Monday, May 23, 2022

Netflix: Review of A PERFECT PAIRING: Oenology in the Outback

May 23, 2022

Lola Alvarez (Victoria Justice) was a hard-working account executive for the L.A.-based wine-company Mythos, run by a slave-driver boss Calder (Craig Horner). After a painful betrayal from her supposed friend at work Audra (Lucy Durack) who claimed Lola's new business idea (previously shared by Lola to her in confidence) as her own, Lola had to make a major decision either to stay on at Mythos or strike out and start her own company. 

In her dogged determination to land a major up-and-coming Australian wine label owned by CEO Hazel Vaughn (Samantha Cain), Lola volunteered her services to work as a ranch hand (or "jillaroo") at the Vaughn's sheep station doing tough duties like mending fences to shoveling manure. Over the next two weeks, station manager Max (Adam Demos) slowly fell for Lola's perseverance and humor, and she with his air of mystery and philosophical quotes.  

Ever since she burst into the limelight in Nickelodeon's shows "Zoey 101" (2005-2008) and "Victorious" (2010-2013), Victoria Justice clearly had the charm and disposition to be a rom-com star. Now more mature at 29 years old, Justice was irresistibly cute in those scenes of Lola awkwardly trying to learn all the heavy chores at the sheep ranch. She was likewise at home in the light dramatic scenes as Lola balanced a new career and a budding romance.

Adam Demos played Max as a no-nonsense ranch manager, who kept a web of secrets about his past he was unwilling to share. Like how it was that Max was obviously falling for Lola, it was also not very subtle what the big mystery was about his real identity was. Coming from a daring series like "Sex/Life" (2021), it was not a surprise that Demos would also have shirtless scenes in this new film, although they were not really needed in story. 

With a title like "A Perfect Pairing," it was not really a big secret how the whole story would end. The flow of the story followed the typical rom-com formula. Girl meets boy, rough start, fall in love. One of them kept a critical secret which the other did not appreciate, so they split up. I need not say what happens next. Setting this familiar story on a scenic Australian sheep farm and a script enriched with posh vino-culture set it apart from the typical sorts. 5/10. 


Sunday, May 22, 2022

2 Mini-Reviews: FATHER STU and MEMORY: Difficult Decisions

May 22, 2022


Director: Rosalind Ross

Screenplay: Rosalind Ross

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) was an amateur boxer who lived in Montana with his mother Kathleen (Jacki Weaver). As the boxing was going nowhere, Stuart moved to Hollywood, where his alcoholic father Bill (Mel Gibson) lived, in the hope of becoming an actor. At his day job at the supermarket, he was smitten by the charms of Carmen (Teresa Ruiz). Before accepting him as a suitor though, Carmen wanted him to be a baptized Catholic.

From there, Stuart would face a major health crisis followed by another, even more debilitating one. After a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Stuart felt the calling to become a priest. His sudden decision did not sit well with Carmen, who wanted him to marry her, or his atheist parents who had long lost their faith when they lost another son in childhood. Despite resistance from Monsignor Kelly (Malcolm McDowell), Stuart staunchly pursued his dream against all odds.

This biopic was an old-fashioned melodrama at heart, spiced up by Stuart's profane language and commentary about Catholics and priesthood. Now 50 years old, Mark Wahlberg was obviously too old to play Stuart as a younger man (the real Stuart actually passed away at the age of 50). Anyhow, he nailed the dramatic moments here, and even underwent a major physical transformation. The moving ending surprise was beautifully executed. 7/10. 


Director: Martin Campbell

Screenplay: Dario Scardapane

Alex Lewis (Liam Neeson) was a senior assassin-for-hire. When he approached his target for his latest contract, he saw that it was 13-year old Beatriz (Mia Sanchez). He aborted his mission and instead went drinking in a bar, picking up a random woman to spend the night with. The next day, he learned that Beatriz was murdered anyway. However, because of his ongoing battle with Alzheimer's disease, he could not remember if he really did it or not.

Aside from Liam Neeson, there were a couple more familiar names in this B-action flick, both of whom I did not recognize right away the way they looked here. Guy Pearce, made up to look Mexican-American, played FBI agent Vincent Serra, who rescued Beatriz from her abusive father who prostituted her. Monica Bellucci, heavily made-up to look like Morticia Addams, played the business tycoon who hired Alex in the first place.  

For a film entitled "Memory," it was annoying how the Alzheimers of Alex did not have a more important role in the plot. Instead, we just see Alex being forgetful, which is not really a big shock because 70 year old man usually is, assassin or not. It was not common for Neeson to play an anti-hero, but of course it was no surprise that the ruthless hired killer Alex just so happened to have a soft spot for kids. 5/10. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Review of TOP GUN: MAVERICK: Soaring Speed Spectacle

May 21, 2022

After 36 years of decorated service in the Air Force of the US Navy, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell still held the modest rank of Captain, and was still involved in testing state-of-the art fighter jets. Upon the orders of his old rival then friend, now Admiral Tom "Iceman" Kazansky, Maverick was unexpectedly assigned to train a group of brash young pilots to execute a dangerous mission to bomb a heavily-armed uranium facility within treacherous mountains within the unnamed enemy's territory. 

One of the pilots in Maverick's group is Lieutenant Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw. Rooster was the son of Maverick's best friend and radar-intercept officer Nick "Goose" Bradshaw, whose death Maverick always felt guilty for. Rooster also blamed Maverick for pulling out his application papers before, which delayed his entrance into the Navy. Meanwhile, Maverick got back in touch with an old girlfriend Penny Benjamin, a single mom who now owned the local bar where the navy pilots hung out. 

The first "Top Gun" film was the box-office champion of 1986, earning more than $176M in the US alone. It solidified Tom Cruise as a bonafide superstar and further bolstered the careers of Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards. Its soundtrack album was also a big hit, reaching 9 times Platinum. It contained the #1 hit and Oscar-winning song "Take My Breath Away" by Berlin and a couple songs by Kenny Loggins,  "Playing with the Boys" and "Danger Zone" (bars of which were heard in the opening scene of this sequel).

36 years after the events in the first movie, Maverick was a still a man who marched to his own drum, laden with emotional baggage. As probably only he could, the ageless Tom Cruise (now 59) can still manage to convincingly pull off both the daring and dangerous physical aviation stunts with Miles Teller and the younger actors, as well as the chaming, grinning boy-next-door love interest opposite Jennifer Connely (whose character Penny was actually mentioned in the first film). The scene with disabled Val Kilmer was a dramatic highlight. 

As Rooster, Miles Teller, with that mustache, looked uncannily like Anthony Edwards as Goose, hence we totally get Maverick's discomfort in having to be in the same room with him. Maverick and Rooster will have unbelievable close encounters with the enemy in the final act, but being a Hollywood blockbuster that this is, we suspend disbelief and cheer them on through all these. Among the other pilots, standing out were Phoenix (Monica Barbaro) being the only female, and Hangman (Glenn Powell) channeling the arrogance of Iceman.  

There were plenty of sentimental references to the first film, so it would be probably be better to give the original a revisit before watching this sequel, for better emotional connection with the whole story. Don't fret if you could not, because there were plenty of flashback cues to remind you of what happened, like singing "Great Ball of Fire" at the piano, or Goose's fatal ejection. The pilots playing touch football shirtless on beach was clearly a redo of the much-ballyhooed shirtless beach volleyball scene in the first film.  

But like the original film, the best parts of this film are the breathtakingly-fast and exhilarating flying scenes, all said to be done without the benefit of computer-generated effects. We see Maverick flying an experimental Mach 10 jet, an F-18 Super Hornet and even a F-14 Tomcat (for a nice throwback to the first film). He would also have dogfights against enemy jets, as well as evasive midair maneuvers against missiles. The superb cinematography and editing made it all look like Cruise was actually flying those planes even if he really wasn't. 9/10.   

Vivamax: Review of IKAW LANG ANG MAHAL: Absorbed in Art

May 21, 2022

Andrei Parabuac (Zanjoe Marudo) was a young documentarist from Manila who booked a month's stay at the colorful Honta de Balay in Sagada to do a film about the Puerto Antimano art scene using old-school analog technology. He planned to do interviews with the three legendary senior artists who worked there, namely poet Butch Alipato (Joel Torre), painter Patring Cordero (Lara Morena) and filmmaker Eric Salamanca (Ronnie Lazaro). 

On his very first night, Andrei immediately caught the amorous attention of Ingrid (Cara Gonzales), a film director and fellow resident at the Balay. The next day, Andrei met Lira (Kylie Versoza), a published novelist, who then invited him to attend a poetry reading party of her uncle Butch, with whom Andrei had an unpleasant first encounter earlier that morning. Andrei and Lira hit if off very well and soon get intimate. 

Director Richard Somes immediately set the mood of the whole film in an early scene when Andrei was being questioned by Lucrecia Debres (Evangeline Pascual) about his plans during his stay in her Balay. She represented the proud artistic community in Puerto Antimano and was very wary and defensive against pretentious outsiders, like Andrei, who may want to exploit the talented artists who thrived there. 

This film did not require the usual Parental Control PIN for mature content on Vivamax, so you might expect this to be a wholesome romance film. However, it turned out that there would plentiful artistically-executed sex scenes of Andrei with various women. The most ambitious one would be that open-air love scene set on a mountaintop, with multiple cameras catching all the intimate action from all angles. including overhead drone shots.

The film gave viewers an immersive experience of what it is like to be involved in a vibrant art community, especially with veteran actors Joel Torre and Ronnie Lazaro there with all the quirks of artist personalities. Zanjoe Marudo further proved his dependability in dramatic roles, and he clicked with Kylie Versoza as a romantic couple. As she was sensitively convincing as a fragile serious artist, this was Versoza's best performance as an actress to date. 6/10.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Review of DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA: Truths and Transitions

May 19, 2022

In 1928, Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) had inherited a villa in Southern France from the late Marquis de Montmirail, whom she met 60 years ago. Sir Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton), Tom Branson (Allen Leech), his new bride Lucy (Tuppence Middleton) and mother-in-law Lady Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) visited it upon the invitation of Montmirai's son. 

Meanwhile, Downton had been leased out by Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery) as the shooting location for a silent film directed by Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), starrring famous movie stars Myrna Dagliesh (Laura Haddock) and Guy Dexter (Dominic West). However, the shoot stalled when their sponsor pulled out midway because silents were falling out of favor. Barber then decided to shift to becoming a talking film instead, but it was not that easy.

Fans of the "Downton Abbey" TV series will undoubtedly be thrilled to attend this reunion and get updated with what was going on with the masters and servants they have learned to love over the show's 6 seasons, which ran from 2010-15, spanning the changing years from 1912 to 1925. In 2019, the first cinematic reunion was held, telling about events surrounding a visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Downton in 1927.

This new film got the beloved cast together once again, only to split them into two parallel stories. One story was happening in Downton with Lady Mary and staff excitedly witnessing the transition of movies from silents to talkies. The other one in another opulent villa in the French Riviera, with Sir Robert and family learing about yet another passionate romance in the past of the formidable but delightful Lady Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham. 

Of course, with the cast in full attendance we cannot really expect every character to have equal screen exposure. While it was fulfilling to see good things happen to Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), it was a tad disappointing that there wasn't much for John and Anna Bates here, or for Lady Merton Isobel Grey. Series creator and screenwriter Julian Fellowes did try to squeeze in a little something for everyone, and wrap things up with a bittersweet bow. 7/10.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Review of THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT: Celebrating Cool and Crazy Cage

May 15, 2022

Actor Nick Cage (Nicholas Cage) having difficulty connecting with his daughter Addy (Lily Sheen) and his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) because of his obsession with his career. He could also not get any good movie projects lately,  and was facing financial troubles. On the verge of retiring from show business, he accepts an invitation to make a one-time appearance as the guest of honor at a billionaire's birthday in Mallorca. 

When he met his host Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), Cage was at first annoyed and uninterested, but the two eventually hit it off very well with their common love for cinema. Later, Cage was informed by CIA agents Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz) that Javi was the main suspect in the kidnapping of a politician's daughter, and that they were recruiting Cage to be their informant on Javi's activities. 

Nicolas Cage was a superstar in the 1980s and 1990s with unforgettable films like "The Rock" (1996), "Con Air" (1997), "Face/Off" (1997) and "City of Angels" (1998), among many more. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995). Since the turn of the millennium, his career took a downturn as he was derided for roles in forgettable B-films like "The Wicker Man" (2006) and "Season of the Witch" (2011). 

Last year, Cage had a critically acclaimed performance in the film "Pig" (2021) and this was seen as a career breakthrough for him, returning to the A-list. His momentum is maintained with this new film, which had an interesting premise of Nick Cage playing a parody version of himself as a down-and-out actor whose career needed a serious boost. He portrayed himself tongue-in-cheek all the way here, and it was a joy to watch.

This film celebrates Nicolas Cage the actor, with random references to Cage's long filmography, like "Guarding Tess" (1994), "Gone in 60 Seconds" (2000), "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" (2001) etc. Having mature Nick Cage arguing with young brash "Wild at Heart"-era Nicky Cage about being an actor vs. a star was a stroke of genius. The buddy chemistry Cage had with Pedro Pascal, who played a Cage super-fan, was a lot of fun. 8/10. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Netflix: Review of SENIOR YEAR: Rebel the Rambunctious

 May 15, 2022

It was 2002, her senior year in high school, Australian immigrant Stephanie Conway (Angourie Rice) wanted to be prom queen. She was the captain of the cheerleading squad, and her boyfriend was school top jock Blaine (Tyler Barnhardt). This was much to the dismay of Tiffany (Ana Yi Puig) whom Stephanie beat to earn both prize distinctions. Unfortunately, her plans did not come to pass because of an accident which left Stephanie in a coma. 

In 2022, Stephanie (Rebel Wilson) suddenly woke up from her coma, now at age 37. However, her mental status was still stuck at age 17. Her close friend Martha (Mary Holland) is now the principal of their high school, while Seth (Sam Richardson), who had a crush on her before, is now the school librarian. Stephanie resolved that she would complete her senior year, and finally claim that crown of prom queen she knew she deserved.

The jokes in this film were quite familiar, as they seemed to have been done before in one version or the other in various high school comedy films in the past, from "Bring It On" (2000) to "Mean Girls" (2004), and yes, "Clueless" (1995). Even Rebel Wilson's style of comedy was quite similar to the three "Pitch Perfect" films (2012-17), which nevertheless was the same dorky, immature, sassy persona that endeared her to her fans all these years. 

However, the nostalgia element of the late 1990s and early aughts, especially in the musical soundtrack, was irresistible. One of the highlights was a recreation of the Britney Spears music video for her hit song “(You Drive Me) Crazy.” You see all the 90's era posters on the wall in Stephanie's room and they will all bring back happy memories. There was even a surprise cameo from one iconic 90's star whose poster was also on Stephanie's wall.

This was a generally fun juvenile romp, with several digs to the current woke culture and the toxicity within social media. The performance of Chris Parnell as Stephanie's dear father Jim Conway was particularly affecting. It just disturbed me how the cause of Stephanie's accident were never even addressed again during the rest of the film and everything was just neatly swept under the rug. Stephanie did not really get justice for the 20 years she lost. 6/10. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Vivamax: Review of PUTAHE: Lissome Luscious Lasses

May 14, 2022

In the lazy island village of Isla Puerta, 16-year old Jenny (Ayanna Misola) lived with her strict father Abel (Ronnie Lazaro). She worked for the barangay captain Pompa (Shirley Fuentes) and carried on a secret love affair with boyfriend Ephraim (Massimo Scofield). Among the residents were kagawad Betong (Mon Confiado) and his wife Lalaine (Carlene Aguilar), the village prostitute Elise (Hershey de Leon) and soldier Capitan Cain (Jiad Arroyo).

One day, a mysterious beautiful woman named Euka (Janelle Tee) came to their island to establish an eatery featuring her own innovative recipes for seafood. She was popular not only for the delicious food she served, but also for the sexual favors she generously allowed her customers to partake in. Young Jenny was so mesmerized by Euka's allure that she would constantly spy on her activities. One day, she asked Euka if she could be her apprentice.

"Putaje" explored the coming of age of a lissome barrio lass into basal realities of life. Her teacher was a newcomer to their island, a woman twice her age who taught her the gustatory pleasures of food, as well as the carnal pleasures of sex. However, as in recent Viva films "Adan" (2019) and "Nerisa" (2021) of the same general vein, there is the inevitable incursion of blood and revenge into all the seemingly blissful picture. 

Ayanna Misola is barely out of her teens at age 20, but she looked mature for a 16-year old. Starting with smaller roles in "Pornstar 2" (2021) and "Siklo" (2022), she promptly gained leading lady status with her third film "Kinsenas, Katapusan" (2022). Now continues to strike while the iron is hot headlining this new film "Putahe." Right from the opening scene as she was pleasuring herself with a fish, you knew she was not going to be coy at all.

Janelle Tee is a beauty queen, earning the title of Miss Philippines Earth in 2019. Her first Vivamax project was also with Misola in "Kinsenas" in a much smaller role. This time, Tee is stepping into co-lead status with much more brazen exposure, and she had to do several more sex scenes with several more guys than Misola. She tried her best, but Tee still lacked experience and depth to deliver fully in such a rich and earthy role as Euka. 

The title of this latest Roman Perez Jr. film is playful as it literally denotes "viand," but also naughtily suggests "prostitute." It was too bad that there was more about whoring than it was about cooking. There was not much about the process of how Euka prepared her tasty treats, as in films like "Eat Drink Man Woman" (1994) or "Like Water for Chocolate" (1992). But with that lengthy sex montage and then some, those after the sex will certainly have their fill. 5/10. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Netflix: Review of ALONG FOR THE RIDE: Insomniacs Invigorate

May 10, 2022

Much to the disapproval of her mother Victoria (Andie McDowall), 18-year-old Auden West (Emma Pasarow) decided to spend time with her estranged father Robert (Dermot Mulroney) in the beach town of Colby, where he now lived with a much younger second wife Heidi (Kate Bosworth) and an infant named Thisbe. 

In Colby, Auden worked on the accounting of Heidi's botique, which was manned by three teenage girls, Maggie (Laura Kariuki), Leah (Genevieve Hannelius) and Esther (Samia Finnerty). It did not take too long for Auden to figure out that Robert was still very much more into the book he was writing than his family as he had been before. 

In one of the late night walks she took because of her insomnia, she met 20-year old boy Eli (Belmont Cameli) and struck up a friendship with him. Eli noted how Auden had been unable to experience the usual fun things that teenagers were supposed to be doing. On the other hand, Auden saw how a tragic past experience was keeping Eli from going for his dreams.

This was another one of those Netflix young-adult romances where the characters were portrayed by actors who were older. Belmont Cameli is 24 years old, and Emma Pasarow is even older at age 26. However, despite being in their first lead roles in a feature film, both Cameli and Pasarow looked good and did well in their portrayals, despite their awkward romantic chemistry and some unlikely things they were made to do (really, a food fight?).

I was more interested in the storyline about Auden's parents, who were played by two stars from 90s romcoms. Andie McDowall (now 64) played Victoria as the snobbish uptight mother, yet insecure in her confidence. Dermot Mulroney (now 58) played Robert as the brilliant yet clueless father who gave his daughters pretentious names and blamed everyone else except himself. 2000's star Kate Bosworth (now 39) played Heidi as cheerful and flaky young mother, yet dealing with hidden pain as well.

The cliche formula being followed in this film was very predictable. Two loners meet and hit it off quite well. Each one would push the other about something they are not ready to deal with, thus causing friction between them. However, by the third act, both of them realize that the other was just being a good friend trying to encourge them to get over an issue that was holding them back. It would have been nice if their insomnia was explored more. 5/10. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Netflix: Review of ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS: Games of Gumption

May 8, 2022

After escaping the deadly escape rooms created by the Minos Corporation in the first "Escape Room" (2019), Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) decide to drive to New York City to gather more evidence in order to report the shady organization to authorities. However, circumstances led them both to be trapped in a subway train car that suddenly uncoupled itself and hurtled down to the end of the track. 

There were four other people in the train car with them: Rachel (Holland Roden), Brianna (Indya Collier), Nathan (Thomas Cocquerel), and Theo (Carlito Olivero). They realize that they were all former survivors of a Minos escape room, and they had been gathered together again to play a new game. Aside from the electrified train car, they also had to escape a laser-trapped bank floor, a beach shack sinking into the sand, and a city street with acid rain. 

There was a brief introductory segment about the Zoey's session with her shrink. However, once she and Ben got to New York, director Adam Robitel did not waste any more time on exposition and dove right into the action. You have to admire the commitment of the actors for their over-the-top spirited portrayal of their characters being zapped by current, cut by laser, sucked in by sand, rained on by acid, or drowning underwater, all via CG effects. 

The escape scenarios here in this sequel were more improbable and much crazier than those in the first film. With all the running, crawling and jumping around, they seemed more exhausting for the participants in the film, as well for the audience watching. Since this was already a sequel, there are character/s you can guess will not die, unlike in the first film. Still it was fun overall, but you really have to check your logic at the door.

This version in Netflix is not the same version that was released last year, giving a different explanation about who was behind the games. I thought the first version was better thought out than this one. If there was one story of one of the new characters that I would like to see expanded into a prequel, it would be the game which cleric Nathan won over five more priests in a series of rooms that challenged their faith. Now that sounds interesting. 6/10. 

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Vivamax: Review of DOBLADO: Doubling Down Dirty

May 7, 2022

Ronan (Josef Elizalde) followed the advice of his libidinous cousin Tommy (Jiad Arroyo) and became a member of El Gimikero, an online gentlemen's club run by Madame Alexis (Gwen Garci) and her husband Daddy-O (Kier Legaspi). Ronan chose Ishtar88 (Denise Esteban), a girl who resembled his ex and liked to do cosplay and role playing. 

Ishtar88 is Jaira, a college student by day. Ronan and Jaira got along so well that their relationship soon became serious. However, one of her disgruntled customers Mr. L (Mark Anthony Fernandez) turned out to be the father of one of her classmates. He began to use this information to blackmail her to do things beyond her set boundaries.  

After being introduced in "Kaliwaan" just a week ago, Denise Esteban immediately got to become the leading lady this week. In contrast with her illiterate victim character before, Esteban gets to play it sophisticated and confident as Jaira, someone who can get her men to obey her limitations (at least at first). She may not be as voluptuous as the other Vivamax sirens, but she is as bold and fearless as the rest of them in showing off skin.

In a major career move since his start as a housemate on "Pinoy Big Brother: Teen Edition" back in 2008, Josef Elizalde unexpectedly became the newest stud in the Vivamax stable just last March in the film "X-Deal 2." His fair skin and white-collar look set him apart from the other guys rotating in the leading man slot. The character development of his vanilla Ronan may be corny, but it did give Elizalde a chance to show off some acting range.

Mark Anthony Fernandez is already becoming the go-to bad guy in Vivamax. Gwen Garci is once again in one of her loud, high-strung roles as a lesbian mama-san. Kier Legaspi is still rusty after years of showbiz inactivity. Jiad Arroyo, ex-member of the band The Juans and contestant of TV noontime show pageants, makes his Vivamax debut. Katrina Dovey was given her introductory showcase as Jaira's fellow call girl Pinky. 

This was again one of those typical Vivamax sexy offerings with a violent twist. This is GB Sampedro's fourth film in this streaming service. He had light sex comedies "Kaka" and "Crush Ko si Curly" last year.  The tone of his newer films got significantly darker this year, with "Kinsenas, Katapusan" and now this new one. Coincidentally (or maybe not), both films involved lusty liberated school girls wearing seductive uniforms.  4/10.