Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review of 100 TULA PARA KAY STELLA: Heavy Hearts

August 17, 2017



Of all the films in the current first edition of the nationwide Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the one participating film that is bound to attract the most viewers would probably be this "teen" romance. For this festival, this film is the only one that fits in that genre that many mainstream Filipino moviegoers can't seem to get tired of, despite having a new one almost every week. So far, in the mall I was in this afternoon, this was the only film with a long line that formed outside it.

The year was 2004. Fidel Lansangan and Stella Puno met as 17 year old freshman BA Psych students at the Pampanga Agricultural College. They hit it off as friends even if their personalities seemed worlds apart. Fidel is a nerdy, grade-conscious honor student who had a speech impediment and a love for poetry. Stella is a tough, confident rocker chick who wore black lipstick and would rather sing with her band than study.

Shy Fidel started a series of love poems dedicated to Stella, but he never had the guts to let her read them. On the other hand, Stella was going through a series of boyfriends in her quest to snag a recording contract. When Fidel finally wrote his 100th poem to Stella, will he finally be able to give her his poems and tell her how he felt for her in the past four years?

Those who were expecting a lighthearted funny romp will be up for a surprise. I found this film very heavy to watch. With the talent of lead stars JC Santos and Bela Padilla in portraying the lead pair of Fidel and Stella, the audience can definitely feel the frustration and hurt of both characters. For me, it was not easy to bear all this pained emotion for the whole 2 hours running time. 

I felt that it was a bit difficult to accept JC and Bela as 17 year olds as they unmistakably looked more mature than the real teenagers with them in the classrooms or parties. Since they did look mature, it was hard to believe that they would do things that were so immature. I think it could have been better to have cast actual teens (I do not think there is a shortage) in these roles so that all the angst did not feel too awkward. 

I felt somehow that this whole plot was a gender-switched version of the recent romantic hit indie "I'm Drunk I Love You." The characters in both films were both college students. They both liked to sing. There were key scenes of drunken weakness set in a motel bedroom in both films, though with different outcomes. A line delivered by Fidel during that scene actually elicited a spontaneous round of applause from the youthful crowd during the screening I caught, certainly a rare occurrence.

Among the supporting characters. it was Ana Abad Santos who makes a strong impression as Fidel's English teacher Ms. Bardozo. She had one scene where she breaks down after reading Fidel's poetry that was so touching. J.C. Parker tended to be hysterical Prince Stefan played Chuck, Fidel's gay beat-boxer roommate at his dorm at the Phil. Republic University, who recruited Fidel to join the Young Performers Club. He could have toned down his florid portrayal a couple of notches. 

I wish the role of Danica, Fidel and Stella's jealous blockmate, could have been played better by Mayton Eugenio. She could not project this emotion of jealousy well even if we can all feel it in the situation. I could also say the same for Caleb Santos in the role of Von, Danica's poor cousin who ran the photocopy machine in the library. To be fair, with his fair skin and mestizo features, I felt he was totally miscast for this key role. 

You have to admire the production designer for trying to be meticulous about the props, since this film was set more than a decade ago. I am not really sure if local bands still really released albums in cassette tapes in those years, although it was said that Stella thought CD's were easily damaged, hence her preference for cassettes. The repeated mention of Friendster may sound strange to the teenage crowd watching.

Overall, this film, as written and directed by Jason Paul Laxamana, might connect better with millennial viewers than Gen X'ers. The actors did their best to portray their characters despite some irrational acts and decisions they were making. I personally could identify and empathize with Fidel's character, so I thought Stella was really one very strange girl, the way she was written.  Fortunately, the way Bela Padilla played her unlikable character, it was not easy to bear a grudge on her. 6/10.




Review of PAGLIPAY: An Aeta's Awakening

August 16, 2017




"Paglipay" ("Crossing") is one of the most acclaimed local films of 2016. It was first shown during the first To Farm Filmfest, in which it won Best Picture and Best Director, as well as Best Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography and People's Choice. Gawad Urian cited it with 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, two Supporting Actresses, Screenplay, Cinematography, and others. I finally got to see it during the first day of the the first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, where it was one of the twelve chosen films.

Atan Dimaya is a 19-year old Aeta boy who helped his father in their slash-and-burn farming livelihood. He was going to marry his childhood friend Ani. According to Ani's parents, he was supposed to prepare a dowry (or "bandi") that included two pigs, furniture, farm tools and P20,000 cash. Atan had to go down to town to sell banana hearts and cassava, as well as find various farming jobs, in order to raise the hefty monetary requirement. 

While in town, he meets Rain, a student from UP Manila who was in their town to conduct interviews with Aetas about the phenomenon of "pilaok," or intermarriages among the "kulot" (or curly-haired Aetas) and the "unat" (or straight-haired lowlanders). In his close interaction with the charming Rain, who was confiding in him her romantic woes with her boyfriend, Atan could not help but develop a big crush on her.

Being a real Aeta, Garry Cabalic was a very natural actor as he took on the lead role of Atan. His inexperience in acting is quite evident in several scenes, but that was actually part of his charm. The honesty and sincerity of his subdued performance effectively drew me into the simple story of the film. These were also the very factors that won him the awards, despite his being a neophyte amateur actor. The same is true with the even rawer Aeta actress Joan de la Cruz, who played Ani.

Anna Luna is really a charmer. I had just seen her in films like "Requited" and "Baconaua" during the last Cinemalaya films, and she really radiated warmth in those cold melancholic films. In this film as the friendly Rain, you can really see and feel why Atan was so attracted to her. Luna's highlight was that scene where Rain had a tearful breakdown while singing videoke. Luna made you feel her character's emotional vulnerability.

Even if its topic may not really appeal to a mainstream audience, this film is a great example why indie films are so interesting for me. It showed the lifestyle of the Aetas in these modern times, which I honestly do not really know about. It featured real Aetas in its cast to make it authentic, and in lead roles to boot. They spoke in their own tribal language. They prayed to their own gods like Apo Namalyari. They had their own style of slash-and-burn farming. They had their own practices regarding marriage. 

This film also shows us the close interaction of the "kulot" and the "unat" particularly in business. Since the Aetas have been forced off their mountains during the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, there had been more intermarriages between Aetas and lowlanders. In this film, Atan's older brother Iko was married to Lota (Natasha Cabrera), an "unat". The youngest daughter of Atan's employer Lando (Joel Saracho) married an Aeta boy. Interesting also that bit about the local legend about an encounter of an Aeta hunter named Djadig and the Virgin Mary (whom they called Apo Apang).

There are moments of modern-day humor care of Rain's best friend Cai (played by Manel Sevidal) and her obsession with posting and keeping updated on social media. There was also the cameo appearance of a popular young actor towards the end that gave those who did not know about his participation in the film (like me) a pleasant surprise. 

Despite the dry vegetation of the mountains and the bleak lahar landscape, the cinematography by Albert Banzon was breathtaking. The sun was used to highlight the drama and emotion of many scenes. The best photographed scene for me was that beautiful one that showing Atan running across the field, taken from an overhead view. On the other end, an intimate scene of an Aeta woman actually giving birth at home was also shot with a great eye.

During the 95-minute running of this film, writer-director-editor Zig Dulay immersed us into the day to day lives of the Aetas in the mountains of Zambales. He also injects an urgent message against the mining industry and how it was destroying the habitat and lifestyle of the Aetas. That final scene of the mountain being ravaged by mining equipment in the background was unsettling. You can feel Dulay's concern and respect for this indigenous people, whose culture and current condition he is preserving on film and sharing with the world. 8/10. 


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review of PATAY NA SI HESUS: Insane, Irreverent, Incisive

August 13, 2017




"Patay Na Si Hesus" was first an entry to the QCinema filmfest 2016. It won two awards: the Audience Choice Award and the Gender Sensitive Film award. I never got to see it then. However last August 12, on the penultimate day of the Cinemalaya 2017, I got lucky to finally be able to see it then. This coming week (Linggo ng Wika), it will be shown nationwide as one of the 12 films in the first edition of the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

This Cebuano dark comedy is about a mother Maria Fatima (Iyay for short) who got her three adult kids together on a long drive from Cebu to Dumaguete to attend the funeral of their long-estranged father Hesus. The eldest child Hubert has Down's syndrome. The middle child Judith Marie is a lesbian/trans man named Jude. The youngest child Jay is jobless bum who had not passed his board exams yet. With their cute dog Hudas and crazy aunt Lucy, Iyay's family squeezed into their trusty minivan for one roadtrip of a lifetime.

Jaclyn Jose had just won Best Actress in Cannes for the intense drama "Ma' Rosa" just before starring in this wacky film as Iyay. I had always seen Ms. Jose in serious dramas, so her astutely sharp comic timing displayed in this film was a delightful discovery. I remember how there was buzz for her to win Best Actress at QCinema last year, and now I see clearly why. Her Iyay was a strong survivor of circumstance, but sense of humor never left her. Iyay's scene in front of Hesus' coffin is so screwy embarrassing, we all felt the shame. 

Chai Fonacier attacked the role of Jude with such honesty. (I saw her in the Cinemalaya favorite "Respeto" just before this, and am now a fan of her work.) It was interesting to know that Melde Montanez, who delivered most of looniest gags as the irrepressible Jay (including one nasty one about a certain bodily fluid), was only in his first major outing as an actor. Vincent Viado was adorable in his portrayal of their Kuya Bert, proving that Down syndrome is no hindrance to be an actor.

Mailes Kanapi had always been known for her weirdo roles, but this turn as the unhinged nun Lucy takes the cake as her most daringly outrageous of all the roles I had seen her in. Ok, this was toilet humor taken to the max, but only Ms. Kanapi can deliver those insane lines so naturally, and then still top that afterwards with what is probably the boldest oblational scene of physical comedy on local cinema. 

Written by Patrick Tabada and directed by Victor Villanueva, this film is a roller coaster ride full of the irreverent and idiotic yet tempered with depth and heart. It was clear why this was an audience favorite. It highlights close family ties that all Filipinos can identify with and consider precious. There are so many small jokes between the big ones, spoken or visual, that usually hit the target, as can be evidenced by the loud laughter of the viewers. 

As the title suggests, religion is a butt of some jokes, which may be considered offensive by some conservative audiences. That said, the humor is good-natured and pleasant, well.. most of the time. By the time it reaches that hilarious ending when we see the family with the funeral cortege passing by, we will all be laughing out loud. It is an indelible classically absurd silly image to remember this film by for years to come. 9/10.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

CINEMALAYA 2017 CLOSING FILM: Review of PASTOR: Middling Melodrama

August 13, 2017




This is the first year I had been able to catch the closing film of a Cinemalaya Film Festival, and I was excited. The Opening Film this year, "Birdshot" (dir: Mikhail Red) was met with acclaim when it was shown last August 4 to open the festival. For this Closing Film, the director Adolfo Alix, Jr. is well-known, and the lead actors Phillip Salvador and Gina Alajar are acting royalty in local cinema. I was expecting nothing but the best.

Pastor Luis Aguila was a charismatic preacher and healer in his own Christian church. He had a loyal wife Mildred, and two kids who helped him in his ministry, Katrina and Carlo. However, Katrina had fallen for the charms of a jobless swain, Jigo Angeles, much to the dismay of the Pastor. When she runs off with him to elope, the ideal life of the Aguila family begins to crumble.

It was a very basic and very common family melodrama plot already so overused, frequently dealt with in various TV drama anthologies. I was very disappointed to have to sit through a film with a trite story that lacked the originality that Cinemalaya is known for. 

The storytelling by Alix and the other technical aspects of the film were also disappointing. The film editing especially felt haphazard, with certain scenes suddenly cut and dropped, then some scenes opening up without any clear continuation to the preceding scene. There were some heavy scenes before the title sequence (featuring Elizabeth Oropesa and a split-second cameo of Alan Paule) that were never referred to again in the rest of the film. 

Some scenes took an unnecessarily very long time, like that of Katrina and Jigo dancing in the club, or when Mildred was looking around in the boutique. On the other hand, there are scenes when Alix could have shown longer, such as the rescue of Katrina, which wound up looking like a hasty, poorly-executed action scene. Such scenes are even better shot on TV series like "Ang Probinsyano". The "climax" was anti-climactic.

Phillip Salvador plays the strict patriarch and pastor with a passion that did not feel sincere in either capacity. When the Pastor was shown to have healing abilities, there was oddly no sense of miraculous wonder. That scene with the deaf girl in particular felt like charlatanry. Gina Alajar was more in tune with Mildred and her flaws. But her story arc was confusing. One time she was healthy and going shopping, then all of a sudden she was coughing, ill and dying. 

Janine Gutierrez did not act naturally as the daughter Katrina, but then again she was under the spell of Satan himself so I guess that is why. Too bad that that her call for help was just heard as a voice on the phone instead of a proper scene in itself. Mark Neumann played the good son Carlo. Too bad his character was written awkwardly so his big decision at the end did not feel convincing or uplifting. 

Jason Abalos played the devilish Jigo with a sense of evil glee. He got to deliver the most shocking diss lines to his girlfriend's parents. His literally underground "business" was just so bizarre. I felt this character could have been developed some more before we see him seduce Katrina. Too bad his much-awaited confrontation scene with the Pastor fizzled with just a short reading of a Biblical verse and nothing more than that.

Veteran character actresses Rosanna Roces and Angelina Kanapi make short appearances as members of the Pastor's congregation. Roces actually stood out with a realistic performance as the accountant who discovered discrepancies in the church's books. The short scene where Roces' character took over from the Pastor in a healing session felt more real than that of Salvador's. Kanapi was in a rare role which did not require her to be quirky or crazy, but her character was hardly seen or used.

Ralston Jover is an award-winning writer and director, but his script for "Pastor" was sadly lackluster and cliched. We even had to be reminded that it was based on the story of Job via one of the Pastor's sermons in the first part of the film. The director and the actors, no matter how talented, can only do so much with a weak script that fails to connect. This was a film with a religious theme that was supposed to inspire its audience, but barely felt that inspiration at all. 4/10.

Friday, August 11, 2017

CINEMALAYA 2017: Review of SA GABING NANAHIMIK ANG MGA KULIGLIG: Complicated Confessions

August 11, 2017


Of all the competition film in this year's Cinemalaya film fest, this is the entry with the most intriguing, most artistic title. It's English title is likewise intriguing and artistic, and it is not even a direct translation of the original title -- "Clouds of Plague." With such a beautiful title, the film carries loftier expectations of artistry. However, even if it was already a week into the festival, I have not heard much news about this one at all. I only learned that this was actually a late replacement for one of the original films that was chosen but backed out.

It was Holy Week in the seaside town of Cuyo, in Palawan. One night, Magda confessed to Fr. Romi that she just killed her best friend Dolores out of a fit of jealousy. Altar boy Nonoy overheard this and was bothered when the priest told him that they could not report any crime learned from a confession. Meanwhile, Dolores' husband Hector was held in jail while being investigated, and her son Lester was left to arrange his mother's funeral. 

The Holy Week is a favorite time of year for indie film makers. The peak of religious fervor in the country is at its highest during this time of the sizzling summer season, just the right time setting for a film about crimes of passion. In this film, while we seeing a pensive Magda stalking then killing her victim, we are hearing the voice of the priest praying the Stations of the Cross in perfect irony.

Angel Aquino plays her lead role of Magda, and the camera simply loves her. Her face was always looked impeccable in all her scenes -- while floating on the clear water, while confessing in the dark candle-lit church, while carrying a bamboo cross across wet sand. The lighting, the angles, the colors -- everything worked in perfect harmony to highlight her beauty. Aquino gave a faultless performance of a repentant murderess, always restrained and never over-the-top. 

While Ricky Davao was just right for the role of Hector, the roles of his wife and son were miscast. Hector's wife of 20 years, Dolores, who was killed off in the first 15 minutes, could have been played by any older character actress, but here she was played by a very young Mercedes Cabral. Their son Lester was played by Jess Mendoza, who already looked like he is the same age as Cabral. This awkward casting issue was too glaring to simply ignore. 

Jake Macapagal was effective as Fr. Romi, a priest blessed with much fortitude. The role of Nonoy was played by Sam Quintana, making full use of his naive and innocent face in his characterization. (The audience I was with must have been so bored at one point that they were actually "shipping" Nonoy and Lester, haha!) The police officer Rene Salve was played by Anthony Falcon. His livid hammy acting during the interrogation scenes served as an unintended comic relief from all the melancholy.

Writer-director Iar Lionel B. Arondaing was very meticulous about his camera work. There was clearly an effort to make each scene beautifully blocked and shot, and I appreciated that. The color was of an unusual brightness and saturation that looked just right to reflect the heat of summer. His best scenes were those odd nightmarish dreams of Fr. Romi, Magda and Lester as if to symbolically illustrate the state of their consciences. 

The main problem with this film is that Arondaing did not seem to know how to end it. All the pertinent plot points had already been revealed, yet the film just kept going on and on for another thirty minutes or so. The prolonged ending (that included a puzzling whispering scene and the unearthing of an item of unclear significance) diluted the effect of the revelations instead of intensifying them. I can actually hear the restlessness of the audience buzz around me. 5/10.


CINEMALAYA 2017: Review of RESPETO: Profane Yet Poetic

August 11, 2017




Despite its unassuming single-word title, this film is getting all the raves from this year's crop of feature films in the Cinemalaya film festival. I simply needed to buy a ticket to go watch it even if it meant ditching a previously-bought ticket to a less talked-about film. The venue (CCP Little Theater) was fully packed. Even the reserved row for CCP House Staff was full, such that the ushers also allowed other CCP staff to sit in the row reserved for jurors. Considering that this was the 12:30 screening on a Thursday, this attendance was impressive.

Hendrix is a young man from the tough slums of Pandacan. He lived with his sister Connie and her drug-pusher boyfriend Mando, who asks him to deliver his "goods". One day, Hendrix went to join a rap battle league match, choked and lost money big time. In order to pay Mando back the money he lost, Hendrix decided to break into and rob a bookshop owned by an old man they called Doc.

However, the robbery was foiled. Hendrix, together with his friends and partners in crime Payaso and Betchai, had to repair the damage they caused in the store. While working, Hendrix discovers from Doc a whole new form of poetry and the power of words. Meanwhile the constant threat of the drug menace, gang violence and crooked cops remain a reality around him. 

This film brings its audience right smack in the middle of a violent slum, as what a typical Brillante Mendoza film would do. We see fly-infested garbage dumps, demolitions countered with stink bombs, corpses in the waterway, drug deals, gang fights, cops on the take, sleazy bars and whores -- the works.

However, the big difference of "Respeto" was that its intensity was driven by its powerful musical soundtrack (by Jay Oliver Durias) of pulsating beats and hardcore, graphic, curse-ridden rapping. With a cast led by real-life rappers like Abra and Loonie, we expected no less. Those rap battle scenes were heady and exhilarating, with those sharp insults delivered articulately with cool yet angry speed.

This film does not hide its politics. The name of the present president and the controversial burial of a previous president can be heard plainly from "news reports" throughout. The full impact of these little suggestive soundbites will prominently come to fore in the third act when a violent episode from the Martial Law days gets recalled and relived. 

The technical aspects of this indie film were outstanding as led by diector Treb Monteras II from a script by Njel de Mesa and Monteras himself. The cinematography by Ike Avellana, the editing of Lawrence Ang, the sound work by Corinne de San Jose and production design by Popo Diaz all contribute amply to create this palpable milieu of violence and creativity.

Abra (Raymond Abracosa in real life) has a boyish charm that served him well in his lead role as Hendrix. He is a natural actor, very raw. Despite being one of the pioneers of fliptop rap battles and a bonafide local rap superstar, Abra actually gets humiliated a lot in this film, even in the rap arena itself, and he portrayed these difficult scenes with effective restraint. 

Veteran theater actor Dido de la Paz provides perfect contrast as Doc, an old man with poems of his own to write, and nightmares of his own to battle. Loonie (Marlon Peroramas in real life) possessed that gangster look which made him a gritty antagonistic threat as Breezy G. Ybes Bagadiong and Chai Fonacier provide able support as Hendrix's loyal friends Payaso and Betchai. Brian Arda and Thea Yrastorza show tough love as Mando and Connie. Kate Alejandrino was a tragic beauty as Hendrix's crush Candy. Nor Domingo was chilling as a very bad cop.

The foul language that peppers this film may be coarse and hard to take for many ears, but that is the language of the streets nowadays, like it or not. Director Monteras told his story with grit and fluidity, turning the profane into poetry. This film is a cut way above the others in its category in this festival this year -- a must-see, a must-experience piece of cinema. If you only have time to see one film during this Cinemalaya festival, make it this one. 9/10. 


CINEMALAYA 2017: Review of ANG PAMILYANG HINDI LUMULUHA: Megastar's Mettle

August 10, 2017




Ever since "Dear Heart" (1981), Sharon Cuneta had been one of the biggest movie stars of local show business. Unfortunately, her film career took a turn for the worse about ten years ago, and she did not even have a single movie for that much time. That is why this Cinemalaya indie film is very significant not only because it is her first indie film and first Cinemalaya entry, but more because it serves to mark the Megastar's comeback to the silver screen. 

This drama-comedy was premised upon the legend of a "family that does not weep"  that prevailed in the town of Tungalong. This eternally happy and lucky family was supposed to fulfill wishes and find lost things when you host them in your house. However, when the family disappeared from their town one day, Tungalong had a downturn in its onion harvest and its general fortunes.

Fast forward to the present, Cora de la Cruz once had a happy family life with her husband and two kids. However, this ideal life did not last. Because of disloyalty and disillusionment, the members of her family all left her living alone in their house. She hired the homely Bebang, the daughter of her old househelp Lavinia, to be her new maid and companion.

One day, during one of their frequent alcohol drinking sprees together, desperate and despondent Cora decides to hire Bebang's Tiong Biboy to locating the four members of the legendary "Family that Does Not Weep" (Lakay Pedring and Baket Celia, and their children Amelia and Edsel), so she can host them in her house, improve her luck and get her family back together with her again.

The highlight of this film was the wacky comedy tandem of Sharon Cuneta and Moi Bien as Cora and Bebang. Cuneta mainly plays it straight, but delivers a number of punchlines herself. She can still do cute and delightful, especially in her comic drunkard scenes or in that scene where she was eating pages off a book. She also proved that she still had her dramatic chops in her in a big emotional scene in the third act, where her level of anguish really jumped off the screen. 

However, it was Moi Bien who got to do the downright silly and flamboyant comedy. Some of these crazy Bebang jokes came from completely out of nowhere, disconnected from the story, even treading on raunchy. But because of Bien's funny face and deadpan comic delivery, these gags still got a lot of laughs. I know this is Cuneta's film, but Bien stole it out from under the Megastar because of her shameless antics. Bebang's hilarious scene with the mannequin may just be what this film will be long remembered for.

Nino Muhlach practically played himself the way he portrayed Tiong Biboy. He never really became the character, so to speak. His character was not developed at all. All Bebang said was he was good in looking for lost things, and that was it, he was hired to do an impossible manhunt. How did Uncle Biboy ever locate these long lost people at all? How did he know where to look? All we see him do was go around aimlessly asking people to identify old photographs. Where did he get clear photographs of them at all?

The fantasy element did not fit well into the whole scenario. Mysterious things were noted about Pedring (Joe Gruta) and Celia (Flor Salanga), like sleeping for three days straight or sweeping mango leaves when there was no mango tree around, yet these events were never brought up again. How did Edsel (Kiko Matos) grow up to be such a boorish womanizing roughneck?

The sudden drastic change in the tone of the story in the third act was so unexpected, it was jarring. True, this was a big acting moment for Sharon Cuneta, but I felt it was unconvincing how the scenes were set up. Writer-director-editor Mes de Guzman was not able to create fluid transition of scenes, such that the film could feel like an episodic patchwork. Fortunately the effective performances, good will and chemistry of Sharon Cuneta and Moi Bien were there to save the whole project. 6/10.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review of ROUGH NIGHT: Debauched Dames

August 10, 2017




When "Bridesmaids" (MY REVIEW) first came out in 2011, everyone was thinking this would just be a female version of "The Hangover" and would a forgettable failure. However, surprisingly, it actually gained critical acclaim and scored big at the box office. It was up for Best Picture Comedy and its cast were also cited in several award giving groups, including the Oscars.

Despite all that success proving that females can also do very well in raunchy comedy, it would take another six years before Hollywood gathered another group of ladies together for another naughty, but this time, also a black comedy to boot.  At first the situation may seem similar to "Bridesmaids" to be any good, as it also involved a wedding with the bride gathering together all her good friends. 

Four college friends, Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Blair (Zoë Kravitz), reunite in Miami for a bachelorette party for Jess. Jess also invites her Australian friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon) to join in the fun. As these parties go, the girls go drinking in a bar, get high with cocaine and and hire a male stripper. Unfortunately, a freak accident happens to the stripper and he fell down dead! Can the girls cover up their crime and sneak their way around this awful mishap?

Of course, we do not really think of Scarlett Johannson as a comedian at all, the way she is in all these superhero films nowadays it seems (and she did have a fight scene here too). Zoe Kravitz is also out of her usual element here, and her Blair even gets involved in some pretty steamy scenes with their oversexed neighbors Lea and Pietro (played by Demi Moore and Ty Burrell). Stiff and awkward, let's just say they are obviously not natural comedians.

Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell and Ilana Glazer are the true comedians and they cause most of the comic situations the girls get themselves into. Their comedy styles are very different from each other. McKinnon is the louder and more "in-your-face" type of comic. Maybe because of her physical attributes, Bell plays the desperate loser type of characters. As a political activist, Glazer had a more indie and laid back vibe in her comedy. 

As Jess' husband-to-be Peter, Paul W. Downs figures in a lot of the movie's more original, most stupid and funniest scenes. I guess for a female-driven film like this (written and directed by a woman Lucia Aniello), it can be expected that men end up as the butt of jokes. It is interesting to note that Downs had writing credits along with Aniello. I wonder which if his own ridiculous scenes (lame bachelor party, driving in a diaper) were his contributions? 

I am not really a fan of raunchy comedy movies. I do not like too much cursing, or too much drinking. I do not like using drugs to create comic situations. There was a lot of those here, which had me groaning in the first quarter. That said, Jess' predicament (vying for State senate and an upcoming wedding, now complicated by a murder scandal involving a stripper) managed to be engaging enough to follow to its resolution, despite the annoying characters you meet along the way. 6/10.


CINEMALAYA 2017: Review of KIKO BOKSINGERO: Finding a Father

August 9, 2017




So far, I have been disappointed with the last two Cinemalaya films that I had seen since this year's festival began last August 4. Since these films are only being shown in the CCP and selected Ayala Malls, it does take some extra time and effort to catch these competition films. It is quite a downer when you catch a bad one after going out of your way to see it. 

Honestly, this was one of those films I did not plan to watch at first. The title did not interest me, thinking it would be just another one of those biopics about a young boxer, much like those films about Manny Pacquiao. However, since the festival began, I only read good things about this film in social media. The enthusiastically positive word of mouth intrigued me, and actually pushed me to go see it by all means.

11-year old Francis "Kiko" Arenas lived in a well-furnished bungalow and studied in a nice private school in Baguio City. However, since his mom had passed away, he is now only living under the care of his loyal nanny Diday, until his relatives in the US could bring him over there. When Kiko found out that his long-estranged father George had come back to town, the boy makes an extra effort to reestablish a bond with the boxer.  

Word of mouth is right about this film. "Kiko Boksingero" is quite a winner. The choice of beautiful Baguio City as a picturesque setting was a winner, captured artfully by cinematographer Marvin Reyes. The wholesome coming-of-age story was a winner, as written by Denise O'Hara and Ash Malanum. The smart choice of music in the score was a winner, as arranged by Pepe Manikan. That was one beautiful theme song over the closing credits. But above all, the precious performance of Noel Comia Jr. in the title role was a clear knockout winner.

I have seen Comia before in a couple of stage plays in Rep ("The Secret Garden", MY REVIEW) and Ballet Philippines ("Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko", MY REVIEW). Both times, he stole the scene with his strong stage presence, verve and crystal clear singing voice. "Kiko" is his first time in a central lead role in a feature film, and he already acts like a veteran. Despite his stage background, his acting here is restrained, with his expressive face doing most of the work. His performance is powerful, confident, and carried the whole film well. If the jurors be fair, he should be considered for Best Actor.

Yayo Aguila plays the over-protective and loving nanny and guardian Diday. She played her smart and dependable, no traditional yaya caricature here. Yul Servo, as the father George, had a natural rapport with Comia. There is an uneasy distance at first of course, but the steady development of their father-son relationship was believable and movingly portrayed. I was surprised to catch Angel Aquino in there in a small blink-and-you'll-miss-i cameo.

Thop Nazareno had worked as an editor in noted indie films like "Purok 7" (2013) and "Kusina" (2016) before, as he did also here. "Kiko" is Nazareno's debut as a feature film director and the promise is definitely there. He directed his actors well to deliver understated yet charmingly effective performances as an ensemble. While there may be moments of pain and bitterness here, this film stands out over most indie films because of its generally sunny disposition and positive message, delivered in delicate subtlety. 8/10. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

CINEMALAYA 2017: Review of BACONAUA: Drowning in Darkness

August 8, 2017



It is already the fourth day of the 13th Cinemalaya Film Festival and I had only been able to see one feature film in competition. Over the weekend, local cinephiles had been excitedly reporting on social media about their personal favorites. This particular title "Baconaua" (Sea Serpent) was the one on the schedule when I went to the cinema this afternoon. I have not heard anything about this film at all up to now. Now I know why.

In a rural seaside town, three siblings -- 16 year old Divina, 15 year old Dian and 13 year old Dino -- were struggling to live day to day for the past 90 days since their father went missing from one of his duties as Sea Patroller. Since their mother already left them and had her own family on another island, it is up to the girls to plan for his funeral rites. 

One day, after a squall, their beach and the sea beyond it were mysteriously awash with hundreds of apples.  It did not take long when soldiers came to the town to investigate the event and look for perpetrators. Meanwhile, little Dino encounters and helps a wounded stranger who sought shelter in their tool shed.

Writer-director Joseph Israel Laban already had two Cinemalaya full length films under his belt -- "Cuchera" (2011) and "Nuwebe" (2013). The second film actually won for Laban the Best Director award in the ASEAN International Film Festival held in Malaysia in 2015. For "Baconaua," Laban had a good story on his hands, unfortunately his translation of this story to the big screen unfortunately left a lot to be desired. 

The film opened promisingly with a passage from the Book of Revelations, about the sea turning into blood. Then we see the seaside town at what seems to be a time before daybreak. Several seaside scenes were being shown onscreen, accompanied by the Spanish version of the Philippine National Anthem sung in full. These sombre opening scenes set the dark, dim and dull tone of the whole film.

The most remarkable feature of this film is its DARKNESS. I don't know if it is a problem with the print or the projector, but the whole film is just so dark. Even daytime scenes seemed to be filtered with a dim bluish shade, rendering them almost black and white. 

During the scenes where the sea and beach were supposed to be full of apples, I thought at first that there was a sea snail infestation. It was only when it was specifically identified as such before I knew those things were apples. If this scene was supposed to have shown the sea "turning to blood", it did not work because I did not see any shade of red at all. 

There were entire scenes where the screen was completely bathed in dark shadows. I had no idea what was going on if there was no dialogue to indicate what was happening. Even those climactic scenes of Dino, the soldiers and the stranger were not well lit, and this scene had to happen in the dead of night. We barely see the faces of the characters or how they were emoting. We only see faces in full color were in those few scenes lit with a candle! 

Elora Espano was wholesome here, and she played well as Divina, the eldest, responsible sister. The known acting talent of Therese Malvar was wasted as Dian, a role that just made her look petulant and promiscuous. The most interesting role of Dino was played by novice child actor JM Salvado, who was still a little stiff. It was so unfortunate for them that the darkness hid any nuance they might have had in their eyes. I simply do not see their eyes in many scenes where I can only see them in silhouette. 

Fortunately for supporting actors Bembol Roco and Erlinda Villalobos, who played helpful neighbors Mang Danny and Aling Lora, their scenes were better lit. The local swain Pol, who wooed the two sisters in succession, was played by Jess Mendoza. Anna J. Luna had a single scene playing Divina's friend Nica. Veteran actors Jeric Raval and Suzette Ranillo had single scene cameos playing a Coast Guard officer Col. Abdullah and the kids' mother Mengga respectively. The Stranger was played by an actor named Ron Lord. His face was never clearly shown such that I would not recognize him in another film. 

To put it frankly, this overbearing darkness was such an ordeal to get through the 92 minutes of the film. It was as if the filmmakers wanted to immerse the audience into this poor seaside town which had no electricity.  To be fair, there were some moments of beautiful nature cinematography (as you can see in the poster) in there, but their glory was eclipsed by the suffocating shade. Everyone around me in that screening were grumbling about the darkness while the closing credits were rolling. I think that is all we will remember about this film. 3/10. 




Sunday, August 6, 2017

CINEMALAYA 2017: Review of REQUITED: Purposeless Pap

August 6, 2017




Cinemalaya Film Festival year 13 opened last Friday August 4, 2017. It will run up to Sunday August 13, 2017. Aside from various venues in the CCP, the 8 feature films in competition will also be shown in selected Ayala Mall theaters in Greenbelt, Glorietta, Trinoma, UP Town Center, Fairview Terraces and Marquee Mall (in Angeles, Pampanga). I doubt if I can catch everything. I'm just watching them in no particular order or preference, only as my schedule allows. This film "Requited" (written and directed by Nerissa Picadizo) is the first that I have caught this year.

Matt was a young but down and out architect, coping with a health problem. Sandy was a volleyball star, forced out of her sport by another rare health problem. One day, moody Matt embarked on a solo trip to Mt. Pinatubo via bicycle. By surprise, perky Sandy meets up with him with her bicycle and rode alongside him on his trip. Through their stopovers and injuries, the two bickered all the way on the road and up the mountain.

This film is basically a two-hander, with only Jake Cuenca and Anna Luna as Matt and Sandy as its backbone. I have to commend them for their bravery for riding their bikes on highways with actual traffic whizzing dangerously close by. During the scene when they biked across the welcome bridge into Tarlac, one impatient SUV even overtook them from the wrong side, right on the dirt shoulder of the road.

Cuenca is physically compatible with the role. We know he could really do this backbreaking long-distance bike ride for real. On the other hand, it was hard to believe that Luna could make it all the way, given her physical stature and her character's previous health history. It also somehow strained belief that Luna was a star volleyball player with a killer spike. 

But performance-wise, Anna Luna is simply so winsome here as Sandy. She is the life and soul of this film with her cute smile and vibrant personality. She was believable as a star celebrity that people admired. Jake Cuenca did what he can to bring his one-note character to life, but he struggled because of the perpetual abject misery Matt was made to wallow in. 

This is one of those movies that is simply so maddening. Slowly but surely, it seemed to be building up so well. So many questions were being set up waiting for answers to be revealed. After hearing all their petty arguments and despite their annoying nature, I was already actually beginning to be interested to find out what those answers were. 

Were these two people ever an item before? How does Matt really feel about Sandy when he seems so angry with her over the most petty things, like her tiger print helmet? How does Sandy really feel about Matt, now that she already had a foreigner boyfriend Chris? Why was Matt so insecure about Sandy's popularity with her fans? Why was Sandy making brazenly suggestive sexy moves in front of Matt? What was wrong with these two people to make them so miserable?

And then came that out-of-this-world ENDING! That ending that was came as a total shock. That ending that felt like a sharp slap to the face. The ending that threw all my questions out of the window. That ending that will make you shout curses. That ending that made absolutely no sense. That ending that squandered everything I invested into this. The ending that made everything before it make no sense. The ending that sadly reduced this whole film into a purposeless waste of my time. 

Oh by the way, did I tell you I hated the ending? 2/10.



Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review of KIDNAP: A Thriller on Tenacity

August 4, 2017



Ever since Halle Berry opened the Oscar Best Actress door "for every nameless, faceless woman of color" for winning the elusive plum prize for her role in "Monster's Ball" (2001), her career seemed to have taken a down turn instead of up. Aside from her regular appearance as Storm in the X-Men movies before the First Class reboot, she had nothing else quite memorable. She even got a Razzie for Worst Actress in "Catwoman" (2004). 

Quite by coincidence, Berry's last film of note was also a film about a kidnap incident, entitled "The Call" (2013) (MY REVIEW), where she played the 911 operator who receives a distress call from an abducted girl. The topic of her newest film is quite apparent from the title alone which reeked of a pulpy potboiler. I went in not expecting too much. I just wanted to see Ms. Berry in action in the lead role again.

Karla Dyson worked as a waitress in a diner as she struggled to support her six-year-old son Frankie while dealing with her divorce from her husband. One day at the amusement park while her attention was diverted by a call on her cellphone, Karla realizes that Frankie was missing. In her distress, she caught sight of an old green Ford Mustang driving off, with a big woman stuffing her boy into the car! Karla rushed to get her own car and gave chase to the couple who kidnapped her son.

This film is all about Halle Berry and her intense portrayal of the never-say-die Mad-Max of a mother who never gave up chasing down the car that had her abducted son in it. She was doing incredibly brave and dangerous things no ordinary woman (or any ordinary man for that matter) could have done in real life. To say that Karla was relentless is a gross understatement. Berry made sure we feel the despair and vulnerability of this mother as she stuck to her chase no matter how many times she cheated death doing so.

The two kidnappers Terry and Margo Vicky were portrayed as crazy redneck hicks by Lew Temple and Chris McGinn respectively. These are one-dimensional bad guys who were not the typical crooks who tries to get away as fast as they can from those chasing them. These guys were bold and confrontational. They had Karla pinned in several precarious situations from which she was always lucky and superhuman enough to escape from. This kept the excitement level of the film going.

Director Luis Prieto made the most of the limitations of the script by Nate Gwaltney. With the panicking Halle Berry on the wheel, the car chase sequences were made to feel exciting and heart-pounding. It was no joke trying to extend a car chase for over an hour and engage the audience the whole way, and Prieto did not always succeed. If you suspend disbelief and just ignore some of its illogical details and improbable situations, this thrill ride was quite entertaining, if you have 95 minutes to kill. 5/10. 


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review of WIND RIVER: Wicked Wyoming Winter

August 3, 2017




This film is being shown in local theaters with hardly any advertising, no trailers, newspaper ads, posters nor social media posts. However, since it stars an actor I admire, Jeremy Renner, I made sure I'd watch it before it silently disappears from local circulation before long, as was the usual fate of poor box office performers on the first days of release. 

The Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming is in perpetual winter. While tracking a mountain lion killing cattle, US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert discovers a body of an 18-year old Indian girl on the slopes of a snowy mountain. The FBI was called in, but they can only send a young inexperienced agent Jane Banner. Jane conscripts Cory's skills to help her track down the killer in this inhospitable wilderness.

Jeremy Renner gives another excellent performance here as Cory Lambert, as I fully expected him to since he broke into the big time on Oscar Best Picture "The Hurt Locker" (2008). His character Cory is not only a skilled animal tracker and hunter, he was also a man haunted by a tragedy in his family. Renner portrays the action and the dramatic aspects of his character with realistic skill and sensitivity. 

Renner's "Avengers" co-star Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch to his Hawkeye) plays wide-eyed FBI rookie Jane Banner. Olsen was able to maintain her character's credibility and hold her own amid the rough tough blue-collar men she had to deal with in this case for which she was totally unprepared for, not only in her inadequate winter gear but also in her limited investigative ability. 

I was not surprised to see Graham Greene in the cast as the Sheriff Ben. Greene seems to be the first go-to actor when there is an Indian character, most notably "Dances With Wolves" (1990) where he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Raven-haired Gil Birmingham (popularly known as Jacob Black's father Billy in the "Twilight" films) had such a memorably touching stand-out performance as Martin Hanson, father of the victim.

I was surprised to see Jon Bernthal in a third film within these past few weeks, since he was also in the casts of "Shot Caller" and "Baby Driver." Here he plays Matt, the older White boyfriend of the victim, one of the logical first "persons of interest" in the crime. 

I did not know beforehand that this film actually had a strong credentials. It turns out this film had premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. It also competed in the Cannes Film Festival under the Prix Un Certain Regard category, winning Best Director for Taylor Sheridan in his directorial debut. 

Taylor Sheridan gained critical acclaim in the past two years because for writing the screenplay of two excellent films -- "Sicario" (2015, Dir: Dennis Villeneuve) (MY REVIEW) and "Hell or High Water" (2016, Dir. David Mackenzie) (MY REVIEW), both of which were nominated for Best Original Screenplay in the Writers Guild. "Hell or High Water" was not only nominated for an Original Screenplay Oscar, but also as Best Picture last year.

This time, Sheridan actually directs his own script for the first time and the product is both impressive and engaging. The crime story was told straightforwardly and logically in 111 minutes. The deliberately slow pace reflects the bleakness and difficulty of the milieu for all the characters, but it never gets tedious. The brutal survival of the fittest among the wildlife echoing the issues of Indians living in a desolate reservation made a strong social statement. The snow here was as pristine and pretty as it was dreary and deadly. 8/10. 


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review of ATOMIC BLONDE: Stylish and Sexy Spy

August 1, 2017




Charlize Theron is one of those actresses whom I think can do no wrong. She is consistently good, whatever role she gets herself into. If she is in the cast of film, she will undoubtedly be one of the actors who get noticed for her performance, even if the film itself was not so well received, like "A Million Ways to Die in the West" (2012) or "The Huntsman: Winter's War" (2016). 

Since her incredibly dynamic turn as Imperator Furiosa in "Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015), Theron has shifted gears into the action genre, following this up as Cipher in "The Fate of the Furious" (2017) and then this one where she is the title character.

It is 1989 in still divided Berlin. A Soviet defector code-named Spyglass had obtained and memorized a list of spies working in the USSR. The list was stolen by a KGB agent Bakhtin. Top British MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton was sent into East Berlin through her contact agent David Percival, Her mission is to recover the list and to assist Spyglass gain safe passage into West Berlin. Of course, it was not going to be that easy.

As you can see in the trailer alone, Charlize Theron was like an action beast unleashed in this film. Her fight scenes were incredibly executed, so bone-crushingly realistic and bloody! All the fights were so breathtaking with fast destructive moves and weapons both real and makeshift. That scene when Lorraine was fighting several Russian goons in the old building was the one that can really punch the breath out of you and make you cringe in pain. Theron is 41 years old this year, but her ageless body is lean and taut as ever, and she has nude scenes here to show it all off.

James McAvoy is another one actor who seems consistently good in any film he does, like "Atonement" (2007), "X-Men First Class" (2011) and just earlier this year "Split" (2016). He balances the typical stoic spy attitude of Theron with his gregariousness and sense of humor to liven up the pace. John Goodman (as CIA agent Kurzfeld), Til Schweiger (as The Watchmaker), Eddie Marsan (as Spyglass), Toby Jones (as Eric Grey, Lorraine's boss and interrogator) and Roland Møller (as rich gangster Bremovych) all do well in their roles.

Action is really the forte of director David Leitch, who first gained fame as a stuntman and coordinator in many action films, some pretty iconic ones like "Fight Club" (1999), "Mr. and Mrs. Smith| (2005) and "300" (2006). He also did time being second-unit director in films like "The Wolverine" (2013), "Jurassic World" (2015) and "Captain America: Civil War" (2016), and co-director in "John Wick" (2014) for which he was not credited. "Atomic Blonde" is technically his feature film debut as solo director. 

The action scenes were no doubt the best parts of the film -- car chases, foot chases, gun fights, fist fights, and everything in between. However, some of the in-between convoluted double-crossing set-ups between all the agents of multiple loyalties can feel slow and familiar, impeding the film's pace. Anyhow, Theron's Lorraine has the potential to become another spy film franchise, like James Bond, Jason Bourne and Leitch's own John Wick. Lorraine's sexy tryst with French agent Delphine (played by Sofia Boutela) echoes of Bond.

One of the aspects I enjoyed are the various references to the 1980s (to early 90s). There are celebrity name-drops like Sinead O'Connor and David Hasselhoff and that killer soundtrack of 80s power anthems, like "Major Tom," "99 Luftballons," "Father Figure," "Der Kommissar", "Voices Carry," "I Ran" and "Under Pressure." I even recognized the song over the opening credits as "Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline" by David Bowie (from the 1982 film "Cat People").  There was an action scene interestingly set inside a a movie theater showing "Stalker" (Tarkovsky, 1979), but I am not sure why this film was chosen, 

Overall, I liked the actors, especially Charlize Theron in the lead role, and the blaring catchy 80s music soundtrack. Leitch could have been told the story (based on a 2012 graphic novel by Antony Johnston “The Coldest City,") in a little more streamlined way, but I also felt Theron's stylishly brutal fight scenes made up for the pacing issues. 7/10. 


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review of SHOT CALLER: Prisoner Psychology

July 27, 2017




This particular film is not getting any buzz at all. With a nondescript title and only a couple of known actors in its cast, it looks like just another B action movie. However, I am glad I did not allow this first impression to stop me from checking this film out. This was actually one well-written prison drama which gives us insights about how big time criminals think and operate within the prison system. 

Jacob Harlon is a well-off businessman with a happy family. One night, he figures in a bad DUI vehicular accident which caused a fatality, causing him to get convicted for some jail time. Immersed in the brutality in prison, he gradually gets hardened up to become Money, one of the most ruthless, most feared inmates inside. When he finally gets paroled, he discovered that he still could not get away from the "friends" he made inside. Could he keep his wife Kate and son Josh safe, or will it be better just to lose them?

Danish actor Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, whom we better know as Jamie Lannister on "Game of Thrones," played the challenging role of Jacob Harlon. At first, I thought he was playing double roles here as this film did not tell the story in a linear manner. First we see Coster-Waldau either as a tattooed tough jailbird with an intimidating handlebar mustache or as a mild-mannered executive as the story flashed back and forth between these two guys, until it was clear this was the same guy at different times in his life.

The rest of the cast were mostly tough-looking character actors playing criminals either in cahoots with or working against Money. Jon Bernthal played Shotgun, a crook caught between loyalties to crooks and cops. Holt McCallany played an Alpha prison head honcho aptly named "The Beast" who interestingly loved philosophy books. The final fates of these two men were some of the most intense scenes in the whole film.

The script and direction of Ric Roman Waugh is, for me, the best part of this film. Waugh was first known for his stunt work in several actions films, from "Lethal Weapon 2" (1989) to "Daybreak" (2000). Later, he would also write and direct his own films, mostly dealing about crime, starting with "In the Shadows" (2001), "Felon" (2008) and "Snitch" (2013), and this one. After "Shot Caller," he is working on "Angel Has Fallen", the third film after the Olympus and London terrorist attack films.

I liked how Waugh expounded on the criminal thought processes in and out of prison through the eyes of Jacob Harlon -- a family man, an unintentional inmate, a reluctant gang member, an eventual crime boss. The story telling was engaging as Waugh brought his compelling script to life with strong imagery and interesting editing choices. Despite its unmistakable B-movie vibe, I actually found this film to be an unexpectedly good find. 7/10. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review of AFTERMATH: Double Dose of Depression

July 27, 2017




Arnold Schwarzenegger gained fame in the 1970s as a bodybuilder. He was, and still is, the youngest person to ever win Mr. Olympia, when he snared the major title in 1973 at the age of 23. He went on to win Mr. Olympia six more times -- the last one in 1980, when he was already in training for his big screen debut as "Conan the Barbarian" (1982). 

After the success of "Conan," Schwarzenegger became an action superstar of the 1980s in films like "Commando" (1985), "Predator" (1987), "Total Recall" (1990), "True Lies" (1994) and his signature role as "The Terminator" (1984) and its subsequent sequels (1991, 2003 and 2015). He also made a number of successful comedies like "Twins" (1988), "Kindergarten Cop" (1990) and "Junior" (1993). 

As his acting career waned in the 2000s, Schwarzenegger turned to politics. Like fellow actor and Republican Ronald Reagan before him, Schwarzenegger became the Governor of California from 2003 to 2011. Unlike Reagan though, he could not run for the Presidency even if he wanted to because he is not a natural born American citizen. After this political stint, Schwarzenegger returned to acting.

Schwarzenegger is already pushing 70 by July 30 this year. He has slowed down and could not do his former intense action hero stunts anymore, as can be seen in his comeback efforts like "Expendables 2" (2012) and "3" (2014) (MY REVIEW) and "Escape Plan" (2014) (MY REVIEW). He is expanding his range to drama now, like the post-apocalyptic drama "Maggie" (2015) (MY REVIEW), and now this new one this year.

Flight AX122 from New York City collided with another plane in midair and crashed. This film followed the experiences of two men whose lives were shattered by this tragedy. Construction foreman Roman Melnyk had his wife Olena and pregnant daughter Nadiya on board that ill-fated plane. Air traffic controller Jacob Bonanos was the one on duty at the tower when the accident happened. 

People expecting some action from Schwarzenegger will be disappointed. His character Roman was passively just waiting for an apology for the whole duration of the film while he slept at the foot of his loved ones' graves. He did spring to life for that one split second in the final act, but the violence of that key scene felt neutered as it was bathed in eerie silence. Like he was in "Maggie," Schwarzenegger was subdued and restrained all the way.

Playing the embattled airport official Jacob is character actor Scoot McNairy. He had been in films consistently since 2001 in minor supporting roles until this one puts him up there in a major role, and he made the most of this opportunity. His features are nondescript enough to render him open to play any character. Here, McNairy's gaunt face reflects the inner turmoil of guilt that was eating up the very soul of his character. I just wished the writer had given this character a different fate.

Aside from a short gratuitous funny scene of Schwarzenegger taking a shower that we did not really need to see, the mood of this  film was relentlessly morose given the very tragic event that caused all the heavy drama to ensue. There were very long stretches of running time that were devoid of any dialog, with director Elliott Lester letting sad images and maudlin music sell the story. The double dose of depression we get from the two threads of this film can be too much to bear. 4/10.