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...
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.