Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Netflix: 3 Mini-Reviews: SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL, 6 UNDERGROUND, FRACTURED: Attention on Action Actors

March 31, 2020

SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL


Director: Peter Berg
Writers: Sean O'Keefe, Brian Helgeland

Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) was a Boston policeman who was thrown into prison for assaulting a high-ranking officer named Boylan (Michael Gaston). Upon his release five years later, he bunked in the home of his old friend Henry (Alan Arkin), with a heavyweight MMA fighter named Hawk (Winston Duke) as his roommate. Coincidentally, right on the night of Spenser's release, Boylan was murdered and another young officer was accused of killing him.

I thought this was a remake of old TV series "Spenser for Hire" (which starred Robert Urich) which was also about a Boston cop. Turned out this Spenser was the same character created by Robert Parker, but this adventure was based on a book by the writer who continued the series after Parker, Ace Adkins. This is director Peter Berg's fifth film with Mark Wahlberg in a row. Wahlberg is so at ease in this type of serio-comic action character, it felt like he had done him several times before. It was the supporting characters Hawk, Henry and Spenser's old girlfriend Cissy (Ileza Schlesinger) which give this a more distinctive flavor. The way the characters were built up, this felt like the pilot of a possible continuing franchise. 6/10. 


6 UNDERGROUND

Director: Michael Bay
Writers: Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese

An American billionaire faked his own death, called himself One, gathered an extraordinary team of skilled "ghosts" who were willing to completely lose their identities to work with him in extraordinarily dangerous missions. Two (Melanie Laurent) was a spy. Three (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) was a hitman. Four (Ben Hardy) was a parkour thief. Five (Adria Arjona) was a doctor. Six (Ben Franco) was a driver. Together, they worked on an elaborate plot to overthrow Rovac (Lior Raz), the brutal dictator of Turgistan, and replace him with Murat (Peyman Maadi), Rovac's erudite brother.

Being by Michael Bay, this film was one explosive action scene after another from beginning to end, accompanied by a frenetic loud pop music soundtrack. There are frenetic scenes of physics-defying car chases, gory injuries and senseless deaths. The impossible scenes of precise parkour (especially that when Four was jumping from one steel column to another) were breathtaking to watch. One was a dapper Deadpool-like character who had comedy and violence as only Ryan Reynolds could deliver. His testy interactions with the "Mission Impossible"-like team beside him also added to the popcorn entertainment value. 6/10. 


FRACTURED

Director: Brad Anderson
Writer: Alan B. McElroy

Ray Monroe (Sam Worthington) was on road trip with his wife Joanne (Lucy Rabe) and daughter Peri (Lucy Capri). During a rest stop along the way, a freak accident caused Ray and Peri to fall into an open construction site sustaining injuries. Ray went to the nearest hospital where Peri was assessed to need a cranial CT scan to rule out a hematoma. However, when Ray woke up from a deep nap in the waiting area, Joanne and Peri were nowhere to be found. To make things even more confusing for Ray, the hospital had no records that they were even there at all.

This entire film made me queasy and uncomfortable the whole time. There were many scenes where I could not bear to look at the screen because of the extreme tension it was delivering. Even in that first scene alone with the family driving in the car and during their rest stop, I was a nervous wreck. The atmosphere of uncertainty was wound so tightly, you never really knew how it was going to end until that climactic reveal. The gore shown in those final scenes were not even necessary to . The slick slimy script, suspenseful editing and gritty lead performance by Sam Worthington elevated this one over other similarly-themed thrillers. 8/10. 


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Netflix: 3 Mini-Reviews: THE PLATFORM, THE OCCUPANT, MARK OF THE DEVIL: Suspense in Spanish

March 29, 2020


THE PLATFORM

Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Writer: David Desola and Pedro Rivero

In the hope of earning a diploma, Goreng (Iván Massagué) volunteered to spend six months in a special self-management facility. It was a vertical structure with a rectangular hole in the middle of each floor. Everyday, a bountiful table of food and drinks was passed down from floor to floor. The ones at the top floors can get a hearty meal, while the two occupants of each floor going downward had to content themselves with less and less, until only empty plates were left at the lowermost floors. The inmates were shuffled from floor to floor every month, so everyone got a taste of feast or famine.

This was a very disturbing movie. This was not only because of all those disgusting scenes of eating messy leftovers, with all those unpleasant chomping sounds. There were also scenes of raw violence as the base instinct to survive of the inmates would overtake their civilized sensibilities. Goreng learned life lessons from the different people he met inside the hole: the ruthless Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), the altruistic Imoguiri (Antonia San Juan), the cheerful Baharat (Emilio Buale Coka) and the persistent mother Miharu (Alexandra Masangkay). At the end of all this exhausting chaos, there may after all a glimmer of hope, in an uncertain kind of way. 7/10. 



THE OCCUPANT

Director: David Pastor and Àlex Pastor
Writer: David Pastor and Àlex Pastor

Advertising executive Javier (Javier Gutierrez) could not find a new job. To cut costs, Javier had to give up his luxurious condominium unit.moved to a cheaper apartment in the poor side of town along with his wife Marga (Ruth Diaz) and son Dani. Despondent, Javier stalked the new occupants of his former condo, the family of Tomas (Mario Casas), Lara (Bruna Cusi) and their daughter Monica. Pushed over the edge, Javier then concocted a complicated plot of deception in order to get himself back into the life he once enjoyed. 

This was quite an uncomfortable movie to get through, like "Parasite" (2019) but without the comedy parts. This was because of you were always aware of Javier's evil machinations and you see it come to fruition to destroy the life of hapless Tomas. The role of pervert gardener Damian (David Ramirez) provided some more tension in the story, which frequently saw Javier's plan coming together so perfectly. Despite the discomfort, you'd be held in to the very end to see the ultimate outcome. Javier Gutierrez played his namesake character Javier with such an unruffled icy coolness, it was an understated yet extremely compelling performance. 8/10. 



MARK OF THE DEVIL

Director: Diego Cohen

Writer: Ruben Escalante Mendez

A philology professor Cecilia (Lumi Cavazos) brought home an ancient book to study over the weekend. However, her two curious daughters Camila (Arantza Ruiz) and Fernanda (Nicolasa Ortíz Monasterio) secretly read off some Latin passages written on the pages. Unknowingly, they activated an ancient curse. A drug-addict priest-exorcist Fr. Tomas (Eduardo Noriega) and his wild urban cowboy ward Karl (Eivaut Rischen) were called in to help the demon possessing the girls. 

This was a B-grade horror film of the exorcism sub-genre from Mexico. The acting of the entire cast was purposely over-the-top in order to bring to life very poorly-written characters. The worst of the lot was the absurd character of the chronically demon-possessed Karl which was simply on a level of incomprehensible campiness all his own. All the lame jump scares and the disgusting special effects could not lift the corniness of this forgettable project. There was even an extra scene in the middle of the end credits maybe to hint about a possible sequel, but no thanks. 2/10. 


Thursday, March 26, 2020

3 Mini-Reviews: Cinema One on YouTube 2: LILIA CUNTAPAY, UPCAT, ROME & JULIET

March 26, 2020

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION FROM LILIA CUNTAPAY (2011)

Director: Antoinette Jadaone
Writer: Antoinette Jadaone

Lilia Cuntapay had been a bit player in countless Filipino films, big and small, for the past 30 years. A filmmaker was following her around to make a documentary about her life when she received an unexpected nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the film "Sangandaan," alongside the likes of Rio Locsin, Raquel Villavicencio and Mercedes Cabral. For the first time in her long career, she is enjoying her brief 15 minutes of popularity. 

Peque Gallaga handpicked long time anonymous extra Cuntapay to play a ghost in a "Shake Rattle and Roll" film and only then did she became sort of famous. Antoinette Jadaone made an auspicious feature film debut with this delightful mockumentary which immersed us in the simple joys and frustrating heartbreaks of an unheralded movie extra. In the lead role for the first time, Cuntapay embraced the spotlight on her and gave a memorable performance so humble and realistic you could not distinguish which was fact from fiction. 7/10.


UPCAT (2008)

Director: Roman Carlo Olivarez

Writers: Alfred Reyes, Inna Miren Salazar 

High school senior Lucas (Felix Roco) wants to pass the UPCAT to be with his girlfriend Jane (Hiyasmin Neri), daughter of the mayor (Mark Gil). He reviewed with neighborhood artist and UP graduate Michael (Richard Quan) along with his best friend Joaquin (Joseph Roble). However, for reasons unknown to him, his parents (Bembol Roco and Malou Crisologo) were very much against his decision to study in UP. 

This was just a simple coming of age film about a high school boy taking a college entrance test, but there were some lapses in the storytelling. At times it felt like, some scenes were lost in the editing. It took too long to tell the reason why the dad was so against Lucas going to UP, it felt anticlimactic in a way. With his naturally energetic performance, supporting actor Joseph Roble actually upstaged lead actor Felix Roco. The post-credit scenes, featuring a cameo by Arnold Reyes,  tied loose ends up quite well. At best, it worked to bring back UPCAT memories for UP grads in the audience. 5/10.


ROME & JULIET (2006)

Director: Connie Macatuno

Writers: Connie Macatuno 

Prim and proper pre-school teacher Juliet (Andrea del Rosario) was engaged to be married to young hotshot local politician Marc (Rafael Rosell). She hired stylish florist Rome (Mylene Dizon) to supply their flowers and be their wedding planner. As they spent a lot of time together, the deep friendship between the two women blossomed into romantic love -- a love that the people around them all could not accept. 

The buildup of the brave story was very good for the first two acts as it took its time to build the romance between the two lead female characters, and the attitudes Filipino society had for and against their lesbian relationship. It was just too bad that by the third act, Macatuno decided to squeeze in all the usual tropes of Filipino melodrama, such that the ending scenario felt contrived, unconvincing and unsatisfying. Mylene Dizon totally dominated the screen as the seductive Rome, above the rest of the attractive cast (del Rosario, Rosell and Mico Palanca) who all delivered well in their daring roles. 6/10. 


Monday, March 23, 2020

3 Mini-Reviews: Cinema One on YouTube: YANGGAW, CONFESSIONAL, SA NORTH DIVERSION ROAD

March 23, 2020

YANGGAW (2008)

Director: Richard Somes
Writer: Richard Somes 

In a rural town in Iloilo, there lived the family of Junior (Ronnie Lazaro) and Inday (Techie Agbayani), who had two adult children, namely Toto (Gio Respall) with his wife and two kids, and Amor (Alleera Montalla).  One day, Amor was afflicted by a strange malady which caused her to display bizarre behavior at night. Consult with a local healer Lazarus (Erik Matti in an offbeat performance) revealed that Amor had become a blood-thirsty aswang. Despite this terrifying fact, Junior however remained staunchly defensive and protective of his daughter. 

This film used the lilting Ilonggo tongue, and the whole cast seemed very at ease and natural with the language. Lazaro was excellent as the father who would do anything to keep his daughter safe and satisfied, even when it meant putting the rest of his household and neighborhood (including Joel Torre as his friend Dulpo) in mortal danger. His decisions may be unreasonable, yet you can still empathize with his predicament. For me, this film worked better as a family drama than a horror film. That pivotal scene when Junior made his ultimate choice was a hallmark of extreme tension. 8/10



CONFESSIONAL (2007)

Directors: Jerrold Tarog, Ruel Dahis Antipuesto
Writer: Jerrold Tarog 

Ryan Pastor (David Barril, screen name of Jerrold Tarrog himself), a film editor from Manila, went to Cebu with his live-in girlfriend Monet (Owee Salva) to film a documentary about the Sinulog Festival for submission to a contest. One of the people he interviewed for his project was a wealthy man named Lito Caliso (Publio Briones III), a former mayor from Mindanao, who had lived in Cebu for five years now. After talking about the Sinulog, Caliso inexplicably went on to tell Pastor all about heinous criminal activities he had done before. 

This film started off slowly with mundane stuff about Ryan and Monet relationship, then about the Sinulog itself. However, once the character of Lito Caliso came into the scene, it becomes totally riveting. I knew Publio Briones III from his recent film "A Short History of a Few Bad Things" (Keith Deligero, 2018). He was the best part of that film as he was the best part of this one. He had a screen presence like no other, so sinister yet so mesmerizing. That ending was so powerful it will shock you. The final image of Ryan holding the camera even made it to the logo of Cinema One itself. Director Jerrold Tarrog made his feature film directorial debut with this one, and we all know where he is now. He had fulfilled the promise he made with this stunning debut. 8/10




SA NORTH DIVERSION ROAD (2005)

Director: Dennis Marasigan
Writers: Dennis Marasigan

A man Tony and his wife Mae are driving in their sedan along the North Diversion Road (now known as the NLEX or North Luzon Expressway). They were arguing all along the way because the wife found out that her husband had been engaged in an affair with another woman Charmaine. Along the long drive at every exit, we will witness this marital spat proceed in 10 different iterations by 10 couples each with their own unique idiosyncrasies. 

Based on a play by Tony Perez, this cinematic adaptation by writer-director Dennis Marasigan, all 10 couples were brought to life by only two talented actors, namely Irma Adlawan and John Arcilla. As the conversations in their car turned from melodramatic to slapstick, from profane to absurd, Adlawan and Arcilla were always on point as they shifted with their varied characters giving each one their own distinct style and personality.  Marasigan's gimmick made this film a very engaging one, showing us how many different ways a couple could bicker with each other, yet all these scenarios still came to the same sobering outcome. 7/10


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

3 Mini-Reviews: TBA Studios on YouTube Part 2: K'NA, WATER LEMON, DORMITORYO

March 19. 2020

Part of 1 of this review set is posted HERE.


K'NA THE DREAMWEAVER (2014)

Director: Ida Anita Del Mundo
Writer: Ida Anita Del Mundo

K'na (Mara Lopez) is the princess of a T'boli tribe in South Cotabato who had been anointed by her grandmother Be Lamfey (Erlinda Villalobos) as the gods' choice to become the next dreamweaver, someone whose skills in weaving could tell about the dreams of her people. K'na had fallen in love with her friend Silaw (RK Bagatsing). However, her chieftain father (Noni Buencamino) had her betrothed to the son (Alex Medina) of the chief of the northern tribe (Bembol Roco) in an effort to achieve lasting peace.

Admittedly, the story being told by this film was very familiar and common. However, the gorgeous cinematography was the pinnacle achievement of this film. The bright colors of all the fabrics and fibers literally jumped forth from the screen with uncommon brilliance and verve. The way the actors spoke in the mellifluous T'boli tongue made everything sounded very poetic as translated in the subtitles. Lopez and Bagatsing had realistic romantic chemistry, while veterans Buencamino and Villalobos portrayed their roles with ample gravitas. This was the winner of the Special Jury Prize and the best production design (Toym Imao) of the Cinemalaya filmfest 2014. 8/10. 



WATER LEMON (2015)

Director: Lemuel Lorca
Writer: Lilit Reyes

Filemon (Junjun Quintana) was a young man with Asperger's syndrome who lived in the sleepy seaside town of Mauban, Quezon. While stressed out by his bizarre behavior, his mother Josefina was very supportive of her son's interest in science, particularly about water levels and climate. His colorful childhood friend Bertha (Meryll Soriano) had a serious crush on him. However, Lemon would rather hang around in the internet cafe run by the sassy Maritess (Alessandra de Rossi) and her kind grandfather Ume (Lou Veloso). 

This film was certainly a most charming and entertaining depiction of rural life. The full credit goes to the amazingly dedicated cast of actors gathered together. There were no role too small, everyone gave such effortless performances of real people we see around any Filipino neighborhood. Quintana never deviated from that flat affect and dry delivery of his wordy nerdy lines. Soriano, de Rossi and Veloso gave such delightful quirks to their respective characters. Tomas gave a touching portrayal of a worried mother and longing widow. This film won Best Screenplay (Lilit Reyes), Best Actress (Tomas) and Best Supporting Actor (Veloso) awards of QCinema 2015. 9/10. 


DORMITORYO (2017)

Director: Emerson Reyes
Writer: Emerson Reyes

Aling Linda (Ces Quesada) owned a dormitory with some odd tenants. One stormy night, engineering student Charles (Charles Aaron Salazar) was passing his sleeplessness with sexy magazines and eavesdropping to his dorm mates. Bum fine arts student Max (Mas Celada) was with his nurse girlfriend Sheen (Sheenly Gener). Gay businessman Steven (Wowie de Guzman) was with his policeman lover Ramon (Jun Sabayton). Secretive Jenny (Kate Alejandrino) was with her brusque boyfriend Alex (Vandolph Quizon). 

This was not an easy movie to get through at first because it seemed so pointless. For maybe the first hour, people were just talking to each other about the most mundane personal stuff. If you are not fond of such voyeuristic pursuits, you could actually zone out of this film completely, save from occasional funny moments.  Things only got going for me when Steven and Ramon, then Jenny and Alex entered the scene with their more interesting stories to tell. Everything would then build up to one tension-filled peak, then suddenly end in a way which will shake you up. This film won the Gender Sensitivity award and Best Supporting Actress for Sheen Gener at the QCinema awards of 2017. 4/10. 


3 Mini-Reviews: TBA Studios on YouTube Part 1: IISA, GAYUMA, PATINTERO

March 18, 2020

During the Enhanced Community Quarantine declared by the government on response to the insidious Coronavirus Disease 19, one of the directives for social distancing is the closure of all movie houses for one whole month. In response to this, TBA Studios has released 8 of their films on YouTube so Filipino film fans have something to enjoy in the next four weeks of being confined in their homes.

Of the 8 films, I had already seen and written reviews for two of them. These were: "Bliss" (Jerrold Tarog, 2017, MY REVIEW) and  " Matangtubig" (Jet Leyco, 2015, MY REVIEW). I the past two days I was able to binge on the other five films on their channel that I had not yet seen before. They were all of relatively short length, tackled interesting topics and had slick production values that made watching them one after the other in three days a breeze.

These first three films I will write about all had their Philippine premieres as films in competition at the QCinema Film Festival of 2015.



IISA

Director: Chuck Gutierrez
Writer: Arnel Mardoquio 

There was a major typhoon in the province of Compostela Valley, and the people were starving in its aftermath of its destruction. A group of NPA rebels, led by Monir (Perry Dizon), Mao (Mon Confiado) and Rufo (Jess Mendoza), were looking for food for the sustenance of their group. Meanwhile, Rufo's wife Ross (Angeli Bayani) was being accused of stealing money from their funds, and sought comfort from their spiritual leader Sister Jo (Rio Locsin).

This is very sad story of social injustice was framed with beautiful cinematography and a stirring musical score. The film opens with an elegant overhead shot of men stirring to life in a pit of mud during a downpour, a memorable scene which is depicted in the film's poster. The film closes with the camera on the ground facing the sky while rain is falling down on it. The haunting elegiac strings music playing during this scene was reminiscent of "Schindler's List." The veteran actors in the cast all performed with realistic grit. 7/10. 



GAYUMA

Director: Cesar Hernando
Writer: Cesar Hernando

Mike (Benjamin Alves) is the grandson of a famous painter and is a fine arts student in UP himself. He is in a relationship with Joy (Elora Espano), a film student in the same university. One day, his attention was drawn to Stella (Pheobe Walker), an elusive model he saw in one of the figure drawing sessions. As Mike's attraction to Stella eventually turned into an erotic obsession, he realized that there had been more passed on to him by his grandfather aside from his artistic talents. 

What seemed to be a sexy drama in its poster turned out to have an undercurrent of horror running though it. The old house where Mike lived made sure you feel that from the outset. While the camera visuals and the main actors may look good, the simple story was just too overstretched to be compelling. Most of you can already figure out what was the whole point maybe at the halfway point yet it still took its time. Along the way, we get nude sketching sessions, cantankerous arts professors and Cherie Gil as Mark's chic tita. 4/10. 


PATINTERO: ANG ALAMAT NI MENG PATALO

Director: Mihk Vergara
Writer: Zig Marasigan

Meng (Nafa Hilario Cruz) was the leader of a gang of misfits, which included her nerdy best friend Nicay (Lenlen Frial) and wimpy new kid Shifty (William Buenavente). The other kids in their school always made fun of them because they always lost in their favorite sport, Patintero. For the annual community Patintero competition, Meng convinced her team to join under the name of "Mga Patalo" ("The Losers"). A mysterious cape and mask-wearing kid who called himself Z-Boy (Claude Adrales) materialized out of nowhere to become their fourth team member. 

The most striking aspect of this film are the frenetic scenes of patintero, depicting the exaggerated game action with brightly-colored graphic designs and an energetic musical score. Of course, these animated scenes did get repetitive after a few times, but they were fun anyhow. The film went on a rather dark turn when it tackled the sibling rivalry between Meng and her older brother (Vince Magbanua), which stressed their chain-smoking grandmother (Suzette Ranillo) out a lot. Nevertheless, lessons on teamwork and sportsmanship make this a fun and worthwhile film for kids, which led to its win as audience favorite during the filmfest. 6/10. 



My Part 2 of this review set is posted HERE


Thursday, March 12, 2020

3 Mini-Reviews: BLOODSHOT, GUNS AKIMBO, THE ROOM (2019)

March 12, 2020

BLOODSHOT

Director: David S. F. Wilson

US Marine soldier Ray Garrison was mercilessly killed along with his wife. He was brought back to life by scientists with his body enhanced by advanced technology that gave him super strength, extreme agility and self-repair. Time eventually came when he began to remember the moment when he and his wife were murdered and the man responsible for the heinous crime. He broke out of his training facility to exact revenge, but was he actually remembering the correct memories?

This was a very typical Vin Diesel action vehicle which may easily be interchanged with all his past vindictive tough-guy characters. The computer-generated special effects were a lot more obvious and cartoonish here than his other films, like "Fast and the Furious," "Chronicles of Riddick" or "xXx." Of course, you get your expected dose of high-octane, high-tech action Diesel is known for, this time with futuristic sci-fi production design, but not skimping on the gore. Adrenaline junkies will still enjoy this, but the story would be easily forgettable right after a while. 5/10.


GUNS AKIMBO

Director: Jason Lei Howden

An underground organization called Skizm organized live-streaming death matches for sheer entertainment. There was a nerdy computer game programmer named Miles enjoyed trash-talking in the Skizm chatrooms. This activity gained the attention of Riktor, the psycho owner of Skizm, who decided to convert Miles into one of the crazy warriors in his violent game. Riktor had guns surgically attached to Miles' hands, thus earning him the nickname of "Guns Akimbo" among the game fanboys. To make Miles' ordeal more extreme, he was pit against the deadliest Skizm figher of them all, Nix.

After being Harry Potter for the first 10 years of his career, Daniel Radcliffe's subsequent roles had been very unusual and offbeat, like "Horns" (2013) or "Victor Frankenstein" (2015). These roles were certainly as far form Harry Potter as can be (that seems to be the rationale for his choices), however, nothing particularly memorable, unfortunately. This current role as Miles is another one of these weird roles where Radcliffe was again deformed into some sort of a monster, but with his goofy charms still intact. This was certainly original, exhausting and oddly fun in its own way. 6/10.


THE ROOM (2019)

Director: Christian Volckman

Matt and Kate moved into a large house located in the countryside of New Hampshire. While exploring the house, Matt stumbled upon a hidden room which apparent can make any material thing he wished for a reality so he wished for famous paintings (since he is an artist) and loads of cash, among others. Kate, having had two previously miscarriages, wished for her ultimate dream -- a baby of her own. However, they were soon to discover that there is a twist to all these wonderful gifts they had been requesting for.

This was actually a very nifty story right out of the twilight zone. I liked how the story unfolded once the room had been discovered and eventually the secret behind it. The story then escalated into more and more bizarre scenarios as it reached its outlandish climax. This was an unexpectedly compelling little unheralded film which I was glad I was able to watch. Olga Kurylenko never actually had another memorable role after her splash as the Bond girl of "Quantum of Solace" (2008), so it was good to see her exotic beauty and strong screen register again as the confused wife, Kate. 7/10. 




Friday, March 6, 2020

Review of HINDI TAYO PWEDE: Possessive Phantom

March 6, 2020



Gabby (Lovi Poe) and Dennis (Marco Gumabao) were best of friends, in a very close but strictly platonic relationship. One day, Gabby's boyfriend was her fellow film buff Gabriel (Tony Labrusca). One day during their wedding preparations, Gabriel met a fatal car accident. Gabby was left such a depressed wreck that she was somehow able to conjure up a seemingly flesh-and-blood Gabriel, who still controlled her every action and decision. Problems arose more than a year later when Dennis declared to Gabby that he loved her romantically after all. However, Gabriel would not allow that to happen. 

The big twist of this love triangle was that one of these men competing for Lovi Poe's attention was actually already dead and was just a ghost. This was not exactly a novel idea, but it could have been an interesting twist, if only the esteemed writer Ricky Lee and director Joel Lamangan had been clear and consistent about where the ghost came from. Was the ghost Gabriel was a result of Gabby's distraught mind following his death, or was he a restless soul who could not cross over to the other side? The filmmakers could not decide and contradicted themselves many times. If Gabriel's ghost came from Gabby's mind, then he should not have decisions of his own. Furthermore, their conceit that we should believe and accept that Gabby perceived Gabriel's ghost as solid bordered on insulting. 

I thought it was nifty how the ghost aspect was introduced gradually. So if you came in not knowing this supernatural aspect of the film, you actually would be surprised. However, maybe because of budget constraints, they could not really give Gabriel that ghostly "glow" special effect all of the time. In the first ghost scene, people were seen walking through Gabriel. However, after that. Gabby had to open the car door for Gabriel to come out. In one blatant goof, Gabriel actually opened and closed the car door himself when he rode the car. This dismal disregard for detail was certainly cause for derision and dismay.

Whatever sensuality the alluring poster promised, the rating of PG given by MTRCB would likely make you temper your expectations. Despite the hype, there were only two lovemaking scenes, very similarly shot in extreme close-ups with brief flashes of skin here and there, one with Gabby and Gabriel, and one with Gabby and Dennis. Even if these scenes were relatively tame, this should have been rated an R-13 at least. For me, it is rated only PG if there had been no actual sex scenes at all.

Like several films lately, the protagonists all had ambitions to become filmmakers, and were working on a script for an indie romance. I guess it was funny in a way when the characters criticized their own script for being about being unable to move on from a failed relationship, when the whole film in itself was about a major case of being unable to move on. The actors were attractive, yes, but acting-wise, their performances were limited by the implausibility of how the story went and the silliness of what they were given to do.  I believe the germ of a good story was in there somewhere, but how it came out onscreen was just not good. 3/10. 



Thursday, March 5, 2020

My Top 20 Most Read Reviews on ABS-CBNNews.com for 2019

January 21, 2020

My very first review published on ABS-CBNNews.com came out June 6, 2013. That was a largely negative assessment of the Will and Jaden Smith disaster called "After Earth."  I never dreamed that I could reach the 100-mark in less than a year's time after that. 

And now 6 years later, the number of my articles that appeared on ABS-CBNNews.com have gone beyond 800. I am humbled and very thankful for my editor's continued trust and confidence in my opinion writing about movies, plays and concerts. 

"Avengers:Endgame," "Captain Marvel" and "Frozen 2" aside (since they were written by other reviewers), here is the list of the 20 most popular movie reviews on ABS-CBNNews.com which carried my byline for the year 2019:


20. Downton Abbey (LINK): Posted at Sep 30 2019 05:35 AM

19. Because I Love You (LINK): Posted at Jun 28 2019 01:09 PM

18. Toy Story 4 (LINK): Posted at Jun 24 2019 04:28 PM

17. Midway (LINK): Posted at Oct 29 2019 05:02 PM

16. Eerie (LINK): Posted at Mar 29 2019 05:09 PM

15. It Chapter 2 (LINK): Posted at Sep 15 2019 09:27 AM

14. Midsommar (LINK): Posted at Jul 28 2019 11:35 AM

13. My Letters to Happy (LINK): Posted at Jul 21 2019 09:51 AM

12. The Two Popes (LINK): Posted at Dec 22 2019 09:45 AM

11. John Denver Trending (LINK): Posted at Aug 09 2019 12:51 PM

10. Joker (LINK): Posted at Oct 07 2019 1:14 PM



9. Quezon’s Game (LINK): Posted at May 31 2019 11:41 AM


8. Jowable (LINK): Posted at Sep 29 2019 9:40 AM



7. Weathering With You (LINK): Posted at Aug 29 2019 11:59 AM



6. Just A Stranger (LINK): Posted at Aug 23 2019 12:02 PM



5. Isa Pa With Feelings (LINK): Posted at Oct 22 2019 12:03 AM



4. Dead Kids (LINK): Posted at Dec 04 2019 1:03 PM



3. Alone Together (LINK): Posted at Feb 15 2019 1:51 AM



2. Unforgettable (LINK): Posted at Oct 24 2019 12:06 PM



1. Hello Love Goodbye (LINK): Posted at Aug 02 2019 11:31 AM






Sunday, March 1, 2020

Review of ONWARD: Brotherly Bonding

March 1, 2020




A film by Pixar is invariably a big movie event. Ever since 1995 when it gained critical and commercial acclaim with "Toy Story," every new Pixar film had been met with much anticipation from kids of all ages. Yes, including me.  For some reason though, this latest film of theirs "Onward" (the first Pixar film without John Lasseter) went under my radar, so I knew nothing about it when I went in to watch the advanced screening. The vague nondescript title did not give any clues, so discovering the plot unfold was going to be very exciting.

The story was set in New Mushroomton, a suburban community of magical creatures who had steadily lost their magical abilities because of the progress of modern technology made their powers seem obsolete. The story centered on a family of elves named Lightfoot, headed by widowed mother Laurel (Julia Louis Dreyfus). She had two teenage boys: a reckless, role playing game addict eldest son Barley (Chris Pratt); and his timid, fearful younger brother Ian (Tom Holland).

On the occasion of Ian's 16th birthday, Laurel brought out a gift from their departed father which could enable a spell to bring him back to life for 24 hours. Since Ian only discovered that he had wizard abilities just that day, he was only able to bring the lower half of his body back. The two brothers then had to embark on a grand quest to recover a rare gemstone which could allow Ian to complete the spell, but they only had less than 20 hours to do so, or else they lose the chance to reunite with their father forever. 

Unlike other Pixar films which were impressively original in content, this one felt like you've seen it before. The suburban community of mythical creatures reminded me of Guillermo del Toro's Netflix animated series "Trollhunters." That Ian discovered his wizard abilities on his birthday was rather Harry Potter-ish, as well as his failed initial attempts at casting spells. There was also a bit of "Frozen" in the mix as well, as it centered on the relationship between two siblings who never really quite got along well while growing up.  

Even some aspects fo the artwork, a main Pixar hallmark, felt like you've seen it before. The characters here looked like they were from a Dreamworks film rather than a Disney-Pixar film. In particular, the hefty Barley Lightfoot looked very similar to the character of Snoutlout from "How to Train Your Dragon" among other familiar looking characters. They also mined older Pixar films for inspiration. For instance, the character design of the Manticore (Octavia Spencer) I felt looked like a cross between Sully of "Monsters Inc." and Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear of "Toy Story 3."

However, I have to say there were still a lot of proudly Pixar moments, most especially those exhilarating moments of the brothers crossing the bottomless chasm or fighting the major curse unleashed by the magic gem. The voice work of Pratt and Holland were perfect for their characters. This film may appeal more to older kids than the very young ones, whom I only heard laughing during those requisite slapstick comedy scenes in films like this. The pacing was rather uneven along the way. However, that final battle and the dramatic scenes of brotherhood that follow will get your undivided attention and emotional connection. 7/10. 

Saturday, February 29, 2020

3 Mini-Reviews: SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, THE NIGHT CLERK, IP MAN 4

February 29, 2020

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG

Director: Jeff Fowler

Sonic was a powerful super-sonic alien hedgehog who sought refuge on Earth when bad guys on his home planet wanted to capture him. For 10 years, he hid out alone in Green Hills, Montana. One night, Sonic caused an electromagnetic pulse that caused a massive power outage. The government called on the eccentric genius Dr. Robotnik to contain the source of the electrical surge. Sonic, along with his favorite human, local sheriff Tom Wachowski, make a road trip to San Francisco to retrieve his bag of rings which could create portals to help him escape to another planet.

I only knew Sonic as a Sega video game character but I never really played any Sonic video game. However, the Sonic in this film was really cute, easily likable and very delightful in his antics, as he wished to complete his own bucket list of human things for him to do with the help of Tom, who was played by a uncharacteristically un-serious James Marsden (whose most famous character Cyclops barely even smiled). The main comic highlight was Jim Carrey reprising another snide slapstick character Dr. Robotnik, like those he famously brought to life in the beginning of his career, like "Ace Ventura Pet Detective" and "The Mask." The two after-credit scenes brought back more video game nostalgia and promised an entertaining sequel. 7/10.


THE NIGHT CLERK

Director: Michael Cristofer

Bart was a 23 year-old young man who had high-functioning Asperger's syndrome living with his mom who worked in the front desk of a hotel. To learn speech patterns and behavior of "normal" people, Bart surreptitiously took videos of guests via cameras he hid in their rooms. One night, he witnessed a murder of a female guest at the hands of a man with whom she was having a secret affair. Police detective Espada felt that Bart was not being on the level. Meanwhile, Bart noted that Andrea, a female guest he liked and became close with, may also be in danger. 

The most remarkable aspect of this quiet creepy voyeuristic film were the performances of its lead actors, Tye Sheridan as Bart and Ana de Armas as Andrea. Sheridan, in a complete turn-around from his hyper character in "Ready Player One," was convincing as someone within the autistic spectrum, with his little odd mannerisms and repetitive verbal tics coming off very naturally. Ana de Armas, whom I just knew from her recent role in the winning ensemble of "Knives Out," was mysterious and beguiling. Their tender interactions lifted the film from the limitations of the weak script.  Long absent 90s star Helen Hunt played Bart's protective mom Ethel, while John Leguizamo played the suspicious Detective Espada. 5/10.


IP MAN 4: THE FINALE

Director: Wilson Yip
Action Director: Yuen Wo Ping

Master Ip traveled to San Francisco, California to find a school for his rebellious son. For this he needed a letter of endorsement from the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. However, association president Mr. Wan was reluctant to give him that letter because of his displeasure with the attitudes of Bruce Lee, Ip's celebrated student who was then teaching Chinese martial arts to Americans. Meanwhile, Master Ip also tried to help US Marine Corp staff sergeant Hartman Wu to integrate Chinese martial arts into their training program, but met severe resistance from his sadistic superior, gunnery Sgt. Geddes, who believed karate was superior. 

For this final installment, the Master was on a fictional trip to the US, where he joined the fight for rights of Chinese immigrants and respect for Chinese culture, specifically martial arts. Donnie Yen's performance as Master Yip was as serene as ever, and his elegant Wing Chun fighting skills were still the main draw of this film. Danny Chan's portrayal of superstar Bruce Lee was magnetic. Vanness Wu, once famed for his long hair as part of the F4, now sported a very close-cropped military haircut for his role as a Marine staff sergeant. However, Scott Adkin's portrayal of insultingly bad American soldier Geddes was one-dimensional and downright caricaturish. 7/10.