Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review of STAR NA SI VAN DAMME STALLONE: Heartwarming and Healing

August 22, 2017

This film about a simple Filipino family and how they coped with the daily challenge of having a child with Down Syndrome was first shown during the 2016 CineFilipino film festival. It won 3rd Best Picture (behind "Ned's Project" and "Sakaling Hindi Makarating"). Lead actress Candy Pangilinan won Best Actress (in a tie with Angeli Bayani for "Ned's Project"), while child actor Isaac Aguirre won Best Supporting Actor. It is currently being shown as part of the first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

It is New Year's Eve and Nadia just Zamora gave birth to a child with Down's Syndrome. She thought it was the end of her world. Upon her acceptance of her blessing, Nadia named him after her two favorite action stars. Growing up with his patient older brother Tano, Vanvan went to school in the class of his cheerful godmother Ms. Cecille Mariquit as his teacher. He was also loved and defended by his pretty classmate Jessica, on whom Tano had a crush. After having a part in a fun, well-received school play, Vanvan decided he wanted to become an actor. Nadia and the whole family supported his one dream.

I know Candy Pangilinan more as a funny comedienne. She played it serious here and came up with an affecting (and award-winning) performance as Vanvan's "ermat" (or mother) Nadia. In the course of this challenging role, Pangilinan skillfully tread the delicate line between personal despair and unconditional maternal love. Her moment of epiphany and acceptance came after a very tense scene of extreme mental torment from which she fortunately snapped out of in time. Her restraint did her very well here.

We see the challenge of how an older brother would deal with a special younger brother. Instead of just going to school and playing with friends, Tano would have to help take care of Vanvan, and protect him from bullies in the neighborhood. He also had to contend with their mother's impatience and demands, which can be too much for a young boy to understand and accept. Kid Tano was played with impressive sensitivity by Isaac Aguirre, who certainly deserved the award he won. Adult Tano was played by Acey Aguilar, but his role was largely in the background by then.

The other supportive people around Vanvan were played with sincerity by their respective actors: Sarah Brakensiek as friendly Ms. Mariquit, Junyka Sigrid Santarin (who was so good on stage in "The Nether") as outspoken Kid Jessica. Mara Marasigan as Adult Jessica, Erlinda Villalobos as Vanvan's grandmother Ditas and Ebong Joson as Vanvan's long-estranged father Jim who wanted to make up for lost time. Vanvan's favorite actress on TV is Jasmine Curtis Smith, do you think he will get to see her in person?

The title role of Van Damme Stallone at different ages was played by young people with Down's syndrome. Edelmira Mattea Curativo was the baby Vanvan and Jeremiel Austria was the Toddler Vanvan. The main featured actors were Jadford Dilanco who played the Kid Vanvan, while Paolo Pingol who played the adult Vanvan. 

With these delightful actors, director Randolph Longjas was able to show how a child with Down's Syndrome could be a source of joy and comfort for his family. Every scene with Vanvan (at all ages) inexplicably filled me up with both heartbreaking and heartwarming emotion. Even a simple quiet scene of Vanvan struggling to button down his shirt and eventually succeeding could make you shed happy tears. Do not leave right away after the end credits roll, as there is one more touching scene to remember Vanvan by. 9/10. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review of BAR BOYS: Learning about Law and Life

August 20, 2017

For many non-lawyers, the process of educating a lawyer is a hallowed mystery. With the quality of various lawyers we read about in the daily newspapers or observe in action on televised trials and investigations, we wonder:  How is someone who is expected to uphold the laws and protect human rights molded into being? How can we be assured that they will always remain true to the nobility of their calling? 

"Bar Boys" follows a group of friends who pass the entrance exam of a prestigious (but unnamed) law school. Torran Garcia (Rocco Nacino) is a cool and (over-)confident student, possessing a sharp tongue and photographic memory. Chris Carlson (Enzo Pineda) is a rich Amboy with a distant yet demanding father, who was also a lawyer. Erik Vicencio (Carlo Aquino) is a son of a elderly security guard whose biggest dream is for his son to become a lawyer, whatever it takes. 

Because of the multiple foci in its story, writer-director Kip Oebanda developed the story of the boys in an series of episodes, either together in school; or individually in their own homes. These episodes were mostly told with a naughty sense of humor, but some were very serious with pretty heavy dramatic situations. 

The school episodes told about the terrifying or hilarious idiosyncrasies of various professors they encounter. Two of them stood out. Atty. Victor Cruz (Sebastian Castro) is a not-so-discreet young gay professor who wore a shirt with banana designs on day one, but dead serious with his grades. Atty. Hernandez (Odette Khan) is an intimidating senior professor with glowering eyes who won't accept anything less than the absolute precise answer. This may count as one of the best roles I've seen Ms. Khan do in her whole career.

Of the three, it was Torran who joined a frat, so we also got a glimpse into that controversial topic. The story took a dark turn when Torran had a run-in with their brutal Lord Master (Vance Larena) during a sadistic hazing ceremony. I had an idea what may have happened, but I felt the outcome of this subplot was not shown or told too clearly. No positives of joining frats were shown to balance out the negatives.

Torran is part of a very big middle-class family led by his very loud and funny mother, and of course, nobody plays quirky better than Mailes Kanapi. How his family welcomed Torran when he came home after learning his bar result is one of my favorite scenes. In another scene, Torran got picked up by the beautiful law student Alice (Hazel Faith dela Cruz) he was trying to pick up at the frat party. It was too bad that that one-night-stand sequence would be the only appearance of dela Cruz for the whole film. 

A-student Chris is carrying on a relationship with an English-challenged direct salesgirl Rachel (another vivacious turn by Anna Luna after "Requited" and "Paglipay") for five long years, a matter which he kept secret from his father Atty. Maurice Carlson (Pontri Bernardo). Erik may come from a poor family, but he has a close, loving, supportive relationship with his parents Renato (Rener Concepcion) and Linda (Irene Celebre). Their father-son relationship was a most touching aspect of the story.

They had a fourth guy in their DOTA-playing gang, Josh Zuniga (played by Kean Cipriano) who would rather be a model/actor than be a lawyer. Despite sharing one fourth of the poster, Cipriano's scenes were very minimal compared to the other three, and he was there mainly for comic relief with his immature shenanigans.

If you want to study in law school, you should watch this first before you apply. Will you be ready to photocopy thick tomes for required readings, and actually commit them to memory? Will you be ready to handle spontaneous recitation sessions right on the first day of class? Will you be ready to argue with the answers of your classmates and rate their performance? Will you be ready to sacrifice all your interpersonal relationships at least until you graduate and pass the bar? This film tells you what to expect, and warns you ahead of time. 

You may wish that instead of hypothetical cases, they would debate on current issues of national interest about lawyers, but things did not go that way. The treatment of its interesting topic may have been fun, light-hearted and optimistic, however I thought the true essence of law school is captured with respect and sincerity. 7/10. 

Review of AWOL: Grievances and Guns

August 20, 2017

Honestly I chose to watch this entry of the currently-running first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino mainly because of its running time. It was getting late and I needed to go home. This feature length film only lasts for only a brisk hour and 15 minutes. This is the best film to catch if you are in a hurry and short on time (like me). 

At first I was apprehensive to catch this film because of poor initial reviews. It did not seem wise to pay a hefty regular price for a ticket ( I do not have free passes nor do I know how to score such passes) and see a short 75-minute movie with bad reviews. However, time constraints and curiosity still got the better for me, and so I decided to still go see and judge this film for myself. 

Lt. Abel Ibarra led a group of Army Rangers to attack and secure the headquarters of Muslim terrorist Habib al Sajid in the jungles of Sulu. His mission was an explosive success that resulted in the death of their subject. However, back in Manila a few months later, this same troop of Rangers were the target of a sneaky bomb attack during a baptismal party. As the only survivor of that fatal incident. Lt. Ibarra took it upon himself to seek revenge for the deaths of his men, even if it meant going AWOL.

I have to commend Skylight Films and Cine Bro for trying to resurrect the long dormant action genre in local cinema. Gone are the days when films of actors like Fernando Poe Jr., Joseph Estrada, Ramon Revilla, Rudy Fernandez, Lito Lapid, Bong Revilla and the like ruled the box office. Nowadays, local viewers could only get their adrenaline fix by watching Coco Martin on TV's "Ang Probinsyano."

"AWOL" seems to get inspiration from various Hollywood B-tier action flicks, such as those starring Jean Claude Van Damme or Jason Statham or present-day Bruce Willis. This was a variation of any of those one-man-army type revenge action plots.  Looking at it that way, you really do not expect too much artistry in films like this at all. Just kill, kill, kill.  

Gerald Anderson Is effective in the lead role of Abel, be it as a topnotch sharpshooter, an officer and a family man. He played this character really seriously and I thought he really inhabited it with a palpable intensity. He had an action star screen presence and skills.

Raymond Bagatsing (as Habib Al-Sajid), Harold Baldonado (as Russo), Dido de la Paz (as Delgado), Bernard Palanca (as Victor), and Bembol Roco (as Armando Santillan) played his enemies in various degrees of one-dimensional crazy. Lawrence Pineda (as Army Maj. Daguman) and Richard Quan (as Police Capt. Carlos) portrayed their roles in a way that made their characters look dubious and suspicious. 

The most remarkable villain of them all was a sinister female minion named Rosa, played by fitness trainer Reema Chanco-Waldie. Her scenes as a gun-slinging "nurse" and sharpshooting long-distance sniper were totally bad-ass. While all the other villains never really gave Abel much of a fight, this Amazon actually got a bullet into him.

There are multiple bad guys and terrorists killed, these scenes looking like various military-themed first-person shooter video games. Perfect head shots all the time! Action fans watch films like this for the gunfights, bombs and fistfights, and director Enzo Williams delivered in that sense, with clean cinematography and crisp sound effects mixing. 

"AWOL" could have gone beyond the by-the-numbers series of killings and delved deeper into complex issues about the culture of violence gripping our society these days, but it did not. This film's seemingly supportive statement about going above the law, vigilantism and extrajudicial killings is controversial. But then again, its aim may just be all about glorifying the heroism of our soldiers by way of exciting surface-level thrilling action. Maybe, we should just leave it at that, and not try to limn any intended underlying message at all.  6/10.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Review of BIRDSHOT: Corrupted by Critical Circumstance

August 19, 2017

Last November 2016, "Birdshot," a film by 24-year old director Mikhail Red, won Best Picture at the Asian Future Film Competition in the same 29th Tokyo International Film Festival where "Die Beautiful" won its Audience Choice and Best Actor. It was also the Opening Film of this year's Cinemalaya Filmfest. It finally gets its commercial run as part of the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino this week.

In a dusty unnamed rural town, there were two crimes committed. First there was a bus en route that mysteriously disappeared along with all the passengers on board.  Second, an endangered haribon (Philippine Eagle) was shot and killed. As their work on the first case seemed to be leading nowhere, senior police officer Mendoza and his new partner Domingo were also dispatched to investigate a cornfield caretaker Diego Mariano and his 14-year old daughter Maya, suspects of the second case.

This film did not hide its sentiments about the police. Arnold Reyes convincingly played the rookie Domingo, who devolved from a happy family with a garden of orchids into a heartless brutal executioner within the course of this film. It could have been rather abrupt, but Reyes' tortured transformation was disturbing to watch unfold. John Arcilla can play shady characters like Mendoza blindfolded. His sneer, his voice, chilling to the core. Dido dela Paz only had one scene as their chief of police, but he was downright fearsome and sinister.

Veteran character actor Ku Aquino and newcomer Mary Joy Apostol played the father and daughter caught up in the wave of violence. Diego was a tragic father figure, willing to take the fall for his daughter, and grizzled Aquino bravely took all his blows. Maya came of age in the most harrowing circumstances, and Apostol took the bull by the horns in her feature film debut, using her open innocent face to its full advantage.

On the negative side, I thought it was very odd how a father, jaded as he was, never told his daughter directly that it was illegal to shoot down a haribon despite having the eagle sanctuary right next door to their farm all those years. This was a rather shaky key plot point upon which the whole film stood with instability.

This was a film that comments on current Filipino society where police brutality is committed with seeming impunity. It shows how the spirit and morality of even the most upright man or idealistic youth can so easily be broken and corrupted by fear and insecurity. Common themes of several local indie films for sure, but this one was told in a novel style. While the chance encounter may have felt forced, the final scene of the whole film may have been hauntingly shot as a tableau of victimhood. 

From an opening scene showing Diego teaching his daughter Maya how to shoot ducks with a shotgun, you already knew that "Birdshot" was going to be about violence and its hold on people. With grand visuals by cinematographer Mycko David and an unsettling pace set by writer and director Mikhail Red, violence (to both men and beasts) would pervade and consume the rest of this film up to the end, taking us, its riveted captive audience, along on its heart-stopping and heart-breaking ride. 8/10.

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. 


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 (Zoƫ 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.