Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review of GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017): Adeptly Actualized Anime

March 30, 2017



"Ghost in the Shell" started as manga series written by Masamune Shirow in 1989 which told the story of a mid-21st century fictional counter-cyberterrorist organization in Japan called Public Security Section 9, led by protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi. A 1995 animated film version from the Production I.G studio directed by Mamoru Oshii is now considered to be one of the greatest anime films of all time. Now Hollywood gets to produce its own version of this future world.

Cyborg field commander code-named The Major is the first of her kind. Her body is all state-of-the-art robot, but her living brain had been transplanted from a real human -- a orphan refugee whose body had been severely injured. This was thanks to the advanced artificial intelligence technology of Hanka Robotics. When the Major investigates the murder of Hanka scientists by cyber-terrorist Kuze, only then would she finally get to know the ghost that existed inside her shell.

I watched the film without any prior knowledge of the manga nor the anime. The initial sequence showing the creation of The Major was so beautifully-rendered and visually-arresting and this would set the pace and standard for the spectacles to come for the rest of the film. There are explosive action scenes involving cars, trucks, helicopters, and big guns. Of course, there are also elegant parkour and gracefully violent hand-to-hand combat in "Blade-Runner"-like settings, from high-tech laboratories to sleazy nightclubs.

Scarlett Johansson's experience as Black Widow in the Avengers films and as "Lucy" made her a credible action heroine as The Major. She also gets to do very well in her introspective dramatic scenes, some of which evoke her role in yet another sci-fi film "Under the Skin." I confess that I did wonder why they cast a Caucasian actress in a role with a Japanese name set in a Japanese metropolis. Nevertheless, Johansson does pull off a good lead performance to give the film its emotional core. 

It was good to see Juliette Binoche again on the big screen as the Major's creator, Dr. Ouélet. She was the only character of genuine human warmth in this steely cold film. 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano was truly an imposing and impressive Section 9 Chief Daisuke Aramaki, Major's immediate superior. Pilou Asbæk is a likable brute as Major's dog-loving loyal right-hand man with the goggle-like cybernetic eyes, Batou. Michael Carmen Pitt (whom I knew from his earlier film "The Dreamers" as simply Michael Pitt) was barely recognizable as master-hacker Kuze, but his pale blue eyes can still express deep thoughts. 

I only watched the 1995 anime AFTER I had seen this live action film. I have to say this hardcore anime is really ahead of its time. The new film is not a direct live action translation of the classic anime, as the recent "Beauty and the Beast" was.  The plot is not the same at all, though the basic elements were retained. Major's "nude" silicone suit of invisibility was rendered without her nipples for a PG rating, a triumph in costume design by Kurt and Bart.

It turns out that most of the memorable scenes were directly lifted from the anime, such as that awesome fight scene on the shallow pool of water, as well as that fight with the ugly giant spider-like robot, but these were not exactly in the same story contexts. On a minor side note, it was too bad they did not choose to stick with the San Miguel Pale Pilsen beer Major and Batou drank in the anime.

I recognize that loyal fans of the anime may complain how this present story was not told with more philosophical depth, or how the new musical score could not hold a candle to the previous haunting Kenji Kawai score. 

However, for those like me who had not seen the anime before, this current reboot version by Rupert Sanders (whose only prior film was "Snow White and the Huntsman" five years ago) actually told a very good story with excellent special visual and action effects. The filmmakers respected the original material enough not to bring the whole story out of Japan, even if they could have story wise. Scarlett Johansson was able to capture the personality of The Major from the anime (who also did not look Japanese anyway), this time enhanced by the added focus on her own self-discovery. 8/10. 

  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Review of LIFE: Acute Alien Agitation

March 24, 2017




Sci-fi horror is a genre of its own, with plenty of good examples, topped by "Alien" (1979) and its sequel "Aliens" (1986), "Event Horizon" (1997), "Solaris" (2002) and "Moon" (2009). Just earlier this year, there was "Passengers" also about being abandoned in space, but was more of drama than horror. I was attracted to watch this new film solely because of its stellar cast, not knowing what it was exactly all about. Now that I had seen "Life", I think it fully deserves to join the aforementioned list.

The film is set in an International Space Station which had in its possession a living organism from Mars -- a small, innocent-looking gelatinous organism they called Calvin. One day, Calvin revealed its true nature by crushing a crew member's hand and devouring a laboratory rat. Alarmed at the creature's display of violence, the staff of the space station spring into action to contain it. However, will they be able to arrest its growth and aggressiveness before it kills everyone on board?

The story began very slowly, I was starting to think this may not be worth the watch. However from the moment I saw Calvin in action, he did not allow my eyes to look away from the screen again. The first human death scene by Calvin was ghastly and graphic, involving a most unexpected victim. The suspense was so intense within that claustrophobic spaceship as Calvin seemed unperturbed by anything the humans tried on him.

Jake Gyllenhaal (as Dr. David Jordan) can really tackle these gripping roles with realistic conviction. Ryan Reynolds (as Rory Adams) had his characteristic sense of humor about him, but of course. Russian actress Olga Dihovichnaya (as Katerina Golovkina) had a memorably nightmarish spacewalking scene. British actors Rebecca Ferguson (as Dr. Miranda North) and Ariyon Bakare (as Hugh Derry) play other ill-fated crew members.

Hiroyuki Sanada really impressed me as senior astronaut Sho Kendo. This Japanese actor evoked the spirit of Toshiro Mifune in his look and attitude. We had seen him before in the iconic film "Ringu" (1998) and in several English-language films like "The Last Samurai" (2003), "The Wolverine", "47 Ronin", and "The Railway Man" (all in 2013).  He actually had a similar role as the captain in the space horror film "Sunshine" (2007).

The technical aspects of the film were top-notch. Cinematography, film editing, sound editing and mixing, production design, visual effects and especially that amazing musical score were all so effective in capturing and holding on to the attention of the viewers. Swedish director Daniel Espinosa (only on his second US film after "Safe House" in 2012) had me mesmerized in suspense from then up to the final frame. 9/10.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Review of POWER RANGERS: Campy Champions

March 23, 2017



The Power Rangers is a television series for young kids featuring a group of five teenagers with superpowers working as a team to fight the forces of evil. Beginning in 1993 as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to the present, there would be 24 seasons with different titles. There had also been two feature films in 1995 and 1997. 

I only got to know them when my sons became hooked on the series entitled Dino Thunder and Ninja Force, despite the shallow plots, bad acting and lousy monster effects. It is with a sense of expectant nostalgia that my sons and I watched this new feature film, maybe 10 years since the last episode of the series we had seen.

A group of five juvenile delinquents from Angel Grove find themselves together at a gold mine just when an explosion caused a rock slide revealing five coins with different colors, one for each of them. Since then, the five teenagers inexplicably escaped death from a train crash and actually developed super strength and abilities. It was later revealed to them that they have been chosen to be the new Power Rangers tasked to save the earth from the destruction wreaked by an evil ex-ranger Rita Repulsa and her giant minion Goldar.

I was so ready not to like this film when we entered the theater. The introduction and set-up of the characters took a bit too long at the first. But as the movie went on, I found myself actually smiling a lot and liking this one. OK, the acting of the supposedly teenage (but actually 20 something) lead stars were not exactly stellar, but much better than those I recall seeing on TV years back. Of course, we expect the technical aspects and visual effects to improve over the years, and to be fair, they did.

RJ Cyler, who previously made a good impression in the film "Me, Earl and the Dying Girl" (MY REVIEW) as high-functioning autistic nerd Billy Cranston (Blue Ranger). Latina pop star Becky G, who hit #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with her song "Shower" (2014), plays the troubled Trini (Yellow Ranger). She was supposedly lesbian according to promo articles, but this was just mentioned in passing in the film. 

Australian actor Dacre Montgomery (as rebellious star quarterback Jason Scott - Red Ranger), British-Indian actress Naomi Scott (as cynical cheerleader Kimberly Hart - Pink Ranger) and Chinese-Canadian Ludi Lin (as filially devoted Zack - Black Ranger) complete the attractive inter-racial cast of rangers.

From a 2-D floating head in a tube before, Zordon's face now inhabits a multi-pixelated 3D wall, played by no less than Bryan Cranston. Whereas before Alpha 5 looked like it had a real actor inside wearing a disc-like head, the new Alpha 5 is now all slick and sleek robot, with the voice of comedian Bill Hader for his cheery personality.

The main villainess Rita Repulsa now looks very different from before. Previously she had a gigantic clunky headdress and long flowing gown. Now, as played by Elizabeth Banks in full camp mode, this new Rita is sporting a more fight-action-ready emerald body-hugging suit, carrying her powerful golden staff. Goldar is now a more fluid fighting machine made of molten gold, unlike the heavy bulky golden robot in the previous film.

I liked that they chose the dinosaur zords for the rangers to morph with in this one. I liked the rapid-fire references to some Marvel and Transformers characters. I wonder how much doughnut franchise Krispie Kreme paid for their massive product placement here? There were scenes that needed better lighting and some camera angles were bizarre, like the first sequence with the cow. Rita's stone warriors were a bit on the lame side. The scene when we heard the original "Go, go Power Rangers" theme song being played was too short! 

I am not sure how devoted fans of the original series would accept the various changes made my this new version to their favorite TV show. But for a casual viewer who only had a cursory knowledge about the origin of the rangers, I unexpectedly liked this reboot and I think it could revive interest and gain new young fans for this franchise. 7/10.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Review of CHIPS: Obnoxious Officers

March 23, 2017




There had been a lot of buddy cop movies involving one serious level-headed cop forced to work with a crazy wild cannon partner. In the 80s, they had a balance of drama and comedy like 48 Hrs. (1984), "Lethal Weapon" (1987) and "Tango and Cash" (1989). Later on, the comedy dominated, as with "Rush Hour" (1998), "The Other Guys" (2010), and "The Heat" (2013). This new one "CHIPS" now joins that long list. 

"CHiPs" was a hit TV series which ran for 6 seasons in the late 70s to the early 80s. This was a generally very wholesome, light comedy-drama series that made stars out of Larry Wilcox (as Officer Jon Baker) and specially Eric Estrada (as Officer Frank Poncherello). As with other buddy cop TV series that became films like "Starsky and Hutch" (2004), and "21 Jump Street" (2012), this new film incarnation of "CHIPS" is considerably edgier and raunchier than its venerable, vanilla-flavored predecessor. 

Jon Baker is an injury-laden ex-motorcycle riding champ who wants to save his sinking marriage by becoming a policeman, barely making it under probation as the oldest rookie on the force. His partner goes by the name of Frank Poncherello, an undercover agent sent to investigate a violent big-time heist suspected to have been perpetrated by a gang of policemen. Both of them have their own hangups and eccentricities which put them at odds with each other at first. Later though, they end up saving each other's lives and eventually forge an strong yet unconventional partnership between them. 

The action in this film is violent and graphic (decapitation alert!). The adrenaline mainly comes from all the breathtaking motorcycle riding stunts weaving in and out of traffic, which I hope will not encourage the already unruly motorcycle riders on the streets now. Those custom Ducati bikes they rode looked very fine and powerful. There are also car stunts, gunfights and big fiery explosions galore to keep the energy on the constant up. 

Another aspect that keeps the energy up is the very raunchy comedy as written by the same guy who directed and acted as its lead character Jon Baker, Dax Shepard. This comedian is mainly known for his work on TV series like "Punk'd" and "Parenthood". "CHIPS" is his biggest film to date. The comedy style is very shallow and juvenile, with a lot of sexual references, with a lot of naughty closeups to further amp up the raunch factor visually. Shepard's brand of comedy is very physical and over-the-top, not always funny. 

Michael Pena is usually seen in serious good-guy roles, like "Crash," "World Trade Center" and "Collateral Beauty". I have never seen him in such a vulgar role like this one before. He looked mighty awkward doing this role, and maybe come across as miscast. However, because of this discomfort, I felt he actually funny in the role of a guy that had a lusty deviant sex drive lay beneath a calm and professional surface. 

Their chemistry together was really iffy, but actually gels better towards the end. If you have been reading my previous reviews on films like "Hangover" (MY REVIEW) or "Sausage Party" (MY REVIEW), raunchy comedies are not really my cup of tea. But this one had its occasional laugh out loud moments, mainly due to the naughty guy banter of the two lead actors.  The obnoxious gross-out factor does go overboard though. As an extra bonus, a paunchy Erik Estrada had a cameo before the movie ended, not too flattering, but it was good to see him again. 4/10.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review of THE SHACK: Guided by God

March 21, 2017



If you did not know about the 2007 bestselling novel written by Canadian writer William P. Young, there is nothing attractive about the title of this film at all. "The Shack" as a title was so plain and nondescript, I thought it would B-horror movie, like "The Cabin in the Woods" or "The Last House on the Left." Of all things, I did not expect that this would be a religious film, and quite an enlightening one at that.

Mackenzie Phillips recovered well from his abused childhood to have a picture-perfect family of his own. However, one day, his youngest daughter Missy goes missing during a camping trip and was presumed dead. This tragedy filled Mack with such extreme despondence and fury, he struggled with his daily life.  Mack meets three mysterious strangers living in a shack in the forest who endeavor to help him cope and move on.

Earlier this year, "Collateral Beauty" tackled the same story, but had a more secular fantasy approach to it. "The Shack" had a religious approach to the same problem and knowing this beforehand prepares you for the messages it delivers. Expect the acting from the cast to be effusively positive. Expect this to be sentimental and melodramatic. Expect beautiful profound words of wisdom and counsel. It is easy to label the script by John Fusco as schmaltz. However, when you view this with the proper attitude, you will hear words of inspiration and illumination, as this film was intended to be appreciated.

While Sam Worthington did well in the lead role of Mack, he does not really do anything to make a distinguishable mark in his performance. Worthington is an actor who remains to be unremarkable for me despite his many starring roles in big films before such as "Avatar" (2009) and more recently "Everest" (2015).  In other rather fine but rather unexceptional performances, Radha Mitchell plays Mack's supportive wife Nan, and Tim McGraw plays Mack's best friend Willie. 

The ubiquitous Octavia Spencer plays Papa, or God the Father, in a radical casting choice since Alanis Morrisette's played God in "Dogma" (1999). If Worthington has an indistinct face, Spencer in contrast, is very distinct. She plays Papa in a relaxed yet authoritative manner, motherly actually. She is good as always, but this is much like how she acts in her other films, like "Hidden Figures" and "Allegiant." I preferred the way Graham Greene played Papa in another incarnation within the film, to guide Mack through a more difficult challenge he had to face.

Aviv Alush, in his Hollywood debut, is the first Israeli actor to play Jesus in an English-language film. He played him to be a friendly guy-next-door, someone you can run on water with. In her first feature film, Japanese model-actress Sumire was absolutely sublime as the Holy Spirit. I liked the way she delivered her lines with gentle grace, and how she was made to shimmer when she moved. Brazilian actress and Sonia's niece Alice Braga (who first got noticed for her role in "City of God" back in 2002) had strong screen presence as God's Wisdom who put Mack through his first wringer.

In the treatment by director Stuart Hazeldine, the Christian concepts took on a New Age feel. The Persons of God had a hippie vibe in their clothes, words and actions, like a throwback to colorful flower power in the 1970s. Appreciation of this film will be based on the viewer's faith, specifically Christian faith. Atheists, agnostics and strict biblical fundamentalists may consider its ideas to be ridiculous and this film boring or absurd, yes. However, I personally believe that most faithful Christians will be able to connect and fully embrace the healing spirit of forgiveness and surrender to the Lord that this film espouses. 7/10. 


Monday, March 20, 2017

Review of GET OUT: Suspense in Social Satire

March 19, 2017




Locally this film was shown on a week together with the monster blockbuster remake of "Beauty and the Beast" which was being shown in practically 90% of the cinemas.  Furthermore, it had a new director and unknown actors, so it had its odds against being noticed at all. This is unfortunate because this little film is actually one of the best reviewed films this year in the US. The excellent word of mouth that precedes this made this a must-see film for me.

Pretty white girl Rose Armitage brings Chris Washington, her black boyfriend of four months, to visit her parents, neurosurgeon Dean and psychotherapist Missy, in their mansion for the weekend. While he was received very well initially, the longer Chris stayed in the Armitage estate, interacted with their mysterious black servants, and met their overly friendly white guests, the more he feels there was something seriously amiss in this awkward situation.

From the moment Chris and Rose arrived at the Armitage house, writer-director Jordan Peele had us in the palm of his hands in his uniquely suspenseful yet engaging manner of discussing the sensitive subject of race. The horror in this film is not supernatural or ghostly. Instead, this is a social horror story built upon very real stereotypes of what whites in the US thought about blacks. 

I had never heard of Daniel Kaluuya before even if he had been an actor for over 10 years. Most of his career was in British TV and film. His starring role in "Get Out" as Chris is his breakthrough into mainstream recognition. His big round eyes had lives of their own as they reflected helplessness and fear. It was amazing how his tears roll out with unspoken eloquence in scenes of stark terror.

Allison Williams is very charming and disarming as Rose. Bradley Whitford is talkative and amiable as Dean. Catherine Keener, the only actress I recognized by face in the cast, exudes a convincing and unsettling aura as a masterful hypnotherapist Missy. Caleb Landry Jones, a Baron Geisler clone, appropriately plays Rose's crazy younger brother Jeremy. 

The black supporting actors in the cast made the most memorable impressions. Betty Gabriel may have a kind-looking face, but the way Peele executed her scenes, the creepy vibes she radiated as the strange maid Georgina are absolutely chilling. Also notable was comedian Lil Rel Howery whose profanity-spiked rapid fire lines as airport security guard Rod, Chris's best friend, single-handedly takes care of the humor department, an aspect just as important in this film as the horror.

There are admittedly also some plot problems, particularly about the iffy neurosurgical techniques and the self-explanatory giveaway clues so conveniently found in a carelessly hidden box. However, these could easily be overlooked as the film made some really bold and strong social statements, albeit bitterly satirical, while maintaining tight suspense with a sense of humor. 

"Get Out" took the theme of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967) about interracial relationships and brought it to the present day in the most unexpected directions. Back then as it is now, race issues in the USA will always be a rich source of movie material. It does not always have to be about slavery or the civil rights movement. It just needs innovative writers, directors and artists to tell the stories in original ways, like this one did. 7/10.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Review of 2 COOL 2 BE 4GOTTEN: Confessions from the Closet

March 17, 2017




"2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten" is the winner of the 2016 CinemaOne Originals film festival last November. I was not able to catch back then, but fortunately it had its commercial run this week, not too long after. The MTRCB rated it a forbidding R-18 citing it to be "psychologically disturbing" with "no redeeming social value." It was admittedly not easy to catch a screening, but it became too interesting to see why this was so.

Set in Angeles City in the 1990s, this film was about aloof and bookish teenager Felix Salazar, who was the top student of their graduating high school class. His life in his so-called "forlorn school" became more colorful when new Fil-Am transferees Magnus and Maxim Snyder began to invite him over to their house to help with their schoolwork. Their friendship would later take a very dark turn from which the three boys could not recover.

Khalil Ramos is excellent as Felix. When he reads his journal, we are entranced by his voice as he narrates his thoughts about his day in amusing rhetoric English. When he is silent and in thought, his soulful eyes simply say so much. As for the Snyder brothers, Ethan Salvador plays good boy Magnus, while Jameson Blake plays the bad boy Maxim. Of course, being the bold bad boy gets more acting points, and Blake was rewarded with the award for Best Supporting Actor during the filmfest. 

Ana Capri is comically effective as Demetria, the permissive and promiscuous mother of the Snyders. Peewee O'Hara is Ms. Salvacion, the strict English teacher who had an audible H with her vowels. Joe Saracho was the swishy Mr. Pangan, the Geometry teacher who wishes his good students could go abroad like him. Meann Espinosa was the naughty Ms. Echeverri, the Filipino teacher who makes inappropriate moves on her hunky students. 

For his debut as feature film director, Petersen Vargas showed a good eye for great camera angles when telling his story. He made good use of the natural environment -- like the sky, the sun, the lahar, the beach -- to evoke various emotional connections with the story. The Best Cinematography award won by Carlos Mauricio was well-deserved, especially for those great-looking outdoor scenes.

For at least the first two thirds of this film, the script by Jason Paul Laxamana was very eloquently written. The words he wrote were rich in emotions and meaning, but with a treatment so subtle such that the gay angle of the plot did not come across as so hard-sell nor awkward for mature mainstream viewers to appreciate. 

However, when the story turned to the dark side, the progression of the plot becomes more testy and more difficult to accept. The shift in Felix's character was just too sudden and unexpected in that tense scene with Maxim in the abandoned building, the scene for which this film is probably going to be best remembered for. There was totally no warning that it would happen. It was quite a jarring shock. 

From that scene on, the last third felt like a totally different movie. Could disgruntled teenagers really think and act in such sick, violent ways? As a parent of teenagers myself, I could see why the Gen X members of the MTRCB would be struck negatively with its provocative turn of events. It impossible for any audience not to react either way, depending on their age or inclination. Its challenge was its thorn, but perhaps that is also its merit. 6/10.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Review of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017): Enchanting Evermore

March 16, 2017




Disney's first version of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) was an animated classic. It was the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Three of its songs were nominated for Best Original Song, with the title song winning the Oscar. In April 1994, it was also the first Disney animated film to be adapted into a Broadway musical. 

When it was announced that there would be a live version of this beloved film, I had my apprehensions. However the hype was so strong and unavoidable. Each trailer that came out was immediately viral, especially when we started to hear the stars like Emma Watson and Luke Evans singing. I was excited, but I did not want to get my expectations too high.

An arrogant and selfish prince was punished by an enchantress, turning him in to a horned and frightful Beast, the people in his castle as living furniture and the weather around it in constant gloom of wintertime. Only if he learns to love and be loved in return before all the petals of an enchanted rose fell off can the spell be broken.  

Meanwhile, in the village, pretty but bookish country lass Belle has caught the fancy of the hunky but haughty hunter Gaston. However, when her eccentric father Maurice was taken prisoner by the Beast in his castle, Belle offers to take his place. All of the cursed prince's staff hoped she will be the one to finally break the spell.

While the main plot points and several scenes are very similar, this live action film is not exactly a scene-for-scene remake of the animated version. Old favorites like"Belle," "Be Our Guest," "Something There," and "Beauty and the Beast" are all still there for us to reminisce fondly about as they came alive. There are now new songs written by Alan Menken with lyrics by Tim Rice to highlight the drama of scenes not even in the original like Maurice yearning for his wife or the Prince in his childhood, and best of all, a grand moving solo song for the Beast to fully express his sincere love for Belle. 

This is not exactly a rated G film, as the sense of violence, danger and dread is magnified when using real actors and realistic computer-generated effects than animated drawings. Gaston had an additional unexpected scene of particular cruelty against Maurice that was quite disturbing. His inflammatory "Mob Song" and fatal shooting of the Beast with a rifle are already known from the previous film, but these felt scarier in this live-action version. 

I was most concerned about Emma Watson being not the right choice for the role of Belle. In that teaser for the song "Belle," she sang very well, but her acting felt bored and unenergetic when compared to how I remembered the cartoon Belle before. However, in the full film, Watson really grew into the role very well beyond that first song. She gave her Belle a distinctly stronger and more independent personality than ever before.

The new Beast had brown fur, larger horns and ugly fangs thanks to computer-aided facial and movement capture technology, but I thought the absence of a huge snout allowed him look more gentle in the romantic scenes. I did not know Dan Stevens before his role here, but he was certainly able to convey torment, desperation and love on that Beast face. The incredible modulation of his Beast voice was hypnotizing in its depth.

Luke Evans may be smaller in heft than we would expect from Gaston who was supposed to be "roughly the size of a barge," but he played his comically evil role with glee and his singing was unexpectedly solid. As played by the ever-scene-stealing Josh Gad, the role of Le Fou was expanded and developed than just Gaston's blind fanatic. The gay controversy around this character was needless. Kevin Kline gives Maurice a tenderness and dignity not felt as much in the cartoonish version of this character in the older film.

For Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci, we may or may not catch a glimpse of them at the party scene in the beginning. They definitely gave the enchanted palace staff Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Madame de Garderobe and Maestro Cadenza their colorful personalities by their voices alone. There were some unexpected reunions of certain characters with their families towards the end which was a very nice touch. 

This film is now the most expensive movie musical ever made at $160M, and it was obvious where the money went. The cinematography was breathtaking, especially those gorgeous winter scenes. The opulent production design worked seamlessly with the astounding visual effects, I could not distinguish where reality and CGI began and ended. The costumes were expectedly lavish and splendid to look at. As early as now, I am already predicting Oscar nominations in these categories, as well as for at least two new songs "Evermore" (with versions by Dan Stevens and by Josh Groban) and "How Does a Moment Last Forever" (sung by Celine Dion over the closing credits).

So overall, despite my initial fear that this film may disappoint the loyal die-hard fans of the original movie, I think they won't be. Comparisons are inevitable, but the original film had its own charm, and so did this one. This new film by director Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls" director, "Chicago" writer) will be an enduring classic in its own right. 9/10.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

SINAG MANILA 2017: Review of KRISTO: A Cockpit Chronicle

March 14, 2017





In Filipino, the title word "Kristo" means two very different things. The meaning familiar to more people is "Christ," meaning savior or redeemer, as in Jesus Christ. The second is more colloquial usage of the word to refer to "bet-takers" in the sport of cockfighting. It was supposed to have been given because these bet-takers always had their arms raised and outstretched when taking in bets from various gamblers.

In the opening scene of this indie drama, we see the first meaning of the title.  We were brought inside the carnival-like Good Friday rites in Pampanga, After a few minutes of seeing the bloody flagellation and crucifixion there, the rest of the film would be set in Northern Metro Manila, with most scenes shot in the Sta. Quiteria Cockpit Arena in Caloocan City, where the second meaning of title held sway. 

Boy Saging has four children with his hardworking and practical wife Annette. The couple run a stall in the Balintawak Clover selling bananas. His main occupation though was as a cockpit kristo. The whole film was set on one fateful day when his eldest daughter Jemjem is graduating salutatorian from elementary school. However, that day, his boss, the wealthy but cranky cockfight enthusiast Tonyo is also demanding Boy's time and services.

This film had many hallmarks of an indie film. The pace was very slow, with a dizzying shaky camera to shake up a sense of action where there was barely any. The cockpit dynamics among the kristos and bettors did not pulsate with excitement. The most mundane scenes were played out so lengthily without any apparent purpose in forwarding the plot. If not for the interminable graduation rites scenes (where we even got to hear the Philippine National Anthem sung almost in full), or those long and repetitive cockfighting scenes (some even in slow-motion), this would be a much shorter film with its simple plot. 

We witnessed quite a number of fighting cocks die during their fights. We even see the process by which these dead loser were dressed ready to be cooked for dinner. There was even a scene about one of those poor chicks we see with dyed feathers being sold to gullible and careless children. An ominous gloomy pall was cast over the whole film by these scenes even if they were happening to animals.

Lead actor Kristofer King was really raw and natural as Boy Saging, as if he were not acting at all. There were actually no big dramatic moments in his role. Everything was so matter-of-fact and straightforward, that was why it was so remarkable, a very real portrayal. King had been acting in indie films since "Babae sa Breakwater" back in 2003 (which merited a Best Actor nomination from the Gawad Urian no less). It was clear why he won Best Actor for this Sinag Manila film fest (in a tie with RS Francisco in the film "Bhoy Instik").

It looked as if veteran actor Julio Diaz was lazily acting in the role of the self-centered Boss Tonyo, almost like he was merely phoning it in. Yet even so, his effortless performance impressed the jury enough to give him the Best Supporting Performance award (this is overall, no distinction between male and female actors). Angela Cortez had a winning screen presence as Boy's wife Annette. It is just that she looked too young and svelte to be a mom with four kids.

Aside from the two acting awards, "Kristo" also won for Best Production Design, Best Editing and Best Sound, making it the second most awarded film in this festival. 

Director HF Yambao had more polish in his previous film, "Best Partee Ever," which coincidentally also won its lead actor JC de Vera the Best Actor award in the QCinema Filmfest 2016. However, "Kristo" is really not supposed to look polished. It had to look and feel raw and unstaged, like reality as it was unfolding in front of our eyes, grit, sweat, stench, rough corners and all. It had its merits, but I just wish the film as a whole, like good fried chicken, had more tasty meat in it than starchy extenders. 5/10.


*** Postscript: 

It was interesting to find out from an old blog post by director Jason Paul Laxamana (LINK) that there was already an older indie film also entitled "Kristo" which also tackled the worlds of cockfighting and Holy Week rituals of Cutud in Pampanga. This was a 2008 film by Jerwin Espiritu starring Jay Manalo. I have not seen that older one, but with its tagline "Life is a cockfight," I am guessing that the themes are probably similar. I am not sure if that first "Kristo" film was ever completed or released.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Review of KONG: SKULL ISLAND: Awesome Ape Action

March 13, 2017



I literally groaned when I first saw the trailer of "Kong: Skull Island." Really? Yet another Kong movie, barely 10 years or so after Peter Jackson's "King Kong" (2005). Then the trailer goes on to show huge lizards and spiders, another groan. I was not really too interested to watch it at first. Surprisingly though, I was hearing positive reviews about this nth remake, I had to go see it for myself.

The film starts with a prologue set in 1944 on a South Pacific island showing two enemy pilots (one American, on Japanese) who had a close encounter with a gigantic ape, the Kong. Then, the action jumps to 1973, Bill Randa (from a secret government organization called Monarch) organizes a team to explore Skull Island, a mysterious uncharted island located in the South Pacific perpetually surrounded by storm clouds. 

Randa's group included his geologist Houston Brooks and biologist San Lin (as geologist). Lt. Col. Preston Packard and his helicopter squadron were assigned as their military escort. An ex-British special forces man James Conrad was hired as tracker. A female anti-war photographer named Mason Weaver was also onboard. They begin their expedition by dropping bombs on the island supposedly to survey the geology of the ground. However, the loud multiple fiery explosions caused an angry Kong to come out and attack them.

As expected, this whole film was indeed a visual effects extravaganza. Young indie director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose only film prior to this was a small quiet 2013 Sundance drama called "The Kings of Summer," came out blasting full force with every computer-generated trick in the monster book. He not only had the formidable motion-capture Kong (Terry Notary as the actor behind the ape), but likewise a number of other giant creatures (those ugly reptilian Skullcrawlers, that giant daddy-long-legs spider, that Pokemon-like tree creature, those vicious flying dinosaurs and gentle water buffaloes) to play with.

The actors were very aware they were not really the main focus of this film, playing their characters with hammy delight. Samuel L. Jackson was at his over-acting best as the unstable warfreak Packard. John Goodman had another go as a crazy eccentric old man as Randa. Tom Hiddleston was in full hero-mode, expertly striking model-like poses in his tight t-shirt, even when an explosion already threw him on the ground. Brie Larson had her Oscar Best Actress-like close-up encounters with a trapped water buffalo and of course, Kong himself. John C. Reilly appears midway in the film with an oddly offbeat humorous role.

If you are patient enough to wait after all the end credits have rolled up, you will be rewarded with an extra scene suggesting a sequel/s with Godzilla, Mothra and other giant monsters. There is already a Kong vs. Godzilla being developed for a 2020 showing. 

This film is so formulaic and so over-the-top, yet for some strange reason it was actually quite entertaining. The monster fighting and action sequences were so huge, graphic, crazy and illogical, yet fun to watch. The whole film felt like an exhilarating 4D ride in a theme park, and that was even if we only watched it in 2D. 7/10. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review of A KIND OF MURDER: Nixed Noir

March 11, 2017




There is a classic charm I like about film noir. It is always a welcome treat to see a current film try to recreate those stylish Hollywood crime dramas from the 1940s and 1950s. I was excited to see that there is a new film out in cinemas this week that does just that, with a plot based on a 1954 novel by Patricia Highsmith entitled "The Blunderer". Highsmith is famous for her psychological thriller novels "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," both of which had also been made into films as well.

Walter Stackhouse is a successful architect by day. However, by night, he takes to his typewriter to churn out crime novels. His beautiful but icy wife Clara is beset with psychological problems, so he takes a fancy with a pretty young singer, Ellie.  When he was researching about a certain unsolved murder at a roadside diner, he gets implicated into the investigation of the case led by the relentless Detective Lawrence Corby.

From the very first scene, I was already admiring the crisp cinematography with all those rich colors. The wonderful period production design certainly brought us back to the 1950s, with those vintage cars, ornate building architecture and meticulous classy interior design. The costume design is so rich in classy details, particularly the costumes of Jessica Biel as Clara. Her winter coat with floral accents was a particular beauty. 

The acting style of the cast was straight out of one of those classic noir films. Patrick Wilson's character Walter could have been played by William Holden or Joseph Cotten. Jessica Biel's role Clara could have been played by Barbara Stanwyck or Ava Gardner.  I can totally see Lauren Bacall in Haley Bennett's amorous role of Ellie and Edward G. Robinson in the suspicious role of Eddie Marsan's character, Mr. Kimmel. Vincent Kartheiser's role Detective Corby could have been better played by someone more like Robert Mitchum or Glenn Ford.

Stylistically, all the technical aspects were in perfect place. The first two acts of the film were very engaging as told mostly from Walter's point of view of the story. I was totally engrossed in the Walter's story -- his avocation as a pulp writer and amateur sleuth, as well as his progressively worsening relationship with his wife. And then, the third act happened, and the neat house of cards built up to that point all came tumbling down in a sorry mess.

I wonder if the writer Susan Boyd could no longer write herself logically out of the intricate plot variation she had cooked up in her adaptation, but I was so sorry that third act seemed to have been so haphazardly written and executed. I went away feeling very disappointed at the nixed opportunity of director Andy Goddard to create a more memorable modern noir. With all the great elements it had in its favor, this definitely could have been a much better film than the final product that we saw onscreen. 5/10.

 

Friday, March 10, 2017

SINAG MANILA 2017: Review of TU PUG IMATUY: Lumad Lamentation

March 9, 2017




The 2017 Sinag Maynila Film Festival is being held from March 9 to 14 in SM Megamall, SM North EDSA, Glorietta, and Gateway. This film festival, a joint project between acclaimed film director Brilliante Mendoza and Solar Entertainment  President and CEO Wilson Tieng, is already its third year of giving a venue for the exhibition of promising indie films which would have probably slipped through the cracks of oblivion had they not been chosen.

*********


The first festival film I caught was Arbi Barbarona's "Tu Pug Imatuy," a title which means “the right to kill” in Manobo.  The Manobo natives, their ancestral lands and their traditional way of life have long been ravaged by unscrupulous miners and loggers and senseless violence between the military and rebels.  An indigenous woman Obunay and her husband Dawin were abducted, molested and coerced by a sadistic group of soldiers to serve as their guide to the camp of communist rebels. 

The film was told in the Manobo and Visayan tongues with English subtitles. There were some beautifully-composed shots of nature in the rain forest. The story though began slowly and awkwardly, because of the very languid pace of the first thirty minutes. This was aggravated with the tentative, very self-conscious performances of the actors in the lead roles of Obunay (Malona Sulatan) and Dawis (Jong Monzon), and their children (Jillian Khayle Barbarona and Henyo Ehem), who all seemed to be untrained neophytes. 

Interest and pace only picks up when the soldiers led by Lt. Olivares (Luis Georlin Banaag III) and Sgt. Villamor (Jamee Rivera) come into the scene to disturb the peace of the natives' blissful existence. From there, we will witness scene after scene of disturbing military brutality against the Lumad couple. Obunay, in particular, was subjected to unsettling inhuman humiliation. Lumad women, their infant children and their female volunteer teacher in a makeshift school were not spared from the soldiers' barbarism.

By the final act though, Malona Sulatan broke through her initial hesitation and gave her Obunay a strong final climactic kick. In the final thirty minutes, Sulatan totally dominated the screen with her silent but potent portrayal of a woman pushed to the very edge but still had the will to fight for her life against all formidable odds.   Director Barbarona's execution of these chase scenes through the forest was very exciting with tense suspenseful editing.  

You cannot miss that this film seems to say that all the soldiers had no redeeming value to them whatsoever. At first, you'd think this dashing young officer Lt. Olivares would be a voice of reason among them since the guy showed compassion to his captives. However, in later scenes, even he was also shown condoning and actually doing certain unforgivable acts of oppression as well. 

Things will make more sense after you watch in the fascinating epilogue shown within the closing credits. These important extra scenes were about the terrible but true events that transpired in March of 2014 which inspired this film. It will be clear by then why this film harbored such strong anti-military sentiments. You will understand why the abused Lumad may invoke their titular right to kill. 6/10.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Review of PWERA USOG: Salvation by Saliva

March 8, 2017


Among Filipino superstitions, a most curious one is "usog." This is supposed to be a curse imparted by a stranger who gives someone (usually a kid) a bad stare or an evil eye. This results in the victim to experience unexplained body malaise and fever, or stomach ache and vomiting. To counter this, the visitor is supposed to wet his fingertip with his saliva and touch it to the child's forehead in a cross pattern, saying "pwera usog" (or "to avoid usog"). 

Noted indie writer and director Jason Paul Laxamana tackles this interesting folk belief in his latest project -- his first foray into the horror genre.  Like his previous films like "Babagwa" (2013) and "Ang Magkakabaung" (2014), a good part of this film was also shot in his home province of Pampanga. 

Jean Cordero (Sofia Andres) is a bratty rich girl who enjoys making naughty prank videos with her close, similarly bratty friends Val (Cherise Castro) and Bobby (Albie Casino). One day, she convinces her level-headed ex-boyfriend Sherwin (Joseph Marco) to drive them out of town for a road trip. During a pitstop at an old abandoned building, the pals decide to play a cruel prank on a beggar woman Luna (Devon Seron) that went horribly wrong. From then on, Jean and her friends began to experience the wrath of a malevolent spirit causing a potent deadly "usog". 

The millennial lead characters in this movie Jean, Val and Bobby-- with their obsession with being viral on social media, their wanton disrespect for their parents, their overwhelmingly selfish egos, their arrogant, whiny American accents -- were all so annoying and maddening to watch! I cannot believe anyone sane and educated would ever even think of or actually doing that excessively sadistic prank they did. They really had the curse coming to them, and they certainly deserved their punishment.

The three generations of arbularyo (or folk healers) in the film were Magda (Erlinda Villalobos), Minda (Aiko Melendrez) and Quintin (Kiko Estrada). They are not related by blood, but by circumstance. I wonder how accurate to reality those arbularyo rites (the egg in the bottle, the circle of salt, the preventive amulets) were because I thought they were interesting. I got a great laugh about the gallon of liquid that the arbularyo poured on a severe usog victim, and that liquid was revealed to have been Magda and Minda's stored collection of their saliva!!! I'm sure that simply can't be true. LOL!

Aside from that gallon of spit gag, there were a lot more humorous moments throughout the film. The scene where Jean, Sherwin, Minda and Quintin were prepping for battle was hilarious. Joseph Marco was so funny when macho Sherwin was acting like a scaredy-cat during his ghost encounters. Because of her "burgis" ways, Sofia Andres was visually funny when she sat inside the circle of salt to initiate a fight with the ghost. Those ethereal catfights in the netherworld between Minda, and later Jean, against the diabolical soul of Catalina (Eula Valdez) were also quite a riot to behold.

"Pwera Usog" had all the Pinoy horror film essentials in there: eerie locations and production design, macabre musical score, gallons of blood and vomit, false alarms and jump scares, and of course, the ghostly witch makeup. It even had a pseudo-scientific explanation by a hammy-acting Dr. Michael Yu, neurologist. I think writer and director Laxamana did it on purpose that the film was not really an all-out serious horror film, and this worked in his favor. The sense of humor, intended or not, made this quite an entertaining film to watch. I may not have been truly spooked, but I sure had fun. 7/10. 




Review of T2 TRAINSPOTTING: Mellowed by Middle-Age

March 7, 2017




"Trainspotting" was a celebrated British film in 1996 which dealt about a gang of young heroin addicts living in the underbelly of Edinburgh, Scotland. This sometimes violent, sometimes disgusting, always frenetic film was directed by Danny Boyle with a screenplay written by John Hodge based on the book by Irvine Welsh.  It was one of the top 10 best British films of all time in the list released by the British Film Institute in 1999.  This new sequel "T2 Trainspotting" is set in real time twenty years after the events from the first "Trainspotting" film. 

A major act of betrayal by Mark "Rent Boy" Renton split up their gang. He left and moved to Amsterdam to make a new life for himself, while his friends all stagnated in Edinburgh. Pretty boy Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson remained on drugs and dabbled in blackmail. Fearsome hothead Francis "Franco" Begbie is serving a 25-year prison sentence. Simpleton Daniel "Spud" Murphy is helplessly wallowing in drug miseries as he is losing his wife and son. When Renton came back to Edinburgh after his 20 year estrangement, he would soon discover that his betrayal was not yet so easily forgotten by the friends he left behind 

Ewan McGregor, we are still very familiar with since he is a big movie star. The other guys are still very active actors, but more in British films than Hollywood, hence were not really as visible to me as McGregor. I know Jonny Lee Miller more as Angelina Jolie's first husband. The last big role I recall Robert Carlisle in was "The Full Monty" (1997). I don't remember Ewen Bremner in anything else. 

As Mark and Simon. McGregor and Miller both still look fit and able in the central dramatic roles, more mature, but still daring enough to run across a field nude and do a spontaneous piano-song number. Most of the violence was care of the manic Franco, still played with palpable menace by Carlisle, albeit now hampered by issues of sexual potency. Most of the comedy was care of the funny-faced Spud, still delightfully played by Bremner, albeit now tempered with issues of being an inadequate family man. 

Kelly MacDonald, who played the 15-year old schoolgirl Diane who gets involved with Renton in the first film, is back here as Atty. Diane Coulston, but this was practically only a cameo. The main female role is that of a Bulgarian prostitute Veronika who gets involved with all the guys, played with sultry rawness by Anjela Nedyalkova. 

As the cast became middle aged, the film itself also mellowed a lot from the explosive energy of the first film. Even the color palette and the musical score have also toned down significantly. While there were still sporadic bursts of action, violence, sex and drug abuse, this sequel is a more sedate and more thoughtful affair which concentrates more on the relationships of the four guys. 

Since the first "Trainspotting" brought director Danny Boyle into the big time, he has since already won an Oscar in Directing for "Slumdog Millionaire" in 2008.  The first film was so controversial with its very frank depiction of heroin addiction. There were bizarre and nightmarish scenes of a man crawling into a toilet bowl full of excrement, a dead infant crawling on the ceiling, among others. Now however, there were less of these shocking scenes. The direction in this sequel is more polished, even-keeled and sophisticated, in tune with the more mature outlook. As a plus, Boyle incorporated a number of memorable clips and lines ("Choose Life") from the previous film for fans to reminisce with. 

The main draw of this film for me was the nostalgia of seeing the four members of the old gang back together again, everyone 20 years older. Now, if you have no idea what the first "Trainspotting" was all about, you may not really understand this one very much.  Without that sense of nostalgia, this may just seem like any random action-drama film with weirdo characters barely understood because of their heavy Scottish accents. 

As for me, I liked this one because I know (though not exactly love) the first "Trainspotting" film. This sequel (also written by John Hodge based on the second book by Irvine Welsh entitled "Porno") gave me a satisfying story of what happened to its notable characters twenty years hence. Admittedly, this new film did not exactly break any new cinematic ground anymore like its bold predecessor, but it still triumphs with its own charms. 7/10. 


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Review of LOGAN: Mutants in Mangled Misery

March 4, 2017



Hugh Jackman had been playing the Marvel character Wolverine for 17 years. He was in all 3 of the original X-Men films, as well as in the 3 reboot X-Men films. He also had his own trilogy, of which this one "Logan" is the final installment. He has also announced that this would be his final film as the savagely powerful, self-healing mutant with deadly claws in his knuckles. Honestly though, we really did not need to be convinced to watch this. 

It is 2029, mutants are already a dying race. Logan (aka James Howlett, aka Wolverine) is working as a limo chauffeur to make ends meet. He is looking much older now, his body weakened by the same adamantium that made him a deadly killer. He is constantly drowning his pain and misery in alcohol. He, along with the photophobic albino mutant Caliban, is taking care of Professor Charles X. Xavier, whose powerful mind had now been overtaken by senility and violent seizures. 

A mysterious female child named Laura had been thrust into Logan's care by a violent turn of circumstances, a child with more in common with him than he'd accept. As Logan rushes to deliver Laura far northward from Mexico to North Dakota to a mutant haven called Eden, robotically-enhanced mercenaries called the Reavers, aided by Logan's own angry clone X-24, were breathing down their necks to prevent them and the other mutant children from crossing over into Canada for safety. 

Hugh Jackman gave what could be a rare Best Actor award-deserving performance of a superhero. We knew him as Logan well from all his past films so we completely feel his suffering and misery here, and Jackman, in all his gnarled, leathery and angsty best. He is not healing well anymore, so we see him broken, vulnerable and mortal. No other actor can touch his definitive portrayal of this character anymore. As a bonus, Jackman also plays his younger wilder clone X-24 --so we also get to see him doubly berserk, furious and savage. 

Patrick Stewart merits a Best Supporting Actor award here in a Shakespearean portrayal of Prof. X, reminiscent of King Lear and his decrepit senescent madness, a piteous wretched shell of his former self. 12-year old child actress Dafne Keen gives a disturbingly intense performance as Laura, with feral bloody fight scenes other kids her age cannot even watch (legally, that is). She also nailed her quiet emotional scenes quite effectively. The villains played by Richard E. Grant (as Zander Rice, head mutant engineer) and Boyd Holbrook (as Pierce, leader of that Reavers) could have been written to be even more menacing.


Probably because this is already the last Wolverine film with Hugh Jackman, the director James Mangold really went all out in the action and fight scenes. We are finally shown in graphic detail the full extent of the damage what those adamantium claws can inflict on a hapless human body. From the very opening sequence with the car-jackers to the final encounter with the Reavers, heads and limbs were being chopped off, with blood and guts splattering around. This is the true uninhibited R-rated Wolverine as he was written in the comics, not the Rated PG we've seen in the considerably more child-friendly X-Men films. 

Overall, this is a compleat superhero movie for adults, technically solid  with excellent story, cinematography, film and sound editing, and visual effects. This is definitely not kid-stuff. The violence is over-the-top, vicious, brutal -- nothing held back. But this is as it should as that unbridled ferocity is the Wolverine's essential nature.  To make it more awesome, we have three Wolverines in this one -- so the slash-fest is three-fold! This is not for the faint of heart. At the same time in the midst of all this slice-and-dice gore, the deep emotional core is intact and potent. The tragedy of Logan cut deep into us fans, but we also recognize that this end is inevitable and necessary. 9/10. 


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Review of A DOG'S PURPOSE: Reincarnations and Reunions

March 3, 2017




A dog movie is a distinct genre of its own. These are usually wholesome, usually sentimental family films about a child and an adorable dog he loves dearly. Quite a number of these films featuring all sorts of canine breeds had been made since the silents era to the present, both live action and animated form. Several of these canine stars became really famous, from Rin Tin Tin in the 1920s, to Lassie in the 1940s, Benji in the 1970s, and Beethoven in the 1990s.

This new film is unabashed in its sentimentality from the title and poster alone. You know there was going to be a cute Golden Retriever in there to tug at our heartstrings. We see the adventures of Bailey in the 1960s as beloved pet of Ethan Montgomery up to his teen years. Bailey was always with Ethan through his highs (meeting his girlfriend Hannah) and lows (his father's descent into alcoholism).

In a departure from other dog films, the second half of this film follows Bailey's soul in his subsequent reincarnations as Ellie, a heroic German Shepherd police dog, then as Tino, a feisty Welsh Corgi of a college girl, and finally as Buddy, a sad St. Bernard abandoned by his irresponsible owners. As Bailey goes from one incarnation to another, can he ever learn and achieve his real purpose of existence?

Again unlike most live action dog films, we get to hear the thoughts of Bailey (as well as Ellie, Tino and Buddy) via the voice of Josh Gad, who of course injected the character with his infectious sense of humor. As this film was told from Bailey's point of view, Ethan was portrayed lovingly, as how a loyal dog would regard his master -- by Bryce Gheisar, KJ Apa (the New Zealander actor who plays Archie on the current TV series "Riverdale") and veteran actor Dennis Quaid at different ages. 

As expected from the dog films we have seen before, there will be heartwarming scenes of dog and master bonding, as well as heartbreaking scenes of dogs saying goodbye. In this film of three dog reincarnations, there will of course be three scenes of dogs dying. If you've seen other dog films, you know one scene of a dog dying is tear-jerking enough. For me though, the scene which really made my tears well up was one of pure ecstatic joy. 

Respected Swedish director Lasse Hallström had similar themed films before in his long career: "My Life as a Dog" (1985) for which he received his first Oscar nomination for Best Director; and "Hachi: A Dog's Tale" (2009). The screenplay was by humorist W. Bruce Cameron and his wife Cathryn Michon based on Cameron's own 2010 novel. The release of this film was marred by news of animal abuse on the set, which were all fortunately proven to be false (unlike the local film "Oro"). 

Dog lovers of all ages will definitely be entertained by this film, enveloped by its love for man's best friend. The story of this film is wish-fulfillment for everyone who had that one beloved dog who went to heaven too soon. I do not have a dog now, but I recalled fondly my own special dog that I loved in my childhood. Who knows, maybe my dog and I could also come full circle again someday in the future. 7/10.