Day, but it is also the first day of the much-anticipated "rebirth" of the Metro Manila Film Festival, now on its 42nd year. For the first time in so many years, there are no big commercial mainstream movies chosen to participate in it. 

Previous sure shots, like Vic Sotto's "Enteng Kabisote" franchise, Regal Films' "Mano Po" franchise, blockbuster Vice Ganda films, are all out of contention this year. Instead, the committee had chosen eight films in competition with smaller budgets and casts of lesser box-office clout, with more daring themes and independent ideals.

I was very excited when the announcement came out. However, because of prior travel plans, so I won't be able to catch any one of them until I come back to town in January. The film adjudged Best Picture would be my first priority upon coming home from my trip.

Anyhow, below is the list of my initial rankings of the eight participating films based solely on their trailers. I just noted that the Cinema Evaluation Board gave five of them a rating of A, and these were for the last five films on my list! Thou certainly should not judge films based on trailers alone. 

Go watch all the films you can. The success of the festival this year is crucial. These brave selections of quality over commercialism may never happen again if the movie going public will not support these choices. 


8. Sunday Beauty Queen (Baby Ruth Villarama)



There are no known actors in this documentary about OFW domestic helpers in Hongkong preparing for Miss Philippines Tourism Hong Kong. This must be the hardest to sell among all of these entries. However, I am giving this the benefit of the doubt, since the buzz from the entertainment press online is very very positive. 


7. Vince & Kath & James (Ted Boborol)



I am not really into teen rom-coms, particularly those adapted from an online series turned book. The trailer shows Guy 1 being the bridge for Guy2 to get the girl, whom Guy 1 also digs himself. The plot is as old as "Cyrano de Bergerac", only this time they use text messaging to woo the girl, instead of poetry. 


6. Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2 (Marlon Rivera)



This film is the only known quantity in this festival.  A hilarious satire about local movie industry, the first "Babae" was one of those rare indie films which eventually became a mainstream hit as well. Eugene Domingo is back playing the brutally frank, "feeling entitled" star actress Romina. Being known may work for it (people know it is going to be fun), or against it (less curiosity factor than others).


5. Saving Sally (Avid Liongoren) 



An aspiring comic book artist Marty attempts to save the woman he loves from her less than ideal life. The trailer suggests that the main language of this film is English, and that is quite pleasantly surprising. There are some pretty nifty animated scenes and effects, which was probably responsible for the 10 years that went into the making of this film. Rhian Ramos looks lovely and cool in the titular role of Sally.


4. Die Beautiful (Jun Lana)



A transgender woman has a dying wish is to be presented as a different celebrity on each night of her wake. The subject matter may not exactly be my cup of tea. My interest to watch this film is largely to see what made Paolo Ballesteros win Best Actor in the Tokyo International Film Festival. I think his winning all-out performance is quite obvious in this trailer alone. 


3. Oro (Alvin Yapan)




A mining community faces crisis when an armed group attempts to shut down their operations. It should be interesting to peek into the lifestyle of a community of rural gold miners. Irma Adlawan obviously gives a passionate performance as the community's dedicated leader and defender. 


2. Kabisera (Arturo San Agustin and Real Florido)

 


A mother fights back to keep her family together after a series of crises. Of course Nora Aunor is the lead star, and that is enough encouragement for me to watch this film. The trailer does not reveal too much about the central conflict, and that is good. Aunor and Ricky Davao do not really look believable like a married couple in this trailer, but watching the rest of the film may disprove that minor quibble.


1. Seklusyon (Erik Matti)



Back in the 1940s, it was a practice to send deacons to a holy fortress seven days before they become ordained as priests, in order to keep the devil away from them. The quality of the cinematography and production design of this film looks head and shoulders above the rest. Those horror special effects look really creepy, with that accompanying music. Child actress Rhed Bustamante looks like she gave a sublimely intriguing performance as the miracle healer Anghela Sta. Ana. 


Saturday, December 24, 2016

My Yearend Roundup: The TOP 25 BEST MOVIES of 2016 That I Have Seen

December 21, 2016

This December 2016 I have actually reached 10 years of writing about films I have seen and sharing with you my opinions. Thank you for your continued support for this writing avocation of mine, which had since then branched out to reviewing theater, concerts, events (LINK) and travel (LINK). I have also started transferring my older pre-2011 reviews into a separate Archives blog (LINK) for you to check out. 

According to my record, I had written 131 movie reviews this year (up from 127 last year). Sadly, only 26 of these are Filipino films (from 25 last year), the rest are foreign films. I missed a lot of local indie films from filmfests. I will not be able to watch any Metro Manila Film Festival entries until January again because of prior travel plans, so I will be releasing this list earlier than usual.

My movie reviews are still being picked up and posted on ABS-CBNNews.com. As of this writing, a total of 411 (up 110 from last year's total of 301) of my reviews have made it on the pages of one of the most popular news website and FB site, both locally and internationally.

For this list, I had not included the 10 reviews (7 foreign, 3 local) written about films which had been released in 2015 or earlier, but I had only seen in 2016. These were mostly the Oscar nominated films released in the US in December 2015, but only hit local theaters in 2016. The three local films were MMFF 2015 entries I only got to watch in January 2016.

Potential Oscar-winning films of this year which will only be shown locally next year are also not included here, like "La La Land," "Manchester by the Sea," "Moonlight," "Jackie," "Fences", "Hacksaw Ridge", etc...


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

25 Ouija: Origin of Evil (MY REVIEW)
24 Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (MY REVIEW)
23 Allied (MY REVIEW)
22 Jason Bourne (MY REVIEW)
21 Florence Foster Jenkins (MY REVIEW)

20 Pamilia Ordinario (MY REVIEW)
19 The Salesman (MY REVIEW)
18 The Jungle Book (2016) (MY REVIEW)
17 X-Men Apocalypse (MY REVIEW)
16 Zootopia (MY REVIEW)

15 Rogue One (MY REVIEW)
14 Ignacio de Loyola (MY REVIEW)
13 Finding Dory  (MY REVIEW)
12 Miss Saigon 25th Anniversary Performance (MY REVIEW)
11. Ip Man 3 (MY REVIEW)

Counting down the 10 best films I have seen this year:



10. ANG BABAENG HUMAYO 
(My Review)

The titular woman is Horacia Somorostro, a former school teacher who had been incarcerated for a crime of murder she never committed. After she was released after serving 30 long years, Horacia decided to track down and claim revenge on Rodrigo Trinidad, a spurned former suitor whose hatred made him frame her for the crime all those years ago. In the process, Horacia relocated herself to Mindoro and reinvented herself as a virtuous church-going owner of a roadside eatery by day, and a tough-talking, street-smart tomboy by night. 

This was a more accessible Lav Diaz work being just under four hours. It had a clear-cut and concrete story line about social injustice, the initial premise of which was inspired by Leo Tolstoi's short story entitled "God Sees the Truth But Waits". Audiences are all challenged to think, interpret and analyze why he had to include that scene or why he showed it that way. This story could have been done as an outright revenge thriller, but in Lav Diaz's hands it became film art.



9. DON'T BREATHE 
(My Review)

Three petty thieves break into the house of an old blind war veteran who just gained a hefty amount of money from a court settlement. Since this house was in an abandoned neighborhood, they thought this victim would be an easy pushover for a big-payoff caper. However, little did they know that when the blind man found out he was being robbed, the tables would majorly turn against the thieves in sick deadly ways they never would have imagined in their wildest nightmares. 

It can be frustrating to watch a film where all the characters are flawed or downright bad and you do not know whom to root for. This is one of those films, but the way the director Alvarez executed it, it actually made the whole situation of the film better. It was such a breathless experience up to the multiple climaxes Alvarez gave us. You never know when or how it was going to end, and you don't want it to. Save for a sticky question about the main twist (which you may only think about as an afterthought), the plot developments were generally well-thought out and logical. Those jump scares can really startle you out of your seat. This is how suspense should be done. 



8. KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS 
(My Review)

To keep him safe from evil spirits, Kubo's mother Sariatu brought him up in a cave and warned him never to be caught outdoors when night falls. One day, Kubo missed his curfew, and the evil spirits came to get him. As per his mother's instructions, Kubo embarks on a quest to recover his father's armor -- sword, breastplate and helmet. He would need this armor to overcome the evil plans of his own grandfather, the Moon King. He had two constantly quarreling  traveling companions along on his quest -- a Snow Monkey and an armored Beetle -- both of whom have magic of their own.

With its deeply eloquent script (by Mark Haimes and Chris Butler) and amazingly seamless stop-motion animation -- its inventive Japanese-inspired imagery, vivid color palette, various realistic textures, and wondrous action-packed visual effects -- "Kubo and the Two Strings" (by director Travis Knight) might just be the one which will finally win them and the Laika company Oscar's best animated feature prize. 



7. THE AGE OF SHADOWS 
(My Review)

It was the 1920s, during the Japanese occupation of Korea. A Korean policeman named Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho) led the enemy drive against his own countrymen resisting Japanese rule. The leader of the resistance, Che-san (Lee Byung-hun) and his comrade Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo), whose antique shop was used to smuggle explosives from Shanghai into Seoul, tried reverse psychology to persuade Lee to help their cause instead. 

Kim Jee-wun's direction of "The Age of Shadows" was confident and assured. The cinematography was slick and glossy, as the period production design and costumes were impressive, though I thought it did go overboard with the graphic gruesome violence of torture (director's horror background resurfacing). This suspenseful historical episode was told clearly and engagingly in its 140 minutes running time, despite its multiple characters, shuttling languages (color-coded subtitles) and varied locations.



6. TROLLS 
(My Review)

It had already been twenty years since the singing, dancing and hugging little Trolls have escaped from the Bergens, ugly giant creatures who believed that the only way to feel happy is to eat a Troll. In a celebratory mood, fuchsia-haired Troll princess Poppy cooks up a grand party with loud music and bright lights that lit up the night sky. However, the banished Bergen Chef saw their merriment and crashed their party, taking with her a number of Trolls to feed her King Gristle Jr. Guilty, Poppy enlists the help of the gray, glum and ever paranoid Troll named Branch to help her rescue their friends.

This is such a rare movie that really made me so overwhelmingly happy while watching it. I was smiling and laughing out loud from the first scene to the last (there is even an extra scene midway through the closing credits). Everything about this animated feature was done so right. It washed over me with such optimism overload and I loved how it felt. 



5. ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN
(My Review)

The year is 1993, in a place called Marag Valley, where there was a civil war between soldiers and militant rebels. Nardo and wife Emma are among those forcefully uprooted from their homes and brought to live in another place by the military. However, they eventually met and made friends with a genial soldier named Joel. One night marked by a lunar eclipse, Joel visited Nardo and Emma. They start by playing card games. As the night progressed, the visit eventually progresses to comparing notes and surprise revelations, leading to philosophical discussions about the armed conflict, charismatic leaders, their friendship and sex. 

Writer-director Jun Robles Lana reaches an artistic peak with "Anino." The three play poker in the first act, foreshadowing the element of cunning and strategy which will be expertly unfolded in the course of the film. The notorious 15-minute sex scene may seem gratuitous, yet it was also symbolically necessary on hindsight. Despite the uncommercial look and language, the audience will definitely be riveted into this tale of charades and conspiracy within this triumvirate of flawed and duplicitous characters. 



4. DEADPOOL
(My Review)

Deadpool is Wade Wilson, a invincible mutant superhero who can heal himself of most injuries. He has a quick wit, a sarcastic sense of humor and a rapid-fire foul mouth. Behind his red mask is , a professional urban mercenary stricken with Stage 4 cancer. He was recruited to undergo a radical treatment regimen to treat his cancer. Little did he know that the regimen involved extreme torture under the hands of the ruthless insensate Ajax. While this did give him superhuman abilities, the process disfigured his face and skin.

Vulgar as it may be, this film will be a guilty pleasure for most. The humor was vibrant and wicked, never falling flat. I enjoyed myself the whole time laughing at all those little jokes of all colors in practically every scene. The breakneck action scenes were literally breathtaking. There were just the right number of tender scenes and cheesy love songs to temper the testosterone overload."Deadpool" is definitely fun adult entertainment at its rip-roaring best. 



3. DOCTOR STRANGE 
(My Review)

Dr. Stephen Strange is a first-rate neurosurgeon full of himself and his skills. One day an fateful accident stole these abilities from him. Conventional medical procedures and techniques could not restore him back to normal. From Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic who mysteriously regained his ability to walk, Strange learned about and sought out the secret shrine of Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, Nepal. There, an ancient bald female Master known as the Ancient One trained Strange to open his mind to the infinite possibilities of alternate multiverses and harness their limitless energy and power. 

Its mystical and spiritual backbone made this a complex and very talkative film. For us who do not know the comics, we never really comprehend everything they were talking about in the first go. The actors were just so engaging in their performances such that this made all the philosophical mumbo-jumbo somehow make full sense. I think a second watching could make the convoluted script more fully understood. However, because of its Oscar-caliber British cast and dizzying array of CGI visuals, this film was always engaging and entertaining, successfully setting up a franchise for a new superhero.



2. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
(My Review)

Because of the rising number of human collateral damage when superheroes fight (particularly in Sokovia as we saw in the last Avengers movie), the United Nations had drafted a so-called Sokovia Accord to monitor and regulate superhuman activities. While a guilt-ridden Tony Stark (Iron Man) agreed with this issue of an oversight committee to assure accountability, Steve Rogers (Captain America) did not, as he wanted the Avengers to remain free of interference when and where they decide to render their super services. The rest of the Avengers pick their sides, eventually resulting in the monumental faceoff which the title promises.

Despite Cap's name in the title, it did not really feel like a Captain America film because Iron Man almost shared equal screen time. In fact all of the other heroes were featured significantly in their own smaller way, having their own big moments. It was really a wonder how directors Anthony and Joe Russo managed to squeeze everyone in yet not leaving anyone feeling underused.  With "Civil War," Marvel holds its ground convincingly and stays on top of the superhero film game. 


AND MY #1 MOVIE OF 2016 IS....



1. TRAIN TO BUSAN 
(My Review)

The central character is Seok-woo, a man stressed out with problems about his investments business and his divorce.  His 9-year old daughter Su-an, feeling neglected on her birthday, requests her father to bring her to Busan the next day to see her estranged mother. Seok-woo could not say no. On the same train to Busan however, a lady passenger with a bite wound on her legs, collapses and turns into a zombie. As she bites another person, that next person would also turn into a zombie and so on. Panic ensues on the train, and as everyone eventually discover along the way that the same zombie frenzy was true for the rest of the country. The fight for survival is now on.


This film was one exhilarating roller-coaster ride from beginning to end. The zombies and their attack scenes were very well-executed with a combination of practical and computer-generated effects. These monsters were very fast-moving and relentless in their quest for human flesh. We hear people around us gasp and shriek with shock as we see these zombies pile up in droves and hordes, crash out of windows and barrel through doors. We breathlessly hang on to the edge of our seats the whole ride.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review of ROGUE ONE: Harboring Hope

December 17, 2016




It is undeniable that anything Star Wars is pervasive in pop culture since this franchise exploded into the scene back in 1977. Even if I cannot consider myself a Star Wars fanatic, I did watch the original trilogy (twice!), the prequel trilogy and, just last year, the first episode of the sequel trilogy.  Now here comes another spin-off of the original trilogy entitled "Rogue One". I did not know what it was going to be about exactly with all those new characters we see in its trailers, but the hype about this film is simply too difficult to resist.

Jyn Erso was released from captivity by the Rebel Alliance to track down her father Galen, the scientist the Imperial Military captured and coerced to work on their ultimate weapon, the Death Star. Based on information she learned in the course of fulfilling her mission, Jyn, along with rebel officer Cassian Andor and his droid K-2SO, as well as blind warrior Chirrut Imwe, mercenary Baze Malbus and pilot Bodhi Rook, were all forced to go rogue in order to steal the plans of the Death Star from the Imperial Databank on the planet Scarif. 

I did not recognize Felicity Jones right away the rough and boyish way she looked here as Jyn. This is already her third big film this year following "Inferno" and "A Monster Calls," each role vastly different from the others. Diego Luna (as Cassian Andor) had certainly grown up a lot since "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and I'd call this film his biggest Hollywood break since that 2001 film. 

I was very excited to see that my favorite martial arts star Donnie Yen had a significant role in this film as Chirrut Imwe, a blind fighter who had a strong faith in the Force. Another veteran Chinese actor, Jiang Wen, finally gets his first break in Hollywood in a standout supporting role as Baze Malbus. Riz Ahmed (as pilot Bodhi Rook) first caught mainstream attention in 2014 for his supporting performance in the film "Nightcrawler" as Jake Gyllenhaal's cameraman

Special mention would have to go to Alan Tudyk who provided the voice for the reprogrammed droid K2SO. He is like the C3PO of this film, being smart-alecky but ultimately delightful with his witty zingers. His caustic yet likable "personality" made his unselfish heroism very moving despite being just a mechanical droid. 

Honestly, I did not know what was exactly was going on in the first thirty minutes of the film with the puzzling characters played by Forest Whitaker and Ben Mendelsohn, but as the action picked up, so did my understanding and appreciation for the story. When I saw familiar machines like the All-Terrain Armored Transports and the X-Wing Starfighters and familiar faces like Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly) and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), the connections with the Star Wars saga films became evident. When I heard about the plans to steal and secure the Death Star plans, I immediately saw how the story of this film was actually the direct prequel of "A New Hope".


It was exciting to see the cameos of Grand Morph Tarkin (the late Peter Cushing resurrected in CGI form) and of course, Darth Vader (with the voice of James Earl Jones intact, mouthing quotable quotes like "Be careful not to choke on your aspirations."). Cameos of a couple more beloved Star Wars characters will come our way towards the end, but I think I will just leave those two as pleasant surprises for you to enjoy when you watch this. The very last guest cameo (also a product of CGI) in particular will clearly dovetail right into the story of the first Star Wars film, which was a big thrilling and cheer-inducing moment indeed. We become one with the Force, and the Force is with us. 8/10. 


Friday, December 16, 2016

Review of MANO PO 7: CHINOY: Fil-Chi Family Focus

December 15, 2016




"Mano Po" is a series of films produced by Regal Films that was dedicated to telling stories about Filipino-Chinese (or Chinoy) community. I had seen that first one in 2002 that starred Maricel Soriano and Kris Aquino as sisters. That one swept the Metro Manila Filmfest awards that year, if I am not mistaken. I had seen some of these sequels, but the following films did not really match the critical and box office success of the first one. 

Prior to this one, the "Mano Po 6" starring Sharon Cuneta was shown back in 2009.  It is Regal Films 50th Anniversary this year, so the Monteverdes wanted this latest episode to be their entry in the Metro Manila Filmfest, like the others before it. However, due to changes in judging parameters, this one (directed by Ian Lorenos and written by Senedy Que) did not make it to the Magic 8. Regal decided to release it a week before the festival instead. I'm not sure why they subtitled this one "Chinoy", when all the films in the series were already about Chinoys. 

I wanted to watch this film because for once a real Chinoy actor is in the lead, Richard Yap. I thought this would certainly up the authenticity of the film, which did not always do well previously due to casting of talented but obviously non-Chinoy actors, like Vilma Santos. Sharon Cuneta, Zsazsa Padilla, or Angel Locsin as leads. As a result, the Fookienese Chinese dialog, one of the unique features of this series, sounded stilted and awkward. 

The Wongs have been married for 25 years. Wilson (Richard Yap) has been too engrossed with his upscale real estate business, and his wife Deborah (Jean Garcia) feels she is being ignored. The eldest child, and only boy, Wilson Jr. (Enchong Dee) is their black sheep, a bum and drug addict who frequently brought shame to the family. Their daughter Carol (Janella Salvador) is a music student majoring in cello at the university, but really wanted to take up voice instead. The subplots about Wilson's wife and children unfortunately felt generic and contrived, and not uniquely Chinoy. These issues have been tackled in many other local films before.

Richard Yap gets to speak not only Fookienese here, but also Mandarin. Even if the character he is playing is the stereotype cold Chinese businessman, I feel this is the best performance I have seen him in, thanks to his connection with the language of the script. I usually see him as stiff and uncomfortable in his TV roles. But here, his scenes with his Chinese co-stars playing his mother and his auntie were all on point.  

Garcia, Dee and Salvador do well, but are limited by the way their characters were written. They all had dramatic highlights which they performed well, as we have seen them play on TV. I felt it was a waste how Dee was not made to deliver lines in Fookienese as well. I think this would have made their father and son confrontation scenes better.  I guess this is also to show how the younger generation is losing touch with their Chinese heritage, even in strictly traditional households. The role of the youngest daughter Catherine (played by a miscast Jana Agoncillo) did not seem necessary at all.

The roles played by Jake Cuenca (as Deborah's customer Marco) and Kean Cipriano (as Carol's music teacher Mr. Denver Vera) were obvious from their first scenes, as with Marlo Mortel (as Carol's classmate Henry). We have seen them play these characters on TV before. Jessy Mendiola felt totally wrong in her role as Jocelyn Lee, a girl Wilson Jr. met in the drug rehab facility. Her sexy scenes with Dee were out of place in the film. Eric Quizon though connected very well with his role of Wilson's estranged older brother Jason.

For me the best performer in the whole film was the incandescent Rebecca Chuaunsu who played Wilson's mother Erlinda. I do not think I had seen her act before on TV or other films, but her screen presence here was simply so radiant, outshining her other more famous co-actors. I recognize several strong Chinoy senior ladies I know and love in her effective and moving portrayal of her dignified character and in her delivery of those lines brimming with wisdom. She never became over-melodramatic, which was refreshing.

Those flashback scenes in sepia still resonate with nostalgic effect, as they did in previous "Mano Po" films. With the number of film in the series, there are already repetitions with regards to the Chinoy customs shown, like the engagement ceremony. Those scenes of the family visiting the elaborate Buddha Memorial Center in Kaoshiung, Taiwan felt like a travelogue only with no distinct dramatic purpose in the storytelling.  

Overall though, I still liked this film basically on the strength of those beautifully-scripted scenes involving Wilson and his mother Erlinda. These scenes were written in the Fookienese language, and for the first time in "Mano Po" history, we hear the lines in the dialect authentically delivered by the actors. The emotional impact of these scenes are very strong and touching. These scenes elevated this movie and gave it a special flavor. 6/10.



UPDATE:  February 7, 2017

Translated into Chinese (care of Mr. Kevin Lee) and published in local Chinese newspapers today in time for the return engagement of this film in cinemas tomorrow due to insistent public demand:

"吻手系列電影是在講述有關菲律賓華人 (或稱菲華人社會中的故事。我第一次看這系列的電影是在2002年,那時的演員是Maricel SorianoKris Aquino,她們在電影中飾演姐妹的角色。如果我沒記錯,那部電影當時榮獲了馬尼拉電影節的眾多獎項。之後我也有再看那部電影的續集,不過續集並沒有像首集如此的成功及精彩。

上一集"吻手6"主演是Sharon Cuneta,上映日期為2009年。今年是帝王娛樂電影的50周年慶,因此Monteverdes製片人想以這部最新的續集電影進入馬尼拉電影節,就像之前幾集一樣。但是因為電影審核規定有更改,這部電影 (導演Ian Lorenos,編劇Senedy Que很可惜並沒有成功進入Magic 8的八大電影。帝王娛樂決定在聖誕節的前一周上映此電影。我不太清楚為什麼他們將這部片的副標題定為"菲華人"Chinoy,因為這系列的電影本來就都是在講有關菲華人的故事了。

我之所以會想看這部電影是因為僅此一次,電影的主角-Richard Yap是個真正的菲華人,我認為這樣絕對會更增添電影的真實性。之前幾部影集的演員(像是Vilma SantosSharon CunetaZsa Zsa Padilla或飾演女主角的Angel Locsin)雖然很有才華,但很明顯的一看就不是菲華人,所以感覺還是差了那麼一點。華語的方言之一福建話是這系列電影的特色之一,那些不是菲華人的演員在片中講的福建話聽起來就很奇怪而不自然。

王氏家庭已經結婚25年了。Wilson (Richard Yap太專注於他的高檔房地產事業,全心投入其中,因此他太太Deborah (Jean Garcia覺得自己被丈夫冷漠了。他們唯一的兒子Wilson Jr. (Enchong Dee是個敗家子。他吸毒成癮、遊手好閒,總是帶給王家負面的影響。Wilson的女兒 Carol (Janella Salvador是主修大提琴的大學生,但其實她很想選擇唱歌的。 整體編劇上很可惜的,Wilson 太太和孩子的問題這條劇情支線感覺有點普通且不自然,而且並不像一般菲華人家庭中會出現的情況。這些片中的問題和情況其實在之前其他的本地電影中就有被討論到了。

Richard Yap在片中除了要講福建話,還要講中文普通話。儘管他在片中扮演的角色是個很老套傳統的冷血華商,我卻感覺這是我看過他所有演出中表現最傑出的一次,這也多虧了劇本中的中文台詞設計。我通常看到他在電視劇中演出的角色都是呆板而不自在的,但是這一次他和其他飾演他媽媽和阿姨的華人演員的每一幕演得都很到位。

GarciaDeeSalvador因為飾演角色的限制而發揮有限,但也是表現良好。他們在電視劇中的演出都有引人注目的亮點。我覺得Dee在片中沒有福建話的台詞很可惜,也許這會使他爸爸和兒子在面對那些場景時更自在。我猜這也顯示了年輕一代的菲華人已經漸漸失去了傳統的中華文化,即使是在很傳統的菲華人家庭也是一樣。片中小女兒Catherine的角色 (Jana Agoncillo飾演,感覺角色安排不當其實是有點多餘的。

Jake Cuenca (飾演Deborah的客戶Marco) Kean Cipriano (飾演Carol的音樂教授 Denver) 飾演的角色很明顯地是從他們第一次和Marlo Mortel (飾演Carol的同學Henry) 演出的場景來的。我們之前就有在電視劇上看過他們演這些角色了。Jessy Mendiola 在片中飾演Wilson Jr. 在戒毒所遇到的女孩子,演得有點糟糕。她那幾幕和Dee 的性感鏡頭在電影中完全不恰當。不過Eric Quizon在片中飾演和Wilson疏遠的哥哥Jason,感覺就連接得很到位。

對我而言,整部電影中最傑出的演員是閃亮耀眼的Rebecca Chuaunsu,她在片中是飾演Wilson的媽媽Erlinda。我之前沒有看過她在電視劇或其他電影中的演出情況,但這次她在這部電影中的演出是如此的耀眼驚豔,完全超越了其他一些有名氣的演員。我個人很佩服幾位實力堅強的菲華人女士,而這位Rebecca Chuaunsu女士,我喜歡她在片中講著那充滿智慧的台詞,她以令人印象深刻又令人感動的演技描繪出她在片中所飾演的高貴角色。她的演出令人耳目一新而不過度誇張。

那幾幕棕黑色的倒敍的情節就如同之前幾部"吻手"電影一樣,依然呈現出懷舊的效果及感覺。不過因為此系列影集已經出了很多部,在菲華人傳統風俗文化(像是傳統的訂婚儀式)上已經做了許多呈現,因此片中Wilson家庭去參訪台灣高雄的佛光山佛陀紀念館的場景感覺就像旅遊紀錄片一樣,在整個故事情節中沒有明顯的用意。

整體來說,從電影中那些Wilson和他媽媽Erlinda演出的場景中美麗的台詞及張力來看,我仍然喜歡這部電影。那幾幕場景中的語言是福建話,這是在"吻手"系列的電影中史前無例的,我們可以親耳聽到演員們講著道地的福建話台詞。另外這幾幕場景不但帶給我們強烈且令人感動的感情衝擊,也提昇了這部電影的水平和層次,並且也使這部電影有另一翻特別的風味。


此篇影評源自作者在部落格"Fred Said."上的貼文。


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Review of TRUTH: Jinxed Journalists

December 13, 2016




There have been a lot of films about journalists. The Oscar for Best Picture last year was in fact given to a film about newspaper journalists, "Spotlight." However, there had also been quite a number of classic films about TV journalists, including "Network" (1977), "The China Syndrome" (1979), "The Insider" (1999) and a personal favorite of mine "Broadcast News" (1987). Showing in a few selected cinemas this week is another one about TV news, and its stellar cast definitely made this a must-see despite the dearth of buzz about it.

The film was set during the US 2004 presidential campaign period when candidate George W. Bush's military record was in question. News producer Mary Mapes and her crew met dead end after dead end until they came across a man named Bill Burkett who possessed hard evidence in the form of memos and letters to prove preferential treatment. CBS News veteran Dan Rather himself reported on Mapes' story on "60 Minutes". After the broadcast, threads of their story's veracity start unraveling, putting everyone's career on the line. 

As Mary Mapes, the versatile chameleon Cate Blanchett plays a character I had never seen her play before. She is strong, resourceful and willful, the epitome of a successful woman in the broadcast industry in the new century. However, when Murphy's Law hit her and her house of cards fall down around her, Blanchett captured so eloquently how Mapes broke down and how she tried to fight back. 

Being an iconic star himself, Robert Redford never really became Dan Rather. Nevertheless, he played his character with the dignity and respect that was warranted. He gave the broadcast legend sincere warmth and gentility on and off the TV screen. His apology scene was stinging. His farewell scene was moving, with his memorable wish of "Courage" to his loyal viewers. Again though, we see Redford, never Rather.

Cheerful Elisabeth Moss, angsty Topher Grace and cool Dennis Quaid play other members of Mapes team. We catch a dour Dermot Mulroney as a member of the panel investigating Mapes. Special mention would have to go to Stacy Keach in his riveting performance as the key witness, Bill Burkett. Respected Australian actress Noni Hazelhurst had an outstanding scene playing Burkett's loyal wife, Nicki. 

In his directorial debut, James Vanderbilt, best known for writing the excellent David Fincher film "Zodiac" (2007), also wrote the script of "Truth". Since Vanderbilt based his script on Mary Mapes' memoirs, what we see onscreen is only her version of the story. In this film, as in the news, we see what the media wants us to see. Depending on the bias of the one telling the story, smaller side details and technicalities can bury the truth underneath. This educational film shows us how, with emotion and suspense to keep us glued. One should not forget though that this film is not the whole truth. 7/10. 


Monday, December 12, 2016

Review of POVEDA: Empowering Educator

December 11, 2016




I only knew the name Poveda in association with one of the exclusive school for girls located near the Robinsons Galleria Mall in Mandaluyong City. All this time, I never knew, nor took time to find out who the person behind the name was. Now comes this Spanish film released this week that promised to tell us about the life of this man and his role in history.

Pedro Poveda was an idealistic priest who was never satisfied with the status quo. He constantly strove to seek out under-served sectors of society and innovate on existing systems to improve service delivery. The film started with his work among the cave-dwellers of Guadix in Granada in 1901, an advocacy which drew a lot of envy and intrigue among the other priests. 

In 1911, he turned his attention to Education and started the Teresian Association in Covadonga, Asturias, with the aim of training lay women to become Christian teachers. As this association got more popular, especially under the dedicated leadership of Josefa "Pepita" Segovia, Poveda formed dangerous political enemies who did not favor Church involvement in education. As the Spanish Civil War broke out in the 1930s, Fr. Poveda was one of the prime targets of the paramilitary forces. 

This film, co-written and directed by Pablo Moreno, respected and loved its subject. The unselfish heroism of Fr. Pedro Poveda was shown in its best light. The story was told clearly in flashbacks, bookended by scenes set during Poveda's arrest and interrogation during the Civil War. The episodes of joy and tension in Fr. Poveda's life were movingly told, with the emotions coming across effectively.  The cinematography, production design and editing aspects were all above average. 

Raúl Escudero portrayed Pedro Poveda from his days as a young man to his sixties. He was consistent in his earnestness and sincerity. We can feel the warmth, kindness and the approachability of the man in Escudero's performance. When Poveda was captured for questioning during the war, it was realistic how he was able to soften his interrogator's aggressiveness with his gentleness and good will. 

Elena Furiase played his dedicated disciple Pepita Segovia with dignity and solemnity. My personal favorite actress was Silvia Garcia who played the cheerful teacher Marina. Her comical episodes broke the seriousness of the proceedings. All the children in this film were an adorable joy to watch with their natural innocence and energy as caught by the camera.

Being a film about a Catholic saint, it is expected that good and bad here are well-defined. The good guys are kind, virtuous and faultless, while the bad guys reeked with jealousy, deceit and violence. The field of education was the battleground where Fr. Poveda bravely stood his ground against secularization. This film clearly achieves its aim to promote the heroism of Fr. Poveda. For Catholic religious educators and students, the way Fr. Poveda lived his life is most definitely admirable and inspirational. 8/10.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Review of YOUR LIE IN APRIL: Motivated by Music

December 9, 2016



In recent years, only violent action Japanese films, like "Ruruoni Kenshin,""Attack on Titan" and "Godzilla Resurgence," got shown in local cinemas. In total contrast, this new film seemed to be a teenage romance drama if you were to judge it by the poster. I would not have intended to watch it, except that my daughter was really excited to go see it. She has in fact read the manga twice!

Kōsei Arima is a piano prodigy since he was a child. He was actually famous for winning major piano competitions at a very young age. Now 17 years old, Kosei does not play piano anymore ever since the death of his mother, who was his piano teacher and harshest critic. Through his good friends Tsubaki and Watari, Kosei meets Kaori Miyazono. She is a girl who played violin with a rebellious streak, believing that music is free and should not be strictly defined. 

This film features a cast of attractive young Japanese actors and actresses, Suzu Hirose as Kaori Miyazono, Kento Yamazaki as Kōsei Arima, Anna Ishii as Tsubaki Sawabe and Taishi Nakagawa as Ryōta Watari. Yes, for most scenes, they played it cute for their teenage target demographic. However, the four, especially Hirose and Yamazaki, were still able to effectively make the proper emotional connection to elicit romantic thrill and painful tears with their audience. 

I do not know if they were really playing those instruments, but Hirose and Yamazaki certainly convinced me that they were violin and piano prodigies for real. They were performing with utmost confidence, flair and bravado as only real musicians could, unless they were really very good actors. They were playing entire pieces of classical music here, by Mozart and Rachmaninoff among others, not just snippets. I thought these scenes were simply a joy to watch and listen to, while hearing commentaries from the judges, the audience and the artists themselves. 

My daughter said that in the manga, the characters were only supposed to be 14-year olds. I thought making them older at 17 can bring up a more comfortable sense of romance. The film was able to capture all the highlights of the story, effectively delivering a more compact and logical version of the story by judiciously deleting less vital sub-plots. I thought the storytelling was fluid, not episodic at all. 

For me, I really liked the first part of the film, which was so youthfully energetic. All those musical performance scenes were so magnificently shot and edited, as if we were all attending a real classical concert. People who don't like classical music may squirm with impatience or even fall asleep (like Watari, haha). But I was riveted with the music, even if I was not familiar with the pieces. The scene in the cafe with the kids playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" at the piano was simply adorable. 

The heavier drama of the third act felt a bit too long for me, since I thought it was just prolonging the inevitable. However, my daughter loved how they did this last part very much, so what do I know what these teenagers like? Anyhow, I liked how neatly all the details of the story were wrapped up in one enlightening monologue and montage. All in all, I liked the positive spirit of the film -- so innocent, so carefree, and yes, so kawaii. 8/10. 


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Review of MOANA: Polynesian Princess Paladin

November 30, 2016




We meet another princess in this latest Disney film. The last Disney princess film was "Frozen" (2014). From the icy and snowy North Pole, this time we are brought to the other end of the world, on a lush green island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

The titular character Moana is the daughter of an island chieftain, and is already being groomed to take her father's place someday. Her overprotective father forbade her from sailing beyond the reefs that surround their island. One day, the coconut trees of their island got sick and the fish disappeared. Moana, influenced by her eccentric grandmother's mythic stories, took it upon herself  to sail well beyond the safety of their reef. She needed to search for the macho demigod Maui and make him return the green stone "heart" he stole from the goddess Te Fiti in order to appease her.

I immediately got a vibe of "The Little Mermaid" with its background situation about a daughter who felt trapped in by her father's strict regulations. Again I am somewhat disturbed by the message being sent to young viewers about going against their parent's wishes. Under all that Disney goodwill, there seems to be a rebellious streak being encouraged for what a child perceives as "bad" parenting. This made me uncomfortable, watching this as a dad of teenagers.

Throughout the film, several film references were evident, mostly other Disney films, like "Hercules" (particularly that Maui was a demigod with hero issues) and "Princess and the Frog" (in a scene about one character falling on another). It comes as no surprise to learn later on that Ron Clements and John Musker, the writing and directing team behind “Moana,” also created those three mentioned films. The ethereal character of Gramma Tala reminded me of wise Grandma Willow in "Pocahontas".

The generally upbeat songs written by Broadway wunderkind Lin Manuel Miranda had the feel and tone of another musical play "Once on This Island." My favorite song was that smart-aleck number sung by Maui called "Your Welcome". I never knew Dwayne Johnson could sing! Another catchy (but creepy) tune was that song sung by the gold ornament-encrusted crab Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement) called "Shiny". The lyrics of all the songs are all fun and hip, with traditional heart and sentiments.

Hawaiian high school student Auli'i Cravalho was cast to voice the title character Moana Waialiki. She was confident and eloquent in her voice work, despite this being in her first major film production. Dwayne Johnson gives his distinct voice and personality to the proud and naughty demigod Maui. Maori actress Rachel House lends authenticity to the inspirational character of Gramma Tala, Moana's grandmother and link to the past. Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger was kind and gentle as Sina, Moana's mother, while New Zealander actor Temuera Morrison played Chief Tui, Moana's formidable yet loving father and chief of Motunui Island.

The full-bodied 3-dimensional characters with the rich realistic look and textures of the ocean water and the island flora were in Disney's trademark clean animation style. The action sequences set on the water and in the air were all spectacularly exciting to behold. That scene with the warships looming into view looked magnificent (straight out of "Mad Max Fury Road" it seemed), however ridiculously cute those coconut bad guys were. There was a scene towards the end that beautifully echoed the biblical parting of the Red Sea, before Moana completed her quest. 

I have to take exception to the annoying sidekick character of Heihei, Moana's bug-eyed pet rooster, which felt out of place to me for being too dumb and ugly. My favorite character in the whole film was Maui's independent-minded tattoo who acted like his conscience, silently arguing with the owner of the skin on which he was drawn. 8/10.





Monday, November 28, 2016

Review of THE AGE OF SHADOWS: Trains, Traitors and Torture

November 27, 2016



For the third time this year, a Korean film gets a commercial release in local cinemas. The first two ("Train to Busan" and "Tunnel") were box office hits in its home country. This third one is a little more special. It is the film South Korea selected to vie for the Oscar Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Usually we need to wait for film festivals to get the chance to see such critically-acclaimed films, but this time we are seeing it on a regular run. Hope this trend continues not only for Korean films, but other foreign language films as well.

It was the 1920s, during the Japanese occupation of Korea. A Korean policeman named Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho) led the enemy drive against his own countrymen resisting Japanese rule. The leader of the resistance, Che-san (Lee Byung-hun) and his comrade Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo), whose antique shop was used to smuggle explosives from Shanghai into Seoul, tried reverse psychology to persuade Lee to help their cause instead. 

I went into this film not knowing that it had a historical setting. I was not too familiar with this particular time in Korean history. However, I was aware of the suffering caused by Japanese occupations in the Philippines and other Asian countries, and how local resistance fighters desperately sought to emancipate their country from such oppressive control of the ruthless Japanese forces.

The story was not that easy to get into at first because of the confusing names and faces of the characters, as well as the unfamiliar historical circumstances. But the plot does settle into place after a few scenes and you will be completely drawn into the complex web of intrigues from intersecting interests and loyalties. This is a fascinating tale unlike other Japanese occupation films I had seen before. 

All the newspaper ads promoted was that Gong Yoo, the lead star of "Coffee Prince" 10 years ago and "Train to Busan" this year, is starring in this film. How amazing it is for Gong to star in two huge films in a single year. His acting career was certainly jump-started in a big way, and internationally. His most memorable sequence here was also running around on a train, but he was trying to avoid capture by Japanese police, not zombies this time. Something happened to him at the end which I thought was medically impossible, but let's just call that creative license.

The true lead star here though was the long-respected, multi-awarded Korean actor Song Kang-ho. I have seen him perform in a number of memorable critically-acclaimed films like "Memories of Murder" (2003) and "The Host" (2006) for which he had been named Best Actor, then more recently "The Throne"(2015), also earning him Best Actor citations. Here in "The Age of Shadows" for which he had also been nominated for Best Actor, Song never made it easy for the audience to know what his conflicted character was up to, and that is what made his performance masterful. It is all about subtlety.

Byung-hun Lee is a bonafide Hollywood star now with films like "GI Joe," "Terminator Genisys" and just this year "The Magnificent Seven." In this film, his role as Che-san was small (practically a cameo), but his charisma made it remarkable. Tae-goo Um was over the top as  Hashimoto, the sadistic cop with those criminally prominent cheekbones. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Korea for his floridly hateful performance here. Shingo Tsurumi was quiet but chilling as the Japanese police superior Higashi. 

The last time I heard of writer-director Kim Jee-wun, it was for the multi-awarded horror flick "A Tale of Two Sisters" way back in 2003. His direction of "The Age of Shadows" was confident and assured. The cinematography was slick and glossy, as the period production design and costumes were impressive, though I thought it did go overboard with the graphic gruesome violence of torture (director's horror background resurfacing). This suspenseful historical episode was told clearly and engagingly in its 140 minutes running time, despite its multiple characters, shuttling languages (color-coded subtitles) and varied locations. 9/10.