Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review of SERENITY: Nebulous Noir

February 14, 2019

Based on tropical Plymouth Island, Baker Dill earned a living by taking tourists on fishing tours on his boat Serenity. One day, his ex-wife Karen paid him a visit to tell Baker that her present husband Frank had been abusive to her, She wanted Baker to help her murder him. Baker was not interested despite the hefty price Karen offered for the deed. When he learned that his son with Karen, Patrick, was also being abused by Frank, Baker began to reconsider doing the crime. Will he?

With its tropical heat, duplicitous wife and incipient crime, "Serenity" possessed an old-fashioned film noir set-up. The best examples of this genre were "The Big Sleep" and "Double Indemnity" both from the 1940s, when this type of films were the rage in Hollywood. After "Chinatown" (1974) and "Body Heat" (1981) however, one would be hard-pressed to name another successful one in more recent years.  "Serenity" tried going that route, but no, it won't be joining the list of these classics. 

The first problem was its star Matthew McConaughey, As Baker Dill, he was back to his old pre-Oscar exaggerated acting style in this obnoxious character. From its very first scene on the fishing boat, he made known his obsession to catch Justice, his dream giant tuna. He also enjoyed a friends-with-benefits relationship with a matron Constance (a wasted Diane Lane). He was naked in many scenes, and was not shy to show off his 50-year old glutes. 

Anne Hathaway played Baker's ex-wife Karen, who was trapped in an abusive second marriage.  Her acting was supposed to be sexy and sultry, but they come across as oddly stilted and somehow funny. Jason Clarke played Karen's current husband, a violent loudmouth of a man. He projects that sinister sense of danger about him, but because Karen was also so annoying, we don't really feel sorry or anything about her condition. 

The weirdest character was that of a nerdy but persistent salesman Reid Miller who stalked Baker to offer him a complementary fish tracking equipment. When he finally got to talk with Baker, he was completely intelligible referring to some game he kept on talking about. Only at the very end do we realize what he was talking about, but then by then some people may have already tuned out of what he meant in the first place. 

Even if you already knew the ending, you still cannot see how everything fit in. The gratuitous inclusion of 90s style erotic scenes was also mind-boggling. I understand that they were going for something heart-warming -- some sort of a connection between a son misssing his estranged father. The concept was not bad in that sense, but the execution by writer-director Steven Knight of that idea was simply too bizarre and illogical. 3/10. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Review of ALONE / TOGETHER: Tempestuous Timing

February 13, 2019

Christine Lazaro was an idealistic arts student from UP. Rafael Toledo was a pre-med student from UST. They became sweethearts soon after Raf fell in love at first sight with Tin ever since he first saw her as a tour guide at the Spoliarium exhibit in the National Museum. They seemed to be the perfect couple until Tin suddenly called their relationship off for reasons she never let Raf know.

Fast forward five years, Tin was the secretary of a busy businessman Gregory Fausto currently undergoing an annulment of his marriage. Raf, now an emergency room physician in a government hospital, just received an award for his exemplary public service as doctor to the barrios in Dinagat Island. Sheer serendipity led to Tin and Raf crossing paths again. Will they rekindle their interrupted love, despite having respective significant others?

Writer cum director Antoinette Jadaone certainly knows how to tell a story of romance. She had written and directed some of the best Filipino romance-comedy movies in recent years, like "That Thing Called Tadhana" (2014), "Love You to the Stars and Back" (2017) and "Never Not Love You" (2018). She continues her winning streak with "Alone / Together." 

Jadaone has the uncanny ability to write lines based on the personality of the actors playing the characters, so their dialog just rolls off very naturally, as if they'd say these words to each other in real life. She also knew very well how to mine the chemistry between her two stars. She had the knack to create ticklish thrills, as well as draw out tears. 

I think Jadaone goofed a bit with the five year gap between their break-up and reunion, when it came to the meteoric speed of Raf's medical career. When they broke up, Raf was still not done with his premed. Yet in five years, he was able to finish his med school (4 years), internship (1 year), serve as doctor to the barrios long enough to merit a TOYM award (surely more than 1 year), and now serve as emergency room consultant (which requires a 3-year residency). 

For a story that spanned several years, the running time was short, only 1 hr and 40 minutes. From the beginning up to the peak of the plot which took place in bustling New York City no less, the pace of the storytelling was brisk and engaging. However, after the Big Apple scenes, the pace sort of slowed down and felt too long.; Some parts in Act 3, like the dinner scene of Tin and Gregory or those meet-up scenes in the ER parking lot, felt awkward and unrealistic.

This is the first feature film of the LizQuen love team that I have seen, and I was impressed with their acting skills. They both started off as simple unglamorous college kids, hardly any makeup, pimply oily sweaty faces, but blissfully happy. Later they mature into well-dressed, sophisticated adults, yet full of regrets and what-ifs. The transition was smooth and subtle for both of them, not only in how they looked, but also their voices and demeanor. 

The best scenes of the whole film involved two emotionally-charged proposals. There two very heartfelt scenes were so richly played by both Soberano and Gil at their best. Their delivery of lines were so effectively affecting, such that the words go straight to the heart and linger there. We will definitely feel how time had been so much against their favor despite being seemingly so right for each other. 

The supporting roles were played by veteran actors: Sylvia Sanches as Tin's kind mother Hilda, and Nonie Buencamino so subtly gay as Tin's mentor Sir Alwyn. Adrian (formerly Luis) Alandy played Tin's boss and much older boyfriend Greg. After her featured role as Jericho Rosales ex-girlfriend in "Siargao," Jasmine Curtis Smith was cast in the role of Raf's new girlfriend, Aly, a resident training in the ER. 

The cinematography of the New York scenes were topnotch, also bringing us into the MET and the Guggenheim museums. The mood was enhanced by the 90s musical soundtrack, with Eraserheads "Spoliarium" (the subject of Tin and Raf's first debate) and Rivermaya's "214" (with that iconic intro totally enveloping that nighttime Sunken Garden scene with emo vibes). On overall assessment, even if it is only February now, "Alone / Together" will definitely be among this year's best films. 8/10. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Review of ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL: Gritty, Graceful Gamine

February 12, 2019

In a dystopic Iron City in the year 2563,  Dr. Dyson Ido found the damaged remains of a female cyborg whose human brain was still fully intact. After Ido rebuilt and revived her, she did not recall anything from her past. Ido decided to name her Alita, the name of his deceased daughter. As she explored the city along with her new human friend Hugo, she would discover that she has awesome physical skills and fighting prowess. She would soon learn that she was a prime target on the hit list of various cyborg assassins.

Immediately right off the bat, your attention is grabbed by the film's spectacular computer generated imagery. From the busy cityscapes of Iron City to the fast-moving Motorball arena, every thing looks so vibrantly alive. The cyborgs of various sizes and weaponry are also very impressively executed in their breathtaking fight scenes. There are some pretty imaginative machines and vehicles conceived for various scenes, since this is more than 500 years into the future after all. So many futuristic steampunk films have been coming out recently (like "Blade Runner 2049," "Ready Player One," "Mortal Engines"), and this one still manages to stand out distinctly. 

Rosa Salazar had been in teen dystopian films like "Divergent" and "Maze Runner," but I did not really know her name until this one. As Alita, Salazar joins Andy Serkis (Gollum of "The Lord of the Rings," Caesar of "Planet of the Apes" and Supreme Leader Snoke in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"), Zoe Saldana (Neytiri of "Avatar") and maybe even Dan Stevens (Beast from "Beauty and the Beast") in the list of filmdom's most memorable performances by a computer-generated character. 

Even though I had my doubts when I saw her in the trailer, actually seeing Salazar's full performance as Alita was truly enchanting. Her reborn naivete in Act 1 was so sweet and endearing (what with those expressive big eyes!), such that even when Alita goes full-on sword warrior slicing and dicing left and right, we still found her to be good, graceful and beautiful soul -- battle angel indeed. Despite some unclear story elements, it is Salazar's Alita that kept our attention and emotional connection to the very end.

Three actors who had won Oscars for acting in a supporting role have supporting roles in this film. Christoph Waltz ("Inglorious Basterds," "Django Unchained") remarkably went against his usual stereotyped role of cruel German Nazi to play Alita's sentimental father figure, Dr. Ido, His paternal chemistry with Alita had much depth and warmth. Jennifer Connely ("A Beautiful Mind") seemed miscast as Dr. Ido's ex-wife Chiren. She seemed uncomfortable and out-of-place in her scenes. Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight," "Green Book") displayed uncharacteristically awkward acting as Vector, a ruthless Motorball organizer, especially during his final face-off with Alita. 

Producer James Cameron took almost two decades to bring the 1990 Japanese cyberpunk manga series "Battle Angel Alita" by Yukito Kishiro to the big screen. and the technological reasons for the long delay are clearly evdient. Cameron entrusted his script to the directorial discretion to Ruben Rodriguez, known for rough and tumble action flicks like "El Mariachi," "Desperado" and "Machete." That Old West spirit Rodriguez had was brought into the futuristic domain here. The ending promised a sequel (or maybe more if this proves lucrative in the box office) so there should be more opportunities for their creative team to further expound on this exciting new world they had created for Alita. 8/10.

Monday, February 11, 2019


February 11, 2019

Megan Reed is a police officer suffered from severe depression following a failed mission which cost the life of a colleague. After coming out of rehab, she accepted a job working the graveyard shift in a hospital morgue. One night, when she received a twisted corpse of Hannah Grace, which had deep ugly lacerations all over her body. Since then, the morgue was never peaceful anymore for Megan as other people start dying one by one, while Hannah Grace's body seemed to be healing itself.

The initial premise of a psychologically unstable ex-cop applying for a job in a morgue seemed untenable right off the bat. However, if you let that questionable detail pass, the rest of the movie actually worked quite well with its aim to provide scares. Yes, there were all the usual horror film tropes right there in that morgue, with its mortuary freezers, dark corners, dead bodies, flickering lights, claustrophobic atmosphere, etc. Dutch director Diederik Van Rooijen used his spooky setting to maximum effect in this, his first film in the USA.

The deformed cadaver of Hannah Grace (played by Kirby Johnson in her first title role) was also worked very well as the central horror character, with her grotesque shape, all her creaky body movements and open glaring blue eyes. We first see Hannah Grace at the beginning of the film as a subject of two priests attempting to perform an exorcism on her, with disastrous results. This initial part was practically an updated version of "The Exorcist" (the veritable template for all demonic possession films after it), but it came up with a more visually ghastly death for the priest. 

Shay Mitchell followed the lead of her three other co-stars from "Pretty Little Liars" TV series to star in her own horror film. As Megan Reed, Mitchell was a beautiful protagonist we can easily side with in her ordeal. She seemed to be really seriously committed to her role, despite the terrible foolhardy decisions her character was making. People were already telling her to give the morbid job up, yet she wanted to investigate even if it was already completely messing her mind up. Do you call that brave, or was that crazy? The protagonist of all horror films need to act that way, or else there won't be any tension at all to speak of.

Of course, there will be questions that arise after sitting through this with your nerves all riled up. First of all, I guess they should know that destroying the body of Hannah Grace does not prevent the evil spirit from transferring to another susceptible body, right? Who or what was this spirit anyway? Why was it sparing Megan all that time (even though she had always the easiest target), and was only killing the side characters (even taking the effort to go out of the morgue to kill them)? I guess logic is not exactly needed in a horror film like this, just the gore and the scares. 6/10. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Review of ELISE: Engaged to an Enigma

February 8, 2019

As a young girl, Elise (Kristal Brimner) was a pretty girl, but tended to be tough and tomboyish. Her classmate Bert (Geson Granado), a shy, introverted boy, had the biggest crush on her. One day, Elise and her family migrated to the States, so their young love affair was aborted just when it began. 

They met again about 8 years later in college. However, because Elise (Janine Gutierrez) was involved with a boyfriend Ivan (Miko Raval) then, Bert (Enchong Dee) was again frustrated in his bid to profess his feelings for her. Will there be ever be a third chance for Bert to meet Elise again and finally win her heart?

The film began with a mature Bert going back to visit his hometown of San Miguel. When he passed by the school to greet his former teacher Ms. Marithel (an unrecognizable Shyr Valdez), she requested him to bring her delinquent student Remy (Miel Espinoza) back to her home, since it was along Bert's way. Along the walk home, Bert told the inquisitive 9-year old girl how his love story with Elise evolved through the years. This style of storytelling by director Joel Ferrer afforded this film the benefits of heartwarming sentiments, hindsight and reflections.

I've admired Enchong Dee as a down-to-earth sensible young man in real life, and he reflected that impression in his character of the earnest Bert. Bert had to work hard to turn his fortune around to prove that he was worthy of their daughter, and Dee was a convincing actor to portray that character credibly. As the main anchor of the whole film, Dee did well to portray a good man who truly loved only one woman for his whole life.

With her mesmerizing face and smile, Janine Gutierrez was a very good choice for the role of Elise, a girl whom Bert obsessed for his whole life. We only see what Bert knew about her, so she remained an enigmatic character with several aspects of her life that were shrouded in mystery. Because of the ethereal quality of Gutierrez's Elise, her chemistry with Dee's Bert was not instant, but a gradually developing one. 

I may be in the minority, but the comedy style in several scenes were not really my cup of tea. I did not like the fresh, sassy, direspectful way Remy was talking back to adults, which I presume was supposed to be funny. Bert's best buddy Gian (Victor Anastacio) was the main comic relief during the flashbacks, but the way he delivered his silly jokes did not feel natural for me. The green jokes felt creepy coming from Anastacio, just as they were delightful coming from Pilita Corrales as Bert's grandmother Jesusa. 

I thought that the whole episode about 17-year old Bert and the older nursing student Rita (Laura Lehman) went on too long a detour from the main storyline. Also I wish Bert had mentioned in his narration that Josie was his mom's (Jackie Lou Blanco) name. This name would come up prominently at a certain point in the film, but it was not clear who Josie was. I just assumed its significance, which was later to be confirmed at the end credits. 

Overall, I liked how the story was told such that I did not really foresee what was going to happen in the end. It was a fresh approach to a oft-told story of first love and its bittersweet ramifications with the passage of time. Those movie clips from Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos and Kris Aquino (with a flash Lilia Cuntapay) were a nice nostalgic touch. The familiar haunting notes of Beethoven's classic piano piece "Für Elise" (or more formally known as Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor) played throughout the film will also be playing in your head as you think back on Bert and Elise's story of love. 7/10.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Review of GREEN BOOK: Reciprocal Relationship

February 7, 2019

Tony Vallelonga, a bouncer in a New York City night club, was hired by African-American pianist Dr. Don Shirley to be his driver and bodyguard for an 8-week concert tour that would take them into the "Deep South," states which were still observing racial segregation during that time in 1962. Shirley was appalled at  Tony's profane language and crude habits, and tried to refine his behavior. Tony was appalled at the way Shirley was discriminated upon by his white hosts, and stood up in his defense.

"Green Book" was a film about a friendship that developed between two men with vastly different backgrounds and personalities during a long road trip. The title "Green Book" referred to an actual booklet (by Victor Hugo Green) that listed down motels and restaurants who accepted African-Americans into their establishment. Dr. Shirley was acclaimed and applauded when he was performing the piano onstage, yet he was still subjected to the same awful policies and restrictions as other African-Americans during their long road trip. 

Here Viggo Mortensen became a hefty Italian tough guy, who spoke as if he had that thick New York accent his whole life. Becoming an international star only in his 40s when he was cast as Aragorn in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Mortensen was one of those actors who can disappear into his roles, like his Oscar-nominated turns as a Russian mobster in "Eastern Promises" (2008) and as an unconventional father in "Captain Fantastic" (2017). His Tony was brusque, uncouth and violent, yet oddly endearing and even delightful, especially in his relationship with his wife (played by Linda Cardellini). 

Mahershala Ali was also already 40 when he gained widespread recognition with his Oscar-award winning performance as a fatherly drug-dealer in "Moonlight" (2016). Just a couple of years later, here he is again as the practical lock to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor again in "Green Book." I would not exactly call his role as "supporting" though. They were co-leads, and should have been considered like Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy, who were both nominated as leads in "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989). Ali's class and finesse as a classically-trained pianist on-stage, as well as his struggle to preserve his dignity off-stage, was mesmerizing to behold on the big screen.

The simplicity and warmth of the story is charming and engaging. The picture it painted about the hypocrisy extant in the segregationist Southern USA during those times was tense and powerful. The two lead actors Mortensen and Ali both gave down-to-earth, sincere and captivating transformative performances. The original screenplay by Nick Vallelonga (Tony's son), Brian Hayes Currie and director Peter Farrely seems to be Oscar-bound. The lack of a Best Director nod for Farrely though may not bode too well in its Best Picture bid, but definitely this is one of the year's most outstanding films. 9/10. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Review of 'TOL: , A Series of Silly Stupid Situations

February 2, 2019

Arthur, Lando and Dmitri had been close friends since they were little boys forced to squeeze into a tricycle everyday on the way to school. In school, they all admired one girl, the pretty and multi-talented Elena. After graduation, and Elena was brought to the States by her folks, while the three boys all ended up in dead-end jobs as toll-gate operators right in their hometown of Sanlaan. One day years later, Elena suddenly came back home to Sanlaan, and the three friends went back to their old foolish ways, vying for her attention and her affection.

Ketchup Eusebio was clearly the most comfortable comedy actor of the three. So it was interesting that he gets to play Arthur, who was the straightest character of the three. He was the guy who wanted to become an architect, but was too lazy and uninspired to push through with his dream. He was still the one that seemingly had the voice of reason, the self-declared leader among these three amigos. 

I had seen Joross Gamboa play comedy roles before, both of them as flamboyant gay guys in "Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes" and "Deadma Walking". His Dmitri here was the wild man o the gang, with his unkempt upswept hair and his untidy inconsistent beard (which became a running adlib joke among them).  Dmitri was also able to make his gums bleed at will, making him look like a crazy Neanderthal. He was always shouting and outrageous, especially if he performed his lame magic tricks.

With his clean-cut mestizo looks and deep dimples, Arjo Atayde was the clear odd-man out in this ensemble. His Lando was the immature man-child that was still hanging on to the apron-strings of his over-doting, over-nosy mother Milagros (played by Ruby Ruiz). We are just too used to seeing Atayde in dead serious dramatic roles, so casting him in a role like this may need a learning curve. Unlike the other two guys, he was the one who felt like he was trying too hard to be funny, coming across as uncomfortable.

Playing the apple of all their eyes, Elena, was the always winsome Jessy Mendiola. She was clearly out of their league, a pure paragon, impossibly unattainable. All she needed to do was look cluelessly pretty and nothing much more, and these loser guys would already think she was reciprocating their feelings for her. Jimmy Santos was just playing his old schtick as Police Chief Gabriel to whom they three guys were telling their tale of woe. Martin Escudero, Bob Jbeili and Victor Anastacio play their similarly foolish rival counterparts from the night shift. 

This film by director Mike Livelo is a screwball physical comedy, so its appreciation depends on the taste of the viewer. not exactly my favorite style of comedy. Ketchup Eusebio's comic timing was the most effortless and natural. The other two actors were too over-the-top, such that their acting efforts felt so strenuous and exhausting. To its credit, unlike recent indie comedies, this one did not have to use foul language to be funny and I liked that. 6/10. 

Friday, February 1, 2019

Review of BATO: Idealizing the Image

January 31, 2019

This new biopic by Adolfo Alix, Jr. is about former Philippine National Police Chief Gen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, who just so happened to be running for a seat in the Senate in the midterm elections in May 2019. Campaign period officially starts on February 12, 2019, so this literally just barely made it within the legal period. Nevertheless, the timing of this release made this film very controversial, so calls for boycott had been endorsed by some groups. This was graded B from the Cinema Evaluation Board,

Moro rebels had taken seven women hostage in a rehabilitation facility in Davao City in exchange for safe passage. Provincial police director Bato dela Rosa headed a team to handle the situation. Interwoven into this story were flashbacks to three periods in young Bato's life. We meet him as a child selling hogwash to augment the family funds, Then we meet him as a teenager when two of his younger brothers died one after the other from disease. Still later, we meet him as a young man en route to his dream of being a police officer in the Philippine Military Academy. 

The mature Bato was played by Robin Padilla and his wife Nancy was played by Beauty Gonzales. Padilla's "macho" action-star tics were all in full display here, including playing "cute" with his wife. His signature vocal inflections were so identifiable, even when he was only singing the birthday song off-screen in the first scene. Padilla's exaggerated wide-gait swag strutting scenes were amusing to watch, especially since he was much slimmer than the stockier Bato. Gonzales was not made to do much than act like a worried, concerned wife who wanted her husband to retire from field work.  

The young man Bato was portrayed by Kiko Estrada, who had a strong screen presence, credible as a PMA cadet. His young wife Nancy was portrayed by very pretty Alyssa Muhlach. His parents Doro and Anesia were played by Ricky Davao and Gina Alajar. Of course, these two veteran actors gave realistic performances of unconditional support for their children. The teenage Bato was portrayed by Ryle Paolo Santiago, while the child Bato was portrayed by Miguel Vergara. 

A comically scene-stealing Archie Alemania played Bato's junior police colleague, with Monsour del Rosario, Gardo Versoza and Alvin Anson playing other police officers. Allan Paule played the Governor of Davao, while Jake Joson played the impatient impulsive negotiator. Actors Polo Ravales, Kiko Matos, Joko Diaz and Mon Confiado all had their skin darkened to play terrorists. Angelina Kanapi played one of the hostages. Menggie Cobarrubias played a priest. Surely, no story of Bato dela Rosa would be complete without Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, as amusingly impersonated by Efren Reyes, Jr. (Apparently even before, he already told his officers not to feel guilty if they kill somebody in the line of duty.)

As expected there were a number of action scenes. The movie opened with a shootout right outside the dela Rosa residence. There was a throwback scene to a 1989 hostage taking situation inside a Davao prison. This was the same occasion when a female Australian missionary was raped and killed (a heinous crime notoriously revisited in a presidential "joke").There was a chase scene by foot against a suicide bomber which reach a climax on the roof of a university. Since the main hostage drama took four days, the resolution of the crisis could have been executed better, than the rushed illogical way it was done. 

This was a idealized biopic designed to extol and lionize its subject. He had it all. He was the respectful son, resourceful child, smart student, responsible teenager, noble idealist, brave cadet, dedicated policeman, skillful tactician, compassionate crusader and a God-fearing Catholic. There were more than one scene showing Bato's gentle side. He prayed in tears after encounters where he shot and killed people. He visited a church during tense stand-off situations. This would seem to impress upon us how much he relied on divine inspiration when making difficult decisions, despite his brutish exterior.

The entire epilogue where Robin Padilla shaves off his hair on-screen to transform into the bald-headed Bato dela Rosa we know was accompanied by a voice-over of his promise that there may be things that are tough to do, but someone has to do them, and no one can do it but him. (That certainly sounded like a campaign slogan right there.) 

To be completely objective, the movie was not really that bad for me for an average Filipino action film. However, the polarizing political shade of the subject matter is bound to greatly affect people's appreciation of it to either extreme. 5/10. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Review of SECOND ACT: Resume Racket

January 30. 2019

Street-smart Maya Vargas wanted to be the manager of a supermarket in which she had dedicated 15 years of her life to, only to be passed over by a younger, stuck-up MBA graduate. An embellished online resume misled a family-owned beauty industry firm into believing that she is a consultant with remarkable achievements, and hires her. However, it would take her time to realize that anything based on a lie cannot lead to any good, not only in her career, but also in her personal life.

The first part of the movie had a strong feministic tone, with Maya fighting for what she wanted, both professionally and personally. Later, the movie became a reworking of an older JLo film "Maid in Manhattan" when her "Jenny from the Block" character was thrust into the circles of the rich and famous. When she accepted her new higher echelon job based on fraud, you sort of knew how the whole story would run already, as this type of story had been retold quite often. 

However in the second act, the film hits us with an unexpected curve ball when suddenly a most incredible twist that connected Maya's troubled past as a teenager, with her present situation now working in the big firm working with Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), the competitive daughter of the big boss, Mr. Anderson Clarke ( a jolly Treat Williams). The odds of this chance coincidence happening was too impossible to be true, but this is a New York City fairy tale after all. 

In between these scenes were largely comic montages of Maya and Zoe going up against each other in trying to develop a more "organic" product line which could further boost the business of their firm. Maya's teammates Ariana (Charlyne Yi) and Chase (Alan Aisenberg) had their own little side story. On the personal side, Maya had her drama with an ex Trey (Milo Ventimiglia), but her BFF Joan (a scene-stealing Leah Remini) was always a loyal shoulder to cry on. 

The last time I saw Jennifer Lopez on the big screen was four years ago in a forgettable sexy thriller called "The Boy Next Door" (MY REVIEW). In her new film, she was not acting sexy, but she was still effortlessly so, even if she was supposed to be playing a "plain" forty year-old supermarket employee. She looked extraordinary, a goddess way above everyone around her. "Simple" clothes become high fashion when she wore them. Her star quality alone was the factor that really kept this film together. 5/10. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Review of THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING: Knighthood for the Kids

January 29, 2019

Alex Elliot and his friend Bedders were just regular schoolboys in Cornwall. Everyday they have to contend with bullies like Lance and his partner Kaye. One day, Alex encountered a sword stuck in a stone when he fell into a pit. He was able to pull the sword out, and realized he actually had the legendary Excalibur in his hands. 

The fabled wizard Merlin appeared to Alex in the form of an awkward nerd to warn him that the evil sorceress Morgana had been revived and she was going to take over the whole world with her army of undead soldiers. It is up to Alex (the one destined to be the new Arthur) and his schoolmates (his own Knights of the Round Table) to save the world. 

I liked the spunk of Louis Ashbourne Serkis (14 year old son of Andy Serkis)  in the lead role of Alex, and Dean Chaumoo who was delightful in the role of Bedders. The two older teen actors -- Tom Taylor (whom we first met as Jake Chambers in "The Dark Tower" last 2017 with Idris Elba and Matthew McConnaughey) and Rhianna Doris -- had their moments in their roles as bullies who tormented Alex. Angus Imrie will polarize audiences in his dorky portrayal of the young Merlin. 

The performances of the adult actors were even more kiddie than the kids, fully intentional I guess. I only knew two of the actors by name, and these were Patrick Stewart (who played the senior version of whimsical Merlin) and Rebecca Ferguson (who was unrecognizable under the make-up of the evil Morgana). They were made to deliver very cheesy and corny lines, it can be uncomfortable to watch, but they do so with all professional gusto. 

Of course, amidst the kiddy action and comedy (very British), there are important messages for the children who watched it. It encourage kids to follow their dreams (even to be a king, if you will) and they will be fulfilled, as long as you have goodness in your heart. It also advised the kids to follow the Knight's Code to avoid misconduct, to honor people you love, to always be honest and to stick to all your endeavors through to the end. 

As a whole, despite aiming to be "epic", this film by comedian-director Joe Cornish was quite juvenile in execution, in terms of the script, the humor and the special effects. It sought to revive interest in the characters of the Arthurian legend among the new generation of moviegoers, as summarized in the comics-style animated introductory scenes. You really have to turn on your inner child to enjoy this as it seemed to be geared for audiences below the age of 10 (in actual years or in terms of mentality). 5/10. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Review of THE UPSIDE: Pepping Up a Paraplegic

January 27, 2019

Dell Scott was an ill-mannered ex-convict who had no job and was losing his family. He was going around several possible jobs to have a form signed stating that he had been interviewed and rejected in order to continue receiving welfare. However, when he met Philip Lacasse, a bored billionaire who had been rendered a paraplegic and a widower by a freak accident, Dell was actually offered the job to become Philip's "life auxillary".

The trailer reminded me of the 2011 French movie entitled "The Intouchables," a comedy-drama about unlikely buddies.  It was the French entry for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film that year, but did not earn the nomination despite the buzz. From the opening scene where we see Dell and Philip outsmarting cops who pulled them over for speeding, it was clear that "The Upside" was going to be a remake of "The Intouchables," and a very faithful one it was.

All the major plot points of "The Intouchables" were also here -- Philip's unfortunate paragliding mishap with his wife, Dell's exposure to opera and modern art, Philip's birthday party, Philip's epistolary relationship with a woman he had never met or spoken to. This American version gave Dell Scott a wife and son to worry about, showcased Aretha Franklin's music, and had an expanded role for Philip's secretary Yvonne (given that she was played by Nicole Kidman, after all).

Bryan Cranston was very good as the classy Philip Lacasse, successfully overcoming the limitations of the script and his disabled character. Despite his being confined in his wheelchair or a bed for the whole film, only able to move from the neck up, Cranston was still created a remarkable character so rich in emotional expression, from mirthful joy to absolute panic, from frustrated anger to brooding misery. 

Kevin Hart's Dell Scott was a very unlikable character, with an annoying and even scary gangster attitude, I would have given up on him much earlier than Philip did. I think he overdid the brusqueness and the rudeness. He did not make it easy for viewers to root for him at all despite the family and financial problems he was facing. Admittedly, this role gave Hart a most complex acting challenge compared to his other lowbrow comedies.

Overall, the negative way Dell Scott's character had been written and portrayed did not ride well with me, causing me not enjoy this movie. It was too over-the-top and unsympathetic, it made the whole premise of the film uncomfortable and unconvincing, even if this was actually based on a true story about a French aristocrat and his Algerian caregiver. 5/10.

PS: The local poster of this film showed the two guys looking at the legs of a woman wearing stillettos with her panties hanging on her leg -- something obviously not in the international poster above. Why do the local distributors have to photoshop in this lurid image which had nothing to do with the film at all? I find it deceptive and insulting to the Filipino audience.