Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review of BOSS BABY: Arrogant and Adorable

April 18, 2017

When I first saw the trailers of this new Dreamworks animated film, and saw this arrogant baby wearing a suit, I did not think it was something I would like. The initial reviews that came out were not too good as well. However, upon learning of the great box-office it did in the US -- ousting "Beauty and the Beast" from the #1 spot on its first week, and hanging on to #1 for a second week -- I thought I'd like to see what this film had in store.

7-year old Tim had a fun life as an only child of his parents Ted and Janice Templeton. However, on the arrival of his new bossy baby brother, Tim's ideal life turned upside down. Calling himself the Boss Baby, the new arrival wears a suit, talks like an adult and conducts meetings with other babies in the neighborhood. He connives with Tim to help him achieve a mission which will give him a promotion in Baby Corp. where he came from, and he will be gone from Tim's life for good. Tim was only too willing to help.

The artwork by the Dreamworks artists was really cuteness overload. The adorable combination of babies and puppies was hard to resist, and the drawings capitalized on this. Every funny baby and puppy tic and behavior were played up to great comic effect. Those scenes showing Tim and Boss Baby sucking pacifiers together, wearing sailor outfits together, reading a story book together, among others, were really quite precious and heartwarming to see. 

Alec Baldwin of course had a very authoritative tone as the Boss Baby as could be expected. You can hear a lot of the irony of his character in his voice. I was impressed with the lively vocal work of Miles Christopher Bakshi (grandson of animation legend Ralph Bakshi) as Tim Templeton, matching Baldwin's energy for the whole film. 

I thought Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow had too little to say as Tim's parents to make a distinct vocal impression. Steve Buscemi was appropriately menacing as Francis E. Francis, the vindictive CEO of Puppy Co., the main target of Boss Baby's mission. We get to hear the voice of Tobey Maguire as the adult Timothy, the narrator of the film. 

I thought the first scenes of Tim vs. Boss Baby can be very disturbing for young kids, showing sibling rivalry to the extreme. I felt it was sending a negative message for children watching that it was cool to be bossy or rude or bullying others. It took time for me to warm up to this concept, which I feel a lot of the young viewers do not get or might take the wrong way. Parental guidance is a must for these scenes.

Later though, I confess that I did get caught up in all the cute foolishness of it all. Despite the plot holes (like the erratic process of the magic baby formula wearing off) and juvenile violence (there were several scenes showing babies in mortal danger), brotherly love still prevailed in the end, and that was one very important message that families and the world need to take to heart. 6/10. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Review of FAST AND FURIOUS 8: Boosted by a Baby

April 16, 2017

This energetic action series had already reached its eighth installment with this film, and it still shows no signs of fatigue or slowing down. If we are going to base it on the trailer alone, it promises to be as explosive as ever, including a most incredible scene on a frozen wasteland with a submarine! It was pretty clear that "Fast & Furious 8" (elsewhere also called "The Fate of the Furious") by director F. Gary Gray is the one most moviegoers will be spending their Easter weekend with this year.

Dom Toretto was honeymooning with Letty in Havana when he was accosted by cyberterrorist Cipher to work for her. After Dom and his team (Letty, Roman, Tej and Ramsey) along with agent Luke Hobbs successfully hijacks an electromagnetic pulse device in Berlin, Dom suddenly turns on his team, steals the device and delivers it to Cipher. Secret agent Frank Petty (aka Mr. Nobody) recruits the whole team along with rogue assassin Deckard Shaw to foil Cipher's nefarious plans of world domination. 

Vin Diesel's acting as Dom is as stony and stoic as ever, even more so in this installment. Michele Rodriguez's Letty is really one spunky lady. Tyrese Gibson is really playing up Roman's loud loverboy character for laughs in this one. The lovely Nathalie Emmanuelle is still not gelling that well with the close-knit team, but her Ramsey gets to show off more hacking skills here given the plot. As Hobbs, Dwayne Johnson is as macho as he could be, we actually believe he could do all his stunts for real.

Jason Statham gets to figure in a lot of great scenes here as Deckard Shaw. His talents in comedy (previously seen in "Spy") are really coming in handy for him to stand out. I do not think Vin Diesel could do Statham's scenes here. I enjoyed the scenes of Luke Evans and Helen Mirren in their surprise cameos as Deckard's brother and mother. While their scenes may be short, they really packed a unexpected punch. 

Charlize Theron can really pull off the sexy villainess role very well as the Cipher, although it seemed she could not keep up the menace all the way to the end. Her right hand man Rhodes though really had crazy vicious eyes on him, easily recognizable as those of actor Kristofer Hivju who played the wildling Tormund on "Game of Thrones". Kurt Russell can easily play these secret agent roles like Petty effortlessly. Scott Eastwood gets to be the comic relief as Reisner, Petty's upstart associate.

As can be deduced from the trailer alone, the whole story about Dom turning rogue against his family is a rather sketchy plot with a predictable ending. But of course, this unbelievable story line is just a basic framework upon which the most outlandishly-conceived street racing (in Havana!), car chase (in New York!), prison riot, heist getaway, and gunfight scenes were threaded on for best effects. That super-elaborate chase on the ice with armored cars, tanks, trucks, a bright orange Lamborghini and a nuclear submarine made for a most thrilling climax.

However, if you ask me and my sons, our most favorite action scene in this film would definitely be the heart-stopping yet hilarious sequence of Deckard Shaw fighting against all of Cipher's minions on a flying airplane, all the while carrying a basket with an actual baby inside it.  The adorable cuteness of the baby in this film is a real delightful scene-stealer every time. While hardcore F&F fans may feel that the series jumped the shark with these baby scenes, I thought these were refreshing angle for this 16-year old franchise. 8/10. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review of THE CASE FOR CHRIST: Enlightened by Evidence

April 12, 2017

It is Holy Week. Long before, it used to be that there would be Bible-themed movies in the theaters for the faithful to meditate upon. However, with the passing years, these films about Jesus Christ have become really rare. This year, there is only one such film out there in malls, quietly opening  in cinemas with no fanfare just a day before Palm Sunday. Fortunately I still got to catch it today.

It is 1980 in Chicago. Lee Strobel is a celebrated, award-winning journalist who wrote for the Chicago Tribune. He also had a happy family life with his wife Leslie and daughter Alison. However, one day, a tragedy in his family was narrowly averted just in the nick of time. This caused Leslie to seek her own spiritual renewal, defying Lee's staunch atheism. Lee goes on his own in-depth research about the historical and medical accuracy of Jesus' resurrection. Could he prove his wife wrong?

The actors act with earnestness as is usually expected from a religious film. Mike Vogel did very well in the lead role as Lee Strobel. He had the whole 80s look down pat, hair-sprayed mane and all. For the whole film, he was infuriatingly adamant in his atheism as he was overconfident in his skill as an investigative journalist. Despite his apparent love for his family, he was made to say such cruel and hurtful words to his wife as a result of his cynicism. However, he did have one effectively moving and tearful scene going through an album of his old articles. 

Erika Christensen was a loyal and steadfast Leslie Strobel. L. Scott Caldwell played the good Samaritan nurse Alfie Davis, who provided the spark for conversion in the Strobel household. In much smaller but key roles are Oscar-caliber actors Robert Forster as Lee's estranged father Walter and Faye Dunaway (whom I just saw in "The Bye Bye Man" before this) as psychologist Dr. Roberta Walters. I liked the portrayal of Tom Nowicki as medical expert Dr. Metherell for his authoritative discussion of Jesus' mortality.

Directed by Jon Gunn from a script by Brian Bird, "The Case for Christ" presents its story methodically as a lawyer would present his case in court. It was very refreshing to watch a religious film with an intellectual point of view, as a result of various expert interviews that Strobel conducted. This practical, logical approach will probably appeal to male audiences more than the melodramatic, emotional approach seen in "The Shack," which had more feminine sensibilities. However, this also means that "Case" had more verbose dialogue than special effects, which can also define the audience it can attract. 7/10.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Review of THE BYE BYE MAN: Hellish Hallucinations

April 6, 2017

The local newspaper ads for this film boldly declared it to be "America's highest grossing horror movie with gross of over 20M USD." Oddly though in spite of such a claim, I had never heard of this title before. There also appears to be no known actors in it as well so I guessed this is one of those low-budget horror film. Anyhow, the name of the title character sounded original, so I thought I'd give it a go.

It was 1969. A man named Larry went on a shooting rampage in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Using a shotgun, he killed a number of people who had been told a certain name which they should not think nor say to anyone else. 

Fast forward to the present, when three friends Elliot, his girlfriend Sasha and his best friend John rent a house near their university. Elliot finds a mysterious coin under an old bedside table. On the paper that lined the inside the drawer of this table was written repeated warnings of "Don't think it. Don't say it." On the wood under the lining was carved the name "Bye Bye Man." When Elliot blurted out this name to his friends one night, they began seeing progressively confusing and increasingly dangerous hallucinations.

Granted the acting of the three lead actors (Douglas Smith as Elliot, Lucien Laviscount as John and Cressida Bonas as Sasha) were not too stellar, however the horror premise of this film was not as bad as I initially thought. The confusion experienced by the young people due to their misleading visions were very well translated on screen by director Stacy Title. 

As far as the Bye Bye Man is concerned, I wish they did not have to show him too clearly as they did as this creepy bald ugly man in an hooded overcoat. This made him lose some sense of menace and mystique. I felt he was some sort of Freddie Kruger wannabe (without a razor glove) who causes people to kill for him if they thought or said his name -- but how? and why? I wish they told us something about his background and origin. The actor behind BBM is Doug Jones, an actor known for acting under prosthetics as he did as the Faun in "Pan's Labyrinth" and as Silver Surfer in "Fantastic Four."

The cast is not composed of all relatively unknown new actors though. I was surprised to recognize Carrie-Anne Moss in there as Detective Shaw who was in charge of Elliot's case. Even more surprising was the appearance of no less than Faye Dunaway in the key role of the Widow Redmon who survived the 1969 massacre. Despite Dunaway's notorious gaffe in the announcement of the Oscar Best Picture result earlier this year, it was actually welcome to see her on the big screen once again after a long absence.

The most disturbing scenes in this film were those frank pointblank shooting spree scenes in the beginning and revisited in the second half. These scenes were hard to watch without flinching. They reminded me of how I felt watching the similarly stark murder scenes in "In Cold Blood". The scenes with the nightmarish narrowed corridors with old-fashioned floral wallpaper on the walls reminded me of "The Shining." 

Even though its backstory was absent, dialogue cheesy and the acting occasionally funny (be it inadvertent or not), I still thought this film was able to create an effective suspenseful atmosphere. It was not really as awful as other reviews would have you think. 5/10. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review of LION: Longing of the Lost

February 2017

Australian commercial and TV director Garth Davis made an auspicious feature film debut last year with "Lion", a film which has now earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Dev Patel), Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Luke Davies, based on the autobiographical book "A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose). It had already won for Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay at the BAFTAs.

Little Indian boy Saroo was looking for his brother Guddu at a busy train station. Unexpectedly, the empty train he boarded began to move and he was not able to get off until it stopped on the other side of the country in Calcutta. Unfortunately, Saroo cannot name his hometown properly; so he was taken in by an orphanage.

Eventually, Saroo was adopted by Australian couple John and Sue Bierly. Twenty years later at the university in Melbourne, Saroo was inspired to undertake a search for his roots. Using his vague memories and the almighty internet, particularly Google Earth, he embarks on a long-distance quest for the family he had left behind in India. 

I would think that Dev Patel should really have been considered for Best Actor instead of Supporting. He is the title character! (You will learn why at the end of the film.) Of course, one can argue that youngster Sunny Pawar could have been the lead actor since he carried the more challenging first half of the story. I personally think that Pawar should have been cited instead of Patel when we are only going to base this on difficulty of the role.

Nicole Kidman is fortunate to have been cited for a rather small role as Saroo's adoptive mother Sue. The Bierlys adopted another Indian child after Saroo who was considerably more of a handful and a troublemaker, and this expanded her role a little more. However Sue makes a revelation of such nobility and humanity that was the highlight of that remarkable woman, as well Kidman's. 

The first part of this movie was sweeping and epic, taking us on a train trip across India. The performance of the little child actor Sunny Pawar as young Saroo was so affecting. With his innocent face and imploring eyes, we all wanted to reach out across the screen to help him out. The second half of the movie with Dev Patel as adult Saroo was more confined and sedate, since most of the action happened while he was surfing the net. The conclusion, while expected, was built up very well for full emotional effect. 7/10.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Review of PUSIT: Advocating for AIDS Awareness

April 4, 2017

I chanced upon the premiere showing of this indie film at the Fisher Mall cinema this afternoon. The ticket was rather expensive at P300. Aside from Jay Manalo playing a cross-dresser in the poster, I did not see who else is in it nor who directed it. But as the girl at the table explained this film's advocacy for AIDS awareness, I decided to buy a ticket to help in their worthy campaign. 

The title "Pusit" is gay lingo for "positive", specifically "HIV positive." Throughout the 2-hour course of the film, we will be meeting six HIV-positive patients who now had AIDS and how they cope with their dire illness. We will also meet the family and friends around them and the different ways these people react to the difficulty of caring for AIDS patients, as well as how they deal with the social stigma around it.

Samuel (Rolando Innocencio) is an OFW who came home afflicted with AIDS. Despite her disgust, his wife Lerma (Angelina Kanapi) still goes with him to the doctor. Alfred (Kristofer King) is a young gay guy with AIDS who reconnects with his old flame, an older gay executive Greg (Ronnie Quizon). Sonia (Tere Gonzales) is a millennial from a broken home who contracted AIDS from her recreational drug habit and the sexual orgies that go with it. 

Mark (Mike Liwag) is the gay son of a well-to-do lawyer Mrs. Romero (Rina Reyes). When he got full-blown AIDS, he was confined in his own room taken care of by a private yaya while his mother went to work. Victor (Lehner Mendoza) is the gay eldest son of Aling Naty (Elizabeth Oropesa) who eventually contracted AIDS because of his promiscuous gallivanting, much to the shame of his younger siblings. 

Mama Josie (Jay Manalo) is a glamorous transwoman, owner of her own beauty salon ably managed by his close friend Cheska (Joel Saracho). However, when she contracted AIDS, she became depressed and withdrawn. She temporarily gets a new lease on life when she meets the young DOTA addict Ian (JM Santos), but the psychological burden of her illness may still be too heavy for her to bear.

The MTRCB classification of this film was confusing. Outside the theater, the sign says R-13. In the announcement right before the film, it said PG! The subject matter of this film is definitely R-16 or higher. There were scenes of gratuitous nudity in bed scenes, irresponsible sexual behavior, drug use, suicide, profanities in the DOTA playing scenes -- topics which were definitely for more appropriate for mature audiences only. 

I liked how this film explored varied psychological issues experienced by AIDS patients and their loved ones. These were not too preachy, heard in conversations between doctor and patient, and between two nurses. I did not mind didactic scenes where they were discussing medical issues about HIV and AIDS. I thought it was an important overview about CD4 levels in the blood and the effect and side effects of ARV (anti-retrovirus) drugs. I noted also how all the eating scenes would cite vegetable dishes, like sayote, ampalaya or alugbati. I liked that subtle promotion for eating vegetables.

However, because of the many threads writer-director Arlyn de la Cruz had to weave together, the story-telling meandered aimlessly at times. It tended to stay too long in a number of talky, repetitive, seemingly ad-libbed scenes, such as that Naty and Victor's argument at the sink or Josie and Ian's lunch date scene. Sometimes it goes completely off-tangent to give significant screen time to a needless side episode, such as that encounter of Samuel with the callow youngish prostitute Nancy (Majalyn Fuentes). 

There were some lengthy scenes that worked though, both noisy and quiet. My favorite noisy scene was that scene where Mark was having hallucinations of spiders and snakes and his mother was desperately trying to calm him down. This scene was over-the-top, but I have to give props to Ms. Rina Reyes for such a genuine performance there. My favorite quiet scene was that of Samuel and Lerma lying side by side on the bed, with Lerma eventually turning to her side, giving a sign that she is welcoming back her husband again. Angelina Kanapi was very eloquent in her silence.

My biggest disappointment about this film involved its longest scene -- a twenty-minute long monologue of Mama Josie recording her thoughts about her illness for posterity. To be fair, it started out well-enough. However, it just droned on and on and on, one cannot help but doze off or drift off. What is worse, this scene ends in the most negative way, which I thought was very ironic since Mama Josie is the poster girl of this film -- a film which was supposed to promote positivity among AIDS patients. I realize that her fate does happen in real life. However for the purposes of this film and its advocacy, I wish it could have happened to one of the minor characters instead, not Josie. 4/10. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review of SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE: Soul-Searching Smurfette

March 31, 2017

The first two feature films about the Smurfs (in 2011 with its sequel in 2013) had been combination live action and animation films. Hank Azaria and Neil Patrick Harris did live action roles, while Anton Yelchin and Katy Perry provided the voices of certain featured animated Smurfs. They were both clunky, corny and over-the-top, really not so good. Feedback had been so bad the planned third film was scrapped. 

This year, I was surprised that this franchise actually makes a comeback. It is a reboot of sorts in an totally animated form. Due to what came before, I had my doubts about watching this one, but my kids wanted to go give it a try, so off we went.

Smurfette is feeling depressed that she does not know her exact role within the Smurf community. Her dubious origins came back to focus when she inadvertently leads their nemesis Gargamel to a new village of Smurfs in the Forbidden Forest beyond their walls. Together with her friends, Hefty, Brainy and Clumsy, Smurfette rushes against time and the evil wizard to warn the new Smurfs about the great danger that is about to befall them.

Demi Lovato as Smurfette was good, but not really distinct. Honestly I could not tell it apart from Katy Perry's voice in the first Smurfs film, or even Anna Kendrick's as Poppy in Trolls. Rainn Wilson was Gargamel in another manic comic performance of this hateful character. Joe Manganiello gave Hefty Smurf voice realistic machismo despite its squeak. Mandy Patinkin gives Papa Smurf his venerable voice this time. From the new community of Smurfs, notable voices belong to Michelle Rodriguez as the intrepid amazon warrior Smurf Storm, and Julia Roberts as the wise and motherly Smurf Willow.

Because the Trolls just had their film recently a few months back, it is difficult not to compare these two films. The 3D animation and the pop music soundtrack give both of them a very similar vibe at the start. As the film goes on though, you will note that the visuals were just a little less dynamic and the songs were just a little less catchy in this new "Smurfs" vis a vis the incredibly crazy colors and infectiously danceable tunes in "Trolls". The quality of this Sony Pictures Animation fell a tad short of the Dreamworks standard. 

There is an underlying message of woman empowerment here as Smurfette figures out her true calling. Being a children's film, the ending is oh-so-predictable for adults. It is quite reminiscent of the ending of the recent "Kung Fu Panda 3" (2016), and almost identical to the ending of "Pokemon:The First Movie" (1998). However I think it could still be moving enough to get tears flowing from susceptible audiences. Ultimately, it was wise to not bring the Smurfs into the real world like the first two films did. Keeping the cute Smurfs in their own world and exploring new parts of it will gave this franchise a new lease on life. 6/10.