Sunday, December 9, 2018

Review of WIDOWS: Larceny by Ladies

December 9, 2018

Harry Rawlings and his partners-in-crime Carlos, Florek, and Jimmy were killed when their getaway van exploded in a police shootout. Crime boss (and fledgling politician) Jamal Manning coerced Harry's widow Veronica to give him back the money her husband stole from him or else suffer consequences. Veronica invited Linda and Alice (widows of Carlos and Florek respectively) to execute Harry's next robbery plan in order to pay back their husbands' debts and lift the threat to their lives. 

Viola Davis' acting was as intense as ever even if this role as Veronica was a rather more popcorn outing compared to her more serious roles. With her intimidating physical features, Davis is really made to play these strong female characters, but she might have overdone it a bit in this one. Michelle Rodriguez got a break from her usual action heroine roles for more down-and-out dramatic moments as Linda. 

Elizabeth Debicki is a tall striking beauty who fit in just right as an abused wife and daughter Alice. Cynthia Erivo, with that signature close-cropped blond hairstyle of hers, first gained attention in the 2015 revival of "The Color Purple" which won her a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. As the designated driver Belle, she also got to show off her physicality. 

Liam Neeson was in a role on the other side of the law as Harry, but his acting style was as would be expected. Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall played the Mulligans, a family of corrupt politicians. While Farrell does well in his role of Jack, the son who wanted to dissociate himself from his father's style of politics, but in the final analysis his role was not really necessary. Lukas Haas (whose name I still remember as the 8-year old Amish boy in 1985's "Witness") played David, a real estate agent who got involved in the widow's plot.

Bryan Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya played ruthless brother mobsters, the Mannings. Henry's Jamal is the more quietly imposing one, while Kaluuya's Jatemme is the more psychotically violent one. Kaluuya's big round eyes, who made such a major impact in his breakthrough (and Oscar-nominated) role in "Get Out," were again in full play as they burned through the screen with unsettling madness. 

This could have been made to fit right in for the #MeToo trend in movies this year. However, while the proper motivations may have been there, but it was really too far-fetched that these women who never did any crime before would even consider doing such a dangerous undertaking, especially knowing that they were up against major criminal organizations. Granted that these ladies were desperate, but it is no joke to undertake a major crime, complete with buying guns and a getaway car with a driver.  

That said, the script certainly gave them a lot of lucky breaks to give the caper a semblance of credibility. There was an unusual decision by director Steve McQueen (and co-writer Gillian Flynn) to inexplicably spoil a critical twist earlier than it should have. Because of this, the climax did not have the shattering impact it could have had. 5/10. 

Review of MORTAL ENGINES: Steampunk Spectacle

December 9, 2018

In the distant post-apocalyptic future, the city of London was already housed in moving gigantic machines that roamed the arid wasteland outside. Admired by many, Thaddeus Valentine of the Guild of Historians was the most powerful man in London. However, one day, Hester Shaw, a girl with a disfiguring scar on her face, tried to assassinate Valentine, but this attempt was thwarted by young apprentice historian, Tom Natsworthy. The adventures of Hester and Tom had just begun.

The most remarkable aspects of this Christian Rivers film (produced by Peter Jackson) are its visuals. Everything was grand to behold -- the vivid colors and cinematography, the spectacular computer-generated effects, futuristic period costumes, ornate production design. For these visuals alone, I thought this film was already worth watching on the big screen. The sound mixing and the editing work were also excellent on the technical front, and this was clearly evident from the very first action sequence. 

However, beyond the visuals, the other aspects of this movie were rather disappointing. The plot themes have already been done before in many other futuristic sci-fi films before. In Act 2, I got a lot of "Mad Max Fury Road" vibes with the scenes of dystopian anarchy and poverty. In Act 3, it was "Star Wars" all the way, complete with analogies to the Death Star, X-Wing fighter jets, and the Millennium Falcon. Even the characters have parallels in "Star Wars" saga to the point that I practically expected a paternal revelation in one key scene.

There was only one actor known to me in the cast, Hugo Weaving, who played the megalomaniac Thaddeus Valentine, which he was . The rest of the cast were promising newcomers. Playing the lead role of Hester is Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar, who had a strong screen presence despite her marred face. Playing the naive Tom is Irish actor Robert Sheehan, who had that boy-next-door, unlikely hero charm about him. 

Katherine, who discovered many new things about her father Thaddeus following the attack on his life, was played by Leila George. Bevis Pod, Tom's friend who was an apprentice engineer, was played by Ronan Rafferty. Standing out among the good guys is the fearless and skillful resistance leader Anna Fang, played by Korean actress Jihei, who certainly cut a dashing action figure playing this character. 

Overall, despite the predictable limitations of the story, this film was still worth watching because of its fascinating concept of the future, describing a rough and tumble world where giant cities on wheels literally devour smaller ones. There was actually one character Shrike (played by Stephen Lang), an undead soldier reanimated by machine parts, which was a very interesting and unique element in the story. 

The original 2001 book "Mortal Engines" by Philip Reeve had three sequels. To be honest, I would not mind seeing a sequel to this film to see what lay ahead for Hester and Tom, and the world where they lived. 6/10. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Review of THREE WORDS TO FOREVER: A Break or a Breakup?

December 4, 2018

There was a lot of hype about this film being the comeback movie of the Sharon Cuneta - Richard Gomez love team with five hit movies from “Kahit Wala Ka Na” (1989) to “Walang Kapalit” (2003). It was also one of those rare times that Kathryn Bernardo will be in a movie without her love teammate Daniel Padilla to be paired up with another young actor. The title was forgettable and trailers were not really encouraging, but I was still curious to see what more it can give. 

The family of Cito (Freddie Webb) and Tinay (Liza Lorena) get together in their hometown of Ormoc City to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary. Their daughter Cristy (Sharon Cuneta) and her husband Rick (Richard Gomez) are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, but their relationship was already very strained with frustrating lack of communication. Their daughter Tin came home from New York City to join the celebration, and on the spur of an excited moment, suddenly announced her own wedding to her boyfriend Kyle (Tommy Esguerra).

The whole movie was just light-hearted family comedy-drama about trying to keep up good impressions for the benefit of others, despite destructive secrets. This pretense was perpetrated with no apparent due regard to the other parties involved. Cuneta and Gomez really looked ill at ease with each other, but of course that was how Cristy and Rick felt about each other. Bernardo's immature Tin was hyper and bipolar, in contrast with Esguerra's obsessive-compulsive perfectionist Kyle. Lorena was an over-indulgent nagger Tinay to Webb's reluctant post-heart attack patient Cito. Joross Gamboa played happy-go-lucky Paeng, out-of-place character who just so happened to know all the hidden secrets. 

The main dramatic highlight only came in the last thirty minutes of the film when a distraught Tin finally opened up to her parents Cristy and Rick. This was the only moment in the film that Sharon Cuneta and Kathryn Bernardo came across as a real people as they confronted each other with sincerity and frankness. This should have been Richard Gomez's big moment since mainly his issues were tackled, but the director Cathy Garcia Molina's blocking of this key scene made him look awkward, denying him the chance to also shine. 

The script tackled problems experienced by husbands dominated by their "always-right" wives, and kids with overbearing mothers. Husbands (and kids) will hope that this movie can somehow "tell" their wives (and mothers) to lay off a bit and allow them to become who they aspire to be, and who the wives (or mothers) want them to be. While these husbands may nod in identification with Rick's plight (or kids with Tin), they also hope their wives (or mother) will also get a Cristy-like epiphany and realize that she may have been too hard on them and apologize for being difficult to please. But then again, this is still just a movie, so it may never really happen in real life.

Liking this movie will depend on how much you identify with the sentiments being expressed by the characters. Here it was the husband who told the wife that as partners, they should be equals. I thought that this message in favor of men was quite a change from the usual flow of dialogue of Filipino dramas that usually side with the women. (I confess though I never really watched a lot of these types of films before.)  I liked the interviews with real-life couples talking about their relationships interspersed in the film. They conveyed more relatable insights and genuine emotion than those of the main story itself. 5/10.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Review of THE GRINCH (2018): Fresher Festive Fable

December 4, 2018

I have long heard about this character Grinch and how he hated Christmas Day. Maybe it was because it gave a negative vibe about the beloved holiday, most likely brought about by that dark live action film in year 2000 starring a grotesque green Jim Carrey, that I did not feel the need to go watch the films about it or read the original book by Dr. Seuss. This year, Illumination released a 3-D animation version of the same story again, so I relented and finally got to see what the Grinch was really all about.

The Grinch was a grouchy green creature with a heart two sizes too small who hated Christmas with a passion. One Christmas Eve, he whipped up an elaborate plan to steal the Christmas away from the jolly Whos of the town of Whoville just south of his house on Mt. Crumpit. However, that particular night, little Cindy Lou Who set up a trap for Santa Claus so that she could ask him for a special gift for her hard-working mother Donna Lou.

Thanks to the internet, I was able to review the evolution of the Grinch before writing this review. I read the children's book "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss on this LINK, and watched the first animated short that aired in 1966 as a holiday TV special, featuring the voice of Boris Karloff on YouTube (LINK). The book had black and white illustrations, with only red as its color accent. It was the 1966 cartoon that made the Grinch green, while it was the 2000 film that expanded the role of Cindy Lou into a major character. 

It was really the colorful artwork of this latest Illumination film that gave it a more pleasing and delightful feeling than any of the previous incarnations. The Grinch was actually cute and not at all scary to look at. The snowbound Who-ville was aglow with bright rainbow Christmas trees, lights, gifts and decorations. You can really feel the holiday cheer and excitement emanate from the screen. The Grinch's house was one nifty workshop where he created some interesting contraptions and impractical inventions. The animal characters of Max (the dog) and Fred (the fat reindeer) were likewise adorably rendered. 

The voice work of the lead cast was very affecting. The voice of Benedict Cumberbatch had a depth that gave his Grinch a less villainous characterization. We saw Cameron Seely as one of P.T. Barnum's daughters in "The Greatest Showman" and now we hear her as the spirited but kind Cindy Lou Who. Rashida Jones (of "Parks and Recreation") voiced her harassed yet efficient mother Donna Lou. The legendary voice of Angela Lansbury was heard from the Mayor's lips. The narration of Pharell Williams gave a  gentle and moving lilt to Dr. Seuss's rhymes. 

The Christmas songs chosen were also very festive, and gave the whole film a warm spirit of nostalgia. We hear classics like "Deck the Halls" by Jackie Cooper, "My Favorite Things" by the Supremes, "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole , as well as more modern holiday tunes by Run DMC, the Brian Setzer Orchestra and Buster Poindexter. A most memorable scene was that where the Grinch was trying to get away from carolers singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" as sung by Pentatonix. The original song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" was the only song heard in all three film versions. 

Overall, I enjoyed this new interpretation of the Grinch story  a lot maybe since it was the first time I actually saw the story told in full. I found this one to be the most kid-friendly and visually stimulating of all the other versions. Of course, those who grew up with the Dr. Seuss book or the 1966 TV cartoon, or even the 2000 Jim Carrey film, are sure to have their own sentimental favorites. 8/10. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Review of ANG PANGARAP KONG HOLDAP: Laughing at Larcenous Losers

December 1, 2018

Ka Paeng was the legendary thief of Barangay Husay who now ran the local robbery syndicate. His son Eman led his own team with his two partners in crime, namely the tall dark Toto and the pudgy bald Carlo. All three friends were inept and idiotic at their trade of thievery, making them the worst performing team in Ka Paeng's gang. 

They were so bad at what they do that Paeng gave them a new member Nicoy, which Eman resented but had no choice but accept. One day, they got wind of a heist which could possibly net them a cool one million pesos. Eman was sure that this was the chance he was waiting for that would finally give his team the respect they longed for, or would it?

Despite the shady trade that their characters plied, Pepe Herrera, Jerold Napoles and Jelson Bay were a lot of fun to watch as they portrayed the bumbling trio of Eman, Toto and Carlo, respectively. Some of their shameless antics may already be flirting with the groan level, but they never crossed over to being annoying because you knew that they were not really bad people, just severely misguided. 

I was surprised at some of the gross out scenes that Paolo Contis agreed to do as new wannabe crook Nicoy. These were definitely on a different level of comedy than those he had to do in his last film "Through Night and Day." Kate Alejandrino played Marga, the prostitute who clued everyone about the P1M payoff about to go down. She first made a good impression in "Respeto," and is now building up her indie film cred with marked supporting roles, reminding me of a young Mercedes Cabral. 

As always, Pen Medina was the coolest cat on the block as crime boss Ka Paeng, so effortless with his screen presence. Gary Lim played Paeng's trusty right-hand man Onyok and Rino Marco was Balot, his best young operative. Raffy Tejada played Paeng's paranoid rival kingpin Badjao, with Dindo Arroyo playing his formidable executioner Roy Bulag, who owned a spoon that gave him his scary nickname. 

Various lesser-known character actors played smaller roles that nevertheless added to the weblike comedy of errors that this film was spinning. Boy Liquipo played the sleazy businessman Mr. Santos, while Bernard Carritero played Cholo, his desperate driver deep in debt. The ubiquitous Erlinda Villalobos was also there playing Cholo's sick mother. Raul Morit played Tunying, the elderly farmer who found the golden artifact fashioned from an appendage of Datu Puti everyone was after. 

This film written and directed by Marius Talampas (his debut effort) attracted attention when theaters at first refused to screen it because of its provocative title which seemed to encourage a life of crime. Upon watching, it was a light-hearted black comedy caper which never really glorified these petty crimes as much as it made fun of its perpetrators. It was a mixed bag of brown, green and other off-color crude humor meant to shock (some), offend (some) and ultimately entertain (all). Such a riotous laugh trip this was. 7/10. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Review of CREED II: Faithful to the Formula

November 29, 2018

Adonis Creed had just won the WBC World Heavyweight Championship and proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Bianca Taylor. He received a challenge from a young Russian fighter, Viktor Drago, who just so happened to be the son of Ivan Drago, the former Soviet boxer who killed his father, Apollo Creed, in the ring thirty-three years ago. To Donnie's dismay, his coach Rocky Balboa did not think that it was a great idea to accept the fight. 

Like the first movie of this Rocky reboot (MY REVIEW), this sequel is also a very well-shot film. Because of his schedule conflicts with "Black Panther," Ryan Coogler turned over the directorial reins to Steven Caple, Jr., in only his second full-length film, his first for a major company. Coogler still stayed on board as executive producer of this film, even as Michael B. Jordan still stayed on as the lead actor in both projects. 

Technical-wise this was a solid film. The cinematography was artistically done, with some pretty dramatic camera angles (the pool training scene, the lying down on the floor scene, among others) and energetic film and sound editing of the boxing scenes (you can feel those rib-cracking punches yourself). The musical soundtrack also sounded so good, complementing the scenes they accompany very well. It was exhilarating and nostalgic to hear the original Rocky fanfare at one climactic moment. 

Michael B. Jordan played Donnie Creed with all his character's athleticism, determination, vindictiveness and helplessness. His scenes with little Amara were pretty touching as this young actor is really very good in drama. Sylvester Stallone continued to play Rocky Balboa with heart, wisdom and compassion. Tessa Thompson had strong screen presence as Donnie's beloved Bianca. Phylicia Rashad (as step-mom Mary Anne) and Wood Harris (as trainer Tony "Little Duke" Evers) gave understated supporting performances. 

On the Russian side, Dolph Lundgren maintains that cold menacing presence as Ivan Drago, the same character he played in 1985 in the film "Rocky IV." The huge and imposing Romanian boxer Florian Munteanu played the formidable challenger Viktor Drago, on whom Ivan channeled his desire for retribution. The icy, platinum blonde amazon Brigitte Nielsen reprised her role as Ludmilla, Ivan's ex-wife and Viktor's estranged mother in a couple of chilly scenes, but so heavy on the emotion. 

The only problem I felt while I was watching was the very predictable story. It was very obvious from the trailer alone. Well, sports movies usually follow the same formula -- a challenge is issued and accepted, hero loses the first match, hero trains to get back up, hero wins the final game. This one followed that formula to the letter, no surprises at all. Fortunately, the actors was able to infuse the necessary emotional heft to uplift it from being stale. I did like the little family drama about hearing impairment, which I thought was a unique touch. 7/10. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Review of THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB: Losing Larsson's Lisbeth

November 27, 2018

The Millenium trilogy of crime novels was written by Steig Larrson, and posthumously published after his fatal heart attack in 2004 at age 50.  The series started with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2005), followed by "The Girl Who Played with Fire" (2006) and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" (2009). Despite the dark and violent subject matter, all three books were critically acclaimed and best sellers. 

Larsson's three books were made into a series of three films in Swedish language, all released in 2008. This starred Noomi Rapace as the vindictive hacker Lisbeth Salander and Michael Nyqvist as her supportive journalist friend, Mikael Blomkvist. (My review of the first book and first Swedish movie is posted HERE.) In 2011, an English language film was made out of the first book, directed by David Fincher and starring Roonie Mara as Salander and Daniel Craig as Blomkvist. (I was not able to watch this American version, where Mara was nominated for Best Actress in the Oscars.)

Wishing to milk the series further, the Swedish published commissioned journalist David Lagercrantz to write more adventures for flawed heroine Lisbeth Salander. Lagercrantz's first book is "The Girl in the Spider's Web," published in 2015, which was used as the basis for this second English language film of the franchise, directed by Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez. Lagercrantz has already published a second book entitled "The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye." published in 2017. 

From the first movie, we knew that Lisbeth Salander was a victim of sexual abuse since her childhood. Here, her history was expanded to include a blond twin sister Camilla who decided to stay with their pedophile father while Lisbeth decided to run away. Because of her bitter past, Lisbeth became a vigilante against men who abused women. However, this time, it was her talent as a computer hacker that got her involved with a powerful software called Firefall that controlled all the nuclear codes in the world, and the shady Spider Society who wanted to get their hands on it.

Claire Foy looked too demure and refined to be credible as action-star Lisbeth, especially with those superhuman stunts she had to pull. However, she did better in the dramatic scenes with her estranged sister Camilla (played by Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks with a perfect ice-queen vibe). Strangely, the character of Mikael Blomkvist (played by Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason) was relegated from vital co-lead status to an unnecessary side character in this film. 

American child actor Christopher Convery made a good impression as the child genius August, son of Frans Balder (played by British actor Stephen Merchant), the programmer who came up with the Firefall software. A couple of European actors who earned critical acclaim last year, Vicky Krieps (Luxembourgish actress of "Phantom Thread") and Claes Bang (Danish actor of "The Square") were unfortunately stuck in minor roles. 

When the filmmakers of this reboot/sequel decided to shift the main focus from Lisbeth's beef against abusive misogynists to a commonly-tackled story about computer software, the very spirit of vengeance and retribution that drove the Millennium series felt compromised. It became just another female vigilante crime-fighter action thriller, which on its own was not really that bad. But for loyal fans of the original books and films eagerly anticipating to see Lisbeth Salander back on the big screen again, it disappointingly did not pass muster. 6/10.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Review of RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: Online Odyssey

November 25, 2018

"Wreck-It-Ralph" (MY REVIEW) was a very pleasant surprise hit for me when I watched it six years ago. I liked how they created a world of video game characters behind what we can see in the arcade. While the friendship formed between the burly giant wrecker Ralph and the cute moppet racer Vanellope looked unwieldy and felt awkward at first, but it turned out that their friendly chemistry worked on both humorous and heart-warming levels.

This sequel is set six years after the events of the first film, and Mr. Litwak (Ed O'Neill) had just equipped his Family Fun Center with Wi-fi to keep up with the times. One day, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) was feeling bored with the predictability of her Sugar Rush racing game, so Ralph (John C. Reilley) took it upon himself to create a new track for her to drive on. However, a child playing the altered game caused irreparable damage to the steering wheel of the game machine, which led to the game being pulled out of the arcade.

Feeling responsible for the unfortunate event, Ralph and Vanellope went into the Internet via Wi-fi router to EBay to bid on a new steering wheel, but they did not have actual cash to buy it. So, in search of the money they need, they were led on a big online adventure to various websites like the anarchic Slaughter Race (where they meet the cool racer chick Shank, voiced by Gal Gadot) and the viral video site Buzzztube (where they meet Yesss, the always-trendy algorithm who paid cash for likes, voiced by Taraji P. Henson). 

There is no argument that the colorful visuals and nostalgic humor of the first film are all still there intact. It was fun picking out the little cameos of classic characters from not only the video game world, but now plus the treasure trove of Disney franchises. So now aside from  Q*Bert, Pac-Man, the Street Fighters, Chef Peter Pepper (from "Burger Time") and Sonic the Hedgehog, we can also spot Dumbo, Eeyore, Buzz Lightyear, Nick Wilde (of "Zootopia"), C3PO, R2D2 and Stormtroopers. Baymax, Iron Man and the cameo king himself, the late Stan Lee. 

For me, the best part of the film was Vanellope's scene with all the Disney Princesses (which would have been better had it not been "spoiled" by the trailers). It was great to see from the credits that they were still voiced by the original actors: like Jodi Benson (as Ariel), Paige O'Hara (as Belle), Linda Larkin (as Jasmine), Irene Bedard (as Pocahontas), Ming-Na Wen (as Mulan), Anika Noni Rose (as Tiana), Mandy Moore (as Rapunzel), Kelly Macdonald (as Merida), AuliÊ»i Cravalho (as Moana), Kristen Bell (as Anna), and Idina Menzel (as Elsa).

The story about the the values of friendship (cooperation, encouragement, sacrifice) and the dangers of the internet (pop-up ads, the dark web, viruses) will resonate with all audiences. Female empowerment also gets a foot into the story, with Shank and the Princesses motivating Vanellope to follow her dreams. It was generally Ralph's naivete and clinginess and Vanellope's reckless imprudence which led to their foolish misadventures, so that some messy plot developments came across as more annoying than funny. 

There were two extra scenes in the closing credits (one midway, and one at the very end) to watch out for and be amused by. All in all, this sequel was fine and fun, but the first one was still much better and had more heart. 7/10. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Review of ROBIN HOOD (2018): Origin of an Outlaw

November 23, 2018

Robin Hood, the legendary outlaw of English folklore, had been a favorite character in films and TV in every decade for more than a century. He was the subject of a 1908 silent film ("Robin Hood and his Merry Men"), a 1922 Douglas Fairbanks silent swashbuckler ("Robin Hood"), a 1938 Errol Flynn action classic ("The Adventures of Robin Hood"), a 1973 animated film with anthropomorphic animal characters ("Walt Disney's Robin Hood"), a 1991 Kevin Costner version ("Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves") and its 1993 spoof by Mel Brooks ("Robin Hood: Men in Tights"), a 2010 Russell Crowe version ("Robin Hood"), among the more notable examples.

This reboot of the Robin Hood legend had Robin of Loxley as a Lord drafted into military service and sent to fight in the Middle East as a Crusader. When he came back, everyone thought he was dead, his estate had been foreclosed, his love Maid Marian was betrothed to someone else, and the Sheriff of Nottingham lorded over everyone like a monarch. This new Robin, with his foreigner friend John and friar friend Tuck, took his iconic "stealing from the rich, giving to the poor" routine to a whole new revolutionary level.

Taron Egerton played a young, very clean cut and debonair Robin of Loxley, unlike the more mature Robins of movies past. Like Bruce Wayne, he never distanced himself from the aristocracy to keep his enemies close.  Whenever he wanted to do his heroic duty, he would don a hoodie and a mask to conceal his identity and embody a vigilante dubbed "The Hood" by the people. Because of his cool and charming rascally demeanor, Egerton's Robin was like the personification of Disney's animated fox Robin Hood. 

All the other Merry Men were also in the story but portrayed differently from how we knew them in the past. Jamie Foxx was John, an enemy Arab warrior who later became Robin's friend and adviser. Tim Minchin was Friar Tuck, a monk who worked closely with the poor despite being ridiculed by the rich. Jamie Dornan was Will Scarlet, whose original role in the traditional ballads was totally rewritten in this version. Eve Hewson's Maid Marian was proactive and resourceful. She knew what she wanted and fought for it, definitely not a mere damsel in distress. 

Ben Mendelsohn's Sheriff of Nottingham was a cartoonishly lame villain, almost a caricature of witless evil.  His final scene verged on the absurd, with an emphatic announcement so embarrassing I don't know how they could have shot the scene without laughing. This sheriff blamed his cruel ways on abuse he suffered as a child at the hand of clergy. This was in consonance with F. Murray Abraham's slimy portrayal of the Cardinal, who, as the writers' version of Crusades history, represented everything that was wrong about the Catholic Church at that time. 

Director Otto Bathurst derived inspiration from several other movies and managed to squeeze them here, anachronistic as they may be. From all those Desert Storm movies, we get that shoot-out sequence only with bows and arrows instead of machine guns. There was a scene of lavish orgiastic gambling party of the rich and famous that could have been from "The Wolf of Wall Street." There was a frenetic chase scene between a couple of horse-drawn carriages that was reminiscent of the chariot races in "Ben Hur," complete with the collisions and tipping over. 

Despite the likability of Taron Egerton as Robin, this film never felt right from the beginning. It was entertaining at parts, but lagged in parts. It was not completely engaging, and it never really reached a peak. 5/10. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

iWant: Review of MA: Killing for Kin

November 20, 2018

This horror film by Kenneth Dagatan gained a lot of critical acclaim and positive buzz when it was first shown as a one-off special screening at the last CinemaOne Originals 2018 filmfest. I was not able to watch it back then. Good thing, I did not have to wait too long to see it since it is now being shown as one of the initial original feature films offered free and on-demand on the iWant app. 

Siblings Samuel, Lucy and Daniel just lost their sickly widowed mother Lina to an unusual illness. A pregnant school teacher Cecil just lost her husband Vince to a similar mysterious illness. An enchanted bush found inside a cave in the forest had a legendary reputation that it can fulfill any wish. Of course, a bloody price will have to be paid in order for the impossible requests to come to pass. 

Anna Luna is really at home with these indie movies and the unusual situations her characters get themselves into. As the very pregnant Cecil, she was subjected to some pretty harrowing moments both physically and psychologically. Rafael Siguion Reyna played her ill-fated husband Vince. Susan Africa played Cecile's strict mother. Ian Curtis played Cecile's stepfather, with whom she had some unresolved issues. Kate Alejandrino played her loyal friend Gelyn, who had some past experience in the cave.

Glydel Mercado was unrecognizable as the gaunt and infirm Lina. Kyle Espiritu, Alessandra Malonzo and Enzo Osorio played her three young children. I certainly hope these children were subjected to psychological guidance and debriefing during and after the shooting of this movie, given the very scary things they had to see and actually had to do. As Samuel, Espiritu was made to hold knives and act like he was handling bloody internal organs in very graphic scenes. These were disturbing to watch given the age of the actor, and to do these acts in front of two even younger children made them even more so.

This horror film was more about the creepy atmosphere than the outright scares. From beginning to end, a veil of dread would shroud the entire proceedings, gripping the viewer in its spell. The crisp images were of cinematic beauty, taken from unconventional points of view, with a gloomy color palette plus a generous splash of bloody red.  The eerie sound effects and musical score served to augment the sense of death and evil throughout. 

The effusive practically perfect reviews this movie received from its premiere gave me very high expectations. Too high perhaps so that I cannot completely say that I was totally sold. Technical aspects were very well-done for sure, especially the mesmerizing visuals. However, the plot had so many unanswered questions that bothered me. While admittedly motion picture is a visual art, many viewers like me still expect it to tell a solid story.

What were those illnesses that claimed the lives of Lina and Vince? They both manifested with a lot of coughing, retching and vomiting, ultimately with fatal blood loss. Did they both have the same illness? Did they catch their illnesses the same way? Was the entity in the cave somehow responsible for it because of something they did in the past? Was the same entity responsible for Cecil's ghastly nightmares? No explanation at all was given to this aspect of the story which I thought was important. 7/10. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


November 19, 2018

The main story of this sequel concerned a search for a disturbed individual named Credence Barebone, who had once caused massive damage to New York City with his inner Obscurus. Despite his travel restrictions, Newt Scamander had been requested both the Ministry of Magic and no less than Albus Dumbledore himself to go look for Credence. Also hot on the search was notorious dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, who believed that Credence possessed the ability to kill his most powerful nemesis. 

The huge ensemble cast can really be quite a formidable task to familiarize with, especially those who are not exactly Potterheads. Eddie Redmayne was consistently likable as the shy and earnest fantastic beast trainer Newt Salamander. Katherine Waterston played the brave but mousy Tina Goldstein who was now an Auror based in Paris. Alison Sudol and Dan Folger played Tina's flighty sister Queenie and her No-Maj partner Jacob Kowalski, who were in love despite this being forbidden by wizarding laws. 

Zoe Kravitz (as the exotic mysterious Leta Lestrange), Ezra Miller (as the devastatingly powerful Credence Barebone) and Johnny Depp (as the heterocrhomic evil warlock Gellert Grindelwald) were all likewise introduced in the first film. In this sequel, they play much bigger roles, roles even more critical than Newt was to the whole story being built up. In this installment, Newt practically became a side character in his own franchise, for now at least. 

Jude Law was a fantastic choice to be the young Albus Dumbledore . His scenes were the best parts of the film, especially those which brought us back inside the hallowed walls of Hogwarts when Dumbledore was still a Professor of the Dark Arts. It was nostalgic to watch another lesson about the Ridikulus spell or see that Quidditch ptich in the background. It was also delightful to see a young Minerva McGonagall (Fiona Glascott). We all certainly missed the beloved musical score in the cinema and it was great to hear again. 

As the title promised, there were computer-generated visual spectacles of action involving fantastic beasts. The most memorable ones should be Grindelwald's escape from his prison coach drawn by Thestrals (winged skeletal horses) and the freaky transformations of Nagini (Claudia Kim). There were comic sequences featuring adorable baby Nifflers and Newt's pet Bowtruckle (that cute green stick creature). Later, we see a Kelpie (a seaweed water horse-like creature), Matagots (scary black cat-like creatures with huge blue eyes) and a Zouwu (a bright-colored Chinese dragon-like creature). Of course, our favorite Niffler will make itself significant at the end when it pilfers a vital artifact.

I was not able to immediately get into the story for the first hour, especially with the numerous new characters being introduced. (We even met the immortal alchemist Nicolas Framel, the inventor of the Sorcerer's Stone!)  It was only during those revelations in the French Ministry of Magic that the whole story began to come together and make sense for me. That even more surprising revelation in the final scene in Castle Nurmengard in Austria was the clincher that makes the next episode a must-not-miss. 

Don't forget that this is only the second episode of a planned five-part series, so it was very busy. Director David Yates was mainly concerned in setting up more layers in the complex franchise foundation from which the future episodes will arise. 7/10.