Saturday, January 27, 2018

Review of DOWNSIZING: Maximizing by Minimizing

January 25, 2018

The setting is in an unspecified future time when scientists in Norway had developed a process called "downsizing," a way to safely shrink people to a height of five inches. While the grander advantage of this remarkable technology is its environmental benefit, downsizing also lessens the financial burden of daily living.

Meanwhile, Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey (Kristen Wiig) Safranek are a happy married couple living in Omaha, Nebraska. After meeting with a couple of friends who had been downsized, the Safraneks explored this option to escape their financial woes, visiting a nearby downsized community called Leisureland. Convinced, they decide to undergo the process themselves. However, things do not go according to plans.  

Ever since "Election" (1999), a film written and directed by Alexander Payne always stood out among the best of the year because of its intelligent incisive writing and heartfelt homespun direction. "About Schmidt" (2002), "Sideways" (2004) "The Descendants" (2011) (MY REVIEW) and "Nebraska" (2013) (MY REVIEW) have all been nominated or awarded as Best Screenplay, Best Director or Best Picture by various critics, including the Oscars.

The basic premise of "Downsizing" is very original and very interesting. How imaginative is that solution it proposes to the environmental crisis facing the world as well as the financial crisis many face all over the world. When humans are just five inches tall, everything he needs and uses also gets downsized accordingly. This greatly reduces all the waste each human being generates. It also reduces the money needed to sustain a desired way of life. 

The first half of the film while the Safraneks were deciding whether to undergo downsizing or not was really fascinating. Audiences will definitely be provoked to think about this fantastic scientific breakthrough, if they will go for it or not if given the chance. Unfortunately, in the second half, when the action shifts to life within the downsized community itself, the stories and the storytelling both began to derail. 

I found the characters whom Paul encountered in the second half  of the film to be very odd and unlikable. Christoph Waltz was Dušan Mirković, a middle-aged man who loved to party loud in complete disregard of his neighbors. Hong Chau was Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese activist who was punished by her government by being shrunk against her will. While I appreciated an Asian character in there, why does she have to talk in an offensively stereotypical Asian accent? Rolf Lassgård was Dr. Jørgen Asbjørnsen, the inventor of the downsizing procedure, who acted suspiciously like a lunatic cult leader.  

The whole Downsizing concept was set up so well by the first hour, but by the second hour, it all came crumbling down. It had so much potential to tell very humanistic stories about the advantages of being small, but it didn't. The second half instead told half-hearted stories where being small did not even matter. It was not explain why poverty and squalor still existed within a community of the small. There could have been so much to compare and contrast between the two co-existing worlds, but the filmmakers did not go there. It was really disappointing that Alexander Payne failed to deliver on his innovative story idea this time, unlike his previous films. 5/10. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Review of MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE: Harsh Humanity

January 26, 2018

"Maze Runner" (MY REVIEW) is probably the least memorable among the teenage dystopian film series we have had in the recent years after "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent." When I was watching this latest one, the names of the actors in the cast do not immediately come to mind, and nor did the plot. It took some time for me to get back into the continuity of the story, especially since the last film was shown back in 2015. Frankly, I did not even expect this third episode at all. 

At the end of "The Scorch Trials" (MY REVIEW), because of her blind trust in WCKD (wasn't the acronym obvious enough?) and its leaders Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and Janson (Aiden Gillen), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) betrayed her virus immune friends from the Glade. One of the boys, Minho (Ki Hong Lee) was captured to develop a serum against the zombie-fying Flare virus. At this point, the infected are already outnumbering the uninfected 3:1. 

Meanwhile, the remaining boys Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden), along with their new friends Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), continue to find ways to penetrate the city walls to break Minho out. They encounter a rebel group outside the wall with their deformed leader Lawrence (Walton Goggins). Among this group, they reunite with their old "frenemy" Gally (Will Poulter) who apparently survived the his severe stab wound he sustained in the last film.

All the "teenage" characters here are now played by actors all well into their 20s already and they look their age. The youngest among the boys is Will Poulter at 24. The oldest among them is Ki Hong Lee, who is actually turning 32 this year. While some of them can still pass for teens, a few, the leads Dylan O'Brien and Kaya Scodelario in particular, look too mature for their character's age. 

Even if I did not immediately remember their names, Thomas and his gang did work together as a team very well. There is an effective chemistry among the actors so this carried the adventure through for the most part. You'd admire their loyalty and dedication to stay united with each other no matter what. It was tough to watch though that they insist on their idealism, in spite of the the possibility of causing more casualties in the process.

This film took almost two and half hours to finish, so I have to admit it had me looking at my watch several times. I definitely felt its length, and there were parts in the middle where I zoned out. Some scenes felt endless because they took so long despite the inevitability of their outcomes, like that fight with the Cranks in the tunnel, or that scene where Janson was stalking Thomas in the laboratory. I also wished director Wes Ball provided better closure about the virus, a cure or the Cranks.

Bloated finale that it may have been, it still had a number of awesome action scenes which were a lot of fun to watch. The film opened with an exciting train rescue scene. In the middle there was a big unbelievable stunt with a bus full of teenagers which can make you feel like you were on a thrill ride with them. Loyal fans will get emotional with the cast members who die in this one. That long sentimental farewell coda made sure of that. However, casual viewers may not really remember too much about it anymore after a while. 5/10. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Review of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME: Daring to Desire

January 23, 2017

This critically acclaimed film was first shown locally during the CinemaOne Originals 2017 film festival last November. All four screenings were sold out. Due to the demand, an extra screening was added which also got sold out. I did not get to watch it back then. Despite (or probably because of) its controversial topic, this Oscar-buzzed film promptly gets a limited commercial run this month in selected Ayala Mall theaters, with an MTRCB rating of R-16.

It was the summer of 1983 somewhere in a quiet Eden of a town in Northern Italy. There lived a 17-year Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet), who loved music, languages and his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel) who fawned over him. One day, his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor of Greco-Roman archeology, welcomed an American graduate student, 24-year old Oliver (Armie Hammer), into their home as an intern for the summer. The tall, handsome, aloof Oliver wakens an unfamiliar yearning in young Elio. Will Elio be able to reveal his hidden desire to Oliver before the summer ends?

Working with a script adapted by James Ivory (yes, of those nostalgic Ivory-Merchant films of old) from the 2007 novel written by author Andre Aciman, director Luca Guadagnino brought us to an idyllic setting of rural quietude and simplicity. It was the perfect ambiance for the blossoming of a young love with its sun-kissed meadows and ponds, dusty paths for bicycle rides and empty town plazas and al fresco cafes.

22-year old and androgynous Chalamet and 31-year old 6'4" All-American chap Hammer seem to be ideally cast as Elio and Oliver. Chalamet was staring with his simmering longing in his eyes as Hammer was strutting around nonchalantly with his attractive over-confidence. Between the two of them, Chalamet was certainly the more sincere and effective actor than his co-star from whom discomfort can be felt. 

Even with all these positive things going for it, not to mention all those numerous award nominations, I personally thought that this film was over-hyped. The progression of the storytelling by director Guadagnino was too slow, with repetitive distractions. When intentions were revealed, that moment came too abruptly and with little sense of romantic thrill in its execution. 

Even the meaning of the title is lost to me. Why should one call the other by his name be an expression of love? It was pretentious and certainly unrealistic. Those scenes when they were calling out to each other with the other's names felt corny and made me cringe. 

Also uncomfortable to watch was that sticky love scene with a peach, which was done in all seriousness probably as a metaphor of some nebulous sort. A similar scene with the apple pie seen in "American Pie" was at least done purely for the sake of humorous raunch.  

Those scenes of making the first move on one's dream guy, as well the that remarkable final scene of paternal candidness and unconditionality, will definitely resonate positively for any young gay man seeking love and acceptance. Therefore, this film would work very well for that niche of viewers. 

However, for those who aren't in that particular demographic, the effusive awards hype may lead to high expectations which may not be met. As far as gay-themed mainstream movies go for me, "Brokeback Mountain" and "Moonlight" engaged better than this one.  6/10. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Review of ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD: Avaricious Apathy

January 19, 2018

This film was in the headlines lately because of a real life drama regarding its cast. Kevin Spacey already finished his scenes for a major character J. Paul Getty. Since October 2017, Spacey was embroiled in allegations of past sexual assaults. In order to save the box office chances of his film, director Ridley Scott embarked on major reshoots of his film in 10 days last November, with Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty. 

This month, this film was still in the news this time for the issue of gender pay disparity. It was alleged that while Michelle Williams was paid a total of $1,000 for her work during the reshoots, Mark Wahlberg was paid a staggering $1.5 Million! Wahlberg has since announced that he would be donating his reshoot salary to the Time's Up legal fund meant for people who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace

J. Paul Getty was the man who dared to mine the oil out of the Saudi Arabian desert in the late 1940s, and for that he earned his massive fortune. In 1973, his teenage grandson Paul was kidnapped off the streets of Rome for a ransom of $17M. Despite the frantic appeals of Paul's mother Abigail for help, his grandfather J. Paul Getty, then the richest man in the world, pridefully announced to the press that he would pay the kidnappers nothing.

This kidnapping drama is an intimate look inside the unusual family dynamics of the Gettys. It was clear in the way Ridley Scott told the story that all that money suffocated J. Paul Getty and this family, subjecting them to misery instead of giving them happiness. Much emphasis was given on the elderly Getty's obsession with getting more and more money. He did everything he can to skirt around tax laws via various legal technical manipulations. As his fortune grew, so did his heart grow harder and colder. 

Christopher Plummer portrayed that corruption by greed with scary intensity. His performance is the icy centerpiece of this film, and may well earn him his third Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor since his career gained second wind in his old age. He won the Oscar in the second one of these nominations for "Beginners" back in 2012. As perfectly as Plummer was in this though, there will always be curiosity as to how Kevin Spacey (under thick aging makeup) had done in the original cut. 

4-time Oscar acting nominee Michelle Williams may just earn her fifth in her role here as Abigail Getty. She did the best she can with a role that could have been given more heart than how it was written and executed. This was ironic because the film's script was based on John Pearson's 1995 book "Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty," which told the kidnapping in Gail's point of view. After watching the film, that pay inequality issue was really outrageous because Williams was not only billed first, but she had a more demanding role and more scenes.

I thought Wahlberg's character Fletcher Chase, the elder Getty's security officer and negotiator, was rather extraneous and could have been removed without any marked loss in the story. In any case, Wahlberg was an ill fit to the role and he struggled to give it some semblance of significance, probably to make it look like it was worth his salary. Wahlberg actually only had one scene of importance, a confrontation scene between Chase and his big boss. The way that scene played out, I was not convinced of Chase's sincerity.

Paul Getty was played by 18-year old actor Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher, despite the remarkable coincidence). You simply could not feel any sympathy for the victim because of his lifeless and unlikable performance. The scenes where young Paul was seen trying to escape from the criminals may be good to spice up the screen with much-needed suspense. However, these did not ring true because of the passive and bland person Paul was built up to be.

Fans of "Cinema Paradiso" (1988) who wonder how teenage Salvatore di Vita looks now may want to watch out for Marco Leonardi who appears here as Mammoliti, the criminal kingpin who bought Paul from the first simpleton Calabrian kidnappers. Interesting also the news coming out how Mammoliti's heirs were complaining about the inaccurate way their antecedent was portrayed, claiming he was a better criminal than how the film showed him to be. Well, that's cinematic license for you.

Overall, the story was interesting, however the storytelling by Ridley Scott was not consistently compelling. It started out well enough as the characters were being introduced. However, it felt long and slow in the middle act, only to be rejuvenated only within the last part when there was some suspense and action to perk things up. Anyhow, production design (with all those art treasures) and costumes (to fit the period) were very nice to look at, even when filmed with a gloomy bluish filter. In the middle of it all, there was Christopher Plummer's chilling portrait of one billionaire's sickening avarice. 6/10. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review of 12 STRONG: Charge of the Charmed Cavalry

January 18, 2018

September 11, 2001 was a traumatic day for the whole world, but especially for the USA. The massively deadly terrorist attacks that day which flattened the World Trade Center and burned the Pentagon shattered the universal perception of American invincibility. The secret mission detailed in this film is one of those first retaliatory attacks launched by the US after the smoke cleared in order to reassert their place in world affairs, cast in doubt by 9/11.

About a month after the NYC attacks of 9/11/2001, a 12-member US Army Green Berets code-named Operational Detachment Alpha 595 (ODA 595) were chosen to be sent on a covert mission to Afghanistan. As part of Task Force Dagger, they joined forces with General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance to reclaim key Taliban-held cities there.

The members of ODA 595 all had to ride horses because of the inhospitable terrain and distance they needed to cover. This was no problem for their charismatic leader Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), who grew up on a ranch, but this was his first time in actual combat. The other members, like Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon), Sam Diller (Michael Pena), Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes), Vern Michaels (Thad Luckinbill), etc, had to master their horse-riding skills overnight on top of their combat skills in order to keep up with their dangerously harrowing mission.

When they get to Afghanistan, it took some time for the war action to get going, as our heroes still needed to acquaint themselves with their unfamiliar allies. While the intense battle scenes took us in the middle of the gunfire and explosions, there was point when the action actually became repetitive as we would see the same strategy of attack (get coordinates of the camp, launch airstrike to decimate the enemy, engage the remained on the ground) for all the Taliban encampments, with just a little dramatic variation here and there for the sake of distinction.

The centerpiece battle scene however was only upon us by the final thirty minutes or so of the film. This was the grand charge of Nelson's ragtag troop ON HORSEBACK to attack the superior numbers and firepower of the Taliban troops. That was an elaborate but very well-executed battle sequence for which this film would be remembered for. It was certainly unique, exciting and exhilarating to watch, worth the whole price of admission in itself. 

This was a good war film even if the 12 Americans all seemed to lead charmed lives despite the overwhelming odds stacked against them. On the other hand, the Taliban were all portrayed as cruel religious fanatics, as there were scenes commenting on their inhumane beliefs and practices particular about women. A strong all-American patriotic sentiment swelled at the end, fully expected in a true to life story of modern heroism as this. 6/10.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review of INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY: Exploring Elise's Enigma

January 17, 2018

"Insidious" is a film series for which I had written reviews of all of its past installments. These were: "Insidious" (James Wan, 2011) (MY REVIEW), "Insidious Chapter 2" (James Wan, 2013) (MY REVIEW), "Insidious Chapter 3" (Leigh Whannell, 2015) (MY REVIEW). Now, the fourth episode is released, this time subtitled "The Last Key" (Adam Robitel, 2018). 

This latest film in the series brought us way back to the year 1953 to introduce us to our favorite parapsychologist Elise Rainier as a child (Ava Kolker). Even then she already possessed the ability to see and communicate with spirits.  While her mother Audrey (Tessa Ferrer) was understanding and supportive about it, her abusive father Gerald (Josh Stewart) wanted to beat out her dubious "talent" out of her. 

Fast forward to 2010, elderly Elise (Lin Shaye) received a phone call from a distressed man named Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo) who wanted her help to rid his house of ghosts. When he gave her his address, Elise realized that he was living in the same house where she grew up as a girl. While hesitant at first, Elise eventually accepted to look into the case, as a way of facing and conquering the same old demon with the keys that caused her childhood to be one of tragedy and misery.

If you've seen the other Insidious films, the jump-scare style of horror is still very similar in this new one. This was despite having a new director Adam Robitel, who had only directed one other film before this one which was also a horror -- "The Taking of Deborah Logan" (2014). Robitel just coasted along with the familiar and did not seem to innovate too much. That main monster they called Key Face only had sinister-looking fingernails and hands, but his ugly face was not at all scary. The Further was hardly seen or explored this time around. The actors portraying Elise's brother (Bruce Greenwood) and her nieces (Spencer Locke and Caitlin Gerard) look miscast age-wise 

Nevertheless, to be fair, there were still quite a number of pretty well-executed horror sequences here. The best for me was that tense scene where Elise was examining the suitcase inside the exhaust tunnel, built up so well by the camera angles, editing and music sound effects. Over the past four films, Elise Rainier is a character I really like, and much of this was because of Lin Shaye's ever-enigmatic portrayal. She is the heart and soul of the Insidious series. 

Adding further entertainment was the always-bickering Spectral Sightings sidekick duo of Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Simpson). Call their lines lame, sappy, corny, or cringy, but they are truly indispensable because of their invaluable comic relief. Some pure horror fans may dislike the intrusion of comedy, but I did not mind, and in fact enjoyed more than a chuckle or two with their antics.

The timeline of this fourth chapter lay sometime between the events of Episode 3 and the first film, then went even further back to tell us about Elise as a young girl. It introduced us to her parents, her younger brother Christian and the unbearably violent upbringing she had under the iron fist of her father. I thought it was a clever idea of writer Leigh Whannell to bring Elise back to the house of her childhood so her life would come full circle. How the ending sequence connected to the first Insidious film with the phone call for help to Elise from Lorraine Lambert was also a nice touch. 6/10. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review of PITCH PERFECT 3: Finding Fun and Freedom

January 13, 2018

The first "Pitch Perfect" (directed by Jason Moore) debuted in 2012. This low-budget musical comedy film was about an all-female college acapella singing group called the Barden Bellas and their struggle to gain respect in the choral competition circuit. It gained unexpected critical and box office success, leading to two sequels, a second one in 2015 (directed by Elizabeth Banks) and the third and final one this year (directed by Trish Sie). The common scriptwriter for all three films is Kay Cannon.

It has been three years since their graduation from college, and the alumnae (Beca, Fat Amy, Chloe, Aubrey, Lilly, etc) of the Barden Bellas gathered together to listen to the current batch of Bellas (led by Emily) sing. Using Aubrey's Army connections, the Bellas joined a USO tour to entertain US troops in Europe. It turned out that they would also be in a competition with the other bands with them on the tour to see who would DJ Khaled would pick to be his open for him in his next concerts.

As you can deduce from that synopsis, there was barely any story to hang this latest Pitch Perfect outing on. This was practically just a series of acapella performances from the girls, which was not such a bad thing, but the rest of their scenes felt like empty fillers. The competition aspect, so much an integral part of the first two PP films, was reduced to what felt like a sorry minor afterthought, and with bands who played instruments (no fair match). Instead, we get an over-the-top hostage and rescue (to the tune of Britney Spears' "Toxic" no leass) sequence to spice up the mix.

I am not exactly a big fan of Anna Kendrick as Beca, even from the first PP film. While her singing voice was very good, I felt she was stiff and uncomfortable as a performer on the stage, especially when she was by herself. I felt it again this time around in that final concert scene led off by a solo (of a George Michael 90s hit) by Beca, which only livened up when she had her fellow Bellas singing along with her. One of the funniest zingers in the script was when one of the girls remarked about Beca's pinched face. Exactly what I was saying in my head in that scene, LOL!

It was Rebel Wilson's Fat Amy who was given her own special storyline which involved a reunion with her long estranged father Fergus Hobart (John Lithgow), who was involved with criminal activities back in Australia. While her loud Fat Amy jokes were hit and miss, seeing the hefty Wilson so incredibly "agile" in her intense fight scenes was really hilarious physical comedy. Are we seeing a preview of a possible Fat Amy spin-off series?

Chloe (Brittany Snow) and scene-stealing Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) get to hook up with new guys on the tour. Aubrey (Anna Camp) gets to yearn for her absentee dad. Stacie (Alexis Knapp) misses the tour because of an important arrival. As for the other girls, at least we get to hear Cynthia (Ester Dean) and Florencia (Chrissie Fit) sing, but still not a single solo note from Jessica (Kelley Jakle) and Ashley (Shelley Regner). Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) had one featured number with her new Bellas at the start, but got lost in the mix later on. 

Don't count out those two pesky running commentators Gail (Elizabeth Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins). They are now filming a documentary about the Bellas and so you can still hear their catty remarks on the side as they joined the Bellas on their USO tour.

There was nothing new in this latest PP other than a last chance to see the Bellas singing together. The best scenes were still the song numbers, with the awesome vocal harmony arrangements of familiar pop songs (in the initial riff-off, the performance montages, even during the hostage crisis!) as the this franchise was best loved for. It was only shallow mindless fun mostly. They've squeezed this birght idea dry, so goodbye is a good idea. Nevertheless, it was a final romp Bellas fans will still enjoy and perhaps even get misty-eyed for. 6/10.   

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review of THE COMMUTER: Fast, Far-fetched, Frantic

January 12, 2018

Ever since the runaway box office success of the film "Taken" in 2008, Liam Neeson experienced a second wind in his career as an action star. "Taken" was followed by two sequels (MY REVIEW). He also had other hard-hitting films like "Non-Stop" (MY REVIEW) and "A Walk Among the Tombstones" (MY REVIEW), both released in 2014. And just when there was some talk awhile back that he was going to retire from making action films given his age of 65, he is back again with a new one.

Michael McCauley is a 60-year old insurance salesman who was just laid off from his job. On his way home on the train (the same train he had been taking everyday going to work for the past ten years), a mysterious woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) offered him $100,000. His mission was to use his skills as an ex-NYPD cop to seek out a specific passenger with a bag and put a GPS device on that person before he or she got off at the Cold Spring station. If McCauley failed at this task, his family will be killed. 

With a synopsis like that, you can already imagine how tense and claustrophobic this action-thriller was going to be. The travel time from Grand Central Station in the heart of NYC to the Cold Spring station (a distance of 85 km) on the Metro North Railroad via the Hudson line is about an hour and 20 minutes only in real life. 

I liked the opening montage showing the day-to-day domestic life of Michael McCauley, his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) and son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman) and his daily train ride into the city. I thought this sequence so eloquently conveyed their routine with the passage of time and seasons. I liked that Michael read the classic books Danny needed to read for school -- something I also do with my kids. Oftentimes, we pay no mind to the scenes with the opening credits, but this one certainly grabbed my attention from the start.

Despite the sheer impossibility of what was being asked of him, you know that Liam Neeson will do whatever it takes to save his family. Of course, his trademark invincibility and other super-human abilities will come in pretty handy, like they conveniently did in his previous action flicks. Honestly, he had to look for a needle in a veritable haystack in this one. No one can do that crazy task given the nebulous clues, extreme time limits and the hundreds of people on that train. But hey, he's Liam Neeson.

We suspend our disbelief as we go with the quick pacing of the action. No matter how contrived or corny the situations may be, we are sucked into the flow of the story all the way to its slam-bang super-explosive climax. Tightly shot, bone-crunching fight scenes between McCauley and various suspects escalate the excitement along the way. Astute viewers may be able to guess how things are going to wind up at the end, but director Jaume Collet-Serra (who had directed Neeson twice before) knew exactly how to keep us hooked. 7/10.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review of FERDINAND: Bullish Benevolence

January 11, 2018

The only computer animated films by Blue Sky Studios that come to mind are "Ice Age" (2002) and "Rio" (2011) and their sequels -- mid-tier titles that may not count as animated classics in the long run, as Disney or Pixar films are more expected to be. My personal favorite Blue Sky film was "The Peanuts Movie" (2015) (MY REVIEW). 

The offering of Blue Sky this year is an adaptation of a 1936 children's book called "The Story of Ferdinand" written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. The title character Ferdinand was a peaceful bull who would rather play and smell flowers than do what is traditionally expected of him -- fight in the bullring. 

The treatment of the story in this animated film version was very juvenile, a bit too sweet and sentimental at times. Scriptwriters Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland weaved into the central plot several wacky misadventures of the main character and his friends to make it appealing to kids. 

In the hands of Carlos Sandanha, Brazilian director of a number of Blue Sky's biggest hits, like "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (2012) and both "Rio" films, told his important story of non-violence with a kind yet assured touch and silly sense of humor which audiences young and old will appreciate.

It was an unexpected but inspired choice to have WWE professional wrestler John Cena give his voice to gentle Ferdinand. It was a most pleasant surprise to say the least to find that out after watching the film. His job as a wrestler parallels that of Ferdinand in that he is expected to fight, whether he likes it or not. 

Kate McKinnon voiced Lupe, an old she-goat that befriends Ferdinand, with her signature wisecracking style. Bobby Cannavale voiced Valiente, the bull that bullies Ferdinand, with his signature gangter style. Broadway star Raul Esparza voiced Moreno, the owner of Casa del Toro, where young bulls train to become fighting bulls. While this was another surprising choice of voice, it was too bad that Esparza did not sing.

The topic about bullfighting -- a very violent Spanish tradition that involves deadly abuse of an animal -- is certainly a very serious matter for a children's film to tackle. For me, that scene at the bullring (in the iconic Las Ventas arena in Madrid) was when the whole film woke up for me. The director may have tried to lighten the mood with incidental comedy, but the scariness (and senselessness) of bullfights was still there to drive home the point. 7/10. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


January 9, 2018

The first film called Jumanji (directed by Joe Johnston) was shown in 1995. Starring the late Robin Williams and then child star Kirsten Dunst, it was a fantasy adventure film, based on a 1981 children's book by Chris Van Allsburg. The plot was about a board game which wreaked real-life havoc once in play, only to stop and reverse when someone wins. This film was memorable for its special effects showing stampeding jungle animals through the city. Seemingly from out of nowhere, a sequel opens in local cinemas this week. 

Like the first film, this sequel is also about a game called Jumanji. The board game had now morphed itself into a video game. There were four high school kids -- scrawny nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff), football player "Fridge" (Ser'Darius Blain), square unathletic Martha (Morgan Turner) and selfie-addict Bethany (Madison Iseman)  who found themselves in detention. When they were tasked to clear out the basement, they found an old video game console with a Jumanji game cartridge.

When they turned the console on and began play, the four teens were teleported into the game world, morphed into their respective avatars. Spencer is now the bull-like alpha-male Dr. Smolder Bravestone. "Fridge" became a runty zoologist and weapons valet "Mouse." Martha turned into a sexy martial arts fighter Ruby Roundhouse. Bethany chose to be Prof. Shelly Oberon, who turned out to be an overweight MALE cartography expert. 

Using the respective skills of their avatars, they were supposed to figure out clues and fight off various dangers in order to restore a missing jewel back into a giant jaguar statue located deep in the jungle in order to exit of the game and go back into real life. Again like the first film, the sequel involved a time warp where players from the present timeline meet someone who played the game twenty years ago, this time in the person of Alex in his avatar form as a pilot named "Seaplane" (Nick Jonas).

In the first film where, the disasters brought about by the game were happening in the real world. However in this sequel, the destructive adventures were only limited within the confines of the game world. The sense of danger for the heroes and the people and things around them was therefore somewhat of a lesser degree than in the original. On the other hand though, as we know from video games, each character only has three lives that they could use up. Lose that last life, and they will actually die. 

Aside from the action scenes, which all know Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black could do based on their previous films, I found it funny how these senior actors were acting like their teenage counterparts. It was hilarious how uber macho Johnson got startled at animal sounds or fumbled while kissing a girl. Black was likewise delightful as he channeled a girly-girl teenager, especially when he was teaching Ruby (Karen Gillan) how to act seductive in the most awkward way. Kevin Black was acting much like his usual screen character only -- a childish little man. I do not see much from his teen jock personality. 

Honestly, I can already see how the whole film will turn out even after watching the trailers. Of course, it is also easy to decry the lack of original popcorn flick ideas, as this one was again based on a much older hit movie. It literally looked a video game (in proper context), but the fun interactions of the lead cast was infectious to the viewers. Call it shallow and silly, but I still cannot deny its overall entertainment value. 6/10.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

My Top 20 Most Read Reviews on for 2017

January 5, 2018

Thanks to my editor Mr. Vladimir Bunoan, I was able to get this list of my Top 20 Most-Read Reviews posted on These are the reviews which scored the most number of hits out of the 122 articles which carried my byline for this year 2017. 

It is interesting to note that these were not necessarily the best films of the year, but these are certainly the most popular with the movie-going public who went online to search for reviews of the films they had watched or were planning to watch. The top 3 on this list hit 6 figures in the number of views.

These are:

20. Geostorm (Full ReviewPosted at Oct 13 2017 11:40 AM

19. Baywatch (Full Review) Posted at Jun 11 2017 09:01 AM

18. 12 (Full ReviewPosted at Nov 09 2017 12:11 PM

17. Bliss (Full ReviewPosted at May 14 2017 07:52 AM

16. Boss Baby (Full ReviewPosted at Apr 18 2017 02:05 PM

15. Once Upon a Time in Venice (Full ReviewPosted at Jun 19 2017 12:34 PM

14. Fast and Furious 8 (Full ReviewPosted at Apr 17 2017 12:43 PM

13. Love You to the Stars and Back  (Full ReviewPosted at Sep 01 2017 12:15 AM

12. I'm Drunk I Love You  (Full ReviewPosted at Feb 17 2017 12:02 PM

11. Seven Sundays  (Full ReviewPosted at Oct 16 2017 12:46 PM

10. Transformers 5 (Full Review
Posted at Jun 23 2017 01:10 PM

09. The Foreigner (Full Review
Posted at Oct 20 2017 12:14 PM

08. The Great Wall (Full Review
Posted at Jan 31 2017 01:43 PM

07. The Mimic (Full Review
Posted at Sep 18 2017 12:33 PM

06. xXx: Return of Xander Cage (Full Review
Posted at Jan 23 2017 12:24 PM

05. Fifty Shades Darker (Full Review
Posted at Feb 15 2017 11:50 AM 

04. 100 Tula Para Kay Stella (Full Review
Posted at Aug 18 2017 11:18 AM

03. Deadma Walking (Full Review
Posted at Dec 26 2017 02:37 PM

02. Bad Genius (Full Review
Posted at Oct 22 2017 04:45 PM

01. Kita Kita (Full Review
Posted at Jul 20 2017 12:26 PM

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My Yearend Roundup: The TOP 30 BEST MOVIES of 2017 That I Have Seen

January 1, 2017

According to my record, I had written 147 movie reviews this year (up from 131 last year). 54 of these are Filipino films, the rest are foreign films. I had been able to catch a lot of award-winning Filipino films on their commercial runs this year after winning in various festivals last year, hence a couple of them are included it here.

My movie reviews are still being picked up and posted on As of this writing, a total of 533 (up 122 from last year's total of 411) of my reviews have made it on the pages of one of the most popular news website and FB site, both locally and internationally.

For this list, I had not included my reviews for the Oscar nominated films released in the US in December 2016, but only hit local theaters for commercial runs in 2017. Because of travel, I was also able to see and write about entries to MMFF 2016 in January already, so these are also not included in my ranking. 

Potential Oscar-winning films of the year 2017 which will only be shown locally 2018 are also not included here. There had been filmfest screenings for films like "Call Me By Your Name" and "3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" but I was not able to see them.


30 Blade Runner 2049 (MY REVIEW)
29 Kita Kita (MY REVIEW)
28 American Made (MY REVIEW)
27 Fast and Furious 8 (MY REVIEW)
26 Spider-Man: Homecoming (MY REVIEW)

25 Wonder (MY REVIEW)
24 Seven Sundays (MY REVIEW)
23 Victoria and Abdul (MY REVIEW)
21 Coco (MY REVIEW)  

20 Thor Ragnarok (MY REVIEW)
19 Bad Genius (MY REVIEW)
18 Justice League (MY REVIEW)
17 Wonder Woman (MY REVIEW)
16 Life (MY REVIEW)

15 Star na si Van Damme Stallone (MY REVIEW)
14 Loving Vincent (MY REVIEW)
13 Patay na si Hesus  (MY REVIEW)
12 Changing Partners (MY REVIEW)
11. The Chanters (MY REVIEW)

Counting down the 10 best films I have seen this year:


Under the direction of Raya Martin (his first "mainstream" film after a series of acclaimed art films), the film version of this pageturner by FH Batacan was similarly riveting from beginning to end. The script (by Ria Limjap and Moira Lang) used Filipino for more realism but wisely retained the sharply-worded English lines where they mattered most. The gritty cinematography (by J.A. Tadena) and the moody musical score (by Lutgardo Labad and Odoni Pestelos) set the atmosphere of gloom and tragedy perfectly. The carefully detailed production design (by Ericson Navarro) brought us back twenty years ago to 1997. The nuanced acting performances of Nonie Buencamino and Sid Lucero as partners Fr. Gus and Fr. Jerome really brought the novel's fascinating characters to life.

9. DUNKIRK (My Full Review)

The story was told from three vantage points and from three different time frames. First, there was a scene showing a half-mile-long jetty on the beach serving as an evacuation dock for long lines of British soldiers, all 400,000 of them, called "The Mole." The second part of the story called "The Sea" told of civilian boats conscripted to sail to Dunkirk to aide in the evacuation efforts.The third part of the story called "The Air" told a small squad of Spitfire jets sent to deter the German air attacks. This part started just one hour ago. Nolan told these three parts one at a time, weaving them all together into one exciting cohesive narrative until all three parts converged into each other at the end. 

(My Full Review)

Like the original film, we get the same underlying message about cooperation and team work. The same vibrantly colorful visuals pervade this spin-off. There was a lot of cheesy 80s music to liven up the mood. But what really makes this new one special were all the very funny pop-culture references thrown into the script to spoof the very serious mythology of the Bat. It was quite an exhilarating rush to see all those super villains and monsters, all presumably from the Warner Bros. and DC canon, together in one screen. The filmmakers behind this project clearly love the Batman. They dug up a lot of details from his entire canon of comics, TV and film and respectfully sent the Bat up in a most entertaining way. 

7. RESPETO (My Full Review)

Hendrix is a young man from the tough slums of Pandacan. One day, he went to join a rap battle league match, choked and lost money big time. In order to pay back the money he lost, Hendrix decided to break into and rob a bookshop owned by an old man they called Doc. The technical aspects of this indie film were outstanding as led by director Treb Monteras II from a script by Njel de Mesa and Monteras himself.  Its intensity was driven by its powerful musical soundtrack (by Jay Oliver Durias) of pulsating beats and hardcore, graphic, curse-ridden rapping by lead stars Abra and Loonie. 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. 

6. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (My Full Review)

Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa were really the heart and soul of this Episode VIII. The new generation characters Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren are now fully invested in their stories. In this new film, all four of them got to have their own distinct individual threads to weave into the reinvigorated Star Wars fabric.Like how it was in the last film, there is a possibility that a major character or two may lose their lives, who may or may not be the ones you are expecting. These scenes were executed in a way that kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time -- so good! The action scenes were plentiful and amazing as expected, just the way fans love their airborne fighter battles and light saber duels. That final showdown on a field of white salt that turned scarlet when disturbed was such a spectacle of visual drama on that big screen. The humor was also there, usually care of the creatures and the robots as before.

(My Full Review)

From the get go, we immediately follow an amazing car chase sequence to the tune of "Bellbottoms" (by John Spencer Blues Explosion) that set the adrenaline-pumped pace for the whole film. All the car sounds and action melded perfectly with the rock beat of the song. Just as impressive was continuous tracking shot of Baby buying coffee to the tune of "Harlem Shuffle" (by Bob and Earl) that played over the opening credits. Music is a key element throughout the whole film, and the soundtrack from Baby's iPod collection was loud and dope, featuring acts as diverse as Beach Boys, T. Rex, Beck, Martha and the Vandellas, Barry White and Queen. Driving music was given a whole new dimension and because of the infectious beats led to carefully choreographed driving stunts and even gunfire and foot chases all in time with the rhythm. We are all taken in on its seemingly wild yet actually calculated ride. 

(My Full Review)

This is the musical Filipino film version of the classic Nick Joaquin play "Portrait of the Artist as Filipino" as translated by Rolando Tinio, and put into music by Ryan Cayabyab. As directed by Loy Arcenas, it was exciting to see Joanna Ampil and Rachel Alejandro attack the roles of Candida and Paula. These two are proven talents on the stage both as singers and actresses, and their screen performances were no less magnetic and soaring. Cayabyab's high diva notes were no problem for them to deliver, while keeping fully in character. Ampil was stern and pragmatic as Candida. Alejandro was the younger, more vulnerable Paula. The technical aspects of this film -- lush cinematography (with those tight closeups) by Boy Yniguez and meticulous period production design by Gino Gonzales -- definitely stand out and deserve award recognition.

(My Full Review)

Even with multiple stories going on, writer-director James Gunn made sure everybody gets their fair share of the action. In fact, for a while in the middle of the film, there was not much of Peter Quill himself even if the central story thread revolved around him, his father and the purpose expected of him. In the end, every thread of the story neatly got their satisfactory resolution and closure. Despite being more known as a comedy, those dramatic moments can also hit hard with emotion. This sequel brought back everything that made us love the first film -- the oddball personalities, the explosive action, the energetic group dynamics, the naughty and snappy humor, the summery soundtrack of throwback hits.There isn't really an element of novelty in Vol 2 anymore of course, but this second film matches the first in its verve, humor and heart, certainly not failing any of my expectations. 

(My Full Review)

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 the title song are all still there for us to reminisce fondly about as they came alive. There are also new songs written by Alan Menken with lyrics by Tim Rice, best of which was a grand moving solo song for the Beast ("Evermore") 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's acts of violence are already known from the previous film, but these felt scarier in this live-action version. 

AND MY #1 MOVIE OF 2017 IS....

1. LOGAN (My Full Review)

Hugh Jackman gave what could be a rare Best Actor award-deserving performance of a superhero. We completely feel Logan's 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. 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.

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. 


My Yearend Roundup 2016 is posted HERE
My Yearend Roundup 2015 is posted HERE.
My Yearend Roundup 2014 is posted HERE.
My Yearend Roundup 2013 is posted HERE
My Yearend Roundup 2012 is posted HERE